It was the mother and father of Super Saturdays as Jessica Ennis-Hill hit the comeback trail and Greg Rutherford hit the heights in the Great City Games Manchester.
Ennis-Hill was greeted by a huge roar as she lined up for the 100m hurdles, her first race since July 2013, with her nine-month old son Reggie among the 25,000 crowd lining the pop-up track on a cold, damp afternoon on Deansgate.
It was a throwback to London’s Olympic Stadium on the unforgettable night that Ennis-Hill and Rutherford struck gold in 2012 – and the 29-year-old Sheffield athlete responded with a more than respectable performance against a trio of world class hurdles specialists.
The Olympic heptathlon champion could not match the speed and power of Tiffany Porter, the European champion and British record holder for the 100m hurdles, but she gritted her teeth and gave European indoor silver medallist Lucy Hatton a close battle for second place before taking third ahead of European indoor bronze medallist Serita Solomon.
Porter finished a clear winner in 12.86 seconds, with Ennis-Hill 0.08 seconds behind Hatton in 13.14 seconds.
“It just feels really good to be back,” said Ennis-Hill, who is due to return to heptathlon action in the Hypo Meeting in Gotzis, Austria, at the end of the month. “It was such a thrill to be back on the start line, soaking up the atmosphere and having that crowd behind me, giving me such a big cheer. It was a nice feeling.
“I hit a hurdle and I was a bit disappointed with my time – you always want to do better – but it’s a starting point. I’m happy to come away and build on that.
“I’ve just seen Reggie. He’s over in the crowd crying now but he’s been as good as gold.”
Ennis-Hill swapped parenthood stories with Rutherford, who has a six month old son, Milo. “It’s good to talk about something other than athletics,” she said.
Rutherford opened his outdoor season with an impressive long jump victory, courtesy of a first round leap of 8.01m.
“Considering the cold conditions, I’d say that was one of my best ever jumps,” said the Olympic champion, whose British record stands at 8.51 metres. “I wish I had jumped farther today because I know I’m in good shape. I’m excited about my prospects for the summer.”
Rutherford, working towards the IAAF World Championships in Beijing in August, underlined his admiration for the CityGames concept, which IAAF vice president Lord Sebastian Coe last week said he would like to see develop into a global street athletics circuit.
“A global street circuit would be absolutely brilliant,” enthused Rutherford. “This is by far my favourite event. There’s something about the CityGames, being so close to the crowd, getting them involved and showcasing the sport to people who wouldn’t normally see it.
“If I’m fortunate enough to be still competing when that came about, I’d love it. I’d happy to do just street events then if that was a possibility for me.”
The seventh edition of the CityGames in Manchester produced several other outstanding performances, South Africa’s LJ van Zyl equalling Andy Turner’s world best time for 200m hurdles on a straight track and Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith claiming the prized scalp of Flying Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers over 150 metres.
Newly-crowned European indoor 60m champion Richard Kilty had to settle for second place behind seasoned US sprinter Mike Rodgers. Rodgers, the 2010 world indoor 60m silver medallist, got off to a cracking start and held his advantage to the line, winning in 10.25 seconds. Kilty clocked 10.29 seconds as runner up, withith 39-year-old Kim Collins of St Kitts and Nevis third in 10.33 seconds and Kilty’s British team-mate Chijindu Ujah fourth in 10.35 seconds. “It was really chilly out there,” said Rodgers. “I’m just happy that I managed to execute my race.”
Britons Danny Talbot and James Ellington both fought hard but had to give way to Dutchman Churandy Martina. The power and pedigree that took Martina to the European 200m title in Zurich last August told in the final 30 metres as the 30-year-old pulled ahead to win in 15.21 seconds. Talbot took second place in 15.21 seconds, with Ellington third in 15.37 seconds. Curtis Mitchell, the 2013 World Championship 200m bronze medallist from the USA, pulled up clutching a hamstring and failed to finish.
MEN’S 110m HURDLES
Cuban Orlando Ortega, sixth in the Olympic final in London three years ago, shaded victory from Olympic champion and world record holder Aries Merritt of the USA. Both men were timed at 13.32 seconds, but Ortega was given the verdict. Britain’s Lawrence Clarke, fourth at London 2012, finished an isolated third in 13.57 seconds. American David Oliver, the reigning world champion, smashed into the eighth hurdle and injured himself, limping across the line fourth and last in 22.96 seconds.
MEN’S 200m HURDLES
There was no catching former Commonwealth 400m hurdles champion LJ van Zyl. The 29-year-old South African got the jump on his rivals out of the blocks and pulled decisively clear, winning in 22.10 seconds. His time equalled the world best for the rarely contested event on a curve-less track, set by Britain’s Andy Turner in Manchester in 2011. “Just being in the same race as Felix Sanchez inspired me,” said van Zyl. “It gave me goose bumps on the start line, lining up alongside him.”
Sanchez, the 2004 and 2012 Olympic 400m hurdles champion from the Dominican Republic, finished third in 23.05 seconds. Ray Stewart of the US was the man who got closest to the flying van Zyl, finishing runner-up in 22.85 seconds. Britain’s Seb Rodger was fourth in 23.08 seconds.
MEN’S LONG JUMP
Greg Rutherford proved a class apart, nailing victory with his first round effort of 8.01 metres. It was the only 8 metre jump of the competition, getting Britain’s Olympic, European and Commonwealth champion off to a flying start in an outdoor season in which he aims to add World Championship gold to his medal collection. “Initially, I was little bit frustrated that I didn’t jump as well as I had hoped,” said Rutherford, “but at 10 degrees and into a headwind, it’s probably one of the best jumps of my life to be honest. It was brutally cold.”
Mike Hartfield of the US took second place with 7.95 metres – ahead of burgeoning Briton Dan Bramble, who took third with 7.80 metres. British indoor record holder Chris Tomlinson was fourth with a best of 7.59m, with American Mikese Morse in fifth (7.43 metres) and 2013 World Championship silver medallist Ignisious Gaisah of the Netherlands sixth (7.32 metres).
MEN’S IPC 100m
Richard Browne, the American Blade Runner from Jackson, Mississippi, cut the opposition to shreds with a convincing victory. The 20912 Paralympic silver medallist blasted clear from the gun and finished more than half a second clear of the opposition in 10.99 seconds. “I was looking for a sub eleven clocking and I got it,” said Browne. Michail Seitis set a Greek record of11.57 seconds as runner up, with Dutchman Ronald Hertog third in 11.95 seconds and Emannuele Di Marino fourth in 12.05 seconds, an Italian record. “This is an awesome event,” said Browne. “All the people can get up close and personal and see what we do.”
Jessica Young, silver medallist over 60m at the 2015 US indoor championships, got off to a fine start and held on to win by 0.04 seconds from compatriot English Gardner in 11.33 seconds. The battle of the British sprinters was won by European 100m bronze medallist Ashleigh Nelson, who edged third place in 11.58 seconds, 0.03 seconds ahead of Commonwealth 200m bronze medallist Bianca Williams.
The one-two from the European Indoor 60m final in Prague in March was reversed as burgeoning British young speed merchant Dina Asher-Smith turned the tables of Dafne Schippers. Asher-Smith surprised the Flying Dutchwoman with a flying start and held off the late charge of the European outdoor 100m and 200m champion, winning by 0.13 seconds in 16.82 seconds.
“I always knew Dafne would come back at me,” said Asher-Smith. “She’s such a strong runner. I’m just happy that I managed to hang on.” Asher-Smith’s GB team-mate Anyika Onoura was third in 17.80 seconds and Stacey-Ann Smith fourth in 17.90 seconds.
WOMEN’S 100m HURDLES
In her first competition since July 2013, Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill dusted off the cobwebs and returned to top-class action with a respectable third-placed finish, clocking 13.14 seconds. Tiffany Porter, who last year regained the British record from Ennis-Hill, was a clear winner in 12.86 seconds.
“I just wanted to come here and give everybody a good show,” said Porter, the European 100m hurdles champion. Lucy Hatton, the Corby athlete who took European indoor silver in March, was second in 13.06 seconds, with British team mate and European indoor bronze medallist Serita Solomon fourth in 13.33 seconds.
WOMEN’S 200m HURDLES
Katarina Johnson-Thompson was happy all round with her first taste of CityGames action. The 2014 heptathlon world number one and 2015 European indoor pentathlon champion had to work hard after 400m hurdles specialist Meghan Beesley of Birchfield Harriers got off to a cracking start and build up a big lead. Had she not stumbled in the closing stages, Johnson-Thompson might have even snatched victory, but Beesley held on to win by 0.03 seconds in 25.28 seconds – 0.23 seconds outside the world best time she set last year.
“I think I went off quicker than I did last year but I was just losing it at the end and felt like I had nothing left,” said Beesley. Johnson-Thompson, preparing for a heptathlon head to head with Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill in Gotzis, said: I think I went out a bit too steady so I had to pick it up towards the end. I’m happy with my performance and I really enjoyed my first CityGames. I really love this event.”
Scot Eilidh Child, the European 400m hurdles champion, showed signs of early season rust, finishing fourth in 26.23 seconds, with Yadisleidy Pedroso of Italy third in 26.06 seconds.
WOMEN’S POLE VAULT
World indoor champion Yarisley Silva was happy to sit out the opening height, 4.10m, as the rain, cold and particularly the gusting wind disrupted the other four vaulters. It took eleven attempts for anyone to register a clearance, Germany’s Katharina Bauer succeeding with her third attempt. Italy’s Roberta Bruni and 2014 runner-up Kristina Gadschiew both bowed out but NCAA champion Melissa Gergel also nailed 4.10m at the final attempt. Gergel proceeded to clear 4.20m first time and was in the box seat until Silva succeeded at the third time of asking.
Bauer failed with one shot at 4.30m after two blanks at 4.20m and Gergel also bowed out at 4.30m. Silva, who wore tights and a thermal top throughout, produced a Midas touch with her third attempt at 4.30m. That proved to be the clincher for the Cuban, who had the bar raised to 4.50m but without any joy.
“It was my first competition of the year and the conditions made it very difficult,” said Silva. “I was happy to be so close to the crowd. It is a great competition, with all the music too. I would love to have a street event like this in Havana.”
WOMEN’S LONG JUMP
With her return to heptathlon action at the end of the month in Gotzis in mind, Dafne Schippers tested her long jump form and was content to finish runner up with 6.40 metres. The European 100m and 200m champion was only 4 centimetres shy of England’s Commonwealth long jump silver medallist Zazmin Sawyers, who won with 6.44 metres. “I’m happy with that performance,” said Schippers, who also finished second in the 150 metres. “This was my first experience of street athletics and I thought it was amazing. I will definitely be back next year.”
Funmi Jimoh finished third with 6.33 metres – ahead of US team mate Chelsea Hayes (6.29 metres), Chantel Malone of the British Virgin Isles (6.16 metres) and Briton Sarah Warnock (5.96 metres).
MIXED 2 x 100m RELAY
British duo Dina Asher-Smith and Chijindu Ujah teamed up to win this novel mixed relay event. The pair prevailed in 20.30 seconds – ahead of compatriots Bianca Williams and Richard Kilty (20.78 seconds) and ‘All Stars’ Chantel Malone and Kim Collins (21.38 seconds). US duo Jessica Young and Mike Rodgers failed to get the baton round. “It was a good start from Dina,” said Ujah. “She set it up well for me.”