Caterine Ibarguen winning the triple jump at the 2014 Ponce Grand Prix (© Rafael Contreras / organisers)
World champions Lashawn Merritt and Caterine Ibarguen confirmed their superb early season form as they improved their own world-leading 400m and triple jump marks at the 8th Ponce Grand Prix, an IAAF World Challenge meeting, in Puerto Rico on Saturday (17).
Coming off his first IAAF Diamond League win in Doha eight days before, Merritt took control early in his race and the US sprinter finished strongly as usual with an impressive 44.14, 0.3 faster than his previous world-leading 44.44 and almost a second faster than the previous meeting record of 45.01, which had been set in 2008.
“I came out to run fast. I did not set any goals time wise. I just wanted to put on a good show for the fans and I would like to thank them for their support,” the two-time world champion over one lap of the track told the 12,000 crowd.
Dominican Republic’s world and Olympic medallist Luguelin Santos was also satisfied with his 44.53 for second place, just 0.08 outside his own national record while USA’s David Verburg was third in 45.03.
Jamaica’s Patricia Hill took the women’s 400m race in 51.56.
Ibarguen impressed the crowd in a place which she considers her second home, where she studied at university, with a world-leading distance of 14.87m in the opening round to extend her winning streak to 13. She has not been beaten in the triple jump since she took the silver medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
“I would like to dedicate this performance to my coach on his birthday and to Puerto Rico for all their love and support,” said Ibarguen, who earned a nursing degree at the nearby Metropolitan University.
Her countrywoman Yorsiris Urrutia improved her personal best by almost half a metre for second with 14.47m to make it a one-two for Colombia. Cuba’s two-time world medallist Mabel Gay settled for third in a season’s best of 14.42m.
Ahye out quick
Michelle-Lee Ahye, from Trinidad and Tobago, confirmed her good form early this year by taking the women`s 100m in a personal best of 11.04, the second-fastest time in the world this year. She beat five women who have broken the 11-second barrier with USA’s Alex Anderson a distant second in 11.24.
Local hero Javier Culson ended the evening on a high note by taking the 400m hurdles in 48.69, without much opposition from USA’s second-placed Jeshua Anderson, who crossed the line in 49.22.
“I am trying a new race pattern and I lost my rhythm between hurdles eight and nine. This is very special to race in front of my people. This is where I broke the Puerto Rican record and doors started to open up to me to race internationally. I also loved to see young Puerto Ricans taking on my event,” said Culson, surrounded by lots of fans and family members on the track, and also reflecting on the fact that there were three other local athletes in his race.
The women’s race was taken by the USA’s Olympic finalist Georganne Moline who eclipsed the previous meeting record with a 54.67 run.
The almost sold out crowd was also pleased with the duel over two laps of the track between USA’s Duane Solomon and the Puerto Rican record-holder, 20-year old emerging talent Wesley Vazquez.
After pacemaker Matthew Scherer passed the bell in 50.87, Solomon took the lead and held off his younger training partner to win in a meeting record of 1:44.79, ahead of Vazquez who was second in 1:45.40, but who also ran faster than the previous meeting record.
“I wanted to run faster today, but it was not possible. We had a good run and I was tired towards the end,” said Solomon. He and their coach, US record-holder Johnny Gray, praised Vazquez’s potential.
Despite a head wind of -1.5m/s, 2009 world silver medallist Alonso Edwards posted a respectable 20.23 to take the men’s 200m, only 0.02 outside the meeting record.
Pars produces in Ponce
This year's Ponce Grand Prix also served as the first stop for men and second one for women in the 2014 IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge.
Hungary’s Olympic champion Krisztian Pars, second in the 2013 challenge, broke the meeting and the Puerto Rican all-comers' records twice with second and fifth-round efforts of 78.08m and 79.31m. He was followed by Slovakia’s World University Games champion Marcel Lomnicky with 77.48m.
With the women’s hammer being contested for the first time in Ponce, USA’s world finalist Amanda Bingson became the inaugural winner and meeting record-holder with a 72.16m effort, ahead of her countrywoman Gwen Berry, who threw 71.46m.
Back on the track, USA’s Gabe Grunewald became the inaugural winner of the 3000m in 8:53.38. Beverly Ramos finished strong to break her own Puerto Rican record by two seconds with 8:57.68.
Other winners were 2008 Olympic silver medallist Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago, who took the 100m in 10.21, Barbados's Shane Brathwaite, who won the 110m hurdles in 13.37, and USA’s Jeff Henderson, who won the long jump with 8.02m.
USA’s Mary Saxer won the women’s pole vault with 4.58m ahead of Cuba’s world indoor champion Yarisley Silva, whose poles were still in transit from Doha where she competed just over a week ago and so had to use borrowed equipment and was second with 4.48m.
Javier Clavelo Robinson for the IAAF