Birhanu Balew of Bahrain won the men’s 5000m at Lausanne’s Athletissima IAAF Diamond League fixture on Thursday (5) in a personal best and 2018 world-leading time of 13:01.09 – but his victory was almost a footnote after an extraordinary incident on the final bend between the two young Ethiopians who had been contesting the lead, 20-year-old Yomif Kejelcha and his 18-year-old compatriot Selemon Barega.
The older runner, who had burst into the lead at the bell, began stumbling as they approached the final straight, but as he fell he grabbed hold of Barega’s shorts and dragged him out into lane three. It was almost as if he was saying to his younger colleague – “If I can’t beat you, at least I can stop you winning.”
After Balew, who had followed Barega home in the last Diamond League 5000m, had cruised past, Barega recovered himself to finish second in, astonishingly, a season’s best of 13:02.67 – but he was anything but a happy athlete at the end, raging and gesturing at his fellow Ethiopian when he finally picked himself up and arrived at the finish area.
For a moment it was as if we were watching something out of one of the more acrimonious FIFA World Cup matches.
It seemed clear that this action had prevented Barega from earning a victory that would have taken him on to next week’s IAAF World U20 Championships Tampere 2018 in good heart. Although maybe the immense frustration of tonight will work for him in Finland.
Samba’s rhythm continues
Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba, who announced yesterday that this would be his last Diamond League race of the season, duly secured a sixth 400m hurdles victory in the competition in what is now familiar style, finishing strongly to overhaul Norway’s fast-starting world champion Karsten Warholm over the final two flights of hurdles before crossing in 47.42.
Warholm – who would be having a great season were it not for the eruption of this fellow 22-year-old – took second place in 47.94, ahead of Turkey’s Yasmin Copello, who clocked 48.85.
For defending Diamond League champion Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Islands, however, the night ended in disappointment as he was forced to slow to a halt halfway down the back straight.
“I am happy with my fitness at the moment,” said Samba. “ I want to break the world record. Now whether it will happen this year or in the coming ones is hard to say. The objective of the season for me is the Asian Games which will take place at the end of August.”
Shubenkov building sub-13 consistency
Sergey Shubenkov, a frustrated figure at the last IAAF Diamond League meeting in Paris after being disqualified from the 110m hurdles for false-starting, experienced emotions at the other end of the spectrum tonight as he defeated the world and Olympic champion Omar McLeod to earn victory in 12.95 – his second fastest time ever.
The tall figure of Shubenkov, who preceded the compact Jamaican as world champion and took silver behind him in London last summer, got away well, but there was little between the two figures as they ran shoulder-to-shoulder until McLeod landed awkwardly after the eighth flight of hurdles and lost his chances in a moment’s stumble, slipping back to fifth in 13.41.
Shubenkov, operating here as an Authorised Neutral Athlete, maintained his form to earn a third successive sub-13 second race in three finals, having clocked 12.99 in Montreuil on June 19 and then, on Monday, finding the ideal way of getting over the disappointment of Saturday’s setback by setting a personal best of 12.92 in winning at the Istvan Gyulai Memorial meeting in Hungary.
A third European title is high in his ambitions this summer – and as things stand it is hard to see anybody stopping him.
“This is what we train for,” said Shubenkov. “I am super-excited. I have already run under 13 seconds three times this season, so that makes this my best season ever.
“2016 was a tough year when we didn’t have much opportunity to compete but now competing with the best guys on the circuit is helping me improve my level.
“The European record is a realistic record – let’s see when I achieve that. I am looking forward to the European Championships and being a part of Team Europe in the Continental Cup.”
Devon Allen of the United States was distant second in a race deprived of the presence of Jamaica’s Ronald Levy after he injured a hamstring during warm-up.
Allen clocked 13.29, with France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde taking third place in 13.30.
Houlihan’s rise continues - big win and 3:57.34 lifetime best
World and Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya had elected to run over 1500m here, but for once she did not earn that winning feeling at the end of the night as she eventually finished sixth in 4:00.44 in a hugely fluctuating race which eventually saw Shelby Houlihan of the United States sprint past Britain’s Laura Muir in the final 50 metres to win in a personal best and meeting record of 3:57.34.
Muir, the world indoor silver medallist, had moved to the front around the final bend after Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia, the early leader, had been reeled in by the chasing group.
It seemed the Briton had judged it right until Houlihan moved out into lane two to overtake her. Muir was second in a season’s best of 3:58.18, with Sifan Hassan of The Netherlands taking third place in 3:58.39.
Without the perennially dominant figure of Semenya the women’s 800m was a more open race, but it went to form as the Burundi athlete who took silver behind her at the Rio 2016 Games and last year’s World Championships, Francine Niyonsaba, proved strongest to win in 1:57.80 ahead of the London bronze medallist Ajee Wilson of the United States, who clocked 1.58.20 to finish clear of early leader Habitam Alemu of Ethiopia, who beat Kenya’s Olympic bronze medallist Margaret Wambui to third place in clocking 1:58.38.
Ta Lou takes 100m showdown
Marie-Josee Ta Lou, silver medallist over 100 and 200m at last year’s IAAF World Championships, has got into a winning habit this season and here she finished strongly to take victory in 10.90 against a field that included Jamaica’s Olympic 100 and 200m champion Elaine Thompson and the Dutch sprinter who beat her over the longer sprint in London, Dafne Schippers.
Schippers had given an indication of the level of tension involved in this meeting of leading sprinters as she stood up when the field was about to get away for the first time.
When they got away at the second time of asking it was Ta Lou’s Ivorian compatriot Murielle Ahoure who showed the acceleration that earned her the IAAF world indoor 60m title in March, but the early leader was passed by Ta Lou at around 70 metres and drifted back to sixth and last in 11.30.
Thompson proved the closest challenger to Ta Lou, taking second place in 10.99, with Jenna Prandini of the United States beaten Schippers to third place, 11.00 to 11.02.
There was a mini-explosion of approval when it was confirmed that home sprinter Mujinga Kambundji, who finished fifth, had set a national record of 11.03.
“My goal today was simply to win,” said Ta Lou. “I haven’t been feeling that well psychologically and physically.”
Naser remains unstoppable
Salwa Naser made a talented women’s 400m field look relatively pedestrian as she won in 49.78. The small, upright figure of the Bahrain athlete moved past the taller Shakima Wimbley as the field approached the final bend, hit the final straight with a couple of metres lead and then, metronomically smooth, lengthened her lead to the line.
Wimbley, who won IAAF world indoor silver in Birmingham in March, was unable to stay in touch and drifted back to third in 50.58 as her compatriot Jessica Beard came through in 50.40.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF