We were treated to a nice Thursday afternoon Diamond League meet today that was well worth the lost work hours we all put in watching it. We saw Caster Semenya offer nearly definitive proof that she will not be beaten in 2016. We were also witness to a near world record in the women's 5000m from Almaz Ayana, who continues to get closer to history.
Ameer Webb made this one look easy in a relatively strong field, albeit one without Bolt, Gatlin, or Blake. He won by 0.20 seconds over the likes of Aaron Brown and Alonso Edward who will certainly be in the medal conversation in August. His time of 20.04 doesn't have the same luster as a time .05 seconds faster would have, but he's already gone well under 20 this season. He just didn't need to today.
Webb did double back in the 100m 80 minutes after the 200m and came in second to Justin Gatlin in 9.94. If we were underwhelmed by his 200m performance, the exact opposite is the case here as it was his first time under 10 in the event and a .09 second personal and season best.
I declared in the meet preview that, if Semenya could beat this field, she couldn't be beaten. After watching this race, I am even more confident in that belief than I was before. What's scary about Semenya this season is that she seems to have a lot more than what she has shown. She doesn't run away from fields, at least not for the first 600-700m. Instead, she just hangs out at the pace her "competitors" want to run and then makes them look foolish for even entering the race in the last 100m. I'm going officially on record that she won't be beat in the 800m in 2016. She won today in the same time she won Rabat two weeks ago: 1:56.64.
Semenya received a brief challenge in the last 100m from World Indoor Champion Francine Niyonsaba, but ended up putting over a second on her in the home stretch. It doesn't seem to matter who challenges her in that final stretch, Semenya is going to make her look silly.
Elsewhere in the race, we saw two more pedestrian performances from Ajee Wilson and Eunice Sum. The former is yet to break 2:00 this outdoor season and her 2:03.33 performance today doesn't inspire much confidence that she's trending in the right direction. Sum hasn't raced poorly this season, per se, but hasn't quite had the sort of performance we came to expect after last year. The season is still young, but these two may start to worry that the increasingly strong 800m field is putting too much distance on them.
This was a one woman field, but that one woman--Almaz Ayana--made this a must-watch race. After coming up five seconds short of a world record in Rabat, there was buzz that the slightly more temperate climate of Rome would offer a better opportunity for her to take the all-time throne from Tirunesh Dibaba.
Given the speed required to run a 5k world record--the 3000m split of an even race would be a top-50 all-time 3k time--it was clearly a tall order that all but required Ayana to do most of the work on her own. That's how the race played out. After the rabbit dropped out at 2200m, Ayana came through 3k in 8:30.43, which is both slightly faster than the even split standard and eight seconds faster than Dibaba's split when she set the record. She then came through 4k in 11:23.57, which is slightly slower than WR pace, but not far enough that the possibility was gone.
The World Record remained a possibility going into the last lap, as all Ayana had to do was run a 67 second last lap to make history. She ended up just short, finishing in 14:12.59, less than a second and a half behind the World Record and good for the second-fastest time in history. It seems now that it is a matter of when, not if, Ayana will set the record in the 5000m. If they can attract the elite sort of rabbit who can take her though 3k or beyond on pace, history could happen soon.
Men's 3000m Steeplechase
A fall on the last lap ruined what was shaping up to be a very competitive race between Conseslus Kipruto and Jairus Birech in the steeplechase. They ran 1-2 with little separation for the entirety of the race after the rabbits dropped out. Just before the bell lap, Kipruto appeared to open up a little bit, but Birech fell with about 300m to go to eliminate any doubt in the outcome.
Kipruto remains undefeated (3-for-3) in Diamond League competition this year, which, if we're being honest, is a little surprising for a man who has never broken 8:00 in his career. He hasn't been challenged much either, now winning by a combined margin of over 14 seconds between his three races and having room to celebrate in each. He's won Silver twice at worlds, so he's certainly no slouch, but he still lacks the sort of times that typically accompany the level of dominance we've seen so far. Sub-8:00 will come and his 8:01.41 world leading performance today is just another step in that progression.
Diamond League action will resume on Sunday in Birmingham.