International athletics is a sport of diversity and contrasts.
World record holder Asafa Powell seems happier when there is not too much pressure as he showed once again in Stuttgart, where the Jamaican took the 100 metres in style in 9.83 seconds but in the absence of World champion, Tyson Gay (USA).
Yet Yelena Isinbayeva, when asked what was needed to further improve her World Pole Vault record, always stresses that she would have to have much tougher competition. She finally got that in Stuttgart, but it did not lift her up to new record spheres. Probably it came at the wrong time of the season. Those two athletes and their events were among the highlights of the first day (22) of the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, held in ideal weather conditions.
It was Asafa Powell who once more confirmed his great form and produced the performance of the day in the Daimler Stadium. After two false starts (African record holder Olusoji Fasuba was disqualified) the 24-year-old Jamaican stormed away in a slight head wind (-0.3) to the fastest ever time on German soil: 9.83 seconds, which was also a World Athletics Final record. Powell had clocked the previous record a year ago in Stuttgart with 9.89. Powell at the ISTAF Berlin meeting in 2006, along with Maurice Greene (USA) at the ISTAF in Berlin in 2000 had held the previous fastest of 9.86.
Again Powell could probably have been slightly faster but in the last few metres it looked like he took it easy. “I am very happy and impressed to have run this great time. The false starts did not disturb me on my concentration,” said Powell. “I will now go back to Jamaica, save my winning money and think about the future.”
Marek Plawgo confirmed his recent fine form. Six days ago he had won the 400m hurdles at the ISTAF in Berlin, now he took the event in Stuttgart. But it was a photo finish. The bronze medallist from Osaka just edged out the champion Kerron Clement (USA). While both were timed at 48.35 seconds and third placed James Carter (USA) was in it as well with 48.36.
“It was a great competition. I did not expect to win, I just focussed on my race”, said Plawgo. “This was the best season of my life. The secret of my success is that I was not injured so I could train all year.”
In contrast to the 400m Hurdles, the Shot Put delivered the same order as the medal podium in Osaka. But it was similarly close: Reese Hoffa took this one with a last attempt of 20.98m, defeating Adam Nelson (both USA) by three centimetres. Andrey Mikhnevich (Belarussia) was third with 20.88.
After winning gold in Osaka Gerd Kanter (Estonia) took the Discus Throw in Stuttgart as well. Throwing 66.54m he beat Olympic Champion Virgilijus Alekna (Lithuania) for the second time – he had lost 44 consecutive competitions against him prior to Osaka.
“When I came here I expected to be first or second. But I thought that I would have to throw 68 metres to win”, said Kanter. “But as you see we are all a little bit tired.” Kanter got sick after coming back from Osaka and said that he lost some form because of this. But he still enjoyed competing in Stuttgart: “Today the Discus event was almost a show. I really like it the way the Germans present such a competition – and I have great memories of Munich 2002.” At those European Championships he had finished only 12th though.
Meanwhile Virgilijus Alekna was one of those improving on his World Championship’s performance. Hindered by a calf muscle injury from which he is still recovering he had only finished fourth in Osaka. Now in Stuttgart he took second with 65.94m in his first competition since the championships.
There was unexpected drama in the Pole Vault, where Yelena Isinbayeva needed to go into a jump-off with Monika Pyrek (Poland), who cleared a personal best of 4.82m. She had jumped this at her first attempt as did Isinbayeva. Pyrek had been lucky because the bar looked almost certain to come down, but it did not.
Both then failed at their next heights – Pyrek going for a Polish record of 4.87 while Isinbayeva missed 4.92. In the jump-off the Russian World record holder then cleared 4.87m while Pyrek failed. “The competition and the atmosphere in the stadium were brilliant”, said Isinbayeva who has now won the WAF four times in a row. The World champion still feels the effect from the Osaka climate: “It was difficult to acclimatize after Japan – I felt this in the last few competitions.”
In a great competition Svetlana Feofanova (Russia) also cleared 4.82m, which was a season’s best. Additionally Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg, who had broken Isinbayeva’s World junior record two years ago with 4.48m, jumped a personal best of 4.60m, improving by three centimetres. That in the end was only good for seventh place but was a fine result for a home athlete.
There were high hopes for a German win in the Javelin Throw. But once again Barbora Spotakova was in the way. The Czech this season was in peak form when it mattered. After snatching the gold at the World Championships from favourite Christina Obergföll (Germany) she proved that this victory was no coincidence. On ‘foreign territory’ Spotakova had a great first throw of 67.12 m. This was a national record, improving on her 67.07 from Osaka. And it was more than enough to take the win in Stuttgart from Germans Steffi Nerius (64.90) and Christina Obergföll (62.47).
“When I came here I was thinking about last year, because I won with a national record. I was really looking forward to come back to this stadium, I like the soft track. I am very happy that I did it again”, said Spotakova, who explained that she fully concentrated on her first throw due to an elbow problem.
A number of false starts in the 100m Hurdles reduced this field to five athletes only. Sally McLellan (Australia), Lolo Jones (USA) and Susanna Kallur (Sweden), who had shown great form recently with an improvement to 12.49 in Berlin last Sunday, all were disqualified. Michelle Perry (USA), who had lost out on the IAAF Golden League Jackpot after taking the gold in Osaka, came back with a 12.68 seconds win. “Nonetheless I am not happy with today’s win since I prefer to win with a whole field running”, said Michelle Perry. A later protest by McLellan and Jones regarding their disqualifications was rejected by the jury.
In the 1500m World champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal (Bahrain) showed another piece of great front running. Taking the lead at about half way she opened a big gap in front of her rivals in the last lap. Jamal clocked 4:01.23 minutes while Yelena Soboleva (Russia) followed in 4:05.35. In the absence of Meseret Defar (Ethiopia), who swapped events and will be running in tomorrow’s 3000m, Vivian Cheruiyot did what was necessary to take the race in 14:56.94. The Kenyan will go for the 3000 m as well on Sunday.
Blanka Vlasic produced her 14th win in a row with her 16th 2m competition of the 2007 summer, a splendid consistency which is why the Croatian is the World champion.
The last event on Saturday was the women’s Hammer Throw in which Yipsi Moreno (Cuba) threw a fine 73.76 m to beat Ivana Brkljacic (Croatia / 73.22). “I am very happy with this result at the end of the season. I will now head back to Cuba and have a holiday,” said Moreno.
Jörg Wenig for the IAAF