Pamela Jelimo and David Rudisha contributed to an ominous demonstration of Kenyan middle distance power in Olympic year at the opening Samsung Diamond League meeting in Doha (11) as they produced 800 metres victories in, respectively, 1:56.94 and 1:43.10 – two in a total of nine world-leading performances – or 10 if you count the effort of 66.17m in the Javelin Throw by Barbora Spotakova which was surpassed by Mariya Abakumova’s 66.86 - on an evening of muggy heat and soaring achievement. There was also one equal world season leading performance and seven meeting records.
Kenya supplied four of the other best performances of 2012 as they saw off all Ethiopian opposition despite the fervent support of a dense, flag-waving crowd on the bottom bend.
World 5000 and 10,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot held off the desperate challenge of former Olympic 5000m champion Meseret Defar to win the 3000m in 8:46.44, Silas Kiplagat won the 1500m in 3:29.63, Paul Kipsiele Koech earned victory in the 3000m Steeplechase in 7:56.68 and – in a race that was not within the Diamond Race framework – Augustine Choge won the 3000m in 7:30.42, with double Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele labouring home in seventh place.
In the sprints, meanwhile, unexpected 100 metres victories by Justin Gatlin and Allyson Felix offered early evidence that Walter Dix, also a winner in the 200m in a meeting record of 20.02sec, may have been right to warn before this event that United States sprinters, who have spent four years trailing their Jamaican rivals, are due for a "breakout" year.
Kenyans and the two women Javelin throwers apart, the other 2012 best performances came from Jamaican Melaine Walker, who won the 400m Hurdles in 54.62sec and USA’s LaShawn Merritt, who earned a 400m victory in 44.19sec. Dimitrios Chondrokoukis of Greece equalled the best 2012 performance so far in winning the High Jump in 2.32m.
Jelimo looks on course to defend Olympic title in London
The Ethiopian contingent almost willed 19-year-old Ethiopian Fantu Magiso Manedo to what would have been a famous victory over an 800 metres field containing Jelimo and Janeth Jepkosgei, the reigning Olympic gold and silver medallists.
As the pacemaker drifted away at the start of the backstraight on the final lap, Jelimo, in a bright yellow top, moved smoothly to the front. But the green-vested Ethiopian was on her shoulder and, as they rounded the bend, moved past her to lead into the final straight.
The Ethiopian noise rose, and it seemed Manedo was on the brink of providing them with their desired result, but Jelimo demonstrated her class to pass the youngster halfway down the straight before crossing for a time that was not only he fastest yet seen this year but also a meeting record.
Manedo, acknowledging the crowd’s love from the far end, was rewarded with a national record of 1:57.90, with Jepkosgei finishing third in 1:58.50 in a classy race where the top seven finished under two minutes, with Britain’s Emma Jackson recording 1:59.37 for fifth place and Molly Beckwith of the United States clocking a season’s best of 1:59.51 one place behind her.
"It’s a good way for me to start the season," said Jelimo. "I hope my race in Doha will be the start for a good season and will help me win in the Olympics. Some people thought I was lost due to injury but today I proved I can defend my Olympic title."
Rudisha aiming to go one better than Coe
World champion and record holder Rudisha had to work to maintain the lead he held at the bell, but moved away over the final 50 metres from fellow Kenyan Job Kinyor, who was rewarded with a personal best of 1:43.76. It was also a great race for Britain’s aspiring Olympian Andrew Osagie, who was third in a personal best of 1:44.64.
"1:43.10 is a very good time for me," said Rudisha. "I know all the athletes want to beat me now but I am well prepared to face the challenge. Great 800m runners like Coe failed to win an Olympic gold but I will do my best to make it."
'Tense and fast’ to the line
The women’s 3000m race produced a finish that brought back memories of other epic Kenyan-Ethiopian struggles on the track such as Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat’s sprint finish in the Sydney Olympic 10,000m final as Cheruiyot maintained her lead despite a teeth-baring, desperate charge from Defar, who had to settle for second place, just five hundredths of a second behind, in 8:46.49.
"This was a great race, like an Olympic final," said Cheruyiot. "Tense and fast. The last metres were like a 100 metres race – very, very close and really fast."
Defar added: "I felt good, it was a really great race, until the last metres. I am back and I will do my best. Thanks to the fantastic support from the crowd today!"
Kiprop undone by Kiplagat
Kiplagat won a coruscating 1500 metres in 3:29.63, the fastest time recorded this year by more than five seconds, with two Kenyan rivals – Asbel Kiprop and Bethwell Birgen setting personal bests behind him.
But Kiprop, the Olympic champion, would have been justified in feeling victory should have been his as he looked strong as he took the lead at the head of the finishing straight only for his smaller compatriot to send him momentarily stumbling towards the infield after catching his right heel. As the long-legged Kiprop struggled to regain his stride Kiplagat took full advantage to move past, although he was chased to the line by his taller rival, who finished second in 3:29.78, eclipsing the 3:30.46 he set in Rieti two years ago.
Birgen was third in 3:31.17, with Kenya completing an ominous clean sweep as Nixon Chepseba was fourth in 3:31.32 and Collins Cheboi fifth in 3:32.64.
Mixed emotions in steeple and 3000 flat
Both winner and runner-up finished with broad smiles on their faces in the 3000m Steeplechase – they were looking at the trackside clock. Having broken clear of the field by the bell, Paul Kipsiele Koech, Diamond Trophy winner in 2010 and 2011, and his Kenyan compatriot Richard Kipkemboi Mateelong accelerated around the last lap, with the latter having to settle for second in a personal best of 7:56.81.
Choge, in a bright orange top, was pushed all the way to the line in the 3000m, the concluding event of the night and not part of the Diamond Race framework, by his Kenyan compatriot Eliud Kipchoge, the 2003 World 5000m champion, who finished in 7:31.40, with Moses Kipsiro of Uganda third in 7:31.88. Bekele looked disconsolate as he walked away having finished in 7:40.00. Not much for his legions of supporters to cheer on this occasion.
Powell surprised as US bounces back
Gatlin leaned on the line in the 100 metres to finish one hundredth of a second ahead of the man one lane to his left, Jamaica’s former World record holder Asafa Powell, clocking 9.87sec – the third fastest run this season. Powell had to settle for second in 9.88, with fellow Jamaican Lerone Clarke equalling his personal best of 9.99 in third place.
That put Gatlin third in the world list this year behind the 9.82 and 9.84 clocked respectively by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.
"If Usain Bolt has been watching, you know it has been great racing against him, but I want everyone to know Justin Gatlin is back, and I want the Olympic title," said the American. "The Jamaicans have got their team together well and so we have to do that as well. But the US has always had good is racers – we have Tyson Gay, Dix and me – I am back!"
Arch rival duel sees Felix 'get one over’ Campbell-Brown
If the World Indoor champion’s victory was something of a surprise, that of his female compatriot was more of one given that the 200 metres is her key event. But Felix got away to an excellent start in the short sprint and then held off the combined Jamaican power of Veronica Campbell-Brown, the World and Olympic 200m champion who earned 100m silver at last year’s IAAF World Championships in Daegu, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the Olympic 100m champion, winning in a meeting record of 10.92sec which was also a personal best by one hundredth of a second.
The normally placid Felix had sufficient space to punch the air once as she crossed the line, her ponytail swishing behind her. Campbell-Brown was second in 10.94, with Fraser-Pryce third in 11.00 in a race which saw Jamaica’s joint Olympic silver medallists Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson finish seventh and eighth in 11.16 and 11.22 respectively. USA 2, Jamaica 0.
"It was very good to get one over on Campbell, especially at 100m," said Felix. "It’s pretty cool. Jamaica have some really good racers, and I think the rivalry is good."
Campbell-Brown commented: "That was my first race of the season and I am sure I can improve. I keep working on until the Olympics."
Dix finished comfortably clear in the 200m, bettering the mark of 20.06sec set by his fellow countryman Ramon Clay. The double Olympic silver medallist was in full command of the race as the field came off the curve, and lengthened his lead in the straight. Churandy Martina, fourth in the Olympic 100m final, was second with 20.26, and Jaysuma Saidy Ndure of Norway third in 20.34. Dix thus moved to equal second in this year’s world rankings alongside fellow American Wallace Spearmon and behind Yohan Blake’s 19.91.
Abakumova gets the better of Spotakova again
It looked as if Spotakova was due to exact some early revenge for her defeat in last year’s World Championships by Abakumova when she launched the spear out to 66.17 with her opening effort, but the Czech Republic athlete had to settle for second again as the Russian responded with the third of her four throws. Christina Obergfoll of Germany was third with 64.59.
Bright Walker turns on the power
Walker, her hair dyed a flamboyant orange, was challenged over the early barriers in the 400m Hurdles by Perri Shakes-Drayton, but the Briton could not respond the Olympic champion and her Jamaican colleague Kaliese Spencer turned up the power. Spencer was second in 54.99, with Shakes-Drayton third in 55.25.
Merritt, assured victory
Merritt wound up his race in the 400m steadily, and was ahead as the field came to the straight, stretching his lead over the final 50 metres to finish with a time that was also a meeting record. Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic earned second place in a national record of 44.88, with Merritt’s compatriot Angelo Taylor, twice Olympic champion at 400m Hurdles, was third in a season’s best of 44.97. Britain’s Martyn Rooney, who had started fast before fading around the bend, finished strongly to clock 44.99 in fourth place.
Ostapchuk fires warning Shot to Kiwi rival
Nadezhda Ostapchuk, the World silver medallist from Belarus, gave early notice of her intentions in Olympic season as she won the Shot Put with a mighty opening effort of 20.53m, a meeting record, a season’s best and just 14cm shy of the effort set in February by the woman who beat her to the World title last year and succeeded her as Diamond Trophy winner, Valerie Adams.
"I expected a big throw here," Ostapchuk said. "If I can throw a personal best in London I think I will win the Olympic gold. It seems that one year I am the best in the world and the other year it is Valerie Adams! I believe it is now my turn to win."
None of the remaining field could get close to that opener in any of the four rounds, although Jillian Camarena-Williams of the United States came closest with a final throw of 19.81, her best of the early season.
Chondrokoukis and Menkov on top
The High Jump turned into a shoot-out between Chondrokoukis, Jesse Williams of the United States and Mickael Hanany of France, who all cleared 2.30, but only the Greek competitor could manage 2.32.
The anticipated meeting in the Long Jump between the two men who now share the British record of 8.35m – Chris Tomlinson and Greg Rutherford – failed to materialise as the former had to scratch from the competition.
Rutherford, who had equalled the British mark in San Diego a week earlier, has been operating this season with a revamped technique based on close study of the technique of Carl Lewis, who won the Olympic title four times in a row from 1984 to 1996.
A third round effort of 7.98, after two misfires, proved the Briton’s best on the night, but three men managed better marks, with South Africa’s Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena appearing to have done enough to win with jumps of 8.08m and then 8.10, only to see Russia’s Aleksandr Menkov take the honours with 8.22 in his fourth and final effort.
It was a startling performance from the 21-year-old World Indoor bronze medallist, given that he had fouled on all three previous jumps. The replays showed his toe a precautionary distance back from the board. Ndiss Kaba Badji of Senegal took third place behind Mokoena with 8.04.
Andrew Howe, Italy’s former World silver medallist, could only manage 7.16, finishing last of the eight competing jumpers.
Dominant Discus performance by Malachowski
A season’s best opening effort of 67.53m by Piotr Malachowski was enough to win Poland’s Olympic silver medallist and European champion the Discus Throw, but just to underline the point he produced the second furthest effort of the evening, 66.44, with the third of his four attempts.
Ehsan Hadadi of Iran was second with 66.32, ahead of Hungary’s Zoltan Kovago, whose 65.77 edged him ahead of Estonia’s Olympic champion Gerd Kanter, who managed 65.57.
Rypakova, Savchenko and Foster-Hylton take remaining honours
Olga Rypakova of Kazakstan won the Triple Jump with 14.33, with Keila Da Silva Costa of Brazil second in a season’s best of 14.31, with double Olympic champion Francoise Mbango Etone, now of France, having to settle for third with 14.09 – also a season’s best.
Anastasiya Savchenko of Russia won the Pole Vault with a personal best of 4.57m on countback from Germany’s Silke Spiegelburg, with Nkolia Kiriakopoulou of Greece heading three women on 4.50.
Victory in the 100m Hurdles went to Brigitte Ann Foster-Hylton of Jamaica, who finished in 12.60 ahead of Kellie Wells of the United States, who clocked 12.72.