Caster Semenya en route to her sensational 1:54.25 run in Paris (© Kirby Lee)
World and Olympic 800m champion Caster Semenya ran a race of brutal simplicity at the Meeting de Paris IAAF Diamond League stop at the Charlety Stadium on Saturday (30) to record her fastest ever time of 1:54.25 – putting her fourth on the all-time world list - after leading from gun to tape.
It was an uncharacteristically bold effort from the South African. In a race without pacemakers, Semenya did her own work to go through the bell in 56.12 before pushing on with only the Rio 2016 silver medallist Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi, able to stay in touch. As the two reached the final straight, however, Semenya was five metres clear and moving away.
Niyonsaba finished in a season’s best of 1:55.86, with Ajee Wilson of the United States third in 1:57.11.
“In Oslo we were not very happy about the pace so I said ‘No pace this time,’” Semenya explained. “See what you can get out of it. But 1:54.25…I did not expect that. I was thinking 1:54.99 could be possible but this was great.”
Lasitskene tops world-leading 2.04m for 45th straight victory
Double world champion Mariya Lasitskene, unbeaten in her previous 44 high jump competitions, had welcomed the presence of Belgium’s world and Olympic heptathlon champion Nafissatou Thiam, who set a personal best of 2.01m earlier this month.
But once that had been made clear, the Russian currently operating as an Authorised Neutral Athlete moved ruthlessly in pursuit of win number 45, winning the competition with a clearance of 2.00m and skipping on to clear a season’s best and meeting record of 2.04m before taking three unsuccessful attempts at 2.08m.
Thiam was a highly respectable runner-up on 1.97m, beating Ukraine’s world silver medallist Yuliya Levchenko, who also cleared that height, on countback.
“I was pleased I was able to show the meeting record to this amazing crowd, and I felt really able to show an even higher jump,” said Lasitksene. “I felt very good over the bar at 2.08. I know what to work on now and I just need to continue jumping.”
Thiam reflected: “This gave me confidence so that I will be comfortable before the European Championships, where I will be fully focused on the heptathlon, which is my event.”
Kendricks ups world lead to 5.96m
A men’s pole vault competition that lived up to all expectations was eventually won by world champion Sam Kendricks with 5.96m, the highest vault of the year so far.
The genial American needed to draw on all his reserves, however, to hold off the youthful challenge of the event’s rising force, Sweden’s 18-year-old Armand “Mondo” Duplantis, who cleared 5.90m at his third attempt – a height which eventually did for the determined challenge of local hero Renaud Lavillennie – to stay competitive.
After two failures at 5.95m – two centimetres higher than his best – Duplantis demonstrated the competitiveness that will surely earn him tangible reward sooner rather than later as he elected to move to 6.01m, even though it proved beyond him. Who dares wins…in future.
Lavillenie looked a little deflated after settling for third place with 5.84m, which was also cleared by Poland’s Piotr Lisek and Shawn Barber of Canada. But at least, at this stage of the season, he is fully fit, unlike last year when he failed at 5.77m here.
Another meeting record for Perkovic
Once again, Sanda Perkovic achieved her target in the women’s discus – the opening Diamond League event of an evening that started with temperatures still up at around 30C, albeit with a gathering wind.
With her second throw, Croatia’s world and Olympic champion – who is seeking a seventh successive Diamond League title – hurled the disc out to 68.60m, thus surpassing by 12cm her own meeting record of 2014.
She wanted to maintain her run of meeting records in this year’s competition following her victories in Doha and Rome. Tick that box.
“Coming here I was feeling like chasing the meeting record and I am glad I managed it – but I feel like the throw was not enough so maybe at the next meeting I will be in a better shape,” said Perkovic.
“I have three major goals this year – European Championships, the Diamond League final and the IAAF Continental Cup. I want to be the one to beat in Berlin so I am going to prepare 100 per cent on this now.”
Cubans Yaime Perez and Denia Caballero finished second and third with 66.55m and 63.13m respectively.
Fedrick Dacres of Jamaica earned his third Diamond League win of the season in the men’s discus with an effort of 67.01m, with Germany’s Olympic champion Christoph Harting second on 64.80 and Poland’s Robert Urbanek third with 64.68.
Ibarguen sails 14.83m
Caterine Ibarguen, Colombia’s Olympic triple jump champion, turned 34 this year – but she showed again tonight that she has still got what it takes to keep her younger rivals at bay. Although Yulimar Rojas of Venezuela dropped out of the lists the day before the meeting, 25-year-old Tori Franklin of the US, who leads this year’s world lists with 14.84m, was very much in contention, as was Jamaica’s Commonwealth champion Kimberly Williams.
After Franklin had established an early second round lead with 14.49m, Williams moved past her with 14.56m. But in the third round Ibarguen hit her rhythm to move clear of the pack with 14.83m, equalling her season’s best.
Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich was a barnstorming winner of the men’s non-Diamond League 800m race, coming from well back in the final straight to overhaul his flagging fellow countryman Jonathan Kitilit in the final strides to record a season’s best of 1:43.73.
Kitilit was second in 1:43.83 in a race which generated an unusual volume of support given the presence of home world champion Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, whose relative lack of racing this season saw him flag at the finish, dropping to seventh in 1:45.19.
There was drama, but not of a good kind, for home sprinter Christophe Lemaitre, as he pulled painfully to a halt 30m from the end of the men’s 100m B race, his hand going to his right hamstring, his face a picture of consternation.
The day before, France’s 28-year-old Rio 2016 200m bronze medallist – whose main race here was to be the non-Diamond League 200m an hour later – had explained that he had been unable to keep up his 100m running last year because of injury, so had concentrated on the longer sprint.
As he was carried from the track on a stretcher, to sympathetic applause from a large if not capacity crowd, the prospect of his main event for the evening had disappeared. How things stand with his ambitions to win more European Athletics Championships medals this summer remains to be seen.
The race was won by Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah Mohammed in 10.03.
But if one French favourite was having a wretched night, he was in a minority – quite apart from the millions of compatriots rejoicing over France’s 4-3 World Cup round-of-16 win over Argentina.
Mayer puts strong mid-season form on display
World decathlon champion Kevin Mayer, as last year, benefited from a triathlon event laid on, in part, to enable him to perform in front of a home crowd.
In the opening long jump he was clearly very pleased as he arose from the pit after his opening effort, and although it fell three centimetres short of his personal best, it was easily enough to win from Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov, who managed 7.53m.
Mayer equalled his efforts of 2017 however as he secured personal bests with victories in the shot put, where he reached 16.51m, before rounding the night off clenching his right fist in the air having won the 110m hurdles in 13.71.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF