BEIJING (Reuters) - Justin Gatlin may have flown home but at least the Bird’s Nest Stadium could thrill instead to another 33-year-old American speedster, David Oliver, running the fastest 110 meters hurdles this year at Beijing’s World Challenge meeting on Wednesday.
Gatlin’s fall-out with the organizers had led to him departing on the eve of the meeting in a huff but the smiling world champion Oliver proved a popular top of the bill with his second win in China in four days.
Oliver clocked a world-leading 13.15 seconds to record a much more clear-cut victory than in Sunday’s Diamond League meeting in Shanghai, when he pipped Orlando Ortega by just 0.02sec. This time, the margin over the Cuban runner-up was 0.22sec.
“That’s cool man, I’m very happy to be a star here. Everybody loves me here and it feels good to give a performance to the crowd,” Oliver told reporters after being feted by 35,000 fans.
Oliver reckoned he had run poorly but was adamant the only thing that mattered was getting it right 98 days from now in the heats of the world championships in the same stadium when he starts the defense of his title.
Ironically, it could have been Oliver’s own experience last year at this same Beijing meeting that may have caused the problem with Gatlin.
In 2014, Oliver had pulled out on the day of his race with injury and the speculation was that organizers had asked Gatlin to leave because they feared a similar late withdrawal because he had his own minor injury concerns.
In Gatlin’s absence, a young American sprint gun, 21-year-old world indoor silver medalist Marvin Bracy took his opportunity on a balmy night, recording a new lifetime best 9.95sec in the 100m, four hundredths of a second clear of compatriot Mike Rodgers.
Oliver’s was one of four 2015 best performances along with Polish world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk (77.73m), South African one-lap hurdler Wenda Nel (54.37sec) and German shot putter Christina Schwanitz (20.77m).
The fans were largely besotted with their theatrical high jumper, Zhang Guowei, who cleared 2.34m to win gold. He had one near-miss at the Chinese record of 2.40m but looks a potential home medal contender in August.
Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown celebrated a return to the scene of her second Olympic 200 meters triumph by dominating the half-lap event in 22.68sec.
Editing by Pritha Sarkar