London Super Grand Prix REPORT

Isinbayeva tops historic night at the Palace - London Super Grand Prix REPORT

Friday 22 July 2005

Yelena Isinbayeva, the IAAF Overall World Ranked number one female athlete, made history tonight at the Norwich Union London Grand Prix when she became the first woman pole vaulter ever to clear five metres.

It had long been predicted, not least by the Russian herself, but few thought she would do it with such a leap – pushing the record up by five centimetres on one night, the biggest increase since she started setting new marks back in July 2003.

That first World record was set at Gateshead, two years ago, however, even before she reached 4.90m – at this stadium almost exactly a year ago – she had her sights set on making history.

“It was my dream to be the first woman over five metres,” she said after completing half a dozen back flips in celebration. “I can’t explain my feelings. I love the run-up and the stadium here and the crowd were great. I don’t know how much higher I can go, maybe 5.05 or higher.”

Two World records in one night

In fact, Isinbayeva did it with style, setting not one but two World records** on a balmy evening at this IAAF Super Grand Prix meeting in Crystal Palace stadium in front of 18,000 hugely appreciative fans. She entered the competition at 4.70, cleared that and 4.80 with ease, and then immediately pushed the bar up to 4.96m.

It took her two attempts, but soon the first record was hers. Poland’s Anna Rogowska – who had just set a national record of 4.80m – also made a bold attempt at that height but wasn’t close.

Isinbayeva then asked for the bar to be raised to the magical height of 5.00m and duly vaulted over it like she’d done it a dozen times. Maybe she has in training. Who knows? All that mattered to the crowd was that she did it here, and all of them rose to greet her, including legendary pole vaulter Sergey Bubka who’d been watching from the stands.

“When I prepared to jump 4.96m I said to myself, ‘If I get that I will go for five metres’,” she said. “And today I got it!”

From one Pole Vault legend to another

She was then handed a huge cheque - in both actual size and amount - for 50,000USD by Bubka, who’s record of breaking 35 world marks she says she wants to emulate. “She is unique,” said Bubka. “She can do whatever she wants because she is breaking records like I did in my time. To jump five metres is something special.”

The great Ukrainian who remains the men’s World record holder hailed her achievement as “a great day for athletics”. “I think she can jump higher,” he said. “But first of all I would like her to beat my [number of] records.”

Down the field Janine Whitlock set her 39th British record, leaping 4.47m for fourth, while third went to Canada’s Dana Ellis, also with 4.47m.

Gatlin powers through all the injury drama of the 100m

If that wasn’t enough excitement, the men’s 100m also produced a fair share of drama, and its own record.

Olympic champion Justin Gatlin said yesterday that he wants “to grab” Asafa Powell’s World record, either this year or next. He didn’t do that tonight, but he did take the Jamaican’s UK All Comers’ record when he stormed through to win one of the most highly anticipated 100m battles of the summer in 9.89, his best legal time of the season and second only to Powell’s World record on the season’s list.

“Knowing that the fastest man in the world was lining up next to me, pumped me up,” said the American afterwards. “I am now looking forwards to the World Championships – it’s going to be good, if not the best.”

New injury for Powell?

Helsinki might have to do without Powell, though. For the 22 year-old, it was a doubly bad night as he crashed out of the race after just five strides and fell to the track clutching his right groin. It appeared to be a recurrence of the injury that has troubled him since his World record run in Athens on 14 June.

Afterwards though, his manager, Paul Doyle suggested it could be something new. “The picture doesn’t look good with the Worlds only two weeks away,” he said. “The injury appears to be a slight strain high on Asafa’s groin, perhaps a slightly different injury from the groin problem that has been troubling him this week.”

The 100m had been billed as the big match-up, a fight for world number one status between the US and Olympic champion (IAAF World Ranked 3) and the World record holder (IAAF World Ranked 1). Expectations were even further raised by the semi-finals which each of the protagonists won with almost identical times. Gatlin, with 10.01, had the edge by a hundredth.

In the final, Powell in lane four and Gatlin in five got out of the blocks virtually together. But their parity didn’t last long. Gatlin blasted home in the quickest time ever seen in Britain, two hundredths faster than Powell ran here last year. He will now be the undisputed favourite for World gold, while Powell will just have to wait and see.

With the Jamaican out of the race, USA’s Leonard Scott claimed second in a personal best of 9.94, making him the third fastest sprinter of the year, while World champion Kim Collins was third in 10 dead, his best of 2005.

Jason Gardener was the highest placed Briton, in fifth with 10.13. But he was pleased with his night’s work, having lowered his best time of the year to 10.09 in the heats. “I had such a fast athlete next to me,” he said of Gatlin. “When he went I tried to get to him but I just don’t have 9.89 in me at this stage.”

Benjamin pips Wariner!

The other highly anticipated duel was over 400m between USA training partners Jeremy Wariner and Darold Williamson. But the race produced the shock of the night when both were eclipsed by Britain’s Tim Benjamin, who dipped under 45 seconds for the first time in his life.

Benjamin’s winning time of 44.75 was 11 hundredths ahead of Wariner, the Olympic champion, and puts him among the world’s top ten this year. “I am fed up with people telling me I am not quite world class,” said the 23 year-old. “I am fed up with them telling me I can’t break 45. Hopefully, I’ve shown everyone now.”

He certainly showed a stunned Wariner. The Olympic champion, running in lane four, led off the final bend but was overhauled by a determined Benjamin who produced the strongest finish from lane seven. Williamson also finished well, but it was only good enough for third, in 45.23.

Douglas also gets home crowd roaring

Britain’s other success came from triple jumper Nathan Douglas who produced a highly impressive series, to beat a field that included former World champion Charles Friedek.

Douglas led from start to finish, jumping 16.89 in the first round and improving with every attempt up to round four – 17.00, 17.21 and 17.32, his winning distance. Friedek couldn’t manage a legal jump.

“I produced one of the best series of jumps I’ve ever done today,” said Douglas. “people have built me up a bit since jumping 17.64 at the AAA championships but I coped well against a world class field. I proved to everyone that I can jump under pressure.”

That field included USA’s Kenta Bell, who was second with 16.87m, and Leevan Sands of the Bahamas, who finished third with a best of 16.85.

Spearmon runs 19.89 world lead

Gatlin’s might not have been the only All Comers’ record to go, as two others survived by just four hundredths.

In the men’s 200m Wallace Spearman ran the best time in the world this year from lane seven to beat the Jamaican teenager Usian Bolt. Spearman clocked 19.89, a fraction outside the 19.85 that a 22 year-old Michael Johnson ran back in July 1990 – the previous best ever in Britain.

Bolt finished second in 19.99, his best race of the year and the third best in the world, while Tyson Gay also dipped under 20 seconds by the smallest margin for third.

Bekele is chased all the way home

In the men’s 5000m, Kenenisa Bekele also missed an All Comers’ record held by one of the legends of the sport – his great mentor Haile Gebrselassie. Bekele won in 12:55.55, but like Gebrselassie in this race last year, he was chased all the way by Craig Mottram.

“I expected Craig to be with me but I was confident of winning,” he said. “I am now getting back to my best.”

The Australian ran 12:56.13, his best time of the year. “I really wanted to beat that guy today,” he said. “I was confident coming down the home straight but I just couldn’t get him. I guess that’s why he’s the best in the world.”

Felix ends Campbell’s win streak

Veronica Campbell’s long unbeaten run in the women’s 200m came to an end when she was out-sprinted by the woman she beat into second at the Olympic Games in Athens last summer, Allyson Felix. The American won in 22.16 after fighting hard down the home straight as Campbell’s power for once failed her – not that the Jamaican seemed to mind too much that she’d lost her first 200m since March 2000.

“You can’t expect to come to these races and always win,” she said.

Richards over Guevara at 400m

The women’s 400m was won by an athlete who is just beginning to make a habit of winning, Sanya Richards. The former Jamaican, now USA, again got the better of World Champion Ana Guevara of Mexico. Richards crossed the line in 50.35, while Guevara clocked 50.68 with USA’s Monique Hennagan third in 50.93.

The two hurdles events both produced surprise results. The appearance of USA’s Kerron Clement had been much anticipated since he broke Johnson’s World Indoor 400m record in the winter**. But the 19 year-old did not live up to expectations tonight and could only finish fifth in 49.03, nearly two seconds slower than he has run this year.

Clement has been tipped as the man to break Kevin Young’s World record, but he never looked in the race which was won by his fellow American Bershawn Jackson in 47.98 with Jamaica’s Danny McFarlane second.

“I just couldn’t get going tonight,” said Clement. “It was the first 200m that cost me.”

Germany’s Kirsten Bolm stunned a high class line up to win the women’s 100m Hurdles, setting a massive personal best of 12.59 in the process. In her wake were USA’s Anjanette Kirkland, second in 12.62, and Jamaica’s Brigitte Foster, third in 12.66. The World champion Perdita Felicien of Canada was fifth in 12.74.

Lagat wins close 1500m

The men’s middle distances went to North America, as Canada’s Gary Reed won the 800m in 1:45.52 and USA’s Bernard Lagat won a close fought 1500m in 3:33.12. Lagat dragged a string of athletes to their best times of the year, including USA’s Alan Webb, second in 3:33.16, and Britain’s Michael East, third in 3:33.32.

There was more disappointing form for Britain’s Olympic Heptathlon bronze medallist, Kelly Sotherton. She threw the Javelin 34.87m (Laverne Eve won with 60.66), hurdled 13.44 and long jumped 6.39 (won by USA’s Rose Richmond with 6.62). “All tonight I just felt under par,” said Sotherton. “I have no real reason, it is just below what I should be doing. I’ll have to get it right for the Worlds.”

Cantwell – 21.60m

In the other field events, USA’s Christian Cantwell won the men’s Shot Put with 21.60 and Russia’s Vyacheslav Voronin took the High Jump with 2.30. Tonight, though, there was only one event that really mattered – and that belonged to another Russian, Yelena Isinbayeva.

Matthew Brown for the IAAF

**All World records are subject to ratification by the IAAF

Congratulations Tim Benjamin! What a time to produce a massive PB, at home and so close to the worlds, that must fill him with confidence.

However, we must not read too much into the American performances eg Wariner, K Clemont, I suppose it depends how long it was since they flew in, I assume this makes a big difference.