Stockholm, SwedenThere certainly was no lack of brilliant performances and exciting competition at the XL Galan on Tuesday (22) evening, but the meeting’s 22nd edition will still be remembered by the crowd of more than 9000 for one thing: 17-year-old Angelica Bengtsson’s three World junior records* in the Pole Vault.
Just two days after claiming the record with a 4.52m leap, the inaugural Youth Olympic Games champion added no less than 11 centimetres to her mark to highlight the competition at the Ericsson Globe Arena at the final IAAF Indoor Permit Meeting of 2011. Topping it off, she finished second only to former World record holder Svetlana Feofanova of Russia but ahead of Brazil’s Fabiana Murer, the 2010 World indoor champion and inaugural Samsung Diamond Race winner in the event.
Even though Bengtsson had such a remarkable 2010 that she received the "Rising Star" award at the World Athletics Gala last year, nobody could have foreseen such a further rapid rise to a level where she would be capable of challenging the top senior athletes on the global scene. And the three record vaults certainly were no flukes: After two initial failures at 4.53m she cleanly cleared that height with her third attempt and didn't even touch the bar with her first attempt clearances at 4.58m and second attempt at 4.63. She finally bowed out at 4.68m, but not before two very good attempts.
No wonder the audience "demanded" a lap of honour, a lap which was met by a roaring standing ovation. The only person in the arena that wasn't astounded by her achievements this night was Bengtsson herself, who in a rather matter-of-fact way said afterwards that she had felt so good in the meet two days ago that she expected further improvement. But she did give big credit to the enthusiastic and vociferous crowd for providing that extra spark of inspiration.
If there are two words Bengtsson doesn't understand the meaning of it must be "complacency" and "intimidation". Success seems to make her more hungry for further improvements and the setting of an IAAF Permit Indoor Meeting with a big crowd and some of the very best seniors in the field obviously brought out the very best in her. It should be noted that this was her very first competition ever of this character!
Arigawi sizzles 4:01.47 1500m world lead
But Bengtsson was not the only athlete this evening where the "Rising Star" descriptor fit perfectly. Twenty-year-old Ethiopian Abeba Arigawi continued her ascent to the top of the 1500m world with another truly emphatic win. Arigawi's ability for a sustained push for the last 600m or so appears absolutely invincible thanks to a long, smooth and powerful stride that "gobbles up" ground in a seemingly effortless way.
This time the reigning World indoor champion Kalkidan Gezahegne was among the helpless victims. Despite getting within about half a second of her own PB of 4:03.28 - which also constituted the Arena record – Gezahegne just saw Arigawi's back disappearing in front. Looking at the splits the reason was obvious: Arigawi finished in 2:07.0 – 62.0 – 29.8!!
Her winning time of 4:01.47 was not just a new 2011 world leader and a new arena record but it also moved her up into 10th place all-time and there is no doubt that considerably faster times would be possible if there was someone around capable of pushing her. This was her fourth race this winter and her winning margins have been 3.36, 1.89, 3.62 and now 2.36 seconds!
With the international indoor gala season now effectively concluded Arigawi will probably have to wait for next winter for an opportunity to challenge the World indoor record as Abubaker Kaki did once more in the 1000m. And once more the race illustrated how tough it is to get the pacing right for this distance: A much too fast 25.5 first lap separated the pacemakers and Kaki from the rest of the field and then he had to struggle hard with laps of 27, 28, 28.5 and almost 29.
At the start of last lap Kaki looked almost spent and likely to be reeled in by the peleton of opponents sprinting hard but the Sudanese once more proved his ability to never give in even if the body is filled with lactic acid. That he not only won but also improved his 2011 world leading time by a couple of tenths to 2:17.55 shows that with the right pacing in the early stages he is physically capable of challenging Wilson Kipketer's World record of 2:14.96.
Defar takes 3000m
As for the other assumed World record attempt – by Meseret Defar in the women's 3000m – it quite soon became obvious that she was not quite in the necessary kind of superior form. She did win the race and she did improve the arena record by two and half seconds to 8:36.91 but she didn't have the strength needed to push those 33/34 second laps from start to finish. It was learned that a slight injury had limited her training in the latter stages of last year and even a runner like Defar needs long periods of hard training according to plan to be in World record shape.
Idowu prevails in Triple Jump showdown
The most exciting competition of the evening was provided by the men's Triple Jump and that was really no surprise as just about everyone was in the field with the exception of World indoor record holder Teddy Tamgho. In the end reigning World and European champion Phillips Idowu did prevail but he was really under pressure. Not so much from their countryman Christian Olsson as the Swedish spectators would have hoped as from Cuba's Alexis Copello and Romania's Marian Oprea.
Idowu took the early lead by opening with 17.21m but was surpassed in the second round at first by Copello's 17.22m and then Oprea's 17.37m. It took a couple of rounds before Idowu could strike back with 17.48m but he never was safe as both Copello and Oprea had huge jumps that got red flagged. Especially Opreas’ sixth effort was truly massive proving that his five-year-old indoor PB of 17.74m could be challenged!
Tornéus improves to 8.13m
If Olsson the triple jumper didn't perform as well as hoped – but of course he still had a couple of 17m jumps in his series – Michel Tornéus the long jumper gave the home crowd what they wanted. In his first two visits to the Globe Arena he had not been able to master the built-up runway but Tornéus model 2011 is a another kind of athlete who has learned his craft and who can handle all kinds of challenges in a professional manner.
After winning in Tampere in 7.94m, in Mustasaari in 8.10m (indoor PB) and in Birmingham in 7.97m he took his fourth straight win this winter and improved his overall PB to 8.13m. Cuban Wilfredo Martinez also displayed consistent eight-metre jumping and took second with 8.07m while former World indoor champion Ignisious Gaisah finished third notching his first eight-metre jump of 2011.
The women's High Jump never really managed to get into the focus of attention where it traditionally has been in this meet thanks to athletes like Kajsa Bergqvist, Blanka Vlasic and Emma Green. But it was still a good competition and those in the crowd that did follow it got what probably was a first glimpse of the future as 18-year-old Russian Mariya Kuchina – belonging to that same exciting 1993 generation as pole vaulter Bengtsson – won clearing 1.93m and having good attempts at 1.96m.
On the sprint straight Ruddy Zang Milama of Gabon once more prevailed over Gloria Asumnu (3-1 this winter) despite almost stumbling out of the blocks well behind Asumnu. But Milama did not let herself become deterred and instead ran down Asumnu winning by half a metre in 7.20. Without that miss in the start Milama might have seriously challenged the 2011 world leading mark of 7.11.
In the men's 60m Hurdles the start did become a complete disaster for the favourite. Aries Merritt came to the meet with a perfect record of wins this winter, but by making a clear false start the first time of asking Merritt was out of it before it even started. Instead the race became an extremely hard fought three-way battle between Czech Petr Svoboda and Americans David Payne and Jeff Porter. In the end Svoboda in 7.55 prevailed by .03 and .04 respectively.
‘Hard fought three-way battle’ is an apt description as well for how the men's 800m played out. Clear favourite Boaz Lalang surprisingly faltered somewhat in the last 100m which gave his countrymen Richard Kiplagat and Jackson Kivuna the chance to challenge. In the end Kiplagat won in 1:46.28 with Lalang and Kivuna very close behind. The most impressive finish actually belonged to Kivuna who however had put himself in a position where he had a little too much ground to reclaim on the other two.
The women's 400m A-race also saw a surprise winner as co-favourites Antonina Krivoshapka and Novlene Williams-Mills in the very last stages of the race had to succumb to Czech Denisa Rosolova: 52.64 vs 52.65 and 52.91. It should also be noted that in the B-final a solo running Shana Cox was slightly quicker (52.58) than even Rosolova.
The men's 400m was dominated from start to finish by Sudan's Rabah Yousif who front ran powerfully to finish well over a second ahead of his closest opponent. However, it turned out that Yousif had broken a little bit too early from his lane and thus ended up disqualified. So what everyone first saw as an intense battle for second place somewhat surprisingly won by Sweden's Johan Wissman (47.41) actually was a battle for the win.
But despite all this, The 2011 XL-Galan in the Ericsson Globe Arena belonged to Bengtsson who showed that she is not just an exciting physical talent but the kind of athlete that really thrives on being centre stage. And by the way: Has it ever happened that an athlete has improved a World Junior record three times in one meet and four times in three days?
A. Lennart Julin for the IAAF
* pending the usual ratification procedures