Sandra Perkovic at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York (© Victah Sailer)
Unseasonably cold and rainy conditions did not prevent some big performances in the field events as Croatia’s London 2012 Olympic Games champion Sandra Perkovic obliterated the meet record and improved upon her world lead at the adidas Grand Prix, an IAAF Diamond League meeting, in New York on Saturday (25).
Other highlights included Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet scoring his second Diamond League victory of the season, winning the 5000m in a world-leading 13:10.03, the only world leading time on the track, US long jumper Janay DeLoach Soukup set an unexpected meeting record and took pole position in her event's Diamond Race while Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic made a triumphant return in the High Jump, equalling the meeting record of 1.94m in her first competition in 20 months.
Angry Perkovic unleases 68.48m throw
Perkovic anticipated the poor conditions, and was dressed appropriately. Her first throw of the meet sailed 64.00m, breaking the meeting record of 63.97m set in 2009 by the USA’s Beijing Olympic gold medallist Stephanie Brown-Trafton.
What Perkovic wasn’t prepared for was the nearly 45-minute delay between rounds one and two that left the competitors stranded in the cold and damp. Her second throw went only to 62.50m and she contemplated throwing in the towel but her outlook changed for the better after her third throw went to 66.31m.
“After the delay and I threw 62, I asked my coach, ‘Should we stop?’” said Perkovic. “I thought I might get injured here and I have six more meets, so I was angry about this. So I said, ‘One more and we can go.’ When I threw 66.31, I figured there was no reason why I shouldn’t take the last three throws.”
After her fourth attempt clanked into the cage, Perkovic marched to the bathroom under the stadium grandstand, accompanied by a meet official, for a few moments of respite from the conditions.
She emerged after about five minutes and launched her fifth attempt, roaring with approval after the implement left her hand. It landed 68.48m, bettering her previous world-leading mark of 68.23m from the Diamond League opener in Doha.
“My fourth throw also felt great, but I released it a little bit earlier and I threw it into the net,” said Perkovic. “I was a little pissed off about that. So I went into the toilet and put on me some warm water because I was shivering from the cold. After that, I warmed up and felt better.”
The Olympic champion said that a big reason for her hot start to the season has been the new training regimen she has employed since the end of 2012. After the season, she parted with her former coach Ivan Ivancic and is now being guided by her boyfriend Edis Elkasevic.
“My old coach had me doing a lot of strength training and free weights and I wound up with back problems,” said Perkovic. “Now I am doing more agility and speed training and I feel so fast in the ring. When you are throwing a one kilogramme Discus that is all that you need. I think the new training has been great for my throwing. I have thrown 68 twice in two weeks and I feel like I can throw 70 because I have so much confidence in me.”
DeLoach Soukup soars, Reese falters
DeLoach Soukup said she was depressed by the conditions before arriving on Randall’s Island, and certainly wasn’t expecting to produce anything significant. Her first two attempts produced marks of 5.99m and 6.28m, this just two weeks after flirting with seven metres (and exceeding it on a wind-aided attempt) in Doha.
“It was pretty tough out there,” said DeLoach Soukup. “The wind was going from headwind to tailwind back to headwind. Sometimes you weren’t really sure where you were going with it. Mostly what you had to do was stay warm. If you can kind of stay warm and maybe work up a sweat you are going to be fine against the headwinds. When you get cold and sit down for five minutes is when you’re kind of stuck and can’t really move as easily.”
For a moment, the winds died down and the rain stopped during the third round, and DeLoach Soukup took advantage, jumping 6.79m to usurp a lead she would not relinquish and eclipse the meet record of 6.74m set in 2009 by Canada’s Ruky Abdulai.
When the conditions worsened again, she was unable to improve but held on to edge Great Britain’s Shara Proctor, who reached 6.72m.
“I was a little bit negative about how the competition was going to be, but I think it did kind of warm up a little bit around rounds two and three which was kind of good,” added DeLoach Soukup.
Brittney Reese, the USA’s reigning world and Olympic champion and winner of the opening Diamond League meeting in Doha, once again struggled with cold and wet conditions. Under similar circumstances in 2010, she finished third at 6.35m. Today, she wasn’t even that good, finishing eighth at 5.99m with two fouls in three jumps.
“It was just not a good day,” Reese said. “I couldn’t find the board. I couldn’t stay warm. But all in all, I’m not too upset. I went ahead and did a short approach anyway because I didn’t want to chance it out in these conditions. I had a great practice last week and I know I am better than this. I’m going to learn from this and get ready for Rome.”
Another win for Gebrhiwet
After winning the 3000m in dominant fashion at the opening Diamond League meet in Doha two weeks ago, Gebrhiwet looked to add to his lead in the Diamond Race.
Led by pacers David Bett and Gedeon Gathimba, the leaders went through the first quarter in 62 seconds, The race began to settle down with nine laps to go with the two pacers still in front followed by Gebrhiwet, his compatriot Dejen Gebremeskel and Kenya’s Vincent Chepkok with American Ben True a distant sixth.
When Bett eventually stepped off with six laps to go, Gebrhiwet was the only runner to follow Gathimba’s lead. The two went through 3000m 7:53.53, around eight-and-a-half seconds outside the planned pace. From there, it was a solo effort for Gebrhiwet, who continued to build on his lead with each circling of the track. He went through 4000m in 10:29.92 before eventually crossing the finish line in 13:10.03, with Chepkok second in 13:15.51.
With no real strong indicators in training of what she could expect from her first competition since recovering from Achilles tendon surgery and a serious bacterial infection, Vlasic was apprehensive coming up against a field featuring the meet record holder in Sweden’s Emma Green Tregaro and the USA’s 2012 Olympic Games silver medallist Brigetta Barrett.
However, her fears turned out to be unfounded as she calmly cleared the first six heights of the competition wither her first attempt, including one at 1.94m which equalled Green Tregaro’s meeting record set in 2011.
“I cannot explain to you how scared I was before this competition,” said Vlasic. “I didn’t know if I was ready or not. I was jumping around 1.90m in my training and still feeling a lot of pain. I thought whatever I cannot do on my own today, God will bring the rest of it. I gave 100 per cent but I had a lot of help. This is just a dream come true to come back and win my first competition under these circumstances.”
Vlasic then moved the bar up to 1.97m, but missed all three attempts, the last being her closest to a clearance.
“I was already a little tired and at the end I didn’t have that push from my right leg to my take off leg like I had in the jumps before,” she explained. “When you are out of training for a while, you cannot be fresh and strong for a long time.
“But I’m here. I’m not some phantom. I felt today that I had some good jumps and was pretty strong. I just need to be patient to get the timing for bigger heights. I’m just happy that I’m not home watching on TV any more.”
Meeting record for Montsho
The women’s 400m, which was to feature a showdown between the last two Olympic champions and last three world champions, lost a lot of its lustre when Sanya Richards-Ross, the London gold medallist, scratched before the meet due to pain in her right big toe, on which she had surgery on in the off-season. In her absence, Botswana’s Montsho won in 49.91 to break the meeting record of 50.04 set back in 2008 by Richards-Ross.
Although the conditions were generally prohibitive to fast times, both Kenya’s David Rudisha and USA’s Tyson Gay looked strong in winning their respective events.
Wary of the cold temperatures before the start of the men’s 800m, Rudisha asked pacer Matt Scherer for a first lap split of around 50.0, which is normally much slower than he would prefer. Scherer obliged with 50.64 for the opening 400m and 1:18.80 for 600m. At no point was Rudisha’s lead threatened as he coasted to victory in 1:45.14.
“Today’s race was a little tough because of the weather,” said Rudisha. “It was a good run, and I tried my best, but I was expecting to do something better. It was cold, and there was a strong wind and it is difficult to run under those conditions.”
Gay also seemed to dial things back a bit because of the cold, running a very controlled 10.02, which was fast enough to edge Olympic teammate Ryan Bailey, who was second in 10.15.
“I felt with the weather that it was important to leave healthy and not push it too hard,” commented Gay. “My start was a bit sluggish. I missed some practice time after the 200m in Clermont because my groin was sore. When I miss start practices I tend to go back to old habits, but I will tighten that up. Overall, I am pleased with my time.”
Whiting, Tinsley add to Diamond Race leads
USA’s IAAF 2012 World Indoor Championships gold medallist Ryan Whiting followed up his world-leading victory in the men’s Shot Put in Doha with a second victory in this season’s Diamond League .
Despite wet conditions that had throwers struggling to gain traction in the ring, Whiting led the competition from the start, opening with a distance of 20.32m and, after fouled attempts in rounds two and three, padded that cushion with a 21.27m heave in the fourth round.
“It just proves I can throw in bad weather,” Whiting said. “So if it’s like this in any other cities or (at this summer’s World Championships) in Moscow I should be fine.”
In the men’s 400m hurdles, Michael Tinsley used more late-race heroics to increase his Diamond Race points total to eight, running a season’s best of 48.23. Tinsley surged off the final turn and overtook Puerto Rico’s early leader Javier Culson and USA’s Johnny Dutch down the home straight. Culson finished second in 48.53 and Dutch was third in 48.78.
“The conditions were tough out there,” said Tinsley “It was really windy on the backstretch so I tried to stay as relaxed as possible and then use the wind coming home.
Obergfoll, Compaore, Suhr win in the field
One athlete who was totally prepared for the cold and wet was Germany’s Christina Obergfoll, who competed earlier in the week under similar conditions on home soil.
Her fourth throw was her best effort with 65.33m, the fourth best mark in the world this year. ”I thought, I will fight today because I had another competition like this last week in Germany,” said Obergfoll.
The men’s Triple Jump saw a tight competition with France’s Benjamin Compaore causing an upset and edging the USA’s 2012 Olympic champion Christian Taylor. Compaore produced his best jump in round two, hitting 16.45m, with taylor finishing three centimetres in arrears.
The women’s Pole Vault was expected to be the showcase event of the entire meeting but, like with many events, the weather meant that performances were modest. The temporary jumping pit, borrowed from the Millrose Games and erected in front of the grandstand, was unable to be used due to the dangerous wet surface and gusting winds and the competition was moved to the regular jumping area at the far end of the stadium, where the conditions continued to wreak havoc.
At 4.63m, USA’s 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr got over on her second try and was the only woman to clear that height.
Favorites prevail in women’s distances
There were no surprises in the women’s distance races as Kenya’s Lydia Chepkurui won the women’s 3000m Steeplechase in 9:30.82, and Sweden’s Abeba Aregawi prevailed over 1500m in 4:03.69.
Chepkurui was paced through the first 1000m 3:15.05 and she covered the second kilometre in 3:17.88. Leading on the last lap, she continued to pad her lead into the headwind on the backstretch and maintained her advantage down the final straight, winning by three seconds and increasing her Diamond Race points total to eight.
In the 1500m, Aregawi followed the pacers and Canada’s Sheila Reid through the first 400m in 62.92 and 800m in 2:13.34. With about 600m, Aregawi began ramping up the pace and surged into the lead just before the bell.
She widened her advantage heading into the final curve and maintained a one-second advantage over Kenya’s Hellen Obiri, who finished second in 4:04.84.
Olympic medallists Veronica Campbell-Brown and Warren Weir gave the Jamaican faithful who braved the conditions something to cheer about as they scored convincing wins in both the 200m races.
Campbell-Brown, the two-time Olympic 200m champion, came off the curve with a huge lead and then held off fellow Jamaican Anneisha McLaughlin on the outside to win in a season’s best of 22.53 despite a headwind of 1.3 metre-per-second. McLaughlin was second in 22.63, which was also a season’s best.
In the men’s 200m, which was not a Diamond Race event, there was no doubt about Weir’s triumphant run as the 2012 Olympic Games bronze medalist cruised past Alonso Edward of Panama to win in a season’s best of 20.11.
The second 110m hurdles race of the Diamond League season saw Barbados’ Ryan Brathwaite, the 2009 world champion, pull away late in the race to win in a season’s best 13.19, besting runner-up Cuba’s Orlando Ortega, who finished second in 13.24. It was Brathwaite’s best run since his halcyon summer four years ago.
Joe Battaglia for the IAAF