SHANGHAI - Justin Gatlin raced the fastest 100m of the season at Sunday’s Shanghai Diamond League meet, while Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix failed to recapture her previous magic, finishing fifth in the 400m. Gatlin ran under 10 seconds for the first time this year, claiming victory in 9.92 seconds after leading from the blocks — and then immediately vowed to improve on that time.
“To go out there and technically run a 9, 9.92, with no wind at all. I think it puts me in the right direction of where I need to go,” Gatlin said. “My next step. My ultimate goal is... to run a couple of 9.7s, a 9.6, just put together a good race and try not to burn out towards the end of the season.”
The US athlete, who came back from a four-year doping ban in 2010, became only the second 100m sprinter to dip below 10 seconds this year, beating South African Simon Magakwe’s 9.98 seconds achieved last month. But it was a disappointing night for Felix in her first race of the season. The four-time Olympic gold winner had vowed to return to form this season after winning only two Diamond races in 2013 before crashing out of the Moscow world championships 200m with a hamstring injury.
Her race was won by Novlene Williams-Mills, who showed serious grit at the London 2012 Olympics when she took a 4x400m relay bronze medal having been diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before the Games. She subsequently had four operations, including a double mastectomy in January 2013. It was also a night to remember for Nigerian Blessing Okagbare, who claimed victory in the 200m and the long jump.
Okagbare won the women’s 200m with a time of 22.36 seconds, a race which also saw Veronica Campbell-Brown return to the Diamond League circuit after her doping controversy. The Jamaican former Olympic champion spent 10 months on the sidelines before having a two-year ban overturned in February. Campbell-Brown finished the race in fifth, while Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was a late withdrawal.
AFP was told that Fraser-Pryce had pulled out with a “shin injury”, which may have been caused before the warm-up as she was not seen in the stadium but had travelled to Shanghai. Okagbare had earlier won the long jump event, with a 6.86-metre leap.
Men’s 400m hurdles Olympic silver medallist Michael Tinsley stormed to victory in the discipline in Shanghai after he summoned extra strength at the climax of the race to edge to the front of a pack of four. Meanwhile, France’s indoor world record pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie won his event with a jump of 5.92 metres. He told AFP that he was feeling stronger after breaking the world record in February but injuring his foot on the same event, leaving him out for five weeks.
“Three months ago I was not even able to put my foot on the ground because of my injuries,” he told AFP. “For me it is a big improvement. I think it (recovering from injury) has made me stronger than I was before.”
The homegrown star of the evening was Xie Wenjun, who won the 110 hurdles in front of an ecstatic home crowd which included Chinese track and field superstar Liu Xiang.
Xie, who is a close friend of the 2004 Olympics 110 metre hurdles gold medal winner, won the race with a personal best time of 13.23, ahead of France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde and current World Champion David Oliver. “Today’s result is the pay-off for my hard work in the past few months,” Xie said. “I didn’t expect that I could finish first in today’s race because all my rivals are world class athletes like David Oliver, so it is a great surprise and a great pleasure for me to win at home.”