Seven down, seven to go. With the Diamond League on hiatus in recent weeks to accommodate such events as the US Championships and European Team Championships, we now prepare to get back on track with meeting number eight in Paris this weekend. To mark the halfway point in the calendar, we take a quick look back and count down the 10 best performances to date.
10) Ayanleh Souleiman; Mile (3:51.10), Eugene
It was the race in which almost all of the big men in world miling toed the line, but only one could emerge as top dog. In the end, it was Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman who proved himself equally brave and brainy when dominating the Bowerman Mile. Souleiman was happy to be the target man over the last 300 metres, sweeping to the lead and controlling the race throughout the final lap, showing the astute tactical awareness that made him world indoor champion last year. In the home-stretch duel, he held off Matt Centrowitz, the late-charging Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat to take a well-deserved win.
9) Allyson Felix; 200m (21.98), Doha
The undisputed queen of the 200m, Allyson Felix showed she intends to maintain her supremacy over her speciality distance this year by opening her Diamond League campaign with a sub-22-second clocking in Doha. The three-time world champion and reigning Olympic champion powered clear of a world class field to run the fastest time over 200m since her own 21.88 to win the Olympic title in London. Top class running from a top class athlete.
8) Yomif Kejelcha; 5000m (12:58.39), Rome
What were you doing when you were 17 years old? Ethiopia’s Yomif Kejelcha – one of the breakout stars of the season to date – is traversing the world, racing on the Diamond League circuit and defeating most of the world’s best distance runners. Kejelcha announced himself in explosive style at the Rome Diamond League in early June, carving more than 12 seconds off his 5,000m personal best when kicking past countryman Hagos Gebrhiwet down the home straight to take victory in the fastest time of the season to date, 12:58.39. Though ages of young East Africans are often unreliable, 17-year-old Kejelcha could be set to dominate the event in the coming years. He is extremely tall, extremely skinny and most importantly of all, extremely fast.
7) Mutaz Essa Barshim; High Jump (2.41m), Eugene
Under a searing sun at the Prefontaine Classic in Hayward Field last month, Mutaz Essa Barshim soared high, clearing a meeting record of 2.41m. Such is Barshim’s consistent brilliance over the past year that almost every time the Qatari takes to the high jump runway, a clearance in excess of 2.40m is widely expected, if not demanded. In Eugene, Barshim cleared 2.35m and then having passed the next height, he watched Chinese rival Zhang Guowei go clear at 2.38m. Barshim duly rose to the occasion and then cleared 2.41m, which has him 3cm clear of the rest of the world this season. The world record is rarely safe with this man is on the runway.
6) Jasmin Stowers; 100m hurdles (12.35), Doha
When 23-year-old American Jasmin Stowers went to Doha for the opening Diamond League of the season, she was still very much an unknown quantity on the international circuit, but it took just 12.35 seconds for her to announce herself as an athlete of the very highest calibre. “It’s been a sensational start to the season,” said Stowers afterwards, and it was.
5) Julius Yego; Javelin (91.39m), Birmingham
Before the men’s javelin in Birmingham, we wrote that the event was enjoying a renaissance and a 90-metre throw was soon to be on the agenda. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. In a field loaded with talent, Kenya’s Julius Yego trotted up to the line and launched the spear an unfathomably long distance through the air. It landed to gasps from the crowd, but his throw was initially ruled ineligible due to landing outside the sector, a decision that was later overturned. Yego’s throw was thankfully still measured at the time and when officials reversed their decision, it was confirmed as a legal throw of 91.39m. The mark was an African record, a Diamond League record and the best throw in the world since 2006. It was, quite simply, superb.
4) Justin Gatlin; 100m (9.74), Doha
Love him or hate him, there’s no denying that the speed and consistently brilliant performances of Justin Gatlin at the age of 33 this year are, it’s fair to say, astonishing. In the opening Diamond League of the season in Doha, Gatlin blasted his way down the track and won the 100m by a street in 9.74 seconds, something which will have given Usain Bolt much to think about on the road to Beijing. “That was for him [Bolt],” said Gatlin afterwards. “I knew I had to go out and make a statement tonight.” And boy, what a statement.
3) Renaud Lavillenie; Pole Vault (6.05m), Eugene
France’s Renaud Lavillenie’s brilliance is often overlooked, largely due to the fact that his accomplishments are confined to a field event – when watching eyes are sometimes circling the track – and also because his rivals are rarely able to put up anything more than a moderate struggle against his supremacy. This year, the 2014 World Athlete of the Year has been equally as dominant and remains unbeaten. His season reached its peak at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, where he cleared 6.05m – an outdoor personal best, Diamond League record and a performance which moved him to number two on the world outdoor all-time list. Afterwards, his reaction was typically modest: “It’s just the beginning of the season. I have a lot of work to do.” Incredibly, Lavillenie has never won a world outdoor title, but if he maintains that kind of form until Beijing in late August, that almost looks a formality.
2) Almaz Ayana; 5,000m (14:14.32), Shanghai
Few saw it coming, perhaps not even the athlete herself. The Shanghai meeting had been headlined by high jumpers Bohdan Bondarenko and Mutaz Essa Barshim and their quest to break the world record, but it proved a 23-year-old Ethiopian who came closest to such a feat in the Chinese city. Ayana ran alone for the last five laps of the race and powered home in 14:14.32, just three seconds off Tirunesh Dibaba’s world record. The run made Ayana the third fastest of all time over 5,000m. “I was surprised,” said Ayana afterwards. “It was faster than I had in mind.”
1) Pedro Pablo Pichardo, Triple Jump (18.06m), Doha
In the event of the season to date, Cuba’s Pedro Pablo Pichardo and America’s Christian Taylor soared over the 18-metre barrier. It would be unfair not to credit Taylor for his effort in defeat, but there was no doubting Pichardo was the star of the meeting, and indeed the season to
date. In Doha, he soared out to a national record of 18.06m, and he has swept all before him elsewhere on the circuit this year, taking wins in Rome (17.96), New York (17.56) and then back home in Havana, he set the world-leading mark of 18.08m. A phenomenal record from a phenomenal athlete, who, we should remind you, only turns 22 this week.