Usain Bolt (r) stride-for-stride with Richard Thompson in Zagreb (© Zagreb organisers)
Usain Bolt’s 9.85 victory in the 100m capped another highly-charged edition of the Hanzekovic Memorial in Zagreb on Tuesday (13) evening.
A capacity crowd of more than 12,000 filled every nook and cranny of the Sportpark Mladost for the 61st edition of one of Croatia’s premiere sporting events to catch a glimpse of Bolt and four other recently-crowned World champions. But while the meet brought down the curtain on the 2011 IAAF World Challenge series, it didn’t end Bolt’s post-Daegu quest to end his campaign as the season’s fastest over 100 metres.
His performance was a bit faster than his previous 9.88 season’s best from late July’s Samsung Diamond League fixture in Monaco, but still fell short of compatriot Asafa Powell’s 9.78 world leader from the Lausanne leg of the SDL. And the difference was likely lost in Bolt’s self-professed lacklustre start.
“It was a poor start and I kinda lost concentration, but I ran well through the finish,” Bolt said. “I could have done better, particularly with the good weather tonight.”
With the late afternoon’s balmy conditions lingering on into the evening, the conditions were indeed ideal. The double World record holder had a serious race on his hands in the first 60 metres, with World bronze medallist Kim Collins and Trinidad & Tobago’s Richard Thompson giving him some solid competition before Bolt managed to pull away over the final 15 metres.
Bolt however can’t be too disappointed - the throng of hundreds that mobbed him on the track after the race certainly weren't - as he packs his gear for his season’s finale in Brussels. Zagreb’s track isn’t known for being particularly fast, and his 9.85 run eclipsed the 9.92 meet record set last year by his arch rival Tyson Gay.
Behind him, Collins clocked a 10.01 season’s best for the second time in 48 hours to take second, with Thompson a fraction back in third clocking 10.03.
Jeter wins convincingly
In the women’s race, World champion Carmelita Jeter won as expected, but also had some unexpected company on the way to her 11.00 victory, her sixth straight over the distance and her ninth in ten starts this season.
After a conservative start, Jeter began to pull away from the field by midway, but couldn’t shake Jamaican Schillonie Calvert until about the 80-metre point. Calvert, this season’s winner in Hengelo and Rieti, clocked 11.13.
Calvert doubled back later and cruised to a big win in the 200m, clocking a 22.55 PB ahead of Sherone Simpson’s 22.95.
Richardson pushes Robles to the line
The Zagreb meeting honours the memory of Croatian inter-war hurdler Boris Hanzekovic, giving the high hurdles pride of place on the programme each year. This edition was no different with Jason Richardson and Dayron Robles going head-to-head for the second time since the World Championships. And the battle was fierce, fast and close through the finish.
Robles, whose disqualification in the Daegu final elevated Richardson to the podium’s top step, built a narrow lead early on over his American rival, but Richardson never relented. By the eighth barrier, Robles had carved out a slightly wider gap, but Richardson fought back and nearly caught the World record holder over the final hurdle. Robles clocked a season’s best of 13.00 while Richardson’s 13.04 was a personal best. Both were pleased.
“I felt a little tightness during the warm-ups, but felt better when I stepped on the track,” Robles, the reigning Olympic champion, said. “If it wasn’t for that, tonight’s time would have been even faster.”
Was tonight a revenge of sorts for Daegu? “This is my job,” he said. “I’m just here doing my job.”
And so is Richardson, whose strong momentum continued here.
“To not run a clean race and still get a personal best shows that I’m still in great shape,” said Richardson, whose previous best was 13.08.
The American, who began the season with a 13.21 PB from 2008, said he didn’t foresee his rapid climb into the event’s upper echelon, but it wasn’t for lack of confidence or enthusiasm.
“At the beginning of the season I was still learning seven steps (to the first hurdle),” he said. “I never imagined that I’d get the results this quickly.”
World leader David Oliver rounded out the top-three with a 13.20 run, his fastest in over a month.
Pearson remains undefeated
Another Daegu champion on the Zagreb programme was Australian Sally Pearson who continued to do what she’s been doing all season – win.
The world leader after her sensational 12.28 in Daegu, Pearson built a clear lead by the fourth barrier and forged on to take the race in 12.68, her tenth victory this year in as many races.
It was a terrific race,” said Pearson. “I came into the meet a bit tired after a long season, but I’m happy.”
Olympic champion Dawn Harper, the bronze medallist in Daegu, was a strong second in 12.81 just two days after her victory in Berlin.
Chicherova out-battles Vlasic
Despite his stature, Bolt was forced to share poster cover duties with local heroine Blanka Vlasic, whose rematch with World champion Anna Chicherova was among the key attractions for the wildly enthusiastic standing room-only crowd. And the pair delivered.
Both began at 1.85m and went out at 2.04m, with the lone difference coming at 2.00m, where the Russian sailed clear on her first try while Vlasic needed a second, handing a rare home defeat for the Croatian.
Pars secures Hammer Throw Challenge title
Krisztian Pars may not have won the final battle in the men’s side of the IAAF Hammer Throw Challenge, but he wound up winning the season-long war.
The Hungarian reached a solid 79.86m to finish third in the meeting’s opening event, but he couldn’t match the late-season form illustrated by Dilshod Nazarov of Tajikistan and Slovenia’s Primoz Kozmus.
Indeed it was Kozmus, the Olympic champion who took bronze in Daegu who controlled much of the competition, reaching 80.28m in the third round, his first throw beyond the 80-metre line this season. But Nazarov stole the fire in the fourth and final round with an 80.30m toss to steal the win by just two centimetres. It was also a personal best for Nazarov, surpassing an 80.11m effort from last year.
Chepseba improves to 3:30.94
Meeting records fell in the longer distances as well, the most impressive of which came in the men’s 1500m courtesy of Samsung Diamond Trophy winner Nixon Chepseba.
Continuing his breakout season, the 21-year-old Kenyan took the lead heading into the backstraight and held off the challenge of former compatriot Ilham Tanui Ozbilen to cross the line in 3:30.94, a personal best by nearly half a second as well as a meet record. The performance also solidified his No.2 position on the season’s list.
Ozbilen, the former William Tanui Biwott who now competes for Turkey, was a strong second in 3:31.37 with Kenyan Gideon Gathimba third in 3:33.53, career bests for both and a national record as well for the former.
In the men’s 3000m Steeplechase a meet record fell courtesty of Kenyan teenager Hillary Kipsang Yego. In the lead by 2000 metres, the 19-year-old forged on to take the win in 8:12.81, well ahead of both compatriot Elijah Chelimo (8:14.22) and the 8:14.86 previous meet standard set by Eliud Barngentuny in 1999.
Hoffa takes down stacked Shot Put field
Unlike the other events on the infield, the shot putters were given six throws – the top five nonetheless all produced their best in the first four rounds, and all surpassed 21 metres.
Reese Hoffa took top honours this time, capping his consistent series with a 21.73m in the fourth round, one of his four efforts that sailed beyond the 21-metre line. Former World champion Christian Cantwell, who threw 22.22m here last year, settled for second at 21.55m, with Canada’s world leader Dylan Armstrong third at 21.40m. Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski (21.10) and Berlin winner Ryan Whiting (21.04m) rounded out the top five.
Action began on the track with the women’s 400m, with Novlene Williams-Mills running down Daegu bronze medallist Anastasiya Kapachinskaya over the final 30 metres to win in 50.31, also a meeting record. The Russian wasn’t too far behind in 50.40m, while Shericka Williams, propelled by a 50.45 season’s best, rounded out a 1-3 finish for Jamaica.
Daegu silver medallist Lashawn Merritt had an easier time in the men’s race a few minutes later, winning comfortably in 45.22. American compatriot Greg Nixon was a distant second in 45.73.
In the women’s 800m, Maggie Vessey of the U.S. showed solid closing strength when she held of Cuban Yunesy Santiusty, 1:58.64 to 1:58.70, a personal best for the latter. In a quality race, the top five all broke two minutes.
Only five men competed in the Long Jump, and only three of those managed to produce valid leaps, but the lack of competition didn’t keep Russian Aleksandr Menkov from his second victory in as many days with an 8.18m best. On Sunday Menkov, a Deagu finalist, defeated World champion Dwight Phillips in Berlin.
The women’s win went to Russian Olga Zaytseva, whose 6.73m was 10 centimetres clear of Briton Shara Proctor’s 6.63m best.
Hungarian Zoltan Kovago, the world leader, took a somewhat low key Discus competition with a 64.91m effort in the fourth and final round to edge Australian Benn Harradine, who reached 63.83m, also in the final round.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF