Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba, who last year dominated the 400m hurdles, once again stole the show with another superb performance to highlight the IAAF Diamond League meet in Shanghai yesterday.
The win, coming after his Asian championship gold medal in Doha last month, was ample warning to his rivals that he will be the firm favourite to the win the IAAF World Championships gold in Doha later this year.
With this result, Samba became the second member of Qatar’s Athletics Team to qualify for the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020, after his teammate Abubaker Haydar, who finished fourth in the 800m race held in Doha in April.
Already in the spotlight as the key protagonist in the meeting’s most eagerly anticipated face-off, Samba lived up to expectations with a decisive victory over Rai Benjamin in the pair’s first head-to-head battle.
Running to the Qatari’s outside in lane five, Benjamin, the third fastest 400m hurdler of all-time, took the early lead, leading Samba, history’s second fastest ever, by about half a stride until the pair reached the fifth hurdle.
Samba briefly pulled ahead, but Benjamin kept up the pressure through the turn as they approached hurdle nine. There, Benjamin lost his rhythm, giving Samba an opening he took full advantage of. Three strides later, Samba was in the lead for good, padding his advantage as he cleared hurdle ten before crossing the line in 47.27, the second fastest time of his career in just his second race of the season. And he did it on less than a handful of restless hours or sleep after losing a battle with jetlag.
“To be honest with you, I couldn’t sleep last night,” Samba said. “I fell asleep this morning at about 7 and got up at 10:30. But I’m so happy. It’s my second fastest time so I think the season will be great again like last year.” It was his 12th straight victory.
Only eight other men have ever run faster, Benjamin, who clocked 47.02 last year, among them. Despite his late-race dip in fortunes, the 21-year-old was pleased.
“I was good until (hurdles) 9 and 10 - I wish I could have those hurdles back - but it’s fine, it’s the season opener so I can’t really complain too much,” said Benjamin, whose 47.80 run was also the second fastest of his career.
“I didn’t go out too strong, he just had it at the end and I didn’t. I just have to go home and work on some things and come back.”
Meanwhile, Noah Lyles exploded over the final third of the race to win a thrilling men’s 100m in a personal best 9.86 seconds, pipping fellow American Christian Coleman in a photo-finish.
Coleman, in his first outing of the year, tore out of the blocks and looked to have the race under control at halfway until Lyle’s storming finish caught him with a dip at the line.
World indoor sprint champion Coleman was awarded the same time, the best of the year so far, and the top four all went under 10 seconds with Akani Simbine of South Africa third (9.95) and last year’s winner Reece Prescod of Britain fourth (9.97).
“I said to my coach in warm-up ‘today is the day’,” said Lyles.
“I feel hot. I knew if I got out of the blocks and if I was anywhere close, I knew I could come late for the win.”If the 100m augured well for the season in the sprints, the other most highly anticipated race of the evening, the men’s 400m hurdles, did not disappoint either.
American Aleia Hobbs won the women’s 100m in 11.03 seconds despite fracturing her wrist playing laser tag two weeks ago, holding off Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare (11.07) and double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson (11.14).
“I was expecting to perform better,” said Jamaican Thompson, after her first 100 since midway through last year.
“I will be seeking better performances.”
Olympic and world champion Omar McLeod held off local Xie Wenjun to win the Shanghai 110m hurdles for the fourth straight year, crossing the line in 13.12 seconds before collapsing to the track in tears.
“It was difficult for me to compete today,” the Jamaican said. “My auntie Tracey died yesterday ... I just wanted to finish, win and get the job done.” Fred Kerley led fellow Americans Michael Cherry and Nathan Strother across the line to win the men’s 400m in 44.81, while Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser clinched the women’s one-lap race in 50.65 ahead of Diamond League debutant Sydney McLaughlin.
Another fast finisher was Yomif Kejelcha, who kicked on the final lap to lead an Ethiopian podium sweep in the men’s 5,000m in 13 minutes 04.16 seconds – the best of the year so far.
Morocco’s Rababe Arafi also ran a world leading time in the women’s 1,500m in four minutes 01.15 seconds, and there was a world leading distance in the men’s javelin with German Andreas Hofmann’s 87.55 metres.
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