Split, CroatiaEurope edged a tight battle with the Americas to secure the IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup, but nobody could deny this final day was all about one woman – Croatian High Jump megastar Blanka Vlasic.
Vlasic rocks the house
On an electric night in Split which saw seven competition records tumble, the home town girl delivered and then some. She equalled the world leading mark of 2.05m with a successful first round clearance amid a cacophony of noise inside a rocking Poljud Stadium and even gave the World record a crack. Unfortunately, on this occasion the 2.10m height proved beyond her and she had to simply settle for one of those competition records and victory in front of a vociferous home town crowd.
It was fitting too that Vlasic claimed maximum points for a European team who overhauled a nine-point overnight deficit on the Americas to run out overall winners with 429pts to 419.5 (AME). Africa took third with 292 with Asia-Pacific fourth on 286.5.------- ---
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Yet this was far form a straight forward victory and the destiny of the cup was still in the balance going into the final event – the men’s 4x400m relay. The women’s 4x400m – the penultimate event – had witnessed the Americas edge a pulsating race by just 0.21 from Europe. Christine Amertil of the Americas had held off a brave charge from European 400m champion Tatyana Firova on the anchor leg and after 39 of the 40 events Europe held a 13.5pt advantage. With 15 points available for first and three for fourth in the relays Europe knew victory was within their grasp without mishap. Thankfully, the European quartet completed the task without a problem to produce a respectable performance for second. However, full credit should be given to an impressive Americas quartet anchored by Ricardo Chambers of Jamaica as they landed the race victory by 0.84 in a competition record 2:59.00.
Hooker prevails over Lavillenie, 5.95 to 5.90m
Elsewhere, a vibrant crowd of 27,500 were treated to a number of outstanding performances. In the men’s Pole vault, World and Olympic champion Steve Hooker and European gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie of France produced a captivating competition. Hooker representing Asia-Pacific had been in sluggish recent weeks but bounced back, as he so often does on the big occasion, to clear 5.95m – a competition record and world lead – with his third attempt. Lavillenie representing Europe had been in pole position following a flawless record up to an including 5.90m, however he found 5.95m beyond him and Hooker defended his title.
Lagat completes distance double
Bernard Lagat (AME) is not unfamiliar with completing doubles at major IAAF events – remember he won the 1500m and 5000m at the 2007 World Athletics Championships in Osaka - and he proved it once again in Split. The US athlete outsprinted the opposition down the home stretch to add the 3000m title to yesterday’s 5000m success. The race was largely featureless until the final lap when Lagat made his move down the inside. The time may have been a rather forgettable 7:54.75, however, the double achievement was rather less so.
Another of the competition records to tumble came in the men’s 800m as we were treated to another masterful exhibition of two-lap running by David Rudisha. The incredible Kenyan had posted a world 800m record in each of the two previous Sunday’s but it was always likely to prove a tall order to achieve the feat for a third successive weekend. Without the aid of pacemakers he led from the gun but had to settle for “only” 1:43.37 well clear of Marcin Lewandowski (EUR), who was second in 1:44.81.
Andreas Thorkildsen put in yet another, well, Andreas Thorkildsen-type display in the men’s javelin. The imperious World, Olympic and European javelin champion successfully defended his title and did so with a flourish, posting a competition record of 89.26m with his final throw.
Both steeplechase races served up competition records in the first two track events of the session. Yuilya Zarudneva, the European champion, earned a thoroughly deserved victory with a commanding front-running performance from Diamond League winner Milcah Chemos (AFR) in the women’s version. The Russian stopped the clock in 9:25.46.
In the men’s event Benjamin Kiplagat had set a healthy pace and although the Ugandan faded to fourth Africa earned maximum points as the world silver medallist Richard Mateelong of Kenya edged the final straight burn up by 0.20 in 8:09.67 from Roba Gari, although the Ethiopian had the consolation of setting an Ethiopian record.
Spearmon and Adams defend titles
Wallace Spearmon (AME) was another of the four individuals on the night to mount a successful title defence and it could not have been any easier for the US athlete as he romped to victory in the men’s 200m in 19.95 – some 0.52 clear of his nearest pursuer.
Valerie Adams also successfully defended her crown in the women’s shot and the New Zealander could not have been any happier. Each and every time Adams had faced her Belarus rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk this season she had suffered defeat but not tonight. A rejuvenated Adams (APA) set a season’s best 20.86m to land victory by 0.68 from the European champion.
Oliver dominates, Pearson prevails in tight battle with Jones and Felicien
Both sprint hurdles events also provided stirring action but for very different reasons.
David Oliver, the World No.1, of the Americas team blasted to an expected victory in 13.11 in the men’s 110m hurdles. The margin of victory was vast - 0.37 from second placed Andy Turner of Europe – as he gave yet another demonstration of his dominance in the event this season.
The women’s 100m hurdles proved a much tighter affair as Australia’s Sally Pearson held off a late-charge from Lolo Jones (AME) to win by 0.01 in 12.65. Pearson made her trademark blistering start and was not to be caught as she snared eight points for the Asia-Pacific team. Perdita Felicien (AME) finished just 0.03 adrift of the winner in third.
Yet perhaps the battling qualities of the European team were perhaps best illustrated by Hind Dehiba of France who edged a bruising women’s 1500m. The Olympic champion Nancy Langat (AFR) and Dehiba matched each other stride for stride down the homestretch when with just metres remaining their arms become unintentionally caught in a tussle. The Kenyan came off worst crashing face-first to the track while Dehiba took the win in 4:19.78. A dejected Langat crossed the line eighth and although Team Africa lodged a protest it was rejected and the result stood.
Yes, this was Europe’s night and, more particularly, a night one Blanka Vlasic will never forget.
Steve Landells for the IAAF