American sprinter Sanya Richards, Russian pole vaulter Jelena Isinbayeva and Ethiopian long distance runner Kenenanisa Bekele shared the one million dollar jackpot on offer at the Golden League series after winning their respective events in the final round of six meetings held this weekend in Brussels Belgium.
The jackpot is shared by athletes who manage to win the same events at all six Golden League meets in one season.
World record holder Jelena Isinbayeva failed at breaking her own world record of 5.07 metres, but as she cleared 4.70 with her first jump, she won the competition and her share of the purse.
Sanya Richards dominated the one lap distance by recording a time of 48.83 seconds to win the women’s 400m race – as she has in all five previous Golden League meets this season – and became the first athlete to be assured at least a share of the jackpot.
Coming into the season Richards hadn’t won a world championship or Olympic title so her challenge was immense. Not only did she win a share of the golden jackpot but she also won gold at the world championships last month in Berlin.
Neither Richards or Isinbayeva, who are $333,333 richer, are newcomers to the Jackpot chase. For Richards it was her third six-for-six Jackpot season after sharing the prize pie in 2006 and 2007, and for Isinbayeva her second, after she split the pot with Richards two years ago.
Stop #1 – Berlin’s ISTAF
Isinbayeva got her Golden League season off to a solid start, making her season’s debut with a 4.83m clearance, a world lead and an easy victory. Richards was more impressive, with an overwhelming 49.57 win, more than a second-and-a-half ahead of the runner-up.
Stop #2 Oslo’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games
After winning the notoriously difficult U.S. title in Eugene, Richards didn’t skip a beat when the series resumed in Oslo on 3 July. Facing the strongest field yet assembled this season, and despite a long rain delay, the American produced a 49.23 run, the fourth fastest of her career and her quickest since setting the US record at the 2006 IAAF World Cup in Athens.
Isinbayeva meanwhile suffered a minor scare. In a competition heavily affected by the massive rainstorm that romped through the Norwegian capital, the Russian did just enough to take the victory, winning on the countback from Monica Pyrek at 4.71m.
Stop #3 – Rome’s Golden Gala
Isinbayeva’s victory was a straightforward one, as her opening height of 4.75m would have sufficed. She went on to raise her own world lead to 4.85m before bowing out at 4.95m. Richards meanwhile continued to impress, winning by a massive 0.85 seconds in 49.46.
Stop #4 – Paris and the Stade de France
Isinbayeva’s event was most severely hampered by the weather, with her first and only jump of 4.65m securing the victory. As in Oslo, the rain did little to affect Richards who sped to the finish in 49.34 win, this time more than a second clear of the runner-up. Among the fans at the Stade de France was her fiancé and NFL star Aaron Ross, who watched her compete outside the USA for the first time.
After Paris, the athletes took a break for the World championships and again made headlines.
For Isinbayeva, it wasn’t quite the sort of news she was hoping to make. In one of the more dramatic moments of the championships, Isinbayeva failed to clear a height – she later admitted to complacency getting the better of her – resulting in one of the biggest implosions in nine thrilling days of competition at the Olympic Stadium
Stop #5 – Zurich
Eleven days later, Isinbayeva matched her Berlin low with yet another unprecedented high when the series resumed with the Weltklasse in Zurich. With a vault as confident as it was elegant, the Russian scaled 5.06m on her first try to notch the 27th World record of her career.
Although she didn’t enter the record books, Richards produced 2009 world leads in her Berlin follow-up. She dipped under the 49-second barrier for the third time in her career, reaching the finish line in 48.94 and winning by nearly a second.
Stop #6 Brussels and the Memorial Van Damme
Neither woman faced much opposition before collecting their over-sized paychecks in a ceremony that drew the final curtain on the Golden League’s 12 year run. Typically, Isinbayeva started just where her competitors had ended and Richards ran her second fastest performance ever and won by more than a second-and-a-half.
With their gold bars in hand, each is planning something special with at least a part of their winnings. Isinbayeva will again provide gifts for an orphanage in her native Vologograd, Bekele will give some to a development fund in Addis Ababa. Richards, who is getting married this winter, is going to splurge and use some of her winnings to create a dream wedding.