(Reuters) - LaShawn Merritt romped to victory in the 400 meters at the IAAF Continental Cup in Marrakech on Saturday as the Americas opened the defense of the title they won four years ago.
The American clocked 44.60 seconds for victory while compatriot Francena McCorory took the women’s 400.
“It feels good to defend the Continental (Cup) title from four years ago,” said Merritt, the former Olympic and current world champion.
“I tried to execute the race the way I planned, to stay smooth, trust my speed and my strength. All the guys were very hungry for the victory.”
Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown, captaining the Americas, won the women’s 100.
“When you a captain of the team you feel big responsibility to be an example to the other athletes. I’m absolutely satisfied with my race today,” she said.
Fellow Jamaican Kaliese Spencer rounded off her superb season with a dazzling display to win the 400 hurdles, adding the Continental Cup title to the Commonwealth Games gold medal she won in Glasgow earlier this summer.
The Americas did not have things all their own way in the sprints with Britain’s James Dasaolu beating American Mike Rodgers in the men’s race, clocking 10.03 seconds
“Definitely, 2014 is the year of my big breakthrough. After my win at European Championships I was focused in preparation for Continental Cup because it was important for me to make this race fast and easy,” he said.
“This is a little bit of a new level for me and I hope the next year will be successful like this one.”
Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko also helped spark Europe into the team lead with victory in a world-class high jump.
World champion Bondarenko cleared 2.37 meters on his first attempt to defeat Russian Olympic gold medalist Ivan Ukhov and world indoor champion Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar.
The Europeans also won the shot put on German two-time world champion David Storl’s best of 21.55 meters.
Africa enjoyed a solid opening day with victories in two of the day’s distance races. Kenya’s Isiah Kiplangat Koech won the men’s 5,000 while Ethiopia’s world indoor champion Genzebe Dibaba won the women’s 3,000.
Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti defeated Kenyan world champion Asbel Kiprop in the 1,500 and Cornel Fredericks won the 400 hurdles for more Africa victories.
Asia-Pacific’s only win of the day came from China’s Li Ling cleared 4.55 meters, the best women’s pole vault mark ever on African soil.
The Americas ended the day with victory in both the men’s amd women’s 4x100m relays to move into second place behind Europe ahead of Sunday’s program.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Gene Cherry