By Ian Chadband
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) - Mariya Lasitskene and Danil Lysenko could not represent their banned home nation of Russia at the world indoor championships on Thursday but, competing as neutral athletes, the spring-heeled pair still leapt to high jump gold.
Lasitskene, one of the world's most dominant athletes in her event, reeled off her 38th straight victory while Lysenko caused the championships' first big shock by handing out a rare defeat to IAAF male athlete of the year, Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim.
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While the high jump contests took center stage on a novel opening day to the four-day championships, the great Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba was the first track luminary to shine as she produced a dazzling solo effort to win the 3,000 metres title.
Russia's athletics federation is still banned following an independent World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation that exposed state-sponsored doping, but Lasitskene and Lysenko are in an eight-strong contingent competing under the neutral flag.
The outstanding 20-year-old prospect Lysenko needed a third-attempt clearance at 2.36 metres to win the gold outright from Barshim, who had a rare three-time failure at that same height.
"This is the most important result of my career," said Lysenko, who was beaten by Barshim for the outdoor crown in London last year. "Honestly, I did not expect to win this event and I did not think of it at all. This is unbelievable."
Lasitskene also had to hear the IAAF anthem rather than the Russian one after a familiarly comfortable win, clearing 2.01 metres, eight centimeters higher than U.S. defending champion, Vashti Cunningham, and bronze winner, Italian Alessia Trost.
The 25-year-old victor made her win sound as easy as it looked. "It is very hard for me to jump without any strong opponents," she said. "If there was a girl pushing me, I am sure it could have been even higher today."
Dibaba won her third straight world indoor 3,000 metres crown - and her fourth indoor title in total -- with an imperious performance in a high quality race.
Bursting away over the final third, the world record holder prevailed in 8 minutes 45.05 seconds, holding off Dutch silver medallist Sifan Hassan (8:45.68) and British hope, the Scottish veterinary student Laura Muir, who took bronze in 8:45.78.
Now, Dibaba has her eyes set on also winning the 1500 metres this weekend after a disappointing 2017 campaign. "2018 is my time," she said.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Ken Ferris)