Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Press Conference - Birmingham Diamond League

Before the excitement of the actual race day there was a press conference of British heroes Dina Asher-Smith, Zharnel Hughes, Laura Muir and Katarina Johnson-Thompson who were joined by international stars Noah Lyles and Sandi Morris on media duty as they and the world’s best athletes prepare for the Müller Grand Prix at the Alexander Stadium (18 August).

Dina Asher-Smith returned to action on home soil after a whirlwind 11 days which has seen the 22-year-old win three European gold medals, break two British records and set two world leading times.

Speaking to the media, the Olympic, World, Commonwealth and European medallist said: “It has been a really busy and tiring week, but it has been great. It has been great to see the support that us as a team got from all the public back home.

“When we were out there, we were in like a bit of a bubble, so we didn’t actually know the impact it has had on the nation so to comeback and to kind of understand that and be chased for some many things, this week has been great.”

The triple European champion competed in a star-studded women’s 200m which also featured world champion Dafne Schippers and Commonwealth champion and 400m Olympic champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo.

“It’s more like an Olympic final tomorrow so I am really, really excited. It’s typical that we have got an Olympic final straight after the Europeans, but I am really, really excited. You know the girls, we don’t avoid racing each other, we always just turn up, and I think this race in Birmingham is a great demonstration of that,” Asher-Smith added.

“Obviously, I am going to go out there and run my best. I always give 100 per cent, especially in front of a home crowd as I want to go out there and do everybody proud.”

The start list for the men’s 100m was equally impressive, and world leader for both 100m and 200m Noah Lyles was looking forward to proving his worth as the world’s quickest sprinter this year.

Lyles said: “I have been looking at the field a few times and I’m like ‘oh that’s a fast time, that’s a fast person too’ and you know what not everybody is going to get through to the final, but either way everybody is going to be trying to pull out their best. A lot of people as we are getting to the end of the season are putting down a lot of PRs. I’m looking to running against fast people and showing my worth.”

Taking to the 100m start line alongside Lyles was newly crowned European champion Zharnel Hughes.

On competing against the world’s best sprinters, Hughes said: “To be honest, I don’t feel any pressure going into the race. For me, it is just about staying focused and staying focused on myself. It is about going out there and doing what I have been doing all season which is to execute my race.

“The field is really stacked, and I am really looking forward to a great competition and with great competition comes fast times. I definitely think we can give the crowd the performance they are expecting.”

Another of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s gold medallists from Berlin, Laura Muir was aiming to make further history in Birmingham following her historic 1500m European gold last Sunday as she attacks Kelly Holmes’ British 1000m record 2:32.55.

Muir said: “I was really happy breaking the indoor record at the Birmingham Grand Prix last indoor season which was great. But I find indoors with the 200m track it is psychologically quite easy – five 200m laps – outdoors it is not something I have done much, but in Berlin I ran the last kilometre hard there, which wasn’t intentional, but I guess in a way that is quite good prep for this.

“As long as the conditions are good tomorrow, I feel like I am on target to go for it tomorrow.”

World indoor pole vault champion Sandi Morris returns to the city where she won her first global title in March, and the Diamond League leader couldn’t wait to compete again in Birmingham.

Morris said: “I have such amazing memories from this past indoor season, winning my first gold at a global championship, there is nothing like the UK crowd. The fans are absolutely incredible and so knowledgeable, and it really helps the athletes feed off the energy of the crowd. I am just excited to come and jump again in Birmingham.”

With the world’s best pole vaulters competing in Birmingham, including Olympic, world and European champion Katerina Stefanidi, Morris was expecting fireworks in the pole vault competition on Saturday.

“We do have a stacked field. Everybody is here, everybody. I think a few of us are ready to take cracks at the five-metre barrier. I am hungry to break five metres again. I did in 2016 and this year seems to be the year for me to do it. I am on a roll, I have jumped in the 80s at pretty much every meet I have been to, I have jumped in the 90s a couple of times, I have jumped 4.95 twice in one year, so I am on a roll and I feel good,” Morris added.

On the opposite side of the Alexander Stadium, the world’s best long jumpers will take to the runway in the women’s long jump; a competition which featured World Indoor pentathlon and Commonwealth heptathlon champion Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

The European silver medallist said: “It’s a very tough field, but I love events like that and I love the long jump, it is my second favourite event, so I am glad Birmingham is putting the long jump on. It’s a competition, who knows what is going to happen on the day, I am just excited to be competing.”

A selection of photos follows and can be seen at:

Diamond League - Birmingham, August 2018

Keen to see many of their heroes from the European Championships in Berlin in the flesh, a sizeable crowd flocked to the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham for the 2018 edition of the Muller Grand Prix where they were fortunate enough to see an exceptional four meeting records.

With the end of the track and field season firmly in sight, many athletes were seeking to secure a coveted place in the Diamond League Final. The 2018 Diamond League Final will take place on 30th and 31st August – the first date in Zurich and the second date in Brussels.

European champions and medallists alike showed very few signs of fatigue for the most part and this was evident from early on in the programme as European silver medallist Pamela Dutkiewicz won a rapid women’s 100m hurdles in 12.84 seconds despite a slight headwind of -0.6m/s.

Remarkably, the first three athletes past the line all finished in the same order as they did in the European Championships final, with Cindy Roleder and Nadine Visser both not too far behind Dutkiewicz. Dutkiewicz said after the race “I am feeling good. It’s always difficult to run after an international highlight performance in Berlin. I was tired but the run was good.”

Her compatriot and fellow European silver medallist, Christina Schwanitz, was spared the frustration of having to rue her four consecutive foul throws as her 18.20m second round attempt was enough to finish in first place in the women’s shot put and avenge her loss to Poland’s Paulina Guba at the European Championships, as Guba came second today with a 17.92m effort.

Orlando Ortega followed Schwanitz’s lead by avenging a European Championships defeat and producing a stunning seasons best of 13.08 to win the men’s 110m hurdles and push European Champion Pascal Martinot-Lagarde into 3rd behind both Ortega and Commonwealth champion Ronald Levy.

Impressively, this was not the only time Ortega got the better of Martinot-Lagarde today, as he had edged him to victory in his heat as well as the final. Ortega was understandably a “little angry” because he felt that if he “ran like this at the European Championships [he] would have won gold”.

Yet another German athlete who took silver at the Europeans went one better today, with the third one to do so being men’s javelin thrower Andreas Hoffmann who launched the javelin 89.82m in the process. Hoffmann’s international teammates Julian Weber and Thomas Rohler had to settle for second and fourth respectively, despite the former throwing a seasons best of 86.63m.

The fact that the conditions were not ideal for javelin throwing made Hoffmann’s throw all the more impressive, who decided to “pass on throws four and five” because the “wind was changing from every direction”, but chose to do his last throw because “it wouldn’t be fair on the crowd” otherwise.

Sandi Morris and Katerina Stefanidi had differing fortunes at their respective continental championships last week. Stefanidi became European champion for the second time, while Morris had to settle for bronze at the North American, Central American and Caribbean Championships. However, Morris, who is the world leader in this event, was able to claim a degree of consolation by beating Stefanidi with a 4.62m vault.

Recently crowned European Champion, Léa Sprunger, secured the opportunity to become Diamond League champion too, with her win in 54.86 ensuring that she can compete for that title in her home country of Switzerland on 30th August after edging out the much-fancied Jamaican, Janieve Russell.

One of the closest races of the day was the men’s 400m. Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor emerged as a surprise leader as the athletes entered the home straight before being eclipsed by the stampede of Hudson-Smith, Kerley and Dedewo. Hudson-Smith, who grew up not too far from the Alexander Stadium, was roared on by the crowd but Fred Kerley had the strength to beat him by mere hundredths in a time of 45.54.

Sifan Hassan demonstrated the versatility that makes her so difficult to beat by successfully stepping down to the 1500m so soon after her gold-medal-winning performance in the 5000m last Friday at the Europeans in Berlin. Hassan gave off a strong aura of superiority as she let the 2016 World Indoor bronze medallist Gudaf Tsegay do most of the work for her before speeding past her as they entered the home straight and taking the victory in 4:00.60.

Assisted by Benjamin Kigen stumbling over the water jump at a crucial point during the last lap, Conseslus Kipruto took full advantage of his teammate’s misfortune, albeit reluctantly, as the African Champion eased to a winning time of 8:14.33 in the men’s 3000m steeplechase. However, as Kigen remains top of the qualification standings for the Diamond League final, he will get the opportunity to make amends for that misdemeanour in Zurich on 30th August.

There were two consecutive wins on the track for Kenyan athletes, as a comfortable win for Agnes Jebet Tirop in the women’s 3000m followed. She was the first of a trio of Kenyans to cross the line; finishing ahead of both Lilian Kasait Rengeruk and Hellen Obiri in a time of 8:32.21.

One man in particular who made history today was Stewart McSweyn, who became the first Australian to win the historic Emsley Carr Mile – an annual invitational one mile race that has been held in the United Kingdom since 1953.

As is tradition for the winner of the race, McSweyn had the honour of signing a page of a leather-bound book featuring the signatures of every single winner of the race and was presented with a glass trophy.

To add to his achievement, McSweyn had also ran a personal best of 3:54.60 on his way to the win and it was only the second mile race he has ever run. He later spoke of how “the track was crazy good” and the “crowd sounds really close… [as if] they are in lane three or four”, which clearly served as sufficient motivation during his race.

McSweyn’s countryman Ryan Gregson ran a seasons best time to come second in what was a fantastic day for Australian athletes. Brandon Starc leaped to a brilliant 2.33m lifetime best in the men’s high jump.

Afterwards he revealed that he simply “took each height as it came” although he admitted he has “some things to work on” ahead of his last three competitions of the season that include the Diamond League Finals and the Continental Cup.

South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga also delivered a memorable performance that reiterated how much he enjoys competing in Birmingham. Having secured an indoor personal best of 8.44m on his way to World Indoor silver in Birmingham earlier this year, the South African delighted the crowd with an enormous meeting record of 8.53m in the men’s long jump that was a huge 36cm further than the second best jump in the competition.

British long-jumping legend and former World, European and Commonwealth champion, Greg Rutherford was denied a dream farewell to the sport during his final year of competition; having to settle for a second round effort of 7.43m as his best mark.

It could in fact be argued that the long jumpers stole the show on a windy afternoon in Birmingham though, as Manyonga’s female counterpart and European champion Malaika Mihambo also sprung to a meeting record. Her jump of 6.96m is only 3cm short of her personal best that she set this year at her first outdoor meet of the season back in May.

Emmanuel Korir was the next athlete to etch his name into the history books here at the 2018 Muller Grand Prix thanks to his meeting record in the men’s 800m. In June, Korir became the third man ever to run sub-1:44 for 800m and sub-45 for 400m, and his short sprint speed proved more than useful in the closing stages of the race as he sped to a time of 1:42.79.

Shortly before Korir’s record-breaking exploits, Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s Laura Muir came agonisingly close to breaking Kelly Holmes British record and meeting record in the 1000m. Muir stopped the clock at 2:33.92 – only 1.1 seconds slower than Holmes’ time set 23 years ago.

Two explosive sprint races stacked with world-class talent provided a fitting conclusion to the afternoon, especially because Bahamian speed merchant and the World bronze medallist in this event, Shaunae Miller-Uibo, ran an electric 22.15 that was the fourth meeting record of the day to fend off European triple gold medallist and home favourite, Dina Asher-Smith, in the dying moments of the women’s 200m.

Asher-Smith admitted that tiredness may have been a factor in her performance as it had “been a hectic week since Berlin” so she was just “looking forward to relaxing at home for a week or so before the next race in Zurich”, which will be one of two Diamond League Final events.

Reece Prescod gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about in the men’s 100m – the last race of the day, as he showcased incredible acceleration to almost nullify Christian Coleman’s outstanding start. The two athletes stood side by side beyond the finishing line, fixated on the big screen and waiting to see which of them prevailed in the photo finish.

Eventually the spoils went to the World Indoor champion Christian Coleman and the time of 9.94 awarded to both of the athletes was a seasons’ best for Coleman and a personal best for Prescod, in spite of a slight headwind.

A selection of photos are shown below and can be seen at: