Yelena Isinbayeva sails over 5.03m in Rome (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Rome, Italy

World record for Isinbayeva makes the night in Rome; Down to two for the $1 Million - ÅF Golden League

Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia broke her own World record in the women’s Pole Vault with a stupendous 5.03m victory** at the ‘28th Golden Gala Kinder+Sport’, the third fixture of the six meet ÅF Golden League 2008, in Rome’s Olympic stadium tonight (Friday 11 July).

In the season long, six meet campaign for the $1 Million ÅF Golden League Jackpot, three of the five potential claimants faltered at this third hurdle in Rome.

Isinbayeva counter attacks

Such is the athletic brilliance of Russia’s Yelena Isinbayeva that there is virtually not enough room in any paragraph of reasonable length to list her career achievements which is not a bad achievement in itself for any 26-year-old athlete.

But with 9 August 2005, the date on which she had established her existing World record of 5.01m, edging into the mists of athletics history there have been constant criticisms in the last two seasons, especially after a change of coach in the winter of 2005/ 2006 that her career path had stagnated. The questions had intensified in the build up to Rome which was Isinbayeva’s season opener because of Jenn Stuczynski’s 4.92m Area Record at the US Olympic trials last weekend.

Isinbayeva counter attacked and silenced all critics this evening in the best way possible with a two centimetres improvement in her World record with a margin of clearance over the bar that indicated there is plenty more to come from her this season.

“A few days ago I felt my technique was terrible but today it was very good,” said tonight’s World record breaker. “I expected it, I expected to break the World record.”

The 5.03m was taken on her second approach to that bar, and she had also had to take two attempts at 4.95, having opened very well with successful first time performances at 4.70 and 4.85.

Monika Pyrek of Poland equalled her PB with 4.75m for second place, and Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg was third with a PB of her own 4.70.

(For more with Isinbayeva, see: "I am stronger now in my personal condition....Before I was full of problems” - Isinbayeva - ÅF Golden League, Rome )

Vlasic and Jelimo prevail without challenge

Blanka Vlasic was of course supreme in the women’s High Jump with a clean score card in a straight run of five heights, starting at 1.85m and ending at 2.00m. But there was to be no ‘Blanka samba’ in celebration on the landing mat, as while the Croatian World champion was unopposed in the competition, she must have expected to progress over 2.05m. Her second attempt was near but the other two fell way sort of such desires. But Vlasic remained upbeat, “I’m happy. My main goal was to win,” and she remains in the Jackpot hunt.

No one else in the field, which included Olympic titleholder Yelena Slesarenko (second) and European champion Tia Helebaut (third), could go higher than 1.98m.

There were equally no surprises in the women’s 800m. Paced by 2001 World 400m champion Amy Mbacke Thiam of Senegal through 400m (58.48) and a little beyond, after that the race was only about one athlete, African champion Pamela Jelimo. The win this time for the 18-year-old Kenyan World Junior record holder was 1:55.69, a meet record.

‘Sensational’ is much overused in the context of feats of sport but not in the case of this Kenyan marvel who could claim none of the superlatives mentioned in the previous paragraph before this season started.

All ten finishers went below 2 minutes and within that quality pack Australia’s World Indoor champion Tamsyn Lewis achieved a season’s best of 1:59.43 (6th).

So two had battled successfully through on the third stage of their quest for the $1 Million ÅF Golden League Jackpot but as we will recount later on by the end of the night the hopes of three others had been blown away in the warm air of the Rome night sky.

Kiprop produces big PB

While not on a par with Jelimo’s new found fame, Asbel Kiprop, 19, has in the last two seasons been causing quite a stir in men’s middle distance ranks. From World Junior XC champion to fourth place in the senior World championships 1500m final in Osaka, Kiprop is the real deal. The lanky, long striding, IAAF High Performance Centre based athlete, ate up track in the last 50 metres of the 1500m finishing in a PB of 3:31.67, which smashed his previous best (3:35.24 – 2007) which he ran in the Osaka final.

Behind him there was a long string of personal and seasonal bests, including a PB for Abdalaati Iguider of Morocco who had been leading coming into the home straight and finished second (3:31.88). In fourth, double European champion Mehdi Baala of France set a European season’s lead of 3:32.00.

A barn storming late finish down the outside of a trio of runners, who had seemed with just 40 metres to go to be battling for the victory, led Morocco’s Amine Laalou, seventh at the World Champs in Osaka last summer, to a 1:44.27 victory in the men’s 800m. Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (1:44.61), Youseef Saad Kamel (1:44.68) and Nadjim Manseur (1:44.75 PB) were the men upstaged. Laalou was also a winner in Rome in 2006.

Wariner vs Merritt the race of the night, perhaps the year

The two 400m races were in stark contrast to each other but both exceptional in their own way.

First, we had a solo performance from double World 200m champion Allyson Felix in the women’s 400m, which relegated the opposition to the status of ‘also rans’ such was the dominance of a run executed with her usual grace and brilliance. Felix who was never seriously pursued came home the winner in 50.25 seconds. She hoped to impress the US team coaches in an effort to gain a berth in the Olympic 4x400m Relay squad. They could not have failed to have been.

“I’m a bit tired after crossing the Atlantic after the US Trials,” said Felix, which must be a sobering statement to read if you are one of her defeated opponents tonight.

Next we enjoyed the race of the night, in fact we might not see a better pitched battle over the men’s 400m all season, as even Beijing will struggle to top the purity of the racing, even if the rewards at stake will be so much greater.

The chances of Jeremy Wariner seemed to have been buried by LaShawn Merritt in the first 150 metres but the World and Olympic champion exhumed himself with a blistering attack before the final bend which took him on to the shoulder and past the World silver medallist.

Battle had been fully joined as the home straight opened and just when it seemed Wariner had decisively pulled himself clear, Merritt, who had taken the US title ahead of him over a week ago in Eugene, put in another spurt. The pair crossed the line together in a finish which only the camera could separate.

Wariner’s 44.36 prevailed over Merritt’s 44.37, but times were not important this evening, this was racing and true Athletics at its very best.

Saladino sees off Al-Sabee

Irving Saladino’s persistent knee injury, which has kept him out of competition since after the Berlin meet on 1 June, seems to have cleared at least for the present. His 8.30m (-0.1m/s) first round attempt in the Long Jump was enough to take the victory and he had a number of huge fouls in the course of the next five attempts, with no registered distances.

The World champion’s return however killed off the Jackpot hopes of Saudi Arabia’s Hussein Al-Sabee who ended with 8.08m for third. It was a brave effort and his defeat was no disgrace considering his opponent.

Saudi compatriot Mohamed Salman Al Khuwailidi was second with 8.22m.

Onyia’s hopes of the $1 Million also disappear

Josephine Onyia who was the second of the three existing female Jackpot bidders to compete tonight lost out in a very tight finish in the women’s 100m Hurdles. The Spaniard ran well - 12.85 seconds - but with five women in front of her she was well and truly knocked off the Jackpot trail. The leading two were Jamaicans Brigitte Foster-Hylton (12.60) and Delloreen Ennis-London (12.62) with USA’s Candice Davis in third (12.72).

Robles lacking “spark” by own very high standards

World record holder Dayron Robles had no trouble in the men’s 110m Hurdles. Undisturbed by a false start and some race recalls the Cuban flew effortlessly over the flights of barriers for a straight forward victory in 13.08 secs. The manner of his triumph was summed up by the time of second place finisher, Ukraine’s Sergiy Demidyuk – 13.40.

Obviously disappointed not to have ducked under 13secs, Robles commented that “I did not feel any spark during the race.”

Jackson’s hopes of the Jackpot dashed in the final run-in

Battling to continue his $1 Million campaign in the men’s one lap hurdles was US champion Bershawn Jackson, and when catching long time race leader Danny McFarlane of Jamaica coming off the last hurdle he looked to have timed his moment to perfection. However, that was not counting for the presence on his left shoulder of World champion Kerron Clement who pulled away from Jackson for victory – 48.23 to 48.34 sec. McFarlane was third 48.57 in a season’s best.

There was no Jackpot at stake in the women’s 400m Hurdles but Melaine Walker of Jamaica raced with all the passion of someone who had it to lose, taking the competition in 54.36. Poland’s World championship bronze medallist Anna Jesien came home strongly in 54.71 a season’s best, with USA’s Tiffany Ross Williams in third (54.97).

Powell injury scare

Asafa Powell should have been one of the stars tonight. At the start of the evening with 80 metres run of his 100m heat, the former World record holder seemed to be about to fulfil that promise but then abruptly released his foot off the gas pedal and suddenly seemed to be going backwards such was his dramatic deceleration and the sight of four opponents flying past.

A cramp in his groin was Powell’s own diagnosis immediately after the race in which he finished fifth in 10.19 secs, and he did not take part in the final. In that run off later in the evening for those still fit and able, Francis Obikwelu, the Olympic silver medallist was the winner in 10.04, just out-dipping World champs runner-up Derrick Atkins on the same time.

Stewart impressive

Kerron Stewart’s run in the women’s 200m was as assured as Felix’s performance had been in the 400m. The gun went and Stewart was gone finishing in 22.34m. The Jamaican champion will be a real danger to everyone including Felix in Beijing.

In second place looking for some speed work was Sanya Richards and she got it with a 22.49 season’s best. France’s Muriel Hurtis-Houairi also ran her fastest of 2008 for third (22.50), and Asian Games champion Rakia Al-Gasara of Bahrain, who was in second place coming off the bend, set a national record of 22.65.

Finnish one – two

In the men’s Javelin Throw, there was a Finnish one-two for the ‘two Teros’. World champion Tero Pitkämäki produced an 87.70m fourth round hit to deny Tero Järvenpää who had led since the first round with 84.53m. Two fouls and three passes were all Järvenpää, who was third in Berlin and second in Oslo, could mass in the rest of his competition. Pitkämäki’s next best was his third round 83.46.

Latvia’s Eriks Rags was a good third in 83.45, while struggling with his technique was Norway’s Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen (82.31m) who seems to have the power but not the right angle of attack at the moment.

Distances produce great finishes

There was an impressive turn of home straight speed shown by multiple global championship 10,000m silver medallist Sileshi Sihine of Ethiopia who overtook compatriot Tariku Bekele in the last 80 metres of the men’s 5000m. His move drew Kenya’s Eluid Kipchoge, the World champion from 2005, past Bekele too. The World 3000m champion, the younger brother of the World record holder Kenenisa, had no answer to these two high powered assaults. 13:04.94 was Sihine’s winning time with Kipchoge (13:05.26), and Bekele, third (13:06.00).

World champion Brimin Kipruto won an equally intense burn out in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase over reigning Olympic gold medallist Ezekiel Kemboi – 8:15.71 to 8:16.9. Behind the two Kenyans, Tareq Mubarak Taher of Bahrain was third in 8:17.65. Finland’s European champion Jukka Keskisalo moved to a season’s best of 8:22.35 (6th), on his road back from a hamstring injury and operation last autumn.

Dibaba closes the evening on the track in style

The women’s 5000m might have had a starting line-up of 17 runners but with only 1500m of the race run only three athletes remained and one of those was the pacemaker Olga Komyagina of Russia. The two in contention for  the victory were Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, who had set the existing World record in Oslo (14:11.15) and Meselech Melkamu, the silver medallist over 3000m indoors this winter in Valencia.

With Komyagina taking the race through the first 2 kilometres – 2:52.43 and 5:42.14 – it was down to the Ethiopian pair to take turns in the lead after the Russian finished her night’s assignment. Melkamu was at the head at 3k (8:41.54) and Dibaba 4k (11:44.88).

In the end it came down to a simple last lap burn-up with Melkamu found seriously wanting with 200m to go. The reigning double World 10,000m champion sprinted away with such ferocity that if you hadn’t been watching the race and had looked up momentarily you would have thought Dibaba might have been running the individual sprint.

Dibaba finished in 14:36.58, with Melkamu home in 14:38.78, a season’s best. Priscah Jepleting of Kenya was fourth in a season’s best (14:45.12), while Kimberley Smith of New Zealand improved her own Area Record with 14:45.92 for fifth.

Chris Turner for the IAAF

**NOTE. World record subject to usual ratification procedures