Diamond League – Oslo: Coe, Cram, Ovett, Wightman?

The Bislett games was the next stop on the circuit and the eyes of the world had turned to look at the young Norweigan Karston Warholm.

Earlier in the week the 21-year old sensation had set a PB and European lead of 44.87 over 400m. In Oslo, in front of an expectant home crowd, he took to the track over his main event, the 400m hurdles.


MEN’S 400M HURDLES ♦

Before the race had even began Warholm had stolen the show with an exuberant rousing of the crowd. A little criticism would follow online, but I think it was good for an athlete to reveal some of his personality, particularly at a home event. Despite the setting, there would be no guarantee of victory, with many of the 2016 olympic finalists in the line-up, including Olympic champion Kerron Clement.

A fairly even start saw the field over the first three hurdles similarly before the young star put his foot down. Clement had a shocker at hurdle seven and his race was over as he chopped his stride, skied the barrier and then eased down for the remainder of the race. Coming into the home-straight Warholm had a clear lead over the rest of the field running out in lane seven.

Clearing the penultimate barrier, the crowd in the stadium could sense victory was coming and being 5 metres clear of a stellar line up suggested the time would be fast. Olympic silver medallist Yasmani Copello would close over the final 30 metres, as Warholm clipped the final hurdle, experiencing a slight wobble. The victory however belonged to the Norwiegan in a new national record, his second in a week!

The time, 48.25 is truly world class and certainly places him in the medal contender bracket for the worlds. Copello did finish second in a SB of 48.44, almost a second down on his time from the Rio final, but a step in the right direction. Thomas Barr, the Olympic 4th placer, came through strongly over the final two barriers to finish third in a SB of 48.95. Given that this was run from lane 1, and is significantly faster than he had run by the same stage last season, Barr will be very pleased with his days’ work.

Olympic champion Clement walked across the line in 50.52, finishing last, and although he was only one place ahead, 2011 world bronze medallist LJ Van Zyl ran his 150th race under 50 seconds, in 49.89. There was also a SB for precocious talent Rasmus Magi of Estonia, 5th in 49.10. Magi currently leads the diamond league standings.

Warholm gave a great interview to the IAAF a few days after the race which I found quite illuminating. He possesses a super positive attitude towards the hurdles and the difference in mental approach to former world and olympic champion Ed Moses is truly remarkable. Warholm has a very bright future in the sport ahead of him.

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WOMEN’S 800M ♦

There was an equally fast race in the women’s 800m as double Olympic and world champion Caster Semenya continued her unbeaten stretch. Since the rule changes to testosterone levels in female athletes were implemented/conditions lessened, Semenya has been able to race at full power and has been completely dominant.

The usual line-up was assembled in Oslo with Sanne Verstegen pacing the ladies through the first 400m in a very fast 57.49. Olympic medallist and world indoor champion Niysonsaba slotted in behind her and lead as the pacer stepped aside. However, as expected Semenya moved through the pack and these two separated from the rest. With 50m to go Semenya eased past niyonsaba and jogged across the line in 1:57.59, a time faster than most of the women in the field have ever managed.

The Burundi athlete, a double olympic finalist herself and also subject to gender controversy, finished second in a SB of 1:58.18. Further down the field, the final member of the big three, Margaret Wambui was third in 1:59.19 marginally ahead of Sweden’s Lovisa Linh. The swede setting a surprising PB of 1:59.23. Wambui certainly looks to be the most vulnerable of the Olympic medalists and if someone is to break onto the rostrum in London, it is likely to be her that they replace.

Further down the field in 8th, GB’s Lynsey Sharp ran a SB of 2:00.41 and Aníta Hindríksdóttír broke the Icelandic national record with 2:00.05.

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MEN’S 100M ♦

A much more open men’s 100m produced the tightest race of the evening as Olympic and world bronze medallist Andre De Grasse increased his lead at the top of the diamond league standings from CJ Ujah by beating him here. De Grass won in a SB of 10.01 whilst Ujah finished second in an equal SB of 10.02, the third time he has run 10.02 already this season. Olympic finalist Ben Youssef Meité was much improved on his run in Rome, finishing 3rd in a SB of 10.03, completing the blanket finish. The three of them matched each other stride for stride throughout the race and despite being headed by Jimmy Vicaut through the first 40m, this was always the likely outcome.

Vicaut himself pulled up with a suspected injury, being given a time of 10.68. There were two other brit’s in the race – Reece Prescod (who would go on to be the surprise British Champion) finished 7th in 10.20 whilst Adam Gemili was fourth in a bland 10.13. De Grasse and Ujah head the diamond race standings at present and will continue to battle as the season unfolds.

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WOMEN’S POLE VAULT ♦

There was no Ekaterina Stefanidi in the pole vault in Oslo and only 6 women managed to register a mark at all! A far cry from the 11 in Rome. Eliza McCartney, who had the messy scorecard but a SB in Rome could not clear her opening height of 4.55 and Nicole Buchler had exited the competition after three failed attempts at 4.40. Mary Saxer of the US could only clear 4.40 and Alysha newman took three attempts to get over 4.55 before failing at 4.65.

That left only four athletes. The next to leave was one of the most promising athletes I think I have ever seen. Sweden’s Angelica Bengtsson won world youth gold back in 2009, youth Olympic gold in 2010, world junior gold in both 2010 and 2011 and sandwiched in-between those victories was a European junior gold in 2011. She was the European under-23 bronze medallist in 2013 but captured that title two years later in Tallinn. Her transition to the senior ranks has so far been very smooth. Although the Olympic games did not quite go to plan she has twice won senior European indoor bronzes (2015 and 2017), a European outdoor senior bronze (2016) and finished 4th at the 2015 World championships in a new national record of 4.70m. The only year in which she has not won a medal since taking up the pole vault is 2014 when she finished 5th at the European championships in Zurich.

Here Bengtsson could only manage 4.55, however this was a SB and if she can continue the trajectory she is currently on, it will surely not be long before she begins to collect senior gold medals too. One place ahead on her on this occasion was Lisa Ryzih, an athlete also rounding into form at the right time. The German had two attempts at 4.81 which suggests to me that training has gone well and confidence is high. Expect big things from her in London.

I mentioned after Rome that Sidorova would look to jump as much as possible before London after missing competitions due to the Russian ban. Here she showed that is exactly what she intends to do, clearing a SB of 4.75 for 2nd place to really mark her out as someone to look out for at the worlds. It was in fact, her first time clearance at said height that forced reigning world champion Yarisley Silva to for-go her remaining two attempts at that height, having failed first time, in a bid to win the meet. It paid off. Silva cleared 4.81 first time, which Sidorova could not manage on this occasion. Three attempts were taken at the extraordinary height of 4.92 but that was not to be for now.

Stefanidi remains firm favourite for London, but the pack is closing and closing fast.

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WOMEN’S 100M HURDLES ♦

The world leader was also missing from the women’s sprint hurdles, presenting an opportunity for someone to claim a big victory. Diamond league veterans Tiffany Porter and Alina Talay were the biggest names in the field, but neither have had a good season so far. Indeed, Porter would finish 5th in 12.93, fading over the last three barriers, with Talay just ahead in a SB of 12.90.

There was very nearly another Norweigan upset as Isabelle Pedersen grabbed the race by the scruff of the neck and lead all the way until the line before crashing to the track in a heap. She would be rewarded for her exploits with a new PB of 12.75 though which is a big step forward towards the elite hurdling group. Olympic bronze medallist Castlin came through on her right to sneak 2nd place in the same time, another SB, whilst Pamela Dutkiewicz who ran blistering times during the indoor season, came through on Pedersen’s left to take the victory in 12.73. It looked early on in the season as though Dutkiewicz was going to be the latest athlete to break up the American dominance in sprint hurdling, although her new PB of 12.63 is still shy of what it will probably take to medal at the majors. Nevertheless, victory in Oslo will do her confidence the world of good.

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MEN’S DISCUS ♦

One of the more open events in track and field took place on the infield in Oslo. For a long time Robert Harting had been the dominant force in men’s discus but the rest of the world have chipped away at his armour in recent years, most notably his younger brother Christoph, who stunned the world to become the Olympic champion last year. Both were competing in Oslo but had first round failures whilst Lithuania’s Andrius Gudsius took the lead with 64.33. The 2010 world junior champion demonstrated outstanding consistency with all of his throws over 64 metres, the best coming in round 5 of 65.90, a new SB. This would ultimately be good enough for 4th place in a fiercely competitive field.

Such was the standard of the competition that Philip Milanov’s 4th round effort of 66.39 would have been good enough for 5th place in the Olympic final. That throw, also a SB, represented a large improvement on his actual throw from the Olympic final of 62.22, which ultimately saw him way down the pile in 9th. The world silver medallist will be looking to revisit the podium in London.

The Harting brother’s both made improvements to their previous best 2017 throws but finished in 5th and 6th with older brother Robert ahead (65.11 to 64.13). Both took the scalp of Piotr Malachowski, the reigning world champion and double Olympic silver medallist, 7th in a disappointing 63.70.

At the top of the field an unusual battle of nations took place between Jamaica’s Fedrick Dacres and Sweden’s Daniel Ståhl. The Swede, who has never won a medal at any level but has been 5th at both the European and World championships, took control of the competition in round three with a 67.36 whilst in the same round Dacres threw 67.10 to put daylight between the two of them and the rest of the field. Dacres, the 2011 and 2012 world youth and junior champion has long been identified as someone with the potential to make it to the top but had a disastrous Olympic games, finishing 34th out of 35 competitors with one single throw of 50.69. No doubt he will have learnt a lot from that experience and be ready to put in a much better performance at the worlds.

Here though, he would have to settle for second place as Ståhl launched the discus to a mighty 68.06 in round 6 to claim victory on the night and wrestle the diamond league lead from Milanov. The Swede is used to big throws, having thrown the furthest of anyone in 2016, but like Dacres had a nightmare in Rio and failed to make the final. Converting those big throws into big championship performances has got to be his focus now because gold in London is completely feasible.

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WOMEN’S LONG JUMP ♦

Easily one of the most exciting events in athletics, the women’s long jump always offers big jumps and even bigger personalities. World and Olympic champion Tianna Barlotta won in Oslo, clearing 6.79 in round 5 to take the victory in difficult conditions. Darya Klishina had a good second place with a SB of 6.75 to move into second place on the diamond league standings. A member of the 7m club since jumping the second longest junior mark of all time in 2011, Klishina was never quite achieved at championships what she is capable of. The circus around her in Rio would almost certainly not have helped. In London there will be many other Russian athletes, so perhaps with less of a spotlight on her, she may be able to finally win a global medal?

The rest of the field were a little way off their best marks, with many struggling to adjust to the fluctuating wind. 2015 world silver medallist Shara Proctor finished 4th in 6.53 the best of the three British athletes in the field. Lorraine Ugen, world and European indoor medallist finished 6th in 6.50 and European and commonwealth medallist Jazmin Sawyers finished dead last in 6.20. We are yet to see all three of the British jumpers on fire in the same competition but I am so looking forward to the day that all of them are over 6.80 at the same time.

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WOMEN’S 200M

A slightly weaker line-up was arranged for the women’s half lap, made lighter still by the disqualification of Olympic finalist Ivet Lalova-Collio. World champion Dafne Schippers won in a solid 22.31, for most people an incredible time, but for her, business as usual as she prepares to go far under 22 seconds again this year. Four-time world silver medallist (60×2, 100, 200) Murielle Ahouré has had a rough ole’ ride of things over the last two years, but a SB of 22.74 is a step in the right direction for the African 100m record holder. Great Britain’s Bianca Williams stepped up her recovery from injury and whilst 23.38 is nothing to shout about, she will be pleased with 5th place in a diamond league.

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MEN’S 400M ♦

The men’s quarter milers were expected to tear up the track in Oslo but fast times did not materialise. Botswana’s Baboloki Thebe, one of the new young talents, won in 44.95, running down Matthew-Hudson Smith, who himself ran a SB of 45.16 in second place. Double world indoor champion and three-time European indoor champion Pavel Maslák was third in 45.52 and the Borlée brothers, once a force in global 400m running, were distant in 45.53 for Kevin and 46.18 for Jonathan. Bar the winning time, none of the other times in this field will be good enough to even get out of the heats in London and with so many athletes close to or capable of running under 44 seconds, I suggest it will take 44.3’s to make the final. Lots of work to be done for all in the field.

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WOMEN’S DISCUS ♦

There was also a low key women’s discus in Norway with only six competitors in the field. The competition was won easily by the all-conquering Sandra Perkovic in 66.79 ahead of the Cuban pair of Yaimi Perez (66.24 SB) and Denia Caballero (63.29). Julia Harting, wife of 2012 olympic champion Robert Harting and sister-in-law of 2016 champion Christoph Harting, brought up the rear with a lowly 59.02. The European silver medallist has a long way to go if she is to join her family members on top of the world.

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WOMEN’S 3000M STEEPLECHASE ♦

It has to be said that the usual ‘unbelievable line up in Rome followed by numerous drop outs for the following meet’ held true again this year. Oslo replaced Birmingham as the meet to suffer and it was more notable in the women’s 3000m steeplechase than most other events. No Jebet, no Kiyeng, no Chepkoech, and no Coburn. World medallist Gesa Felicitas Krause was the star attraction but she failed to finish. In theory this should have left the way clear for Sofia Assefa to earn her first big victory on the circuit. She was however, to be upstaged by Kenyan Norah Jeruto, claiming a big victory in 9:17.27 to 9:17.34. Switzerland’s Fabienne Schlumpf held on well to record a new national record of 9:21.65 in 3rd place. These times are quite remarkable, but we are in a golden period of steeplechasing and so in comparison to some of the magnificent nine-flats we have been treated to of late, a 9:17 does not quite achieve the same excitement.

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MEN’S HIGH JUMP ♦

Mutaz Essa Barshim is alive and kicking! Years mixing it at the top seems to finally have culminated in becoming world number 1. At present he is yards ahead of everyone else, jumping a world lead and meeting record of 2.38 to win again in Oslo.

With this win Barshim moves to 24 diamond league points, 13 more than Great Britain’s Robbie Grabarz who currently sits second on 11 points. Grabarz had a poor series, clearing 2.20 on his final attempt, and then taking all three jumps to get over 2.25 before exiting at 2.29. This represents a terrible night for the British number one, normally so consistent. Whilst I have no doubt Grabarz will be ready to medal in London, he has a lot of work to do to get in that shape.

Besides Barshim, the whole field had a shocker. Gouwei Zhang exited at 2.20 and Andriy Protsenko failed to clear a single height. Commonwealth silver medallist Michael Mason also exited at 2.25, as did 2007 World and 2010 Commonwealth champion Donald Thomas of the Bahamas. Pavel Seliverstau was another unable to clear 2.29, the European indoor bronze medallist one of five to fail at that height.

The other was reigning World, Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan-American champion Derek Drouin, holder of all major titles. Even Drouin, the ultimate competitor, could not surpass 2.29 and finished in third place on count-back. Bohdan Bondarenko was the only athlete besides Barshim to make 2.29, a SB for him. It was then up to the Qatari athlete to clear 2.32, 2.36 and 2.38 on his own. Having broken world record holder Javier Sotomayor’s meeting record, no attempts were taken at 2.40, but that surely beckons in the next few weeks?

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PERFORMANCE OF THE MEET

MEN’S 1500M ♦

Bizarrely there was no dream mile in Oslo, although a under 20 mile was arranged, won by the precious 16 year old talent Jakob Ingrebrigsten in a 3:56.29, the fastest ever mile by a junior athlete. This diamond league showcased a lot of talented youths, but at the very top of that tree is the youngest of the Ingrebrigsten trio, who at only 16 is already world class.

The senior event however, was about to see one of the shocks of the season.

The pacemakers on offer were Andrew Rotich and Elijah Kiptoo, both experienced in hitting splits and adept at driving even paces. The start list contained various global and regional medalists and all would have reasonably expected to be in contention.

The pacers did their jobs as asked, going through 700m in 1:53 but the field held back, Souleiman at the front slowing down the pack. As they hit the bell Lewandoski had moved up on the shoulder of the 1000m indoor record holder who, in truth, has not been in good shape since setting that world best last year. Morocco’s olympic medallist Abdelaati Iguider had taken closer order but as soon as he bridged the gap to create a front four he appeared to fall back and stunningly ended up last in 3:41 and change.

The others in that group were Filip Ingebrigsten, the middle Ingebrigsten brother who must surely have taken some confidence from his younger brother’s victory early on in the evening. Filip, the reigning European 1500m champion and both of his brothers are trained by their father, and so if Jakob is in form then the others must be too. Also there for company was Elijah Manangoi who sat off the early pace and made his way through the field so that with 300m to go he could kick hard around the outside. Manangoi then fought his way to the front and with 200m left he headed Polish superstar Marcin Lewandowski, winner of multiple European medals and an olympic finalist.

What neither of them, nor anyone in the stand could have expected, was for Great Britain’s Jake Wightman, who has never made a world level team before, to kick hard down the back-straight fighting to stay in contact and then push on through the bend. Past Silas Kiplagat, the 4th fastest 1500m runner in history! and then past olympic 5000m finalist David Torrence. Already this represented a good run for Jake but he wasn’t done yet, past Marcin Lewandowski, when beating him alone would be a huge scalp, and there was to be even more. Driving hard into the home straight he had seen off Filip Ingebrigsten and then finally Manangoi the current world silver medallist.

Jake kicked hard and pumped down the home straight, stretching out to WIN the Oslo Diamond League. Not only was the time 3:34.17 a personal best, it was a world championship qualifier, it made him the British number one and he had taken on some of the world’s best 1500m runners and seen them off. What’s more, he became the first Brit to win a 1500m diamond league meeting ever and only the second non-African in History, something even Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz has never managed to do.

It really was the most remarkable performance all factors considered, and marks Wightman out as truly world class. It will be so interesting to see how he follows this up and copes with the media circus that will now surround him, but for now hat’s off to Jake Wightman, the latest British middle distance prospect.  

We have a glorious history of middle distance running in Great Britain, not least including the golden trio of Lord Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram. What with current British superstar Sir Mo Farah about to move on from the track to the roads, there is space for a new middle distance star. Could Jake Wightman be the future? 

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