London, UKSome of the great rivalries in world athletics played themselves out here tonight as the first episode of London’s two-day Samsung Diamond League show produced some clear pointers towards who will be taking medals in the IAAF World Championships which get underway in Daegu, Korea on 27 August.
The Aviva London Grand Prix saw David Rudisha maintain his pre-eminence over Abubaker Kaki at 800m. Dayron Robles, the Olympic 110m Hurdles champion, did the same over his US challenger David Oliver, although another US challenger, Jason Richardson, pushed him hardest. In the women’s Javelin Throw, Germany’s Christina Obergfoll nudged ahead of the Olympic champion, Barbora Spotakova, while in the men’s Long Jump, Mitchell Watt of Australia produced an effort of 8.45m which kept him ahead of a supercharged British duo of Chris Tomlinson – who managed 8.30m – and Greg Rutherford.
World leads for Spencer in 400m Hurdles and teenager James in 400m
There were two world-leading times for 2011 as well, as Kaliese Spencer won the women’s 400m Hurdles in 52.79 and Grenada’s precociously talented 18-year-old World Junior champion Kirani James won the 400m in 44.61.
Spencer’s flourish in the 400m Hurdles involved an aggressive display of positive running in which she took a big lead within the first two hurdles and simply refused to allow a field which included the Czech Republic runner Zuzana Hejnova, who had beaten her in their previous Diamond League meeting in Paris in what was the fastest 2011 time up to that point, 53.29.
Hejnova never got to grips with her rival in a race where Spencer’s Jamaican colleague Melaine Walker, the World and Olympic champion, finished second in 53.90, being overhauled in the final strides as home runner Perri Shakes-Drayton, winner of both the 400m and 400m Hurdles at the recent Aviva Championships and Trials came through to take third place in a season’s best of 54.62.
Hejnova finished fourth in 54.74 as Spencer, who had cleared each hurdle as if it was a minor annoyance, stretched her Diamond League lead to eight points.
“I came here to get a pb, and I did just that,” said Spencer, who tied Sandra Farmer-Patrick as the eighth fastest in history. “I’m absolutely delighted. I run great 400s, and my coach told me to run it like I run the 400, so I did that. In Daegu I know I can do better than I have before. I think I’ll be in great shape.”
James, the upwardly mobile one-lap talent, added to his growing reputation with a perfectly judged Diamond League race which took him clear of Jamaica’s Jermaine Gonzales, second in 44.85, and Christopher Brown of the Bahamas, who was third in 45.04, with the US Olympic 400m Hurdles champion Angelo Taylor, due to race in his speciality tomorrow, fourth in the same time.
Rudisha beats back Kaki’s late charge
The first meeting of the season between the two greatest 800m talents of the moment – Rudisha and Kaki – ended with the Kenyan World record holder winning in 1:42.91, a meeting record and UK All Comers’ record, bettering the time of 1:43.22 set by Steve Cram in winning the 1986 Commonwealth title in Edinburgh.
But the most important thing for Rudisha was the win in a race where, as in their epic race at last season’s Samsung Diamond League race in Oslo, the smaller man pushed him all the way to the line, teeth bared with effort, doing all he knew to narrow the gap including dipping at the line.
Rudisha, his face, by contrast, a mask of concentration, maintained the lead he had inherited with 350 metres remaining as the pacemaker peeled away having taken the field through 400m bang on target in 49.61.
Kaki, who plans to double up over 1500 metres at next year’s London Games following his hugely promising third place in Monaco, where he reduced his personal best from 3:39 to 3:31, finished with a season’s best of 1:43.13, with Boaz Lalang of Kenya finishing third in 1:44.13.
Home runner Andrew Osagie, winner of the Aviva Trials and Championships, achieved the A qualifying mark he needed to confirm his trip to Daegu by finishing fifth in 1:45.36.
Blake content with 9.95 win
The big 100m rivalry has been a little harder to manage this year, with former World champion Tyson Gay out for the season following a hip injury and Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell yet to meet.
Powell, who leads this year’s world lists with 9.78, said on the day before tonight’s final that he was running better than at any time since his first World record breaking year of 2005, but he made a late decision to withdraw from the 100m here in order not to exacerbate a groin problem he had picked up racing in Hungary during the previous week.
He said in a statement: “I have had some tightness in my groin since the race in Budapest," he said. "I had hoped that it would have cleared by now but it is still there. I am only focusing on Daegu. As much as I would love to run tonight, I just can’t risk anything with Daegu three weeks away.”
In Powell’s absence, Jamaican colleagues Yohan Blake and Nesta Carter stepped, swiftly, up to the plate, with Blake – a relatively late addition to the 100m field here – proving to be the first to finish with the event as he managed a time of 9.95, which equalled his season’s best, but was surely superior to his previous version given the headwind of 1.6 metres per second into which he was running.
Carter was second in 10.01, with Michael Rodgers of the United States third in 10.04.
Robles cruises to 13.04 season’s best, rapidly-improving Richardson again defeats Oliver
The 110m hurdles final strengthened the feeling that Robles, who has been so plagued by injury in the last couple of seasons, is regaining his former, formidable sharpness just in time to annexe another global title.
As in the Paris Diamond League meeting, the lithe, bespectacled figure was swiftly out of his blocks, with Oliver looking strangely sluggish. But whereas the big American virtually got back on terms by the finish in France, on this occasion he was unable to make up the ground and it was his team mate Richardson, who had beaten him at the last Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, who provided the most coherent challenge to the World record holder, who won in a meeting record of 13.04, his best this year.
Richardson got a hug from the Cuban after setting a personal best of 13.08. Oliver, third in 13.19, still maintains a three point lead in the Diamond League race.
“I feel confident but I need to work harder to win in Daegu,” Robles said. “I am working to run under 13 seconds there – I think I can do it.”
Obergfoll prevails in epic battle over Spotakova
The women’s javelin. Germany’s Olympic bronze medallist Obergfoll beat the Czech Republic’s Olympic champion Spotakova at the Paris Diamond League. Then Spotakova beat Obergfoll at the Monaco Diamond League with 69.45m, the furthest thrown of the year up to that point. Two days later with the second furthest, 68.86m, at a meeting in Kassel.
And so to London – where the two event leaders resumed battle. Spotakova took a first round lead with 63.72m, but Obergfoll overhauled her in the third round with an effort of 66.13m. The Czech thrower wrested the lead back with a fifth round effort of 66.41m, but the German raised the stakes again with her next throw, out to 66.74m.
With just 33 centimetres to close, Spotakova put everything into her final effort – too much, in fact, as the javelin skied upwards and fell marginally out of the sector, although it was well over 60 metres.
“I am pleased, of course,” said Obergfoll. “But actually the warm-up throws did not go as I planned and I was thinking ‘Oh My God!’"
What might the German do when it all comes right, you wonder? Obergfoll ended an outstandingly consistent sequence with 65.73m at the end of an evening where she claimed the meeting record as well as building on her Diamond Race lead in the event. She has been consistent all season – she now has four Diamond League wins and two second places to her credit. But will Spotakova beat her with another of her massive efforts?
It is going to be one hell of a competition between these two in Daegu.
What was effectively a separate competition was won by Britain’s Goldie Sayers, who produced a best effort of 63.41m – an encouraging way to warm up for South Korea for the woman who missed an Olympic medal by one place in 2008.
Watt’s momentum continues
Britain’s strength in depth at the Long Jump is not looking too shabby, with both Rutherford and Tomlinson, who regained his national record from him in Paris last month, looking in buoyant form as the World Championships loom.
Tomlinson won the British bragging rights on the night as he cleared eight metres on five of his six attempts, the best of which was a marginally wind-assisted (2.2mps) effort of 8.30m. Rutherford’s sequence was also consistent, with four jumps over eight metres, the best of them 8.19m, which earned him third place.
But both Brits had to give best to Watt, the Diamond Race leader from Australia, who managed only two jumps and a foul – choosing to pass on three occasions, including the last two – but won with a massive second round effort of 8.45m that was only nine centimetres behind the personal best he set this season.
“Last week I jumped 8.54 in round two so that’s what I want to be aiming to do, get a big jump out early as I think that’s what I’ll need to do in Daegu,” said Watt.
Asked by infield compere Iwan Thomas, the British 400m record holder, whether Britain might get two of the three long jump medals at the World Championships, Rutherford responded: “ I don’t see why not.”
Defending home turf, Meadows upsets Sinclair
The women’s 800m, which – unlike the men’s version, was within the Diamond League competition – was won in a season’s best of 1:58.60 by home runner Jenny Meadows, who moved decisively past Kenia Sinclair as the field entered the final straight. Jamaica’s Diamond Race leader clocked 1:59.16.
Meadows has been challenged by UK Athletics’ head coach Charles Van Commenee to turn the World bronze she won in 2009 into gold. Van Commenee, looking on from the stand, had much to be pleased with as, behind Sinclair, Meadows’s fellow Brits Marilyn Okoro and Emma Jackson both bettered two minutes in fourth and fifth place respectively as Lucia Klocova finished third in 1:59.65.
Okoro finished in a season’s best of 1:59.85, with Jackson breaking into sub-two minute territory for the first time with 1:59.97.
“I’m absolutely delighted,” said Meadows, who gave a special thank you to the crowd which had thundered its applause as she made her decisive break. “And I’m delighted for Emma in beating two minutes. It’s a real benchmark in world class athletes, and Britain have got five or six under it now.”
Farah tunes up for Daegu with 3000m victory
But home fans will have gone home from this south-east London venue convinced that they had seen a British World champion-to-be in the shape of Mo Farah, who produced what you could only describe as an Ethiopian finish to win a top class 3000m in 7:40.15, with an electric burst at the end which saw him cover the final 200m in 25.2 seconds.
“Today was just to see where I am, to try a different strategy and go hard at the end there,” said the man who leads this year’s world lists at both 5000 and 10,000m.
Saladuha and Suhr highlight the infield
In the absence of the Diamond Race leader in the women’s triple jump, Cuba’s world champion Yargelis Savigne, Olha Saladuha produced an outstanding series of performances to take over at the top, with five of her six efforts bettering that of 14.49m which earned Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan second place.
The Ukrainian’s best effort of the night, her second round of 14.80m, was only 18 centimetres off the personal best she set this year. Another hugely competitive rivalry is looking likely in South Korea.
In third place, Dana Veldakova of Slovakia produced a season’s best of 14.48.
Jennifer Suhr of the United States won the Pole Vault after clearing 4.79m metres at her second attempt, with last year’s Diamond Race winner Fabiana Murer of Brazil second with a season’s best of 4.71m. Russia’s former world champion Svetlana Feofanova was third with the same height, also a season’s best, and one place behind her, also on 4.71m, was Greece’s Nikolia Kiriakopoulou, who twice broke her national record.
Bianca Knight of the United States won the 200m – not part of the Diamond League calculations here - in 22.69, with Britain’s 17-year-old European under 20 champion Jodie Williams, making her Grand Prix debut, seventh in 22.95.
Towards the end of the evening, spectators produced sustained applause for the former Jamaican sprinting legend Merlene Ottey, who was running the final leg of the sprint relay for her new nation of Slovenia at the age of 51.
She told spectators that she was looking forward to coming back to London next year, adding: “I’m talking about the Olympics…”
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF