Marie-Jose Perec (FRA) at the Atlanta Olympics (© Getty Images)
It was the race the crowd in Nice had been waiting for and they were not disappointed.
Marie-José Pérec may have come in third, but 50.32 for her first 400m since 1996 was an excellent result, coming on the heels of her second place and 22.71 in Lausanne in the half lap event.
The field was strong, with Katharine Merry of Great Britain, Olabisi Afolabi of Nigeria and Lorraine Graham of Jamaica all in the top ten of the IAAF top performance lists and Perec gave an excellent showing, despite being outsprinted at the finish by Merry and Graham. The winning time was 50.05, seventh fastest of the 2000 season.
Marie-José was satisfied and relieved after the race: " it’s the best time I’ve ever run in a debut race," she said.
"I was afraid that I was going to have problems in the last hundred, but not at all. I was expecting to suffer, but I didn’t feel a thing, even though I didn’t sleep last night worrying that I was going to run a lousy time and lose with something like 52 or 53 seconds!"
Return in force for Anthuan Maybank too in the men’s 400m. In his first race of the 2000 season, Maybank clocked a respectable 44.80 to win ahead of Gregory Haughton (JAM) – 45.03 – and Great Briatin’s Jamie Baulch – 45.38. Running in the outside lane, Maybank powered away from the start and built up a lead that he was to hold right to the finish, despite spirited attacks from Baulch and Haughton as they rounded the final bend into the home straight.
Both Maybank and Perec sang the praises of their German coach Hermann Meier: "It’s all thanks to him," said Perec. "There are a lot of coaches who could learn from Mr Meier. Thanks to him I found it easier to come back now than in 1995."
Both spoke of Meier’s somewhat unconventional methods and the fact that he had them start warming up four hours before their races.
"He made us both run a 300m 45 minutes before we were due on the track and I said ‘he’s crazy’.. he didn’t hear me..
"He explained to us after that it was like building and breaking down a wall and that was what would make it easier when we were on the track. And it worked!"
Disappointment for Emma George and the revelation of a potential Olympic medallist in the young Russian pole vaulter Svetlana Feofanova.
The Russian won this evening’s competition with a meeting record of 4.46m, having already cleared 4.50m on two occasions so far this season - a model of consistency that is unfortunately rare in the world of pole vaulting. What is more, Feofonova is just 20 years old and has improved from her best performance in 1999 (indoors) of 4.10m. George settled for sixth position after clearing 4.10m at her first attempt and then fouling three times at 4.28 in gusting winds.
In the 3000m steeplechase, the Moroccan duo Brahim Boulami and Ali Ezzine produced a season’s best in the event as Boulami won the sprint from his compatriot to time 8:03.30 and demolish the previous seasonal best held by Ezzine (8:03.57, set in the IAAF Golden League meeting in Paris). But then again, it was Boulami who had held the second best time of the season until this evening. Poetic justice for the couple who outdistanced and totally outclassed the rest of the field, finishing fifteen and half seconds ahead of the third place Gael Pencreach (FRA).
Season’s best too in the 1000m, where Kenyan Noah Ngeny won the sprint from France’s Mehdi Baala in a time of 2:14.78.
The women’s1500m was won by Olga Kunetsova (RUS) in 4:03.50, followed across the line by her compatriot Olga Nelyubova and Hayley Tullet (GBR).
Sixth place went to Romania’s Paula Ilie-Ivan, Olympic champion over the distance back in 1988, when she recorded a time of 3:53.96. Ilie-Ivan, who will be 37 years old on 20 July also set a world record in the mile of 4:14.61 on this same track in 1989.
In their first encounter of the season, both Gete Wami (ETH) and Tegla Loroupe (KEN) had to bow to the powerful finish of Russia’s Tatyana Tomashova in the women’s 3000m. The slight holder of the world’s best performance in the marathon had made much of the running, with Tomashova and Wami bunched closely behind her, but as they came to the final straight, it was Tomashova who kicked into the lead, closely followed across the line by Wami and Loroupe. Ireland’s Sonia O’Sullivan took fourth place.
Lance Deal clinched victory in the hammer throw with his third throw of 80.99. The season’s leader France’s Gilles Dupray was second with 79.59m.
Olga Shishigina from Kazakhstan dipped across the line to win the women’s 100m hurdles from Delloreen Ennis-London (JAM) and Sharon Couch-Jewell (USA) in a closely contested finish that saw just 16 hundredths separating the three. Shishigina was timed at 12.75 running into a 1.4 m/s headwind.
Strongly contested the women’s hundred between Ukrainian Zhanna Pintusevich and Chandra Sturrup of the Bahamas. Just a hundredth of a second separated the two as Sturrup crossed the line in 11.18. Mercy Nku from Nigeria was third in 11.31.
Francis Obikwelu confirmed the form that he has been showing all season as he won the men’s 100m in 10.06 ahead of Great Britain’s Darren Campbell (10.13) and Donovan Bailey of Canada who was third in 10.15. Bailey was strong out of the blocks and there was little to separate the three leaders as they came down the field, with Obikwelu just pulling ahead in the final metres.
For his return to the pole vault, France's Jean Galfione cleared 5.50m for eighth place, in a competition won by reigning world champion Maksim Tarasov with 5.82m.
Sean Wallace Jones for IAAF