Some Team USA athletes needed a gem of a performance to secure Diamond Race titles Friday night in Brussels. Others banked on their season-long consistency to capture the top prize: a winner-take-all $40,000 and sparkling Diamond Trophy.
Sprinter Justin Gatlin, hurdler Dawn Harper-Nelson and triple jumper Christian Taylor won their events at the Memorial Van Damme meet, which concluded the Diamond League season after 14 meets in 10 countries.
When all was said and run, Team USA athletes won nine of the 32 crowns.
Shot putter Joe Kovacs did not throw the farthest, and sprinters Allyson Felix and Francena McCorory and hurdler Bershawn Jackson did not cross the finish line first, but they had enough success this season to carry them to the top.
Diamond Race events begin in May and are each staged seven times. Athletes receive four points for first place, two for second and one for third in all meets but the final, where points are doubled.
The Brussels meet was the second of two finals. In Zurich on Sept. 3, David Oliver in the 110-meter hurdles and Tianna Bartoletta in the long jump clinched Diamond Race titles.
Prize money at each meet totals $480,000, with $10,000 for first, $6,000 for second, $4,000 for third, $3,000 for fourth, $2,500 for fifth, $2,000 for sixth, $1,500 for seventh and $1,000 for eighth.
Breaking A Three-Way Tie
Harper-Nelson, Sharika Nelvis and Jasmin Stowers could not have been closer in the women’s 100-meter hurdles this season. All three came into Brussels with 10 points and a chip on their shoulder. Although Team USA hurdlers dominated the rankings through mid-August, none of them made it to the podium at the world championships last month in Beijing.
Harper-Nelson stumbled in her semifinal and did not advance while Nelvis placed eighth in the final. Stowers did not even make the U.S. team.
Harper-Nelson said the stadium in Brussels “erupted” right before she got into the blocks. “Right then, I hoped the crowd would erupt for me, too, at the end of the race,” she said. “Gosh, I was nervous, but I said to myself, ‘The one who makes the least mistakes will win.’ And it was me.”
Harper-Nelson said she sensed victory when she crossed the 10th hurdle safely. She finished in 12.63 seconds, followed by Nelvis at 12.65 and Stowers at 12.76.
After crossing the finish line, the exuberant Harper-Nelson got down on her knees, slammed her palm against the track three times, pumped her fist and then did her trademark cartwheel.
“All my fans do it,” said Harper-Nelson, who has asked her fans to post cartwheels on Instagram and Facebook. “It’s a real success.”
Gatlin Guns For First
After two second places at the world championships in Beijing, Gatlin finally experienced first place again.
In the men’s 100, he edged Femi Ogunode of Qatar, with both clocking 9.98 seconds, while Jimmy Vicaut of France was right behind them at 9.99.
Gatlin came into the meet with 12 points and three Diamond League victories and finished with 20 points. Tyson Gay, who had been second in the standings with six points, did not compete.
Michael Rodgers, who was fifth in Beijing, placed fourth in Brussels with a time of 10.02 seconds to claim third in the Diamond Race.
Gatlin said he was happy with his race at the end of the season. “I was tired,” he said. “This was my last race.”
He and his coach opted not to run the 200 an hour later, which did not count for Diamond League points.
Gatlin won both his silver medals at worlds behind Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who did not run in Brussels.
“From the worlds, I remember that I won medals, not that I lost,” Gatlin said.
Double Victory For Triple Jumper
Taylor, the world champion, missed a couple of Diamond League meets this season, so he came in trailing Pedro Pablo Pichardo of Cuba, 16 points to 14.
Pichardo, the runner-up in Beijing, won in Doha, Rome and New York and was second in Lausanne and Monaco. Taylor was second in Doha and won Birmingham, Lausanne and Monaco.
Although Taylor recorded the second-longest jump in history of 59-feet, 9 inches in Beijing, he managed only 57-8 ½ inches on Friday. Still, that was well ahead of Pichardo, who jumped 55-11¾ on his first attempt and retired after his third, skipping his final three tries.
Omar Craddock of the U.S. was fourth to hold onto third in the Diamond Race.
Taylor said he had difficulty concentrating after Pichardo quit, so he focused on the meet record set by Jonathan Edwards of Great Britain in 1995. However, he missed by one centimeter.
“I’m extremely happy with my season,” Taylor said. “I rate my world championships title the highest and then comes my victory in the Diamond League – it proves I’m a consistent jumper. I’m extremely proud of this victory since I missed two meets and I was down in the standings. I had to come back; that feels very good.”
Shot Put Showdown
Kovacs, fresh off his gold medal at the world championships in Beijing, didn’t win the shot put in Brussels, but he defeated archrival David Storl of Germany and that was all he needed to do to secure his first Diamond League title.
Kovacs and Storl came in tied for first with 14 points apiece.
Kovacs took third place with a heave of 70-½ on his fourth of six throws, which was just two centimeters shy of O’Dayne Richards of Jamaica and four centimeters off Tom Walsh’s winning mark of 70-2¼.
Storl, who took silver in Beijing, was fourth. He threw 69-2½ on his second attempt and was ahead of Kovacs through three throws, but failed to improve.
“You try to plan your season the best you can and you never know how it will go,” Kovacs said. “I won the world championship and now I win the Diamond League. That’s fantastic.”
Head-to-head this year, Kovacs won in Eugene and Beijing, while Storl beat him in Doha and Lausanne.
“It’s been the whole year a close competition between me and David Storl,” Kovacs said. “Today I had to wait for David’s last throw to be sure that I won the title.”
Ryan Whiting of the U.S. placed fifth. Reese Hoffa, who won the Diamond Race last year by defeating Storl, was eighth in Brussels and fourth in the Diamond Race.
Felix Halves The Distance
Felix has the distinction of winning the world championships title in the 400 and the Diamond Race title in the 200.
However, she lost in Brussels to Dafne Schippers, the Dutch world champion in the 200.
Felix ran a strong curve and was ahead entering the straightaway, but Schippers caught her.
Schippers was clocked in 22.12 seconds while Felix’s time was 22.22. Felix finished with 14 points, two ahead of Schippers.
“This was not my sharpest day,” Felix said. “Even if I was beaten, I can’t be unhappy, since I won the Diamond League.”
She said her switch to the 400 for the world championships “definitely took away some of my speed.”
Felix, who hopes to run both the 200 and 400 in Rio de Janeiro next year if the schedule allows, blamed poor execution in the second part of her race for the loss.
“This is something I have to work on in the winter,” she said. “For sure Dafne Schippers will be a big challenger next year.”
Jeneba Tarmoh, who was fifth in the race (22.88) was third in the Diamond Race, while Candyce McGrone (22.42) was fourth in both.
McCorory Makes Up For Lost Time
McCorory had an outstanding Diamond League season in the 400-meter with wins in Doha, Rome, New York and Monaco, and a second-place in London.
That base helped her run away with the Diamond Trophy although Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas beat her with a time of 50.48 to McCorory’s 50.59.
McCorory finished with 20 points while Miller had 14.
“The first place in the Diamond League is something which makes up that I missed the team for Beijing,” said McCorory, who was fourth at U.S. nationals and missed the team in the individual event, though she ran on the silver-medal-winning relay. “Next year there’s another chance and I hope to be there in Rio.”
Redemption For Batman
Jackson was the world leader in the 400-meter hurdles and aimed to win his second world championships title 10 years after his first. He then faltered in the heats in Beijing and did not advance.
“Batman” came back strong in Brussels and was in the lead going over the final hurdle before Jeffery Gibson of the Bahamas caught him at the line, 48.72 to 48.76 seconds.
Still, thanks to his consistency in the Diamond League (wins in Doha, Lausanne and Monaco and second place in Eugene), Jackson cruised to the Diamond Race title with 18 points.
Training partner Johnny Dutch, despite an uncharacteristically poor outing in which he placed ninth in 51.20 seconds, tied for second in the Diamond Race with Gibson.