Ukraine’s Bogdan Bondarenko got the best of Russian rival Ivan Ukhov in the latest duel between the reigning world and Olympic champions in the men’s high jump at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix in Tokyo. He certainly worked hard enough for it at the IAAF World Challenge meeting on Sunday (11).
For the first time in his career, Bondarenko needed three attempts to clear three consecutive heights, with the last one at a meeting record of 2.40m to give him the victory.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said world champion Bondarenko. “I’m really happy, because today was a good show, good competition, good weather, good people here.”
Another highly anticipated duel, in the opening women's event of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge series, never really materialised as Germany’s world record-holder Betty Heidler won with a throw of 72.69m, while world and Olympic champion Tatyana Lysenko of Russia looked out of sorts and finished sixth.
In other highlights of the final meeting at Tokyo's venerable National Stadium before it is rebuilt for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Jenny Simpson of the USA opened her season by cruising to victory in the women's 1500m in a world-leading 4:03.91, while compatriot and world champion Brianna Rollins won the women's 100m hurdles in a meeting record of 12.62.
USA’s Justin Gatlin looked impressive in winning the men's 100m in 10.02 while running into a -3.5m/s wind, and world 400m champion Kirani James of Grenada posted a photo-finish victory in a "fun run" in the 200m.
Bondarenko made to work for win over Ukhov
Bondarenko, competing in his first meeting of the season, cleared 2.20m on his first attempt, and then needed three attempts at 2.31m, 2.34m and the ultimate winning height of 2.40m. Ukhov, the 2012 Olympic champion who arrived in Tokyo fresh off a victory with a world-leading 2.41m at the Doha IAAF Diamond League meeting, cleared 2.34m on his first attempt, but fell short in three shots at 2.40m. Japan's Naoto Tobe finished third with 2.31m.
Bondarenko, behind on misses after making 2.34m, passed at 2.37m, but then Ukhov did too, and another three centimetres were added. “This is very natural, I would have done the same,” Bondarenko said of Ukhov’s gamble. “From 30 to 40, it’s almost the same.”
Asked what he was thinking on his third attempt at 2.40m, Bondarenko smiled and replied: "I thought I was very tired and this would be the last attempt." He made a lone, half-hearted attempt at a world record of 2.46m, then ended with a wave and a bow to the crowd of 17,000.
Bondarenko gained the meeting record, topping the 2.30m set in 1996 by South Korea's Lee Jin-Taek and equalled by Japan's Naoyuki Daigo in 2007. And for what it's worth, Bondarenko also claimed the stadium record for the venue that hosted the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and 1991 IAAF World Championships, bettering the 2.38m jumped by USA’s Charles Austin in winning the world gold.
In the women's hammer, Heidler overcame the effects of a long trip to Tokyo to toss 72.69m on her third attempt, which held up against a challenge from USA's Amanda Bingson, who threw 71.71m twice to finish second, and Gwen Berry, who was third at 71.13m.
“My legs are a little bit tired," said Heidler, who flew from Knoxville to Germany to Tokyo over a three-day period. "I threw nearly the same as last week (72.95m in Knoxville) so it's a good result considering the traveling, but not enough for myself. It's very early in the season; nevertheless, it should be much better in the (upcoming) months.”
Things can only get better for Lysenko, who fouled on her first three attempts, then could only manage a day's best of 67.35m. She chalked it up to a lack of preparation for her first meeting of the season, and remains confident she will regain her form.
"I didn't compete in the winter, so I wasn't really ready," she said through an interpreter. "But I found some mistakes, so I will fix them. I think today's performance is very positive for my target which is the European Championships in August."
Heidler said that along with the European Championships, she will target more victories in the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge. "It's also very important. It's a lot of money we can earn and good competitions, and mostly inside the stadiums."
Simpson, the 2011 world champion and 2013 silver medallist, came up a bit short of the meeting record, but was never challenged in charging to the front early and finishing more than three-and-a-half seconds ahead of compatriot Emma Coburn.
"The race was great," Simpson said. "It was little bit windy, and a little bit warm for where I live, in Colorado, where it's still snowing. I knew if I was going to go up front and lead, that I was going to have to do a lot of work. I was really happy to be able to go out, and work hard the whole way, run my own race. It's as good an opener as I've ever run."
Without a major championship to aim for, Simpson said she will focus on strong performances in the IAAF Diamond League, starting with next week’s meeting in Shanghai.
"This is an important race for two reasons – first, to open up the season, get a peek at my fitness and some confidence, and then it's really preparing me for Shanghai next week.”
Rollins breaks Pearson’s meeting record
Rollins, running her first overseas meeting of 2014, got out fast and despite running into a -1.9m/s wind, still managed to top the previous meeting record of 12.71 set by Australia's Sally Pearson in 2007. Lavonne Idlette of the Dominican Republic was second in 12.91, followed by USA's Kellie Wells in 12.98.
"I have an inconsistent start sometimes, but today I came out with a great start," said Rollins. "It gave me great momentum to finish the race strong, that's all that really matters."
Gatlin also rode an explosive start to win the 100m in 10.02, running into a -3.5m/s wind to follow up his victory last week in Kingston, where he also had to race into a strong wind. USA's Mike Rodgers, last year's winner, finished second in 10.11, while France's Christophe Lemaitre was third in 10.31.
"Once I got past the 50-metre mark, I just wanted to stay relaxed," said Gatlin after recording the fastest ever 100m performance run into a wind stronger than -2.0m/s. "If the wind was none, you might have been looking at another meet record. It seems the wind has been following me from Jamaica to Tokyo, so hopefully I'll get a positive wind, or no wind at all, and the world will see what I'm really in shape for."
The wind made teenager Yoshihide Kiryu's bid to become the first Japanese member of the sub-10-second club a moot issue, and he was never a factor in the race, finishing fifth in 10.46.
In the men's 200m, James went into the race looking to have some fun, and ended up with a victory – although he didn't know it until about 10 minutes after the race.
James, who has said the 400m will remain his main event, came off the curve in front, then crossed the line together with hard-charging Michael Mathieu of The Bahamas. The scoreboard showed Mathieu as the winner with both runners clocking 20.63; later, with James in the mixed zone, the results were revised, giving him the victory in that time by .01.
"First or second doesn't really matter," James said. "As long as I come out here and I finish the race healthy, then I'm happy with that. It's a fun run, it's not to try to run a world lead or rank or anything like that."
James will be taking his next race more seriously, as he faces rival LaShawn Merritt at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene in two weeks. "I'm going to go back home and rest up a bit after this race and train," he said.
Klishina breaks long jump meeting record
There was also a meeting record in the women's long jump, as Russian Darya Klishina's leap of 6.88m eclipsed the previous mark of 6.86m set by Japan's Kumiko Ikeda in 2006.
In second place, USA’s Tianna Bartoletta jumped 6.78m. It was her best jump since winning the 2006 IAAF World Indoor Championships and her best outdoors since winning the 2005 world title.
Later in the day, Bartoletta won the 100m in 11.18. The half-lap sprint went to world junior champion Anthonique Strachan of The Bahamas in 22.82 (-1.8m/s).
Three-time world indoor champion Christian Cantwell notched up his third consecutive victory of 2014, winning the shot with 21.33m, just 52cm shy of his own world-leading mark. US team-mate Cory Martin was the only other putter who produced a mark past the 20-metre line, finishing second with 20.73m.
For the host nation, there were moments to celebrate.
The women's 4x100m relay team, despite missing national sprint champion Chisato Fukushima, earned a spot at the IAAF World Relays by clocking 43.74 to beat the qualifying mark of 43.80.
Sho Kawamoto set national and meeting records in the men's 800m, holding off Italy's Giordano Benedetti and USA's Erik Sowinski down the stretch to win in 1:45.75. That shaved .41 off the previous Japanese mark and easily topped the meeting record of 1:46.51 set last year by Kenya's Anthony Chemut, who finished a distant sixth this time.
Daichi Sawano was Japan's other winner, clearing 5.61m in the men's pole vault to combine with Seito Yamamoto (5.51m) for a 1-2 finish.
Other winners included Britain's Niall Flannery in the 400m hurdles, clocking a PB of 49.48, Uganda's Jacob Araptany in the 3000m steeplechase, winning with 8:20.84, and Haiti's Samyr Laine in the triple jump, leaping 16.45m. The javelin titles went to Taiwan's Huang Shih-Feng and Ukraine’s Marharyta Dorozhon with marks of 81.53m and 59.15m respectively.
Ken Marantz for the IAAF