LaShawn Merritt wins the 400m from Kirani James at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
The first three men in the IAAF World Championships 400m last week were the first three home at the Weltklasse Zurich, but the order was completely different on a chilly night at the first of the 2015 IAAF Diamond League finals.
USA’s LaShawn Merritt produced a perfectly executed race to win over one lap of Zurich’s famous Letzigrund stadium in 44.18.
Hitting the front going into the second bend, Beijing silver medallist Merritt entered the home straight just in front and withstood a late challenge from Kirani James and Wayde van Niekerk, third and first in the Chinese capital, to win by a metre.
James, from Grenada, edged in front of the South African world champion over the final 10 metres to take second in 44.28 with Van Niekerk third in 44.35.
However, second place meant that James took the Diamond Race from his two rivals.
Ivana Spanovic impressed when she produced a Serbian record to win the long jump with 7.02m.
Spanovic had shown that she was in good form when she leapt a national record of 7.01m for the bronze medal in Beijing but that performance still left her disappointed as she believed she was capable of going much farther.
She flirted with elimination after two fouls in the first two rounds in Zurich but then uncorked an excellent clutch effort of 6.93m in the third round to take the lead.
USA's world champion Tianna Bartoletta had gone out to 6.72m in the third round and then passed her next two jumps but then snatched pole position away from Spanovic with her last-round effort of 6.97m.
However, Spanovic showed just what a competitor she is by producing the best jump of her career with the last jump of the competition. Nevertheless, Bartoletta’s second place won her the Diamond Race.
Another athlete to to have quickly shrugged off any residual jet lag was Jamaican sprint star Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.
Fraser-Pryce had expressed an ambition on Wednesday to challenge her personal best of 10.70, but it was apparent as soon as the temperatures started to drop that such a feat was highly unlikely.
Nevertheless, thanks to a brilliant pick up, from 20 metres into the race she motored into the lead and was never headed, winning in 10.93.
The first of the 16 Diamond Race titles to be decided in Zurich went to Poland’s newly crowned discus world champion Piotr Malachowski.
Looking like a pale shade of the thrower who won gold in Beijing, he struggled to find his rhythm and for four rounds was out of the top three and potentially about to lose out on first place in the Diamond Race.
However, after throwing 63.10m in the fifth round to move up to third, it all came right on his sixth effort as he reached 65.04m to finish second behind his friend and training partner, Poland’s world bronze medallist Robert Urbanek, who threw 65.78m in the fifth round.
Shortly afterwards the women’s shot put came to an end and Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, like Malachowski a world champion, clinched the Diamond Race with a winning effort of 19.91m in the second round.
Schwanitz’s two other vaild throws were also better than second-placed Michelle Carter, the US athlete putting 19.12m.
The first Diamond Race to be decided on the track was the women’s 400m hurdles. Although she showed some signs of being tired after the trip back from China, two-time world champion Zuzana Hejnova had enough in the tank to win in 54.57 and clinch her second Trophy after also winning in 2013.
However, Hejnova had to work hard down the home straight to hold off Sara Petersen, the Dane finishing 0.1 in arrears.
Paul Kipsiele Koech, having fresher legs due to staying at home while a quartet of his Kenyan compatriots occupied the first four positions in Beijing, sprung a slight surprise by winning the 3000m steeplechase.
He pulled away from his team-mate Jairus Birech with just over a lap to go and opened up a gap of 40 metres by the finish, crossing the line in 8:10.24.
Birech, who finished fourth in Beijing after being the most consistent steeplechaser on the international circuit since the start of 2014, finished second in 8:15.64 and had the consolation of taking the Diamond Race.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF