The second leg of this year’s Diamond League saw the worlds best head to Shanghai. For many athletes, competing in China is always be a great occasion, having memories of the 2006 World Juniors, 2008 Olympic Games or the 2015 World Championships. Whilst those competitions were staged in Beijing, the Diamond League moves further south to a slightly more athlete friendly (cleaner air) Shanghai, where many athletes were making their seasons debut before heading onto the European circuit.
MEN’S 400M HURDLES ♦
The world leader and Doha victor A. Samba was not present in Shanghai, thus it fell to an old name to storm to victory. Former world champion, Bershawn Jackson (now 34), who has announced that this will be his final year in track and field, produced a meeting record of 48.63, the second fastest time in the world, to move clear of LJ Van Zyl with 30m to go. Van Zyl, the 2011 world bronze medalist, hung on to 2nd ahead of 2016 olympic finalist Rasmus Magi of Estonia (49.35 to 49.38), the later with a SB.
Olympic champion Kerron Clement was 4th in 49.43, ahead of double world silver medalist Javier Culson in 49.90. Way down the field reigning world champion Nicholas Bett jogged a poor 51.09. Having made a fair chunk of money betting on the unknown Bett to win world gold in 2015 I was bemused by his dreadful 2016 where race after race he hit hurdles and faded, culminating in him crashing into the final barrier during his heat in Rio. As defending world champion he automatically qualifies for London, but a serious up-turn in form will be required if he is to reach the dizzy heights of 2015.
WOMEN’S 1500M ♦
Olympic and commonwealth champion Kipyegon began the race as favourite, quickly tucking in behind Great Britain’s Jenny Meadows who is rapidly becoming the go-to middle distance pacemaker. After an up and down tempo the pace was on track with two laps to go and single file had been resumed as various athletes began to feel the burn. At the bell Sado tucked in, closely following Kipyegon, with Sayum and Koster looking comfortable. The three African athletes kicked hard down the back-straight pulling well clear of the rest of the world class field. Coming into the home straight Kipyegon maintained her turnover better than all others to dip under four minutes, underlining her position as world number one.
For 23, her composure and control is exceptional, perhaps this is to be expected given that she is coached by pace making extraordinaire Bram Som. Nevertheless, her achievements are quite remarkable given her age. She will be the favourite for the world title and whilst challenges will come from Laura Muir and world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, in Besu Sado, Rababe Arafi, Malika Akkaoui and Angelika Cichocka (3rd to 6th), Kipyegon has beaten a large number of the athletes she will come up against in August.
MEN’S AND WOMEN’S DISCUS ♦
A continuation of the alternation of male and and female throws, as seen in Doha, continued in the Chinese second city. There were 5 SB’s from the men, most notably olympic champion Christoph Harting throwing 63.47 in 5th and Piotr Malachowski in 2nd (64.36). Malachowski, the double olympic silver medalist, won in Beijing in 08 and Rio in 16, found international fame post-Rio after he auctioned off his medal to raise funds for treatment of little boy called Olek who was suffering from a form of eye cancer. In Shanghai Malachowski was edged out by Philip Milanov of Belgium who took maximum points with a SB of 64.94. Whilst a good early win for the world and European silver medalist, all of the men were a few metres below the kind of distances it usually takes to get on the podium at majors.
On the women’s side there was an expected victory for double olympic champion Sanda Perkovic in 66.94, ahead of Australian Dani Stevens. Stevens threw 66.47, a metre and a half further than in Rio when she finished just outside the medals in 4th. The reigning world champion from Cuba – Denia Caballero finished third in Rio and again her, throwing a SB of 65.76. Julia Harting, the wife and sister in law of mens olympic discus champions Robert and Christoph Harting, finished 7th in a SB of 62.49.
MEN’S HIGH JUMP ♦
After edging out Great Britain’s Robbie Grabarz in his home country of Qatar, Mutaz Essa Barshim continued his fine form, jumping 2.33 to win from China’s Wang Yu in a SB of 2.30. Barshim will hope to peak in London and claim his first global title after a succession of world and olympic medals, without reaching the top.
Many of his main challengers were in Shanghai, and they all faltered – Grabarz failing three times at a low 2.20 to finish 7th, and Bednarek, the new European indoor champion, only managed 2.24. Whilst this was a SB, it was 8cm lower than he jumped indoors only three months ago. World, olympic, commonwealth and pan-American Champion Derek Drouin failed to clear a single height in the biggest shock of the night. Andriy Protsenko however, improved from 2.26 in Doha to 2.27 as we build slowly to London.
WOMEN’S 400M ♦
This is an event experiencing somewhat a changing of the guard with Richards-Ross long gone and the powers of Ohuroghu, Williams-Mills and Felix fast evaporating. Miller-Uibo, the new olympic champion has certainly grabbed this event by the scruff of the neck and won convincingly in Shanghai in a WL of 49.77. Tim Hutchings (the dreadful commentator) made the bizarre suggestion that Miller would run under 49 seconds this year. Ignore that. Miller may have the fastest time in the year but she has opened up slower than she did last year, running 49.6. I suspect that taking part in the world relays in her home country in March has eaten into her training schedule, hence a slightly slower start compared to last year.
Miller however, is the best in the world at the moment and will improve as the worlds get closer. In each of the past four seasons she has improved her position at a major championships (2013 4th 200m worlds, 2014 3rd 400m world indoors, 2015 2nd worlds, 2016 1st olympics). This time it will be about upgrading 2015 world silver to gold.
There was a good seasons best for the eternally over-committing Natasha Hastings in second with 50.72 and a strong run was had by olympic 7th placer Olha Semelyak in third, under 51 seconds. I am interested to see when Justyna Sweity – who was so imperious during the indoor season – is going to come alive outdoors. The Polish athlete demonstrated earlier this year indoors and at the world relays that she is ready to take a big step forwards but so far outdoors it was not quite materialised. Great Britain’s Anikya Onoura had a night to forget, running 53.98 to finish last.
MEN’S 800M ♦
All eyes were on double world and olympic champion and world record holder, David Rudisha, who created intrigue in the press conference prior to the meet when he indicated that he did not know what kind of shape he was in. The field was led out through the first 400m by the world’s number one pacemaker, Bram Som. Despite hitting the required splits, the fields reluctance to go with him meant that as he stepped aside there was a large gap back to the Kenyan.
Rudisha was then almost immediately overtaken by Kipyegon Bett who kicked hard, opening up a 5m gap on the field that he never relented, crossing the line in a great 1:44.70. Bett, the world u-20 champion from last year, is widely tipped to be a future middle distance star and with a 1:43.76 PB, can expect to be in the mix for a medal in London.
Rudisha did fade to 4th, being edged out by both Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich who crept through on the inside to finish third, picking up some valuable diamond league points, and Robert Biwott, who with 100m to go was way down the field in sixth and somehow, despite running wide into lane four, came around a whole host of athletes to finish second in a SB of 1:45.17.
Behind the Kenyan 1-2-3-4-5 there were decent SB’s for European indoor and outdoor champion Adam Kszczot (1:45.45) and his Polish team mate and olympic finalist Marcin Lewandowski (1.45:87). The most disappointing performance of the night came from the USA’s Casimir Loxsom – the new world best holder over indoor 600m – in a dreadful first outdoor outing of 1:49.44. Both he and Rudisha will be hoping for rapid improvement over the coming weeks.
WOMEN’S 3000M STEEPLECHASE
There were two non-diamond league events occurring in Shanghai. One of which featured the olympic and world champion’s Jebet and Kiyeng going head to head for the millionth time. One of the reasons the women’s steeplechase is so exciting to watch as present, is that the biggest names in the sport do battle at every opportunity. Whilst Jebet – who annihilated the world record in Paris last year had the better of Kiyeng on almost every occasion in 2016, she looks much more vulnerable so far in 2017.
It was another fast race for the ladies, with the first 1000m covered in 3:07.09 and Jebet passing 2000m in 6:05.23, dragging the rest of the field with her. There were SB’s for athletes from the USA, France, Belarus, Kenya and Ethiopia, with a PB for Peruth Chemutai of Uganda in 7th in an excellent 9:27.72.
Jebet looked to have dropped Kiyeng for a long while as with three laps to go only Jebet sat with the pacemaker. However, as often is the case, Hiyeng did come back to Jebet, bringing Norah Jeruto to a PB of 9:15.35 in 4th. Despite this outstanding performance, the top three were a long way clear. Finishing third was this huge new talent Chespol (9:07.08), who broke the world junior record by 15 seconds in Doha, chasing the world champion all the way to the line (9:06.72). Ruth Jebet did ease down as she approached the line so her 9:04.78 (a meeting record) is slightly misleading as it suggests that the gap was not so large. In truth, it looked to be a very comfortable victory for the Bahraini athlete.
MEN’S POLE VAULT ♦
The men’s pole vault saw all three olympic medalists and two world champions in a stellar line up. The first of the big names to fall was Raphael Holzdeppe, the 2013 world champion, exiting at 5.50 having failed 4 of his 5 jumps at two heights. The surprise olympic champion Thiago Braz, who broke the olympic record with a clearance of 6.03 in front of his home crowd in Brazil, finished 4th here, clearing 5.50 and 5.60 on his final attempts, before failing three times at 5.70. Canadian world champion Shawn Barber also exited the competition at 5.70 but finished third after clearing 5.60 at the first time of asking.
World record holder Lavillenie, who has won every gold bar the world outdoors cleared 5.40 first time, passed at 5.50, cleared 5.60 first time, 5.70 second time and then failed his first attempt at 5.78. With the USA’s Sam Kendricks clearing 5.78 first time, after scraping through with a third time clearance at 5.70, Lavillenie passed his second attempt and then cleared a SB of 5.83 to wrestle back the lead. The American had failed one attempt at 5.83 and at 5.88 before clearing the height on what was his final attempt! A big victory for the olympic bronze medalist. The mens pole vault is one of the events to look out for at the world championships.
The event that has been athletics main attraction since Bolt burst onto the scene in 2008 is in a rather rapid decline. After a winning time of 9.99 in Doha, we slip here to a 10.09 as Chinese star Su Bingtian won in front of a jubilant home crowd. Despite the poor time, Su will be pleased to take the scalps of Mike Rodgers (2nd, 10.13) and Olympic finalist Meité (10.15 SB). 2003 World Champion Kim Collins faded to 10.30 in 6th and there were two disqualifications leaving a sparse field. It is still early in the season and we won’t really have a solid indication of form until the conclusion of the Jamaican, American, British and German championships, and the South African team selection announcement, meaning there is no need for alarm as of yet. However, whilst other events push on to greater and greater heights, the blue ribbon event looks set to enter a bland period.
WOMEN’S 100M ♦
Whilst the men’s 100m is in decline, the women’s is thriving and at the very top of the tree is Elaine Thompson. A magnificent field assembled including double olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, olympic & world long jump Champion Tianna Bartoletta and multiple World silver medalist Murielle Ahouré. Despite this, no one could get close to the latest Jamaican superstar who won in a WL of 10.78, into a marginal headwind. In second place, olympic silver medalist Tori Bowie ran a SB of 11.04, a great time that was made to look ordinary. Behind those two were SB’s for double olympic 4th placer Ta Lou, in 11.07 and double olympic 6th placer Michelle-Lee Ahye in 11.21. The remaining four places were all filled by Olympic finalists some half a second behind Elaine. A maiden world title surely beckons.
MEN’S 200M ♦
The first event of the night was actually the men’s 200m. As we understand it at present, Usain Bolt will not compete in the 200m in London and a new world champion will be crowned. In the mix could be Noah Lyles, the teenage sensation who stormed to victory in 19.90, equalling Wayde Van Niekerk’s world lead, ahead of former world and olympic 400m champion Lashawn Merritt in 20.27. Merritt incidentally ran the fastest 200m in the world in 2016 but performed poorly in the olympic final. If he chooses to double up again, a first 200m title could be on the cards at the age of 30. Great Britian’s 2014 European champion Adam Gemili ran a SB of 20.35 to round out the top three places. The Chinese national record fell in 5th to Xie Zhenye (20.40) to delight the home crowd.
MEN’S 100M HURDLES ♦
Equally as high quality was the line-up for the mens 100m hurdles, headlined by the winners of the last four global titles – McLeod (16 olympic – JAM), Shubenkov (15 world – RUS), Oliver (13 world – USA) and Merritt (12 olympic & WR holder – USA). The race also featured my pal and personal favourite Gregor Traber in lane 9.
First to hurdle one was indeed Omar McLeod, the only man to have run under 13 seconds for the hurdles and 10 seconds for the 100m flat, that additional speed seeing him edge ahead of olympic silver medalist and the fastest man in 2015 Orlando Ortega. By hurdle three McLeod had a grasp of the race while 2013 world champion David Oliver was struggling at the back of the field.
Halfway through the race and double olympic semi-finalist Jeff Porter (husband of our very own four time world medalist Tiffany) had been dropped and he and Oliver would end up at the back of the field in 13.70 and 13.62. Running a SB of 13.41 inside the world qualification standard and picking up his first diamond league points was Germany’s Traber (my personal tip for a surprise world finalist, having just missed out in Rio).
Shubenkov, running as an authorised neutral athlete after the banning of the Russian Federation, faded to 5th in a SB of 13.35, perhaps showing a lack of race sharpness. He is an exceptional competitor however and I fully expect him to get quicker and contend for gold as the season progresses. Just behind him, the world record holder finished in 13.36, who looked to really be climbing the last three hurdles and losing speed off of each one.
In fourth was Mr consistent, Jamaica’s olympic and world medalist Hansle Parchment, also clocking 13.35 but getting the nod ahead of Shubenkov courtety of the photo finish. The shock of the race was easily the third place finish by China’s Xie, Wenjun. Coming into the race with the lowest pedigree by a long shot he rose to the occasion to steal 6 diamond league points in a SB of 13.31.
Out in front were the olympic gold and silver medalists, here McLeod again got the better of Ortega (13.09 to 13.15 SB), moving away after the last hurdle after it had looked as through the Cuban-turned-Spaniard was coming through on him. Ortega had dropped his trail leg too soon coming over the final barrier, catching his ankle on it and losing some speed. Ignore Tim Hutching’s (again) dreadful commentary in the video below, as he get’s the reason for McLeod pulling away all wrong.
WOMEN’S SHOT PUT ♦
In the field there was a big home victory as Gong Lijiao threw a SB of 19.46 to beat a good, if not outstanding field. Gong, the multiple world medalist improved in every single round (18.35-18.81-18.98-18.99-19.29-19.46) which is really quite remarkable to take early control of the diamond league standings. There was a disappointing performance from Anita Márton, the European indoor champion in third, who managed a best of 18.69, some way down on where she will need to be to make the podium in London.
WOMEN’S 5000M ♦
A Kenya-Ethiopia affair occurred in the women’s 5000m with those countries contributing 10 of the 13 athletes that finished. Performances of note include Sofia Assefa running a new PB of 14:56.37 to finish 6th. There were also PB’s of 14:51.87 and 14:45.95 in 5th and 4th place for the Kenyan duo of Kipkirui and Kipkemboi. For both of those athletes, beating Assefa, the 2012 olympic steeplechase silver medalist, is a notable achievement and will give them confidence as they gear up for the Kenyan championships.
In truth, despite the whole parade of personal bests, the race was solely about Hellen Obiri. Whilst she struggled to shrug off the young Ethiopian Gidet until 800m to go, when she did it was a piece of textbook running. Obiri, the olympic silver medalist, stretched out and hammered at the track as she chased the clock, lapping some truly world class athletes. Obiri obliterated the world lead, recording 14:22.47, making her the 6th fastest athlete ever. Nine seconds behind her, world silver medalist Senbere Teferi, who famously ran down Genzebe Dibaba in Beijing, crossed the line in a still remarkable 14:31.76, after overtaking her country women who herself recorded a large PB of 14:36.84.
PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT
MEN’S LONG JUMP ♦
Luvo Manyonga is simply just miles better than anyone else competing at the moment. Since I began following athletics properly in 2006 I have not been treated to seeing jumps of this calibre. 8.61 in Shanghai, a diamond league and meeting record, was 39 centimetres ahead of second placer Gao Xinglong in a SB. Third and fourth places were also filled by Chinese athletes Huang Chanzhou and Zhang Yaoguang, which given how well the Chinese long jumpers performed at the worlds in 2015, is not surprising. This event is certainly the best the home nation has at the moment with three athletes will who all challenge for medals in London.
However, they, and olympic champion Jeff Henderson (6th here in 8.03) are just not good enough. Barring injury, the olympic silver medalist will become world champion this year, and with Rushwal Samaai and Godfrey Khotso Mokoena, South Africa have a realistic hope of a first ever 1-2-3 at a world championships.
Manyonga jumped a PB of 8.37 in Rio to win an olympic silver medal, missing out on gold by 1cm in his first outdoor season in four years after a serious of physical and emotional problems, including a doping suspension. Whilst I’m not in the habit of making excuses for any dopers, there are certain circumstances that make his case interesting and unique, and certainly worth a read.