Olympic champion Meseret Defar of Ethiopia tonight slashed her existing World record for the women’s 5000m by almost eight seconds to finish in 14:16.63**, the pinnacle of a marvellous night of athletics at the ExxonMobil Bislett Games, the start of the IAAF Golden League 2007.
The hunt for the $1 Million Golden League Jackpot, the richest annual payout in the sport, also began tonight in the world famous Bislett Stadium, with the current World Athletes of the Year, Asafa Powell and Sanya Richards signaling their winning intent respectively in the men’s 100m and women’s 400m but there were also a number of more surprising aspirants confirmed across the other eight applicable Jackpot disciplines.
Defar delights Bislett
Paced through the first 2000m (5:42.60) of the 5000m by Russian Olga Komyagina, with only Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya else for company, Defar took the race through 8:35.76 after the ‘rabbit’ dropped out with seven laps to go. In Defar’s World record run in New York last year (3 June 2006) when she set the previous all-time fastest of 14:24.53, she had been paced through 3km in 8:42.8, and so it was quite apparent that we were in for something very special this evening if Defar had strength enough to see it through.
Defar’s ultimate demolishment of the World record in this event was the greatest single improvement since the Ingrid Kristiansen and Zola Budd rivalries of the mid -1980s when over 10 seconds was wiped off the then 5000m record on two occasions.
“I didn’t think I would break the record by such a big margin but I was aiming for under 14:20,” confirmed Defar.
Cheruiyot was also rewarded for her persistent pursuit of Defar with a Kenyan record in 14:22.51, which was also way under the old World record. Two other runners went below 15mins – Priscah Jepleting (14:44.51) and Ejegayehu Dibaba (14:45.22).
Some surprising Jackpot candidates emerge
Sanya Richards in only her second race of the year was majestically smooth in the women’s 400m, and will clearly soon be back into sub-50 second territory if the ease of her 50.26 victory tonight is anything to go by. Distant in pursuit of the USA record holder who is the seventh fastest woman of all-time, was 2001 World champion Amy Mbackë Thiam of Senegal (51.22) and Jamaican Shericka Williams (51.32).
“One down, still five to go,” confirmed a delighted Richards, “but I have a better feeling than after my first race in Eugene. The beginning is always tough. This time it was better in all parts of the race.”
Happiness and sadness for Powell camp
There was joy and agony for the MVP training group, as while World 100m record holder Asafa Powell powered somewhat stiffly to a 9.94 (+0.9m/s wind) win in the men’s 100m, his training companion Sherone Simpson, who was the fastest female 100/200m sprinter last summer, finished dead last in visible pain in the women’s dash. After being withdrawn from last weekend’s Eugene meeting the rumours had been that Simpson was carrying a quad injury, but after tonight’s disappointment her management confirmed that her right hip flexor has been troubling her for a couple of weeks and this accounted for her easing up at 60 metres.
Taking the race win in 11.22 (+0.4m/s) was USA’s Stephanie Durst who is currently having the season of her life with victories on the European circuit in her last six meetings. Even still, who would have imagined the 25-year-old would have been in the hunt for the $1 Million Jackpot at the start of this evening!
In the men’s dash, Powell running in lane 5 in the bright sunshine was unopposed in the men’s 100. That he was evidently not at his crispest but still easily demolished the hopes among others of the Olympic and World silver medallists and the African record holder indicates the Jamaican’s continued supremacy. Closest to Powell’s 9.94 was Francis Obikwelu of Portugal with 10.06, and third place went to Olu Fasuba of Nigeria. Britain’s Marlon Devonish recapturing some long lost form had actually finished third in 10.08 but was later disqualified (rule 6.6), as he had already run and won the earlier ‘B’ final in 10.20. Racing both is not allowed at the same meeting.
“It was just as I wanted. The start was good and that was important. I’m just where I was last year…sub-10 is always good,” confirmed Powell. “My next race is at the Jamaican Championships (next weekend) but I will only run a 100m there.”
“The start of the (IAAF Golden League) series was good for me but I still have five more races to run.”
Perry continues winning streak
Michelle Perry, the World champion and the fastest female 100m hurdler for the last two season’s continued her fine vein of form with her 14th successive victory. This time she flew to a 12.70 result which held European champion Susanna Kallur at bay (12.76). The Swede had inflicted the American’s last loss which was back in Rome on 14 July 2006.
In third today was Jamaica’s Delloreen Ennis-London in her season’s best of 12.78.
With neither Liu Xiang or Dayron Robles or the main American stars in the men’s sprint hurdles, this race was by far the weakest of the evening’s ten Golden League Jackpot disciplines. Winning the 110m race was USA’s 28-year-old Anwar Moore in 13.26 (-0.3m/s).
Olsson out of the hunt
But Durst and Moore were certainly the most surprising Golden League Jackpot contenders to emerge tonight, Olympic champion Christian Olsson’s defeat in the Triple Jump was the biggest upset of those pre-meet favourites for the Jackpot. The Swede’s defeat came at the hands of Britain’s Phillips Idowu who jumped 17.35m to upstage Olsson by 2 centimetres. That the 27-year-old Olsson, who won a half share of the Jackpot in 2004, also put in a second leap of 17.30m was of course encouraging, if to no avail in the hunt for the win. Worrying it looks like Olsson’s technique especially his approach is currently all at sea.
World season leader Jadel Gregorio was back in fifth (17.18) and World champion Walter Davis was one place behind (17.00).
Another favourite to fall quickly by the wayside on the Jackpot trail was local javelin throwing hero Andreas Thorkildsen, who like Olsson is the Olympic and European champion. A close competition was taken by Finland’s Tero Pitkämäki (88.78m) by five centimetres ahead of world season leader Breaux Greer of the USA (88.73m) - both men’s bests came in the second round - with Thorkildsen’s 87.79m for third place produced on his last throw. There was some consolation for the Norwegian as this was his season’s best but so was the Finn’s winning release. Perhaps it was the still wind conditions that were at fault but this competition didn’t really fire on all cylinders considering that five men with 90m PBs were in the line-up.
Isinbayeva and Slesarenko hold their nerve
The concentration of the reigning Olympic champions in the women’s High Jump and Pole Vault – both also Golden League Jackpot events – were sorely and unnecessarily tested this evening. Strangely, with both competitions still in progress - after the last track event had been completed - a playful invasion of the infield took place by in excess of 1000 children who descended from the spectator tribunes. In the melee of requests for autographs Yelena Slesarenko and Yelena Isinbayeva gamely continued their competitions with the former incredibly, considering in the surrounding distractions, going clear in the High Jump over 2.02m, while the Russian, who had won the vault with 4.85m - a stadium record - made three unsuccessful attempts at 4.95m..
Also amidst the youthful throng engulfing the High Jump take-off area was Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic who also gamely battled on but failed at her attempts at 2.04m, and had to settled for second behind Slesarenko with a 2 metres best for the night.
Meet record starts off the night
A meet record is always a promising start, and on a beautiful Scandinavian evening Virgilijus Alekna’s 70.51m second round release not only secured that accolade (previous best was Lars Riedel’s 69.12m in 1996) in the men’s Discus Throw but was the double World and Olympic champion’s best for this season by 50 centimetres. Present world season leader (72.02m) Gerd Kanter of Estonia, one of the Lithuanian’s keenest rivals, was relatively below par tonight with 66.33m for second.
Another record this season came in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase as Eunice Chepkorir ran to both a Kenyan national and Bislett stadium record. The last was predictable as the young discipline had never before been held at the meeting. The winning time of 9:19.44 was top class making the Kenyan the fifth fastest athlete of all-time.
“This is my first international season. I think I have room for improvements,” said the winner.
Kenya’s World bronze and Olympic 3000m Steeplechase silver medallist Brimin Kipruto had a useful speed session in the men’s 1500m winning in 3:36.27 (previous PB – 3:38.38), and confirmed “my goal is to qualify for Osaka and run sub-8 minutes.”
Great middle distance finishing
The women’s 1500m race went to Bahrain’s Maryam Jamal who made up a 4 metres deficit in the last 15 metres to best Russia’s Yuliya Fomenko [fomerly Chizhenko] (4:01.58) and Ukraine’s Iryna Lishchynska (4:01.82) in a breath taking sprint to the line. Jamal crossed in 4:01.44.
Another great middle distance finish came in the Dream Mile where Moroccan Adil Kaouch produced a PB of 3:51.14. In attempting to catch the World silver medallist, Kenya’s Augustine Choge (3:51.62) and Britain’s Andy Baddeley (3:51.95), who has been taking some training advise recently from the camp of Australian Craig Mottram, produced personal bests. The Australian World 5000m bronze medallist, running in what must fairly be said is an under-distance race for him was back in ninth in 3:54.57.
Last year’s winner of the men’s 800m repeated that feat, with two lap honours being retained by Kuwait’s Mohammad Alazemi in 1:44.56 in what was a tight run to the line with Saudi Mohammed Al-Salhi (1:44.89), though the gap between the two never changed down the last 100 metres. Third was taken by Uganda’s Abraham Chepkirwok (1:44.95).
In the men’s 200m, Sweden’s Johan Wissman produced a typically gutsy last 50m to take the win in 20.32 seconds.
Chris Turner for the IAAF
**NOTE: World record pending usual ratification procedures
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IAAF Golden League Jackpot Contenders:
The winners of the IAAF Golden League events at the ExxonMobil Bislett Games now go to Paris next month as the athletes who, if they manage to continue their winning streak through the summer, can at least win a share of the $1 million Jackpot at the end of the series.
100m: Asafa Powell (JAM)
1500m/Mile: Adil Kaouch (MAR)
110m Hurdles: Anwar Moore (USA)
Triple Jump: Phillips Idowu (GBR)
Javelin: Tero Pitkämäki (FIN)
100m: Stephanie Durst (USA)
400m: Sanya Richards (USA)
100m Hurdles: Michelle Perry (USA)
High Jump: Yelena Slesarenko (RUS)
Pole Vault: Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS)