The music of Chico and the Gypsies and the cheers from the packed Roi Baudoin stadium, as Prince Philippe of Belgium greeted the stars competing in this penultimate leg of the IAAF Golden League gave the off to an evening of music and athletics such as only the Van Damme Memorial can provide.
Wilson Kipketer may have been pushed by South Africa’s Hezekiel Sepeng in Seville, where the Dane won the dip to take the gold medal by 2 hundredths of a second, but he was not making the same mistakes here in Brussels. Paced by David Kiptoo through to the 600 metre mark, Kipketer took over the lead and chased by Sepeng kicked for home. This time there was no photo, with Sepeng never getting closer than a couple of metres behing Kipketer as the World Champion crossed the line in 1:42.29 (400m split 48.96), the fastest time in the world this year and Kipketer’s guarantee that he would go into the final leg of the IAAF Golden League with the hope of winning at least a half-share of the million dollar jackpot. The race was also one of the overall fastest on record, with the first four places all going under 1:43 and no fewer than three national records: Sepeng (RSA) with 1:42.69 in second place, Andre Bucher (SUI) 1:42.92 in fourth place and Djabir Said-Guerni (ALG) 1:43.09 in fifth place.
Moroccan phenomenon Hicham El Guerrouj recorded the second fastest performance ever in the 3000m, as he continued in his quest to bring all of the world records of the legendary Said Ouita back to Morocco. El Guerrouj’s time of 7:23.09 was less than two and a half seconds off the record of 7:20.67 set by Kenya’s Daniel Komen in Rieti on 1 September 1996 and gave El Guerrouj the satisfaction of setting a new national record for the distance. Kenyan Benjamin Limo took second place with 7:33.86 and El Guerrouj’s compatriot Smail Sghyr third, with 7:34.14. El Guerrouj was paced through 1000m in 2:27.27 by Vyacheslav Shabunin (RUS) and through 2000 in 4:53.55 by France’s Abdelkader Chekhemani.
Meanwhile, Kenya's latest pretendant to El Guerrouj's record store, Noah Ngeny was making yet another attempt at the Moroccan's 1500m record. Once more unsuccessfully, this time clocking 3:29.19. His next attempt will be at the 1000m in Rieti on Sunday.
Michael Johnson’s promise of a fast 200m was fulfilled, as the Waco Express powered through the race from the blocks and came home in 19.92, metres ahead of second-placed Claudinei Da Silva, who was timed across the line in 20.10 to the delight of 50,000 spectators filling the stands.
In a repeat of a scene we have witnessed throughout the IAAF Golden League this year, Romania’s Gabriela Szabo streaked home to ensure her place in the final trial of the series and a chance of winning the million dollars prize at the end of the trail. Despite a spirited attack from Zahra Ouaziz, who had led for much of the later stage of the race, until Szabo took over the lead two hundred metres from the finish line, the slight Romanian managed to hold her lead to the end, going through the photocell in 8:25.82 for a new meeting record. Ouaziz clocked 8:27.01 in second place. Portuguese 1500m specialist gave an excellent performance, to take third place in 8:32.45. Afterwards, Szabo said that she would not just be happy to win in Berlin:"Of course I’m very happy with the win, as from now on I will only be concentrating on Berlin.I want to win, but I also want to run a fast time in Berlin."
The crowd roared and the whole stadium was on its feet as Belgian athlete Mohammed Mourhit set a new European record of 26:52.30 in the 10,000m. Little import the fact that it was a relatively unknown Kenyan athlete who crossed the line first, It was Mourhit’s race as far as his home crowd was concerned, their boy and their record. Charles Kehmati was the man who made all the running in the last 1500 metres and stopped the clock at 26:51.49, after Kenya’s Paul Koech had dropped back to let the pair go through after leading from the 6000 metre mark. Splits for the race: 1000m 2:43..89; 2000, 5:22.33; 3000, 8:02.75; 4000, 10:45.19; 5000, 13:25.09; 6000, 16:09.39; 7000, 18:50.04; 8000, 21:36.00; 9000m 24:16.08. One of the rare results previously recorded for Kehmati was a win in the regional police championships in Kenya
Mark Crear (USA) had the satisfaction of taking first place in the men’s 110m hurdles, after suffering the disappointment of being disqualified for two false starts in Seville. Crear ran a faultless race to cross the line just three-hundredths ahead of his compatriot Larry Wade."Today I wanted to prove to myself and he rest of the world I was still the best hurdler. You know, all those false starts at the world championships, they kept me out of the final. Something went wrong over there and I was very,very disappointed, but I proved today my start is correct!"
The long-running rivalry between Mozambican 800m star Maria Mutola and Ludmila Masterkova over the distance saw the victory of Masterkova, with a short head between the two, as the Russian crossed the finish in 1:57.18 to Mutola’s 1:57.67. World Champion Ludmila Formanova (CZE) took third, with a time of 1:57.91.
"My tactics where wrong in this race," said Formanova after the race. "I made at least three mistakes. It went wrong after 100 meters when we left our lanes, an also I had to move out wide to try to beat Masterkova, but it didn’t worked. I can’t be satisfied".
Greece’s Kostas Gatsioudis had the satisfaction of taking gold in Brussels as a small measure of compensation for his last ditch defeat by Finland’s Aki Parviainen in Seville. This time the Greek won with his first throw of 87.26m, with Raymond Hecht of Germany taking second place with his third attempt of 86.10. Boris Henry of Germany took bronze. Parviainen pulled out all the stops with his final throw, but had to settle for 6th place, with a mark of 80.88 metres.
Nezha Bidouane got some satisfaction from her victory after her surprise defeat in Seville by Cuba’s Daimi Pernia, who came from behind to beat the Moroccan at the line. Tonight it was Bidouane all the way home, as she and Deon Hemmings (JAM) came out of the final bend and into the back straight neck and neck and cleared the final hurdle with nothing between the two. But coming off the hurdle, it was Bidouane who pulled into the lead crossing the line nearly a stride ahead of Deon Hemmings, with Permia finishing in fifth place, complaining of a sharp pain in the hamstring.
"I’m very satisfied with the race," said Bidouane afterwards, ""it’s a kind of revenge for my second place in Seville.
"The Brussels Grand Prix is my favourite meeting because of the warm welcome I receive from the Moroccan people living in Belgian. It’s like one big family supporting me."
Inger Miller repeated her success in Seville, as she dominated the women’s 200m ahead of Jamaica’s Beverley McDonald and Debbie Ferguson from the Bahamas. "But it’s still difficult, you know. Seville was a hard week, a lot of runs: 100m, 200m, relays… You need some rest afterwards. But I’m still motivated to beat everyone. That includes the girls who stood on the rostrum together with me in Spain. That’s my job, you know: winning races!"
Any doubts about Bernard Barmasai’s ability in the steeplechase were rapidly dispelled this evening, as the world record holder took over the running after just the first 1000 metres and led the field for the rest of the way home, rapidly building up a lead of more than twenty metres ahead of second-placed Christopher Koskei, with Wilson Boit Kipketer in third place. Crossing the finish line in 8:03:08, his time this evening was the second best performance of the season, with only his own clocking in Monaco (7:59.98) improving on this.
In the absence of Maurice Greene, it was Seville silver medallist Bruny Surin from Canada who was first across the line in 10.04, ahead of Greene’s training partner Jon Drummond (10.08) and Kareem Streete-Thompson (CAY) 10.20.
It took just one bound of 8.40 metres for World Champion Ivan Pedroso (CUB) to win the long jump competition here. One jump, because all of the Cuban’s other attempts were fouled, but it was enough to beat Jamaica’s James Beckford’s best effort of 8.28. As Spain’s Yago Lamela learnt to his cost in Seville, when Pedroso is on form he is unbeatable.
In the women’s high jump, Kajsa Bergqvist (SWE) won on count back with a clearance of 1.97, with young South African revelation Hestrie Storbeck-Cloete taking second place with the same height. Seville gold medallist Inga Babakova cleared 1.95 for third place.
Jeff Hartwig (USA) compensated for his disqualification in Seville (for being timed out) by winning the pole vault here with a new meeting record of 5.95. Danny Ecker of Germany took joint second place with World Champion Maksim Tarasov, both athletes clearing 5.90m.
The final leg of the IAAF Golden League takes place in Berlin on 7 September and will be followed by the IAAF Grand Prix Final in Munich on 11 February, with over 3 Million Dollars in prize money for the winners of the overall and individual Grand Prix events in the Final.
Sean Wallace-Jones for the IAAF