Usain Bolt at the 2012 Rome Samsung Diamond League meeting (© Giancarlo Colombo)
The third Samsung Diamond League season, which climaxed in Brussels with an outstanding World record of 12.80 from the US Olympic 110m Hurdles champion Aries Merritt, produced models of consistency from five athletes who were winning their event’s Diamond Race for a third consecutive time.
The quintet who laid claim to the distinction of perfectly twinkling Diamond League records were France’s Olympic Pole Vault champion Renaud Lavillenie, Jamaica’s 400m hurdler Kaliese Spencer and three Kenyan athletes - 3000m steeplechasers Paul Kipsiele Koech and Milcah Chemos, and 5000m runner Vivian Cheruiyot.
Jamaica's IAAF Athlete of the Year Usain Bolt was not among this select group. Although he has made a habit of winning global 100m and 200m titles in recent years, his Diamond Race victory in the 100m was his first since the landmark competition began.
Bolt made his usual high impact on the Diamond League, running 9.76 in the Rome 100m and 19.58 in the Lausanne 200m, but a number of other strong themes also emerged during the course of the 14-meeting series in which, for the first time, the overall winners in their event – the Diamond Race winners – earned not just a Diamond Trophy and cheque for $40,000, but also a wild card entry to the IAAF World Championships in Moscow next summer.
Kenya’s World champion and record holder David Rudisha made a stunning impression on the series, recording 1:43.10 in the first 800m event in Doha, and then in his first competitive race in the United States, winning the New York Diamond League in 1:41.74.
Rudisha bettered that in Paris with 1:41.54, despite damp and chilly conditions. Things were looking good for London 2012, and he delivered there spectacularly, but the Olympic champion with a newly established World record of 1:40.91 ended his season in Diamond League defeat.
In the final 800m of the series at Zurich’s Letzigrund Stadium, with double points on offer, the Kenyan was beaten by 18-year-old rising star Mohammad Aman, who set an Ethiopian record of 1:42.53 and claimed the Diamond Race prize in the process.
This was the same Aman who had ended the Kenyan’s unbeaten run of 26 races the previous year in Milan.
China’s former World and Olympic 110m Hurdles champion Liu Xiang got off to a flying start in his home Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, where he won in 12.97, his first time under 13 seconds since 2007.
The sense that Liu might be ready to reclaim the Olympic title he had won in Athens – and lost in Beijing – grew stronger after the Eugene meeting, where his 12.87 would have equalled the World record had it not been for an excessive following wind, making the time ineligible for record purposes.
Sadly, Liu had to pull out before the final at the London Diamond League meeting because of a back injury, and his season had effectively clattered into the barriers.
Merritt, meanwhile, was gathering himself for the perfect end an almost perfect season.
The first part of this Review looks back at the action at the Diamond League meetings before the London 2012 Olympic Games. The second part of the Review will cover the post-Olympic meetings, including the Diamond League finals in Zurich and Brussels
Doha, Qatar, 11 May
Pamela Jelimo and David Rudisha contributed to an emphatic demonstration of Kenyan middle distance power in Olympic year at the opening Diamond League meeting as they produced 800m victories in, respectively, 1:56.94 and 1:43.10.
The usual large and vocal Ethiopian contingent almost willed 19-year-old Ethiopian Fantu Magiso to what would have been a famous victory over an 800m field containing Jelimo and Janeth Jepkosgei, the 2008 Olympic gold and silver medallist but the youngster had to settle for an Ethiopian record of 1:57.90 in second place.
The marks were just two in a total of nine world-leading performances, or 10 if you counted the effort of 66.17m in the Javelin Throw by Barbora Spotakova, which was then surpassed by Mariya Abakumova’s 66.86m, on an evening of muggy heat and soaring achievement.
There was also one equal world season leading performance and seven meeting records.
Kenya supplied four of the other 2012 best performances as they saw off all Ethiopian opposition despite the fervent support of a dense, flag-waving crowd on the bottom bend. The 2011 World 5000 and 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot resisted the challenge of 2004 Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar to win the 3000m in 8:46.44, Silas Kiplagat won the 1500m in 3:29.63, Paul Kipsiele Koech earned his victory in the 3000m Steeplechase in 7:56.68 and – in a race that was not within the Diamond Race framework – Augustine Choge won the 3000m in a quick 7:30.42, with double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele labouring home in seventh place.
Kenyans and the two women Javelin throwers apart, the other 2012 best performances came from Jamaica's Melaine Walker, who won the 400m Hurdles in 54.62 and US 400m runner LaShawn Merritt, who won impressively in 44.19.
The women’s 3000m race produced a finish that brought back memories of other epic Kenyan-Ethiopian struggles on the track such as Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat’s sprint finish in the Sydney Olympic 10,000m final as Cheruiyot maintained her lead despite a teeth-baring, desperate charge from Defar, who had to settle for second place, just 0.05 behind, in 8:46.49. "This was a great race, like an Olympic final," said Cheruyiot. She turned out to be right about that.
In the sprints, there were unexpected 100m victories by Justin Gatlin, who held off Jamaica's Asafa Powell to clock 9.87, and fellow American Allyson Felix, whose personal best and meeting record of 10.92 proved too much for Jamaica’s renowned Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown.
Shanghai, China, 19 May
As if on cue, persistent rain at the second Diamond League meeting ceased as the local hero, former World and Olympic 110m Hurdles champion Liu Xiang, came to his blocks.
Liu responded with his first sub-13 time in five years, winning in 12.97 to raise home hopes of him reclaiming the Olympic title he won in Athens in 2004. United States' David Oliver was second in 13.13 with his compatriot, the 2011 World champion Jason Richardson, third in 13.16.
China had two winners on the night thanks to an unexpected flourish in the men’s Pole Vault field by Yang Yansheng, who cleared 5.65m on a terrible night for vaulting.
Genzebe Dibaba, younger sister of double Olympic champion Tirunesh, set an Ethiopian record of 3:57.77 in the women’s 1500m while Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic won the discus with a national record of 68.24m on the final throw.
Headlining the sprints was the meeting over 200m between Daegu 2011 100m champion, Carmelita Jeter, and 200m champion Veronica Cambell-Brown, with the latter holding off the American, 22.50 to 22.62.
Rome, Italy, 31 May
On a night of brilliant performances, Usain Bolt topped all of them with a 100m victory in a world-leading time of 9.76 which also broke by 0.01 the three-year-old Compeed Golden Gala meeting record that had belonged to his rival Tyson Gay. In so doing, Bolt dispelled any doubts about his fitness and preparation state for the imminent Olympic Games after having failed to break the 10-second barrier in Ostrava a few days earlier.
Only Bolt, Gay and Asafa Powell had ever run faster than the winning time in Rome, which was achieved into a wind of 0.01 and justifiably prompted massive acclaim from a crowd of just under 60,000 in the 1960 Olympic Stadium.
Three of the other six world-leading marks came on the track. Paul Kipsiele Koech, who clocked the third fastest time ever in the men's 3000m Steeplechase when he crossed the line in 7:54.31, Abeba Aregawi won the women's 1500m in an Ethiopian record of 3:56.54, and Vivian Cheruiyot again held off arch-rival Meseret Defar, this time over 5000m when the Kenyan won by just 0.03 in 14:35.62.
In the men’s High Jump, 24-year-old Briton Robbie Grabarz continued his massive improvement to win with an outdoor world-leading height of 2.33m and, in her first competition since winning at the World Indoor Championships, New Zealand's Valerie Adams earned an easy victory in the Shot Put as the only competitor to throw over 20 metres, recording 21.03m.
South Africa's 2011 World Championships bronze medallist Sunette Viljoen stunned the entire women’s Javelin field with her last attempt when she achieved a world lead of 67.95m but Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova responded immediately with an effort of 68.65m.
Teenager Fantu Magiso lowered her Ethiopian record to 1:57.56 when winning the women's 800m and British long jumper Greg Rutherford overhauled South Africa’s 2008 Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena to win with his last attempt of 8.32m.
Eugene, United States, June 2-3
After an opening day on which Kenya’s 10000m men battled for Olympic places in a race which took place along with two Diamond League events – the men’s Triple Jump won by home World champion Christian Taylor in 17.62m and the women’s Discus won by Croatia’s Sandra Perkovic in 66.92m – the headlines went to China’s Liu Xiang.
The former World and Olympic 110m Hurdles champion ran what initially seemed a World record-equalling time of 12.87, only to have his effort ruled out for record purposes because of a following wind of 2.4 metres-per-second, 0.4mps above the allowable limit.
Liu beat all the likely main contenders for the Olympic title with the exception of World record holder and reigning champion Dayron Robles, who was unable to travel because of visa problems. World Indoor 60m Hurdles champion Aries Merritt came second in 12.96, with fellow American and 2011 World champion Jason Richardson third in 13.11.
Great Britain’s Mo Farah, operating locally under the guidance of Alberto Salazar, flew to the top of the 2012 world 5000m lists with his meeting record of 12:56.98 in front of 12,000 screaming spectators.
Kenya's Isaiah Koech chased Farah to the finish in 12:57.63 while the latter's training partner Galen Rupp, a former University of Oregon student, dipped under 13 minutes for the first time in his career with 12:58.90. Almost anonymously, the defending Olympic 5000m champion Kenenisa Bekele crossed the line in 13:01.48. "I take a lot from this race," Farah said afterwards. "If you look at the field it was really loaded.”
Sanya Richards-Ross also set a new meeting record and world-leading time when winning the 400m in 49.39. "I know I am in the best shape I have ever been in,” said Richards-Ross.
Home shot putter Reese Hoffa won with a world leading performance of 21.81m.
Sudan’s 2011 World Championships 800m silver medallist Abubaker Kaki just got the verdict over two laps of the track in 1:43.71 after a thrilling sprint over the final 200 metres with Ethiopia's Mohamad Aman of Ethiopia, who clocked 1:43.74.
The 2004 Olympic 100m champion Justin Gatlin held off Jamaica’s Nickel Ashmeade to win the 100m in 9.90, with the 22-year-old Jamaican getting a personal best of 9.93 in second place, while Allyson Felix won her first 200m outing of the season in 22.23.
Kenya's Milcah Chemos ran 9:13.69 to beat the Ethiopian pair of Sofia Assefa and Hiwot Ayalew in the 3000m Steeplechase and, in the final event of the afternoon, the Bowerman Mile, Kenya’s World and Olympic 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop won in a world-leading time of 3:49.40.
Oslo, Norway, 7 June
Usain Bolt re-stated his 100m credentials in Olympic year as he won in a meeting record of 9.79, bettered only at that point in the season by his own recent mark of 9.76 in Rome.
Bolt, who had made his first appearance in the Bislett Stadium over 200m a year earlier in pouring rain, had no precipitation to contend with on this occasion. However, he had his work cut out to beat his friend and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell and had to grit his teeth at the 60 metres mark.
"The starting reaction was good, but I did not have the flow in the first metres like in Rome. Overall, technically, the race was not as good as in Italy, but I showed I can compete well under pressure," commented Bolt. He added that he was far from comfortable with his new blocks: "I’m guessing how to adjust them. In Rome, the guess was good; here, not that good.”
Bolt’s run at the ExxonMobil Bislett Games rounded off a night in which there were four 2012 world-leading performances; or five, if you count Sally Pearson’s achievement of matching her 100m Hurdles time of 12.49.
Pearson, pale and intent, led from gun to the line in the 100m Hurdles final as she equalled the mark she set in her native Australia in March; but American hurdler Kristi Castlin made what could be a significant breakthrough when she took second place in a personal best of 12.56.
Top marks went to Kenya’s Milcah Chemos with a national record of 9:07.14 in the 3000m Steeplechase that moved her to fourth on the world all-time list. Puerto Rico's Javier Culson won the 400m Hurdles in 47.92, Kenya's Asbel Kiprop took the famous Dream Mile in 3:49.22, and Czech Republic's Vitezslav Vesely made a big breakthrough with a Javelin victory in Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen’s home patch with a throw of 88.11m.
Chemos produced one of the best performances of the evening in the 3000m Steeplechase as she eclipsed the previous African record of 9:07.41 set by her fellow Kenyan Eunice Jepkorir when earning the silver medal at the 2008 Olympics.
Renaud Lavillenie remained in line for a third consecutive Diamond Race victory in the Pole Vault after winning a cagey tactical battle with Germany’s Malte Mohr with a first-time clearance of 5.82m, the height at which also won him the last Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
New York, United States, 9 June
David Rudisha, Kenya’s 800m World champion and record holder, had wanted his first visit to the United States to be memorable, and so it turned out.
At the Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island, he produced the highlight of the adidas Grand Prix with victory in 1:41.74, a mark only himself and former World record holders Wilson Kipketer and Sebastian Coe had ever bettered.
Kenya's Alfred Kirwa Yego finished a distant second in 1:44.49 but Rudisha’s primary rival, Abubaker Kaki, inexplicably veered out of the pack at approximately 450 metres and jogged off the track. Passing through the mixed zone, Kaki only said, "I’m fine, nothing’s wrong."
In the women’s 100m field, Jamaica’s 2008 Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce got to the line well in advance of key rivals Carmelita Jeter, Allyson Felix, and Kelly-Ann Baptiste, the three fastest women so far in 2012. Fraser-Pryce won in 10.92, her fastest mark of the year.
In the women’s Javelin, South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen defeated Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova with a stunning world- leading effort, and African record, of 69.35m while Fantu Magiso celebrated her 20th birthday by lowering her own Ethiopian 800m record once again to 1:57.48.
British high jumper Robbie Grabarz challenged strongly the US 2011 World champion Jesse Williams Both athletes cleared 2.36m on their first attempt, although the American claimed the win on home soil because Grabarz had a costly failure at his opening height.
Paris, France, 6 July
David Rudisha clocked a stupendous 1:41.54 in the 800m at the Meeting Areva to provide the highlight of the seventh stop of the Samsung Diamond League series.
His run was one of five world-leading performances on the night and the seventh fastest 800 performance of all-time, as well as his own fifth fastest outing. The Kenyan covered the final 100 metres in 13.9 to finish more than four seconds clear of the runner-up, Spain's Antonio Manuel Reina.
"In perfect weather conditions I would break the World record," said Rudisha, whose 2010 mark of 1:41.01 had survived another day. "This time it was not possible because of the wet track. It was simply too chilly for a record."
The men’s 5000m was largely billed as Kenenisa Bekele’s last chance to show the Ethiopian selectors that he deserved a chance to defend his Olympic title but, instead, it became what will likely be remembered as an Ethiopian changing of the guard in the event. Bringing to mind the races of nearly a decade ago when Bekele first began defeating Haile Gebrselassie, here it was Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet, 22 and 18 respectively, who left the World record holder behind.
The battle over the final lap, covered in under 55 seconds, was won by Gebremeskel, whose time of 12:46.81 moved him to number five on the all-time list. Gebrhiwet wasn’t too far behind in second, his 12:47.53 making him number seven of all-time and he captured the World junior record.
"I was not expecting such a fast time under 12:50,” said Gebremeskel. “It was for us like Olympic qualification so I badly wanted to be on top. Now, I should feel like the Olympic favourite."
Sally Pearson was also gearing up well for the Olympics in the 100m Hurdles. The reigning World champion earned a clear victory in 12.40, another 2012 world-leading mark.
Tyson Gay overhauled US rival Justin Gatlin over the final five metres of the 100m to clock 9.99.
"I tried to be patient," said Gay who had a season’s best of 9.86. "I’m strong mentally and ready for challenges. The US Trials was a faster race but here was a better one for me technically." Gatlin, who suffered his first defeat of the season, was second in 10.03 with local hero Christophe Lemaitre third in 10.08.
The men’s 3000m Steeplechase promised to be fast and it was, although probably not fast enough for winner Paul Kipsiele Koech to prompt the Kenyan selectors to think again after he fell short of making the Olympic team at the Kenyan Trials.
Taking the lead as the bell sounded, the 30-year-old covered the final lap in under 60 seconds and earned a convincing victory in 8:00.57, more than a second ahead of 2008 Olympic champion and Kenyan record holder Brimin Kipruto.
"This win means a lot to me, I feel enough courage to continue to compete," said Koech. "My goal now is to win all my races and try to break the World record, maybe in Monaco. This is my Olympics.”
Renaud Lavillenie was a popular home winner as he claimed his third Diamond League Pole Vault win of the season with 5.77m.
London, UK, July 13-14
Hurdlers Aries Merritt and Javier Culson equalled their world leads in the men’s 110m and 400m Hurdles on a chilly night at the first day of the Aviva London Grand Prix, but it was an evening of dismay for Liu Xiang, who pulled out of the 110m Hurdles final with a back problem after winning his heat in the early evening rain, while Renaud Lavillenie suffered his first Pole Vault defeat of the summer.
Merritt gave an indication of his Olympic potential as he powered to victory ahead of Jason Richardson in 12.93, a meeting record and the fastest time ever seen in the UK.
Puerto Rico’s Culson maintained his unbeaten 2012 record in familiar fashion, going off hard and hanging on to win in 47.78. Great Britain’sfast-finishing 2011 World champion Dai Greene clocked 48.10 in second place, his third fastest time ever.
Hosts Britain found another Olympic hopeful as 400m hurdler Perri Shakes-Drayton equalled the second fastest time in the world this season with a big personal best of 53.77.
Shakes-Drayton, a 23-year-old who lives and trains less than a mile from the Olympic Stadium, moved up to just 0.03 behind former World champion and World record holder Sally Gunnell in the UK all-time lists.
The anticipated 100m showdown between Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell was frustrated when the Jamaican pulled out on the morning of the meeting citing soreness in his groin. "I need to ensure I’m ready for the Games and cannot take any risks. I will be ready in August," said Powell.
Gay started poorly but finished strongly, winning in 10.03 in the damp conditions.
Local star Mo Farah brought the Crystal Palace crowd to its feet with a final 800 metres in 1:53.5 as he won the 5000m in 13:06.04, acknowledging the cheers with his soon-to-be-familiar 'Mobot' salute.
Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot did enough to stretch her unbeaten record over 5000m to 11 races by outkicking her compatriot Mercy Cherono over the last 600 metres to win in 14:48.86.
The second day produced a rare shock, a defeat in the 100m Hurdles for Sally Pearson. The Australian World champion suffered her first defeat in eight meetings as she was overhauled by American hurdler Kellie Wells, who finished 0.02 ahead in 12.57. France's Christophe Lemaitre produced his second sub-20 200m of his career, winning in 19.91.
There were two British victories to warm the home crowd on a cold, damp day as Javelin thrower Goldie Sayers beat 2008 Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova with a national record of 66.17m; another Beijing gold medallist, 400m champion Christine Ohuruogu powered past 2011 World champion Amantle Montsho in the pouring rain to finish in 50.42, her best time for three years.
USA’s Reese Hoffa beat Poland’s 2008 Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski by 6cm in the men’s Shot Put, the American champion’s third round 21.34m being enough for the win.
Monte Carlo, Monaco, 20 July
World-leading performances by Asbel Kiprop, Aries Merritt, Silke Spiegelburg and a United States men’s 4x100m Relay quartet highlighted the Herculis Meeting in Monaco: the final Diamond League stop before the London 2012 Olympics.
No one looked more like an Olympic champion-in-waiting than Kiprop whose 3:28.88 1550m run through the still Mediterranean evening was the first sub-3:29 time in the world for almost eight years.
"I came to Monaco to run 3:28 and I’m very happy I was able to tonight," said Kiprop, the reigning World and Olympic champion, who became the fifth fastest man ever over the distance.
Fellow Kenyan Nixon Chepseba, also London-bound, clocked a personal best 3:29.77 for second place while New Zealander Nick Willis, the 2008 Olympic silver medallist, closed strongly to take third in an Oceania record of 3:30.35.
For the third time in the season, Merritt won his 110m Hurdles event in 12.93, a consistency which hinted at his Olympic gold medal potential.
“After clearing the third hurdle I made a mistake and lost my rhythm and it took me all the way to the seventh hurdle to get back into my rhythm,” said Merritt. “So to know that I can make mistakes and still run 12.93 makes me very excited."
World champion Jason Richardson was a few steps back in 13.07, just ahead of the rising Russian star Sergey Shubenkov, whose 13.09 equalled his own national record.
There was a world lead in the women’s Pole Vault as Silke Spiegelburg’s 4.82m registered a German record. "I’ve been waiting for three years to jump that high and get the national record," said Spiegelburg, who relaxed during the competition by dancing between her jumps.
Olympic Pole Vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, making her 2012 debut in the Samsung Diamond League, registered three failures at her opening height of 4.70m and none of her attempts were particularly close in the Stade Louis II ,where she had set a World record of 5.04m in her final pre-Olympic appearance four years earlier.
After her victory in London the week before, Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare produced another winning effort in the 100m with a personal best of 10.96.
There was also a confidence-boosting victory in the men’s 400m, where Belgium's Jonathan Borlee of Belgium beat Grenada's 2011 World champion Kirani James on the line, 44.74 to 44.76, with the winner's twin brother Kevin finishing third in 44.94. Defending Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt never reached the finish line, pulling up when hit with a cramp in his left hamstring.
American high jumper Jesse Williams, the 2011 World champion, again got the better of Great Britain's Robbie Grabarz on countback. From their first attempt clearances at 2.30m, the pair produced an identical card, each needing a third try at 2.33m before bowing out at 2.36m.
A US 100m Relay quartet comprising Trell Kimmons, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Ryan Bailey produced a 37.61 run that brought the crowd to life early in the meeting.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF