Bogdan Bondarenko at the 2016 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome (© Gladys Chai)
There were 37,727 spectators in Rome’s Olympic Stadium for the IAAF Diamond League meeting on Thursday (2), and the vast majority of them saved their loudest cheers for local hero high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi, who put almost as much effort into rousing them to greater decibels as he did into a compelling competition which was eventually won by Ukraine’s 2013 world champion Bohdan Bondarenko.
The cheers for Italian high jumper Marco Fassinotti were considerable as he was introduced to the crowd, but the noise level did not compare to that which greeted his compatriot Tamberi, the world indoor champion, who milked and encouraged the applause with upward gestures of his arms.
The cheers grew louder as the dashing local hero cleared the relatively modest heights of 2.20m and 2.24m with his first attempts.
At this point it all looked so easy that he appeared to be putting more effort into his rousing of the spectators.
He looked in trouble at 2.27m, but made a clearance with his third and final attempt. The decibel level rose with his arms as he walked from the landing area; the Olympic Stadium welcomed the extension of the drama into at least another act.
Having spent the past couple of months in heavy training, Tamberi was not expecting to reach massive heights on the night, especially as he was using a shortened run-up, so he was genuinely thrilled to clear 2.30m at the second attempt, to the now-expected bedlam.
This was as far as the 24-year-old could go, however, and he finished third behind the man he beat to world indoor gold, Great Britain’s Robbie Grabarz, who earned second place on countback, while victory went to the European record-holder Bondarenko, who was the only man to clear 2.33m before bring the bar down three times at 2.37m.
“It seems like I had forgotten how to jump high, but today I started to feel the technique for the first time,” said Bondarenko, ominously.
Mutaz Essa Barshim, second on the world all-time list with his 2.43m from 2014, is making a consciously gentle start to what will be a long and critical season. Although he feels it will work for him eventually, he makes no secret of the fact that he is not loving it right now.
Barshim managed just 2.27m in sixth place, albeit a season’s best, but one place below Fassinotti on the same height.
Olympic champions fighting for fitness
The field events featured three reigning Olympic champions seeking to regain full fitness ahead of their title defences in Rio this summer: Czech javelin thrower Barbara Spotakova, shot putter Valerie Adams of New Zealand and German discus thrower Robert Harting.
For the 31-year-old Harting, who completed a hat-trick of world titles in 2013, this was the start of his season proper after missing all of last year through injury. It proved a salutary marker as he had to settle for third place with 63.96m, nearly seven metres short of his personal best, in a competition won by Poland’s world bronze medallist Robert Urbanek with a second-round effort of 65.00m.
Asked about his comeback, Harting’s response was characteristically strong: “A the moment I am angry about my last attempt. It had everything, just the angle was wrong. I do not feel fresh, my knee problems still persist, but the chest muscle is OK now. I need time and I need liveliness.”
Urbanek’s compatriot and world champion Piotr Malachowski had a night to forget and finished down in sixth, his lowest placing in any competition for almost three years, with 63.23m.
Adams, who underwent shoulder and elbow surgery last year, didn’t look much more impressed than Harting with her efforts on the night but they were enough to earn her victory through a season’s best of 19.69m, with Anita Marton of Hungary second with 18.98m.
“This competition was good, I will take the win,” said Adams. “I guess this year I am more motivated than ever, 2016 is Olympic year. Last year was really tough for me. I am really good today.”
Like Harting, Spotakova has more work to do to regain her former pre-eminence, having emerged from injury. She could only manage 59.82m, which earned her sixth place in a low-key competition won by South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen with 61.95m, three centimetres ahead of Latvia’s Madara Palameika.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF