Athletics – South African Van Niekerk wins on international return

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IAAF Athletics Diamond League meeting

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (Reuters) – South African Wayde van Niekerk cruised to victory in the Diamond League 400 meters on Thursday in his first international race since he set the world record at last year’s Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Van Niekerk broke American Michael Johnson’s world record with a 43.03 seconds performance in Rio but cut his 2016 season short and had so far this year competed only in low-key races in South Africa.

He looked sharp as he set a meeting record of 43.62 seconds in Lausanne, bettering Johnson once again whose record here had held since 1996.

Van Niekerk got off to a solid start and gradually reined in his opponents before sprinting clear with 60 meters left. Botswana’s Baboloki Thebe and Isaac Makwala grabbed second and third respectively.

American Justin Gatlin warmed up for the world championships with a win in the men’s 100m in a time of 9.96 seconds, beating Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite who took second place.

“I felt good. Getting to the line, I had top speed to finish strong,” Gatlin said. “I’m consistent, under 10 seconds, I’m getting stronger. Now I have a month to train and (to) see a new me at the world championships (in London).”

Ethiopia’s Olympic women’s 1,500m silver medalist Genzebe Dibaba tried to break the mile world record 25 years after the race was last run at the Pontaise Stadium but her scintillating effort was outside that mark by some three seconds at 4:16.05.

Her compatriot Aman Wote opened up a large gap in the men’s 1,500m but had to work hard to finish first ahead of Kenyan duo Charles Simotwo and third-placed Silas Kiplagat.

The United States took the first six places in the women’s 100m hurdles though there was some confusion regarding the photo-finish with organizers issuing two different results before Shari Nelvis was eventually declared the winner.

The Netherlands’ world champion and Olympic silver medalist Dafne Schippers won the 200m in 22.10 seconds and is peaking at the right time before her world title defense next month.

Croatia’s Olympic javelin champion Sara Kolak won with a throw of 68.43m ahead of Czech world record holder Barbora Spotakova and Australian Kathryn Mitchell.

Ethiopian Muktar Edris weathered a late challenge from 17-year-old countryman Selemon Barega to win the 5,000m in 12:55:23 seconds, the first sub-13 minute time of the season.

(Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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