Maryam Yusuf Jamal runs a world leading time in the 1500m, her ninth sub-four-minute clocking (Getty Images) © Copyright
While much of the attention was thrust upon the speed merchants Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell in the men’s 100m and Kerron Stewart in the women’s 100m, Jamal, the World 1500m champion, did her best to upstage them in the metric mile.
The fact that the diminutive 24-year-old won in the Olympic Stadium was not a huge shock. However, to run a world lead, meeting record and the quickest women’s 1500m mark since her lifetime best of 3:56.18 in the central Italian city of Rieti four years ago was far less predictable (her third fastest time ever also came in Rieti - 3:56.79 in 2005).
“I am not surprised by the time because I came to run under four minutes, but, yes, it was a bit quicker than I expected,” said Jamal. “I always like Rome and the weather was perfect today. It is good. I am happy.” A fact she graphically illustrated in the athletes’ mixed zone as she hugged several of her beaten rivals and sported a grin from ear to ear for many minutes after the race.
Yet the quality of the Ethiopian-born athlete’s performance had, quite frankly, left many a little surprised.
Last month she finished second behind Kenyan Vivian Cheruiyot over the rarely run 2000m distance in Eugene and last Tuesday she trailed home second behind Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka in 4:01.99 in Lausanne – the city where she has lived for the past seven years. Her only previous victory this campaign had come over 800m in Hengelo.
Not bad, but not quite suggesting she would produce the quality of tonight’s run on a barmy night in Rome. So what contributed to the improvement from 72 hours earlier?
“I was not good in Lausanne,” she explained. “I was very bad but now I am okay. I was a little sick, so second place was not bad there.”
Curiously it was sickness which flawed her hopes of adding the Olympic title last year in Beijing to her World title she won so impressively in Osaka in 2007. She dramatically faded down the home straight in the Bird’s Nest Stadium and wound up fifth as Kenyan’s Nancy Lagat took gold.
But bolstered by the confidence of the second best performance of her career she admitted: “My shape is as good as last year... and better than in 2007. I got sick at the Olympics. I’m not lucky. Yes,” she added with further thought. “I’m in the shape of my life.”
Her time in Rome was 2.24 quicker than Burka – the second fastest woman in the world this year - and Jamal already has half-an-eye on next month’s IAAF World Championships in Athletics.
“Yes, the performance today leaves me in a good situation for Berlin. I will run in Athens and Monaco and then on to Berlin.”
Steve Landells for the IAAF