Meseret Defar’s outstanding 5000m win over her compatriot Tirunesh Dibaba and Bohdan Bondarenko bringing the Letzigrund Stadium to a standstill as he attempted again to improve the High Jump World record provided the highlights of the first of this season’s IAAF Diamond League finals on Thursday (29).
The pair were run close by the 1500m win by Kenya’s Silas Kiplagat and Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s sizzling 200m win.
In total, there were 15 Diamond Race trophies awarded along with the US$40,000 first prize that accompanies them – the women’s Shot Put winners were crowned yesterday – before another sell-out crowd of 26,000 in Zurich.
The second of the 2013 Diamond League finals will be held in Brussels on 6 September.
Defar and Dibaba renew rivalry
A lot of the pre-meeting attention at the IAAF Diamond League final in Zurich was rightfully focused on Usain Bolt and Bohdan Bondarenko, two giants of global athletics literally and metaphorically, but they were upstaged by two diminutive, if only in height, Ethiopians: Merseret Defar and Tirunesh Dibaba.
Defar and Dibaba, the 5000m and 10,000m gold medallists respectively from the 2013 IAAF World Championships, were brought together to battle for supremacy over the shorter distance, something that didn’t happen in Moscow earlier this month owing to both of them deciding to only have one bite of the cherry in the Russian capital. It was just their fourth race against each other since the Beijing Olympics five years ago.
Dibaba may have come in as the World record-holder and 2013 world leader, while Defar was saying ahead of the meeting how tired she was after her recent outings in Moscow and Stockholm, but it was the latter who prevailed in a dramatic and thrilling last lap, coming home just under two seconds in front of her Ethiopian compatriot and rival in 14:32.83.
After a relatively sedentary first 4000m in 11:52.15, the pace started to hot up almost immediately. Dibaba took the lead with 600m to go and Defar stayed on her heels despite the former going through the gears.
Coming off the final bend, Defar then moved on to the shoulder of Dibaba before going past her, although her opponent never threw in the towel and finished in 14:34.82.
Defar and Dibaba may have been just a few seconds short of their fastest times of the year over the distance but they lived up to the word of meeting director Patrick Magyar that, “athletics is not just about races against the clock but also head-to-head competition.”
For the record, Defar uncorked an unofficial last kilometre of 2:40.68 and a last lap of 58.3. Into the bargain, her win meant that she was also was victorious in the Diamond Race and added a $US40,000 first prize as well as the impressive and elusive Diamond Trophy, which she received at the end of the meeting along with the 14 other winners on Thursday night.
Triple World champions Bolt and Fraser-Pryce take the sprints
Bolt had what has almost become his trademark poor start but the two-time World champion in the shorter sprint was imperious in the 100m once he got into his running in the second half of the race.
With the temperature at a pleasant 20°C, he crossed the line in 9.90 with his Jamaican compatriot Nickel Ashmeade 0.04 in arrears.
However, the Diamond Race, reflecting his season-long consistency, went to the US sprinter Justin Gatlin.
On Thursday night, Gatlin finished third in 9.96 but it was sufficient to give him the honours in the season-long series.
In the women’s showcase sprint, Fraser-Pryce was quick out of her blocks and had daylight between her and the rest of the field coming off the bend before crossing the line in 22.40 to leapfrog over Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure in the Diamond Race standings.
Just like in Moscow, Ahoure had to settle for second, this time in 22.66.
Two jumps to win for Bondarenko
Bondarenko, as expected, won the High Jump and subsequently the Diamond Race thanks to being flawless up to and including 2.33m, making that height with a soaring clearance.
Although Greece’s Konstantinos Baniotis and Mutaz Essa Barshim also cleared 2.33m at the first time of asking, they then brought the bar down three times at 2.35m, a height which Bondarenko passed, and they finished second and third respectively based on their earlier failures in the competition.
Bondarenko then audaciously requested for the bar to be put up to the World record height of 2.46m and asked for silence from an attentive Zurich crowd for his 11th attempt in the last two months at trying to consign to history Javier Sotomayor’s two-decade-old standard of 2.45m.
However, after one modest attempt – compared to his two good efforts after he had secured his gold medal in Moscow – he decided to call it a night after just three jumps in total to the slight disappointment of the rapt crowd.
Silas Kiplagat, third going into the final bend, came out of a tightly bunched leading pack coming into the last 100m to take the men’s 1500m in 3:30.97, just edging out Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman who finished second in 3:31.64 but who had already secured first place in the Diamond Race.
Victories for World champion hurdlers Hejnova and Oliver
Zuzana Hejnova dominated her 400m Hurdles race from the second barrier and came home in 53.22 to take her unbeaten run to 11 races in this event this season.
As part of that streak she has won all seven of the races in the Diamond League and so was a convincing winner of the Diamond Race. It was also her 10th sub-54 clocking this year; only Deon Hemmings in 1997 has recorded more sub-54 performances in one season, breaking that mark 12 times.
Like fellow hurdler Hejnova, David Oliver justified his status as the big favourite for the 110m Hurdles with a sparkling run in 13.12. It was the third consecutive Diamond League win for Oliver and helped him regain the Diamond Race he had won in its inaugural year of 2010.
Fellow US athlete LaShawn Merritt was another man who added US$40,000 to his bank balance after pocketing US$60,000 and a gold medal in Moscow.
Merritt, as has become the norm, went out fast in the 400m and was clearly in the lead at the halfway point, but his season-long rival and 2011 World champion Kirani James, clearly now over the stomach troubles which left the Grenadian weak in Moscow and trailing home seventh in the defence of his global crown, didn’t let him build up an unbeatable lead and fought with him all the way off the curb.
However, Merritt’s confidence is obviously sky-high at the moment and he not only held off James but stopped the clock at 44.13, his third fastest time of the season, while James came home in 44.32.
World champions beaten in Javelin and Long Jump
Maria Abakumova continues to make up for her below-par performance in Moscow, when she only got the bronze medal, by winning in Zurich with 68.94m.
The Russian opened with 64.90m, extended her lead with 65.29m before hitting her big throw in the third round. She finished off with efforts of 66.91m, 66.26m and then a foul; all five of her legal efforts better than the rest of the field, which was led by World champion Christina Obergfoll.
The German finished second with 63.36m but had already secured the Diamond Race before the meeting and so was another recipient of a Diamond Trophy.
South Africa’s Zarck Visser was a surprise winner of the Long Jump, flying out to a personal best of 8.32m in the third round.
Visser, who failed to make the final of the World Championships, beat the top four in Moscow as well as four-time World champion Dwight Phillips, who was having his very last international competition.
No one could get close to Visser, who got his big jump into a -0.8m/s wind, the nearest being his compatriot Godfrey Mokoena who leapt 8.11m.
World champion Aleksandr Menkov arrived in Zurich tired after the birth of his first child on Monday and understandably was not at his best.
The Russian only managed 7.94m and passed his remaining four attempts, eventually finishing sixth. However, as he had already clinched the Diamond Race prior to the final despite getting no points here, he stood on the podium at the end of the night.
The popular four-time World champion Phillips had announced that Zurich was to be his last international competition and, sadly, could only finish eighth with 7.53m but the 2004 Olympic champion was given a special award by IAAF President Lamine Diack in honour of his achievements and contribution to the sport.
Kanter upsets Harting and Malachowski
The first Diamond Race to be decided was the men’s Discus which saw World Championships bronze medallist and 2008 Olympic champion Gerd Kanter snatch the title from under the nose of the two men who finished in front of him in Moscow: Germany’s Robert Harting and Poland’s Piotr Malachowski.
Kanter could only take the Diamond Trophy if he won and Malachowski finished outside the top three and that is exactly what happened after the Estonian threw a season’s best of 67.02m in the third round while Malachowski had a night to forget and was down in seventh with 63.70m.
Harting pushed the inspired Kanter hard and reached 66.83m in the fourth round but it was just 19cm short of the mark which would have given him the win and, instead, made him the Diamond Trophy recipient.
There were other exciting Diamond Race battles in the women's Pole Vault and Long Jump, and both were won by the less favoured athletes.
With USA's Olympic champion Jenn Suhr retiring from the competition after just two vaults, it left Yarisly Silva, Fabiana Murer and Silke Spiegelburg in the hunt for glory. Murer and Spiegelburg shared the lead with the bar at 4.72m, both with perfect records, while Silva's three attempts at 4.62m left the Cuban playing catch-up.
Spiegelburg then went over 4.79m, a season's best, on her first try as Murer and Silva bowed out. The extra points moved the German into the overall lead in the Diamond Race ahead of Silva and Murer.
Three-time World champion Brittney Reese was never a factor in the Long Jump tonight. On a night of modest distances, Britain's Shara Proctor found 6.88m enough to beat Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare to the Diamond Trophy.
Kenyans Sum and Yego benefit from good late-season form
In the women’s 800m, there was a rematch between Kenya’s Eunice Sum and Russia’s Maria Savinova, the gold and silver medallists at the World Championships two weeks ago, and once again it was the African who triumphed.
Sum won in 1:58.82, just 0.11 in front of her predecessor as World champion, and as this event was wide open in the absence of Burundi’s injured Francine Niyonsaba, Sum also took the Diamond Trophy.
In the men’s 3000m Steeplechase, pacemaker Haron Lagat tore through the first kilometre in 2:39.26 but the tempo slowed by more than one second a lap as Stockholm winner Hilary Yego took over in the lead just before the 2000m mark, taking only his fellow Kenyan Jairus Birech with him.
The pair then duelled over the final two laps and left the main protagonists from Moscow trailing in their wake, Yego eventually winning in 8:08.03 to Bairus’s 8:08.72.
Behind the leading pair, Moscow silver medallist Conseslus Kipruto correctly assessed that if he finished third then he would win the Diamond Race and the teenager filled that position in a time of 8:10.76 while three-time World champion Ezekiel Kemboi was a distant 10th.
The pick of the non-Diamond League events was the women’s 100m, which saw Jamaica’s Carrie Russell speed to a personal best of 10.98, just holding off the USA’s Alexandria Anderson who fought her all the way over the final 50 metres but had to settle for second in 11.02.
Anderson later gained revenge over Russell in the 4x100m as the USA defeated World champions Jamaica. Charonda Williams ran a storming anchor to hold off Fraser-Pryce, 41.67 to 41.78.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF