BUDAPEST, Hungary — Femke Bol didn't let pressure trip her up. Or the memories of a recent finish-line fall.
The Dutch standout opened a wide lead and never looked back for a runaway win in the 400-meter hurdles at world championships Thursday night. Bol captured her first world title in 51.70 seconds — the second-fastest time of her career.
“Everyone felt, ‘OK, well, on paper she’s by far the winner. She’s going to win it,'” Bol said.
But nothing is guaranteed, a lesson Bol learned the hard way after her mishap in the mixed 4x400 relay on Saturday. She was steps away from a medal for her team, maybe even gold, when she tripped and fell, the baton leaving her hand and bounding over the finish line.
“I think a lot of people felt when I got the stick (in the relay) we would have won gold easily," the 23-year-old Bol explained. "We didn’t get it ... I want to be my best self and I think I did this today."
With world record holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone skipping her title defense and former champion Dalilah Muhammad eliminated in the semifinals, this was Bol's race to control.
She did precisely that, too. The real race was for second place, where Shamier Little of the United States held off Jamaica’s Rushell Clayton by .01 seconds.
“I feel as if the hard work has paid off,” Little said after the race. “This will really boost my confidence because I know that I am medal-worthy.”
Bol said her relay teammates lifted her spirits for this race. So did her coaches, friends, family and her psychologist. Their message was pure and simple — turn the page on the fall.
“They supported me,” Bol said. “At one point, we said, ‘OK, tournament one (the mixed relay) is done. Tournament two (400 hurdles) starts and we’re going to go through the rounds of hurdles and get confidence and do my best.’”
Immediately after crossing the line in the 400 hurdles, Bol put her hands over her face in almost disbelief as a fan in the stands held up a sign that read, “Femke, Bol them over.”
She got a taste of what it's like to be in McLaughlin-Levrone's shoes as the favorite.
It felt — different.
“On the one hand, it’s nice to be a bit of the underdog because not all the lights are on me,” Bol said. “But on the other hand, if you execute your perfect race, there’s still a chance you don’t win. I came into this tournament and especially after mixed (relay), I just wanted to enjoy it.”
Bol finished runner-up last summer at worlds to McLaughlin-Levrone, who skipped the 400 hurdles to focus on the open 400 before withdrawing due to a minor knee issue. The year before that, at the Tokyo Games, Bol earned the bronze, with McLaughlin-Levrone taking gold and Bol's idol, Muhammad, capturing silver.
In each case, Bol took the losses as well as someone in her position could. She ran two of the best races of her life, hung with the best in the world for about 300 meters or so, then reality set in.
This time, though, it was everyone else doing the chasing.
“This is always what we strive for, to be at my best at the tournament," Bol said. "You cannot always win. We always want to win, but you cannot always win and I just want to be better each year and this year I made again improvement. I’m world champion now. It’s amazing.”