Usain Bolt's final surge secures victory in Rome (© Giancarlo Colombo)
MonteCarloOur review of the 2011 season concludes with a two-part look back at the second season of the Samsung Diamond League series. We begin with a summary of the Doha, Shanghai, Rome, Eugene, Oslo, New York and Lausanne meetings.
In its second season, the Samsung Diamond League encompassed 32 individual events staged within 14 meetings around the globe.
Each discipline was staged seven times, with double points on offer in the two mandatory concluding competitions in Zurich and Brussels, and the athletes who scored the most to win the Diamond Race in their respective events stood to earn a Diamond Trophy- created by Beyer, established as jewellers in Zurich in the 18th century - and $40,000 prize money.
The final statistics showed a rapid turnover in that only 11 of the 32 Diamond Races were won by the previous season’s victors.
For the second year in succession, Usain Bolt was not a Diamond Race winner, but despite his finishing flourish of the fastest 100m time of the year, 9.76sec, at the Brussels Van Damme Memorial meeting which served as the second of the two Diamond League finals along with Zurich, he was upstaged by his 21-year-old training partner Yohan Blake who produced what was arguably the most startling performance of 2011 in the very next race. Blake, who had inherited Bolt’s World 100m title after the World record holder had false-started at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, ran the 200m in 19.26, a time bettered only by Bolt’s 2009 World record of 19.19. And had the youngster not got away to a notably sluggish start – 0.269 – he might even have eclipsed that mark.
“Usain stays the best runner, but after tonight I feel I’m capable of breaking the world record over 200 metres,” said Blake in what could be a marker for London 2012. “I’m looking forward to competing with Usain next season.” It looks like Bolt will need to be fully concentrating next season if he is to fulfil his stated ambition of being “a legend.”
Other highlights of the 2011 Samsung Diamond League series were Liu Xiang’s comeback statement of a victory over the 110m Hurdles on his home track in Shanghai, against the previously dominant David Oliver, Sally Pearson’s 100m Hurdles win in what was then a season’s best of 12.48 at the Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix, Brimin Kipruto’s 3000m Steeplechase win in Monaco in 7:53.64, just 0.01 off the seven-year-old World record, and Vivian Cheruyiot’s 5000m victory in Stockholm by the expansive distance of 120 metres.
The opening Samsung Diamond League meeting of the season prompted 10 athletes to achieve World leading performances, with Allison Felix moving closer to her own personal set of double figures as she recorded the ninth win of her career at this meeting.
A hot but blustery night ended with two crowd-pleasing efforts. First Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew burst past Kenya’s former World 5000m champion Eliud Kipchoge 200 metres from the end of the 3000m, winning in a World leading, meeting record of 7:27.26 which sent his compatriots into a flag-waving frenzy at their gathering point on the bottom bend of the Qatar Sports Club stadium.
A few minutes later 19-year-old home high jumper Mutaz Essa Barshim provoked applause from home supporters as he cleared first 2.29m and then 2.31 with his third and final attempts, thus equalling the national record he had set in winning the previous year’s World Junior title.
There had been a rumble of home excitement earlier in the evening as Qatari runner Femi Ogunode set a national record of 20.36 in the 200m in chasing home the favourite, Walter Dix, who won with a World leading 20.06.
Andreas Thorkildsen, the double Olympic and World champion, could only manage fifth in the Javelin with 83.63 metres as victory went to his young rival from the Czech Republic, Petr Frydrych, with 85.32m.
Felix’s ninth Doha win came in the 400 metres, where she ran a World leading 50.33 to hold off Amantle Montsho of Botswana, who recorded 50.41.
Teddy Tamgho had set the first of his World indoor Triple Jump records in Doha – 17.90 metres – at the previous year’s World Indoor Championships, but the 21-year-old Frenchman did not require such lengths to secure another victory in Qatar as he won with 17.49m – a meeting record and World leading mark nevertheless.
There was disappointment for Tamgho’s French team-mate, European and World Indoor Pole Vault champion Renaud Lavillenie, who was fourth with 5.50 metres in an event won by Germany’s Malte Mohr in a World leading 5.81m.
Kellie Wells of the United States, coming off an unbeaten indoor season, won the 100m Hurdles in 12.58, a World leading time which equalled her personal best.
Gerd Kanter, Estonia’s Olympic champion, celebrated his birthday by earning victory in the Discus with his last effort of 67.49 metres – another World leading effort, and the effervescent Funmi Jimoh also produced a World leading performance in the women’s Long Jump with 6.88 metres on her first effort, beating Brazil’s Olympic champion Maurren Maggi by a centimetre.
“I don’t know what it is about Doha,” said Jimoh, “it is a lot like where I am from in Texas. It is hot and the sun is always up. I love it.”
Swift finishes earned Anna Mishchenko of Ukraine and Milcah Chemos of Kenya victory in the 1500 metres and 3000m Steeplechase respectively in World leading times. Mischenko recorded 4:03.00, while Chemos ran 9:16.44, also a meeting record.
Victory for the city’s favourite son, Liu Xiang, brought the Dunlop Shanghai Golden Grand Prix to a tumultuous conclusion in front of a crowd of 30,000.
The former World and Olympic 110 metres Hurdles champion lived up to all the local expectations – and apparently exceeded his own – in putting an end to the unbeaten outdoor sequence of 18 races established by one of the other marquee names of this meeting, David Oliver. And Liu’s time of 13.07 became the eighth World leading performance of the night.
Liu’s new starting technique – taking seven rather than eight steps to the first hurdle – appeared to work perfectly as he took hold of the race and never let go, unleashing pandemonium as he crossed the line with his face breaking into a smile that was at least partly of relief.
His US opponent, whose last loss had been on 31 August 2009, was not so sharp at the start and never established the expected challenge to his Chinese opponent, taking second place in 13.18.
“I am very, very satisfied with the time. I wasn’t quite expecting it,” said Liu. “But I do not think Oliver ran his best. I think he looked a little bit nervous.”
Liu’s was the fifth clear World leading performance of the night, with the other highlight being an exhilarating last lap in the women’s 5000 metres which saw Kenya’s World champion Vivian Cheruyiot hold off the challenge of Ethiopia’s Sentayeha Ejigu and fellow countrywoman Linet Masai, the World 10,000m champion, to win in a World leading time of 14:31.92. Ejigu clocked 14:32.87 and Masai 14:32.95, with another Kenyan, Viola Kibiwot, running a personal best of 14:34.86 to claim fourth place.
Other World bests came from Jamaica’s Kaliese Spencer in the 400m Hurdles (54.20) and two Kenyan athletes. Brimin Kipruto won the 3000m Steeplechase (8:02.28), and Nixon Chepseba held off his fellow countryman Asbel Kiprop, the Olympic champion, over 1500 metres to earn a famous victory in 2:31.42.
And there were performances equalling the World leading mark from Australia’s Mitchell Watt in the Long Jump (8.44 metres), Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic in the High Jump (1.94m) and Tero Pitkamaki in the Javelin. The Finn threw 85.33 to beat the World and Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen, who had managed a season’s best of 85.12 before staggering to a halt during his fifth effort and dropping out. “I felt something in my groin, close to my knee,” said the Norwegian.
Asafa Powell, having performed disappointingly over 200 metres at the Kingston meeting, won the 100 metres in 9.95. Fellow Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown celebrated her 29th birthday by winning the 100m in 10.92, with Carmelita Jeter of the United States clocking 10.95.
"I got through my first race, I was so nervous. I got a bad start and then kind of started to panic."
These are not the kind of words we associate with Usain Bolt, but it was indeed the World 100 and 200 metres record holder who uttered them in Rome’s Olympic stadium after completing his first race at the shorter distance since the defeat by Tyson Gay in Stockholm which had help persuade him to cut short his season nine months earlier.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bolt, who had help attract a crowd of 47,732 for his track return, made a sluggish start – he was the third last sprinter in the nine man field to emerge from his blocks. But he finished fast to overhaul his Jamaican friend and rival Asafa Powell and win in 9.91, with Powell clocking 9.93 and France’s Christophe Lemaitre third in 10.00.
Fortunately the 24-year-old Olympic and World champion showed no signs of the Achilles tendon or back problems which had undermined his previous season, and he was inclined to look on the bright side afterwards. “I am getting there,” he said.
The huge crowd at the Compeed Golden Gala had plenty to cheer besides Bolt. Sanya Richards-Ross, making a top class comeback after a season ruined by injury, indicated her intention of trying to defend her World 400m title as she finished fifth in 50.98 in a race where fellow American Allyson Felix produced the first sub-50 seconds performance of the year in lowering her World lead to 49.81. As in Doha, Commonwealth champion Amantle Montsho was runner-up, this time in 50.47 with US indoor record holder Francena McCorory a surprise third in 50.70.
Felix and Richards-Ross were back on the track of the Olympic Stadium around 45 minutes later for the 200m, but both were unable to cope with fellow countrywoman Bianca Knight, who won in 22.64.
The 22-year-old was followed across the line by Jamaica's Olympic and World 100m silver medallist Kerron Stewart in 22.74. Felix was fifth in 22.81, and Richards-Ross sixth in 22.88. "I enjoyed being back," said Richards. "But I would have liked to come back stronger.”
Ethiopia’s Imane Merga ran the season’s fastest time of 12:54.21 in a 5000m where 17-year-old Kenyan Isaiah Koech finished a close second in a terrific personal best of 12: 54.59.
Other World leading performances came from Renaud Lavillenie in the Pole Vault (5.81m), Phillips Idowu in the Triple Jump (17.59m), Maryam Yusuf Jamal in the 1500m (4: 01.60), Milcah Chemos in the 3000m Steeplechase and Mariya Abakumova in the Javelin, while Blanka Vlašic equalled Bulgaria's Venelina Veneva-Mateeva's five-day-old High Jump mark of 1.95m.
Home athletes David Oliver and Carmelita Jeter sparkled most brightly in a Samsung Diamond League meeting which produced nine World leading performances. Oliver, whose unbeaten record over 18 110 metres Hurdles finals had been ended by China’s Liu Xiang in Shanghai, earned revenge as he became the first high hurdler to dip under 13 seconds in 2011, clocking 12.94, with Liu lowering his season’s best to 13.00 in second place.
Jeter produced a winning 100 metres time of 10.70s, a mark only she – with 10.64 – Marion Jones, with 10.65 and World record holder Florence Griffith-Joyner, with 10.49, have ever bettered.
The other World leading marks at a Prefontaine Classic watched by a near capacity 12,188 crowd at Hayward Stadium came from Abubaker Kaki of Sudan in the 800 metres (1:43.68), Ryan Gregson of Australia, who won the International Mile in 3:53.86, and Haron Keitany of Kenya, who won the subsequent Bowerman Mile in 3:49.09, Kenia Sinclair of Jamaica, who won the 800m in 1:58.29, Lashinda Demus of the United States, who won the 400m Hurdles in 53.31, Ukraine’s Olha Saladukha, who won the Triple Jump with 14.98m and Nadezhda Ostapchuk of Belarus, who reached 20.59m in the Shot Put.
Steve Mullings of Jamaica was assumed to have set a World lead with his time of 9.80 in the 100 metres until news came through of Tyson Gay’s clocking of 9.79 at a minor meeting in Florida on the same day.
Taking into account the previous evening’s achievements by Moses Mosop of Kenya, who set a World record of 1hr 26:47.40 for the 30,000 metres and a world record of 1:12.25.40 for the 25,000m en route, and Britain’s Mo Farah, who ran a European record 10,000m time of 26min 46.57, breaking Mohammed Mourhit of Belgium's 11-year-old mark of 27:52.30 and Jon Brown's UK 1998 record of 27:18.14, it was one of the best Prefontaine Classics ever.
The 110m Hurdles lived up to all expectations as Oliver, marginally beaten out of the blocks by Liu, moved decisively ahead over the seventh rank of hurdles. "It's cool," said Oliver.
By contrast, Jeter ran a race all on her own, assisted by a following wind bang on the legal limit of 2.00 metres per second.
South Africa’s World 800 metres champion Caster Semenya, making her debut on American soil, finished second behind Sinclair in 1:58.88, her first sub-2min of the season, but fellow countryman and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was dissatisfied after finishing last in 46.33 in a 400 metres won by the double Olympic 400m Hurdles champion Angelo Taylor in 45.16.
Britain’s former European Silver medallist Greg Rutherford earned one of his most prestigious victories in the Long Jump, where what would have been a personal best of 8.32m was disallowed for record purposes by a wind marginally over the allowable limit at 2.1mps.
Usain Bolt’s sublime confidence in his ability to run the 200 metres better than anyone else turned out to be fully justified at a rainswept Bislett Stadium as he completed his first long sprint for 13 months in a time of 19.86. He finished easily clear of his nearest challenger at the ExxonMobil Bislett Games in Oslo, home runner Jaysuma Ndure.
But Bolt, whose two previous races this season had seen him win in 9.91, relatively ordinary for the man with a 9.58 to his credit, happily batted away the suggestion after the race that he was “back in business.”
“I’ve never been out of business,” he said with a grin after completing a long, wet lap of honour which appeared to have taken more out of him than his watery run. “I think business was just slow."
“I think people expect too much of me. I’m only human. I’m taking steps to get back to my best. I’m feeling good. I’m going to get there.
“I’ve got two and a half months until the World Championships so now I am going to go back home and get back to work and I am going to try and stay injury free. That’s the key.”
Bolt’s galloping performance produced the third and final World leading mark of a meeting that began in drifting rain and ended in a steady downpour, with the other high points being provided by Morocco’s Halima Hachlaf, who recorded 1:58.27 in beating an 800m field which included World champion Caster Semenya, and Paul Kipsiele Koech, who turned from a would-be pacemaker into a winner in the 3000m Steeplechase, crossing the line in 8:01.83.
For the crowd who had sat so patiently in the rain, the Jamaican’s performance, and indeed his generous and slow tour of the stadium afterwards, clad in a blue waterproof cagoule which shone under the lights, made the waiting worthwhile.
“It was a good race,” he concluded, after finishing oceans clear of Ndure, who clocked 20.43, and his training partner Mario Forsythe, who recorded 20.49. “I’m glad I came out of it injury-free. I’m back to being Usain Bolt. I’m not perfect, but I’m getting there.”
The Bolt effect worked wonders for this Samsung Diamond League meeting in terms of ticket sales – all 14,800 seats were reported sold out three days before the competition began.
Kenya’s Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop weathered the rain best in the Exxon Dream Mile, coming through with a final burst in the last 10 metres to take the win in 3:50.86.
Valerie Adams made an emphatic debut in this season’s Samsung Diamond League as she beat a Shot Put field that included the overwhelming Diamond Race winner of last year, Nadezhda Ostapchuk, producing the four best efforts of the competition, the best of which was her fourth round of 20.26m.
Two days later in New York the weather was even worse for the sixth stage of the Samsung Diamond League – the adidas Grand Prix – and on a cold, wet and windy day Steve Mullings of Jamaica made the headlines with a narrow 100 metres victory over his training partner, the former World champion Tyson Gay.
The eagerly awaited head-to-head between the world's two fastest men this year lived up to its billing despite a 3.4 metres per second wind blowing in their faces. Before the New York meet, Gay had clocked 9.79 and Mullings 9.80 at the respective races in Florida and Eugene on the previous Saturday. On this occasion, both clocked 10.26, with victory going to the Jamaican.
"I wouldn't be going around saying I beat Tyson," Mullings insisted. "He's just 70 per cent (fit) and believe me will be ready for the World Championships." Gay insisted he wasn't distracted by the three false starts, but added: “The conditions were a nightmare.”
Another eagerly awaited meeting failed to live up to expectations however as Teddy Tamgho, who had registered the world’s third best ever Triple Jump of 17.98m in the Icahn Stadium the previous year failed to challenge Britain’s reigning World champion Phillips Idowu as he failed to make the six-man final cut. Idowu won with 16.67m.
Following her defeat in the previous week’s 400m in Eugene, three-times World 200m champion Allyson Felix won over her favourite distance in 22.98. "I felt good but conditions were crazy," said the US sprinter.
Danielle Carruthers followed her win against a world class 100m Hurdles field in Hengelo a fortnight earlier by re-stating her domination ahead as she beat fellow American Kellie Wells and Great Britain's former US athlete Tiffany Ofili-Porter by recording 13.04 into a 3.7mps headwind.
Milcah Chemos had her toughest race of the summer's campaign so far when stuttering at the last barrier in the 3000m Steeplechase but promptly recovered to earn a tight third Samsung Diamond League victory in 9:27.29, just 0.08 ahead of Ethiopia's Sofia Assef with World record holder Gulnara Samitova-Galkina third in 9:29.75.
World 400 Hurdles Silver medallist Javier Culson narrowly defeated Bershawn Jackson of the United States and Britain’s David Greene, clocking 48.50.
Conditions turned the Pole Vault into a farce, with former European Silver medallist Romain Mesnil winning on countback from Brad Walker with a clearance of 5.52m.
Reigning Olympic champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton was the only thrower to exceed 60m when leading a USA clean sweep in the discus ahead of Gia Lewis-Smallwood and Aretha Thurmond.
Asafa Powell responded to the recent efforts of his 100m rivals Tyson Gay and Steve Mullings by running a new World season lead of 9.78, 0.01 faster than Gay had managed, and 0.02 faster than his fellow Jamaican’s 2011 best.
The former World record holder, who had won three previous races at the Stade de la Pontaise, setting the meeting record of 9.72 seconds three years earlier, pulled four of his rivals under the 10 seconds barrier with him.
Fellow Jamaican Michael Frater, who finished runner-up, struck 0.06 off his previous best with a time of 9.88, whilst third-placed Christophe LeMaitre equalled his French record of 9.95.
They were followed home by another Jamaican Nesta Carter who along with Jaysuma Saidy Ndure, who became Norway's first ever sub-10 man, clocked 9.99.
"It was a wonderful race, I got a perfect start," said Powell. "Now for the moment I'm the best. I'm in a good mood for Daegu."
World Indoor Triple Jump champion and record holder Teddy Tamgho restated his credentials despite managing only one valid Triple Jump. The Frenchman’s third round leap of 17.91 metres (+1.4m/s) was a World leading mark and meeting record.
Tamgho, who was only seven centimetres short of his year-old personal best, was ecstatic after returning to winning form having failed to make the cut in New York earlier in June. World champion Phillips Idowu, was second with 17.52.
"I'm ready to beat the World record but the way is long,” Tamgho said.
Olympic silver medallist Sally Pearson opened her European season with a flourish, only the illegal wind of +3.3m/s denying her 12.47 second run from being counted as an Area record (which stood to her at 12.53 from Monaco 2008), and the fastest time in the world this year.
The 24-year-old Australian led from gun-to-tape, finishing 0.01 ahead of Danielle Carruthers.
World record holder David Rudisha produced another electrifying 800m run and if anyone had challenged him over the final circuit and the wind hadn't been so strong his winning time of 1:44.15 would certainly have been much faster.
A fourth 3000m Steeplechase victory virtually assured Kenya’s Milcah Chemos of a second Diamond Race Trophy.
Pole Vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, who had no-heighted in the stormy conditions in New York, easily won here with a height of 5.83m.
Norway’s World and double Olympic Javelin Throw champion Andreas Thorkildsen made a phenomenal return to Samsung Diamond League action after injury in Shanghai when sending his opening effort out to the winning distance of 88.19m - just three centimetres short of Latvia's Vadims Vasilevskis World season lead.
Sanya Richards, still battling to recover the form which won her the World 400m title in 2009, had her fastest race of the season, 50.61, when taking second place behind favourite Amantle Montsho of Botswana, who won in 50.23.
David Greene, the European 400m Hurdles champion, earned one of the best victories of his career as he beat the respective World gold and silver medallists Kerron Clement and Javier Culson, clocking 48.41.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF