Jairus Birech at the 2014 IAAF Diamond League final in Brussels (© Gladys von der Laage)
In his past five wins on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, Jairus Birech has looked almost unbeatable. Tonight he was pushed all the way by European record-holder Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, but the Kenyan pulled out his first sub-eight-minute performance to secure the Diamond Race title.
Led through the first 1000m in 2:38.41, Mekhissi-Benabbad was keeping close to the pacemaker before Birech took up the running and went through 2000m in 5:21.31, with the tempo slipping just outside eight-minute pace.
Determined to become the 11th member of the sub-eight-minute club, Birech pushed the pace in the closing kilometre, opening up a gap on Mekhissi-Benabbad before the final lap.
The 21-year-old Kenyan continued to pull away from his French rival and stopped the clock at 7:58.41, taking him to 10th on the world all-time list.
Mekhissi-Benabbad had to be content with a season’s best and European lead of 8:03.23. In third, USA’s Evan Jager set a North American record of 8:04.71.
“I felt strong before the race,” said Birech. “My aim was to run under eight minutes and I did it. I have reached all my goals this year: to win the Diamond Race, become African champion and run under eight minutes.”
Fellow Kenyan Mercy Cherono did what was required – beating world indoor champion Genzebe Dibaba – to win the Diamond Race in the women’s 3000m.
A large group was huddled together for much of the race and it was only on the last lap when the real racing began.
European 1500m champion Sifan Hassan led at the bell with 2011 world 1500m champion Jenny Simpson on her shoulder and Cherono down in seventh. With 200 metres to go, Cherono began to make her move and she kicked hard as she entered the home straight.
The world 5000m silver medallist did just enough to overtake Hassan, taking the win in 8:28.95. Hassan found some consolation in the fact she set a Dutch record of 8:29.38, becoming just the second woman in history after Maryam Yusuf Jamal to have personal bests below 2:00 for 800m, 4:00 for 1500m, 8:30 for 3000m and 15:00 for 5000m.
Dibaba finished third in 8:29.41. In fourth, Simpson set a personal best of 8:29.58, just 0.35 ahead of US compatriot Shannon Rowbury, who also dipped below 8:30.
Kiplagat defeated but does enough to win Diamond Race
The men’s 1500m was one of the tighter Diamond Race competitions coming into Brussels and it did not disappoint.
World champion Asbel Kiprop, world leader Silas Kiplagat and world indoor champion Ayanleh Souleiman were all in contention for the Diamond Race victory. Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi was also in the race and was always in a good position.
Paced through 800m in 1:52.99, Ethiopia’s Aman Wote was in the lead with 300 metres to go. Makhloufi then moved to the front with half a lap remaining, only for Kiplagat to kick hard.
The Kenyan came close to catching the Algerian, but Makhloufi held on for the win in 3:31.78, just 0.02 ahead of Kiplagat.
The fast-finishing Souleiman was just a further 0.02 behind. Nevertheless, by beating his top two rivals, Kiplagat maintained his lead in the Diamond Race.
Felix back on top
The narrowest leading margin of any Diamond Race event heading into Brussels was in the women’s 200m. Olympic champion Allyson Felix and Commonwealth champion Blessing Okagbare were the only two women left in contention with just two points separating them.
If anything, European champion Dafne Schippers – who beat both Felix and Okagbare in their last 200m clash – was the marginal pre-race favourite, but there was no stopping Felix tonight.
She was already in the lead coming off the bend and she held that position as she strode down the home straight, looking every bit back to her best. Her winning time of 22.02 shaved 0.01 off Schippers’ world-leading mark. It was also Felix’s fastest time since winning Olympic gold in 2012.
In second, France’s Myriam Soumare surprised with a personal best of 22.11, finishing 0.19 ahead of Schippers, the woman who defeated her twice at the European Championships. Okagbare was never a factor, finishing sixth in 22.60.
Conversely, the men’s long jump was one of the most wide-open events in terms of the Diamond Race. Any one of the 11 men on the start list could have, in theory, taken the overall victory.
Ultimately, the winner – the in-form Godfrey Mokoena – wasn’t too big of a surprise. The South African, who this year has won Commonwealth Games and African titles, jumped a season’s best of 8.19m to win.
Ignisious Gaisah of the Netherlands was second with 8.06m, finishing ahead of USA’s Christian Taylor on count-back.
Harting wins discus but Malachowski takes Diamond Race
To take the Diamond Race, Germany’s three-time world champion Robert Harting not only had to win the discus, but he had to make sure Polish rival Piotr Malachowski was two places behind.
While he succeeded in his first goal, throwing 67.57m, Malachowski was a close second, throwing 67.35m, ensuring he kept his lead in the Diamond Race.
Kenya’s world champion Eunice Sum had her lowest finish in an 800m race this year, but it mattered little to a woman who had already done enough earlier in the season to win the Diamond Race.
USA’s world bronze medallist Brenda Martinez was the surprise winner, bursting into the lead with 200m to go and holding off a strong challenge from Lynsey Sharp and Sum to win in 1:58.84.
Sharp clocked 1:58.94 in second place with Sum in third but given the same time.
Williams-Mills and Martinot-Lagarde take Diamond Race victories
Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross notched up her second IAAF Diamond League 400m victory of the season, winning in 49.98, but it wasn’t enough to stop Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills from winning the Diamond Race.
Finishing behind Commonwealth champion Stephenie Ann McPherson, who set a season’s best of 50.12, Williams-Mills was third in 50.42, bringing her winning points tally in the Diamond Race to 20.
French sprint hurdler Pascal Martinot-Lagarde was another athlete who had an unbeatable lead in the Diamond Race going into Brussels.
For the fifth time in the 2014 IAAF Diamond League series, he bagged maximum points in the 110m hurdles, winning in 13.08.
Cuba’s Orlando Ortega clocked 13.13 in second place, 0.09 ahead of European champion Sergey Shubenkov. USA’s Olympic champion Aries Merritt, competing on the same track on which he set his 12.80 world record two years ago, finished a distant seventh in 13.37.
On the 15th anniversary of Noah Ngeny’s world 1000m record, the Kenyan’s mark went unchallenged in the non-IAAF Diamond League event.
After being paced through 800m in 1:48.8, the Polish pair of Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski led coming into the home straight.
World 800m champion Mohammed Aman then made his move and although it was enough to catch Lewandowski, he could not quite reach European 800m champion Kszczot before the line.
Kszczot won in a national record of 2:15.72, just 0.03 ahead of the Ethiopian record set by Aman, with Lewandowski was just a further 0.04 behind in third.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF