A deathly hush descended on the Weltklasse athletics meet crowd in Zurich as Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva prepared to attempt a new pole vault world record.This content was published on August 29, 2009 - 12:22
The crowd was supporting her every step of the way on Friday evening with claps and by beating the Letzigrund stadium's advertising boards... she took a jump, easily cleared the height of 5.06 metres, and the stadium erupted.
It was the first world record at the Golden League meeting for three years, since Asafa Powell of Jamaica set one in the 100 metres sprint at 9.77 seconds.
An emotional Isinbayeva said afterwards that she had wanted to make amends for her shock defeat in the Berlin world championships, where she failed to clear a single height, a result she put down to overconfidence.
Isinbayeva's feat added one centimetre onto her previous record.
She has now set 15 world records outdoors and 12 indoors.
The athlete paid tribute to her fans. "That world record was for all of you, because without you I couldn't do anything," she said.
Indeed the Zurich fans have a reputation for being special. Jamaican sprinting superstar Usain Bolt - who was greeted by rapturous applause every time he set foot in the sold-out stadium - told swissinfo.ch at a pre-meeting press conference that he could literally feel the energy coming from the spectators.
One factor, he said, was that they were so close to the track in the newly renovated Letzigrund stadium.
Whether an athlete failed or was successful in a field event, or was running to victory in the sprint or distance race, the crowd was always on its feet. Swiss participants were greeted with a special cheer.
There was almost a shock in the eagerly awaited 100 metres race. Bolt, long so dominant and fresh from setting two world records in Berlin - 9.58 seconds for the 100 metres and 19.19 seconds in the 200 metres - looked a little sluggish.
He had a bad start and only picked up at around 30 metres, arriving first past the post in a respectable 9.81 seconds.
"I would say this was a shaky race. My body was sitting at the start. I was a little bit tired through the race," Bolt said afterwards. "All things considered, the time is not bad."
Countryman Powell, who set the world record in 2006, came in second after looking like the winner for much of the race. He said that the result had given him confidence. "Now I know that I can also beat Usain when everything works out fine for me," he said.
Bolt produced another miracle in the 4x100 m relay, when he came from quite far behind to clinch the final leg, giving the Jamaican team a winning time of 37.70 seconds.
The Swiss team of Pascal Mancini, Marc Schneeberger, Reto Amaru Schenkel and Marco Cribari, had much cause for celebration with their fifth place in the same race in 38.78 seconds, a new national record. The four literally leapt with delight when they heard the news and took a lap of honour proudly holding aloft the Swiss flag.
Love of athletics
Despite only having a few star athletes of their own, there is no denying that the Zurich crowd loves athletics. Most of the fans swissinfo.ch spoke to at the competition gave this reason for their attendance. But there are other factors.
"The public really make the event, the atmosphere is so good," said Irmi Pellegrini, who has been to the Weltklasse three times.
Anja Würgler and Joëlle Pianzola were attending for the very first time. "Of course, when it's in Switzerland, a really big event like this - that's cool," they said.
Jamaican Zurich resident Andrew Robinson, sporting a T-shirt in the colours of his homeland, also comes every year.
"I like it because of the different countries that come together to make the event possible, because of the athletes," he said.
"Best invitation meeting"
Some of the audience had travelled from overseas for the event, including Patrick Earley from Los Angeles in the United States. For him, the Weltklasse is, "the best invitation meeting in the world by far". It was his third time there.
Accompanied by his wife, he was visiting the competition as part of a tour which also included the Berlin World Championships.
"The Weltklasse is usually held after the World Championships, or after the Olympics or the European Championships, so they invite the people who surprised at these events and get those who are in top form," he said.
In all, four world best times were set on Friday night in both the 100m and 400m women's hurdles, the men's 5,000m and the men's javelin.
As the competition came to the end - following a 3,000 m wheelchair race which saw Swiss champion Heinz Frei bow out - the crowd became more reflective.
After the winners were celebrated in the closing ceremony, the lights were dimmed and spectators turned on the small LED lights they had been given with their tickets.
Music was provided by Elena Burki with her modern take on the alphorn and fireworks lit up the sky. Waving along, in perfect harmony, was a little sea of blue lights.
Isobel Leybold-Johnson at the Letzigrund stadium, swissinfo.ch
The Weltklasse Zurich meeting, part of the prestigious Golden League circuit, has been running since 1928. This year it was staged on August 28.
There were four world record holders, 16 newly-crowned world champions and 14 Olympic 2008 champions competing for the meeting's 16 events.
Twenty-four world records have been broken at the Zurich event, with the last being in 2006, when Asafa Powell set a new record – 9.77 seconds – for 100 metres.
This year the meeting took leading role environmentally, by being CO2 neutral. For example, all athletes were taken from the official hotel near the airport to the stadium by public transport, in this case special trams.
The Golden League is a series of the six most important athletics meetings in Europe.
In 2009, the series started in Berlin in June, and moved on to Oslo, Rome, Paris, Zurich and will end in Brussels on September 4.
The goal is to win the famous Golden League Jackpot - pure gold amounting to $1 million (SFr1.05 million). The jackpot will only be awarded to athletes winning their event at all six Golden League meetings. There are ten jackpot disciplines.
Women's pole vault: Yelena Isinbayeva (Russia) 5.06m
Men's 100m: Usain Bolt (Jamaica) 9.81 seconds, Women's 100m: Carmelita Jeter (United States) 10.86
Men's 400m: LaShawn Merrit (US), 44.21, Women's 400m: Sanya Richards* (US), 48.94
Men's 110m hurdles: Dwight Thomas (Jamaica) 13.16, Women's 100m hurdles: Brigitte Foster-Hylton* 12.46
Men's 800m: David Rudisha (Kenya) 1.43.52
Men's 1,500m: Augustine Choge (Kenya) 3.33.38, Women's 1,500m: Maryam Jamal (Bahrain) 3.59.15
Men's 3,000m steeple chase: Ezekiel Kemboi (Kenya) 8.04.44
Men's 5,000m: Kenenisa Bekele* (Ethiopia) 12.52.32
Women's high jump: Blanka Vlasic (Croatia) 2.01m
Men's javelin: Andreas Thorkildsen* (Norway) 91.28m
Men's triple jump: Nelson Evora (Portugal) 17.38m
4x100m Zurich Trophy: Jamaica 37.70
*Best times in the world this year
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