MonteCarloA one centimetre World record improvement* for Yelena Isinbayeva, and a flurry of world season best performances across both track and field made for an outstanding night’s action at the Herculis 2008, a Super Grand Prix status meeting as part of the IAAF World Athletics Tour.
Held in the Stade Louis II in the Fontvieille district of Monaco, tonight’s competition was the last fixture of the Tour prior to the Games of XXIX Olympiad, Beijing 2008, the athletics events of which take place from 15 to 24 August.
Isinbayeva - The ultimate sign of confidence
How cool, calm and collected can an athlete be in competition? With the bar already up to 4.41m and all her eleven opponents already engaged in the event, Yelena Isinbayeva seemed genuinely delighted to take time out to drive around the track on the back of a vintage sports car accompanied by Asafa Powell. Hey, it can be tedious waiting around for the mere mortals to take-part at the lesser heights, why not go for a drive?!
There were to be no competitive surprises when Isinbayeva did decide to take her place on the runway. With all the rest of the world’s elite on show tonight (only Jenn Stuczynski who is nursing a persistent back injury was missing), Isinbayeva won with her fourth jump (began 4.71; two attempts) of the event, a second time clearance at 4.83m.
Yulia Golubchikova (RUS) and Monika Pyrek (POL) were second and third at 4.71m, the runners-up position taken on countback.
BUT the best was still to come. Isinbayeva took 4.93 on her second time (coming down heavily on the bar on her first try), and then moved her sights up to 5.04m. However, her first two approaches resulted again in heavy removals of the bar so never did we imagine that minutes later the Olympic, World and European champion would rise high above and beyond her goal to set her 23rd World record.
“I’m in good shape,” said Isinbayeva. “I just need to keep my condition until the Olympic Games. I wanted to improve my personal best and that’s what I did. I see this World record as a personal one.”
Powell blazes to a meet record
After months of injuries Asafa Powell is clearly in great shape. On the back of 100m victories in the previous two IAAF Super Grand Prix’s - in Stockholm (9.88 his season’s best before tonight) and London (9.94) - during the last fortnight, he blazed to a gun to tape win, in the third fastest time of the year, 9.82 seconds, a meeting record (wind nil). Such was Powell’s brilliance no one even took notice that Darvis Patton of the USA was second in 9.98.
Jamaican Nesta Carter, sub-10 for the first time in Stockholm last week, was a good third in 10.02, with World silver medallist Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas setting the same time for his season’s best in fourth.
“I’ve been working on my finish, running through the line,” confirmed Powell. “Of course there is a lot of room for improvement. Going into Beijing I feel very good, very fresh. I’m not surprised about my time. It was a nil wind reading so if I had had a +1, I would have been faster.”
A Jamaican one-two in the women’s 100m underlined, if any emphasis was necessary, that this Caribbean island IS where world sprinting is at currently - Kerron Stewart (10.94) and Sherone Simpson (10.95); wind -0.7m/s.
7.12m for Gomes underlines her Beijing medal credentials
The night began appropriately. As HSH Prince Albert II took his seat in the Stade, we were immediately treated to a royal performance from Portugal’s Naide Gomes, a 7.12m (+1.3m/s) national record. It was her second round effort, an improvement on the world season lead (7.04) which she shared with Russia’s European champion Lyudmila Kolchanova before tonight. The Russian was also jumping, Gomes’ mark improving her first round lead (6.65m) in the competition.
While American champion Britney Reese countered with 6.76m in the third, and Kolchanova produced her best of 6.68 in the fourth, Gomes was back in top gear with 6.95m to reinforce her supremacy, also on the fourth effort.
“I expected a good performance because I trained very well,” confirmed Gomes. “I hope I’ll do better in Beijing. It will be necessary to jump more than 7m to have a medal. 7.12 is good, I’m on the way!”
Walker leads home high quality battle
There was an absorbing battle to watch in the women’s 400m Hurdles, with Jamaica’s Melaine Walker taking the early advantage in lane five, something which she held going into the bend. Yet coming out it was clear a more conservatively paced race had led USA’s Tiffany Ross-Williams (lane 4) to catch-up and she was soon past her. Game over? No, Walker counter attacked, and when the American faltered at the last flights, it was Williams who was able to restore a small advantage which she held to the line. The result of this battle was a 2008 world season’s lead for Walker – 53.48sec. Following across the finish Ross Williams got a season’s best (53.54), while fellow American Sheena Tosta, who had been dragged all the way around by her compatriot in the lane outside her finished in her 2008 best (53.58).
Poland’s Anna Jesien, 2007 World bronze medallist, set a European season’s best in fourth. This was a quality racing spectacle, matched by the times! Before tonight only one woman had been sub-54 this summer.
There was no such contest in the men’s race. It was Danny MacFarlane who led most of the lap, making it a Jamaican hurdles double, in his case with considerable ease – 48.39, a season’s best. Poland’s World Champs bronze medallist Marek Plawgo, like compatriot Jesien in the women’s race, established a European season’s lead (48.69) in second.
And another World lead in the 1500m!
With only three track events run in the main meeting programme at this point, we got our second track season’s best of the evening (the women’s 3000m later was to make it three, ultimately the overall total coming to five with the Women’s Long Jump and the Pole Vault World record) with just one hour gone in the schedule!
The men’s 1500m field was taken by the ‘rabbits’ to and just past the bell - 2:45 - (400m: 55.00; 800:1:52.45; 1200: 2:49.64), and after that it was a burn-up between the fastest man in the field Daniel Kipchirchir Komen and World bronze medallist Shedrack Korir. These two Kenyans battled to the line down the final straight but Komen was never headed, with Korir not managing to quite get to the shoulder of his compatriot.
Result – Komen, a 2008 world lead of 3:31.49, and season’s bests also for Korir (3:31.94) and Commonwealth champion Nick Willis of New Zealand (3:33.51) who was a distant but creditable third.
McLellan, an Area record improvement on heels of Foster-Hylton
Australia’s Sally McLellan is having a peach of a season, and at 21-years-old she has also come of age on the track. After an improvement to her Area record in Luzern (12.58 – 16 July), she got quicker tonight to register 12.53. It was not quite enough to win, as she was always a nose behind the more experienced Brigitte Foster-Hylton of Jamaica, who had the edge all the way to the tape; 12.49 was the Jamaican’s winning time which was also her season’s best.
“Through the race I felt I was very close to Brigitte, so when I saw her time I thought ‘yeah I was real close this must be a personal best'…to have broken the Australian record is fabulous,” confirmed McLellan.
The winner Foster-Hylton, “expected to run fast, and I executed the race well.”
David Oliver took his time to assert his authority in the men’s sprint hurdles but finally prevailed over long time leader, Anwar Moore, despite a strong counter charge in the run across the finish by the latter – 13.11 to 13.19. It was a US sweep with Jason Richardson coming third in 13.23.
‘Borza’ produces trade mark finish, but its close, so close
A typical barn storming finish from Olympic champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy brought the 800m to a racing crescendo in the last 40 metres, with the Russian just having enough pace to deny Bahrain’s Saad Yusuf Kamel and last year’s victor Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa. Ninth out of the ten racers at the 400m mark this was a trade mark performance by the Russian who made up five places in a space of about 10 metres coming into the final bend.
It was neck and neck to the finish but we always assumed Borzakovskiy would prevail in this sort of fight. It couldn’t have been much closer as both Kamel and Borzakovskiy were given the same time – 1:42.79. Mulaudzi was third in 1:43.26.
There was a national record for Canada’s World champs silver medallist Gary Reed in fourth (1:43.68). In total the top six finishers all achieved at least season’s bests tonight. The winners shared the second best time in the world in 2008, with Kamel’s time standing as an Asian record, for the former Kenyan.
'Non-Beijing' Ethiopian brings home another world season lead
Yimer Ayalew might not be in the Ethiopian line-up for Beijing but she’s now the fastest in the world at the non-Olympic distance of 3000m (though meseret Defar had a faster 3k split - 8:34.53 - during her 5000m in Stockholm). Her time tonight was 8:35.50, a PB, which sliced over seven seconds off the previous best in the world this year, albeit that it hasn’t been that keenly a contested event this season. Spain’s Dolores Checa was second, also inside the previous world season best time (8:42.96, Gulnara Galkina RUS, 24 May), burnt away by the Ethiopian’s final sprint, finishing in 8:37.78. A PB was set by Kenyan Peninah Jepchumba in third (8:40.12).
It looked like Kenyan Issac Songok had timed his attack to perfection in the men’s 3000m when he moved up to the front just after the bell but with 70m still to go to the finish he seemed deceived by his own performance when he was not yet secure in victory. This Joseph Ebuya confirmed when he sprinted past his surprised compatriot for the win. A personal best of 7:34.62 was Ebuya’s reward, a season’s best Songok’s consolation in second (7:35.06). Third was taken by the increasingly revitalised form of Abraham Chebii (7:36.08).
Rooney dashes French hopes
Just as it looked like France would achieve its first victory of the night as Leslie Djhone entered the last straight of the 400m, yelled on by the crowd, the World champs fourth placer found himself upstaged by the more energized finish of Ricardo Chambers of Jamaica. The trouble for both was that Britain’s Martyn Rooney had the fix on them, smoothly accelerating to the finish in 44.72. It was a European season lead. Before last weekend’s victory in London (44.83) the 21-year-old Rooney had never been below 45 in his life!
Chambers was second (44.90) and Djhone in his season’s best was third (44.95).
France was to get its long hoped for win later in the evening in the 3000m Steeplechase, thanks to Mahledine Mekhissi-Bennabbad (8:17.22).
Silnov moves closer to Beijing start
Another winner from London, Andrey Silnov was also in superb form again. The Russian who leapt to a 2.38m world High Jump season lead last Friday was again flying high. His performance in the British capital had been so impressive that it had even changed the minds of the Russian selectors for Beijing, who had originally left the European champion out of their Beijing squad.
Listed only as a team reserve after his fourth place finish in the Russian champs, tonight was supposed to be a jump off for a Beijing starting spot with compatriot Andrey Tereshin, who had been third in the nationals. Silnov was supreme taking 2.33 on his second attempt, and then making three not so close efforts at 2.41.
Back in third was Tereshin with a season’s best of 2.31m, beaten on count back by Swede Linus Thornblad.
Poland’s Tomasz Majewski was the victor in the men’s Shot Put (20.44m), while the women’s 1500m was taken with a sharp last 50 metres sprint from Russia’s Natalya Panteleyeva (4:02.56) which took her swiftly past Australia’s Sarah Jamieson (4:03.03).
The men’s Triple Jump was won with a 17.42m performance from Grenada’s Randy Lewis, so defeating World champion Nelson Evora of Portugal who improved his season’s best by one centimetre (17.24) for second place. Third was Dmitrij Valukevic of Slovakia (17.20).
The women’s ‘B’ 100m was won in 11.09 (+0.4m/s) by USA’s Bianca Knight.
The meeting concluded with men’s and women’s 4x100m relays, USA taking the former (38.41), and a mixed USA/America’s squad (42.33) victorious in the women’s race.
Chris Turner for the IAAF
*subject to the usual ratification procedures