Birmingham Wrap Up: Pearson and Thorkildsen shine in a wet but atmospheric Alexander Stadium
It may have rained on Birmingham’s parade as the city staged its first Samsung Diamond League meeting in an Alexander Stadium transformed by the new, as-yet unnamed, stand on the back-straight, but a full house was able to enjoy some of the most stirring contests yet seen in this season’s series.
World-leading performances from Andreas Thorkildsen, who won the Javelin Throw with a third round 88.30 metres, and Sally Pearson who earned a pulsating victory over the 100 metres Hurdles in 12.48 sec, an Oceania Area record.
For the home crowd, however, two of the highlights of this throughly enjoyable Aviva Birmingham Grand Prix on Sunday (10th) will have been the victories by Mo Farah and Dai Greene in the 5000 metres and 400m Hurdles respectively which boded well for the forthcoming IAAF World Championships in Daegu, Korea (27th August to 4th September) – and beyond.
Asafa Powell, who won his 100m here with ease in 9.91sec, will also be feeling increasingly confident about the possibility of securing his first global title, even if he will have to face fellow countryman Usain Bolt.
Pearson is “heading in the right direction”
Sally Pearson, Australia’s Olympic silver medallist, had already indicated what might be in store by winning her 100m Hurdles heat in a time of 12.57sec, equalling the meeting record. In the final, despite coming under sustained pressure from the Diamond Race leader Danielle Carruthers and her US colleagues Ginnie Crawford and Kellie Wells, who led the 2011 season list coming into this meeting with 12.50, the Australian kept her form impeccably over the final four sets of hurdles to maintain the lead she has established from the gun and cross in 12.48.
Carruthers, grimacing with every effort over the barriers, finished second with a personal best of 12.52, with Crawford third in 12.79 and Wells fourth with 12.80.
“I knew I was in that short of shape today. I really did,” said Pearson. “I’ve come to Europe to get ready for the World Championships and I’ve had fantastic preparation. It’s all just come together. I’ve always wanted to be the best in the world and I’m heading in that direction. A national record as well…”
Thorkildsen deals well with the slippery conditions
Thorkildsen’s winning 88.30m effort came in the third round of a Javelin Throw competition inhibited by the conditions, and three of his four other efforts were better than anyone else could manage – 86.99m for a first round lead, and fourth and fifth rounds of 85.99 and 87.43. Matthias de Zordo of Germany was the best of the rest with 83.42, and Jarrod Bannister of Australia took third place with a season’s best of 82.01.
“We were a little bit unlucky with the weather today,” said Thorkildsen. “Us javelin throwers don’t really like the slippery surface. But I am happy with my series, and after three meets and an injury I only have one throw that I’m not happy with so that’s good.”
“What I like about the Diamond League is that the best guys are there all the time and that’s what people want to see. The World Championships are still a month away and hopefully I will arrive there in even better shape.”
Farah’s scintillating 54.03 finish
Mo Farah’s winning 5,000 metres time of 13:06.14 may not have been impressive, but his final 400m time of 54.03sec certainly was, and also the overall manner of his win against a world class field as he left Ethiopia’s Diamond Race winner of last year and leader of this, Imane Merga, in his wake.
Britain’s European and Commonwealth 10,000m champion reached the bell in a stop-start tactical race behind the leader, Australia’s Craig Mottram, and had Galen Rupp, with whom he now trains in Oregon under the direction of Alberto Salazar, watching his back as a strong Ethiopian contingent prepared itself for the final burn-up.
As Merga manoeuvred to set up his own sprint, Farah burst past the big Australian and began a long charge for home, with the British spectators doing all they could to encourage him. The Ethiopian tried to stay with him, but without success, and as the race moved into the final straight Rupp came past him to take second place in a personal best of 13:06.06 before embracing a surprised and delighted Farah. Merga, who remains Diamond Race leader, was timed at 13:07.63, with his fellow countryman Yenew Alamirew fourth in 13:08.78. A very good night for Mr Salazar!
“It’s so nice to win and finish one-two with Galen,” said Farah. “People have asked me about my move to the United States, but as an athlete you’ve always got to be looking at how to improve yourself and what you can do better.”
“Quite often you have to make sacrifices, but you just have to be prepared to cover every move in a race and you’ve got to get it right on the day. The gym work has made me stronger and the speed-work has made me faster as you can see, so it’s worth it.”
Greene looking every inch a potential World medallist
Dai Greene set the fireworks flaring at the end of the stadium with an impressive victory in the 400 metres Hurdles in 48.20sec, a season’s best. Greene, who is coached by Malcolm Arnold, the man who among many hurdling greats guided the career of Colin Jackson, led into the final straight and took the final hurdle under pressure from Puerto Rico’s World silver medallist Javier Culson on his right and the fast-closing former World champion Bershawn Jackson of the United States.
But the Commonwealth and European champion showed what stuff he is made of as he resisted the pincer movement and produced a final surge which got him over the line first on a dip, with Jackson taking second place in 48.22 and Culson third in 48.34. In fourth place, Greene’s 19-year-old training partner and near namesake Jack Green recorded a personal best of 48.98.
Asked about the rain which was falling steadily at the time, Greene joked: “As a Welshman I consider these conditions to be almost tropical.” He added: “I need to be competitive with these guys and I’m at the top at the moment. I won my first Diamond League of the season in Lausanne and my second this week so it’s given me a lot of momentum. It was also good to see Jack running a PB and getting stronger. He’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
His young training partner acknowledged the advantages of being able to train regularly with a world class athlete. “When you work with someone like Dai every day, why do you need to worry about facing anyone else?” he said.
Idowu dominates with 17.54; Tamgho 16.74
The expected contest in the Triple Jump between Britain’s World champion Phillips Idowu and the young Frenchman who heads this year’s world lists with 17.91m, Teddy Tamgho, never quite materialised in the less than helpful conditions.
Idowu took the honours, with a best of 17.54m, with Cuba’s Alexis Copello second, recording 17.12, and his fellow Cuban David Girat third with 17.08.
World Indoor champion and recordholder Tamgho could only finish fifth with an effort of 16.74m, but two expansive no-jumps offered him cause for comfort.
“I lost today but I am very happy because I had two jumps that were very, very long,” Tamgho said. “I think in the next competition I can get a long one. I’m close to doing something amazing. I just have to wait. It was good for Phillips to win today in his home, but I am in good shape.”
Idowu described it as a “funny” competition, adding: “I managed to pull out one or two decent jumps but the conditions were not great. For me the main thing is to be consistent. In pretty much all my competitions this year I’ve been around 17.50m, so it looks good for the World Championships.”
Powell takes secure 9.91 victory
The rain which had been promising to arrive as the meeting got underway did so just in time for the first of the men’s 100m heats, which saw 2003 World champion Kim Collins finish a disconsolate last after almost falling over as he left the blocks. Asafa Powell qualified with ease in the drifting rain as he won his heat, slowing appreciably over the final 30 metres after an irresistible start, in 9.95.
The final proved anti-climactic, marred by the disqualification for a false start of Norway’s Jaysuma Saidy Ndure, and another faulty start, plus the withdrawal of Michael Rodgers of the United States, who watched the race ruefully rubbing an injured right hamstring. Earlier, as he had left the team hotel to catch the bus to the stadium, Rodgers had looked up at the grey clouds rolling over and uttered a single word…
When the field finally got away, Powell ran within himself to secure the verdict in 9.91 over his Jamaican colleagues Nesta Carter, who recorded 9.93, and Michael Frater, third in 10.01.
“I was a bit cautious in the final with all the false starts, and it was cold out there so I didn’t push it from the start,” said Powell. “But it was OK. I was only going to do enough to win today. At the Worlds I’m definitely going to win. I’m going for it and I’ll try not to disappoint.”
Vlašić is back to winning ways
Croatia’s World champion Blanka Vlašić maintained her lead in the High Jump Diamond Race – but only after a prolonged struggle with Russia’s Anna Chicherova, whom she beat on count-back, by dint of just one extra failure, after both had cleared 1.99 and then failed at 2.01.
Vlašić, who will be seeking her third World outdoor title in Daegu this year, had only managed sixth place in the previous Samsung Diamond League event in Lausanne, where she had complained of problems with her knee and ankle, as well as the cold. So one could understand her exuberant celebration after clearing 1.99, just a centimetre below her world’s best effort of this year, on her second attempt, something her Russian opponent had just failed to do. Chicherova did manage it with her third and final attempt, a season’s best, but there were to be no more clearances.
“There is always a lot of pressure for me to win and so after the disappointment of Lausanne I can get that behind me now,” Vlasic said.
Sweden’s Emma Green Tregaro took third place with 1.90.
Kaki takes expected win; Montsho, another impressive lap
The 800 metres went,, as expected, to the double World Indoor champion from the Sudan, Abubaker Kaki, in 1:44.54, with Poland’s European champion Marcin Lewandowski second in 1:45.47 and Morocco’s Armine Laalou third in 1:45.77. Britain’s 20-year-old Mukhtar Mohammed was fourth in 1:46.66.
Diamond Race leader Amantle Montsho of Botswana was a dominant victor in the women’s 400m, clocking 50.20. Sanya Richards-Ross, hoping to defend her World title this summer, could not cope with the pace in the final straight and faded out of contention to fourth place in 51.11 as two Jamaicans, Rosemarie Whyte and Novlene Williams-Mills came through to take second and third place in 50.82 and 50.85sec respectively.
Jeter surprised by Knight; Bleasdale comes near to achieving major upset
Bianca Knight maintained her Diamond Race lead with victory in the 200m, clocking 22.59 to finish ahead of her US colleagues Marshevet Myers, who clocked the same time, and US champion Carmelita Jeter, who recorded 22.62.
Holly Bleasdale, who vaulted into the athletic world’s consciousness this month with a British record of 4.70m which put her second in the world lists, almost managed to become the first British woman to win a Diamond League field event – or indeed a Golden League one – before she was narrowly beaten by Germany’s European silver medallist Silke Spiegelburg.
The 19-year-old Bleasdale from Blackburn established a promising lead after becoming the only woman in the field to clear 4.61 first time in increasingly slippery conditions.
Her hopes of victory were significantly raised when Brazil’s Diamond Race leader and World Indoor champion Fabiana Murer, clearly unhappy with the surface as the rain continued to drift down, ran through her final attempt at 4.61m.
Russia’s former World record holder Svetlana Feofanova, who had already failed twice at that height, passed for a final attempt at the next marker, 4.66, before Spiegelburg became the only other vaulter to clear it.
After Feofanova fell out of contention by failing with her 4.66 gamble, Spiegelburg cleared it first time to gain a clear lead with the 19-year-old Briton was unable to expunge with her three attempts.
Slippery time long jumpers and shot putters
A women’s Long Jump competition which got to the halfway point before the precipitation arrived was won with a fourth round effort of 6.78 metres by Janay DeLoach of the United States, which took over the lead from Portugal’s Naide Gomes, who had managed 6.58m on her third attempt after two failures. But DeLoach’s US colleague Brittney Reese, who leads this year’s world lists with a personal best of 7.19m, almost produced a finishing flourish with her last attempt of 6.67, which left her in second place. The competition was played out into a head wind.
Dylan Armstrong extended his lead in the Shot Put Diamond Race with victory in 21.55 metres, which he managed on his fourth and final attempt after dominating the competition, which was played out on an extremely wet circle, from the start, when his opening effort of 20.70 had established him top of the pile. Poland’s Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski took second place with a final effort of 20.90, and the reigning World champion Christian Cantwell, who underwent shoulder surgery in February, taking third place with his last effort of 20.86.
Uceny cements growing reputation
Morgan Uceny, the American who is making a name for herself over 1,500 metres this season, added victory here to the one she had achieved at the last Samsung Diamond League meeting in Lausanne as she held off Ethiopia’s Kalkidan Gezehagne and the fast-finishing Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain – formerly Zenebech Tola of Ethiopia – to win in 4:05.64.
Gezehagne was timed at 4:05.96, and Jamal at 4:06.39, just 0.10sec ahead of Britain’s 37-year-old European Indoor 3000m champion Helen Clitheroe, who was in touch with the lead until the final 30 metres after the field had passed the bell in a mass bunch.
Assefa takes victory off final bend
Ethiopia’s 22-year-old Sofia Assefa, second in this year’s world lists, broke clear of her compatriot Almaz Ayana as she approached the final bend to win the 3000m Steeplechase in a meeting record of 9min 25.87sec, with Ayana recording a season’s best of 9:30.27 and Fionnuala Britton of Ireland finishing third with 9:37.93. Behind her there were two personal bests as Delilah Dicrescenzo of the United States was fifth in 9:40.63 and Britain’s 20-year-old Eilish McColgan, daughter of former world 10,000m champion Liz, who was ninth in 9:47.03, a Scottish record.
Müller never seriously challenged
An opening effort of 65.24 metres gave Germany’s Nadine Müller a lead in the women’s Discus Throw which she never lost, extending it with a fifth round best of 65.75 to finish more than three metres clear of her nearest challenger, Aretha D. Thurmond of the United States, whose best was 62.33.
Australia’s World champion Dani Samuels took third place with a season’s best of 62.33. Stephanie Brown-Trafton, the Olympic champion, is a keen hunter when she is back home in the United States, but she failed to bring home the bacon here as she had to settle for fifth place with 60.25.
Mike Rowbottom for the IAAF
(Photo - Samsung Diamond League)