David Oliver is beginning to remind me of Sergei Bubka. You know how Bubka would improve a centimeter at a time as he raised the World Record. Now Oliver is taking his PR – which is now the American Record – down a notch at a time. In Eugene he ran 12.93 to get in reach of the AR. In Lausanne he tied it at 12.90. Yesterday in Paris he ran 12.89 to take it down one more inch! And the thing was, it was far from the perfect race. A less than good start was followed by some average hurdling over the first couple of flights before he seemed to get into his rhythm and flow. At that point he began to pull away from the field, and his dip at the line stopped the clock at the new AR. It seems like it’s just a matter of time before everything comes together and he has a shot at the WR – which was only .02 away today!
Oliver’s mark made equal billing with the second of this season’s men’s 100 meter showdowns as Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell squared off. With Powell having lost the first one to Tyson Gay last week in Gateshead, this race would begin to define the 100 meter hierarchy this season. Powell and Bolt were separated on the starting line by France’s new NR holder, Christophe Lematrie, who was getting the opportunity to test himself against two of the best the event has to offer. With Bolt and Powell both off quickly the race became an “A” race and a “B” race rather quickly. Unlike Gateshead, Powell was never able to get any breathing room between he and Bolt and the race was effectively over as Bolt eased away in the second 50 meters. Behind them Yohan Blake closed best to attempt to make it a race for second but Powell had too much as the three Jamaicans ran 9.84, 9.91 and 9.95. Bolt’s win now sets up the race between he and Tyson Gay at the end of the season in Brussels as the race for #1 in 2010. Actually a bit disappointing after all the head to head’s we were promised the Diamond League would bring that at the end of the day we will still only get one matchup among the world’s top two sprinters. Not the best way to determine who was best on the season.
While the 100 and hurdles were the headline events, Paris was not short on outstanding events. One of the most exciting was the women’s 1500 meters. The field was loaded and the women ran like it. With Gelete Burka (ETH) having established the world best in Lausanne, the pace was hot as everyone seemed to look to burn off her kick. Russian Anna Alminova stayed near the front with the pace makers from the start as did American Christin Wurth Thomas. It paid off for both as they stayed ahead of the pack down the final backstretch and into the finish. As a matter of fact Alminova began to run away from the field, dominating the last lap as she demolished the world lead with her 3:57.65 – a new PR taking down her 3:58.38 from last year. Also getting a new PR was Wurth Thomas, second in 3:59.59 – moving her into the #4 position all time among Americans! It also gives her a second consecutive season under four minutes and further solidifies US forces as a threat over 1500. This is the second major race with an American in the top two following Morgan Ucency’s second place finish in Gateshead. And last year four of the top ten women on the clock were Americans. We are making a lot of progress in this event and Wurth Thomas’ front running mentality has put her right there at the front of the pack.
Another pair of strong US performances were turned in by Allyson Felix and Jeremy Wariner. In the women’s 200, Felix actually ran a very strong turn to emerge in front onto the straight. She looked to be on her way to a sub22 second clocking, but had no pressure in the stretch. She easily ran away from the field winning in 22.14, and it’s clear that her only competition is two time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM). In the men’s 400, we got another strong performance from Jeremy Wariner in what has become somewhat of a comeback of sorts. In Paris he once again began to look like his old self, moving well down the backstretch before putting the race out of reach on the turn. He held form well up the final straight winning in a world leading 44.49. The surprise of the race, and this season, was former 400 hurdler Jermaine Gonzalez who finished strong in the final straight. He actually closed ground on Wariner on his way to second in a new PR of 44.63.
On the field the battle between Chaunte Howard Lowe (US) and Blanka Vlasic (CRO) finally had someone blink as Vlasic won on height this time 6’ 7.5” to 6’ 6.75”. None the less, Howard Lowe showed that she is indeed on Vlasic’s level and her prime competition heading into the upcoming championship cycle. French Vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, however, is beginning to separate himself from the competition.The man who looked like he was going to dominate this event based on his vaulting this spring was Australia's Steven Hooker. Hooker no heighted in Paris, however, after finishing second to Lavillenie in Lausanne. Vaulting at home Lavillenie cleared the bar at 19’ 4.75” – well up on American Derek Miles’ 18’ 8.5”. Similarly javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen (NOR) continued to dominate his event winning with a toss of 267’ 1”.
An event where the tide has seemingly turned is the women’s shot put. New Zealand’s Valerie Villi had dominated the event and won everything in sight since 2007 – until this year. This year Nadzeya Ostapchuk (BLR) has emerged and taken Villi’s scalp in their last two Diamond League competitions in Gateshead and yesterday in Paris – 68’ 2.25” to 66’ 0.5”. The Belarusian is beginning to look like the dominant force.
Overall Paris was a very good meet and I expect a high level of competition over the final five Diamond League events. As the athletes are about at their peaks for this year. Next stop, Monaco.