Yelena Isinbayeva- back on top of the world in Paris (© Getty Images)
Four of tonight’s six strong starting-line up of $1 Million Jackpot contenders successfully continued on route to that prize with largely unopposed victories at tonight’s Meeting Gaz de France Paris Saint-Denis (6 July), the second of six meetings of the IAAF Golden League 2007.
Outside the Jackpot considerations Christian Olsson excelled in the Triple Jump, Alan Webb brought home a thrilling win over local hero Mehdi Baala in the 1500m, while there was disappointment and debacle of lap counter chaos in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase.
Overall, three world season leading performances were established in the Stade de France today – men’s 1500m (3:30.54), women’s 400m (49.52) and Pole Vault (4.91).
Perry, Pitkämäki, Richards and Isinbayeva power to second wins
There were ‘ups and downs’ for the two Russian Olympic champions who were in the Jackpot hunt at the start of the night. The surprise was the defeat of Yelena Slesarenko, who had already been flying high over 2.02m twice this season. Yet that’s not meant to take anything away from Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic, already the world’s highest jumper this summer (2.04), who made 2.02m on her first approach to win. The Russian had similarly cleared 2m on her first while the Croatian had needed two attempts at that bar but Slesarenko’s evening of flight ended at that altitude. The World Indoor champion didn’t look as relaxed as her opponent, and 2.02 proved elusive.
Vlasic was confidence itself – “Tonight I’ve accomplished what I expected.”
Isinbayeva on the up-swing of success
Yelena Isinbayeva, the Pole Vault Olympic titleholder, rediscovered her form tonight, propelling her technique, her season and presumably her confidence on to an upward swing of success.
A 4.91m world season’s best and meeting record - which came on her second try - put the smiling Russian back into the event’s global driving seat, a position which before tonight’s meeting was occupied by USA’s Jennifer Stuczynski, with her 4.88 Area record on 2 June.
There were even three energetic tries by Isinbayeva to top her 5.01m World record, with the third effort at 5.02m being close enough to suggest that the Russian may soon be back into her prolific record breaking groove.
Richards makes up for Indi disappointment
Sanya Richards was leaving nothing to chance. In a line-up which included the three women who had run her out of a 400m team spot for Osaka, the 22-year-old leapt from the blocks with such urgency that it was clear she had a ghost or two from those Indianapolis trials to expunge from her mind.
Though never challenged at any point in the race it is true to say that Richards physic looked a little rigid in the last 20 metres or so but that is in comparison with the graceful images we still retain from her many fluent victories last season. Yet such apparent stiffness in her stride still registered the fastest time in the world this year - 49.52 - and so there is obviously much more to come as Richards begins to relax as the season continues.
“Today I wasn’t concerned about the time. I just wanted to win,” confirmed Richards. “So I’m happy. I felt good. Winning the Golden League is my first goal of this season. I also want to win a medal at 200 in Osaka.”
The men’s 400m was just about as one-sided. Lashawn Merritt was full of confidence, and without Angelo Taylor who was running the 400 Hurdles (see later) there was no one to seriously challenge the 21-year-old who closed out in 44.62.
Perry but Powell crashes out
Michelle Perry like Richards remains in the Jackpot hunt. The World champion at 100m Hurdles was slower than her season‘s best (12.51 – 10 June) but a 12.56 run was enough to convincingly beat most of the world’s best. Tragically, her compatriot Ginnie Powell who had defeated Perry to the US title only a few weeks ago took a dramatic mid-race fall when she clipped a hurdle with her lead leg, an accident which sent her crashing heavily to the track. What if any injury resulted we do not know but for certain she will be heavily bruised and shaken by the experience.
In second, Sweden’s European champion Susanna Kallur was in fine fettle with an Area season lead of 12.68, while USA’s Lolo Jones took third (12.71). Conditions were virtually windless (-0.2m/s).
Tero Pitkämäki, produced his best series of Javelin Throws of this summer topped by a European lead of 89.70m to beat all his prominent rivals in a dominant fashion previously not produced by any of the other main players in 2007. Three of the Finn’s five valid throws would have been good enough for victory - 87.71, 87.88, 85.08, 89.70, x, 82.78 - with Olympic champion Andreas the next best thanks to a last round 86.28 release, prior to that the Norwegian’s best tonight had been just 83.45m. In third place, the world season leader Breaux Greer (USA) was also out of sorts with a 85.64m fifth round throw resurrecting an otherwise fouled out competition marked by a 79.81 in the third round.
In a men’s 110m Hurdles race which contained the Olympic champion and World record holder (Liu Xiang), the World gold medallist (Ladji Doucouré), and the second fastest man of all-time (Dominique Arnold), it seemed the Jackpot contender Amwar Moore would have his work cut out. But as it turned out the 28-year-old American, who was fifth in their national championships, was a match for all of those luminaries. In fact only Cuban record holder Dayron Robles could get the better with a 13.13 (+0.5m/s) photo-finish victory over the American who was given the same time. Liu Xiang was in third (13.15), Doucouré was back in sixth (13.27 – European lead), and Arnold next with 13.31.
Aside the Jackpot events, there was no doubting that the men’s 1500m was the competition of the night. A thrilling ‘head to head’ battle in the last lap saw Mehdi Baala, urged on by the home crowd, pass Alan Webb with 300m to go, only for the American to counter attack on the final bend. This move finally resulted in him heading the Frenchman with 40 metres to go. A 3:30.54 world lead was Webb’s reward and a 2007 European best (3:31.01) some minor consolation for Baala who had come into the race as the season’s fastest runner (3:31.05 – 28 June).
Olsson left to consider what might have been
There must have been a major ‘if only’ Jackpot moment for Sweden’s Christian Olsson tonight when he flew to an unchallenged 17.56m European season leading win in the Triple Jump. Beaten in the opening Golden League meeting by just 2 centimetres (17.35 to 17.33) by Phillips Idowu, and with his conqueror not competing tonight due to injury, the Swede’s performance shone bright as the potential pot of gold which he has missed out on this year. Three valid efforts of 17.25, 17.42, and 17.56 was the sort of consistency that was too good for all the rest. In second came Portugal’s Nelson Evora with a national record of 17.28…no one else managed to get beyond 17m!
Sprint victories for Dibaba and Soboleva
Midweek Tirunesh Dibaba had confirmed to the IAAF website – click here – that she had been suffering from a leg injury since her 14:35.67 run in the 5000m New York on 2 June, and that World records were not on offer tonight. That pre-race admission was confirmed on the track by a slow 5000 which was won by the 21-year-old World 5000m and 10,000m champion in 15:21.84. Victory was simply executed with a 59.1 second last lap sprint which knocked the stuffing out of her opponents’ legs.
A similar sprint strategy but employed 300 metres later was all that was required for a straight-forward victory in the women’s 1500m for the world season leader Yelena Soboleva of Russia, who powered past Ethiopian Gelete Burka with 100 metres to go. The time was fast – 3:59.91 – her third straight 1500m / Mile victory of the summer, and coming after her wins in Moscow and Athens there is no doubting that the 24-year-old World Indoor 1500m record holder is the favourite for gold in Osaka.
Burka was second in 4:00.68, while more surprising was the 13th place finish of Bahrain’s Maryam Jamal, who finished in 4:07.92. In Athens last Monday it had been the former Ethiopian who had been Soboleva’s closest challenger but this was a different athlete on show this evening.
There was a fine 7:39.02 national record run for Ugandan Moses Kipsiro, the African 10,000m champion, who took the men’s 3000m with a confident and strong last 60 metres turn of speed. More surprising was the fact that entering into the final straight it looked like Ireland’s Alistair Cragg, the 2005 European Indoor 3000m champion, might pull off a victory. He was burnt away in the last sprint but still took away a 7:40.31 European lead in fifth.
Carter a cut above the rest
James Carter executed well in the men’s 400m Hurdles. The US champion powered to a 10 metre lead coming off the final bend, and though he was chased hard to the line by compatriot Angelo Taylor, the 2000 Olympic champion it was still a clear victory. Carter’s time was 48.61, with Taylor who has been swapping between 400m flat and hurdles races throughout the season defeated for the first time in 2007.
Rawlinson’s last barrier demise
Jana (former Pittman) Rawlinson, who won the 2003 World title in the women’s 400m Hurdles on this track looked set for another success but similarly to her run in Athens last Monday night, the Australian struggled coming into and off the last hurdle. However, while in the Greek capital Rawlinson had built up enough margin earlier on to finish the winner, tonight she was caught by Russia’s European champion Yevgeniya Isakova. The result was 54.56 to 54.93.
Atkins and Edwards take straightforward sprints victories
Derrick Atkins kept up his brilliant vein of form, though not sub-10 this time, to take the men’s dash in 10 seconds dead. That was by far and away enough for the Bahamian to see off USA’s Mark Jelks (10.09) and Shawn Crawford (10.13). Again conditions were still (-0.1m/s).
Torri Edwards was a gun-to-tape winner in the women’s 100m (+0.3m/s) in 11.17 in an uninspiring race, not in terms of the manner of the winner's controlled victory but in the times achieved. USA can celebrate all the same with a one-two-three-four sweep. World champion Lauryn Williams was third (11.25) following behind MeLisa Barber (11.19), while back in 7th was World 200m gold medallist Allyson Felix (11.34).
And finally, not wishing to end on a sour note, but lap counter chaos in the men’s 3000m Steeplechase left the field in confusion. The only thing certain is that France’s Bob Tahri was the victor over the full 3000m distance, the problem is that most of the field including the then leader Paul Kipsiele Koech had believed the race was over a lap earlier! In the confusion at least one barrier was also removed on the ‘final’ lap leading to question marks about the validity of the result at the time of writing.