Rose Mary Almanza leads the 800m in Ponce (Organisers) © Copyright
Report Ponce, Puerto Rico

Almanza breaks Ponce meeting record with world-leading 800m

Cuba’s Rose Mary Almanza set a personal best of 1:59.35 to win the 800m at the Ponce Grand Prix on Saturday (23) to break the oldest women’s meeting record on the books.

Almanza closely followed the pace maker and covered the first lap in 58.32 with Canada’s Jessica Smith close behind. World junior silver medallist Sahily Diago then began to make a move with half a lap left and at one point it looked as though she would pass her compatriot.

But Almanza kicked down the home straight and held on for the win to better the hand-timed PB of 1:59.4 she set two years ago. The previous meeting record of 1:59.82 was set by Hazel Clark back in 2008.

In second, Diago clocked a season’s best of 1:59.91, her fastest time outside of Cuba. Jamaica's Simoya Campbell set a PB of 2:01.59 in third place.

Culson suffers shock defeat

Without question, two-time world silver medallist Javier Culson is the biggest athletics star in Puerto Rico. The Olympic bronze medallist had won the 400m hurdles at the Ponce Grand Prix on six previous occasions, setting the meeting and national record of 47.72 in 2010.

But on Saturday he was unable to make it a seventh win. He went out hard and had a lead of almost one second at the half-way point, but he began to tie up on the home straight and stuttered over the last two hurdles.

Commonwealth bronze medallist Jeffery Gibson of The Bahamas seized the opportunity and came through in the final few metres to take the victory in 49.19. Culson held on for second place in 49.31, just 0.08 in front of Nigeria’s NCAA champion Miles Ukaoma.

In the flat one-lap sprint, world junior champion Machel Cedenio continued his unbeaten streak with his second sub-45-second clocking of his career.

The 19-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago faced his toughest challenge to date, taking on a field that included world champion LaShawn Merritt, Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos, two-time world champion Jeremy Wariner and 2012 world indoor champion Nery Brenes.

But Cedenio wasn’t fazed and won by almost half a second in 44.97. Merritt was second in 45.42 while Dominican Republic’s Gustavo Cuesta was a surprise third in 45.89.

US victories in sprint hurdles and middle distances

The last time Jason Richardson won in Ponce, he went on to win the world title that same year. So after his 13.34 (-0.8m/s) triumph on Saturday, he has good reason to feel a bit of a confidence boost.

In one of the closest contests of the evening, the US sprint hurdler finished just 0.01 ahead of Cuba’s 2012 world junior champion Yordan O’Farrill.

Having finished fourth in Ponce last year, USA’s Charles Jock returned to the Puerto Rican city in an attempt to do better.

The 2012 NCAA champion was just fifth at half way as USA’s Casimir Loxsom and Colombia’s Rafith Rodriguez battled for the lead. As Loxsom faded, Rodriguez took up the running and looked to be heading to victory, but Jock came charging down the home straight in the closing stages to steal the glory in 1:45.40.

Rodriguez clocked a season’s best of 1:45.53 in second place. World silver medallist Nick Symmonds was never really in contention but finished fifth in 1:46.37, his fastest time since 2013.

In a 1500m race in which the top four finishers ran quicker than the previous meeting record, USA’s Rachel Schneider came away victorious, clocking 4:08.46 to take more than two seconds off her PB. In second, Muriel Coneo broke her own Colombian record with a time of 4:09.16.

Elsewhere, Cuba’s former high jumper and heptathlete Yarianny Arguelles won the women’s long jump with a leap of 6.66m, while Keston Bledman won the men’s 100m in 10.17 (-0.8m/s).

Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF