I had the good fortune to be at the Diamond League meeting at the Stade de France in Paris last night. What’s more, we had front row seats right beside the finish line! (Your blogger has great influence Seine-side, though I still can’t get decent service in the restaurants here.)
The event had a London theme, with British hits blaring out between events and the stadium commentator wearing a red beefeater’s jacket. The Stade de France was only half-full – which still means an attendance of around 40,000 but it looked quite sparse. I’ll bet that on television you didn’t see the empty upper tier. Still, there was a pleasant atmosphere and the afternoon rain cleared off in time for the athletics action to begin.
And what a fantastic night of athletics it was! The star attraction, for the organisers at least, was the 100 metres clash of Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin and local favourite Christophe Lemaitre, fresh from winning European gold in Helsinki the week before. As it turned out, that’s the order they finished in – Gay in 9.99 the only one to dip under ten seconds, just a vest width ahead of Gatlin and with Lemaitre overcoming a slow reaction in the blocks to come through for third. Gay may have won this minor skirmish, but he still has some way to go if he expects to seriously match the current sub-9.80 form of Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.
The home fans may have been hoping for Lemaitre to upstage his illustrious US rivals, but at least they saw European champion pole-vaulter Renaud Lavillenie winning his event – although he was well below six metres.
More impressive was the men’s 5,000 metres, where Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia ran a world-leading time of 12:46.81 and led home another 5 athletes under 12:50. Sadly, his compatriot Kenenisa Bekele still looks out of form – he was never at the business end of the field and finished a distant ninth. With the current champion apparently out of the running but with a slew of new talent emerging, Mo Farah has plenty to ponder ahead of the Olympic 5,000 metres.
Other Olympic hopefuls fared better than Bekele. Sally Pearson won the 100 metres hurdles convincingly in a world-leading 12.40. World men’s 400 metres hurdle champion Dai Green ran a personal best of 47.84 but still only finished second to Javier Culson of Puerto Rica in 47.78.
Most impressive of all, though, was David Rudisha’s tilt at his own 800 metres world record of 1:41.01. He may have let the pacemaker get too far ahead in the first lap, but at the bell and even entering the home straight he looked on target. However, he finished just a half-second outside, in 1:41.54. But any sense of disappointment was fleeting – it was an electrifying performance from a man who looks bound for a place in the pantheon of great athletes. Who could possibly beat him in London?
From last night’s Diamond League meeting in Paris, here’s Rudisha in the 800 metres:
YouTube credit: mirlavideo)