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30 November 2018 | in Summer FISU World University Games, Athletics, FISU Athletes

University student-athletes shine bright at Diamond League Final

Letzigrund Stadium by night © Balint Koch

ZURICH — As reporters began to filter in to Letzigrund Stadium for a night of athletics at the IAAF Diamond League finals it was perfectly fitting that local school kids were having first crack at the competitions. Fitting because as young track athletes whizzed by with relay batons in hand, two university student-athletes stood out from the crowd of javelin throwers limbering up in the infield and high jumpers perfecting their run-ups.


Even when surrounded by eleven other high jumpers, all tall and slim with springy long legs, it’s hard to miss Maria Lasitskene. For example, in warmups her short run-up style to the bar is distinctive.


During the competition, Lasitskene kept this economy of motion principle in play as she didn’t skip any heights and didn’t fail a single attempt until the bar was raised to 2.01m, twenty centimetres above her head and five centimetres from her personal best


Her first and third attempts were almost perfect, but the bar didn’t stay in place.


While Lasitskene didn’t clear two metres for the twelfth time in two months, she did walk away with her 27th win in a row, en route to her second overall Diamond League title. This consistency, characteristic of the small Russian city of Prokhladny, began during her university sports days.


“Being a student just made sense for me, I found it was just so well organized to study and compete,” said Lasitskene.


At the Zurich Weltklasse, the Volgograd State Academy of Physical Culture alumna shared her college career highlight: competing at the Kazan 2013 Summer Universiade. The reigning world high jump champ credited the atmosphere there for getting her winning streak going.


“I was so excited to compete in front of those spectators. The stands were totally full, you could hear them shouting, cheering you on,” Lasitskene recalled winning her first major international victory.


“My coach always jokes that I need a judge’s table and stands full of spectators to jump high. I am a pretty shy person and it’s not like I love to show off, but in a competition, this really gets my adrenaline flowing and has me performing at my best.”


Also up for the Diamond League event win and the season overall title double was Andreas Hofmann in the javelin competition. Alongside Lars Hamann, Thomas Rohler and Johannes Vetter, the 26-year-old student-athlete is the youngest and quite possibly the brightest burning star of Germany’s elite javelin quartet.

When agony meets ecstasy, all in one moment. With his final throw at the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade, Germany's Andreas Hoffman joined javelin's esteemed 91 metre club, but lost out on gold by centimetres to Cheng Chao-tsun. 

In 2017, the sport science major from Heidelberg University broke through to the elite international ranks. Just missing out on the world championships, Hofmann came back at the Taipei 2017 Summer Universiade for a thrilling back-and-forth duel with Chao-Tsun Cheng of Chinese Taipei.


The two competitors traded a series of high-quality throws over 80m before each took it to another level in the final round. Cheng struck first, going beyond his rival's fifth throw in launching his javelin out to 91.36m. The home crowd went into pandemonium, and for good reason: the throw made Cheng the 12th best javelin in history – and set the Asian record. But it almost wasn’t enough to take home gold as Hofmann added to the drama when his final attempt reached 91.07m.


Cheng and Hofmann’s performances would have comfortably clinched gold in both, the London 2017 World Athletics Championships and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.


As the German had a look of ecstasy-meets-agony on his face, Hofmann and Cheng shared a few words about how each other’s performances contributed to their own.


Afterwards, the German hardly sounded like a man defeated. “It was crazy. The competition, the result and the experience I had competing here were great, just great.”


In Zurich, on a night where the world’s best athletics stars were crowned, another 91 metre throw from Hofmann was good enough for gold.


“91.44, a winning result – amazing,” Hofmann said in the mixed zone after the night’s pageantries came to an end, the very last athlete to leave the field of play. “In German, I’d say it was hammerfettbombekrass. How do I explain this? It’s amazing, it’s super, it’s great, but an even better feeling.”