With all eyes on Japan's newly minted teenage sprint hero Yoshihide Kiryu, US sprinter Michael Rodgers calmly ran away with the men's 100m to break Japanese hearts a little at the Seiko Golden Grand Prix, an IAAF World Challenge meeting, in Tokyo on Sunday (5).
Rodgers clocked 10.19 seconds into an unhelpful -1.2m/s breeze to win on a day when a steady swirling wind at Tokyo's National Stadium all but ensured that the athletes would be placing priority on positions over performance.
"I felt the wind when I came out. I was like, 'Oh my god,'" said Rodgers. "But it was a good run. After a 13-hour flight, I wasn't expecting anything big today. Just get the win."
The Bahamas' 2007 world silver medallist Derrick Atkins finished second in 10.24 while Kiryu, running in the lane next to Rodgers, had a satisfying third place in 10.40 although the conditions kept him short of his well-publicised goal of becoming Japan's first ever sprinter to go under 10 seconds.
"I wasn't as nervous as I thought I would be," said the 17-year-old Kiryu, the Japanese high school student who last week stunned the athletics world by tying the world junior record of 10.01 at a Japanese Grand Prix meet in Hiroshima.
"I was really looking forward to my first race against foreign runners. The way the foreign athletes accelerate in the second half (of the race) is so different. I'm really happy with third, and that I beat one of the nine-second runners,” he added.
Rodgers embraced Kiryu after the race and the two stood arm-in-arm, waving to the crowd of 18,000 in the venue that hosted the 1964 Olympics and 1991 IAAF World Championships.
"He's going to be great," commented Rodgers. "He's a good kid, got a long, bright future. He's still in high school, so he has a lot of room to grow. He's brave. A lot of kids get scared when they get into a big competition, but he did great today."
The problems caused by the wind could also be seen in the women’s 100m, won by Bulgaria’s Ivet Lalova in a modest 11.46 as she fought against a -2.4m/s headwind.
Melich resists all challengers
In the opening men’s competition of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, Czech Republic’s Lukas Melich had already clinched victory when he uncorked a world-leading throw of 79.00m on his last attempt. Tajikistan's Dilshod Nazarov was second with 77.61m.
Melich, sixth at the 2012 Olympics, was leading the competition at the halfway point when Nazarov matched him on his fourth attempt with his 77.61m effort. Melich then responded with successive tosses of 77.84m and 78.44m before capping his first career Challenge victory.
"After I saw [Nazarov's] last throw and I knew it was no good, I was still thinking about 79 (metres) or better, so I had a little bit of concentration and got it done."
The star of the women’s events was Russian high jumper Anna Chicherova. The world and Olympic champion shook off the rust after almost eight months without a competition to win with a leap of 1.95m, but not before she had some nervous moments by needing three attempts to clear 1.92m.
"I [wanted] to do more technique training at home, but the weather was not so good, I had just three training [sessions]," she said. "So I don't look stable. I'm a little bit heavy, I can't do my normal approach. But I have time and I will try to my best step by step,” said Chicherova, reflecting that she was still satisfied with her outing.
Poland's Kamila Stepaniuk and Kazakhstan's Marina Aitova both cleared 1.92m, with Stepanuik placing second due to having fewer misses.
USA’s Olympic bronze medallist Janay DeLoach leapt 6.82m with her second attempt in the long jump, and then passed on her final three attempts as she scurried over for a run in the the 100m hurdles, but that mark stood up for the victory, as her compatriot Funmi Jimoh finished second with 6.68m and Japan's Sachiko Masumi third at 6.62m.
In the hurdles, USA’s Lolo Jones took advantage of a mistake by her fellow US sprint hurdler and Olympic bronze medalist Kellie Wells to win in 12.92.
Wells, who was leading before she hit a hurdle midway through the race, placed second in 13.07, with DeLoach third in 13.11.
"We ran into a headwind; I think the hurdlers want a tailwind," said Jones, who was fourth in London last summer. "It messed up Kellie, she was winning but she hit a hurdle. I'm just happy to have a clean race."
Two meeting records fell, and both at the feet of Kenyan runners.
Jairus Birech won the men's 3000m steeplechase in a world-leading 8:15:26, topping the meeting record of 8:18.06 he set last year when the event was staged in Kawasaki, and he beat Olympic bronze medallist Abel Mutai into second place, with the latter clocking 8:19.31. Bernard Nganga completed a Kenyan sweep by placing third in 8:19.63.
“I knew I was stronger than the other Kenyans, that's why I went to the front and controlled the pace," said Birech.
In the men's 800m, Anthony Chemut won a duel with the prodigious 17-year-old Kenyan Robert Biwott to win in 1:46.51, eclipsing the meeting record of 1:46.53 set by Australia's Jeff Risely in 2008.
Former world champion Bershawn Jackson, trying to rebound after failing to make the US Olympic team last summer, ran strong through the final curve to win the men's 400m hurdles in 49.11.
"I wanted to run a little bit harder but it's my first month in from injury, so I'm still a bit out of shape, a bit rusty. I'm pleased to have a win," said Jackson.
The host nation came away with two winners, both in the men’s field events, as 2009 world bronze medallist Yukifumi Murakami easily won the javelin with 81.16m and Seito Yamamoto cleared 5.50m to triumph in the pole vault.
Ken Marantz for the IAAF