As expected, local star Sandra Perkovic and Ivana Spanovic from neighbouring Serbia produced the highlight performances on a chilly edition of the Boris Hanzekovic Memorial IAAF World Challenge meeting in the Croatian capital Zagreb on Tuesday (6).
Expectations were high for Perkovic, the Zagreb native and meeting poster girl who made her first home appearance since successfully defending her Olympic title in Rio 21 days ago. The 26-year-old didn't disappoint, producing a commanding performance in a competition she dominated from the first round.
Opening with a 66.41m effort, the Diamond Race winner in the event improved to 67.62m in the second round and 67.86m in the third to win by more than five metres over Nadine Muller of Germany.
"I wanted to break 70 metres but it didn't work out," said Perkovic, whose victory extended her latest win streak to 13. “It was cold and I’m tired. This season involved lots of travel from one part of the world to another. It was a hard season but I ended it undefeated which was another of my ultimate goals.”
Muller was a distant second with 62.46m, followed by Olympic silver medallist Melina Robert-Michon of France, who reached 61.42m.
The performance of the evening was saved until the last round of the women’s long jump, the meeting-capping event, where Spanovic reached a wind-assisted 7.03m (2.3m/s), her third meeting record of the night. Her second-best leap on the evening, a 6.96m effort in round three, was at 1.1m/s wind-legal, marking the fifth-best jump of her career, indoors or out.
A shoulder injury forced Croatia’s newly-minted Olympic champion Sara Kolak to the sidelines and with it the cancellation of the javelin competition. But that didn’t preclude Zagreb’s fans from watching another local rising star in the making.
Ivan Horvat equalled his 5.70m national record with a fine second-attempt clearance, and continued on with a pair of solid attempts at 5.80m, suggesting that height isn’t too far away for the 23-year-old.
Hurdles wins for Martinot-Lagarde and Harper Nelson
Frenchman Pascal Martinot-Lagarde added his name to the illustrious winners of the Zagreb 110m hurdles, named to honour Croatian hurdles hero Boris Hanzekovic.
Martinot-Lagarde was running a close second to compatriot Wilhem Belocian at the ninth hurdle, and didn't eke out the victory until he produced his winning lean. Martinot-Lagarde clocked 13.35 to win by 0.02 with Balazs Baji of Hungary third in 13.49.
In the women's contest, 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper Nelson of the US broke from the tight field after the sixth hurdle to win in a wind-assisted 12.74 (2.3m/s), well clear of an inspired Andrea Ivancevic, who dipped past Jasmin Stowers to take second, 12.88 to 12.90. Germany's European champion Cindy Roleder was fourth in 12.96.
Two-time world champion Zuzana Hejnova kicked things off on the track with a solid victory in the 400m hurdles, clocking 55.61 in just her third competition this injury-shortened season, and her first since finishing fourth in Rio.
Running conservatively over the first half, the Czech carried a small lead into the final straight, one she extended to a full stride as she approached the final hurdle. Jamaican Kaliese Spencer was second in 55.77.
Courtney Okolo followed up with a victory in the 400m flat in 51.19, running down fast-starting Natasha Hastings who clocked 51.35.
Former world record-holder Asafa Powell didn't collect his 98th career legal sub-10 clocking, but he came close, clocking 10.01 for his third straight 100m victory, impressive given the dramatically cooling temperatures in the meeting’s second half. The next three across the line were from Great Britain with Joel Fearon second in 10.06, just ahead of James Dasaolu and Adam Gemili, who clocked 10.10 and 10.11, season's bests for both.
Less than an hour after his 10.17 run and fifth-place finish in the 100m, Canadian Aaron Brown produced a convincing 20.15 victory in the 200m, well clear of Ramil Guliyev of Turkey, last year's winner here, who clocked 20.23. Christophe Lemaitre of France, the Olympic bronze medallist, was a distant fourth in 20.43.
Kipkemboi and Biwott take the middle-distance spoils
Margaret Chelimo Kipkemboi bided her time in the women's 3000m, taking the lead with two laps to go and holding on for a convincing 8:45.69, two steps clear of her Kenyan compatriot Agnes Tirop, the world cross-country champion, who clocked a season's best of 8:46.38.
A similar scenario played out in the men's 1500m where Robert Biwott held off compatriot Vincent Kibet and Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski over the final lap en route to his 3:37.35 victory. Kibet clocked 3:37.51 and Lewandowski 3:37.69, an outdoor career best for the 800m specialist.
Elsewhere, Fabrice Lapierre led an Australian 1-2 in the men’s long jump with his 8.06m victory, just ahead of Henry Frayne's 7.99m best. Svetlana Radzivil of Uzbekistan won the high jump with a modest 1.89m.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF