Rabat Diamond League Recap: Shericka Jackson, Soufiane El Bakkali, Mykolas Alekna Win Big

By Owen Corbett

May 20, 2024

The Diamond League circuit made yet another stop this weekend, its last before heading stateside for the Prefontaine Classic next week. Although past Diamond League meets have delivered for those who only tune in to see world records, this was one for the good ol’ fashioned track nerds. A few performances will be overanalyzed, while others won't receive enough attention, but such is the nature of a high level track meet in the pre-championship season. Below are a few (hopefully level-headed) takeaways on the action, and some of the meet’s implications on bigger competitions to come this summer.

Not Easy For World Champs, But They Get The Job Done

Soufiane El Bakkali has not lost a steeplechase final since late 2021 – a streak of now 12 straight wins – but this one may have been the hardest of all of them. Per usual, El Bakkali let the other men in the race set the pace as he went to the back of the pack for the first few kilometers, but when it came time to make his move it was never decisive. The Moroccan star had to fight off Getnet Wale down the final stretch, and dug deep to prevail 8:09.40 to 8:09.72.

Shericka Jackson was another big star expected to dominate the field in her season debut, and although she left Marrakech with the win, her facial expression after crossing the line told the fans everything they needed to know. After opening last year’s campaign under 22 seconds at this very meet, she was nearly a full tick slower today (22.82), and never opened up a significant lead. While a slight headwind may have explained some of the difference, there is certainly more work for Jackson to do if she wants to secure her first Olympic medal over 200m, or the world record she has had in her sights the past few years.

World Leaders Take Care Of Business Early

Rushell Clayton of Jamaica came into the meet with the fastest 400m hurdles time in the world this year, and took home the win (53.98) in the first track event of the day. Clayton is now undefeated in her first two races of the season while clocking two of the five fastest times of 2024. While we wait for Femke Bol and Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone to open their seasons over hurdles (Bol will do so on June 2nd at the Stockholm Diamond League), the two-time World bronze medalist remains the woman to beat in the event.

Very similarly, Kenya’s Emmanuel Wanyonyi has the fastest 800m time of 2024, and after the win today (1:43.84) is undefeated over two races at his signature distance, both of which are in the top five marks in the world. After finishing second to Marco Arop at the World Championships last year, Wanyonyi hasn’t lost in four tries, including two late victories last year over the World champ. Without a head-to-head meeting yet this year, the favorite status remains up in the air for Paris, especially given the runners even history against each other (each has won four of their eight matchups).

New Names Enter The Conversation

Ethiopia’s Medina Eisa (14:34.16) has run the times to be a household name by now, but gets caught up in the mass of young talent out of East Africa. The 19-year-old Eisa has run two of the five fastest 5000m times of the season, and took home the gold medal at the African Games back in March. Eisa demolished the World U20 record in the 5000m last year, running 14:16.54, and snuck by Fotyen Tesfay (14:34.21) down the homestretch today for her third win of the season. Eisa is special, and in a few years may be dominating the 5000m scene.

Emmanuel Eseme, another champion from the African Games, took home the win in Marrakech over 100m (10.11), and without anyone blowing away their competition in the event this year, the medals in Paris look more than up for grabs. Eseme, who runs for Cameroon, also represents part of a trend that has emerged of late of African sprinting success. His win came just a day after South African Akani Simbine ran an unofficial world lead of 9.90 at the Atlanta City Games.

Speaking of South Africa, the biggest surprise of the meet came in the women’s 800m where Prudence Sekgodiso set a new world lead (1:57.26) by squeaking past Habitam Alemu (1:57.70) of Ethiopia in the finishing straight. Alemu, who ran the world’s fastest indoor 800m of the winter, left an opening on the inside for Sekgodiso in the final strides of the race, and the 22-year-old had no issue taking advantage of it en route to the fastest time of her career.

Mykolas Alekna Backs Up The Hype

In his first competition since breaking the oldest men’s world record in track and field, Lithuania’s Mykolas Alekna beat one of the best discus fields ever assembled by nearly three meters (70.70m). This performance was yet another indication that the 21-year-old legacy thrower is the real deal, and should be one of the first names mentioned when it comes to the gold medal conversation later this summer.

In second place, Australian champ Matthew Denny (67.74m) continued an impressive season in which he has finished first or second in each of his six competitions. Down the results list in seventh place was an alarming result from 2022 World Champion Kristjan Čeh (64.64m) as he only recorded one valid attempt, ended with his shortest mark in international competition in nearly four years, and recorded his lowest finish in a competition since 2019.

Field Event Roundup

Serbian teenager Angelina Topic won the women’s high jump (1.98m) for her second Diamond League win in as many weeks. She did so in national record fashion (breaking her own mark from last year) and is now one centimeter closer to becoming just the second woman since 1990 to clear 2m before turning 20 (Yaroslava Mahuchikh is the other).

The medal table from the women’s shot put at the World Indoor Championships was flipped in Marrakech as American Chase Jackson took home a significant win (20.00m, meet record) with Germany’s Yemisi Ogunleye in second (19.40m), and Canada’s Sarah Mitton (19.36m) in third.

The men’s triple jump lost a little bit of its shine when World champion Hugues Fabrice Zango and world leader Andy Díaz Hernández scratched from the event, but there was still plenty of star power in last year’s World silver medalist Lázaro Martínez of Cuba and reigning Olympic champion Pedro Pichardo of Portugal. Martinez prevailed in meet record fashion (17.10m) while Pichardo narrowly earned second place (16.92m).

The women’s pole vault was won by Switzerland’s Angelica Moser (4.73m). The 26-year-old has been competing on the Diamond League circuit since she was 17.

Five More Rapid Fire Takeaways

– 2022 800m World Champion Emmanuel Korir had a rough year in 2023, bowing out of his title defense in the first round, and finishing last in nearly every other race he ran. The unfortunate pattern continued today as Korir brought up the rear (9th, 1:52.14) in his season opener.

– After an indoor season that saw Alexander Doom of Belgium win two world titles, his first open 400m race of the spring cemented his status as an Olympic medal contender this summer. Doom set a significant personal best (44.51) over a field that included one of the fastest men of 2024 in Bayapo Ndori of Botswana (3rd, 44.59), the second fastest man of 2023 Muzala Samukonga of Zambia (2nd, 44.54), and last year’s bronze medalist from Budapest, American Quincy Hall (6th, 45.52).

– In the men’s 1500m, Frenchman Azeddine Habz took home his first Diamond League win (3:32.86) in his tenth career race on the circuit. It was his first race since February, and he took down a quality field including 3:47 miler George Mills (2nd, 3:33.47), and steeplechase world record holder Lamecha Girma (4th, 3:33.54).

– In his first steeplechase of the year, Hillary Bor (8:13.30) became the first American to run under the Olympic standard in 2024 (Anthony Rotich has a qualifying time from last July), and has to be considered one of the favorites to make an otherwise wide open team at the U.S. Olympic Trials next month.

– As noted by our Mac Fleet, a number of the seats in the crowd were unfortunately empty. This comes as a bit of a surprise as meets in Africa usually draw larger crowds than those in North America – especially with a local legend like El Bakkali racing. Hopefully, the fields at next week’s Prefontaine Classic will flip the trend.

Owen Corbett

Huge sports fan turned massive track nerd. Statistics major looking to work in sports research. University of Connecticut club runner (faster than Chris Chavez but slower than Kyle Merber).