On a night when Usain Bolt returned to somewhere close to his swaggering best by running 19.79sec – the fastest 200m of the year – several British athletes were able to put down significant markers of their own in Oslo.
Bolt, naturally, stole the show. During the opening ceremony he sped round the Bislett Stadium in a replica Formula One car and he was nearly as quick on two legs as, head down, he powered through the line to eclipse Frankie Fredericks’ track record of 19.82.
Meanwhile Tiffany Porter and Shara Proctor took advantage of missing Americans – they are preparing for their national trials next week – to record the first Diamond League victories by British athletes this season. Perri Shakes-Drayton also impressed in the 400m hurdles.
Last week Bolt was beaten into second by Justin Gatlin in the 100m in Rome. But in his strongest event against a tepid field another defeat never looked a possibility. The worry for his world championship rivals is that there is still room for improvement: he was sluggish out of the blocks and took 70 or 80m to get into his stride – although after that there was no stopping him.
The three Britons in the field, James Ellington (20.55), David Bolarinwa (20.62) and Daniel Talbot (20.72) will be able to tell their grandchildren they raced against Bolt – even if it was in his slipstream.
“I promised to come out here and run as fast as I could and that’s what I did,” said Bolt. “All I’ve got to do now is go home and work on everything and hopefully go even faster.”
Elsewhere Porter’s performance in the 100m hurdles was quietly efficient as she ran 12.76 to win going away from Belgium’s Sara Aerts, who came a distant second in 12.95. “I was just focused on winning,” said the former US athlete. “I’m just looking forward to the big show in Moscow.”
Proctor’s victory in the long jump was almost as emphatic. She leapt 6.89m in her first attempt and watched as her rivals struggled. The French athlete Eloyse Lesueur was the best of the rest with 6.68m .
Shakes-Drayton has been steadily compiling a strong body of work in the 400m flat this season and she was able to carry that form over into her primary event, the 400m hurdles, as she finished second against a strong field. Only the Czech athlete Zuzana Hejnova, who won her third Diamond League event of the season in 53.60, proved too strong. But Shakes-Drayton’s time of 54.03 was a season’s best – and left athletes of the calibre of the 2011 world champion, Lashinda Demus, trailing. “I’m very pleased with that,” she said. “I’ve had to be patient but it came. Hopefully there is more to come.”
Shakes-Drayton, who missed out on the London 2012 final after suffering a hamstring niggle before her semi-final, has been thinking of switching to the 400m for the world championships – but says she will keep her options open for now. “It will be down to my coach [Chris Zah],” she said. “He will decide. I am going to juggle with both of them and see how it goes.”
In the men’s 400m Nigel Levine was a surprise third behind Youssef Ahmed Masrahi but afterwards he admitted that he was not happy with his 45.63sec. “I’m not happy with the time but I’ve got to take it as it comes,” he said. “It was a competitive field.” Martyn Rooney finished sixth in 46.11. “Hopefully I’ll pull my socks up when it matters,” he said.