Previously known as the London Grand Prix, since 2013 the athletics meet held in the English capital each July has been dubbed the Anniversary Games: commemorating the 2012 London Olympics, and taking place in the city’s Olympic Stadium. Last year the meet proper had to be switched to Hampden Park, Glasgow, while work continued on the rebuilding of the Olympic Stadium. It is being converted, with the installation of a retractable seating system, to serve both as an occasional athletics venue and as the permanent home of football club West Ham United.
A street athletics programme commenced meanwhile in London; but for 2015, the Anniversary Games were back at the Olympic Stadium. This is a Diamond League meeting, and the only one of the fourteen on the calendar to extend across two days. Diamond League competition took place on Friday evening and throughout the daytime on Saturday. Tomorrow, the Anniversary Games will continue with the final meet this season of the International Paralympic Committee’s Grand Prix series. The day’s athletics is being celebrated as part of National Paralympic Day, with a range of free activities on offer.
The most recent Diamond League meet occurred a week ago in Monaco. Its spectacular highlight saw Genzebe Dibaba break the women’s 1500-metre world record. Genzebe – the younger sister of three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh – had been focusing on the 5,000 metres before the start of this month; but last Friday in Monaco she stormed through the final lap of the 1500 metres, kicking away from Sifan Hassan, to finish in a time of 3:50.07. In the process she bettered Yunxia Qu’s previous record of 3:50.46, which had stood since September 1993.
The action on the track got underway on Friday with the women’s 400 metres. Despite Francena McCorory holding the fastest times in the world over the distance this year, she was beaten by some margin by Natasha Hastings, who recorded her season’s best time of 50.24. Stephenie Ann McPherson finished in third, with Christine Ohuruogu in fourth. Hastings won figurative points for her fashion sense: the most vibrant of the weekend, featuring a mint-coloured outfit accented by hot pink, and purple lipstick.
The United States women’s 4×100 metre relay team, spearheaded by Sanya Richards-Ross, saw off the challenge posed by the Netherlands and Great Britain. Reigning world champion Zuzana Hejnova impressed on her way to victory in the women’s 400 metre hurdles. Jasmin Stowers set a meeting record of 12.47 in the women’s 100 metre hurdles, getting the better of her American compatriots Dawn Harper-Nelson and Brianna Rollins. Britain’s Tiffany Porter and Jessica Ennis-Hill finished in fourth and fifth.
In the men’s 200 metres, Zharnel Hughes – who recently turned twenty – improved on the personal best of 20.13 which he set last month in Lausanne. The British athlete clocked a time of 20.05 to win the race comfortably ahead of Dedric Dukes and Anaso Jobodwana. Then Laura Weightman – who reached the final of the event at the 2012 Olympics, and won a silver medal at last year’s Commonwealth Games and a bronze at the European Championships – admitted that she was lifted by the home crowd, hanging on to take the victory in the women’s 1500 metres.
With the heats having progressed earlier in the evening, the final of the men’s 110 metre hurdles saw Jason Richardson triumph for the second time in so many hours. Richardson won the race ahead of a strong field, with Pascal Martinot-Lagarde second, Ronnie Ash third, Aries Merritt fourth, and the world-leading hurdler Orlando Ortega back in fifth. Richardson won gold at the World Championships in Daegu in 2011; but alas, after finishing sixth this year at the American trials – behind David Oliver, Ash, and Merritt, and also Aleec Harris and Jeffrey Porter – he won’t be heading in a month’s time to Beijing.
The men’s 100 metres has been dominated this season by Justin Gatlin. Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay have also run exceedingly fast times; with Mike Rodgers consistently strong and Jimmy Vicaut putting in a few exceptional performances. Usain Bolt has languished, but on Friday in London he put down a marker, achieving a time of 9.87 to take his heat and again to win the men’s 100 metres final.
Bolt didn’t start either race well, and in fact looked better in the heat, where he eased down and seemed to have plenty to spare. In the final, placed under more pressure, his slow start almost cost him, and he tightened up on his way to the finish line, but still managed to finish in front of Mike Rodgers, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Chijindu Ujah – who ran a personal best of 9.96, dropping under 10 seconds for the first time in his career – and Jimmy Vicaut. The final race on Friday evening saw Mo Farah – fully focused on his running – take apart a decent field of long-distance competitors in the men’s 3,000 metres.
On an evening of pouring rain, the field events were heavily disrupted. Some – including the men’s pole vault – were held over until Saturday, and those events which were completed proved inevitably short on top-class performances. Marco Fassinotti emerged victorious in the men’s high jump, ahead of Gianmarco Tamberi and Mutaz Essa Barshim. Olga Rypakova won the women’s triple jump, with a leap of 14.33. And Philip Milanov prevailed in the men’s discus, throwing a distance of 65.14.
With the men’s pole vault opening the day’s competition at lunchtime on Saturday, the benefits of waiting out the weather were made clear. Renaud Lavillenie vaulted a meeting-record height of 6.03, the second highest vault of the season. Behind him, Shawn Barber achieved a Canadian national record of 5.93. In the women’s long jump, Shara Proctor set a new British record, improving by 3cm on the previous best which she established in Doha in May. Her jump of 6.98 was enough to give her victory, well clear of Jazmin Sawyers, who came second with a leap of 6.66.
Elsewhere Marquis Dendy excelled in the men’s long jump, beating out Zarck Visser and Greg Rutherford. Madara Palameika threw just 1cm farther than Barbora Spotakova in the women’s javelin, with both women coming away with season’s bests. Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou edged Anzhelika Sidorova in the women’s pole vault. And Michelle Carter blew her challengers away in the women’s shot, throwing a distance of 19.74.
Isaac Makwala stands as the fastest athlete of the season over the men’s 400 metres; but Wayde van Niekerk has been slightly more consistent, the highlight of his year a win over Kirani James in Paris in early June. This time, in James’ absence, Van Niekerk came in first place, with Makwala down in fourth. Makwala, James, and Van Niekerk are the only men to have gone under 44 seconds this season; however David Verburg has been supremely consistent, and he finished in second, with Christopher Brown in third.
Mercy Cherono was a class above in the women’s 5,000 metres, finishing comfortably ahead of Molly Huddle, with the field a long way behind. Michael Tinsley pulled clear in the men’s 400 metre hurdles. Eunice Sum is the exceptional athlete in the women’s 800 metres, and replete with blue streaks in her hair, she kicked away from Sifan Hassan – taking a temporary step down from the 1500 metres – to win the race in a time of 1:58.44. Hassan finished second, and still managed a personal best over the distance, running in 1:59.46. Behind her Lynsey Sharp fought to the line and accomplished a season’s best of 1:59.57.
In the women’s 200 metres, Elaine Thompson set a new meeting record and ran the fifth fastest 200 metres of the year. In the process she beat out the Americans Tori Bowie and Candyce McGrone. Thompson, from Jamaica, had already set new personal bests in both the 100 metres and 200 metres earlier this season; but this time of 22.10 smashed her previous 200 metres best of 22.37, which she established in Kingston in May.
Conseslus Kipruto won the men’s steeplechase, over his Kenyan colleagues Jairus Kipchoge Birech and Paul Kipsiele Koech. The men’s 800 metres saw Nijel Amos again get the better of Olympic champion and world record holder David Rudisha – despite Rudisha attempting to exert himself from the front only towards the end of the race. Amos still managed to overhaul him before the line, and this rivalry is becoming increasingly one-sided: after a string of injuries, Rudisha arguably still isn’t back at his best, but Amos has his number.
Though Jimmy Vicaut produced a searing final leg to almost pip Chijindu Ujah on the line, Great Britain held on to take the men’s 4×100 metre relay. In Monaco Asbel Kiprop ran the fifth-fastest 1500 metres of all time: his race of 3:26.69 made him the third fastest athlete ever over the distance. On Saturday Kiprop strolled to the finish in the Emsley Carr Mile – an invitational event which was inaugurated in 1953.
In the heats for the women’s 100 metres, Dina Asher-Smith set a new British record, winning her heat in a time of 10.99. She thereby became the first female sprinter in British history to go under 11 seconds. The final was packed with talented sprinters, and it was Dafne Schippers – who has finally made a decisive shift from the heptathlon – who emerged triumphant.
She had an awful start to the race, with Asher-Smith and Blessing Okagbare faring a little better – but it was Murielle Ahoure who led over the first 50 metres. Then Okagbare and Schippers came through; and it was Schippers who kept coming, to set a new personal best and Dutch national record of 10.92. This bettered the 10.94 she made in Hengelo in May. Okagbare and Ahoure hold two of the top four times in the women’s 100 metres this year, and Schippers’ victory suggests she possesses the mentality to challenge with the very best.
* * *