Nine world leading performances capped by impressive displays by 800m ace David Rudisha and former 100m World record holder Asafa Powell were the key highlights as the IAAF Diamond League got underway in the Qatari capital.
With strong fields across the board, entertaining battles and strong performances were the rule rather than the exception, culminating in one of the finest early May meetings in recent memory.
Rudisha in total command
With a slew of World and Olympic medalists toeing the line, the men’s 800m was billed as the race of the night. But with his powerful victory, one that was essentially gun-to-tape, Rudisha showed the world (again) that he just could be the event’s next prominent force.
The lanky Kenyan, just 21 and already the African record holder at 1:42.01, immediately tucked behind the pacesetter Sammy Tangui, who covered the first lap in exactly 50 seconds. It was slower than the 48.8 Rudisha set as his midway target before the race, but content to run some two metres behind Tangui over the first lap, Rudisha slightly altered those tempo plans to test his second half strength. By any measure, it was a test he passed brilliantly.
His only serious challenge came from Asbel Kiprop, his Kenyan compatriot and the Olympic 1500m champion, but Rudisha handily fended him off over the final 200 metres, maintaining his rhythm en route to his 1:43.00 meeting record.
“Everything was right,” said Rudisha, who arrived in Doha as the world leader thanks to his 1:43.15 in Sydney back in March. “I was expecting to run a fast time and I did.” Rudisha races next in Ostrava on 27 May.
Kiprop hung on for a solid 1:43.45, with Moroccan Amine Laalou, who celebrated his 28th birthday yesterday, taking the final Diamond race point in third clocking 1:43.71. Still early in his training regimen, World champion Mbulaeni Mulaudzi was content with fourth, clocking a season’s best 1:43.78.
With a pair of quick runs, all systems go for Powell
The numbers in the world lead column would certainly have been higher had Doha’s well-known evening winds cooperated, particularly affecting two strong performances by Asafa Powell.
Assisting winds notwithstanding, the two-time World championships bronze medallist was clearly pleased with his two dashes this evening, a 9.75 (+2.6) in the heats and his 9.81 (+2.3) in the final, the latter for a clear victory over impressive runner-up Nesta Carter.
Despite a quick gun and a slip near the start of the final, Powell was relaxed and comfortable, and didn’t pull away clearly until the final 30 metres.
“These are very good times for the first race of the season,” the Jamaican said. Noteworthy too is that both his performances, under all conditions, were quicker than any of his races in 2009. His mission, to “open people’s eyes”, was clearly accomplished.
Carter held on for second in 9.88 with American sub-10 speedster third in 9.92, just ahead of Michael Frater’s 9.94 to spoil a Jamaican sweep in the Diamond Race points chase.
Langat outkicks Burka
One of the foundations of the IAAF Diamond League concept is to regularly provide strong head-to-head competition, and there were plenty of those on hand this event before a near capacity crowd at Doha’s Qatar Sports Club stadium which is comfortably nestled in the daunting shadow of the city’s futuristic West Bay skyline.
One of the more dramatic tussles came in the women’s 1500m where Olympic champion Nancy Langat produced what was clearly her finest performance since her triumph in Beijing.
Spurred on by the raucous Ethiopian fans who were out in full force and occupied most of the stadium’s first bend, Gelete Burka controlled much of the race behind the pacesetter for the first three circuits. But Langat, along with compatriot Viola Kibiwott, shadowed her closely, with both preparing to pounce over the final 250 metres. On this night, it would be Langat’s turn to display an impressive closing gear, which she turned to midway through the final bend to take the lead for good en route to a 4:01.63 world leader and meet record.
Langat had only won two 1500m races since her Olympic triumph, and clearly this victory was a crucial one for the 28-year-old, who is on the mend from illness which slowed her considerably in 2009.
“I had health problems last year, but training has gone well this year,” Langat said. “I came here to run my race and I’m very happy with my time.”
Burka held on for second in 4:02.16, and was greeted by several fans who jumped to fence to embrace her and do a little dance before being ushered back off the track.
Two-time World champion Maryam Jamal of Bahrain was never a factor and finished a well-beaten tenth in 4:09.25.
Among the better ones came in the women’s Javelin Throw where the fiercely-fought four round competition wasn’t decided until the final round. Olympic silver medallist Mariya Abakumova of Russia set the tone with a 66.82m effort in the first round, indicating that an assault on her own world lead (68.31) was in the cads. The surprise of the night came in the second round when Martina Ratej launched the spear 67.16m, to extend her own Slovenian national record by more than a metre.
But the Russian responded in round three with a 68.89m heave to retake the lead and extend her world lead. Ratej had nothing left in the tank and fouled her last two efforts, but Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova did, throwing 67.33m with her last throw to move finish runner-up.
Cantwell dominates, Spiegelburg equals PB with borrowed poles
Another world lead came early in the evening courtesy of World Shot Put champion Christian Cantwell. The American, who retained his World indoor title here two months ago, dominated the competition from the start and eventually reached a world-leading 21.82m twice to dispense with the field. Even his shortest effort, a 21.32m in the opening round, would have sufficed for the win.
Germany’s Ralf Bartels’ opening 21.14m was his best, and good enough for second overall, with former World champion Reese Hoffa taking third with a 21.00m best.
Jumping with borrowed poles, Silke Spiegelburg equaled her career best of 4.70m with a third attempt clearance to collect the first three points in the Pole Vault’s Diamond hunt, with the next five – Tatyana Polnova of Russia, Czech Jirina Ptacnikova, World champion Anna Rogowska of Poland, American Lacy Janson, and Nikola Kiriakopoulou of Greece – topping out at 4.55m. The German’s winning height was also a world lead.
With a strong homestretch performance, three-time World 200m champion prevailed in the 400m yet again in Doha, clocking 50.15, another world leader. African champion Amantle Montsho improved her season’s best to 50.34 to turn back Jamaican Novlene Williams-Mills (50.50), World indoor champion Debbie Dunn (50.85) and Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu (50.88).
Kipchoge world-leading 12:51.21, Copello leads Cuban Sweep in the Triple Jump
The Doha evening heat (31 C at the start) didn’t affect Kenyans Eliud Kipchoge and Vincent Chepkok in the 5000m, but it did stifle World Cross Country champion Joseph Ebuya.
Kipchoge, the 2003 World champion, and Chepkok demolished a strong field in an honestly run duel, with Kipchoge prevailing in 12:51.21, another world leader. Chepkok was just a stride back, clocking 12.51.45, a career best by four seconds.
Ebuya, who indicated before the meet that he brought sub-12:50 ambitions to Doha, struggled for most of the race and finished well back in 13:33.37, ninth among the 12 finishers.
Alexis Copello, the 2009 World championships bronze medallist, lead a Cuban 1-2-3 sweep in the Triple Jumps thanks to his final round 17.47m effort, a meeting record and yet another world lead. Like their compatriot, David Girat (17.29m) and Yoandri Betanzos (17.22m) reached their best efforts in the final round. The trio were the only jumpers in the eight-man field to soar past the 17-metre mark.
The most peculiar race of the evening was the men’s 3000m Steeplechase in which pace setters David and Patrick Langat ran some 50 metres ahead of the pack for the first three minutes, rendering their effort useless. Or so it seemed. Once David concluded his chores, Patrick continued running for the victory, and in the end nearly succeeded.
He wasn’t caught until some 300 metres remained, when he was passed first by Ezekiel Kemboi, and then by Paul Kipsiele Koech. The two battled it out in the waning stages before Kemboi, the World champion, pulled away in the last 50 metres to win in 8:06.28 to Koech’s 8:06.69.
Langat was awarded for his efforts with a third place showing – and a Diamond chase point – in 8:09.12, an improvement on his personal best by more than 10 seconds.
Cuba’s Barrios the first Diamond League winner
Yarelis Barrios of Cuba will be remembered as the first Diamond League winner after her victory in the discus. The 26-year-old World and Olympic silver medallist reached 64.90m in the third round to wrestle the lead away from World champion Dani Samuels of Australia, whose 64.67m was her best effort of the night. Croatia’s European junior champion Sandra Perkovic was third with a toss of 62.33m.
Blanka Vlasic collected her fourth straight victory in Doha (fifth, if you include her World indoor title), but for the first time, with a clearance of under two metres.
“I’m happy to win the (Diamond Race) points,” the Croatian said after her victory at 1.98m. “But I didn’t expect to feel so tired,” a condition likely due, she said, to a change in her training regimen between her two most recent trips to Doha.
Vlasic needed a second go at 1.98m before sailing clear, to defeat American Chaunte Howard-Lowe, the early season world leader 2.00m on countback, with the American clearing on his third try. Spaniard Ruth Beitia was a distant third, topping out at 1.94m.
Striking first blood in the women’s 200m was Olympic silver medallist Kerron Stewart, who pulled away effortlessly from compatriot Sherone Simpson with some 50 metres remaining to win handily in 22.34, a season’s best. The pair were running about even through the bend before Stewart broke free to ease through the finish. Simpson clocked 22.64 for second, just two ticks ahead of Cayman Islander Cydonie Mothersill.
In a fiercely fought women’s 100m Hurdles race, Lolo Jones didn’t secure the win until the ninth hurdle when she blasted away from Ginnie Powell-Crawford first, and then Canada’s Priscilla Lopes-Schliep to stop the clock in a windy 12.63 (+2.7). All in all, a pleasant return to Doha for the World indoor champion in the 60m Hurdles.
“I had a terrible start and hit some hurdles, so I was shocked to see that I was winner,” Jones said.
The men’s 400m hurdles went roughly according to plan, with former World champion Bershawn Jackson out-dueling two-time World champion Kerron Clement over the final 50 metres for a solid 48.66 win. Clement clocked 48.882 for second, well ahead of South African L.J. van Zyl (49.59). Olympic champion Angelo Taylor struggled a bit down the homestretch to finish a well-beaten fourth in 49.66.
“Today we couldn’t get better times because of the wind,” Jackson, the Olympic bronze medallist said. “But it is nice to beat the Olympic champion and the World champion in one race.”
The IAAF Diamond League continues in Shanghai on 23 May.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF Diamond League