EUGENE - The Prefontaine Classic’s Distance Night in Eugene turned out well for the favorites in the field events.
Joe Kovacs and Pawel Fajdek dominated the shot put and hammer throw, respectively, while Sandra Perkovic came from behind to prevail in the discus, and Brittney Reese’s first long jump held up for the win.
Reigning world champion Kovacs created the most excitement with a sensational series of throws in the men’s shot, which culminated with a mark of 72-07.25 on his final throw. His victory continued a remarkable Pre Classic tradition, as American throwers have won every one of the shot put competitions held at this meet.
Kovacs took the lead from Tom Walsh of New Zealand on his third attempt with a 69-9, then increased that mark on each of his next three throws. His winning mark extended his world lead by more than two feet, giving him a lot of confidence going into the Olympic Trials in just over a month.
“We’re taking it a little bit slower this year and I’m really building up because you guys know that July 1 st is the only day that counts,” Kovacs said in reference to the Trials shot put finals.
“Every year the Americans in the shot put are going to show up for the Olympic Trials and I just got to be ready for that. In 2012 I was fourth (at the Trials). I was that guy that PR’d by half a meter and almost knocked somebody off the team. I feel confident going into it but you always have to watch out for that guy because that was me last time.”
Like Kovacs, Sandra Perkovic of Croatia also took a little while to get warmed up on a cool evening at Hayward Field. Perkovic fouled on two of her first three throws, and was just fourth at 205-10 going into the final three attempts. But the four-time world number one in the discus found her groove on her fifth throw, spinning the discus out 20 feet further to a winning mark of 225 feet, nearly 11 feet farther than runner-up Nadine Mueller of Germany.
“I am in really good shape so I was searching for my best throw,” Perkovic explained. “I know when you are playing on this high level you have good and bad throws. I was a little bit angry because my fourth throw was inept and I knew I could throw (better) . . . so I’m happy because it was a long trip from Shanghai to Eugene.
“The only thing on my mind is to go to the Olympic Games and defend my title.”
The hammer throw field was billed as the best hammer competition in the United States since the 1996 Olympics, but Pawel Fajdek of Poland dominated the event. All four of his legal throws were better than any of his competitors’ throws. Fajdek’s winning distance of 263-05 was 12 feet shy of his world-leading mark.
While he made it look easy, Fajdek, a two-time world champion, said the long trip to Eugene made it a difficult competition.
“In my country it is about 4 or 5 am,” the 26-year-old Pole said, “and now I feel really tired and will go to sleep . . . travel was about 28 hours to get here. But I threw 80 meters so for me it was awesome.
The highly-anticipated women’s long jump was close, with American Brittney Reese’s winning jump of 22-08.5 besting Ivana Spanovic of Serbia by an inch and a half. But it lacked a little drama with the top jumps coming early in the competition, as the temperatures began to drop as the event unfolded.
“My whole goal was to come out on the first jump and get a lead, and have everybody chase it,” Reese said. “I was hoping for a 7 meter jump (23 feet) today but you know it’s cold and with the new system they have where only four girls go to finals, it’s kind of tiring.”
Reese was joined by all of the field event winners in panning the new IAAF Diamond League policy of taking just the top four athletes to finals in the horizontal jumps and throws instead of the top eight. Reese said it shortened the rest between jumps in finals too much, and was not fair to give only four jumpers three additional attempts.
Shot put runner-up Tom Walsh was even more emphatic than Reese in expressing his displeasure with the new format, and said the athletes were not consulted about the change.
“You wouldn’t end the 100 meter race at the 50 meter line” Walsh said. “A lot of these guys come from a long ways away and just get three throws. I personally don’t feel it’s the way it should be . . . I can tell you the jumpers aren’t happy and the throwers aren’t happy. It’s very frustrating.”