adidas Grand Prix/Diamond League 2014, by Elliott Denman

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Barshim_Mutaz1b-nyDL14.JPG
Mutaz Essa Barshim clears 2.42 meters, photo by PhotoRun.net

and, four minutes later....

Bondarenko_Bohdan-nyDL14.JPG
Bohdan Bondarenko clears 2.42m, photo by PhotoRun.net

Grand Prix/ Diamond League 2014 (updated 18 June 2014)
 
By ELLIOTT DENMAN

 NEW YORK - Was it good?   For sure.

Was it better (than most previous editions) ?   Oh definitely yes.

But was it the very best yet?  

That was the big question many track and field fans - specially so those of the long-term variety - were wrestling with as they filed out of Icahn Stadium late Saturday afternoon after results of the 10th edition of the adidas Grand Prix/ Diamond League meet had been put in the books and the cast of athletes was headed back to their homes around the world - or the next stop on the circuit.

 It was surely glorious - with what was officially declared the greatest high jump competition in the history of the sport topping the array of brilliant events and crowd-pleasers.

  Still, did it top its nine predecessors at Icahn Stadium, the world-class venue at that iconic Big Apple site on the East River called Randall's Island, as the best Grand Prix meet of them all since the first in 2005?

  Tough question.

 So let's take the easy way out - and call it a tie.

 With the 2008 edition.

  Six years ago at this time, remember, Usain Bolt's total of Olympic gold medals was still zero.  The world record for 100 meters belonged not to Bolt but  another Jamaican.

  Some background: after Canada's Donovan Bailey had taken the 100 mark down to 9.84 with his gold medal performance at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and USA's Maurice Greene improved that to 9.79 at Athens three years later, Asafa Powell bettered the Greene clocking no fewer than four separate times.

 Powell's first three were 9.77's, first at Athens in 2005; then twice again in 2006, at Gateshead, England, and Zurich. Finally, he got it down to 9.74 at Rieti, Italy in 2007.

 So that set the stage for Bolt's hugely heralded World Athletics Tour  trip to Icahn for the 2008 Grand Prix, then sponsored by Reebok.

  Like a bunch of these Grand Prix meets at Icahn, the weather became a factor in '08.

  The 100 was first postponed an hour by bad weather and then another 40 minutes  as athletes, meet officials and a packed house at Icahn waited out a lightning storm.

  Finally, just after 11 p.m. on this 31st of May 2008, the runners got into their starting blocks,Bolt was just a co-favorite to win it with USA's Tyson Gay, and the anxiety built when Mike Rodgers was called for a false start. Through a light mist on a still-wet track, Bolt ran the distance as he'd - or anyone else - had never run it before.

   Clicking on all cylinders, he beat Gay out of the blocks - which few ever did - and was on his way. When his time of 9.72 was confirmed (with Gay second at 9.85 and Darvis "Doc" Patton third at 10.07)  Icahn erupted in an applause that must have been heard in all directions - west across the East River to Manhattan, east to Queens, south to Brooklyn, and north to the Bronx  (but not quite to Staten Island.)

 That 2008 Reebok Grand Prix also included such gems as Xavier "X-Man" Carter's 44.70 400, Lopez Lomong's 3:37.81 1500 and Paul Koech's 8:01.85 steeplechase, on the men's side, along with Veronica Campbell-Brown's 10.91 100, Sanya Richards' 50.04 400, and Jenn (now Suhr) Stuczynski's 15-9 pole vault.

   But it was Bolt who put a stamp of "never to be forgotten" on that 31st of May 2008 and put that year's Grand Prix atop the charts.

  Bolt would lower his own 100 mark to 9.69 at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and to a Supermanish 9.58 at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.  Icahn fans, though, can always boast, "we saw him do it here first."

    Unfortunately, Bolt has not made it back to the stadium on Randall's Island since 2008.  It's unfortunate for his sport, unfortunate for this meet, and unfortunate for the  image of a guy who could do so much more for his sport, simply by showing up and waving to the fans,  maybe even signing autographs, when his world-record legs aren't deemed ready to take on the rest of the world's fastest humans.

   But that's another story.

  The Grand Prix - now under adidas aegis - remains a very special occasion.

  Big Apple fans know far ahead to circle two dates on their calendars - indoors for February's Millrose Games at the Armory, and outdoors for the Grand Prix at Icahn.

     Bolt in 2008  - and so many more before and after - have provided thrills galore and all kinds of superb achievements since the International Association of Athletics Federations, in its infinite wisdom, determined that a meet of this magnitude belonged in a city of this magnitude.

 Saturday, June 14, 2014 will go in the books as having its share, yet nothing Usainian.

  With that HJ, of course, topping everything,
  The announcing of stadium announcer Geoff Wightman not only got the crowd into it,  but surely ricocheted down to the infield where the leapers got into, too.

   Trouble was that, at its end - as almost all high jumps and pole vaults are destined to, it ended in failure.  The crossbar eventually had to fall.

The principal participants surely muttered "damn" (or translations) under their breath.  And fan after fan after fan surely said "if only."

   When Bohdan Bondarenko, cleared for his final takeoff down the Icahn runway, could muster no lift-off whatsoever and simply ducked under the crossbar and straight into the pit, it was all over.

  Nevertheless, still, this HJ show will be long remembered.

  Seven leapers answered the call, each of them with impeccable credentials.

  Opening height was 2.20 meters / 7 feet, 2 1/2 inches.

  Can you imagine that - opening up at a height that generations of HJers could only clear in their wildest dreams?

   Well, all seven cleared on first attempt but Canadian Michael Mason inexplicably bowed out at the next bar, 2.25 / 7-4 1/2.

  All but Italy's Mario Fassinotti cleared 2.25, so now up to 2.29 / 7-6, and five still alive.

   Cheering news to U.S. fans was the sight of 2011 world champion Jesse Williams, at long last back in full health, clearing at 2.29, his best in a long stretch.

  But he went out at 2.32 / 7-7 1/4 as the remaining four remaine in the fray.

  After USA's Erik Kynard cleared 2.32 but missed thrice at 2.35 / 7-8 1/2, the chess match was really on,
  Ukraine #2 Andriy Protsenko went a  PB 2.35 but took a miss at 2.38 (7-9 3/4) and two more at 2.40 (7-10 1/2) and now he, too, was on the sidelines, leaving it to Barshim and Bonardenko to have it out in this historic high-flyers' drama.

When Barshim cleared 2.38, but Bondarenko passed, he went into the lead. Both  then succeeded at 2.40 on second attempt.

   Up it went again, to 2.42 / 7-11 1/4, and both had first-attempt successes, as the crowd really got into nail-biting mode.

    With the bar now at 2.44 / eight feet - previously Sotomayor-only territory - track and field history now hung on every move.
 Barshim missed - not really close - but Bondarenko, with utmost confidence - took a pass. And now it was up-up-up some more, all the way to the breathtaking altitude of 2.46, or 8 feet and three quarters of an inch, a single centimeter over Sotomayor's best.

    Alas, there were no more "makes."  Bondarenko missed his full quota of three and Barshim his remaining two - and the crossbar could at last be put down by the officials.

  Surely, the eight-foot  bar will be cleared by a man not named Sotomayor - someday, and likely, someday soon.

  Well, they didn't do it this time and Barshim gains recognition as "the world's highest loser," but they raised the 10th adidas Grand Prix to memorable heights.

   So, course, did such others as two-time Olympic champion  Valerie Adams, winning her 50th straight shot put competition; David Rudisha, the world 800-meter record-holder regaining familiar form with a 1:44.63 win, and sprint revelation Tori Bowie with a daunting women's 100 win in 11.07.
   
 Four other athletes posted world-leading performances:

 (a) Brazil's Fabiana Murer took the women's pole vault at 4.80 meters (15-9), turning the tables on 2012 Olympic champion Jenn Suhr of USA;  Suhr, of course, had a terrific warmup three days earlier - delighting a Manhattan crowd at an exhibition PV event staged at Herald Square, not far from the famed windows of Macy's.

  (b) Germany's Linda Stahl sent the javelin on a ride of 67.32 meters (220-10.)

  (c) Jamaica's Warren Weir cut the 200-meter year best to 19.82, over teammate Nickel Ashmeade's 19.95.

  (d) Javier Culson of Puerto Rico led the 400 hurdlers in 48.03, with fourth going to NYC-born two-time Olympic king Felix Sanchez of Dominican Republic.

 With no Bolt in the 100,  Nesta Carter played fill-in with a clear cut 10.09-second upset decision over teammate and past world champion Yohan Blake's 10.21.  
   
   Germany's 3-time world champion, Robert Harting, stretched the men's discus meet record to 68.24 / 223-11 in an another early final.

   It wasn't a totally lost day for world-record hungry fans.

   That's thanks to the 5:01.55 mile victory by 10-year-old Jonah Gorevic of White Plains, N.Y in the Boys Youth Mile event.  No 10-year-old had ever run that fast. 

   "Jonah is a bright young  man," said his coach, Carl Curran of the Tailwind Track Club.

  "We only train 2-3 times a week and he's really a soccer player.

   "Today's time was a fantastic performance but we try to take everything in stride.

  "My promise to his family is to deliver him happy and healthy before he gets to high school and college."

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