Stuttgart, GermanyEven though the Sparkassen Cup meeting was under new management this winter, it was the “same procedure as every year”, with a World record, plus twelve world leading times posted in ten events on Saturday evening in Stuttgart’s Hanns-Martin-Schleyer-Halle. After twenty successful editions under the direction of Fredy Schäfer, the role of impresario tonight moved into the hands of former European Decathlon champion Alain Blondel. But, as the native French Blondel would agree, it was simply “la même chose”.
Defar lives up to billing
Meseret Defar was the marquee athlete in the publicity all week, but no one knew what to expect from her in the women’s 3000 metres after she had battled a cold during her stay last weekend in Boston, a visit which nonetheless produced a superb 8:30.31. The goal had been to smash the World indoor record of 8:27.86, so from that standpoint, the Ethiopian had been disappointed with her stay in New England.
Tonight she could erase all memories of Boston after her incredible 8:23.72 World record performance*, one which took more than four seconds off Liliya Shobukhova’s time from last year. It was not only the time that was incredible. It was also amazing that Defar even won, given the last-metre lean of compatriot Meselech Melkamu who was seeing an indoor track for the first time in her career. The three-time World Cross Country medallist stayed glued to Defar the entire distance, and then showed the savvy of an indoor veteran at the end of her 8:23.74 performance.
Defar brushed off what might have been interpreted as a show of disrespect by her junior colleague, but admitted that they had not discussed the race ahead of time. “I knew she was there. And during the last laps, I kept her in my sight using the TV screens in the hall,” said Defar later.
She still exhibited some lingering disgust over a missed opportunity last week. “I arrived in Boston in top condition. I was ready to crack the World record,” she declared. But instead of traveling immediately to Europe, Defar stayed in Boston for recovery. “Two days, I had no training, and then after that only some light work,” she reported. Her flight across the Atlantic -with the accompanying six-hour time change - occurred only on Thursday.
“I really was surprised by the time tonight,” she admitted. “I was expecting something like 8:26. I think I could have run even faster—perhaps something like 8:20 - if I wasn’t forced to control myself with Melkamu in the race.”
Olga Komyagina was the sole pacemaker assigned to the competition, and though the Russian was able to bring Defar and Melkamu consistently under 34 seconds for most of the first 1200 metres, the pace began to sag after that point. “Yes, the pacemaking wasn’t quite as good as I had hoped, but I stayed with her as long as I thought it was prudent.”
The plan was for Komyagina to stay on the track for 2000 metres, but after 1800, the Ethiopian pair set out on their own. Immediately, the pace quickened and never again was a lap slower than 34, with the last 200 being taken in 32.0.
Almost unnoticed behind the Ethiopian record assault was the superb performance of Britain’s Jo Pavey whose 8:31.50 British record moved her past such luminaries as Elly van Hulst and Gabriella Szabo to the number-two all-time European performer, and more importantly for the short-term put her at the top of the Continent’s list in this championship year.
Fasuba begins parade of world leading performances
Olusoji Fasuba started things off early in the evening with a world-leading 6.53 in his heat of the men’s 60 Metres. The Nigerian had a firm grip on matters as he bested the previous co-world leader, Britain’s Craig Pickering, who equaled his own PB of 6.55.
Marcus Brunson followed with a 6.54 in the second heat, ahead of three-time European indoor champion Jason Gardener’s 6.59. A fast final was all but assured.
Fasuba’s start in the final was superb. Seemingly oblivious to a stumbling Fredy Mayola on his immediate left, the Nigerian immediately took aim for the finish and captured the win in yet another world-leading 6.49, a personal best and only 0.01 off Deji Aliu’s eight-year-old national record. Brunson finished a close second in a year-best 6.51, as erstwhile global leader Pickering showed continued consistency with his third-place 6.57.
Robles shocks Xiang
The men’s 60 Metres Hurdles was left as the wrap-up event for the night, but what a way to end it! Outdoor World record holder Liu Xiang was the first away from the start, and the Chinese star stayed in a low crouch until almost to the first hurdle. He had a formidable lead for the first pair of hurdles. But on the outside, the orange and black uniform of Dayron Robles suddenly came into view.
The young Cuban, running in only his third indoor competition (for a total of seven races) blew away Liu and everyone else with an amazing 7.38 PB clocking, obliterating his own world-leading time of 7.49 from earlier in the week. Liu held firm and clocked 7.45 for second, as Ron Bramlett finished third in a distant 7.58.
Susanna Kallur posted yet another season list leader with 7.85 in her heat of the women’s 60 Metres Hurdles, just dipping under Gail Devers’ 7.86 winning time at the Millrose Games on Friday night. It was the second-fastest performance of the Swede’s career, being bettered only by her gold medal performance of 7.80 at the 2005 European Championships.
Kallur came back to win the final in 7.88, with LoLo Jones a close second in 7.91 and Vonette Dixon (7.98) and Kirsten Bolm (7.99) taking the next two places.
Shadrack Korir added to the world-leader parade with a 7:37.35 win in the men’s 3000 Metres. As soon as the pacemakers had departed just after the 1600 mark, Korir found himself running close behind Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, with Bob Tahri and Boniface Songok completing the lead quartet.
Suddenly, as Komen passed the 2K mark at 5:05.14, the pace quickened as Korir stayed tight with his Kenyan compatriot. It was only a momentary burst of speed, however, and after two more laps had passed, the quartet was back together again.
At the gun, Korir asserted himself and challenged Komen and the others to follow. But it was Korir’s day, as his winning time was also a personal best. Komen’s chase at the end produced a deceptively close 7:37.47 for second as Bob Tahri’s third-place 7:38.41 put him at the top of the year’s European list, besides establishing a French national record as the fourth-best European ever. Songok faded badly on the final round to 7:43.76 for fourth.
Two wins, pair of PBs for Jones
Just about the time LaVerne Jones appeared to be making a serious move up to the 400 metres, the Virgin Island sprinter surprised with a 7.16 world-leading clocking in the women’s 60 Metres. It was her second PB of the evening, coming after a 7.24 performance in the heats.
It didn’t appear to be a particularly good start for Jones, but by the halfway mark she was gunning for the finish, passing eventual second placer Silke Schielke of Germany whose 7.25 was a season best.
Later in the evening, Jones controlled the top section of the 400 marvelously, coming through the first lap in 24.20 and taking more than a half second off her previous PB with a 51.60, tantalizingly close to the season’s best time of 51.58. Claudia Hoffmann (52.57) and European bronze winner Olga Zaytseva (52.93) were far back in second and third.
Petlyuk fights off Ceplak
Tetyana Petlyuk of Ukraine took charge of the Women’s 800 Metres with 150 metres remaining and powered to . . . what else? . . . a world-leading time of 1:58.67, ahead of Slovenian Jolanda Ceplak’s 1:59.62. It was also a Sparkassen Cup record.
Sasha Spencer had taken the field through just over 400 metres, and Ceplak found herself in the lead at that point, with compatriot Brigita Langerholc and Petlyuk following closely. At the bell, the Ukrainian started to position herself to the outside, and off the penultimate curve, she made the move which resulted in a relatively easy win. Langerholc held third with 2:00.44.
Otto breaks Bubka's meet record
The evening’s programme had only three field events, but one of them - the men’s Pole Vault - featured a loaded field. The dozen jumpers did not disappoint, as Germans Fabian Schulze and Björn Otto waged a riveting chess game on the elevated runway.
Schulze cleared a PB 5.83, a world-leading jump, on his third try as Otto watched, having passed the height. But the 29-year-old Universiade champion countered by breaking Sergey Bubka’s meet record with a 5.88 on attempt two as Schulze this time was the spectator. The competition ended as Schulze made three unsuccessful, but respectable, tries at 5.93. One of four vaulters clearing 5.70, Lars Börgeling took third on a countback.
The men’s Triple Jump lost much of its lustre with the withdrawal of Olympic Champion Christian Olsson due to an injury suffered earlier this week. Nelson Evora of Portugal took the advantage from his first jump and pushed it out to his winning 17.17 in round two, as Nathan Douglas of Britain (17.14) and American Aarik Wilson (16.99) took the next two places.
The women’s Long Jump turned into a runaway affair for Yargelis Savigne of Cuba who twice bettered her indoor PB and finished with a best of 6.79, not far from the year’s best of 6.82. Jana Veldáková of Slovakia finished second with 6.56, ahead of the last-round 6.48 of Latvian Ineta Radevica.
The men’s 800 Metres was dominated almost throughout by Kenya’s Wilfried Bungei who easily won in a world-leading 1:45.72. European champion Bram Som had moved from his rear position to the middle of the pack at the 400, and he looked ready to challenge Bungei, but the Kenyan put on a burst with 100 left and that settled the affair.
Abraham Chepkirwok zipped past the fading Som on the run-in to take second in 1:46.91, with the Dutch runner still posting a Europe-leading 1:47.16 for third.
Antar Zerguelaine took the lead right after the bell in the men’s 1500 Metres to register a 3:39.49, which was the best of this young season. Laban Rotich made a charge at the end to catch the Algerian but his 3:39.78 fell short, as a second Algerian, Tarek Boukensa, was third in 3:40.43.
A pair of races in the men’s 200 Metres was staged, with the top performance coming from European silver medallist Johan Wissman of Sweden with 20.73, just off LaShawn Merritt’s season-leading 20.71. Only Wissman bettered 21 seconds among the eight competitors.
Ed Gordon for the IAAF
* pending the usual ratification procedures