Sandra Perkovic led the way on a glorious night for European athletes as the IAAF Diamond League season finale in Brussels on Friday night.
The Memorial Van Damme, always one of the most exciting meetings on the circuit, saw Croatia’s four-time European discus champion become the greatest woman athlete in the history of the competition by winning her sixth Diamond Trophy.
As the athletes who reach the final start from scratch in their event, it was a slow beginning from Perkovic who opened with 60.43m and then suffered a foul as Australia’s Dani Stevens led through the first two rounds with 65.85m.
However, round three changed the landscape, as Perkovic got into her groove and threw 68.82m, a distance which brought her victory. She followed it up with one more legal throw, from round five, which landed at 68.68m.
“I wanted to throw 70 metres since that would have been a meeting record,” reflected Perkovic.
“But an hour before the competition the rain came. Yet 68 metres is pretty decent on a wet track. Brussels is special to me: in 2010 I won here my first Diamond League final with a national record of 69.83m. I am very happy since I won everything this year.”
It was a European discus double as Andrius Gudzius completed an outdoor season he will never forget by taking the title with a throw of 68.16m – and like Perkovic, his winning mark came in the third round.
The giant Lithuanian won his first major senior title with his glorious world championship triumph in London and now he has followed that up with Diamond League success.
“This turned out to be an excellent season with the world title and now also the Diamond League trophy,” said a delighted Gudzius. “To be honest, I thought that Daniel (Stahl) would win today but it was me. That is what we work for.”
Just as in London, Gudzius had the better of Sweden’s Stahl, who still leads the world rankings with 71.29m from June.
But whereas Stahl won world silver, this time he was back in seventh with a best of 64.18m, as Gudzius won by nearly two metres from the rest of the field.
Ivana Spanovic left it late, very late in fact, but her final round was enough to secure her Diamond League glory.
It was a thrilling finale to this long jump, as Serbia’s reigning European indoor and outdoor champion was back in fourth after five rounds having twice reached 6.62m; with the challenging conditions were demonstrated by the fact that Great Britain’s Lorraine Ugen led the way with just 6.65m.
But then Spanovic used all her experience and composure to leap 6.70m and change the whole complexion of the event to retain her Diamond League crown.
“I tried to give it all at my first attempt but it was too cold,” said Spanovic, who reached only 6.39m with her opener. “We went into a close fight with five girls. I kept on fighting until my last attempt and I came out on top. I am very happy since this was the most important Diamond League meeting of the year.”
It is now 14 wins in a row for Greece’s pole vault star, Ekaterini Stefanidi, clearing 4.85m to win from the USA’s Sandi Morris, who was second with 4.75m.
Entering the competition at 4.65m, Stefanidi, who added the world title to her Olympic and European glory last month, went over that height first time before she failed with her initial attempt at 4.75m. The second time she made it and then brought delight to the damp crowd by going over 4.85m at the first go.
She tried at what would have been a national record of 4.92m, but missed out. Those will be her targets next year, when she will be one of the biggest names competing at Berlin 2018, as the German city stages the multi-sports European Championships in conjunction with Glasgow.
In terms of consistency, Russia’s Mariya Lasitskene – competing as an Authorised Neutral Athlete – takes some beating as she confirmed her brilliant high jump status with her 27th win in a row.
Following her previous Diamond League triumph in the event in 2014, she is now the champion again, with 1.97m being enough for victory but just for good measure, she went on to cleared 2.02m.
European athletes took the first six places with Ukraine’s Yuliya Levchenko, who took the silver medal behind Lasitskene at the world championships just a few weeks ago, second again as the only other woman over 1.94m.
It was a great night too for Lasitskene’s compatriot Sergey Shubenkov in the 110m hurdles.
The London 2017 silver medallist is now the Diamond League winner for the first time after crossing the line in 13.14 to beat Spain’s Orlando Ortega, who was second in 13.17.
“At last I managed to win in 2017,” joked Shubenkov. “I was bored of being second as in Birmingham, Stockholm and at the world championships. Now I have my first overall Diamond League victory and the system of a one ‘all-or-nothing’ race in the final worked for me, so I am happy.”
Even though they did not win, the Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnova and Turkey’s world champion Ramil Guliyev had a good night by running European-leading times in their specialist events.
Rio 2016 Olympic Games champion Dalilah Muhammad won the 400m hurdles in 53.89 but Hejnova was a close second in 53.93 while in the 200m, won by US sprinter Noah Lyles in 20.00 with Guliyev third in 20.02.