There was inspiration aplenty to be found in the venue for today’s Wanda Diamond League press conference, the splendidly decorated main salon of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, with its soaring painted ceiling and marble statues.
But when it came down to athletics, the assembled world champions and world record-breakers confessed that it was their competitors who gave them the most motivation to create their own masterpieces.
World 10,000m champion Sifan Hassan could have been deflated by the news overnight that her two-day-old world record of 29:06.82 had been vanquished by her Ethiopian rival, the world silver medallist Letesenbet Gidey, who soared to 29:01.03 at the Ethiopian Olympic trial held in Hengelo last night.
But Hassan said she relished the challenge, insisting that the developing rivalry between the two women was good for the event, good for the sport, and good for her.
She revealed that her manager had told her after her triumph in Hengelo on Sunday that Gidey would “go for the world record” at the same venue two days later.
“It makes me happy,” she said of Gidey’s performance.
“I want the 10,000m to be an event that people want to watch. I want it to be an event that’s exciting.
“Letesenbet is a very good athlete, she’s a very nice athlete and I really like her. She’s really sweet. People think I am not happy (about losing the world record) but I am really happy about it because I want distance to be more exciting.”
“I’m not surprised, and I’m actually happy about it!”@SifanHassan on losing her 10,000m world record just two days after getting it. #FlorenceDL #DiamondLeague pic.twitter.com/GwBppBKWGP
— Wanda Diamond League (@Diamond_League) June 9, 2021
Hassan said she hoped their respective performances would make the Olympic women’s 10,000m final one of the showpiece events of the Games.
“I am happy she ran faster than me because it will make me work harder for the Olympics and I will enter the event more excited. Congratulations to her.”
For similar reasons, Hassan is stepping down to the 1500m in Florence tomorrow, racing what she describes as her “favourite” event, even though she intends to do the 5000m-10,000m double in Tokyo.
She has not raced the 1500m since her triumph at the World Championships in Doha in 2019, and she is excited by the challenge of taking on the Olympic champion Faith Kipyegon and the European champion Laura Muir over the metric mile.
“I am really in good shape for my endurance but my speed is not yet quite good,” she said.
“I haven’t really raced the 1500 for two years but I am really happy to be here and take the opportunity, no matter what happens.”
World 5000m record-holder Joshua Cheptegei is similarly delighted by the impressive field assembled for his event, with seven sub-13 minute men assembled, alongside the young European champion Jakob Ingebrigtsen and the Gateshead Diamond League winner Mohammed Katir of Spain.
Cheptegei is having his first hit-out over the distance since he set the world record of 12:35.36 at the Monaco Diamond League meeting last September, and said he felt his form had improved since his season debut over 3000m at the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava last month.
“I come here with new energy and new momentum,” he said.
“I am pretty sure the body is much better than in Ostrava and I can target a time of 12:40, or better.”
World 200m champion Dina Asher-Smith was asked for her reaction to dual Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s sizzling 10.63 clocking in Jamaica last week, the fastest women’s 100m time in more than 30 years, and said she was inspired by such a performance.
“Shelly-Ann is absolutely amazing and I sent her a message saying it was amazing. The run itself was phenomenal. My coach sent me a video and said, ‘Look at her leg speed. That’ is what I’m talking about. You need to move your legs like that’. Obviously I am a competitive and I am always going to back myself but you can’t ignore the fact that Shelly-Ann is an amazing athlete.”
Asher-Smith said she was “still getting back into the swing of things” after taking a year out of top-flight competition during the pandemic last year but was confident that she would arrive at the Tokyo Olympics ready to race at her peak.
High jumpers Mutaz Essar Barshim and Gianmarco Tamberi already have a well-established mutual admiration club and hope their friendly rivalry will take them to greater heights tomorrow.
Asked what advice they would give each other, Tamberi, the Italian favourite, addressed his friend and said: “I don’t have anything to teach to this guy because he’s the best high jumper ever, but it doesn’t mean you are unbeatable, remember.”
World champion Barshim is still searching for his best form this year, with a best of 2.30m so far this season, but hopes his meeting with Tamberi and this year’s world leader Ilya Ivanyuk (2.37m) will help him find it.
“With a strong field you are going to perform much better,” Barshim said.
“There’s pressure, but I love that pressure – it only makes me better.”
World long jump champion Malaika Mihambo is also determined to step up a level in Florence after a subdued start to the season by her standards.
She takes on a high-quality field including fellow seven-metre jumpers Chantel Malone and Nastassia Mironchyk-Ivanova, two-time world triple jump champion Caterine Ibarguen, world indoor champion Ivana Spanovic and world silver medallist Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk.
“It’s the challenge that gives you the power to give your 100 percent,” she said.
Nicole Jeffery for World Athletics