Mariya Abakumova wins the Javelin at the Samsung Diamond League in Doha (Jiro Mochizuki) © Copyright
The New York Samsung Diamond League meeting has so far been the outstanding competition of the year with World record holder (72.28m; 2008) and reigning Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic succumbing to an unexpected defeat from African record holder Sunette Viljoen of South Africa.
The Czech was in fine form and began her competition with a season’s best 68.72m release and that looked to be the easy winner until in the fifth round Viljoen heaved out a remarkable 69.35m. That distance improved on the Area record of 68.38m with which she had taken World bronze in Daegu last summer. Showing the true mark of a champion Spotakova responded with the last throw of the competition with 68.73m, though there can be little doubt she must have been shocked at the manner of her defeat. Viljoen has well and truly established herself in the world elite in the last few seasons and is a genuine contender for Olympic gold.
The event in the last four years has until that New York event been dominated by two women Spotakova and Russia’s Maria Abakumova. Russia’s 2011 World champion is 26 years old, the youngest of the now trio of top throwers with Spotakova, 31, and Viljoen, 29.
Abakumova and Spotakova’s battle in Beijing is the stuff of Olympic legend. At the time there had only been one competition with the current implement in which two women had gone beyond 70m in the same competition. That was when Christina Obergföll’s 70.03m European record at the 2005 World Championships was overhauled by Cuba’s Olisdeilys Menéndez’s 71.70m World record. Three years later in Beijing Spotakova and Abakumova traded punches leading to a fourth round 70.28m national record from the Russian which was demolished in the final volley of efforts by Spotakova’s 71.42m Area record.
Last summer in Daegu, these two throwers locked spears again and topped even that Beijing final with three 71 plus metre throws recorded, and Abakumova winning with 71.99m to 71.58m, both efforts coming in the greatest fifth round of all-time.
Given recent history then there is little doubt that 70m will be needed to take gold in London, and while Viljoen looks on the verge of such a distance, who else has the potential this season?
The obvious answer to that is Obergföll because of course she has already visited that territory in her career. The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist has a best of 67.04m this year but her 70.20m national record from 2007 now seems a distant memory. Also in a depleted European championships final in Helsinki this summer – from which Abakumova and Spotakova were absent – the event’s permanent bridesmaid still couldn’t secure gold losing out to Ukraine’s Vira Rebryk’s 66.86m.
Slovenia’s Martina Ratej (66.24m) was the only other athlete beyond 66m this year, until at the Samsung Diamond League meeting in London on 14 July home Olympic hopes were lifted when British record holder Goldie Sayers, who was fourth in Beijing with her previous best (65.75m), astonished even herself with a 66.17m release to beat Spotakova, Rebryk and Viljoen.
Also of interest are three young Chinese, led by national record holder Lingwei Li (65.11m), who might contend for bronze, and Germany’s Linda Stahl, the European champion in 2010 who took third this summer in Helsinki.
Chris Turner for the IAAF
1999 Galfione on track