Usain Bolt romps home in the 200m in Paris at the 2011 Meeting Areva - Samsung Diamond League (© Errol Anderson)
Paris, FranceThe newly laid Mondo track at the Stade de France did not get a superfast christening from Usain Bolt in the Samsung Diamond League meeting, but Jamaica’s World and Olympic champion comfortably held off local hero Christophe Lemaitre to win the 200 metres in 20.03 seconds on a night when an appreciative crowd of 49,174 spectators saw four world season-leading marks set and victories for their other home hopes in Renaud Lavillenie and Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad.
The Meeting Areva’s four finest efforts of the season so far came from Cuba’s Yargelis Savigne, with a Triple Jump of 14.99 metres, Christina Obergföll of Germany, who won the Javelin with a throw of 68.01 metres, Ethiopia’s Meseret Defar, who earned a 5000 metres victory in 14:29.52, and Zuzana Hejnova, who won the 400m Hurdles in 53.29sec, which was also a Czech Republic record.
Bolt nearly scratched race because of flu
Bolt revealed after a race in which he had slowed dramatically over the final 30 metres that he had been in two minds about racing because of what he described as “a flu”.
It was just one of those days,” he commented. “There were some problems at the start. Up to 150 metres it was OK, but the last 50 were not good. I need to stay focused now and get better in the next few weeks. I was not feeling good because of a flu, but at the end of the day I decided to run and could win.”
In the circumstances, Bolt would have had particular reason not to appreciate the lengthy delay before the night’s finale - caused by what appeared to be problems with the timing equipment. The field had to take to their blocks three times before getting belatedly away, with a number of them having attempted to keep warm with little bursts of sprinting.
The World record holder, who had initially joked and laughed as the camera lingered on him, was more subdued after finishing. Lemaitre, straining to keep in touch, took second place in a season’s best of 20.21, with Darvis Patton of the United States third in 20.59. It was the first time Bolt had finished a 200 metres, excluding rounds, in more than 20 seconds since September 14, 2007, when he finished third in Brussels.
Lemaitre said he was “disappointed” not to have beaten the French national record and not running under 20 seconds. “But it wasn’t the right race to do it,” he added. “I’m pleased with my result – second after Bolt, and in front of serious competition, is very satisfying. Plus, I’m getting closer to Bolt. Last year I finished way further back than that.”
Robles over Oliver but with same time
David Oliver’s smooth progress towards the World Championships 110m Hurdles, temporarily upset by his defeat at the hands of former world and Olympic champion Liu Xiang at the Shanghai Samsung Diamond League in May, received another jolt as he was beaten by his other great rival, Cuba’s World record holder Dayron Robles, with both men recording 13.09sec.
Robles had spoken before his meeting with 110m Hurdles rival David Oliver of the need for “getting back into fighting mode” as he seeks to return to sub 13 second territory following the injuries which have hampered him in the last couple of years.
The Cuban World record holder will not have been disappointed with his showing here as he claimed a victory over the powerful American which keeps the event in an intriguing balance in World Championship year.
Both men had warm memories of this stadium, Robles having set a stadium record of 12.88 in 2008, and Oliver having run his best of 12.89 here last season. But a sluggish start by Oliver – similar to the one he produced against Liu Xiang in Shanghai – offered the Cuban, who had started immediately to his left in lane four, an opportunity which he never let slip, although Oliver, all in black, closed over the final hurdles.
“I expected a better time,” Robles said. “I didn’t pay attention to what was happening around the race, I just concentrated on my own. I didn’t even know if I was leading. It is good that I won, but I need to work on the part after the fifth hurdle.”
Savigne comes close to 15m
World champion Savigne had to reach out to the brink of the 15 metres mark, recording a world-leading distance of 14.99m in order to head off the challenge of her Ukrainian rival Olha Saladuha, who had come into this competition with this season’s best mark of 14.98 to her credit.
After seeing Saladuha take over the lead with a second round effort of 14.58, which she extended to 14.81 in the third round, Savigne knew she needed to produce something special. She did.
Kazakhstan’s Olga Rypakova was third with a season’s best of 14.48.
Even Obergföll surprised by her opener
Obergföll’s effort in the opening round of the Javelin Throw might have been enough to make everyone else decide it was not going to be their night, but the Czech Republic’s Olympic champion Barbara Spotakova responded immediately with a second round effort that fell just short of the German’s opening flourish – a season’s best of 67.57m. Russia’s Mariya Abakumova, who took silver behind Spotakova and ahead of Obergföll at the Beijing Games, took third place with 65.12.
“I knew I could expect a good mark tonight, but I didn’t expect 68 metres,” Obergföll said. “So I’m more than satisfied. I think 68 will be enough for a medal in Daegu and that is also my goal, but my dream is to win.”
Sustained sprint secures victory for Defar
Defar’s victory in the 5000 metres was not unexpected, but the former World record holder had to produce a sustained sprint over the final lap – which she covered in 62.79sec - before she could move clear of her compatriot Sentayehu Ejigu, who had tracked her for seven laps after the last pacemaker had dropped away.
Defar eventually finished 15 metres clear in a world season leading time of 14:29.52, with Ejigu clocking a season’s best of 14.31.66. Kenya’s double World Junior champion Mercy Cherono, who had stuck with the two Ethiopians until they pulled away at the bell, was rewarded with a personal best of 14:35.13 as she took third place ahead of Shalane Flanagan of the United States, who clocked a season’s best of 14:45.20.
“I felt much better tonight than I did in Oslo,” said Defar, adding ominously: “I am coming to my top performance shape.”
Hejnova turned the women’s 400m Hurdles result around in the course of a couple of strides as she took off over her final hurdle just behind the woman who had led the race into the final straight, Jamaica’s Kaliese Spencer, and landed ahead, moving clear to win in 53.29sec, the fastest time recorded so far this season.
“I’m totally shocked,” Hejnova said. “I was not feeling in the top shape.”
It was a timely and potentially important win for the 24-year-old Czech record holder and 2008 Olympic finalist, whose time replaced the effort of 53.31 run by the absent Lashinda Demus of the United States.
Spencer was not exactly having a bad night, as she finished in 53.45, which equalled her season’s best, and there was another season’s best in third place as Russia’s Natalya Antyukh clocked 54.41, with Britain’s Perry Shakes-Drayton fourth in 54.79.
Kenyans left struggling in Frenchman’s wake
France’s European champion Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad caused the stadium to fill with patriotic noise as he came home half a straight clear in the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase to reduce his person best from 8:02.52 to 8:02.09. It was not quite what the tall, bearded figure in the green top and shoes wanted – he has been seeking the European record of 8:01.18, held his compatriot Bob Tahri, all season.
But there was glory here as he took the applause with Kenyans struggling home behind him. Not a sight you often see in an event Kenyan runners have made virtually their own property, although Mekhissi demonstrated his individual ambition very fully in splitting the Kenyans to earn Olympic silver in 2008.
Mekhissi had followed the leading Kenyans, reigning World champion Ezekiel Kemboi and Benjamin Kiplagat to the bell before bursting into the lead, and although Kemboi tracked him down the back straight, the taller man made his decisive final surge around the final bend. Although the world’s leading pair of this season Paul Koech and Brimin Kipruto were absent, it was still an outstanding victory for the 26-year-old home runner, and a very different performance from his disappointing effort in his previous Samsung Diamond League race in Oslo (8:14.38, 9 June).
“I wasn’t feeling very confident coming here because I’m coming from two failures,” Mekhissi said. “I needed to regain my trust and sensations…but little by little as the laps came, the sensations came back. I found my killer instinct. I didn’t care about the time, I was only thinking about the victory, trying to win for my audience.”
Lavillenie tames the wind
The Stade de France spectators soon had another reason to be waving the large, bright yellow sponsor cards which had been distributed throughout the stadium as another of their European champions delivered. This time it was another of their European champions, the personable Renaud Lavillenie, who secured victory in the Pole Vault with an effort of 5.73 metres once Germany’s Malte Mohr had failed to clear it.
Lavillenie then had three attempts at 5.85m, the second of which saw the bar slide off virtually as he landed on his feet.
“I was aiming for victory rather than the performance, so it was mission accomplished,” he said. “But the wind was very unreliable.”
Asked about how he had found the newly laid runway, he responded by describing it as “horribly hard,” adding: “My bones were in pain, I have a bad headache. This affected my performance…but this is my third victory in a row in this meeting and I am also building my lead in the Diamond League. This is important.”
Caster Semenya claimed her first Samsung Diamond League victory of the season in the 800 metres, although her time of 2:00.18 was slower than she would have hoped. When the pacemaker dropped away soon after the bell they left Britain’s world and European bronze medallist Jenny Meadows in the lead, but then the 20-year-old South African World champion moved forwards to take over the lead around the final bend. She maintained it, despite looking less than fluent, and Meadows eventually finished third in 2:00.74 as Morocco’s Halima Hachlaf, who had beaten Semenya in the Oslo Samsung Diamond League, took second place in 2:00.60.
Campbell-Brown surprisingly beaten
As expected, double Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown was pushed all the way in the 100 metres by her Jamaican colleague Kerron Stewart, but she was pushed even harder by the eventual winner, Trinidad’s Kelly-Ann Baptiste, whose season’s best of 10.91sec was just 0.03sec off the stadium record of 10.88 set in 1998.
Campbell-Brown clocked 10.95, with Stewart finishing third in 11.04, a place ahead of Bulgaria’s Ivet Lalova, who finished in 11.18.
National record for Tomlinson but Saladino gets the win
Chris Tomlinson had a highly satisfactory Long Jump as he regained the British record which had been taken from him by Greg Rutherford, with a third round effort of 8.35m which looked capable of delivering the lanky Middlesbrough jumper the bonus of a first Samsung Diamond League victory.
But that ambition was spoiled by the fifth round effort of Panama’s former World champion Irving Saladino, who reached out to 8.40.
“I knew I was doing pretty well in training so I expected the record again sometime soon,” said Tomlinson. “Today I got my take-off angle right and so I was able to get the mark. But to think about a good position in Daegu I still need to improve on that. It is not enough to win, but I can attack the other medals. That is my goal.”
Brown’s day ends Wariner’s Paris run
Jeremy Wariner, the former Olympic 400m champion, suffered his first defeat in Paris as fellow American Chris Brown came through in the final 20 metres to win in a season’s best of 44.94sec, having moved ahead of the man who had headed the field around the last bend, Jonathan Borlee. The Belgian took second place in 45.05 with Wariner, who had never seriously contended for the lead, third fading to fourth in 45.50 as Jamaica’s Jerome Gonzales came through to take third place in 45.43.
Wariner ended up one place ahead of multiple Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, although the South African finished well off the A standard of 45.25sec he needs to reach the Daegu Worlds and the London 2012 Games, clocking 45.84.
Laalou burst clear
Armine Laalou of Morocco earned an audacious victory over a 1500 metres field which included Kenya’s Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop and former World champion Bernard Lagat of the United States, bursting clear of the pack around the final bend and holding his form to finish in 3:32.15, 10 metres clear of Kiprop, who clocked 3:33.04 and Lagat, who was timed at 3:33.11.
Adams beats Ostapchuk once more
Valerie Adams roared her appreciation of an effort of 20.78 metres which won her the Shot Put ahead of her great rival Nadezdha Ostapchuk, who was second with 20.49. The new Zealander had also taken a Diamind race win over her Belarussian opponent in Oslo. There were further loud celebrations from Jillian Camarena-Williams who equalled the US record to take third place with 20.18, and from Cleopatra Borel-Brown, who set a Trinidad record of 19.42.
Joint winners in High Jump, while Harting remains supreme in Discus
A long–running men’s High Jump finished with joint winners as Jaroslav Baba of the Czech Republic and Aleksey Dmitrik of Russia finished on 2.32 with equal failures on count-back.
In difficult wind conditions just 12 centimetres separated the top three in the men’s Discus Throw, where Robert Harting maintained his unbeaten season’s record with an effort of 67.32m, with Poland’s Piotr Malachowski finishing second on 67.26 and Gerd Kanter of Estonia third with 67.24.
Mike Rowbottom for the Samsung Diamond League
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