Abderrahman Samba produced yet another extraordinary exhibition of 400m hurdles running at the Meeting de Paris IAAF Diamond League meeting in the Charlety Stadium on Saturday (30) as he became only the second man to run the event in under 47 seconds, clocking 46.98 – just 0.20 off the world record Kevin Young set in winning the 1992 Olympic title.
The way this 22-year-old is going on, he could be past Young’s mark before the season is up. As it is he has eclipsed the achievement of 20-year-old Antiguan athlete Rai Benjamin earlier this month in equalling the second best time ever run, 47.02, which was originally set by the great Ed Moses.
In his wake, Samba left the defending Diamond League champion, Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Island, who took second place in a personal best and national record of 47.54, and a dejected looking world champion, Karsten Warholm, third in 48.06.
This was Samba’s fifth consecutive Diamond League victory of the season, a run during which his time has come down from 47.57. That was a Diamond League and national record in Doha, and he improved to 47.48 in Rome – also an Asian record – before this latest, and largest, leap forwards.
Warholm, beaten on three previous occasions by his fellow 22-year-old, had promised he would stick to his usual tactic of storming away from the start and did so. But McMaster, one lane inside him, had drawn level as they got into the final bend, and as the field moved into the straight the Norwegian was already a pale and fading force, stumbling a little after clearing the final hurdle, as Samba, one lane inside McMaster, came romping through to win.
The rangy winner was interviewed on the track after his race, but was unable to articulate much beyond a huge roar of emotion.
“I said it even before – I want to become the fastest man in the world and I work hard to achieve it,” Samba said. “It definitely didn’t feel like an under 47 seconds race today. I made a small mistake at the start, lost my balance on the first hurdle, so I did not expect to run so fast.
“But if feels great to be the second fastest man in history. The world record is getting close but I just want to improve step by step and to run fast. I improved my technique since last year and who knows, maybe I can be one second faster next year.”
Baker improves to 9.88, equals world lead
Ronnie Baker of the United States concluded the evening’s track entertainment by winning the 100m in a personal best of 9.88, thus equalling the fastest time run so far this season, achieved by his compatriot Noah Lyles in this month’s US Championships as Baker himself finished second in what was his previous best of 9.90.
There was a huge flourish too for home sprinter Jimmy Vicaut, who took second in a season’s best of 9.91 ahead of China’s Su Bingtian, credited with the same time, which thus equalled his own personal best and Asian record.
South Africa’s Commonwealth champion Akani Simbine was fourth in 9.94.
While Samba moved to within one step of the summit in his event, Benjamin – newly professional at the end of what has already been a long season for the University of Southern California, for whom he ran his startling time – was testing himself out over 200m along with his college team-mate Michael Norman, who had himself won an NCAA title, over the 400m flat, in an extraordinary time of 43.61, the fastest run so far this season.
Norman, making his Diamond League debut, won in a personal best of 19.84, with his team-mate Benjamin also breaking 20 seconds with 19.99 – both proudly wearing their USC running shirts.
Ecuador’s Alex Quinonez, who has run 19.93 this season, also distinguished himself with a time of 20.08 despite being given the inside lane.
On an evening that remained warm throughout the programme, these performances certainly made good on this meeting’s 2018 tagline – Speed in Paris.
However the tag did not apply in the expected fashion to the Ivory Coast’s meeting poster girl Marie-Josee Ta Lou. The world 100 and 200m silver medallist, who has won virtually every race this season, was clearly out of sorts in her 200m race here, grimacing her way down the finishing straight before finishing third in a relatively disappointing 22.50 in a race won by Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson in 22.05 from Jenna Prandini of the United States, who clocked 22.30.
8:59.36 world lead for Chepkoech, 49.55 Asian record for Naser
The women’s 3000m steeplechase that was next on the track produced another memorable piece of running as Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech held off the challenge of her 19-year-old compatriot Celliphine Chespol over the final lap to win in a personal best of 8:59.36, the fastest run this season.
Chespol clocked a season’s best of 9:01.82, with two other Kenyans taking the next two places – 2015 world champion Hyvin Kiyeng clocking 9:03.86 and Norah Jeruto 9:04.17.
Salwa Naser of Bahrain joined Samba as an Asian record-breaker on the night as she won the 400m in smooth and economical fashion in 49.55, way clear of the nearest challenger, Jessica Beard, who recorded 50.39.
World champion Phyllis Francis of the United States was third in 50.50.
The men’s 110m hurdles event, so talent-packed it required two heats to sort out the strongest eight, ended in anti-climax as the runner who looked the pick of the bunch ended up as a furious spectator.
The final had been preceded by two recalls, the first of which saw South Africa’s Antonio Alkana given a yellow warning card, and the second of which put a hugely unimpressed Sergey Shubenkov out of the race.
Shubenkov, winner of the world title in 2015 and a silver medallist last year as an Authorised Neutral Athlete, is training to be a lawyer, and he was clearly putting his eloquence to work with officials before inspecting a screen with his reaction information in a swoosh of green graphic information.
It was a long way to come for nothing – having left his month-old son back home. Perhaps he will gain some consolation from the form he showed in winning his heat in 13.05, having deliberately slowed over the final 10 metres. And perhaps not. He looked well capable on a muggy night of beating his season’s best of 12.99.
As the race got away third time round, it was won in 13.18 by Jamaica’s Ronald Levy, with Hansle Parchment of Jamaica second in 13.22.
Cheruiyot 3:29.17 world lead
Nobody has yet worked out how to beat Kenya’s world 1500m silver medallist Timothy Cheruiyot this season. He produced another consummately controlled performance to win in the fastest time seen so far this year, 3:29.71, ahead of Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman, who clocked 3:31.77, and fellow Kenyan Charles Simotwo, who recorded 3:32.61.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF