Keen to see many of their heroes from the European Championships in Berlin in the flesh, a sizeable crowd flocked to the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham for the Müller Grand Prix where they were fortunate enough to see an exceptional four meeting records and a fantastic men’s 100m tussle.
With the end of the track and field season approaching, many athletes were seeking to secure a coveted place in the Diamond League finals in Zurich and Brussels at the end of the month.
Reece Prescod (coach: Jonas Dodoo) gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about in the men’s 100m – the last race of the day – as he showcased incredible acceleration to almost nullify Christian Coleman’s outstanding start.
After a photo finish, the spoils went to the world indoor champion Coleman and the time of 9.94 awarded to both of the athletes was a seasons best for the American and a personal best for Prescod, despite the slight headwind working against them.
Coleman said: “I felt pretty good. It was a sigh of relief because you never know what to expect when you come back from injury and I got my rhythm back and I came out with the win in a good time. I was looking forward to competing and the win is the icing on the cake. It’s been a test for me to continually prove myself but I’ll use this as a learning experience, now it’s about winning the Diamond League finals.”
Prescod said: “It was tight again and I’ve just missed out again. I can’t complain because I’ve come away and got another PB. I have a two week break before the Diamond League finals so I’ll put the work back in and get ready for that. The final will be a great race as all the best in the world come together but everyone is on form. All I can do is keep focusing on getting better and to come out here and run 9.94 and shown the shape that I’m in, now I have to try and get even quicker.”
Two explosive sprint races stacked with world-class talent provided a fitting conclusion to the afternoon, especially because Bahamian speed merchant and the world bronze medallist, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, ran an electric 22.15 that was the fourth meeting record of the day to fend off European triple gold medallist and home favourite, Dina Asher-Smith (John Blackie), in the dying moments of the women’s 200m.
Miller-Uibo said: “I feel really good. Everything went really well, just as we planned. The main thing for me was just to have a great curve race and once I put myself into the race off the curve I used my 400 strength to power home. It was a really competitive race and everybody brought their A-game.”
Asher-Smith said: “I’m tired, but I am happy I was able to come out and perform in such a stacked field, full of girls who apart from me and Dafne [Schippers] have been resting up. It is really nice to perform well in their company and in front of a home crowd. It’s been a hectic week since Berlin so I am just looking forward to relaxing at home for a week or so before the next race in Zurich.”
European champions and medallists alike showed very few signs of fatigue for the most part and this was evident from early on in the programme as European silver medallist Pamela Dutkiewicz won a rapid women’s 100m hurdles in 12.84 seconds despite a slight headwind of 0.6m/s.
Remarkably, the first three athletes past the line all finished in the same order as they did in the European Championships final, with Cindy Roleder and Nadine Visser both not too far behind. Dutkiewicz said after the race: “I am feeling good. It’s always difficult to run after an international highlight performance in Berlin. I was tired but the run was good. The wind was headwind which isn’t easy to run into for the hurdles. I will run again on Wednesday in Poland and I will round off the season with the Continental Cup.”
Her compatriot and fellow European silver medallist, Christina Schwanitz, was spared the frustration of having to rue her four consecutive foul throws as her 18.20m second round attempt was enough to finish in first place in the women’s shot put and avenge her loss to Poland’s Paulina Guba at the European Championships. Guba came second today with a 17.92m effort.
Orlando Ortega followed Schwanitz’s lead by avenging a European Championship defeat and producing a stunning seasons best of 13.08 to win the men’s 110m hurdles and push Berlin gold medallist Pascal Martinot-Lagarde into third with Commonwealth champion Ronald Levy second.
Ortega said: “I’m much happier with the time, but I am a little angry because if I ran like this at the European Championships I would have won gold. I am just looking forward to the final in Brussels. Right now I feel good.”
Yet another German athlete who took silver at the Europeans went one better today, with the third one to do so being men’s javelin thrower Andreas Hoffmann who hit 89.82m in the process. Hoffmann’s international teammates Julian Weber and Thomas Rohler had to settle for second and fourth respectively, despite the former throwing a seasons best of 86.63m.
Hoffman said: “I’m happy because the conditions were difficult. The wind was changing from every direction and before the competition, I threw 81m and then my first throw in the competition went to 85m, the second was 89m and the third to 85m.
“I looked at the other guys and they were throwing lower so I thought I’d pass on throws four and five and I had to throw the last throw because it wouldn’t be fair on the crowd if I didn’t throw it.”
Sandi Morris and Katerina Stefanidi had differing fortunes at their respective continental championships last week. Stefanidi became European champion for the second time, while Morris had to settle for bronze at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships. However, Morris, who is the world leader in this event, was able to claim a degree of consolation by beating Stefanidi with a 4.62m vault.
Recently crowned European Champion, Léa Sprunger, secured the opportunity to become Diamond League champion too, with her win in the women’s 400m hurdle sin 54.86 ensuring that she can compete for that title in her home country after edging out the much-fancied Jamaican, Janieve Russell.
One of the closest races of the day was the men’s 400m. Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor emerged as a surprise leader as the athletes entered the home straight before being eclipsed by the stampede of European gold medallist Matthew Hudson-Smith, Fred Kerley and Paul Dedewo. Hudson-Smith, who grew up not too far from the Alexander Stadium, was roared on by the crowd but Kerley had the strength to beat him by mere hundredths in a time of 45.54.
Sifan Hassan demonstrated the versatility that makes her so difficult to beat by successfully stepping down to the 1500m so soon after her gold-medal-winning performance in the 5000m at the Europeans. Hassan gave off a strong aura of superiority as she let the 2016 world indoor bronze medallist Gudaf Tsegay do most of the work for her before speeding past her as they entered the home straight and taking the victory in 4:00.60.
Assisted by Benjamin Kigen stumbling over the water jump at a crucial point during the last lap, Conseslus Kipruto took full advantage of his teammate’s misfortune, albeit reluctantly, as the African Champion eased to a winning time of 8:14.33 in the men’s 3000m steeplechase. However, as Kigen remains top of the qualification standings for the Diamond League final, he will get the opportunity to make amends for that misdemeanour in Zurich.
There were two consecutive wins on the track for Kenyan athletes, as a comfortable win for Agnes Jebet Tirop in the women’s 3000m followed. She was the first of a trio of Kenyans to cross the line; finishing ahead of both Lilian Kasait Rengeruk and Hellen Obiri in a time of 8:32.21.
One man in particular who made history today was Stewart McSweyn, who became the first Australian to win the historic Emsley Carr Mile – an annual invitational one-mile race that has been held in the United Kingdom since 1953.
As is tradition for the winner of the race, McSweyn had the honour of signing a page of a leather-bound book featuring the signatures of every single winner of the race and was presented with a glass trophy.
To add to his achievement, McSweyn had also ran a personal best of 3:54.60 on his way to the win and it was only the second mile race he has ever run. He said: “It is only the second mile I have ever officially done, I have never raced here before so it was going to be a good experience no matter what. But to perform well and get a PB I am pretty happy with that.
“The track was crazy good, I like it because the crowd sounds really close. When you are running in lane one, it sounds as they are in lane three or four, right on you. I definitely want to do it again if I can.”
McSweyn’s countryman Ryan Gregson ran a seasons best time to come second in what was a fantastic day for Australian athletes. Brandon Starc leaped to a brilliant 2.33m lifetime best in the men’s high jump.
Starc said: “I took each height as it came and it went well because I got a PB. There are some things to work on but I still have three more competitions but I should be good after that. It’s been a long season for me already because of the Commonwealth Games but I had a four-week period before my last European competition but I’m feeling good from here. Now it’s the Diamond League finals and then the Continental Cup.”
South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga also delivered a memorable performance that reiterated how much he enjoys competing in Birmingham. Having secured an indoor personal best of 8.44m on his way to world indoor silver in Birmingham earlier this year, the South African delighted the crowd with an enormous meeting record of 8.53m in the men’s long jump that was a huge 36cm further than the second best jump in the competition.
British long-jumping legend and Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth champion, Greg Rutherford was denied a dream farewell to the sport during his final year of competition; having to settle for a second round effort of 7.43m as his best mark.
Rutherford said: “I am incredibly lucky to have is an opportunity to come out in the stadiums one last time to wave to the crowds, sign lots of autographs and meet lots of people because that’s part of what I think as an athlete you should do. You should give back when you can and that is what I am using this time to do.
“I wanted to turn this into my farewell tour and I just want to have a chance to go one more time in the big British meets and try and enjoy it and actually see it from a different sort of standing point.”
It could in fact be argued that the long jumpers stole the show on a windy afternoon in Birmingham though, as Manyonga’s female counterpart and European champion Malaika Mihambo also sprung to a meeting record. Her jump of 6.96m is only 3cm short of her personal best that she set this year at her first outdoor meet of the season back in May.
Emmanuel Korir was the next athlete to etch his name into the history books thanks to his meeting record in the men’s 800m. In June, Korir became the third man ever to run sub-1:44 for 800m and sub-45 for 400m, and his short sprint speed proved more than useful in the closing stages of the race as he sped to a time of 1:42.79.
Shortly before Korir’s record-breaking exploits, Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s Laura Muir (Andy Young) came agonisingly close to breaking Kelly Holmes’ British record and meeting record in the 1000m. Muir stopped the clock at 2:33.92 – only 1.1 seconds slower than Holmes’ time set 23 years ago.
Muir said: “I’m happy with that despite the fact it was really windy, I just tried to give it my best shot but when I saw I was off the pace I knew it became about trying to just win the race and I did that. It was great to have a medal indoors and even better to add an outdoor one. The Europeans was always the big target and to deliver was really good and I’m happy with the season.”
Full results are available at https://birmingham.diamondleague.com/list-results-bham/