Mondo Duplantis clears 6.15m at the Wanda Diamond League meeting in Rome (© AFP / Getty Images)
At the start of the 2020 outdoor season, in the aftermath of the postponement of the Olympic Games and other major championships, it was deemed almost impossible for international track and field meetings to go ahead during a global pandemic.
The traditional early season Wanda Diamond League meetings – Doha, Shanghai, Eugene and Stockholm – were either cancelled or postponed, while uncertainty loomed over the other meetings in the series. But in June, organisers of Oslo’s Bislett Games found a way of making the impossible possible and staged the first fixture on the 2020 Wanda Diamond League calendar.
Impossible Games, Oslo – 11 June
Two-time world 400m hurdles champion Karsten Warholm produced the highlight in Oslo’s exhibition event and set the tone for the rest of his season.
Competing on home soil in the Norwegian capital, Warholm opened his 2020 campaign by clocking a world best of 33.78 in the 300m hurdles.
Despite being the sole competitor in his race and competing in an empty stadium, Warholm still beat his chest and roared in typical fashion. His time was well within the previous mark of 34.48, set by Great Britain’s Chris Rawlinson in 2002, and under Kevin Young’s 400m hurdles world record split (34.1) to boot.
The men’s 2000m – a virtual contest between the Ingebrigtsen brothers racing in Oslo and an all-Kenyan team featuring Timothy Cheruiyot racing in Nairobi – was another highlight. The altitude in Kenya prevented it from being a truly competitive affair, but Jakob Ingebrigtsen used the opportunity to break the European record, running 4:50.01.
Elsewhere, Mondo Duplantis beat Renaud Lavillenie in the pole vault and Hedda Hynne kicked off her season with a victory over 600m.
Inspiration Games, Zurich – 9 July
A month after Oslo’s meeting took place, organisers of Zurich’s Weltklasse held the ‘Inspiration Games’ which brought together 30 athletes competing in seven venues across two continents.
Multiple world and Olympic champion Allyson Felix was one of the star performers. The US sprinter, competing in California, won the 150m in 16.81 to beat Shaunae Miller-Uibo and Mujinga Kambundji, who were competing in Florida and Zurich respectively, connected via video link-up. Felix claimed another victory later in the meeting, running the anchor leg on the victorious 3x100m team.
Competing on his track in Lisbon, Pedro Pablo Pichardo prevailed in the triple jump with a 17.40m (+2.3m/s) effort in the second round. World and Olympic champion Christian Taylor struggled in the early going but produced his best in the sixth round, reaching 17.27m (+4.2m/s) in Florida to beat back Omar Craddock who leaped 17.04m in the second round in California.
Not all of the contests were virtual. A men’s 100-yards race was held in Florida and was won by Canada’s Andre De Grasse in 9.68, finishing 0.04 ahead of France’s Jimmy Vicaut.
Herculis, Monaco – 14 August
Following the exhibition events in Oslo and Zurich, Monaco staged the first official Wanda Diamond League of 2020 and it did not disappoint.
With a range of 14 track and field disciplines on its programme and near-full fields in each one, the Herculis meeting was a big step forward towards normality. And for Joshua Cheptegei it was an opportunity to display his record-breaking form.
The Ugandan, who had set a world 5km record on the road in Monaco in February, returned to the principality and clocked 12:35.36 to break Kenenisa Bekele’s world 5000m record that had stood for 16 years.
The pace was so fierce that Cheptegei had run out of pacemakers by half way. As he hit the bell in 11:35, it was apparent that the record was his for the taking and he came home in 60 seconds as the small socially-distanced crowd allowed to attend the meeting rose and applauded.
“It took a lot of mind setting to keep being motivated this year because so many people are staying at home but you have to stay motivated,” he said. “I pushed myself; I had the right staff with me, the right coach. I'm also usually based in Europe, but being based in Uganda with my family was actually great.”
In a race featuring the world champions over every distance from 1500m to 10,000m, Kenya’s Hellen Obiri reigned supreme over her preferred distance.
Obiri, the world champion at cross country and 5000m, had just Letesenbet Gidey and Laura Weightman for company in the final kilometre. Obiri put on the after-burners 250m from the finish line and sprinted away to win in 14:22.12, setting a meeting record and the world lead.
Compatriots Timothy Cheruiyot and Faith Kipyegon were also victorious, winning over 1500m and 1000m respectively. Cheruiyot clocked a world-leading 3:28.45, while Kipyegon’s 2:29.15 was the second-fastest performance in history for the distance.
Warholm, contesting his first race of the season over the full 400m hurdles distance, smashed the meeting record with 47.10, winning by more than two seconds. Meanwhile, US duo Donavan Brazier and Noah Lyles won their specialist events, Brazier clocking 1:43.15 in the 800m and Lyles running 19.76.
Bauhaus-Galan, Stockholm – 23 August
Karsten Warholm powered to the second-fastest 400m hurdles performance of all time to highlight Stockholm’s Bauhaus Galan.
Building a visible lead by the third hurdle and adding to it with each stride, Warholm powered off the final bend and into the home straight very much alone. For some moments, Kevin Young’s 46.78 world record, set at the Barcelona Olympic Games 28 years ago, looked to be under serious threat. But it didn’t come to pass after the 24-year-old Norwegian clipped the final barrier, costing him valuable ticks of the clock.
He crossed the line in 46.87 to break his own European record by 0.05 and solidify his No.2 position on the world all-time list.
Elsewhere on the track, Laura Muir (3:57.86) and Timothy Cheruiyot (3:30.25) impressed over 1500m. The highlights on the infield, meanwhile, came from Mondo Duplantis and Yaroslava Mahuchikh.
Duplantis broke the meeting record in the pole vault, winning with 6.01m, and went on to have three unsuccessful attempts 6.15m. Mahuchikh won the high jump with 2.00m and came close to clearing 2.03m.
Athletissima, Lausanne – 2 September
Organisers of Lausanne’s Athletissima meeting staged an exhibition pole vault competition in the city centre and it resulted in one of the greatest contests of all time.
World champion Sam Kendricks and world record-holder Mondo Duplantis pushed one another over six metres. After a string of successful clearances at the higher heights, ultimately it was simply a lack of light that prevented Duplantis, the eventual winner, going higher.
Kendricks scaled 6.02m, the second-best vault of his career, while Duplantis got over 6.07m. The young Swede went on to attempt 6.15m, but the fading daylight made vaulting too difficult.
“I felt I was in the zone,” said Duplantis. “It was a fantastic evening. The conditions, crowd, competition – it was all fabulous.”
Compatriot Angelica Bengtsson made it a Swedish double, winning the women’s contest with 4.72m.
AG Memorial van Damme, Brussels – 4 September
A pair of world records highlighted the AG Memorial Van Damme in Brussels.
Sifan Hassan and Mo Farah broke the women’s and men’s marks respectively in the rarely run one-hour event, but both races were only decided on the final lap.
Brigid Kosgei, the world record-holder for the marathon, stuck to Hassan all the way. It was only when the gun sounded to mark the last minute that Hassan took off and opened up distance on the Kenyan, eventually covering 18,930 metres.
Farah, meanwhile, fell off world record pace at the mid-way point but managed to get back on schedule with the help of Belgium’s Bashir Abdi, his training partner. Abdi took the lead a few minutes from the end, but Farah regained it in the closing stages to win with a distance of 21,330m.
Duplantis maintained his winning streak in the pole vault, scaling a meeting record of 6.00m, while Faith Kipyegon once again came close to the world record in the 1000m, this time clocking 2:29.92.
Golden Gala Pietro Mennea, Rome – 17 September
Having taken several attempts at 6.15m earlier in the season, Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis finally got over that height at Rome’s Golden Gala Pietro Mennea, producing the best outdoor vault in history.
The world silver medallist, who had set world records of 6.17m and 6.18m during the indoor season earlier in the year, confirmed victory in the Italian capital with a second-attempt clearance of 5.85m. He glided over 6.00m, then raised the bar to the ultimate target of 6.15m, getting over it on his second try.
“I hit the mat but I haven’t really fallen back to earth,” said a delighted Duplantis.
In a showdown of the teen sensations, Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo triumphed over Jakob Ingebrigtsen in the 3000m as the first three finishers set national records.
Ingebrigtsen took the lead from Australia’s Stewart McSweyn just before the bell, but Kiplimo’s finishing kick proved irresistible over the final 50 metres and the 19-year-old crossed the line in a Diamond League record of 7:26.64, the fastest time in the world since 2007.
Ingebrigtsen set a Norwegian record of 7:27.05 in second and McSweyn held on gamely for an Oceania record of 7:28.02.
Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson-Herah sped to a world-leading 10.85 to win the women’s 100m, finishing almost three metres clear of her rivals.
Karsten Warholm and Femke Bol extended their winning streaks in the 400m hurdles. Warholm won the men’s race in 47.08 to break the meeting record (47.48) and the Stadio Olympico record (47.37). Bol, meanwhile, clocked 53.90 to take the women’s race.
Diamond League Meeting, Doha – 25 September
Usually the curtain raiser of the series, this year’s Diamond League Meeting in Doha brought the curtain down on an unusual and memorable season.
Hellen Obiri won a high-quality women’s 3000m, beating a field full of global and continental medallists. The Kenyan unleashed her trademark kick on the final lap and went on to win in a world-leading 8:22.54. For the first time in history, six women finished inside 8:26 and seven women finished inside 8:27.
“The season has not been the best for everyone but I am happy it is coming to an end,” said Obiri.
Having been beaten in his three other races earlier in the series, Stewart McSweyn ended his Diamond League campaign on a high by winning the men’s 1500m in an Australian record of 3:30.51, winning by more than two seconds.
Olympic 1500m champion Faith Kipyegon once again displayed her dominance, this time winning over 800m with a world-leading PB of 1:57.68. Compatriot Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich won the men’s event, clocking a season’s best of 1:44.16.
Mondo Duplantis maintained his winning streak in the pole vault, but only just. He won on countback with 5.82m, a height that Sam Kendricks and Renaud Lavillenie also managed to get over.
It is hoped that the Wanda Diamond League will return to normality – or at least get closer to it – in 2021. But meeting organisers and athletes have shown this year that the sport is capable of adapting and, even in difficult circumstances, it’s possible to create outstanding athletics moments.
Jon Mulkeen for World Athletics