Thomas Barr had to make do with fourth-place at tonight’s latest Diamond League meeting in Rome, but the Waterford star did record his second-fastest 400m hurdles of the season as Rai Benjamin of the United States decimated the field.
Barr had the disadvantage of being in the lane immediately inside the American, as Benjamin stormed away at the gun, leaving a massive gap to the Irishman’s right.
As usual, the Ferrybank AC athlete saved most of his speed for the closing straight, but unlike previous Diamond League meetings in Shanghai and Stockholm, could not force himself into the top three this time.
Benjamin – a three-time NCAA champion on the American Universities circuit and son of former West Indies cricketer Winston Benjamin – won in a blistering season’s best of 47.58 seconds, a time that only Abderrahman Samba has gone under this season.
In clocking 47.27 in Shanghai, the Qatari relegated Benjamin to second on the night, in a race where Barr was third.
21-year-old Benjamin had close on a whopping one-and-a-half seconds to spare over compatriot David Kendziera in second (48.99) and Japan’s Takatoshi Abe (49.57) in third, who marginally pushed Barr down into fourth by 0.08 seconds, after the Irishman recorded 49.65.
Barr’s time in Shanghai at the start of May of 49.41 remains his fastest of the season to date, but tonight’s time is over half-a-second faster than the 50.28 that Barr described as “not so good” in Stockholm last week.
Speaking to Swedish television channel SVT, Benjamin said: “I thought it went very well compared to Shanghai.
“I was still very rough in that last half – that’s apparently what I have to focus on going into the next upcoming weeks.
“But I thought I ran really well in the first half – the first 200-250 – and coming home was just a little rough. I just have to figure that part of the race out.”
A native of New York, Benjamin’s Caribbean connections saw him compete for Antigua until transferring to the land of his birth last October.
It was at the NCAA Championships in Eugene a year ago where Benjamin equalled Edwin Moses’ former world record of 47.02 seconds, a time only previously beaten by Kevin Young’s world record of 46.78 from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and subsequently bettered in Paris last summer by Samba.
“When I ran 47.02, I didn’t know what I did until a few weeks after, and it still had to soak in what I did.
“A year ago today, I was competing at NCAAs.
It’s great that I know that I can come out and still be running relatively the same times I did last year, so it’s a confidence-booster that I know I’m at my best.
Ireland’s Leon Reid came ninth in the men’s 200m in 20.83 seconds as the USA’s Michael Norman set a new world lead and lifetime best of 19.70 seconds.
The scorching mark makes him the 12th fastest athlete of all-time over the half-lap distance.
It was the latest in a succession of world leads at the Golden Gala tonight – seven in total.
American Donovan Brazier pipped Nijel Amos on the line to win the men’s 800m in 1:43.63.
Elaine Thompson responded to last week’s loss in Stockholm to beat Dina Asher-Smith on the track and on the clock with a 100m world lead of 10.89 seconds.
Ethiopian Telahun Bekele romped to a 5000m time of 12:52.98 – a new PB to boot – as his country provided four of the top five.
Compatriot Genzebe Dibaba ran a scintillating 3:56.28 in the women’s 1500m, with second-placed Laura Muir setting her own second-fastest time of her career, in 3:56.73.
Bohdan Bondarenko of Ukraine went to 2.31 metres in the men’s high jump, as European champion Malaika Mihambo of Germany won the women’s long jump with a leap of 7.07 metres.
The final event of the night produced a world lead too – Kenyan Benjamin Kigen with a top mark of 8:06.13 in the men’s 3000m steeplechase.