Power – it was on display everywhere you looked at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome on Thursday night (8). Whether in the booming right arm of Thomas Rohler, the elastic spring of pole vaulter Ekaterini Stefanidi or the supreme pace of sprinters Dafne Schippers and Andre De Grasse, it manifested itself in every way imaginable at the Golden Gala Pietro Mennea.
In the men’s javelin, Rohler once again proved that old adage that he who laughs last laughs best. The German took the lead in the second round with 87.05m, at which point he looked to have the competition at his mercy.
Until, that is, his compatriot Johannes Vetter jogged to the line in the fifth round and unleashed a throw of 88.15m to take the lead. Rohler could only follow up with 85.54m, leaving him one last chance to produce some magic in the final round, which he duly achieved.
His 90.06m throw gave him the win ahead of Vetter (88.15m) and Keshorn Walcott, who took third with 86.61m.
“I made it again!” said Rohler, who had thrown 93.90m in Doha last month. “I was nervous before my sixth attempt, but you have to deal with that. I knew it would take 90 metres to win today. It’s easier when someone pushes you.”
Stefanidi, meanwhile, had looked an altogether more assured victor through the closing stages of the women’s pole vault, the Greek athlete only entering the competition at 4.65m, and going on to clear that, 4.75m and 4.85m all at the first attempt.
That proved more than good enough to take the win, and Stefanidi soon set the bar up to a world record height, 5.07m. However, it was not to be, and the Olympic champion admitted that attempting such lofty heights will take some getting used to.
“I must say that I got a bit scared at 5.07m but my last attempt was my best,” she said. “In training it looks like I was going to jump 5.07m so it was all about the mental barriers.”
Cuba’s Yarisley Silva took second with a season’s best of 4.75m, edging New Zealand’s Eliza McCartney on countback.
Rojas ends Ibarguen’s winning run
Venezuala’s Yulimar Rojas was another to catch the eye, continuing her fine form with a win in the women’s triple jump. The Olympic silver medallist also inflicted a first defeat on Caterine Ibarguen in what was their first clash since the Colombian beat Rojas to win Olympic gold last year. It ended a 12-month unbeaten run for Ibarguen, whose best effort of 14.78m came in the final round.
Rojas, meanwhile, leapt 14.76m in the second round to take command of the competition, despite taking off well behind the board. She improved that to 14.82m in the fourth round, then to 14.84m in the fifth, which proved her best jump. Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan finshed third with a best of 14.64m.
“The shape is good,” said Rojas. “I trained a lot during winter and I’m hitting my marks now with continuity. I should improve in these next few meetings.”
The women’s high jump saw another peerless display from Maria Lasitskene, who took victory with a clearance of 2.00m. She was foot-perfect up and over 1.98m, which she cleared at the first attempt to secure victory, and then it was just a matter of how high she could go.
In the end, she sailed 2.00m at the second attempt, but raising the bar to 2.05m proved beyond her, at least today. “I really like this stadium because the Olympic spirit is still here,” Lasitskene said of the venue where the current world record was set. “I can feel it in the air. I did not expect to attack 2.05m tonight, but all was fine and if I feel okay, I can fly high. The target this year is to attack the gold in London.”
Poland’s Kamila Licwinko took second with 1.96m, while Ukraine’s Yuliya Levchenko was third with a best of 1.94m.
Earlier in the night, Gong Lijiao maintained her winning run in the women’s shot put, the Chinese thrower again taking maximum IAAF Diamond League points with a best throw of 19.56m, a season’s best by 10 centimetres. Gong had taken victory on her only outing on the IAAF Diamond League circuit in Shanghai last month, and proved equally as dominant here in her first competition in Europe this summer.
Her series demonstrated remarkable consistency, with every throw beyond 19 metres, all of them good enough in their own right to take victory, but it was her heave in the fifth round which proved the longest.
“The competition was so-so,” said Gong. “My technique was not good, but I enjoyed competing in the heat, this stadium, and in front of this crowd.”
Daniella Bunch took a surprise second place with a best of 18.95m, while Olympic champion Michelle Carter had a disappointing night, her best of 18.86m enough for third. “It was okay, just a bit sluggish,” said Carter. “After the long travel, heavy training and jetlag it’s always harder.”
De Grasse and Schippers supreme in sprints
In the men’s 200m, Andre De Grasse breezed home with the confident air of a double Olympic medallist, the Canadian running a composed bend and cruising clear of his rivals over the final 50 metres to take maximum points in 20.01 ahead of Christophe Lemaitre (20.29) and Ameer Webb (20.33).
“My coach just told me to hit it and bring it home well,” said De Grasse, who said he still intends to double at the IAAF World Championships London 2017. “I’m still thinking about both events, but I have a bad start and I have to work on it. My aim is to get three medals, like in Rio. As far as Usain Bolt is concerned, I also want to start to be great. Bolt is a big target for me.”
Dafne Schippers was equally dominant in the women’s 100m, the Dutch powerhouse exploding from the blocks and showing impressive turnover in the latter half of the race to dip below the 11-second barrier, her winning time of 10.99 edging Marie-Josee Ta Lou (11.03) and Michelle-Lee Ahye (11.07).
“The result is okay,” said Schippers. “To get faster, I just need more races. That is the key now on the way to London.”
The women’s 400m, meanwhile, saw a decisive win for Natasha Hastings, who clocked 50.52 to come home clear of Novlene Williams-Mills (51.04) and Olga Zemlyak (51.08).
“I guess I ran a good race today but my coach, he will still find something wrong,” said Hastings. “London is my main goal. I want to be on the podium there.”
Cathal Dennehy for the IAAF