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Gatlin’s Sprint Double, Jager’s AR Also Add Spice

Intense personal rivalries – forcing competitors to achieve at levels often beyond their own expectations – drive human performance in all sports.  McEnroe vs. Bjorg; Bird vs. Johnson; Palmer vs. Nicklaus; and Ali vs. Frazier. Track & field is no different:  Rafer Johnson vs. C.K. Yang; John Thomas vs. Valery Brumel; Steve Ovett vs. Sebastian Coe; Carl Lewis vs. Mike Powell.  And now in this the year of the men’s high jump, we can celebrate a new emerging rivalry:  Bohdan Bondarenko vs. Mustav Barshim.  Their mano a mano Brussels showdown on the high jump apron was the athletic centerpiece of the 2014 Diamond League finale.

The capacity crowd settled in early as these two high jump warriors prepared to do battle.  With so much at stake, with 5 jumpers in the field with SB’s of 2.40m [7’10½] or higher, and the bar heading for dizzying heights, the event proved to be a lesson in energy management.  Unlike the throws and the horizontal jumps where an event can be won on an early – or even opening – attempt, the vertical jumps require a conservation of strength for that magnificent winning jump at the conclusion of the competition.  When the bar went to 2.37m [7'9¼"] only Bondarenko – the early leader – and Barshim remained.  The Qatar athlete found himself in a box when he cleared 2.37m on his second attempt – his 7th jump of the day. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian athlete – jumping clean – sailed over 2.40m on his first attempt – only his 4th jump of the competition.  But in a stunning change of fortune, Barshim took the lead when he made his first attempt at 2.43m [7'11½"] – #2 on the all-time world list – and Bondarenko missed.  You could feel the crowd's electricity as the world champion promptly passed and the bar went up to the global record height of 2.46m [8'¾"].  Close but unsuccessful first and second attempts for both athletes sent Bondarenko to the sidelines and gave Barshim the win, the DL title, and the national, stadium, and DL records.  As he stood on the apron to take his final jump at 2.46m, Barshim had to know that more was within his grasp:  the world record and the inside track on Athlete of the Year honors.  It was not to be as a slight calf brush foiled his final attempt.  When track & field fans realize these jumpers are now 7-7 in head-to-head competition and were 3-3 in 2014 Diamond League gatherings, they relish the thought of this ongoing rivalry.

The high jump dual – one of the greatest ever – was not the only sparkling Memorial Van Damme moment.

Justin Gatlin looked terrific as he posted the greatest one-day sprint double of all time.  Not since Ato Boldon rang up a one-day double of 9.90 / 19.77 way back in the last century has any sprinter had a dual win day like USA’s veteran dash man.  Gatlin – whose 100m start could serve as a drive phase instructional video – drove that early lead all the way through the line for a convincing win and the DL crown in a world-leading 9.77.  "I am happy with 9.93, a season’s best.  But I had expected to be a little closer to Justin," said second place finisher Mike Rodgers.  "As soon as I was behind him in the race, I knew it was over."  Will there ever be another Olympic 100m champion setting PR's ten years after winning Olympic gold?  The 100m victor returned 60 minutes later to take on a world class field in a non-DL 200m.  Aided by another great start, Gatlin ran the curve with a vengeance, hit the straightaway with a 4 meter lead, and won going away.  His 19.71 clocking did not improve his world leader of 19.68. But Gatlin’s winning time was a whopping .55 seconds faster than 200m Diamond League champion Alonso Edward who finished third.  While there is a steadfast sector of the track & field community which believes Gatlin's earlier drug infraction should permanently disqualify him from any performance accolades, at least as many others believe Gatlin has served his punishment and his undefeated year and scintillating DL finale give him convincing AOY credentials.

With Kenya's Jairus Birech having nailed down the DL title long ago, there was little obvious excitement in the men's 3000m steeplechase finale. As expected, Birech toyed with the field and finished strongly to win in 7:58.41 – the year's only sub-8:00 clocking.  The real steeple drama was the courageous run by USA's Evan Jager.  Racing essentially alone throughout, the American record holder closed hard over the final lap to better his national mark with a 3rd place finish in 8:04.71. “I didn’t start with the intention to run my PB.  I just wanted a competitive race.” revealed Jager.  ”But it turned out a little bit different.  I ran almost the whole race alone.  And my 63 second last lap brought me almost to the French athlete.  Now I’m world class.”  Might the AR holder who just missed a medal in Moscow climb the Beijing podium next August?

Renaud LaVillenie –  with the Diamond Trophy locked up – put on a pole vault clinic clearing 5.93m [19’5¼”].  Unthreatened, the French athlete who earlier this year set the world indoor mark with a 6.16m [20’2½”] clearance easily won the finale to better his prior world leading outdoor mark.  

Colombia's Caterine Ibarquen – who had clinched the Diamond League women's triple jump crown weeks earlier – was still able to reach back for a top flight performance.  Her final jump of 14.98m [49'1 3/4"] – #2 on the world leader board – gave her a comfortable win over second place finisher Olha Saladukha [14.53m / 47'8"].

When Germany's Christina Schwanitz heaved a first round put of 19.66m [64'6"] – which matched New Zealand's Valerie Adams’ opening mark – it appeared to inspire the Olympic and world shot put champion.  The Kiwi – who came to Brussels with the DL title secured – immediately responded.  Adams' second round bomb of 20.59m [67'6¾"] was not only the winner, it was the new world leader, set a new meet record, and enabled Adams to extend her consecutive win streak to 56.  Schwanitz's final put [19.86m / 65'2"] vaulted her ahead of USA's Michelle Carter [19.73m / 64'8¾"] to claim the runner-up position.

In the men’s discus, Germany’s Robert Harting produced only two legal throws.  But his second round twirl of 67.57m [221’8”] was all he needed to win the event.  Even with double point scoring in the finale, Harting’s win was insufficient to wrest the DL trophy from Poland’s Piotr Malachowski who takes the title on the strength of a second place finish and a top mark of 67.35m [220’11”].

World and DL leader Kaliese Spencer had locked up the 400H Diamond Trophy long before her arrival in Brussels. Her 54.12 clocking against a world class field earned her a workmanlike victory and shows the young Jamaican deserves to be in the conversation for AOY honors.  “I reached all of my goals for this season,” said the winner in the mixed zone.

When an injury forced Diamond League long jump leader Jeff Henderson to pull out of the Brussels LJ finale, it opened the door to the trophy room for a good number of LJ entrants.  South Africa’s Godfrey Mokoena seized the opportunity and captured the win and the title with winning 4th round leap of 8.19 [26’10½].  Christian Taylor – who won the DL triple jump title in Zurich – couldn’t quite gain the companion trophy when his best jump of 8.06 [26’5½”] came up just a little short.

In the women's 400, Sanya Richards Ross was all business as she dominated an impressive field.  A strong third 100 gave the Olympic champion a 4 meter lead entering the homestretch.  Hitting the line in 49.98, SRR was able to hold off a closing Stephenie Ann McPherson [50.12] and Novlene Williams-Mills [50.42], the DL titlist.  The other Americans Natasha Hastings [6th in 51.24] and world leader Francena McCorory [7th in 51.44] were never a factor.  SRR's victory had no impact on the DL 400 outcome which Williams-Mills had earlier clinched.  But Ross can be comforted in knowing that her win will give Williams-Mills, McCorory, and others plenty to think about heading into 2015's championship season.

Barbora Spotakova settled the women's javelin convincingly.  Her fourth round scud missile of 67.99m [223'] gave the Czech the victory, the meet record, the world leader, and the Diamond Trophy.  Second place finisher Sunette Viljoen was over 11 feet back at 64.30m [210’11”].

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde has ruled the 110H all season and the Brussels finale was no exception.  Away quickly, the French hurdler – who had locked up the DL title long before – snapped over the barriers in 13.08 for a clear victory over Cuba's Orlando Ortega [13.13].  The roller coaster ride continues for Aries Merritt as he finished 7th in this race in 13.37.  Two years ago, Merritt – who received special pre-meet acknowledgments here – ran his world record 12.80 at this gathering.  His season best this year?  13.27.

In the men's 1500m final, USA's Galen Rupp dropped down to become a surprise entrant.  How deep are the fields in these DL finales?  The Olympic silver medalist at 10,000m ran a PR [3:34.15] and beat world champion Asbel Kiprop, but could only finish 11th.  During the race, Kiprop, Ayanleh Soulieman, and Silas Kiplagat – the three contenders for the DL title – eyed each other warily as they conducted their own race within a race. Kiplagat's overpowering finish – which he displayed in Monaco and elsewhere this season – was too much for Soulieman and Kiprop as he disposed of his DL challengers to claim the trophy.  Kiplagat's pre-finish line celebration of his DL crown cost him the race win – and $2000 – as Algeria’s Taoulik Makhloufi sneaked in for the race win in the final strides.

In the women's 200m, USA's Allyson Felix wanted to ensure a different season capper than in 2013 when a hamstring injury in Moscow's 200m final left her in shambles.  With her signature neon yellow calf warmers flashing, the Olympic champion ran the curve hard and entered the homestretch with a two meter lead which she held to the line.  Felix's 22.02 clocking gave her the win, the DL crown, and the world leader.  France's Myriam Soumare [22.11] finished second and unseated world leader Dafne Schippers [22.30] was third.

World champion Eunice Sum had the Diamond Trophy safely out of the reach of others, but the women's 800m final was nonetheless spirited.  USA's Brenda Martinez was ready.  Very fit and not over-raced, the 800m world championship medalist downshifted with 200 remaining and spurted out to a lead she was able to hold down the homestretch for her second-ever Diamond League race win in 1:58.84.  Great Britain's fast-closing Lynsey Sharp and Sum both clocked 1:58.94 to finish second and third, respectively.

The Diamond Trophy was on the line as the entrants approached the start for the evening's final event: the women's 3000m. Netherland's Sifan Hassan sought to neutralize the big kickers when she ratcheted up the tempo with 650m remaining.  Kenya's Mercy Cherono calmly covered Hassan's move and ultimately raced on for the win [8:28.95] and the DL title.  Hassan [8:29.38] held off Genzebe Dibaba [8:29.41] for second.  The race also featured an American subplot.  USA's Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury – who electrified the Zurich crowd with their diving 1-2 finish in the w1500m DL finale – both PR'd in finishing 4th [8:29.58] and 5th [8:29.03] respectively.

As exuberant spectators streamed out of King Baudouin Stadium and into the darkness, promotional signage reminded the exiting fans that the AG Insurance Memorial Van Damme is “A Night With The Stars.”  On this cool, windless, late summer evening in Brussels, the many premier performances during Friday night’s Diamond League finale confirmed that this marketing phrase was not merely wishful hype. 

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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