Yelena and Sanya with 1 Million Dollar smiles in Berlin (Getty Images) © Copyright
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GOLDEN MOMENTS - 2007 Golden League Review

MonteCarloThe 2007 IAAF Golden League Jackpot was shared by 400m specialist Sanya Richards and pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva who each won US$500,000. From June to September, the IAAF Golden League also saw Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar break the 5000m World record and run a world best at Two Miles.

The annual IAAF World Athletics Tour comprises the Golden League, Super Grand Prix and Grand Prix - and climaxes at the IAAF / VTB Bank World Athletics Final.

David Powell reminds us of some of the highlights of the 2007 IAAF Golden League season…

The 10th season of the IAAF Golden League marked a reintroduction of the US$ One Million Jackpot for athletes winning at all six meetings with the additional possibility that in the event of there being no athlete recording six wins, athletes with five would share $500,000. The designated events for 2007 were: Men: 100m, 1500m/Mile, 110m Hurdles, Triple Jump, Javelin Throw; Women: 100m, 400m, 100m Hurdles, High Jump, Pole Vault.

Mozambique’s Maria Mutola (800m, 2003) and Russia’s Tatyana Lebedeva (Triple Jump, 2005) remain the only solo winners of the $1m after the 2007 jackpot was shared. Half went to United States 400m runner Sanya Richards and half to Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, as each recorded six wins.

Exxon Mobil Bislett Games (Oslo, Norway)
15 June

Talk of the Golden League Jackpot took a back seat as Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar smashed her existing 5000m World record with 14:16.63. Beating her year-old mark by 7.90 seconds, Defar’s margin of improvement was the biggest since the Zola Budd/Ingrid Kristiansen rivalries of the mid 1980s when over 10 seconds were wiped off the record on two occasions.

The 23-year-old Defar was taken through 1000m (2:50.74) and 2000m (5:42.60) by Russia’s Olga Komyagina. Once the pacemaker had dropped out, only Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot managed to retain a degree of close contact with Defar. As Defar led through 3000m (8:35.76) she held a slight lead over Cheruiyot and the world record she had set in New York (14:24.53) was very much in her sights.

Defar went through 4000m in 11:29.44, 10 seconds quicker than her split from the previous World record of 14:24.53 that she had set the previous June. Leading by almost 30m at the bell, Defar covered the last lap in under 65 seconds For her dogged pursuit of Defar, Cheruiyot was rewarded with a 22 seconds personal best (14:22.51), inside Defar’s old World record.

But Defar’s event was not a jackpot discipline and among the 10 athletes who took the first step towards $1m by winning the designated events was Asafa Powell. The only man under 10 seconds (9.94) in the 100m, Powell’s race was more notable for the strange case of Marlon Devonish, who was disqualified after finishing third, having won the B final. Under a rule known only to a few at the time, running in both races is not allowed.

Two heavyweight jackpot contenders to fall in the men’s events were Sweden’s Christian Olsson, beaten by two centimetres in the Triple Jump by Phillips Idowu of Great Britain (17.35m) and home-crowd favourite Andreas Thorkildsen, who finished third in the Javelin (87.79m). Thorkildsen was beaten by Finland’s Tero Pitkämäki (88.78m) and Breaux Greer from the United States (88.73m).

Idowu recorded the first win by a Briton in a Golden League event since 2003 (Mark Lewis-Francis, 100m, Oslo). In a talent-packed field, Idowu inflicted upon Olsson the Swede’s first Golden League defeat since 2002 when he was beaten in Brussels by Walter Davis, of the United States.

In the women’s events Blanka Vlasic suffered a defeat which would cost a share of the jackpot. She went on to win in Paris, Rome, Zürich, Brussels and Berlin but lost in the opening meeting to Russia’s Olympic champion, Yelena Slesarenko (2.02m). Furthermore, Vlasic would go on to win at the World Championships, in Osaka, and the World Athletics Final, in Stuttgart.

Sanya Richards (50.26), almost a second clear of runner-up Amy Mbacke Thiam from Senegal in the 400m, and Yelena Isinbayeva (4.85m), 25cm higher than runner-up Monika Pyrek of Poland, rolled their first dice in what would prove to be a half share each in the jackpot. In another Golden League event, Michelle Perry recorded her 14th successive 100m Hurdles victory (12.70).

The Dream Mile was won by Adil Kaouch of Morocco (3:51.14) - who subsequently failed a doping test at Rome GL - and, outside the Golden League events, there was a Kenyan national record, and victory, for Eunice Jepkorir in the women’s 3000m Steeplechase (9:19.44). In the Discus Throw, Virgilijus Alekna recorded a meeting record 70.51m, beating the 69.12m mark set by Germany’s Lars Riedel in 1996.

Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis (France)
6 July

Ten became four as the list of Golden League Jackpot contenders was whittled down to Finland’s Tero Pitkämäki (Javelin), Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva (Pole Vault), Sanya Richards of the United States (400m) and her compatriot, Michelle Perry (100m Hurdles).

Yet only two winners from Oslo - Russia’s Yelena Slesarenko (High Jump) and Anwar Moore, of the US (110m Hurdles) - were actually beaten. The other four eliminated - Jamaica’s Asafa Powell (100m), Adil Kaouch, from Morocco (1500/mile), Phillips Idowu of Great Britain (Triple Jump) and Stephanie Durst, of the US (100m) – did not appear.

The meeting produced three world leading marks – Richards (49.52), Isinbayeva (4.91) and Alan Webb (3:30.54) in the 1500m. Richards returned to winning form at 400m after her failure in the US trials to qualify for the World Championships at the distance. Her winning streak of 18 races had been ended when she finished fourth at the US Championships.

Here Richards beat the three women who had finished ahead of her in the trials in Indianapolis two weeks earlier - Dee Dee Trotter, Natasha Hastings and Mary Wineberg. She won by six metres from runner-up Novlene Williams, of Jamaica.

Isinbayeva regained top place in the Pole Vault world performance list after losing it temporarily to Jennifer Stuczynski, of the United States. And, having wrapped up the competition with a 20cm margin over Svetlana Feofanova, Isinbayeva made three unsuccessful attempts at a World record 5.02m.

Perry (12.56) stayed on course for the jackpot after her main rival, Virginia Powell, of the US, clipped a hurdle with her lead leg when slightly ahead and fell. Powell had beaten Perry to the US title in June. Pitkämäki, too, stayed in the hunt for the jackpot, improving his own best for the year (89.70m) and defeating the Olympic and World champion Andreas Thorkildsen, from Norway, by three metres.

Eliminated from jackpot contention while competing on the night was Moore, who recorded the same time (13.13) as the winner of the 110m Hurdles, Dayron Robles from Cuba, while Liu Xiang, the World record holder, from China, could manage only third (13.15). Likewise Slesarenko, who was beaten by Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic (2.02m) reversing their 1-2 from Oslo.

In the absence of the injured Idowu, Christian Olsson won the Triple Jump with 17.56m, a distance which only Brazil’s Jadel Gregorio (17.90m) had bettered during the season. Nelson Evora, the soon-to-be World champion, set a Portuguese record (17.28m) in second place.

Outside the Golden League events, Mehdi Baala, of France, and Webb produced the race of the night. The Frenchman overtook the American with 300m to go but Webb stayed on his shoulder and passed the home runner down the finishing straight. Webb’s time was the fastest by a US born athlete, although Bernard Lagat (born Kenya) and Sydney Maree (born South Africa) ran quicker as US citizens.

In the absence of Oslo winners Powell and Durst (injured), Derrick Atkins won the men’s 100m (10.00) and Torri Edwards the women’s 100m (11.17). For Atkins, victory came on top of his Bahamian record 9.95 in Athens.

Yelena Soboleva, from Russia, in keeping with her position as world No1 at the time, won the 1500m (3:59.91), following a 4:15.63 mile (3:57.30 at 1500m) in Moscow and 3:58.3 in Athens.

In a farcical 3000m Steeplechase, Kenya’s Paul Kipsiele Koech was leading with 800m to go when officials rang the bell. Koech thus stopped after running six and a half laps and, while the chasing athletes continued on one more lap, they discovered that a barrier had been removed. Koech rejoined the race, slotting in behind the leader, Bouabdellah Tahri from France. Tahri won (8:08.47) with Koech second (8:12.73) but times had to be disregarded because of the missing barrier.

Golden Gala (Rome, Italy)
13 July

On a night when the Golden League Jackpot race was reduced to three women, as Sanya Richards, Michelle Perry and Yelena Isinbayeva reached halfway with three wins from three meetings, the greatest attention surrounded the men’s Javelin Throw and Long Jump.
The opening round had been promising for the competition as Thorkildsen threw 88.36m and Pitkämäki 86.09m. Pitkämäki was trailing Thorkildsen (who was to win) after two rounds when the freak incident happened in the third round. Pitkämäki sent the javelin out to the left of the sector by the Long Jump pit, impaling French long jumper, Salim Sdiri. Although reports back to the stadium from the hospital were that Sdiri had suffered no serious damage, Pitkämäki was distraught. “I rotated a bit too much to the left and it just went into the jumping area,” Pitkämäki said. “I tried to throw again but I was just feeling very bad.”

Of the remaining jackpot hunters, Perry was the most impressive, winning the 100m Hurdles in 12.44, the quickest time of the year. Continuing her renaissance after her US trials upset, Richards won the 400m in 49.77, only slightly slower than the year’s leading mark (49.52) she had set in Paris. Senegal’s Amy Mbacke Thiam, the 2001 World champion, was closer to the American than she had been in Oslo or Paris, recording her quickest mark for four years (50.15).

The women’s Pole Vault lost any prospect of defeat for Isinbayeva when Jennifer Stuczynski the United States record holder, who led the world with 4.88m until Isinbayeva regained it, withdrew in the warm-up with a back injury. Isinbayeva, after securing her victory with 4.90m, tried unsuccessfully again with three attempts to move the World record up to 5.02m. The second half of the series would have to wait until after the World Championships and the resumption in Zürich eight weeks later.
Asafa Powell returned from injury to win the 100m in 9.90, the second quickest of the year behind Tyson Gay’s 9.84 at the US Championships. Powell had missed Paris with a groin strain and was competing for the first time in three weeks. He finished well clear of Paris winner Derrick Atkins, of the Bahamas, runner-up in 10.02.

There was a big step forward for L.J. Van Zyl in the 400m Hurdles (48.24) in a surprise victory by 0.02 over Kerron Clement, of the United States. Other notable wins came from Croatia’s Blanka Vasic, following up her High jump triumph in Paris with 2.02m, Anwar Moore’s defeat of Dayron Robles in the 110m Hurdles, 13.16 to 13.17, and Ethiopia’s Sileshi Sihine recording the quickest 5000m of the year to date (13.01.46).

Weltklasse Zürich (Switzerland)
7 September

Back on the Golden League circuit after the World Championships, and on a night when the majority of athletes were still feeling the effects of their exertions in Osaka, the star of the occasion was the rebuilt Letzigrund Stadium. Filled to a capacity 26,500, the stadium shone brightly as a fabulous modern and intimate venue for the sport.

Furthermore, organisers took the bold steps of hosting a meeting devoid of pacemakers, placing the emphasis on prize money rather than appearance fees, and reducing the number of events from 23 last year to 16 to present a sharper focus for the in-house and television audiences.

But immediately the venue became a graveyard for World champions. Michelle Perry, Christine Ohuruogu, Nelson Evora, Tero Pitkämäki and Brad Walker, winners all in Osaka, each suffered defeat. For Perry, the loss was the harder to take because it cost her a potential share in the Golden League Jackpot. Having won the 100m Hurdles in Oslo, Paris and Rome, the American was beaten into third place here by Sweden’s Susanna Kallur and Jamaica’s Delloreen Ennis-London.

Much had been made of Kallur finishing fourth in Osaka, having led to the eighth hurdle. Now Kallur had her revenge, winning in 12.66 with Ennis-London and Perry both on 12.68. That left only two athletes - Sanya Richards and Yelena Isinbayeva - in contention for the jackpot. And the contrast between them could hardly have been greater.

Richards won with ease but Isinbayeva had to scrape a victory. Richards was back to her old self after a World Championships she would prefer largely to forget. Although she had anchored the United States team to victory in the 4x400m, she had failed to qualify from the national trials for her main event, the 400m, and had finished only fifth in her secondary event, the 200m.

The 400m field in Zürich included Christine Ohuruogu, from Great Britain, the World champion, and Novlene Williams, from Jamaica, the bronze medallist in Osaka. Richards not only won but set a leading time for the year (49.36), winning by 12 metres from Williams (50.85). Ohuruogu could place only fourth (51.32), 15 metres down on Richards. “It was my World Championships today,” Richards said.

Isinbayeva faced defeat in the Pole Vault after failing with one attempt at 4.75m and her next at 4.80m after her fellow Russian, Svetlana Feofanava, had cleared 4.75m. But, with the trap door to elimination open, Isinbayeva found an escape hatch, clearing 4.80m while Feofanova was unable to improve on her 4.75m.
Evora, Portugal’s first World Championships gold medallist, had to settle for second place in the Triple Jump behind Walter Davis, from the United States, the Osaka bronze medallist. Andreas Thorkildsen, the Olympic champion from Norway, needed only one throw to win the Javelin with a season’s best 89.51m. Pitkämäki was unable to get within two metres.

Xavier Carter set a meeting record 19.92 to win the 200m in the absence of World champion Tyson Gay - who ran only the relay - but with Osaka runner-up Usain Bolt not even close to the winner. The previous meeting record had existed since 1992 when Mike Marsh ran 19.95. Carter had sustained a knee injury in the US trials for Osaka which prevented him from gaining a place in the team.

A correspondent from L’Equipe, watching from the press seats, threw his hands up in disbelief as he watched two French victories in the opening few minutes - from Christine Arron in the 100m and Mehdi Baala in the 1500m - having sat through the nine days of Osaka without a single French victory.

Memorial Van Damme (Brussels, Belgium)
14 September

Sanya Richards and Yelena Isinbayeva continued their quest for the Golden League Jackpot but Meseret Defar diverted attention from the theme. Arriving in Brussels only the day before from Addis Ababa, where she had joined in Ethiopia’s millennium celebrations, Defar improved her World best time for Two Miles by almost 12 seconds.

The Ethiopian calendar may be behind the rest of the world - it reached the year 2000 at midnight three days earlier - but Defar is ahead of her time on the track. She strengthened her case to be named female World Athlete of 2007 by breaking through the 9-minute barrier to record 8:58.58. Now a woman has run quicker than Paavo Nurmi’s World record of 8:59.6 set in 1931.

Having beaten the world best for the distance once already in the year - recording 9:10.47 in Carson, in the United States, in May - Defar chopped another 11.89 seconds off. In a commanding year Defar has won the 5000m gold medal at the World Championships, set two World records – at 3000m indoors and 5000m outdoors - and set two World bests at Two Miles, as well as taking gold at 5000m in the All Africa Games.

A full house of 47,500 packed into the King Baudouin stadium and they had full value for money. If Kenenisa Bekele’s World record attempt at 10,000m fell a long way short of the target, spectators were at least treated to the most competitive 5000m of the season. Ethiopia’s Sileshi Sihine won in 12:50.16 as seven men broke 13 minutes.

Chasing his own World record of 26:17.53, Bekele was without pacemakers after nine laps and had to settle for a solo run in 26:46.19. One athlete who did not give up in the chase was 21-year-old Kenyan Moses Masai, who followed in a personal best 26:49.20. “When I was closing n Bekele, I got scared,” Masai said. “I told myself: ‘What’s happening now? Bekele is running for a World record and I am running on his heels’.”

As had been the case in Zürich, Richards was an assertive winner of the women’s 400m while, in the Pole Vault, Isinbayeva was troubled again by her Russian compatriot, Svetlana Feofanova. Richards, having set a World leading mark in Zürich, went even quicker here (49.29), although her winning margin was down to eight metres this time! Nicola Sanders, from Great Britain, the runner-up in Osaka who had sat out Zürich, was second in 50.34.

Feofanova cleared 4.80m, her best height for three years, but could not conquer 4.85m, leaving Isinbayeva the winner on 4.80m with fewer failed attempts. In fact Isinbayeva won the competition with only two attempts, first time clearances at 4.65m then 4.80m. The Olympic and World champion, and World record holder, then had one unsuccessful attempt at 4.90m and two at a World record 5.02m.

In a night of quality sprinting, Asafa Powell won the men’s 100m into a slight headwind (9.84), five days after lowering the World record to 9.74 in Rieti, Wallace Spearmon took the men’s 200m (19.88) and Susanna Kallur rubbed salt into Michelle Perry’s wounds at 100m Hurdles, the World champion’s conqueror in Zürich winning here in 12.52.

But the best sprint race of all, from the home crowd’s perspective, was the women’s 200m. Kim Gevaert, her popularity raised yet further by anchoring Belgium to bronze in the women’s 4x100m in Osaka, was roared to victory in 22.75, ahead of Torri Edwards.

ISTAF (Berlin, Germany)
16 September

The doomwatchers who say that athletics is struggling for appeal might be interested to know that, following capacity crowds in the previous two Golden League meetings - 26,500 in Zürich and 47,500 in Brussels – Berlin pulled in a sell-out 70,000 people. The response from Sanya Richards and Yelena Isinbayeva to a highly-charged atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium was to produce performances which clinched a half share each in the $1m Golden League Jackpot.

Richards recorded her fifth Golden League sub 50 seconds time of the season for 400m, a World leading 49.27. It was her third victory in succession by more than one clear second since the World Championships and her second over the World champion, Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu, since Osaka. Here, and again in the World Athletics Final one week later, she beat all three medallists, Ohuruogu, Nicola Sanders and Novlene Williams.

“I am so proud of myself,” Richards said. “I am so excited that I could win the jackpot for the second time. This time I will invest the money and won’t spend everything. Before my race I saw that Issy (Isinbayeva) had won the Pole Vault and it really encouraged me to do well. Nobody knows how hard this year has been for me.”

Isinbayeva needed only three jumps to win, clearing 4.62m, 4.77m and 4.82m, before making three failed attempts at a World record 5.02m. “I want to share the money with some poor kids,” she said. “I don’t know where, I don’t know when, and I don’t know how, but now that I have got the possibility to do it I want to help the children.”

Like Isinbayeva, a number of other individual World champions maintained winning form through the post-Osaka phase of the Golden League meetings. However, only Isinbayeva and Blanka Vlasic did so in Golden League events. Vlasic cleared 2.00m here, following winning jumps of 2.04 in Zürich and 2.03m in Brussels.

In non Golden League events, Janeth Jepkosgei won the 800m at the two post Osaka meetings in which that event was held (Zürich and Berlin) and Maryam Yusuf Jamal won the 1500m in Zürich and the Mile in Brussels, but neither distance was on the programme in Berlin.

Although the spotlight was on Richards and Isinbayeva, the most inspired performance of the meeting came from Susanna Kallur. Beaten in Oslo, Paris and Rome by Michelle Perry in the 100m Hurdles, Kallur won in Zürich, Brussels and now Berlin, in a personal best 12.49.

David Powell for the IAAF