Cream of Olympic athletics crop rises in Zurich

Zurich (AFP) –


At the end of a long season in which all efforts have been made to promote track and field during the Covid-19 pandemic, the cream of the Olympic crop including Armand Duplantis and Elaine Thompson-Herah rightly rose to the top in a thrilling Diamond League finale in Zurich.

Hailed as an "Olympics in one night", the staging of 25 finals over the course of three hours on Thursday more than lived up to its billing, in front of a crowd of more than 20,000 at the Letzigrund Stadium, one of the true spiritual homes of athletics.

The raucous atmosphere was in sharp contrast to the empty Olympic stadium, deprived of spectators by the pandemic.

Among the stars were Duplantis, Thompson-Herah and Karsten Warholm, Faith Kipyegon and Yulimar Rojas: all names given prominence by their gold medal-winning performances at the Tokyo Games that ended a month ago having been postponed for a year because of coronavirus.

Sweden's Duplantis wrapped up his first Diamond League trophy with a winning vault of 6.06m, a meeting record and one he decribed as "mission accomplished".

Duplantis once again had three failed efforts at 6.19m, which would have bettered his own world record by a centimetre.

"The main goal was just to win that diamond as I have not done it yet," the 21-year-old said. "I would have loved to break the record and I really felt like I have it in me this season.

"I am going to look back at the season and I am not going to have too many complaints."

Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi, who shared high jump gold in Tokyo with Qatar's Mutaz Barshim, won in Switzerland with a best of 2.34m, his outgoing personality wowing the Zurich crowd and crowning what he dubbed an "amazing year".

Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi
Italy's Gianmarco Tamberi STEFAN WERMUTH AFP

"I did not have fun competing without fans," the ebullient Italian said. "High jump is not that funny without the fans.

"But this was amazing and I would compete even 50 times even if I am tired if we had the crowds like this. Zurich is the best."

- 'Record on my mind' -

Jamaican sprint queen Thompson-Herah was fresh from running the second fastest women's 100m ever, and it was thought she might make a serious attempt on Florence Griffith-Joyner's world record of 10.49sec, set back in 1988.

But it was not to be, although she clocked an impressive 10.65sec to win.

"This year, it was a long season with ups and downs, but next year, the world record is definitely on my mind," said the five-time Olympic gold medallist.

"The audience was very warm and cheerful, I wished we had so many people to cheer in Tokyo on the finish line!"

Kenya's Kipyegon, who held off Sifan Hassan for a nail-biting win in an ultra-competitive women's 1500m, added: "The atmosphere was wonderful, we are so grateful to run in front of a crowd after last year."

As the 32 Diamond Trophy winners were assembled in front of the crowd, World Athletics president Sebastian Coe said a few words before the athletes were driven off around the track, Shirley Bassey's "Diamonds Are Forever" booming over the tannoy.

The 32 Diamond League event winners
The 32 Diamond League event winners Fabrice COFFRINI AFP

Among the winners were two that have set the world of social media into a maelstrom: Burundi's Francine Niyonsaba in the 5,000m and Namibian teenager Christine Mboma in the 200m in an African and under-20s world record of 21.78sec.

- Difficult questions -

Both runners have been forced to take up different events. Niyonsaba was a multiple medal-winning 800m runner while Mboma's favoured discipline is the 400m.

But female athletes like Niyonsaba and Mboma who have unusually high levels of testosterone, which gives them added strength, are prohibited from competing in races between 400m and a mile unless they undergo treatment to reduce the levels.

The fact the pair have beaten current world champions Hellen Obiri of Kenya and Britain's Dina Asher-Smith in back-to-back Diamond League meets after recent decisions to change events out of necessity has raised the contentious issue of whether regulations put in place by the sport's governing body to try to create a "level playing field" go far enough.

After winning the 5,000m in Zurich, Niyonsaba tweeted a triumphant photo of herself along with the hashtags of "Burundi, resist and never give up".

"They tried to stop me. Tried to end my dreams. But how could I allow them to snatch my dreams away? So I worked hard. Resisted those forces who tried to stop me. And here I am!," she said.