Six Olympic champions in individual events were competing at the ISTAF in the Berlin Olympic Stadium on Sunday and three of them were victorious at this IAAF World Challenge Meeting.
While Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic took the 400m Hurdles and Berlin’s Robert Harting extended his unbeaten streak to 33 in front of an appreciative home crowd, the performance of the day came from Aries Merritt. The American won the 110m Hurdles with a meeting record of 12.97, improving the mark held by hurdling legends Roger Kingdom (USA) and Colin Jackson (Great Britain) by five hundredths of a second.
With 55,565 spectators the ISTAF is once again the one-day meeting that attracted the biggest number of spectators this year. Temperatures of 20 Celsius, dry and partly sunny weather provided very good conditions for Germany’s only major athletics meeting left on the calendar.
Men’s events - Merritt delighted with meeting record
Merritt was out of blocks and leading quickly, running in lane four. But fellow American Jeff Porter had a very good start too and was almost up to Merritt in the first part of the race. Though he soon lost contact this probably had spurred the Olympic champion on and by the 50-metre mark he was well clear of the rest of the field. Not slowing in the final part of the race he clocked the first sub-13 second time in the history of the ISTAF. Finishing with 12.97 with a slight tail wind of 1.2 he was almost half a second ahead of Ryan Wilson (USA/13.45). Belgian Adrien Deghelt took third with 13.62.
The record Merritt broke was a long-standing one. Back in 1989 Kingdom had run 13.02 - this was during the times of West Berlin when the wall that divided the city was still standing. Five years later Britain’s Colin Jackson duplicated the performances.
"I am happy about the meeting record. It means a lot and it was hard to break as Roger Kingdom and Colin Jackson had set it," said Merritt. "I am excited to have run sub 13 seconds once more. Today was not a World record but there is still next year."
The other Olympic hurdling champion, Sanchez, also did well, winning the 400m Hurdles in 48.89. But he had to do some running on the home straight to keep Jamaican Leford Green (49.06) behind. Michael Bultheel of Belgium took third with 49.30.
"It was very hard. I feel tired after a long season," said Sanchez. "I wanted to win here because I did not want to finish my season with a second place. I was hoping to run faster, a low 48 or even a 47.9 time. But I am glad it is over now. I need to rest and I now want to relax on the beach."
Fittingly to the Olympic season the 100m went to a Jamaican: Kemar Bailey-Cole won the race with 10.00 (+ 0.1 wind) from Kim Collins (St. Kitts and Nevis/10.07) and Jimmy Vicaut (France/10.12).
Three days after beating Olympic champion and World record holder David Rudisha in Zurich Mohammed Aman took another victory. This time the opposition was less strong, but it was not a slow race. The Ethiopian clocked 1:43.62, beating Kenyan Edwin Melly (1:44.36) and Dane Andreas Bube (1:45.12), who ran a strong final 200 metres.
In a close race four Kenyans clocked sub 3:34 times in the 1500m. Nixon Chepseba won with 3:33.11 from Bethwell Birgen (3:33.41), Caleb Ndiku (3:33.43) and Collins Cheboi (3:33.58).
While Russian Aleksandr Menkov took the Long Jump with 8.00m there was bad luck for the Olympic champion: Briton Greg Rutherford picked up an injury before the competition started and had to withdraw.
Reese Hoffa produced a highlight in the Shot Put earlier in the program, taking the event with 21.37m. After the bronze medal winner from London opened his competition with 20.86m he was surpassed in round two by Poland’s Tomasz Majewski. The Olympic Champion threw 21.31m while Hoffa improved to 21.13m. But in round three the American retook the lead. While he then produced three faults Majewski could not improve and had to settle for second. Ryan Whiting also passed the 21-metre line with 21.17m for third.
Germany’s silver medallist from London, David Storl, had no mark at his first three attempts and was the only one who missed the final rounds. The World Champion from Daegu 2011 has a calf injury which was also the reason why he had had no mark in Zurich four days earlier.
"I have been strong all year except at the Olympic Games. I need to do a better job at the major competitions," said Hoffa.
"A format like the ISTAF is easier for me to win than a big championship, I am more used to them – there is no TV or anyone else stopping us. I should have thrown better than today. There were slight technical mistakes and I am also a bit tired." Hoffa will conclude his season at Tuesday’s IAAF World Challenge Meeting in Zagreb.
Harting, Berlin’s favourite son, was as expected in the centre of attention. Getting huge applause the Olympic champion, who describes the Olympic Stadium as "my living room", opened with a 61.12m and then produced the biggest throw of the day with 67.40m to collect his 33rd straight victory. Harting then continued with 64.81m, 66.92m, 66.54m and 65.93m.
"At the beginning the competition was a bit bumpy, but I had a good feeling. My last few throws in training on Friday had been good. So I knew I would be able to achieve 66 or 67 metres," said Harting, who beat Virgilijus Alekna (Lithuania/66.63) and Piotr Malachowski (Poland/66.17) into second and third.
If you remember Harting hurdling after his gold medal in London that may well look even better next time as Merritt revealed he had done a training session with Harting: "He taught me the discus and I taught him the 110 metre Hurdles!"
Women’s events: Fine series from Heidler
As expected Betty Heidler produced an ambitious competition in front of a home crowd. Cheered on by the spectators the hammer thrower, who originally comes from Berlin but now lives in Frankfurt, opened her competition with a 74.35m effort. This one would already have been good enough for victory against a high-class field that included the Olympic champion Tatyana Lysenko (Russia) and Olympic silver medallist Anita Wlodarczyk (Poland). Though it is late in the season World record holder Heidler threw a great series. Cheered on by the crowd she continued with 74.41m, 73.92m, 74.80m, 75.18m and 73.99m. Yipsi Moreno (Cuba) took second with 73.87m, followed by Wlodarczyk (73.80m) and Lysenko (72.39m).
All three London medallists competed in the Javelin Throw, but none of them were at the top in the end. South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen took the honours with a fine 67.52m throw, which was her fourth best ever. She had produced an under par performance in London, where she threw 64.53m for a disappointing fourth place. At the ISTAF she showed her best performance for almost three months. After she had taken the lead with an initial throw of 64.07m it was not before the last round that there was a change. So far the Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova (Czech Republic) had only managed 62.47m, but her final throw was much more like the Spotakova we know. With 66.83m she had finally taken the lead and probably thought this would be enough. But Viljoen had other ideas, improving to a fine 67.52m in round six. Germany’s Christina Obergföll, who was second in London, was third with 62.57m while fellow-German Linda Stahl (third at the Olympics) followed in fourth (62.51m).
"I am not surprised to win today, because I have trained very hard during the last week. After Barbora’s last throw I told myself: I know I have it in me (to do better). I just always need to find the perfect rhythm," said Viljoen.
In a close finish Kenyan Pamela Jelimo won the 800m with 1:58.68 from Francine Niyonsaba (Burundi/1:58.67). "I expected to run 1:56, but maybe my body was not ready or too tired," Jelimo said. There was an Ethiopian victory in the 3000 m Steeplechase: Sofia Assefa ran 9:21.64 to deny Lydia Chepkurui (Kenya/9:22.27). Hiwot Ayalew (Ethiopia) was third with 9:25.29.
The Discus Throw took place a day earlier in Elstal at the old Olympic Village from 1936. Yarelys Barrios won the event with 66.59m, which is her second best result ever behind her 68.03m from spring this year. The Cuban had a series of 59.36m, 64.78m, 66.59m, x, x and 65.76m. Darya Pishchalnikova (Russia) took second with 65.47m while Germany’s Nadine Müller was third (64.34m).