Competing before a raucous crowd of more than 30,000, Blanka Vlasic, Amine Laalou, and Viola Kibiwot produced world leading performances to highlight the fourth edition of the Meeting International Mohammed VI in the Moroccan capital on Sunday.
But while Vlasic came through with a 1.97m winning leap and a near-miss at two metres in the High Jump, this IAAF World Challenge Meeting’s other major star, Asafa Powell, will carry an injury home to Kingston just 18 days before the Jamaican selection trials for the World Championship in Daegu.
Vlasic – ‘I’m not too happy, to be honest’
Vlasic, the 2010 World Athlete of the Year, came to Rabat with one goal in mind – to clear two metres for the first time this season. She came close on one of her three tries, and while pleased with her victory over long-time rival Anna Chicherova, she wasn’t necessarily pleased.
After first attempt clearances at 1.86m and 1.92m, Vlasic needed a second go at 1.95m before clearing 1.97m on her first attempt, although she left the landing pit while staring at a dancing crossbar. Of her three attempts at two metres, only the second was reasonably close.
“I’m not too happy to be honest,” said Vlasic, who was being rushed to the airport to catch a flight to New York for next Saturday’s Samsung Diamond League fixture. “I’m happy that I won, it just wasn’t two metres. I guess I’m just not ready for that yet.”
This is the first year in recent memory in which Vlasic hasn’t competed during the indoor season, a break in competition that has, at least in part, contributed to her relatively slow start to the outdoor season.
“It’s little different this year, I don't have the experience with the big heights,” she said. “Before I would come back after a month and a half break from competition, so that feeling was still there.” Vlasic added that her indoor break this year made room for the hardest trainings she’s ever undertaken.
The Croatian nonetheless left as the world leader, succeeding Chicherova who finished third on countback behind Frenchwoman Melanie Melfort at 1.95m.
Powell pulls up in 100m
Things didn’t go according to plan for Powell either, who barely reached the finish line after pulling up some 30 metres into the 100m contest.
Well before hitting top speed, Powell suddenly downshifted to a jog, and then almost to a walk, noticeably favouring his right hamstring. He later described it as “a sharp pain”, but emphasized that he didn’t pull up merely as a precaution. If he hadn’t stopped, he said, his hamstring “would have went.”
“He felt a cramp in his right lower hamstring at about 20m,” Powell’s manager, Paul Doyle said. “He was able to stop before he did any serious damage. It's too early to tell at this moment how serious it is but we believe at this stage that it is not a serious problem. He feels just a little soreness in the area and tightness when stretching.”
On Thursday, Powell said his pre-meet intention was to clock a world season’s best, which was lowered twice yesterday, first by his compatriot Steve Mullings who clocked 9.80 in Eugene and then by Tyson Gay to 9.79 at a small meet in Clermont, Florida, USA. Now, the former World record holder has to ensure he’ll be healthy enough at month’s end just to secure a slot for the World championships team at the Jamaican championships.
With Powell out, the unlikely victory went to Aziz Ouadi in 10.27 ahead of former European champion Francis Obikwelu (10.31), one of five Moroccan victories on the evening that literally had much of the wildly enthusiastic crowd dancing in the aisles.
1000m world lead for Laalou
One of the better performances among that handful of home team victories came in the men’s 1000m, courtesy of Amine Laalou’s emphatic victory. Urged on by the jubilant crowd, the 29-year-old was unstoppable over the final 100 metres, winning in 2:15.31, the fastest in the world this season over the rarely-run distance.
Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski, the European 800m champion, was in second through the final turn and maintained his position to reach the finish in 2:15.76, a big personal best for the 23-year-old. Mohammed Al-Azemi of Kuwait also broke 2:16, clocking 2:15.84 for third.
Halima Hachlaf began the Moroccan hit parade, whipping the crowd into a frenzy with a strong homestretch run of her own en route to a comfortable triumph in the women’s 800m. In her first race over the distance this season, the 22-year-old, who took a surprise victory at Rome’s Golden Gala last year, clocked 2:00.55.
Algeria’s Zahra Bouras, also in her first race of the year, was next across the line in 2:01.30, with Malika Akkaoui, another Moroccan, finishing third in 2:01.59. Briton Jenny Meadows, the winner this year in Shanghai and Hengelo, was never in the hunt and finished well back in fifth, clocking 2:01.89.
There was a Moroccan 1-2 in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase, with Abdelkader Hachlaf taking a big victory in 8:13.04. His compatriot Hamid Ezzine tried to steal race early on, pulling away from the field with just over three laps remaining, an ambitious move which proved to be a big blunder. Despite a sizeable lead, he was easily reeled in by Hachlaf as the pair approached the water jump for the penultimate time. Hachlaf pulled away over the course of the final lap, and with victory clearly secured, he turned to the homestretch stands as he cleared the final barrier, blowing kisses and saluting.
Ezzine hung on for second clocking 8:21.21.
The fifth Moroccan win of the night came in the men’s Long Jump where Yahya Berrabah, the national record holder, got the better of Cuban Wilfredo Martinez, 8.10m to 8.07m.
Another 1500m win for Mishchenko
Elsewhere in the middle distances, the traditional strength in Morocco, home hopes were dashed.
Anna Mishchenko produced another solid homestretch drive to take her fourth 1500m victory in five races this season. In a tactical race, the 27-year-old Ukrainian, who collected wins in Doha and Daegu last month, had little difficulty fending off local favourite Intissam Lakhouad and Ethiopian Meskerem Assefa, clocking 4:07.95.
Lakhouad, the Moroccan record holder at 3:59.35 from last season, poured it on off the final turn but couldn’t reel in the rapidly-improving Ukrainian, clocking 4:08.11. Assefa , the runner up in Daegu and Rome, had to settle for third here, crossing the line in 4:08.34.
In the men’s 1500m, finishing kicks by Kenyan Collins Cheboi (3:33.82) and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Bebabbad (3:33.86) were to much for Fouad Elkaam (3:34.01) and Adbalatti Iguider (3:34.33), who had to settle for third and fourth. Iguider, who was leading at the top of the homestraight, was passed by the trio over the final fifty metres.
World lead for Kibiwot in 3000m
There was no stopping or catching Viola Kibiwot over the final lap of the women’s 3000m, who stopped the clock in 8:46.84, the fastest in the world this year. Her compatriot Priscah Jepleting Cherono made up some ground over the final 50 metres, but had to settle for second in 8:47.15, with Ethiopians Sule Utura (8:47.42) and Hagos Azemra (8:48.63) following.
Jacob Cheshari was the fastest in the field this year, and was clearly the strongest on the night in the men’s 5000m. His 13:10.55 was well shy of his 13:01.03 run in Hengelo exactly one week ago, but it was more than enough to hold off Moroccan Aziz Lahbabi (13:13.68) and Kenyan Vincent Rono, who was distant third in 13:22.86.
53.68 sizzler for Stambolova
Bulgarian Vania Stambolova impressed in the 400m Hurdles as well. Taking the lead just beyond the midway point, the 27-year-old powered through the homestretch without missing a stride before crossing the line in 53.68. It was the fourth fastest performance of the season – surpassed only by the top three in yesterday’s fast Eugene contest – and a major revision of her own 53.82 national record she set last year when taking silver at the European championships.
In her first race of the outdoor season, American Queen Harrison was a distant second in 55.31, with Ukraine’s Hanna Yaroshchuk third (55.35).
In the mens’ 200m, Jonathon Borlee ran down Jamaican Ainsley Waugh with about 40 metres remaining to collect his biggest international victory over the distance, clocking 20.42. It was the second personal best of the season for the 23-year-old Belgian 400m record holder.
There was a similar finish in the men’s 400m, where Trinidadian Lalonde Gordon ran down Cuban Willaim Collazo over the final 30 metres to win 45.51 to 45.57.
In the men’s Discus Throw, Dutchman Erik Cadee prevailed by more than half a metre over Spaniard Frank Casanas, 64.06m to 63.53m. Casanas was slightly more consistent on the night, but couldn’t outdo Cadee’s second round effort.
Spaniard Mercedes Chilla was the class of the field in the women’s Javelin Throw, taking command in the second round courtesy of a 60.54m toss, before improving to 61.63 in the third and finally 63.77m in the fourth to win by more than three metres over Czech Jarmila Klimesova, whose best of 60.41 can in round two.
Baya Rahouli of Algeria won the women’s Triple Jump with a 14.34m best. Dana Veldakova of Slovakia was second at 14.02m.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF