Sandra Perkovic at the 2016 IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai (© Errol Anderson)
Sandra Perkovic loves Shanghai. And Shanghai loves Perkovic right back.
The roar that went up when Perkovic launched her winning throw in the discus was as loud as anything heard at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Shanghai stadium on Saturday (14).
Okay, the discus was in the early part of the programme, a good crowd was already in and looking for anything remotely cheer-worthy. But you could really feel the love.
It is not hard to see why, at least on Perkovic’s part.
She has set two Croatian records on previous visits to the IAAF Diamond League meeting in 2012 and 2014. She did not get one this time – that’s the problem of setting high standards – but her 70.88m winning effort was a world lead, an IAAF Diamond League record and, naturally, a meeting record.
On her most recent visit to China, Perkovic was defeated at the IAAF World championships Beijing 2015 by Denia Caballero but she also avenged that defeat on Saturday night.
Best of all, though, she feels she is at last in full health after some persistent injury problems.
“This victory means a lot to me,” said Perkovic. “To open the season with a meeting record and world lead is a great start.”
Perkovic continued: “I have never been in better shape and I am actually a little angry with myself that I didn’t throw a little further. Maybe I will do that at the Prefontaine Classic. For the first time in many years I am healthy without back, knee and ankle problems. I am 100 per cent healthy. I know I have to be in great shape to be in the fight to win gold and deliver my dream of gold at the Rio Olympics.”
Healthy Perkovic might have been, but her first throw – a sector foul well wide down the left-hand side – was enough to make anyone sick. Dani Samuels, the ultimate runner-up, led after the first round with an effort of exactly 64.00m.
Caballero, with 66.14m, and then Perkovic really got motoring in the second round.
The world champion took the lead with a 66.14m which remained her best of the competition. Perkovic, throwing after her in the order, responded with a 65.37m effort.
Round three saw Perkovic move into the lead with a 67.73m throw which produced the first crowd roar of the meeting. Her next effort, the 70.88m winner, eclipsed that for both distance and decibels.
Samuels produced a 67.77m final-round throw – close to her personal best of 67.99m and her third-best ever – to grab second place, while Su Xinyue delighted the home fans with her best of 64.45m, also in the last round.
Roberts upsets the favourites
The men’s shot put shared the early-evening limelight with the discus, and was a much closer competition. At the halfway point, world champion Joe Kovacs led world indoor champion Tom Walsh by just three centimetres, 20.82m to 20.79m, with two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski a further three centimetres behind.
Kovacs could not improve in distance, and remained in third place but both Walsh and and Kurt Roberts saved their best for their sixth and final efforts. Robert, down in fourth, threw 21.40m to take the victory – just a few centimetres shy of Kovacs’ 21.47m outdoor world lead – and then Walsh responded with 21.20m.
The next field event on the programme, the men’s pole vault, started early but was the last event to finish.
It also produced the evening’s biggest shock with Sam Kendricks making clutch third-attempt clearances at both 5.83m and 5.88m to hand a defeat to world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie.
Lavillenie had led with a second-time clearance at 5.83m, but failed twice at 5.88m and then elected to take his final attempt at 5.93m. He missed that, too, so Kendricks took the win and Lavillenie’s quest for a seventh straight Diamond Race victory got off to a losing start.
After all the talk of transition from indoor to outdoor seasons here, Ivana Spanovic made a seamless crossover from her world indoor silver medal in March to an IAAF Diamond League win.
Spanovic opened with a 6.95m effort which was good enough to stand up throughout the competition and broke the meeting record. Just in case, she had two more jumps farther than the best anyone else could produce.
Christabel Nettey edged Tianna Bartoletta out of second place on countback, both having a best of 6.75m, but Nettey backing that up with a 6.74m to Bartoletta’s 6.69m.
Sosthene Moguenara was also in the hunt for a top-three finish, but her 6.74m saw her finish fourth.
The men’s field events continued with what has become almost a Shanghai tradition: relatively moderate distances but extremely close competition.
China’s Gao Xinglong and South Africa’s Ruswahl Samaai both had a best distance of 8.14m, but Gao’s second-best 8.09m just trumped Samaai’s 8.07m, with Fabrice Lapierre third with 8.09m.
An 85.71m effort saw Thomas Rohler off to a winning start in the men’s javelin Diamond Race.
Len Johnson for the IAAF