HeusdenZolder, BelgiumAn athlete can hardly run more determined than Hicham El Guerrouj did at the KBC Night of Athletics. And if ever there have been question marks about his form he convincingly blew them away with an astonishing 54 seconds finishing lap, reclaiming the world 1500m leading performance when he crossed the line in 3:29.18.
"I am extremely happy today. I was running very smoothly. At a certain moment the pace dropped dramatically which left me 1.5 seconds behind schedule at the bell. It felt as if I could run below 3:27 today. My finishing speed proved to be very reliable; I'm prepared for all sorts of tactics now. Will I double 1500m and 5000m in Athens? Inch Allah, if God wants it. There has never been any doubt in my mind about my ability to do it."
Just behind El Guerrouj 19-year-old Mulugeta Wendimu, a name to remember, set a national Ethiopian record with 3:31.13.
Slovenia’s Jolanda Ceplak could not quite live up to the same expectation of bettering the world leading performance. Down the final back straight she controlled her effort to remain tactically in command of the race. She was satisfied when she came home in 1:58.00, holding off Nicole Teter of USA in the closing stages.
"This must have been the quickest opening lap in my career. 56.36 is destroying for an athlete like me with a personal 400m best of 54 seconds. I have two more weeks of training in my agenda now and I'm sure to arrive relaxed in Athens. My aim there is to become stronger through the different rounds and be perfectly prepared for the final."
An early 800m heat was won by Laetitia Valdonado of France in 1:59.36.
Double sprint victory for Kim Gevaert
Kim Gevaert has hardly shown disappointing races this season and confirmed consistency in front of her cheering home crowd in both sprint events. Unexpectedly the strongest opposition in the 100m came from Ghana’s Vida Anim in the inside lane, while Merlene Ottey finished third.
"This is a national Slovenian record," said Ottey when her 11.17 appeared on the board.
Anim was also timed in 11.17 in second and she also bettered the national record. Gevaert equalled her national record of 11.14 for the second consecutive time this year, while American 200m champion Allyson Felix finished a disappointing fifth.
The stadium was roaring when Gevaert came off the bend in the lead in the 200m, leaving Muriel Hurtis with too much work to do. The Belgian then had to struggle against a disturbing wind but stormed to a 22.67 victory in delight.
"I'm happy that I've been able to handle the pressure today. Of course I wanted to win my races, but it was difficult enough with so many strong athletes in the field. The important thing is that I've shown consistent sprinting this year and that I'm feeling healthy and in fine shape."
Kareem Streete-Thompson of the Cayman Islands won the men’s 100m final in 10.30 but the race had previously lost his main protagonist when Frankie Fredericks was disqualified with a false start. The Namibian ran impressively in the heats, when he crossed the line freewheeling and into a headwind in 10.19.
Americans Glover and Morrison dominate hurdle events
The women's 400m hurdles turned out to offer a spectacular finish with Sandra Glover catching fast starter Jana Pittman of Australia in the very last metre. Both athletes ran seasonal bests with Glover's winning time of 53.40 only 3 hundreds faster than the Australian. The 100m hurdles turned out to be an American duel won by Melissa Morrison in 12.72 ahead of Jenny Adams in 12.81.
15 national records fall in one evening
Richard Matelong is developing into a very useful steeplechaser this season. The Kenyan was all the time in control of the race as athletes dropped one by one off the pace that was set by a leading group of four. Matelong accelerated at the bell and finished in a personal best of 8:11.33.
Gary Reed poised Joeri Jansen's game as he did not allow the Belgian to move past in the finishing straight of the men’s 800m. The clock stopped at a national record time of 1:44.92 for the Canadian, while Khadevis Robinson of USA came in third. Bahraini Salim Mushir Jawer held off the threat of Hicham Bellani and James Kwalia in the 5000m to win in 13:03.09.
In the women's steeplechase Brianna Shook (USA) and Salome Chepchumba (KEN) showed guts and strength as they took off furiously and decided their battle in a close sprint finish, won by the American.
The 5000m saw 18 athletes finishing inside 15:20, with Uganda’s Docus Inzikuru heading the field in 15:05.30.
In the women’s 1500m Belgium’s Veerle Dejaeghere was running a solo effort and was still ahead with 600m to go as the pacemaker stepped down. However she was quickly overtaken by a fast finishing group from which USA’s Carrie Tollefson emerged as a winner in 4:06.30.
15 national records and dozens of personal bests were set, most of them in the distance events. Other world class performances came from Timothy Mack (USA) clearing 5.80m in the pole vault, Libor Malina (CZE) throwing the discus 65.38m and Duane Ross (USA) who crossed the high hurdles in 13.30.
The local crowd cheered two more Olympic qualifiers for their country with Tom Compernolle and Monder Rizki in the 5000m and three national records from Kim Gevaert in the 100m, Sigrid Vanden Bempt in the 3000m steeplechase and Fatiha Baouf in the 5000m, as a spectacular firework brought an end to an exciting evening of world class athletics.
Ivo Hendrix for the IAAF