Sunday, March 1, 2009

Weekend Chatter

A championship weekend of sorts, but I have to say it really didn't feel like one.

Several collegiate conferences had their championships, the most notable being the SEC. Competitive as always, I was most taken by the fact that as deep and strong as the SEC is, it is being dominated this year by FRESHMEN! Second (Ryan Fleck, AUB, 7' .50"), third, fourth AND fifth in the men's high jump, all freshmen. Winner of the women's pole vault (Rachel Laurent, LSU, 14' .50"); runner up in the men's heptathlon (Gray Horn, Florida, 5586); double winner in the long jump and triple jump (Christian Taylor, Florida, 25' 3.5" & 52' 10.25"); winner of the men's 400 meters (Robert Simmons, LSU, 46.22); and first (Torrin Lawrence, Georgia, 20.81) and second (Marek Niit, Arkansas, 20.90) in the men's 200 all freshmen! And Mississippi State freshman sprinter Dangelo Cherry was busy running in the USATF National Championships where he blazed a 6.52 in the 60 meters in taking the runner up position there! Oh, and let's not forget that Florida frosh Jeff Demps (HSR 10.01) has passed on the indoor season.

Odd enough to see freshmen doing well in a Junior College setting, but in the SEC - perhaps the strongest collegiate track conference in the nation - this is truly an outstanding group! If the SEC is any indication the future of track and field in this country is still very bright indeed.

Speaking of track in this country, USA Track and Field held its Indoor Championships this weekend and we were treated to the Jenn Stuczynski and the Hurdlers show. As Jennifer, Lolo Jones and Terrence Trammell were the clear stars of what was otherwise an underwhelming weekend.

Fighting to win the "Visa Championship" on the women's side, Stuczynski needed an America Record performance after Amber Campbell unleashed an 80' 2" weight throw to tie Jennifer for the Visa title. Fear not as Stuczynski cleared 15' 10" for a new AR and the Visa lead. A lead that held up until the penultimate event, when Lolo Jones, hot all indoor season, took to the track needing to run 7.86 to tie Stuczynski - a mark she has bettered several times this season. Jones, running with clockwork precision, clipped off a 7.84 to claim victory in the 60 meter hurdles AND a $25,000 check from Visa as the Indoor Visa Champion.

Trammell was already the Visa leader heading into his event, but sealed the deal in fine fashion and he blitzed 7.38 to win the 60 meter hurdles - just missing the AR by .01! Trammell and Jones have both been running with passion this indoor season as if they have been looking to erase their Beijing disappointments. Both have been fast, focused and running very well.

I wish the same could be said for the rest of the meet, which was lacking "oomph" throughout most of the competition. The men's and women's 1500 meter races won in 3:45.73 and 4:17.37 respectively were indicative of the majority of performances this weekend. Not exactly the kind of championship runs one would expect at this level. With the wide spread disappearance of "stars" from the indoor season, and the lower level of performances overall, I wonder if its not time to rethink the need for the indoor season at the elite level.

It's been nice to watch the growth of Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher and Anna Willard in the distances. As well as Ivory Williams, Mike Rogers, and Carmelita Jeter in the sprints. But clearly the indoor season is becoming more developmental than the place where the truly elite meet to compete - at least here in the US. It seems most of our top athletes are preparing for the outdoor season - where their money is made. And the few that have been competing this winter have spent most of their time in Europe.

So maybe its time to rethink the indoor season. Is it really necessary? Are there better ways to spend the dollars currently being spent indoors? Just something to think about as we contemplate ways to improve the sport here in the states.

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