DOHA: South Africa’s Akani Simbine surprised a world-class sprint field, including Justin Gatlin, Asafa Powell and Andre De Grasse to claim a season-opening 100m Diamond League victory on Friday.
The 23-year-old powered home in a time of 9.99sec to become the first South African man to win a Diamond League 100m, and serve notice that the Blue Riband event could be more competitive than for some time with the impending international retirement of Usain Bolt.
“I’m happy with my shape now, just to come up here and set a motivation for the rest of the season is what I was hoping for,” said Simbine.
Jamaica’s Powell, a former world record holder, finished second in a time of 10.08secs, and Qatar’s Femi Ogunode was a place further back in 10.13.
Silver and bronze medallists in Rio, American Gatlin and Canada’s De Grasse, Bolt’s heir apparent, trailed in fourth and fifth.
The women’s double Olympic sprint champion, Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson once again beat her main rival Dafne Schippers in the 200m.
Thompson stormed home in a time of 22.19secs, around half-a-second down on her winning time in Rio, and pronounced herself “very happy” immediately after.
“It’s a great first time (of the season),” said Thompson.
Schippers, silver medallist behind Thompson in the same event in Rio, said she was taking the early season defeat as an omen.
“Last year, I won every race and she won the most important.
“I hope to do it the other way round this year,” said the Netherlands runner, with one eye on the World Championships in London in August.
Caster Semenya said she surprised herself with her finish after winning the women’s 800m,in a time of 1min 56.61secs, the fastest of the year so far.
“It’s very, very important to win,” she said.
“For us, the main thing is to keep on winning so we will be in the best for the World Championships.
“I didn’t know I could kick like that!”
Semenya beat Kenya’s Margaret Wambui, who claimed bronze behind the South African in Rio.
In the men’s 800m there was a blanket finish for Kenyan runners, who filled the first six places.
Eijah Manangoi, the 2015 World Championship silver medallist, took first place, in a season’s best of 3mins 31.9sec.
But arguably the performance of the night came off the track in the javelin where Germany’s Thomas Rohler threw 93.90m, only the second man in history to throw such a distance.
Czech javelin legend Jan Zelesny threw the best ever 98.48m in 1996, a distance which would be scrapped under a controversial proposal by European athletics to scrap world records set before 2005.
“It was perfect, I am super-happy,” said Kohler.
“This one is really special.”
Asked if he would like to see the records wiped out, the German said he would “support” anything that ensures a clean sport.
American double Olympic gold-medallist triple jumper, Christian Taylor, secured victory with a last round jump of 17.25m, to deny compatriot Omar Craddock.