London, UKAries 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 – Samsung Diamond League on Friday (13).
Renaud Lavillenie suffered his first defeat of the season, and Britain found another Olympic hopeful as Perri Shakes-Drayton shook up the world lists in the women’s 400m Hurdles with a big personal best.
Merritt equals his world lead
But while it was an evening of shock and joy for Shakes-Drayton, there was big disappointment for Liu Xiang, who pulled out of the 110m hurdles final with a back problem after winning his heat of the 110m Hurdles in the early evening rain.
Merritt showed Liu Xiang what he’ll have to beat in a few weeks’ time to regain his Olympic title as he powered to victory ahead of World champion Jason Richardson in 12.93 (+0.6), a meeting record and the fastest time ever seen in the UK.
If the injury wasn’t worrying enough for Liu Xiang, then Merritt’s post-race assessment that he’s yet to hit his best will surely throw another handful of salt into Liu Xiang’s wounds.
"It was still not my best because I still don’t feel right from coming off the plane," said Merritt. "But it was pretty darn good and I’m pretty excited with the result.
"I equalled my world lead time so I’m happy with that.
"This meet gives me confidence coming into the Games because it shows that I can run in any conditions: rain, cold. I can run in it and I can run fast."
US athletes filled the first six places with Ryan Wilson third behind Richardson’s 13.06 in 13.18, a season’s best. Britain’s Andrew Pozzi failed to finish, faulting at the third hurdle.
Culson subdues while Shakes-Drayton uplifts home crowd
Any thoughts that the sodden tracks would lead to caution and slow times was blown out of the cool soggy air in the first two track finals of the night, two cracking 400m Hurdles in which Culson repeated his Paris victory over Dai Greene in exactly the same world leading time, and Shakes-Drayton shattered her personal best to go second in the world season lists.
Culson maintained his unbeaten 2012 record in now familiar fashion, going off hard and hanging on to stay ahead of Britain’s fast-finishing World champion.
Greene was third as they entered the straight and caught Angelo Taylor on the run-in but he couldn’t get so close to Culson this time. The Briton clocked 48.10, his third fastest ever with Taylor running a season’s best of 48.43 in third.
Shakes-Drayton took nearly a second and a half off her season’s best to beat a field containing Russia’s new European champion Irina Davydova and Jamaica’s Olympic champion Melaine Walker.
The 23-year-old, who lives and trains less than a mile from the Olympic Stadium, and hadn’t run faster than 55.25 this year, became an instant medal contender for the Games as she stormed past the Russian coming off the bend to record 53.77.
That equals Davydova’s 2012 best at number two in the world, and puts her just 0.03s behind Sally Gunnell in the UK all-time lists.
No one looked more surprised than the winner who brought some much-needed warmth to the partisan crowd.
"I’ve got to make it to the [Olympic] final now," she said.
Behind her Davydova ran 54.63 with Kaliese Spencer beating Walker into third in 55.08.
Gay builds confidence
The anticipated 100m clash between Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell was scuppered when the Jamaican pulled out of the meeting on Friday morning, citing "some soreness in my groin since the Olympic trials".
"I have been unable to train at 100 per cent," he said. "I need to ensure I’m ready for the Games and cannot take any risks. I will be ready in August."
In the event it was USA one-two, Jamaica three-four, as Gay enjoyed his second victory in a week.
Just as he did against Justin Gatlin in Paris last Friday, Gay started poorly but turned on the boosters over the final 20 metres. This time he surged past Ryan Bailey, Nesta Carter and Michael Frater to win in 10.03.
The time won’t set the world alight but the likes of Usian Bolt and Yohan Blake should note Gay’s finishing strength. He won’t be far away come London 2012.
"I got the race in and I got another win under my belt which gives me a little bit of confidence going into the Games," said Gay.
The tall, powerful Bailey sneaked into second in 10.09, with Carter third in 10.13.
Birmingham harries but Farah prevails and stuns with finish
As in 2011, Mo Farah brought the Crystal Palace crowd to its feet with a stunning finish that sets him up for the big championships to come.
Twelve months ago he set British jaws dropping at the end of a slow 3000m. This time he produced a 1:53.5 800m at the end of the 5000m to take 30 metres out of the dogged Australian Collis Birmingham.
After making his way slowly up the field as the race unfolded through splits of 2:35.49, 5:16.07, 7:58.38 and 10:39.11, Farah moved into the lead two laps out ahead of a group of five, taking Birmingham and Moses Kipsiro with him.
Birmingham hung on to Farah’s heels at the bell but the Briton kicked again 300m out and raced home in 13:06.04 acknowledging the raucous support of the crowd with his 'Mobot’ salute on the finish line.
Birmingham was rewarded for his bravery with a personal best of 13:09.57 while Kipsiro was third in 13:09.98.
"It’s always good to work on my speed," said Farah.
Cheruiyot in control
Vivian Cheruiyot did enough to stretch her unbeaten record over 5000m to 11 in the earlier women’s race, outkicking Mercy Cherono over the last 600m to win in 14:48.86.
Splits of 2:57.77, 6:00.06, 9:03.54 and 12:01.17 left three Kenyans and two Ethiopians clear of Britain’s Juliet Bleasdale as the steady pace hotted up in the closing stages.
Cheruiyot and Cherono took the lead from Linet Masai and pulled away to conduct a private battle over the last lap. Cheruiyot was always in control and eased ahead in the straight without needing to call on her full sprinting power.
Cherono and Masai recorded season’s bests in second and third, 14:49.26 and 14:53.93 respectively, while Bleasdale was dragged to huge best of 15:10.06.
Bahrain’s two-time former World champion Maryam Yusuf Jamal beat USA’s reigning World champion Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1500m despite running some four seconds slower than she did in Paris a week ago. Jamal opened a large gap on the finishing straight as she won the rush for home after a tactical race in 4:06.78.
Simpson was second in 4:07.76 with Anna Pierce third in 4:08.06.
Elsewhere during an exciting but damp, chilly evening…
Charonda Williams held off Anneisha McLaughlin to win the women’s 200m in 22.75 (-0.5) with Bianca Knight third.
The Pole Vault was delayed by 30 minutes by rain, but it didn’t do Lavillenie much good as he managed just one successful clearance, at 5.40 before going out at 5.56.
That was more than Steve Hooker managed, however, as the Olympic champion failed to clear a height while Björn Otto went on to win with a third time clearance at 5.74.
Romain Mesnil and Raphael Holzdeppe both cleared 5.66 with Mesnil claiming second place after going over on his second attempt.
Mitchell Watt extended his season’s best by 7cm to win the men’s Long Jump, the best of the night’s field events. The Australian leapt 8.28 in round three and followed it up with 8.25 in the fifth.
Chris Tomlinson also seems to be finding his form at the right time. The Briton had five jumps over eight metres, ending with 8.26 to take him into second, 2cm ahead of South African Godfrey Mokoena.
Anna Chicherova had a below par night in the High Jump as Chaunte Lowe was the only woman to clear 2.00m. Tia Hellebaut managed 1.97 on her third attempt, enough to claim second with Ruth Beitia and Chicherova tying third at 1.94.
Gerd Kanter beat Virgilijus Alekna in the men’s Discus Throw, but the wet circle meant it wasn’t a night for big throws. The Estonian was happy to win with a best of 64.85 from the second round. His fifth round throw was also better than anyone else, 64.15.
Alekna was second with 63.71 and Lawrence Okoye third, 63.33.