ATHLETICS: More trouble for Gatlin, slow times for Francis and Felix in Zagreb World Challenge

Justin Gatlin (Photo: Augustas Didzgalvis via Wikimedia Commons)

/Updated with results from Sunday’s Gala dei Castelli/The 69th edition of the Hanzekovic Memorial in Zagreb (CRO) was selected as a measuring-stick meet by several American stars looking to gauge their fitness with less than four weeks remaining before the 2019 IAAF World Championships in Doha.

There’s good reason to worry.

In the men’s 100 m that concluded the meet, reigning World Champion Justin Gatlin registered his second bad race out of three, finishing fourth in 10.29, while fellow American Mike Rodgers cruised to a clear win in 10.04. With a slight headwind of 0.1 m/s against him, Rodgers won by 0.14 against Canada’s Aaron Brown (10.18) with Demek Kemp of the U.S. third (10.28).

This follows up Gatlin’s disappointing showing at the Weltklasse Zurich meet last week in the first Diamond League final. He looked great for 75 m, but then gave ground as Noah Lyles of the U.S. won in 9.98 and Gatlin was fourth in 10.08 (and Rodgers eighth in 10.16). Gatlin did win on Sunday in Bellinzona (ITA) in 9.97, with Rodgers at 10.00.

The expected clash between Bahrain’s Salwa Eid Naser, undefeated over the past year in the women’s 400 m, and Americans Phyllis Francis and Allyson Felix never materialized as Naser skipped the race. But the Americans ran and Francis, the reigning World Champion, won in an uninspiring 51.02 with Felix second at 51.67. Neither time is a season’s best. American Jaide Stepter was fourth in 52.03.

Other highlights:

Nijel Amos (BOT) was a no-show in the men’s 800 m, won by Amel Tuka (BIH) in 1:44.78 over Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski (1:45.28), with Americans Isaiah Harris (1:45.65) and Brandon Kidder (1:45.91) in fifth and sixth.

Kate Grace scored a nice win in the women’s 1,500 in 4:07.91, beating Ethiopia’s Axumawit Embaye – who has run 3:59.02 this year – in second at 4:08.99.

● U.S. hurdlers went 1-2-4 in the women’s 100 m hurdles, with Sharika Nelvis getting her first win in 2 1/2 months in 12.73 over Christina Clemons (12.82) with Queen Claye fourth (12.88).

● The home fans cheered for both of Croatia’s stars in the long throws. Two-time World Champion Sandra Perkovic won the discus with a good throw of 67.78 m (222-4) in the fifth round and 2016 Olympic javelin champ Sara Kolak had a season best by more than six feet at 66.42 m (217-11), setting a meet record and moving to no. 6 on the 2019 world list.

The U.S. had another field event win, with Chris Benard taking the triple jump at 16.97 m (55-8 1/4). Complete results are here.

The late dates for the 2019 World Championships in Qatar have athletes looking for more late-season competitions than usual and one of the beneficiaries was the Gala dei Castelli in Bellinzona (ITA) on Sunday (1st). Among the highlights were four American wins:

• Gatlin won the 100 m in a good 9.97 from Mike Rodgers (10.00) with zero wind;

LaShawn Merritt, who hadn’t been seen in a 400 m since 2017, won the 400 m in a modest 45.82;

Ryan Crouser showed that he’s in great shape, winning the shot put at 22.28 m (73-1 1/4), ahead of Chuk Enekwechi (NGR), who reached out to 21.44 (71-4 1/4).

• Vaulter Katie Nageotte won at 4.77 m (15-7 3/4), ahead of Sandi Morris (4.70 m/15-7) and Emily Grove, who cleared 4.63 m (15-2 1/4).

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