The Birmingham DL is one of my favorite meets on the circuit. Unfortunately, fate is such that I was unable to visit for the first time in a decade. Besides wonderful friends, and wonderful curry, the city of Birmingham puts on fine athletic events, both indoor and outdoor, as well as one of the largest 10 k races in the world.
After a long season of watching the athletics from my armchair, I finally got the chance to see a Diamond League event live in 2016 as the circuit came to Birmingham for its sixth round. Often a competition that suffers from adverse weather conditions, to my relief, the sun was shining on this occasion and I was able to witness arguably the best meet of the year so far. From start to finish we had world leads, national records, meeting records and zillions of personal bests and qualifying standards, to leave that Olympic feeling well and truly lingering around a stadium that will stage the Olympic trials in less than a month’s time. Here are my five key talking points from a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Farah shines in final event of the day
With Rio now exactly two months away, it was only right that Britain’s star player Mo Farah should appear as the headline act of the show. Bringing the meet to a close by brilliantly running 7:32.62 in the 3,000m, Farah showed he’s in tip top shape ahead of his title defences in Rio, finally breaking a British record that had existed longer than he has.
Though sceptics will perhaps rightly point to Farah’s lack of competition in the field, as illustrated by the 12 second victory, the Olympic champion at least sent a message out to the likes of the fast finishing Muktar Edris that he too has speed in his legs. Going with the pacers almost from the gun, Farah, who admitted feeling a little heavy last week in Eugene, showed no signs of such issues as he floated round the Alexander Stadium track, in control of the race throughout whilst he rewrote the British record books. With a race in the 1500m in Monaco again on the cards it looks as though speed is indeed his prime focus, perhaps understandably, given that it is his 5,000m crown that looks most under threat.
Francine Niyonsaba excels in Semenya’s absence
Just like Caster Semenya, her position at the top of the women’s 800m may not be universally popular, yet the form of Francine Niyonsaba this year has also been incredibly impressive. Even though it seems a long shot for the Burundian athlete to beat Semenya at Rio 2016, that is not stopping the world indoor champion from having easily her best season to date. In the absence of her South African rival, Niyonsaba smashed her way past the rest of the women’s 800m field to win in a MR 1:56.92, beating her closest rival, France’s Ranelle Lamote, by over a second. Having bided her time up to 600m, she showed an extra gear to pull away and win comfortably. For Lamote there was the consolation of a PB, while fellow sub-two minute finishers Melissa Bishop and Lynsey Sharp both look in good nick.
The Kiprop train keeps on rolling
To me, Asbel Kiprop is already certifiably the best 1500m runner of this decade. He has won everything there is to win and run a ton of the top times on the all-time list. If he stays fit this summer then he is a near certainty to win a second Olympic gold that would surely confirm that title.
In Birmingham he showed just why he is so good by staying on the toes of the pacer before remaining equally as strong when he had to go it alone, eventually winning by nearly four seconds. His time of 3:29.33 was a MR and the fastest time ever run on British soil, improving his own WL from Doha by more than 3 seconds.
With his victory never really looking in doubt, today was all about times, luckily when it comes to running fast Kiprop is a class above the rest in that too. Having requested a seemingly audacious time of 1:51 for 800m, the Kenyan rectified his decision by going through two laps in 1:51.72 whilst extending his lead from his rivals in the process, reaching 1200m in 2:47.79 before cruising to the win. Pumping his arms with tension streaked across his face as he clawed his way under the 3:30 for the first time in 2016, Kiprop did at least show some fatigue in his efforts proving he is after all only human, although most likely of the super kind.
Goodwin leaps to another victory
When you come onto the circuit with a brand new PB of 8.45m and you are suddenly a contender for gold at Rio 2016, it’s understandable that you might start to feel the pressure a little bit more. To an extent that has been the case for NFL wide receiver and Olympian Marquise Goodwin up until today. While his performances haven’t necessarily been bad, jumping less than 8.20m while finishing in third and second in Rabat and Rome respectively, was probably not quite what Goodwin was hoping for after such a good start to the season. Nevertheless with the added incentive of trying to beat Olympic champion Greg Rutherford on his home turf, Goodwin flew once more. Despite only registering two successful jumps all series, a second round jump of 8.42m was enough for the American to take full points and the first DL victory.
Speaking afterwards voicing the confidence of his latest victory he said: “I thought I would do well out here today – the atmosphere was great to compete in. I love to compete in the UK, 2012 was my first time here when we trained for the Olympics, so it’s a blessing to come back out here and experience this meet.”
While I’m sure Goodwin would have liked more consistency, the former world junior champion will take confidence from knowing he is capable of producing the same level of performance against the best athletes.
Barshim is back
For the last three years it’s seemed as though Mutaz Essa Barshim could do no wrong. Everything the Qatari star did worked, be it bidding for the world championships, breaking Asian records or winning the Diamond League, each time he competed he came out on top. Yet after missing out on a medal at Beijing 2015 things haven’t gone quite so smoothly. So as he came into Birmingham bang out of form, the 2nd greatest jumper in history was overlooked as a contender.
Having also failed to make the podium at the World Indoors, Barshim has struggled so far this outdoor season, finishing 6th and 7th in his two DL appearances previous to Birmingham with a best of just 2.27m.
Approaching the bar for his second attempt at 2.29m, both he and the crowd were tentatively holding their breath wondering whether it would be another early exit. Yet they needn’t have worried. Instead Barshim elegantly floated over, leaving plenty of room between himself and the bar. Though he would go through a similar process for the next two heights, each time his mental resolve shone through, leaving him in a battle for first with Olympic silver medallist Eric Kynard. With Kynard leading due to a first-time clearance at 2.35m, Barshim remained the underdog, needing to clear 2.37m to have any chance of winning, a standard higher than he had done in more than a year. Despite faltering at the first hurdle once more, Barshim stayed strong to glide over on take two. As Kynard failed to match his efforts, a seemingly unlikely victory was confirmed. Barshim is back.
Speaking afterwards the jumper said: “It feels good, I’m just happy to be able to jump to what I want. Birmingham is a very nice place, it’s the second time I’ve won here and the weather is very nice. I came here to find my feeling and I believe I have managed to do that.”