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MonteCarloWorld leading performances by Asbel Kiprop, Aries Merritt, Silke Spiegelburg and a U.S. men’s 4x100m Relay quartet highlighted an immensely entertaining edition of the Herculis – Samsung Diamond League Meeting in Monaco on Friday (20), the final major stop before the Games of the XXX Olympiad, London 2012.
Choruses of The Clash classic 'London Calling’ were in heavy rotation throughout the evening during the ninth stop on the Samsung Diamond League circuit, clearly indicating where the focus of the athletics world would be turning immediately following the meeting-ending fireworks display. And no one looked more like an Olympic champion-in-waiting than Kiprop whose scorching 3:28.88 run through the still Mediterranean evening was the first sub-3:29 since Zurich’s 2004 edition.
"I came to Monaco to run 3:28 and I’m very happy I was able to tonight," said Kiprop, the reigning World and Olympic champion who became the fifth fastest man ever over the distance. "I am ready and in shape for London." To anyone who witnessed his long, powerful confident strides down the homestretch, that characterization could hardly be seen as a boast but rather a mere statement of fact.
Running close behind the pacesetters through the first two laps, Kiprop led at the bell by a step over compatriot Nixon Chepseba, one he extended over the back stretch, through the turn and down the straight seemingly shrouded by a shield of invincibility.
Chepseba, who is also London-bound, clocked a personal best 3:29.77 for second while New Zealander Nick Willis, the reigning Olympic silver medallist, closed strongly to take third, his 3:30.35, an Area record for Oceania. The next four all crossed the line in under 3:32, three with career bests.
Merritt 12.93 - again
Aries Merritt seems to have hit a wall. But as walls go, it’s not the worst one a hurdler could encounter. For the third time this season the 26-year-old powered to a 12.93 victory which may, in many people’s eyes, land him in London as the man to beat in the 110m Hurdles.
Merritt, the U.S. champion, said yesterday that consistency for a hurdler brings confidence - he was the picture of just that from the gun tonight. Bursting from the blocks, he already built a clearly visible lead over rival Jason Richardson by hurdle two and defended his ground through the finish before stopping the clock yet again at his own world-leading mark. Only seven men have ever gone faster and Merritt is confident he’ll join them soon.
"I certainly could have run a personal best tonight," he said after nabbing his sixth victory in nine starts this season. "Conditions were great but unfortunately I made some mistakes. After clearing the third hurdle I made a mistake and lost my rhythm and it took me all the way to the seventh hurdle to get back into my rhythm. So to know that I can make mistakes and still run 12.93 makes me very excited."
Richardson was a few steps back in 13.07, just ahead of rising Russian star Sergey Shubenkov whose 13.09 career best equalled the national record.
Spiegelburg scales 4.82 German record, Isinbayeva no-heights
There was a world lead in the women’s Pole Vault as well but the competition went well off-script before Silke Spiegelburg’s 4.82m clearance for new German national record.
In her Samsung Diamond League season debut, meeting poster girl Yelena Isinbayeva was never a factor failing three times at her opening height of 4.70m. None of her attempts were particularly close on a night that was the starkest of contrasts between her last pre-Olympic appearance at the Stade Louis II when she set a then World record of 5.04m in 2008.
That doesn’t take anything away from the 26-year-old German whose solid second attempt success supplanted Jen Suhr as the world leader.
"I’ve been waiting for three years to jump that high and get the national record," said Spiegelburg, who relaxed during the competition by dancing between her jumps. "Winning against Isinbayeva made me happy, too."
Cuban Yarisley Silva beat Czech Jirina Ptacnikova and UK record holder Holly Bleasdale on countback at 4.62m, while World champion Fabiana Murer was a distant fifth, managing just 4.54m.
Okagbare’s star rising, big win for J. Borlee
After back-to-back Samsung Diamond League victories against strong fields, Blessing Okagbare has done enough to make the sprint world take note and add her to the list of solid medal contenders in London.
Running even with American Tianna Madison for much of the race, the 23-year-old Nigerian pulled away over the final 20 metres to a 10.96 victory, another personal best this season despite a stumble at the start.
"For now I’m just going to keep my focus, go to London and do my very best there," said Okagbare, who took the African title in the Long Jump late last month.
Madison wasn’t too far back at 10.99, with Jeneba Tarmoh third in 11.09 just ahead of Kerron Stewart (11.11).
There was another confidence-boosting victory in the men’s 400, where Jonathan Borlee will head to London after taking down some big guns. The Belgian edged World champion Kiran James at the line 44.74 to 44.76 while his twin brother Kevin finished third in 44.94. Reigning Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt never reached the finish, deciding to pull up when hit with a cramp in his left hamstring. He said later that it didn’t appear to be serious.
Rounding out the sprint programme was a close men’s 200m contest won by Jamaican Nickel Ashmeade in 20.02, just holding off European champion Churandy Martina (20.07) and quick-closing American champion Wallace Spearmon (20.09).
Moving to the middle distances, the two 800m contests provided plenty of entertainment. In the men’s race, not part of the Samsung Diamond League programme, Abraham Rotich began his challenge for the win as he entered the final bend and prevailed in 1:43.13, a Kenyan national junior record for the 19-year-old. He convincingly fought off compatriot Leonard Kosencha (1:43.40) and American Duane Solomon (1:43.44) who turned in career bests as did Kevin Lopez in fourth, his 1:43.74 a Spanish record. Abubaker Kaki, who was in second position at the top of the second lap, faded badly and was never in the hunt, clocking 1:44.89 for ninth.
In relative terms the women’s race wasn't quite as fast as the men’s but didn’t lack drama. In her first invitational appearance, freshly-minted African champion Francine Niyonsaba nearly snatched the victory from a field she couldn’t have imagined running against just one short month ago. The 19-year-old couldn’t quite catch Russian Yelena Kofanova (1:58.41) down the homestretch, but did produce enough moves and surges while weaving across the track to finish second in 1:58.68, a national record for Burundi. Alysa Montano of the U.S., who led briefly with about 200 metres to go, was third in 1:59.05.
The race in the women’s 3000m didn’t really start until the bell, when Sylvia Kibet upped the tempo and took the lead. But it wasn’t enough to fend off Mercy Cherono who took over with just over half a lap to go and never relented. The 21-year-old reached the line in 8:38.51, more than half a second clear of Kibet (8:39.14).
The men’s 3000m Steeplechase wasn’t quite as fast as organisers might have wanted, but it too didn’t lack for drama. After leading from for most of the final 1000 metres, world leader Paul Kipsiele Koech was reeled in and passed by compatriot Conselus Kipruto, the 17-year-old who ran to the World junior title last week. His 8:03.49 knocked more than two seconds off his previous PB and comfortably brought him to the line ahead of Koech who clocked 8:03.90.
American Evan Jager impressed with a strong final lap en route to a surprise 8:06.81 U.S. national record.
Hejnova upsets Demus
There was an upset in the women’s 400m Hurdles, the first track event on the Samsung Diamond League programme, courtesy of Czech Zuzana Hejnova. World champion Lashinda Demus was off to a strong start, building a clear lead by the fourth barrier. But midway through the final bend her lead was clearly under a two-pronged assault, first by Olympic champion Melaine Walker to her outside in lane five, and Hejnova, far removed in the relative confines of lane two. Hejnova chipped away at the American’s advantage with each stride down the homestretch before pulling away to a 54.12 season’s best in the final 20 metres. Demus held off Walker 54.26 to 54.44 to finish second but wasn’t particularly pleased with the modest result just two weeks out from the London Games.
"Of course it is better that it happened here and not in London but it was such a horrible race!" Demus said. "What do I have to change? Everything!"
Ibarguen collects fourth straight victory
Caterine Ibarguen was the picture of confidence on the Triple Jump runway after sealing her fourth consecutive victory courtesy with a solid 14.85m leap in the second round. The 29-year-old Colombian, whose breakthrough in the event a year ago culminated with a bronze medal at the World Championships, has considerably improved her consistency this season, and it showed in Monaco. Her 14.72m opener was her shortest effort – and in the end more-than-sufficient to take the win – and closed with 14.80m.
Jamaican Kimberly Williams was second with 14.50m, just ahead of Olga Rypakova who managed just 14.46m.
Unlike the Triple Jump, the chief protagonists in the men’s High Jump produced a brilliant battle, with Jesse Williams, the World champion, getting the better of Briton Robbie Grabarz to extend his overall lead in the Diamond Race to 12 points. From their first attempt clearances at 2.30m, the pair produced an identical card, each needing a third try at 2.33m before bowing out at 2.36m. The difference came at 2.26m, where Grabarz needed all three tries, while Williams went clear on his first. Canadian Derek Drouin was third on countback at 2.30m over American Erik Kynard and Russian Aleksey Dmitrik.
In the Long Jump, reigning Olympic champion Irving Saladino took an unexpected victory with 8.16m, edging Australian Mitchell Watt who reached 8.12m with his final jump.
Sandra Perkovic padded her lead in the Discus Throw Diamond Race to 18 points after winning with a 65.29m effort from the first round. The two-time European champion edged German Nadine Muller (64.64m) and Cuban Yarelis Barrios (64.49) to collect her fourth Samsung Diamond League victory of the season.
Oleksandr Pyatnytsya of Ukraine followed up his Paris Diamond League victory with another one here, reaching beyond the 82-metre line three times, topped by his final round 82.85m. Vadims Vasilevskis of Latvia was nearly a metre back in second at 81.90 with another Ukrainian, Roman Avramenko, third at 81.57m.
There was another world lead early on, courtesy of a U.S. 4x100m Relay quartet who’ve spent the week in Monaco at a relay camp. The sun agreed with Trell Kimmons, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Ryan Bailey who teamed for a 37.61 run that brought the crowd to life early on.
U.S. relay coach Jon Drummond will likely be pleased with the given that a second US team, comprised of Mike Rodgers, Maurice Mitchell, Darvis Patton, and Jeffery Demps, also dipped under 38 seconds in 37.83.
In the women’s race fortunes for the North American sprint powerhouse were mixed. USA Blue, essentially the B team (Lauryn Williams, Alex Anderson, English Gardner, and Kimberlyn Duncan), impressed with a 42.24 victory. USA Red, which consisted of London-bound 100m entrants Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix and Carmelita Jeter, were disqualified for a lane infraction after a botched exchange between leg three runner Jeneba Tarmoh and anchor Jeter.