Zagreb, CroatiaFor Blanka Vlasic, there’s no place like home. The two-time World champion capped the finest series of her career with a sensational 2.08m leap to become the second highest jumper of all-time at the Zagreb Grand Prix on Monday (31).
The Croatian heroine’s leap, which came on her first attempt, capped a thoroughly entertaining edition of the annual Zagreb meeting, perhaps the finest in its 59 years.
Zagreb 2009 is a Grand Prix status meeting as part of the IAAF World Athletics Tour 2009.
Without a miss until 2.10m
In rare and impeccable form, Vlasic opened the competition at 1.90m, then cleared 1.94m, 2.00m, 2.05m all with her first attempt. Her 2.08m national record also came on her first go, sending the capacity crowd at the Sport Park Mladost into a rapturous frenzy. Adding a centimetre to her previous personal best, the 25-year-old took sole possession of the No. 2 spot all-time. Only World record holder Stefka Kostadinova, who has cleared 2.08m and 2.09m, has ever jumped higher.
“I really didn’t expect to clear 2.08 with my first attempt,” said Vlasic, who added another fond Zagreb memory to her scrap book. Her first 2.00m leap came at this meeting as well, back in 2003.
Her leap over 2.05m was a clean, elegant clearance with plenty to spare, signaling that her laborious and admittedly tired outing in Zurich three nights ago was well behind her. She was clear and clean at 2.08m as well, setting the stage for yet another World record attempt. But again, even on this night, 2.10m was beyond her means, although each of her three attempts weren’t that shy of success.
While Vlasic clearly rose to the occasion, others could not. Anna Chicherova, the Berlin silver medallist who jumped her 2.04m PB here last year, topped out at 1.94m to finish a distant second.
It was standing room only at the stadium again this year, largely because of Vlasic. How devoted are some of the popular jumper’s fans? Andra Cojocaru, a 13-year-old national age group champion from the eastern Romanian city of Bacau, made a 17-hour trek with her mother, father and brother to witness her hero jump.
Kozmus momentum continues – World leading 81.77m
Setting the tone for the Croatian capital’s finest ever athletics evening, the meeting began with another world leader in the first event on the programme.
Picking up where he left off in Berlin, World Hammer throw champion Primoz Kozmus dominated the competition from the second round. After a foot foul on his first throw, the 29-year-old Slovenian reached 80.35m in the second to add 31 centimetres to the meet record set by Krisztian Pars a year ago. It was more than enough for the victory – Pars was well back in second with a 79.18m best effort – but Kozmus was just warming up.
After a lacklustre 78.49m in the third round, he hit 81.77m in the fourth, the fourth farthest throw of his career, followed up with 80.70m, before closing the proceedings with an 81.51m toss.
“Today showed what I was capable of this season,” said the 29-year-old, whose progress toward the World championships was slowed by early season injury. “I think a national record (82.30m, 2007) is within reach this season.” Kozmus still has a busy September ahead of him with four meets on his schedule before the season-capping World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki.
Cantwell again beyond 22m with world-leading 22.16m toss
Christian Cantwell and Tomasz Majewski, the reigning World and Olympic champions in the Shot Put, put on another stellar show in the ring, with the American again prevailing.
The Pole led after the first round with 20.89m opening effort, but Cantwell quickly took control with a 21.69m heave in the second, rendering Adam Nelson’s 21.28m meet record from 2002 as a mere meeting footnote. Majewski improved as well, tossing 21.41m in the second and 21.47m in the third, but wasn’t a match for the American on this pleasant and cloudless evening. Sealing the deal, Cantwell concluded with his world-leading 22.16m bomb in the sixth round, supplanting his own 22.03m gold medal-winning effort in Berlin.
In a quality competition, Andrei Mikhnevich of Belarus was third with a 20.93m best, with American Dan Taylor (20.64m) fourth.
Harper and Brathwaite impress, Spencer upsets Walker
The hurdles events generally take centre stage here, but this year couldn’t quite outshine the efforts of the night’s key highlights. But the chief protagonists in the sprint hurdles, Olympic champion Dawn Harper and recently minted World champion Ryan Brathwaite, did produce impressive victories.
Fairly even with Delloreen Ennis-London over the first six barriers, Harper began to chisel together a slight advantage by hurdle seven, a lead she extended over each of the remaining hurdles through the finish to take well-deserved win in 12.67. Ennis-London, fading over the final 15 metres, clocked 12.76.
In the men’s race, named to honour inter-war Croatian hurdler Boris Hanzekovic, nearly went down the wire, with Brathwaite edging American David Oliver 13.35 to 13.41 to collect his first victory in two outings since taking the World title.
The women’s 400m Hurdles was to feature a rematch between Jamaican Melaine Walker and Lashinda Demus of the USA, the Berlin gold and silver medallists, but a hamstring injury in training yesterday knocked the American onto the sidelines. But Walker still found a hefty challenge in compatriot Kaliese Spencer, one which turned out to be insurmountable.
Spencer carried a clear lead through the first five barriers and beyond the final turn with Walker simply leaving herself too much ground to cover. Spencer, who was fourth in Berlin, was the clear winner here in 54.69, with Walker next in 55.02. Russian, Natalya Antyukh (55.38) was third.
With a blazing first half, it was Felix Sanchez who went out fastest in the men’s race, and he nearly held on. But Jamaican Isa Phillips, who ran a much more conservative first half, reeled in the former two-time World champion just a few steps before the final hurdle to take the win in 48.51. Sanchez clocked 48.82, edging World bronze medallist Bershawn Jackson by just 0.01.
Patton dashes 9.94
Another highlight was the meet’s first sub-10 performance thanks to Darvis Patton’s solid 9.94 dash in the 100m. The American, who reached the Berlin final, held off US champion Michael Rodgers who clocked 9.97. Jamaican Nesta Carter, who was third with a season’s best 10.04, also dipped under the previous meet standard which had stood for a decade.
Double Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown dominated the women’s race to repeat her victory of a year ago in 11.15. Germany’s Verena Sailer was a distant second clocking 11.39.
Russian Tatyana Firova scored an upset in the other sprint on the programme, taking down the favoured Jamaican duo of Novlene Williams-Mills (50.96) and Shericka Williams (51.14) in 50.80.
Wude’s kick prevails, Savinova surprises Jepkosgei
A commanding 3000m victory by world 10,000m bronze medallist Wude Ayalew capped the middle and long distance portion of the programme.
The race began with a fairly brisk pace, with five women making a clear break from the field with four laps to go. But at the bell, just three remained – Kenyan Iness Chenonge, Ethiopian Wude Ayalew of Ethiopia and Pole Lidia Chojecka. Chojecka tried to make a move for the front as she entered the backstretch, but was fought off effortlessly by the leading pair. The real move came with about 250 metres to go when Ayalew broke free en route to her 8:37.12 runaway victory. Chenonge was second in 8:41.60 and Chojecka third in 8:41.83, season’s best for all.
In the women’s 800m, 2007 World champion Janeth Jepkosgei and Mariya Savinova, the European indoor champion, followed the pacesetter closest through the first lap, but 200 metres later, the Russian dropped back, and seemingly out of contention. But as Jepkosgei kept busy trying to fend off a late race charge by Kenia Sinclair, Savinova clawed her way back into the race, sweeping by the Kenyan on the inside over the final 50 metres to win in 1:59.38. Jepkosgei was second (1:59.94) with Elena Kofanova (2:00.19) third in a blanket finish for the next three spots.
The men's 1500m, which capped the meet, went down to the wire with Bahrain's Belal Mansoor Ali edging Kenyan William Biwott. In a furious sprint, Ali won by a scant 0.01 seconds in 3:36.20. American Lopez Lomong was third in 3:37.80.
Elsewhere, Yahya Berrahab, the Moroccan national record holder in the Long Jump, was the class of the field, his 8.15m leap from the second round easily holding out for the win. Viktor Kuznyetsov of Ukraine reached 7.96m, also in the second round, to finish runner-up.
World and Olympic silver medallist Yarelis Barrios won the Discus Throw with a second round 63.59m effort, finishing ahead of Poles Zaneta Glanc (62.24m) and Wioletta Potepa (60.86m).
And in the Triple Jump, Berlin silver medallist Mabel Gay took the honours with a 14.58m leap, defeating Biljana Topic, whose 14.51m effort was just one centimetre shy of her own Serbian national leap which propelled her to fourth at the World championships.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF