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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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For years hard-core track & field aficionados have told us, “It’s ‘The One Day Olympics.’  ‘It’s the best single-day track & field gathering in the world.’”  Blah, blah, blah.  Thursday night, those on the 2014 Track & Field News Tour joined a capacity crowd of 24,000 in Zurich’s Letzigrund Stadium to witness the Weltklasse and find out for themselves.

In this summer without a global championship, the Weltklasse – along with next Friday’s Van Damme Memorial in Brussels – is as close to the Olympics or World Championships as you’ll get this year.

As the shadows lengthened, the pre-competition festivities got underway as several of the athletes were paraded around the track in a rickshaw-like fashion.  They were exhorted onward through the antics of Cooly the Weltklasse mascot who is reportedly the intellectual property of the Zurich meet.  The uber-exuberant bovine is a little like Elsie The Cow overdosing on Red Bull.  The iconic, mute cheerleader is athletic [purportedly able to hurdle, clear the steeplechase water barrier, high jump 1.58m, and pole vault 3 meters] and has been known to make occasional amorous advances to those in attendance.

After the capacity crowd participated in an inspiring, standing unison rendition of the Swiss national anthem, it was time to get down to business.  In the women’s long jump, Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic’s opening leap of 6.80m [22’3¾”] was enough to give her the victory.  Tianna Bartoletta’s 5th round jump of 6.76m [22’2”] fell just a little short as she finished 2nd.  Spanovic and Bartoletta finished the DL season with 16 points each, but the American world leader gets the Diamond League title on the first tie breaker of more Diamond League victories.

Half-way through the summer, veteran shot putter Reese Hoffa began to equivocate on his earlier declaration that this would be his final season.  And with good reason.  The American brought his “A” game tonight to win the DL finale and snatch the Diamond League trophy.  Hoffa’s 5th round heave of 21.58m vaulted him into the lead and his sixth round put of 21.88m [71’9½”] sealed the win.  Early leaders David Storl of Germany finished 2nd at 21.47m [70’5¼”] and emerging Joe Kovacs got the iron ball out 21.43m [70’3¾”] for 3rd.

The first track event of the evening was the winner-take-all 400H showdown between USA’s Michael Tinsley – the current DL leader – and world leader [48.03] Javier Coulson of Puerto Rico. Coulson nullified Tinsley’s early lead on the back stretch and appeared the stronger of the two as he took a slight lead into the homestretch.  But Tinsley – just nipped for the world title in Moscow last August – dug down deep to reel in his rival on the homestretch, better Coulson 48.31 to 48.53, and capture the DL title.  But the surprise was South Africa’s Cornel Fredericks who uncorked an even stronger stretch drive to give him the upset win [48.25].  Beloved Swiss athlete Kariem Hussein – newly minted European champion – got up for 4th in a PR 48.70.

Pacers took up the tempo responsibility in the women’s 3000 steeplechase.  American record holder Emma Coburn hopped right on board.  The Colorado athlete found herself with a 30 meter lead with 4 laps remaining.  But when the pacers walked off, the race tempo slacked and the chase pack of Ruth Jebet and Hiwot Ayalew completely closed the gap.  Just before the bell, Habiba Ghribi slipped into the lead as the tempo increased.  Coburn had no response as Ghribi [9:15.23] raced on to a comfortable win. Ayalew [9:19.29] finished second, but nonetheless captured the DL crown.

In the men’s 200m final, Alonso Edward – in lane 7 and unable to see his main rival Nickel Ashmeade in lane 6 – stayed poised in the homestretch as he drove on for a narrow victory over Ashmeade, 19.95 to 20.01.  The win vaulted the Panamanian over Jamaican for the DL title.

The knowledgeable and appreciative Letzigrund crowd – aware that the women’s 1500 meter final was talent-laden – was fully attentive for what proved to be the race of the evening.  American Phoebe Wright set the early pace as Jenny Simpson tucked in.  When Wright stepped off with two laps remaining, new leader Simpson exhibited the look of determination that said she would not relinquish the lead without a fight.  Ahead at the bell, Simpson had to fight off world leader Sifan Hassan on the backstretch.  But two other homestretch challengers lurked. Kenya’s Viola Kibiwot was too far back to be aided by her 54.3 final 400 and finished third in 4:00.46.  But  Shannon Rowbury – closing on Simpson up the final straightaway – saw daylight on the inside as both Simpson and the Beijing 1500m bronze medalist dove at the line.  Simpson’s desperate last-stride response proved to be the difference as her 3:59.92 clocking nipped her American competitor by .01.  The win gave Simpson the Diamond League title and her second consecutive automatic entry into the world championships.

Brazil’s Fabiana Murer captured the DL title with a sparkling night in the women’s pole vault.  Jumping clean and in the lead, the world leader had been dominant over four other remaining vaulters when the bar went to 4.72 [15’5¾”].  Murer emerged the victor when she made her first attempt clearance while her remaining competitors – headed by Olympic champion Jenn Suhr – all went three and out.  Murer’s triumph secured her the Diamond League title.

LaShawn Merritt already had the Diamond League title in his back pocket when he arrived in Zurich. So the world champion put on a clinic on how to run the 400 meters.  After displaying comfortable speed down the backstretch, Merritt turned on his patented lift on the final straightaway to win going away in 44.36.  Gil Roberts’ 44.96 gave the USA a 1-2  finish.

While the steady tick of track events were sequencing with the precision of a Swiss watch, several critical field event battles were also taking place.  In the men’s triple jump, Olympic champion Christian Taylor [17.51m/57’5½”] saved the best for last as his final attempt [17.51m/57’5½”] lifted him from 3rd to 1st and gave him the victory and the Diamond League title.  France’s Benjamin Compaore [17.41m/57’1½”] finished 2nd and Taylor’s former University of Florida teammate Will Claye [17.39m/57’¾”] finished 3rd.   In the men’s javelin, the field could never match Germany’s Thomas Rohler’s personal best first round throw of 87.63m [287’6”] as he leaped ahead of Tero Pitkamaki in the DL standings to snatch the Diamond League prize.  Russia’s Mariya Kuchina – in a DL tie with Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic going into this meet – outdueled Ana Simic to win the event and the DL crown with a clearance of 2.00m [6’6¾”].  Vlasic went out at 1.96m.  All 4 of dominating Sandra Perkovic’s legal discus throws would have won the event.  The DL titlist’s best twirl was 68.36 [217’8”].

The women’s 100 meters got underway after a start infraction sent France’s Myriam Soumare to the sidelines.  Aided by a good start, Jamaica’s Victoria Campbell Brown had just enough to win the race and claim the DL crown.  VCB’s perfectly-timed lean at the line barely nipped world championship medalist Murielle Ahoure who matched VCB’s winning time of 11.04.  Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare was third in 11.06.

Kenya’s Sammy Tangui towed a talented field in the men’s 800 through the first 400m in 49.69.  The field remained bunched as France’s Pierre Bosses split 600 in 1:17.34.  Running 6th with a furlong remaining, DL leader David Rudisha had his work cut out for him.  The traffic proved too much for the world record holder as Nijel Amos – the world leader – broke through and took advantage of a clear path to a 1:43.77 victory which earned him the Diamond Trophy.   Djoubouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman grabbed 2nd [1:43.93] while Rudisha finished 3rd [1:43.96].

High hurdlers flirt with disaster at every outing, and the women’s 100H final was no exception.  DL leader Queen Harrison crashed the final hurdle and saw her Diamond League title chances slide away.  Dawn Harper – whose final two hurdles and run-in currently have to be the best in the world – grabbed the victory [12.58] and the Diamond League crown.  Olympic champion Sally Pearson [12.71] and Tiffany Porter [12.72] rounded out the top three.

Through a season-long dilution of points among many, 20 athletes toed the line of men’s 5000 final knowing that tonight’s winner would likely claim the Diamond League title.  A Kenyan pace-setter dished out a steady drumbeat of 64 second quarters as the bunched field got underway.  Unfazed, American Galen Rupp hugged the rail in 15th place chilling for the anticipated battle over the final laps.  Steadily moving through the pack, Rupp covered a 62 second pace-surging circuit to find himself in 3rd with 1200 meters remaining.  The Olympic silver medalist at 10,000 made a bid for the lead with 700 remaining but was turned back by world leader Edris Muktar. Well positioned in third just stride off the leader at the bell, Rupp couldn’t muster the winning drive.  Caleb Ndiku – recently stepped up from the 1500 – exhibited a strong winning finish to take the race [13:07.01] and to unseat DL leader Yenew Alamirew for the Diamond League crown.  Muktar took 2nd [13:07.32] while Rupp hung on for 3rd [13:07.82].

The specter of missing Usain Bolt hung over the crouched field in the final event of the evening:  the men’s 100 meters.  Commonwealth champion Kemar Bailey-Cole got off to a great start and clocked 9.96 for the win and the Diamond League title.  USA’s Michael Rodgers – the DL leader going in – finished second in 10.05.

With another Weltklasse in the books, the crowd quickly dispersed into the darkness, many heading into inviting nearby Swiss pubs for a pint and some post-meet conversation.   The Track & Field News Tour group was all smiles.  They knew they had seen one of the best athletics gatherings of the summer.  Oh, and all those superlatives tossed around to describe the Weltklasse?  They’re all true. 

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.