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Out of the Infield: Brussels Diamond League Recap

Shannon Rowbury sets and American Record, Caster Semenya sits and kicks a 400m, and Sandi Morris sets most records in the Pole Vault.

Athletics - Olympics: Day 14 Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

The final Diamond League meet of the season was met with some level of anticipation with both Almaz Ayana and Conseslus Kipruto attempting world records in the women’s 5000m and men’s steeplechase, respectively. However, the closest assault on the world record came out of the infield from Sandi Morris in the pole vault, as she became the second-highest pole vaulter of all-time and took attempts at Yelena Isinbayeva’s world record before falling short.

The lack of exceptionally fast performances, however, did not take away from the competition as the men’s 800m, men’s 1500m, and men’s steeplechase in particular produced tight finishes. The women’s 5000m was still sufficiently fast to produce and American Record.

Women’s 100m

As expected Elaine Thompson asserted her dominance over Dafne Schippers in the 100m after getting a scare in the 200m last week in Zurich. Though Schippers got off to a solid, Thompson quickly closed up that gap and pulled away not only from Schippers, but on the field as a whole. She set a meet record of 10.72 and beat Schippers by a quarter second. This is a battle that will continue for some time as both Schippers and Thompson are still young, but, if this season is any indication the real competition will be in the 200m, not the 100m.

Women’s 400m

All eyes were on Caster Semenya as she made the move down from the 800m and she ran a very Caster Semenya race. She came off the second turn in around 5th place with a decent gap on the field. After slowly narrowing the gap from 300-350m, she turned on the jets in the last 50m to blow away Courtney Okolo and Stephanie Ann McPherson to run a PR of 50.40. You don’t typically see a sit and kick performance like what Semenya showed in Brussels, but you also don’t typically see Semenya not sit and kick. The 400/800 double is a tough one to pull off at the World Champioships, but given how far ahead Semenya seems to be of the rest of the world, it would be fun to see her try.

Women’s 5000m

With talk of a World Record attempt from Almaz Ayana in her first race since Rio, this race set itself up for disappointment early on when Ayana showed no obvious interest in following up her 10,000m world record performance in the first half of the race. To be sure, the pace wasn’t slow early on as 8:44 for 3000m is nothing to scoff at, but it was slow enough to keep the field relatively together for the first half.

After that 3000m split, however, Ayana started picking up the pace, mixing in a 65-second lap before settling in at 67s for the rest of the way. Initially, Hellen Obiri went with her and kept it within striking range for a couple laps before falling off considerably as Ayana took the race in 14:18.89, putting nearly seven seconds on the field in the final 2000m.

Elsewhere in the race, Shannon Rowbury ran an even race as she didn’t respond to Ayana’s move that broke Obiri. That measured effort led her to a PR and American Record of 14:38.92, which is over three seconds faster than Molly Huddle’s previous record. Rowbury has had a fantastic season, even though she got pushed out of the medal spots in Rio by rival Jenny Simpson. She now owns American Records in both the 1500m and 5000m.

Men’s 1500m

The first real surprise of the meet came in the men’s 1500m. After a quick 53-second first lap, the pace slowed as they came through 800m in 1:50. Not great work from the pacemakers, that.

Despite the slow pace, Asbel Kiprop was sitting back in sixth at the bell with Makhloufi and Iguider at the front. Sitting in third for most of the race was Timothy Cheruiyot, but he seized the opportunity in the last 100m and took the win in the race, while holding off Iguider and Kiprop who were kicking hard to catch him, but just ran out of room. With 75m to go, it looked like Kiprop was going to have the wheels to take down the leaders, but wasn’t able to sustain his kick through the finish. Kiprop holds on to the Diamond League crown, but the length of the season seems to have taken its toll on him as he hasn’t looked great since Rio.

Men’s Steeplechase

The second true World Record attempt of the meet also ended short of expectations after a slow early pace quickly put any designs on Shaheen’s mark out of reach. Perhaps thanks to the slower pace (2:39 through 1000m, 5:21 through 2000m), we were treated to a captivating one-on-one showdown between Conseslus Kipruto and Evan Jager.

From about 1000m, both opened up a large gap on the field and it clearly became a peace between two men with Jager letting Kipruto lead him through the whole way. With about 250m to go, Jager appeared to pull slightly ahead on Kipruto’s outside shoulder, but gave that back when he stumbled slightly on the landing of the final water jump, giving Kipruto enough of an edge to hold on to the win.

The 8:00 barrier continues to elude both Kipruto and Jager as Kipruto finished in 8:03.74 with Jager close behind in 8:04.01. Two other Americans finished with personal bests as Hillary Bor came in sixth in 8:13.68 followed by Andy Bayer in seventh in 8:16.11.

Men’s 800m

Adam Kszczot seems to finish well in every race, but rarely has enough to actually win them. He didn’t receive mention in our preview in part because of that fact and in part because I didn’t want to have to attempt to spell his name. Nonetheless, he made me regret that decision in the final meters of the race as he came out of nowhere to take the race away from Nicholas Bett, Amel Tuka, Ferguson Rotich, and Alfred Kipketer from the outside.

The race required a photo finish for spots three through seven:

American Clayton Murphy was the loser of the photo examination as he ended up in seventh in 1:45.15 in his Diamond League debut.

Women’s Pole Vault

This was the Sandi Morris show. She beat Katerina Stefanidi by nearly a quarter meter in the event and spent most of the competition vaulting on her own. She cleared 5.00m on her second attempt despite getting a lot of the bar with her leg. With that clearance she became only the second woman ever to clear 5.00m or high in the pole vault, the other, of course being Yelena Isinbayeva who holds the World Record of 5.06m in the event.

Following the 5.00m vault, Morris put that very world record under attack as she had the bar set to 5.07m. She didn’t come particularly close on any of her three attempts as she likely was not anticipating attempting that many vaults in Brussels. Still, she’s settle for literally every record aside from the World Record that she was capable of setting in Brussels as an American woman. World Lead, National Record, Diamond League Record, Meeting Record. Pretty good day for her.