Doha report: Ibarguen makes her mark

10 May 2016

The grand opening of the international outdoor season started with a bang in Doha.  We were treated to 12 world-leading marks, which is unsurprising at this point in the season—but some of these might stay unbeaten for a while.

Caterine Ibarguen’s 15.04m in the triple jump was born in an intense fight against the newly crowned world indoor champion from Venezuela Yulimar Rojas. It was the third time that the titled Colombian and Rojas went head to head, but it was the first time that the Venezuelan was so close.

Rojas set a 41cm personal best and a national record in the second round with 14.61m, improving it to 14.79m in the third attempt, to overtake Ibarguen’s 14.77m response. The double world champion had to run some risks to catch up again, resulting in two fouls. But Ibarguen wrapped up her series with an impressive 15.04m (her second best wind-legal jump ever) and a 14.98m, while Rojas produced a mighty but windy 14.92m in the fifth round.

That 15.04m, in fact, would have been more than enough for a gold medal at almost any major championships since 2009, as shown in the chart below.

Includes indoor championships

But did Ibarguen actually claim her status as the Rio 2016 Olympics favorite? Or did the competition in Doha just show that her dominance is more under threat than ever, with an addition of Rojas to the world’s elite?

I would still bet on the Colombian for three main reasons. First of all, Ibarguen has never jumped so far this early in the season, in May or in her second competition of the season. Secondly, she is undefeated since the London 2012 Olympic final. And finally, Ibarguen has shown on multiple occasions that being challenged in the competition doesn’t faze her and in fact might even help her bring out her best.

It happened last week in Doha, a year ago at the Prefontaine Classic, where Russia’s Yekaterina Koneva jumped 15.04m and made Ibarguen answer with a windy 15.18m. And her personal best, 15.31m, the Colombian set the same way, in the last attempt of the Monaco Diamond League 2014 meeting, after being 8cm behind Koneva throughout the competition.

Even though both Ibarguen and Rojas are pretty far off the 20-year-old world record of 15.50m, it looks like 2016 will be the year of the jumps again, with the women’s triple leading the way.

Other world leads

There were a number of other performances in Doha that impressed by their quality for such an early stage of the season.

Tori Bowie clocked 10.80 in the 100m, which is the fastest time in history anyone had run in the first week of May. Marion Jones has two faster early May marks—10.71 and 10.79, but they were achieved on May 12 and May 9, 1998, respectively.

Omar McLeod with his world leading 13.05 in the 110m hurdles came close to accomplishing the same feat. Only Renaldo Nehemiah (13.00, May 6, 1979) and Aries Merritt (13.03, May 4, 2012) ran faster the first week of May. Needless to remind that Merritt went on to win the Olympics and set the world record that same year.

Caster Semenya’s victory in the 800m with a time of 1:58.26, not all that impressive on paper, made the crowd whisper “Olympic favorite” due to the way she raced. 59.5 for the first lap, around 30.7 for the next half a lap, still running relaxed in the lane two and 28 seconds for the last 200 with 13.6 for the closing 100m. Which, according to Pierre-Jean Vazel (@pjvazel), equals the fastest ever closing 100m in a sub-2:00 race.

But can Semenya combine her pure speed (50.74 personal best in the 400m set earlier this year) and strong finish to run sub-1:55, which would be the fastest time in the world since 2008?

Let’s hope we’ll see a good chase for records as the season goes on.

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