There was a huge weight of expectation on the slender shoulders of Olympic 400m champion Wayde van Niekerk in his first international 400m race since his world record run in Rio but he shrugged it off with aplomb as he flew around one lap of the Pontaise stadium in 43.62 at the Athletissima IAAF Diamond league meeting in Lausanne on Thursday (6).
He was challenged by the fast-starting Botswanan duo of Baboloki Thebe and Issac Makwala, running respectively two lanes inside and outside of the South African, over the first 250 metres but van Niekerk’s strength is his ability to sustain his speed down the home straight and he produced another demonstration of that vary rare talent to show he has every chance of adding the world title to his Olympic crown in barely a month’s time.
“I didn´t come with a specific time in mind but I am pleased with this result,” said van Niekerek, who had claimed at Wednesday’s press conference that he wouldn’t be disappointed if he didn’t run under 44 seconds, even if nearly everyone else would have been.
“I do have a love-hate relationship with the 400m. However, I try to always approach it with a positive mind set, not setting myself any limits: and the performances keep coming along which keeps me passionate about what I do.
“I need that passion to constantly seek improvements. Finishing a 400m is always painful but, this time around, I am actually pleasantly surprised about how I digested the lactic acid.”
His time was a world-leading mark, improved the previous meeting record of 43.66 set by Michael Johnson 21 years ago, and was also an IAAF Diamond League record.
Behind him, Thebe posted a personal best of 44.02 and Makwala was only 0.06 further back.
Lasitskene improves to 2.06m
Duelling with van Niekerk for the unofficial honour of producing the performance of the meeting, Mariya Lasitskene produced a similar set of statistics in the women’s high jump – a world-leading mark, meeting record and IAAF Diamond League record – when she went over 2.06m.
Lasitskene, competing as an authorised neutral athlete, extended her winning streak this year to 16 competitions.
She had the competition won when she cleared 1.96m on her second attempt, a height none of her rivals could negotiate, went straight over 2.01m, then had the bar raised to 2.06m and cleared that on her second attempt.
She then ended the evening with three jumps at a would-be 2.10m world record, but none were particularly close.
World 5000m lead for Edris
In an entertaining 5000m, Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris produced another world-leading mark of the night when he won in 12:55.53.
Uganda’s Joshua Chetegei had pushed the pace through the fourth kilometre to make a time under 13 minutes a realistic target and with two laps to go, Edris was third behind Cheptegei and 2016 world U20 champion Selemon Barega.
However, just before the bell Edris took the lead and then tried to shake off the 17-year-old Barega over a frantic final lap.
Edris had enough in the tank to come home in front but the prodigiously talented Barega was second in 12:55.58, the second fastest U18 ever over the distance.
The women’s 800m also went with the favourite, in this case Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba.
The pacemaker Ilona Usovich towed the field through the first lap in a quick 56.56 and through to 500 metres and Niyonsaba was never more than a few inches from her shoulder.
Once the Belarus athlete dropped out, Niyonsaba took the lead and was never headed although she must have been conscious of the fact that USA’s Charlene Lipsey was having the race of her life and breathing down her neck.
Niyonsaba never eased up and crossed the line in 1:56.82 while Lipsey ran a personal best by almost a second of 1:57.38.
All 10 finishers ran under two minutes, with four personal best and one national record posted further down the field.
Kendricks remains unbeaten in 2017, Pichardo upsets Taylor
In the pole vault, Sam Kendricks continued his unbeaten year when he cleared 5.93m on his second attempt to win on countback.
Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski also cleared the same height, a personal best, but on his third attempt and after the pair both brought the bar down three times at 6.03m, the honours went to the American.
Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo showed something like the form that made his triple jump duels with world and Olympic champion Christian Taylor so memorable in 2015 when he bounded out to 17.54m in the second round before improving further to 17.60m with his last attempt and the competition already won.
Taylor had tried to respond throughout the competition and had reached 17.48m in round two and 17.49m one jump later but couldn’t close the gap any further with his final three jumps and had to settle for second best.
In the women's long jump, Ivana Spanovic got her Diamond Trophy defence off to a solid start with a 6.79m winning performance.
The form book was also overturned in the women’s 400m hurdles, which contained all thre Rio medallists, when Ashley Spencer won a loaded 400m hurdles race in 53.90. It was partial compensation the 2016 Olympic bronze medallist after not making the US world championships team when she finished fourth at their recent trials in Sacramento.
Switzerland’s Lea Sprunger improved again to 54.29 for second place.
Justin Gatlin showed a good turn of speed for someone who is now 35, speeding to a 100m win in 9.96 and only 0.01 away from his season’s best set when winning at the US Championships.
In an evenly matched and entertaining race all the way down the home straight, Ivory Coast’s Ben Youssef Meite – who held the advantage between 60 and 90 metres – was a close second in 9.98 while South Africa’s Akani Simbine took third in 9.99.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF