RABAT (Reuters) – South African Caster Semenya continued her impressive build-up to the Olympics Games with a comfortable success in the women’s 800m to mark her out as a strong favorite for gold in Rio de Janeiro as Africa hosted its first-ever Diamond League meeting on Sunday.
The 25-year-old, who had to undergo gender testing before being cleared to compete as a woman after winning the world championship in 2009, powered through a strong field, including two other former world champions, in a time of one minute 56.64 seconds, loping to victory after easing ahead of the rest down the final straight.
It was the best time of the year and a second successive Diamond League win this year for Semenya, who also has plans to run the 400m in Rio.
Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia and Kenyan Conseslus Kipruto also produced impressive performances for the continent in front of an enthusiastic crowd of some 22,000 in the Moroccan capital.
World champion Ayana had her eyes on the world record in the women’s 5000m but did not have enough pace-making to help her bid and finished in 14.16.31 – the third fastest of all time in the event. Kipruto had time to wave to the crowd down the final straight as he jogged the final meters to victory in the men’s 3000m steeplechase as Kenyan athletes filled the first four places.
Kipruto’s time of 8.02.77 was the best of the year – and the fastest ever recorded on African soil. Having finished second at last year’s world championships in Beijing he laid down an early marker for Rio as he easily beat key rival Jairus Birech.
Frenchman Pierre-Ambrose Bosse kicked effectively around the bend to produce an upset triumph in the 800m over a field that included former Olympic 1,500m champion Taoufik Makhloufi and Olympic silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana, who finished a disappointing sixth in his first outdoor meeting of the year.
Valerie Adams of New Zealand, who will be chasing an historic hat trick of gold medals in Rio in August, began her Diamond League season with an easy victory in the shot put. Her throw of 19.68 was a season’s best after she returned to competition in Auckland in February.
Colombia’s two-time world champion Caterine Ibarguen stretched her winning streak to 33 competitions as she beat rival Yuilmar Rojas of Venezuela in the triple jump.
The Diamond League moves to Eugene in the United States for the next meeting on Saturday.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Clare Fallon)