Many of the past stars of the ExxonMobil Bislett Games glorious first 50 years were in attendance in Oslo yesterday to celebrate the Golden Anniversary. And the fields were so strong and the hopes so high, but did anyone else feel a little Bleh! with the results?
I texted my pal Jack Waitz whose late wife Grete’s statue stands out front of the historical oval, and even he came back with, “Boring!”
But as steeplechase pacer Haron Lagat posted on his Facebook account, “Oslo windy and humid”. And sometimes when attempting something special that is all it takes to throw off our high expectations.
So, yes, Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba ran the seventh fastest 5000 ever with her 14:21.29. But the goal had been sister Tirunesh’s 14:11.15 world record from 2008, which, as it turns out, was the last world record set on the track renown for establishing such marks. But when her pacers couldn’t drag her through to even 2K on pace, forget it.
Then with high jump world record holder Javier Sotomayor of Cuba in the stands, there was hope that something close to his 2.45m record – which had come under assault several times last year – might come under fire once again, especially since all the top jumpers of the world were on hand.
But even with Mutaz Essa Barshim and Bogdan Bondarenko, Italy’s Marco Fassinotti (who tied the Italian national record) and America’s Erik Kynard clearing 2.33m — “well into the realm of respectability now,” as per broadcaster Stuart Storey — we had China’s Asian Games silver medalist Guowei Zhang winning at a relatively modest 2.36m.
At one point, according to Storey and partner Steve Cram, officials considered flipping the direction of the long jump runway to take advantage of the wind rather than run into it. In the end they didn’t and England’s Greg Rutherford leaped 8.25m for the win, but every event was a little off in the same way.
Scotland’s Laura Muir ran a gutty 4:00.39 to grab the 1500m win, but as had become the evening’s habit, was the only competitor to chase the rabbit. In the end she had to hold form to win, though Kenya’s Faith Kipyegon was closing smartly. Everyone else was two seconds or more behind.
Jairus Birech of Kenya dominated the men’s steeplechase in 8:05.63, some six seconds up on Conseslus Kipruto in second. All the other big names were there, but 22 year-old Birech was again the sole man to latch onto the pace, and by 2K (5:21.83) had gapped the field.
France’s Christoph Lemaitre took the 200m for men with a solid stretch run, but only in 20.21 as the headwind stripped time off all the sprints. Muriellle Ahoure held off Veronica Campbell Brown in the women’s 100m, 11.03 to 11.08. To put that into perspective, Ahoure had posted a PR 10.81 finishing second at Prefontaine, but in Eugene she was pushed by a 1.7 m/sec. tailwind. Even the mighty Dream Mile which closed the program was lacking oomph.
Djiboudi’s Ayanleh Souleiman touted a meet record attempt (3:44.90, Hicham el Guerrouj 1997) but after going out alone with the pacers in a heady 1:53.48, he was left breathless in the final lap after hitting the bell in 2:53. When he began to tie up, three hounds ran him down, led by lanky Kenyan Olympic champ Asbel Kiprop in 3:51.45.
As we continue to see, fewer prime contenders are going with the designated pacers in these Diamond League races. Are the paces just too daunting? The last senior men’s world record at Bislett was Haile Gebrselassie’s 26:31.32 in 1997. Yet when there are no pacers and fields just sit until the last lap, there is an audience that feels frustrated with that presentation, too.
Lord Sebastian Coe, he who ran two world records of his own in Olso (1:42.33 800m in `79 & 2:12.81 1000m in `81) was another of the past stars in attendance. The candidate for the IAAF presidency released his 100-Day Plan the day before in Oslo, outlining the initial push he would make if elected. Hopefully, he will seek some remedy to the constant sameness of the sport that made him famous.