Meseret Defar’s slicing up of her own World best for the Two Miles was the performance of the night at the King Baudouin Stadium at the 31st edition of the Memorial Van Damme - IAAF Golden League.
A sell-out crowd of 47,500 also witnessed the confident continuation of the US$ 1 Million Jackpot quests of Sanya Richards and Yelena Isinbayeva, who now have just one more meeting victory to accomplish to secure their IAAF Golden League prize.
Two Miles World Best
8:58.58 for the women’s Two Miles! A race seldom run, and not an official World record distance but a runner who takes over 11 seconds off the existing fastest time for any event very much deserves the standing ovation of the ferocity and noise which greeted Meseret Defar’s performance tonight. Alone for about 1300 metres of the race, the World and Olympic 5000m champion’s assault on her own World best for the distance (9:10.47 – Carson, USA 10 May 2007) was determined and totally committed. Appropriately in that regard her name in Amharic means ‘bold’.
If anyone in future tries to question the quality of Defar’s effort because this is an imperial distance then they should note she improved the world season lead for 3000m on the way (8:29.52 - Mariem Alaoui Selsouli, 25 July 2007) and her 8:24.81 split was also a national Ethiopian record. Defar now travels to London on Sunday to have a crack at her 5km World best on the road (14:46).
Of note, Kenya’s Priscah Ngetich Jepleting brought home a national record in second (9:14.09) with another Kenyan in third spot, Silvia Kibet (9:16.62).
Task too great for solo Bekele
The other record bid was in the men’s 10,000m - in fact it had been the more heavily flagged of the two attempts prior to this meeting - and it ended without success. Yet a world season leading time by Kenenisa Bekele, the World record holder, Olympic champion and three-time World title winner at the distance can hardly be called a disappointment.
Bekele’s World record bid was scuppered because with only nine of the 25 laps run he found himself alone in pursuit of the 26:17.53 mark which he had set on this track two years ago. Surprisingly, Bekele despite winning in 26:46.18 was pursued to the line by Kenyan 21-year-old Moses Masai, who crossed in a 26:49.20 PB. Not a bad run for someone who set foot on the track tonight without a reputation and a best of just 27:03.20 (2006).
No one was more surprised than Masai – “When I was closing on Bekele, I got scared. I told myself, ‘What’s happening now? Bekele is running for a World record and I am running on his heels’. I didn’t expect to run a sub-27 race.”
US$ 1 Million comes ever closer
Sanya Richards wasn’t leaving anything to chance. Just like her run a week ago in Zürich when she established her previous season’s fastest of 49.36secs, she was up on most of her colleagues immediately from the gun in the 400m. She blew everyone away and in the process also improved her week long world season’s best, with a 49.29 sprint of supreme elegance. ‘Everyone’ included the Osaka silver and bronze medallists respectively Britain’s Nicola Sanders (50.34) and Novolene Williams of Jamaica (50.66).
The World champion Christine Ohuruogu of Britain, heavily beaten by Richards a week ago and absent here, returns to challenge again in the finale on Sunday (16). However, it looks like the 2006 World Athlete of the Year is now unstoppable and at very least a share of the IAAF Golden League Jackpot of US$1 Million beckons for Richards.
“With my illness this year, recovery has been my biggest problem. This (racing in Berlin on Sunday) will be my biggest test after coming back after just one day,” confirmed Richards.
No scares this time
No technical worries this week for Yelena Isinbayeva, and a count-back victory on 4.80m was enough to keep the World Pole Vault record holder in the million dollar chase, though a season’s best by Svetlana Feofanova at that height, albeit on her third try as opposed to her fellow Russian’s first approach clearance, must leave Isinbayeva with some worries about her final competition in Berlin.
Feofanova, 27, as a former World champion and World record holder is a realistic threat to her two-year's younger opponent who since 2004 has taken over her mantle by becoming World champion (twice), and an even more prolific World record breaker and an Olympic winner. In Isinbayeva’s present form – her World record attempts at 5.02 were not close – if Feofanova can climb back up to her PB level of 2004 which is 4.88, then Berlin may still witness a Jackpot upset.
Vlasic a more realistic hope for a record
While Isinbayeva has been making all the right World record moves after each of her victories this season none have been very convincing. By contrast Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic seems to be on a more realistic approach to her particular record bar. The 2.09m World High Jump record of Bulgaria’s Stefka Kostadinova is now 20-years-old and ripe for picking, and in each of her competitions this summer the Croatian, who in Osaka took the World title, has exuded confidence in each attempt, and if she can sustain her prodigious levels of energy a week or so longer the record remains a credible target.
Vlasic has the reassurance that she is presently in a class of her own, whatever her opponents can do – Olympic High Jump champion Yelena Slesarenko put in a 2.01 leap today for second – she seems able to respond. Tonight that response was based on the secure foundations of a perfect scorecard through five heights up to and including her winning 2.03m.
Fluent magic from Kallur and Powell
There is nothing like rubbing it in! After denying double World champion Michelle Perry the chance of joining Richards and Isinbayeva in the final Jackpot chase when beating her in Zürich, European champion Susanna Kallur of Sweden ran just 1/100th outside her personal best to take a 12.52 secs victory in the women’s 100m Hurdles. Whereas in all previous races this season Perry had been on equal racing terms with the technically fluent Swede, tonight she wasn’t seriously in the play for the victory at all, and eventually finished third (12.61) after losing out in a photo-finish on the same time with Jamaica’s Delloreen Ennis-London.
Fluent is also an apt description of the race of World 100m record holder Asafa Powell in which he set a 9.84 sec meeting record. It’s unfortunate now that the standard he has set himself (9.74 last Sunday) now makes even such a rapid sprint seem everyday. That’s not taking anything away from Powell who showed a manner of graceful acceleration from the mid-race point which was a joy to watch, but which was something so obviously lacking from his arsenal of talents when beaten by Tyson Gay in Osaka.
Veronica Campbell has nothing to prove. Her Osaka campaign was a peach in comparison with Powell’s below-par bronze, with a title in the women’s 100m and a silver in the 200m, the distance at which she is Olympic champion. Tonight, in her first race since Japan, even the resurgent Christine Arron of France, who had somewhat made up for her own Osaka disappointment with a marvellous win in Zürich last week, was no match for the Jamaican. Campbell crossed in a confident looking 11.11 with Arron and former World champion Torri Edwards of USA finishing in 11.22, though split by the camera into second and third in that order.
The two 200m races this evening were also entertaining - the women’s division for the cacophony of noise which greeted local heroine Kim Gevaert’s 22.75 sec victory over Edwards - 22.01 - who was doubling, and the men’s for the 19.88 run of World bronze medallist Wallace Spearmon which defeated Zürich winner Xavier Carter and Osaka runner-up Usain Bolt. Both races were similarly secured with strongly run bends that opened-up an initial advantage on their opponents which was subsequently never narrowed enough to threaten either Gevaert or Spearmon in the latter part of their races.
Sub-8 for unlucky Koech
A solo run by the world’s only sub-8 mins steeplechaser of 2007 saw Paul Kipsiele Koech, who missed out on a place in the Kenyan squad for Osaka - which incidentally came home with a medal sweep - was enough to kill off the hopes of the Osaka World champion Brimin Kipruto, not that the latter ran bad (8:02.89 PB for second). Koech was the class act taking the race through 2000m in 5:21.24 and bringing home the win in 7:58.80 which was inside his season’s lead of 7:59.42. There was a PB also for the distant third placer Willy Komen (8:11.18).
What’s not likely to uplift the winner’s mood regarding missing the World champs is the fact that silver medallist and Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi was 12th tonight (8:36.11)…oh what might have been in Japan for Koech!
Considering only one man - a certain Kenenisa Bekele - had been below 13mins this summer, the men’s 5000m which finished with seven men below that barrier was by far and away the best quality race of the year. Yet none of the seven could better Bekele’s season best (12:49.53), though his Ethiopian compatriot Sileshi Sihine, the World 10,000m silver medallist behind him in Osaka, came close with a last straight dash taking him past Kenya’s World 5000m silver medallist Eliud Kipchoge to finish in 12:50.16. A whisker behind, Kipchoge, who was the 2003 World champion, notched-up a season’s best (12:50.38) which just saw off the Ugandan national record of Moses Kipsiro in third (12:50.72). The next eight runners all registered either PBs or season bests.
The head to head clash between the Osaka World championship 1500m gold and silver medallists Maryam Yusuf Jamal and Yelena Soboleva didn’t quite live up to that billing because the Bahraini again blew away Soboleva in the last lap of tonight’s women’s Mile. Jamal’s victory brought an Asian record of 4:17.75 with her Russian opponent nearly four seconds behind (4:21.16).
The men’s 1500m looked to be going Rashid Ramzi’s way at the bell but the 2005 World champion, who took silver last month in Osaka, was in no physical condition to cope with the assault of Daniel Kipchirchir Komen when it was begun by the Kenyan just before entering the last bend. As Ramzi’s legs fell apart in the final 100m relegating him to fifth (3:35.94), chasing the Kenyan home was Morocco’s Mohamed Moustaoui who finished strongly as the runner-up (3:34.38). Komen, who fell over in the semi-final round stage in Osaka, however was never in danger finishing in 3:32.67.
A jewel for the future
World Junior champion David Rudisha, who Meeting Director Wilfried Meert had yesterday indicated was the ‘dark horse’ of the men’s 800m, justified such a prediction with an exceptionally smooth gazelle like stride which kept the 18-year-old clear of all threats made down the home straight by Olympic silver medallist Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa (1:44.10) and former Kenyan Youssef Saad Kamel of Bahrain (1:44.40). Rudisha’s winning time was 1:44.15, a personal best (previous 1:45.10), and one feels he has the hallmark of a future global senior champion in his style.
Robles who won the men’s 110m Hurdles in the intense cold and wet conditions of Linz mid-week took the victory here in balmy weather conditions by comparison. The 20-year-old Cuban came away from USA’s Anwar Moore with two thirds of the race run, and with veteran Allen Johnson, the multiple global champion shadowing the pair throughout, that was the top-three home in that order – 13.21 seconds to 13.25 to 13.27.
Pitkämäki back on top, Evora takes a step down again
There were mixed fortunes for two of the Osaka World champions who had lost in Zürich a week-ago. There was a further backward step for Portugal’s Nelson Evora (3rd – 17.14m) in the Triple Jump at the feet of 2005 World champion Walter Davis (17.27m) and another American Aarik Wilson (17.20). In contrast Tero Pitkämäki in the Javelin Throw bounced back from his loss with a last round 87.30m to 86.14m (4th round) defeat of Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway who had been his vanquisher last week.
Chris Turner for the IAAF
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