by Mark Rodden
Article published on the 2009-07-18 Latest update 2009-07-18 10:28 TU
Kerron Stewart (C) races Chandra Sturrup of the Bahamas (L) and Kelly-Ann Baptiste of Trinidad and Tobago (L) in Saint-Denis near Paris, 17 July 2009
Four people remain in contention for the $1 million jackpot for athletes who win all six Golden League meetings this season. Along with Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, three women could yet claim the lucrative prize: Kerron Stewart of Jamaica, in the 100 metres, Jamaican-American Sanya Richards in the 400 metres and Russian pole-vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva.
Richards won her event in 49.34 seconds, surpassing Marita Koch’s longstanding record of having run 36 sub-50-second 400 metre races in her career.
After the race, the 24-year-old revealed she was particularly happy that a former Olympic champion over the distance, retired French athlete Marie-José Perec, was there to witness her win.
“I’m really, really excited to have broken that very significant mark, especially in front of Marie-José Perec,” Richards said. “She’s one of my idols, for sure, so it was the perfect place to do it.”
“On the back stretch it was pretty windy,” she said of the race. “But I said ‘I don’t care if the wind’s knocking me over - I’m going to go under 50 seconds today.’”
Despite consistently running the fastest times, Richards has yet to claim a world title. That’s an anomaly she is hoping to put right at the World Championships in Berlin next month, though she hopes that reigning champion Christine Ohuruogu will recover from injury in time to face her.
“It’s always best to run against your best competition,” Richards said. “She’s also the defending world champion, so I know she’d like to come and defend her title. So I wish her a quick recovery.”
In the 3,000 metres, Bekele kept his chance of winning the jackpot alive with another dominant victory.
The Olympic champion and 5,000- and 10,000-metre world record holder beat challenger Bernard Lagat, clocking a winning time of 7:28.64 minutes.
Bekele had requested that a number of pacemakers be included in the line-up, and their early speed helped the Ethiopian develop a lead over Lagat that he never relinquished.
Nevertheless, Lagat, the 1,500- and 5,000-metre world champion, said he was pleased with his own performance.
“I’m happy with the way it went,” he told RFI. “Of course I did not win today. I wanted to win so bad, but you never win always, and I give it to Bekele. He ran a strong race - a smart race - and that definitely gave him a good victory tonight. I congratulate him.”
Lagat has not yet decided whether he will run in both the 1,500 and 5,000 metres next month, but the Kenyan-born US athlete knows there’s plenty of work to do before he can make that choice.
“This [race] is actually very good because it’s going to bring me good preparation for Berlin and when I get home now from here I’m going to be going back on the training that I need,” he said.
"I think I need endurance. You know the way Bekele ran tonight shows that he has the strength and the speed. I have the speed but not much of the endurance myself, so I need to work on that strength.”