Laura Muir and Shannon Rowbury in the 1500m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Zurich (© Jean-Pierre Durand)
It might not have been the fastest time of this year’s IAAF Diamond League, but a dramatic turn of events down the home straight in the women’s 1500m at Zurich’s Weltklasse meeting had Laura Muir wondering if she had done enough to win the Diamond Race on Thursday (1).
With the field paced through 800m in 2:08.10 – about a second quicker than the equivalent split from Paris, where Muir clocked a world-leading 3:55.22 – Muir took up the running, but was soon passed by Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon.
The Kenyan led with one lap to go, but hadn’t managed to shake off her British rival. With US duo Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury close behind, Muir began to close on Kipyegon on the final bend.
Once she was caught coming into the home straight, Kipyegon began to fade – so too did her hopes of lifting the Diamond Trophy. But the race was far from over.
Muir was digging in, but Rowbury was finishing fast. The North American record-holder caught the Briton just in time, falling over the line to win in a season’s best of 3:57.78.
Muir, still unaware of how far behind Kipyegon was, finished second in 3:57.85. A good few minutes passed before Muir realised that she had done enough to win the Diamond Race.
World indoor champion Sifan Hassan finished strongly to take third in 3:58.43 with Simpson fourth in 3:58.54. Ethiopian duo Dawit Seyaum and Besu Sado also finished within four minutes, while Kipyegon crossed the line back in seventh place.
“I didn’t know at first if I’d won the Diamond Race, but this is a big, big thing for me,” said Muir. “It’s amazing, I never expected anything like this.”
Rio repeats but no world records in steeplechase and 800m
Olympic champion Ruth Jebet said before the race that she wasn’t going to attack her own 3000m steeplechase world record in Zurich, but the Bahraini teenager still needed to put in a strong performance to secure the Diamond Trophy.
Jebet was tracked by world champion Hyvin Kiyeng during the early stages, but pulled away from her Kenyan rival over the second half of the race. After passing 2000m in 6:03.3, it was clear that Jebet was on course to break the meeting record of 9:15.23 by a good margin.
She continued to extend her lead until the end, crossing the line in 9:07.00. Kiyeng took second place – reflecting her position in the Diamond Race – in 9:10.15, while USA’s Emma Coburn completed the repeat of the Olympic podium by taking third in 9:17.42.
While Jebet made it clear that she wasn’t chasing a fast time, there had been talk of a potential world record in the 800m from Caster Semenya.
The South African had achieved all of her goals for 2016, winning the Olympic title and remaining undefeated all season. And with a pace maker ready to cover the first lap in 55.5 seconds, Zurich was an opportunity to go for a fast time.
The early pace was promising with Semenya passing through 200m in 27.3, 300m in 41.5 and 400m in 56.4, but world indoor champion Francine Niyonsaba and European indoor champion Selina Buchel were still close behind.
With 600m passed in 1:26.78, Niyonsaba and Olympic bronze medallist Margaret Wambui moved up on to Semenya’s shoulder as they entered the home straight. Semenya kicked back, but didn’t seem to have the legs to improve on her own world-leading mark of 1:55.28 from the Olympic Games.
Having covered the second lap in 60 seconds, Semenya eventually won in 1:56.44. Once again, the finishing order from the Olympics was repeated with Niyonsaba just missing her national record when taking second place in 1:56.76 and Wambui finishing third in 1:57.04.
In a slightly bizarre but exciting 5000m, Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet finished strongly to take the victory, securing 20 valuable points to win the Diamond Race.
US steeplechaser Evan Jager and Kenya’s Cornelius Kangogo were the only athletes to follow the pace maker. They had a four-second lead after just one lap and increased it to 15 seconds at halfway.
With 2000m remaining, though, Jager’s pursuers worked together to gradually claw back the gap. Jager still had a five-second lead with one lap to go, but he was beginning to tire. Gebrhiwet, meanwhile, still had plenty in reserve.
To take victory in the Diamond Race, the Ethiopian knew that he not only had to win the 5000m in Zurich but that compatriot Muktar Edris had to finish fifth or lower. Gebrhiwet kicked hard and began to close the gap on Jager, finally passing him on the final bend before going on to win in 13:14.82.
Just as he had done in Rio, Olympic silver medallist Paul Chelimo finished strongly to take second place in 13:16.51, crossing the line just ahead of Jager, who clocked 13:16.86. Edris faded to 10th, meaning Gebrhiwet secured the Diamond Trophy.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF