Belarusian high jumper Maksim Nedasekau at The Match in Minsk (© Getty Images)
Maksim Nedasekau topped a world-leading 2.35m in the high jump to highlight the first day of The Match, the inaugural duel between the United States and a united European squad in Minsk, Belarus, on Monday (9).
Inspired by a supportive hometown crowd, the 21-year-old Belarusian topped 2.33m to secure the victory for Team Europe before having the bar raised to 2.35m. He nudged it slightly on his second try but it stayed on, adding two centimetres to Nedasekau’s previous career best set when winning the European U20 title two years ago.
"Every time I made an attempt the whole stadium was applauding and shouting, I felt the support of every person here," said Nedasekau, whose earlier clearance equalled Ilya Ivanyuk's world-leading mark heading into the competition. He’ll now head to the IAAF World Championships Doha 2019 as a solid medal contender.
Ivanyuk, competing for Europe as an Authorized Neutral Athlete, topped 2.31m to finish second with Jeron Robinson of the US finishing third with 2.29m.
The US team took 12 of the 18 events on day one, but trails Europe 331-304 heading into the second day.
Europe got off to a strong start with Anzhelika Sidorova and Katerina Stefanidi finishing 1-2 in the women's pole vault at 4.85m and 4.70m respectively, and a top-three showing in the men's hammer throw led by reigning world champion Pawel Fajdek. The Pole threw 80.71m, just 17cm shy of his season’s best, to win by more than two metres over compatriot Wojciech Nowicki who reached 78.33m. Briton Nick Miller was third, reaching 77.89m.
The European team was expecting big points in the shot put but it was Darrell Hill who impressed, reaching a season's best 22.35m in the second round after opening with a 22.13m heave. Pole Konrad Bukowiecki threw 21.92m to finish second with Croatia’s Filip Mihaljevic rounding out the quality competition with 21.60m to finish third.
Damarcus Simpson of the US won a close long jump competition in which three men all jumped 8.17m. The 26-year-old got the nod on countback over European champion Miltiadis Tentoglou and Spain's Eusebio Caceras after jumping 8.17m yet again with his final leap.
As expected, the US flaunted its depth in the sprints.
Mike Rodgers led a top-three sweep for the USA in the men's 100m, taking a comfortable win in 10.20 ahead of teammates Christopher Belcher (10.25) and Demek Kemp (10.28). However, the squad's clean sweep ambitions were dashed after Isiah Young's disqualification for a false start.
In the women's 100m, Dezerea Bryant of the US was out fast and quickly chiseled together a hefty lead midway through the race but at the 90-metre point was joined and then passed by Briton Daryll Neita who edged the American at the line by a scant 0.01 in 11.29. Morolake Akinosun was another step back in 11.39 to round out the top-three.
US sprinters later took both 400m contests with Wadeline Jonathas prevailing in the women's race in 51.01 and Michael Cherry in the men's in 45.13. On the women's side, Allyson Felix battled her way into contention after a conservative start, running from sixth at the top of the final bend to second across the line just a few steps behind the winner with a 51.36 season's best.
They then capped action on the track with a 1-2 finish in the women's 4x100m relay and a 1-3 showing in the men's.
The US squad also took three of the day's four middle distance events.
Elise Cranny and Rachel Schneider finished 1-2 in the 3000m, clocking 9:00.70 and 9:00.77 respectively while Stanley Kebenei took the men's steeplechase in 8:33.65 ahead of Spaniards Daniel Arce and Ibrahim Ezzaydouni.
For the second time in as many races this month, Josh Thompson executed a well-timed kick to take a narrow 1500m victory, this time over Jake Wightman by just 0.02 in 3:38.88 to give the US squad an unanticipated victory in that event.
There was a similar finish in a tactical women's 800m about 15 minutes earlier but instead went Europe's way when Briton Alexandra Bell caught Olha Lyakhova about two metres from the line to edge the Ukrainian 2:04.81 to 2:04.90.
Other winners included Kara Winger who threw 64.63m to win the javelin for the US, edging Tatsiana Khaladovich who reached 64.41m for Europe, and Tori Franklin who took the triple jump with 14.36m.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF