Sandra Perkovic in the discus at the IAAF World Challenge meeting in Zagreb (© Organisers)
Throwers Sandra Perkovic and Tero Pitkamaki produced the key performances at the 64th Hanzekovic Memorial on Tuesday (2) on an evening when rain took central stage in the Croatian capital.
The night, however, clearly belonged to Croatian national heroine Perkovic, one of the meeting’s poster girls, who competed just two days after the sudden death of her former coach and mentor Ivan Ivancic.
“I tried not to think about him,” said Perkovic of the man who helped guide her to Olympic, world and three European titles before her 25th birthday. “The hardest part was when I ran my victory lap and didn’t see him in the stands.”
She struggled to find her rhythm, opening with a modest 60.41m effort before following up with a pair of throws that landed shy of the 60-metre line. She then found herself in second place after the third round when Frenchwoman Melina Robert-Michon took command with a 60.54m throw.
“It was hard to find my technique at the beginning of the competition without Ivan in the stands, but when Melina went ahead, I found my motivation.”
Perkovic rebounded with a 65.00m throw in round four before closing out the competition with a sixth-round 65.09m toss.
Germany’s Shanice Craft was a distant second with 61.15m, with Robert-Michon third at 60.75m.
In the javelin, Pitkamaki’s biggest opponent turned out to be the steady rain that came down hardest during the early part of the programme.
The Finnish veteran nonetheless managed a notable 84.72m throw in the third round that would prove well beyond the reach of Diamond Race winner Thomas Rohler of Germany who reached 82.69m in the fifth round after setting the tone with an 82.42m opener.
The relentless rains dampened the hopes of quality performances, but they couldn’t stop a slew of fiercely competitive contests; among the best came in the men’s 110m hurdles, the meeting’s signature race.
Orlando Ortega, the most in-form among the entrants at the moment, led through the early stages, but Sergey Shubenkov never relented. The Russian caught the Cuban by hurdle nine and passed him at the tenth to take the victory in 13.39 and bag the biggest victory trophy of the night.
“I made some mistakes early in the race but the finish was good,” said Shubenkov, who collected a second consecutive European title in Zurich last month. He’s now looking forward to a strong finish to his season as well, first at the IAAF Diamond League finale in Brussels and then at the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakech.
“That was the second of our important goals for this season,” he said, referring to Marrakech. “I really hope to do well there.”
Ortega clocked 13.42 ahead of Ronnie Ash (13.52) and Olympic champion Aries Merritt (13.58).
There was a similar scenario in the women’s 100m hurdles battle between world indoor champion Nia Ali of the US and Alina Talay of Belarus, the 2012 world indoor bronze medallist. The pair were virtually even until Ali built a slight lead after the fifth hurdle, one she a padded bit by bit through to the finish, clocking 12.92 to Talay’s 12.98. European champion Tiffany Porter was third in 13.01.
It took a few minutes to determine the winner in the night-capping men’s 100m, with Kemar Bailey-Cole getting the nod over fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell. The latter built a slight lead by midway, only to be caught at the line by Bailey-Cole. Both were credited with 10.07, with USA’s Mike Rodgers third in 10.10.
Martyn Rooney of Great Britain won the showdown of continental champions in the 400m when he impressively ran down Isaac Makwala of Botswana over the final 15 metres, clocking 45.49 to the African champion’s 45.60.
The lone flat sprint event on the women’s programme was the 200m, where Myriam Soumare of France, propelled by a strong second half, won convincingly over Joanna Atkins of the US, 22.75 to 22.99.
The best middle-distance race on the programme was the women’s 1500m. World 800m bronze medallist Brenda Martinez of the US ran an impressive last lap mostly from the front of the crowded field to fend off Poland’s Renata Plis, 4:05.46 to 4:05.89, collecting her first win of the year over the distance.
Kenyans Ferguson Cheruiyot Rotich (1:45.76) and Lawrence Kemboi Kipsang (8:19.59) won the 800m and 3000m steeplechase respectively, each by nearly a full second.
The conditions most affected the women’s high jump, where three women managed to beat back the rain long enough to splash their way to 1.93m clearances, with poster girl Ana Simic prevailing on count-back over Blanka Vlasic, another meeting poster girl.
It was just the third time in 15 competitions that Simic has defeated her idol, but the second time in five days.
Poland’s world indoor champion Kamila Licwinko was third at the same height.
In the men’s shot put, held in a park in central Zagreb on Monday evening, New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games silver medallist Tom Walsh won his second World Challenge meeting of the year with a 20.69m effort. Two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski of Poland was second with 20.44m and Reese Hoffa, the Diamond Race winner, was third with 20.36m.
Romanian Alina Rotaru upset Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic in the long jump by one centimetre with a 6.56m leap, and Alexis Copello won the triple jump with a 16.66m best, seven centimetres over Marian Oprea.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF