Wednesday, June 24, 2009

US Nationals Preview - the Hurdles

Olympics Day 12 - Athletics

Willie Davenport, Rod Milburn, Greg Foster, Roger Kingdom, Edwin Moses, Kevin Young. The US has a long a rich tradition of hurdlers in international competition. Eugene will see some fierce competition among those who want to be next in line to continue that tradition. Along with the sprint events, the hurdle events provide us with a large majority of medals in the Major meets. In Beijing we garnered three medals in the 400H alone as American athletes swept the event. Expect to see medalists emerge from the squad that leaves Eugene at the end of the weekend.

Men's 110 Hurdles

The first name that jumped out at me as I looked at the most recent list of declarations was that of Allen Johnson - former Olympic and World Champion as far back as the mid 90's. Allen is declared and apparently will be running in this meet.

While he is a part of the tradition of American medalists, he will find tough going as several young hurdlers have made their way to the top of the world's elite. Among those will be Terrence Trammell who has developed his own legacy, by winning silver medals in several international competitions, including the World Championships in Osaka. A feat matched just last year by David Payne as he won the silver in Beijing. Trammell is extremely fast with 10 flat 100 meter speed while Payne is a solid technician with a smooth race. They will have to contend with David Oliver, a powerful hurdler who has lead the world on the clock for most of the year and is still #1 among Americans (13.09). While these men have all shown their worth, the pack behind them is only a hair off and moving up rapidly. Up and comers like Dexter Faulk, Ryan Wilson, Jason Richardson, and Ronnie Ash could on any given day have that one race that could slip them into the top three.

Trammell and Oliver would appear to have a slight edge as both have PR's under 13.00, but one clipped hurdle can take you from first to fifth in the blink of an eye. Running a clean race will be important in a field this tightly bunched. Consistency should earn tickets to Berlin:

1. Terrence Trammell
2. David Oliver
3. David Payne

Watch - Ronnie Ash. The youngster from Bethune Cookman was an unknown quantity at the beginning of the year. He's improved steadily all year running his way to a 13.27 win at the NCAA Championships. He's on a roll and at his rate of improvement a clean round could slip him into the top 3 in what should be a close race.

Men's 400 Hurdles

One of the real bright spots in Beijing, was the sweep of the hurdle medals by the trio of Angelo Taylor, Kerron Clement and Berhawn Jackson. It appeared that this group would be back for Berlin but looking at the declarations just this morning Clement has scratched this event in favor of the open 400. A surprise, but perhaps fitting as Clement may be the most talented intermediate hurdler, but is often done in by poor step patterns.

This opens things up a bit for a group of young, talented hurdlers looking to break through. They will be lead by Jeshua Anderson, the former high school 300 hurdle record holder and twice NCAA Champions as a frosh and soph. Anderson is young talented and has shown to run well in big meets. Justin Gaymon is a former collegiate champ, and Johnny Dutch a medalist at this year's meet. Both are strong hurdlers with great potential. Also lurking in the field is James Carter, a strong veteran who once looked like he was ready to take the event over, but has had some down season's lately.

Jackson and Taylor should be leading the way in this event, with the race behind them fierce! The spots for Berlin could change 3 or 4 times in the final 50 meters. When the dust settles boarding the Berlin flight should be:

1. Angelo Taylor
2. Bershawn Jackson
3. Jeshua Anderson

Watch - James Carter. Carter has shown the talent in the past to be able to win this event. The question will be which Carter is entered in this meet. If it is the Carter of the past couple seasons, he'll be watching others cross the line. If it is a rejuvenated Carter (we saw a reemergence of Angelo Taylor two years ago after some down seasons) he could blow his way onto this team.

Women's 100 Hurdles

Lolo Jones was out front running away with Olympic gold - then she hit a hurdle. And just like that she was in 7th place - her outstanding season dashed by a single hurdle. Early this season she appeared to be on a path to replicate last year - minus that pesky hurdle. But cold weather at Drake resulted in a hamstring injury that has kept her off the track until this week.

While Jones hit a hurdle in Beijing, Dawn Harper came out of nowhere in that final to snatch the gold. In Lolo's absence this spring she has won several races on her own, while Beijing teammate Damu Cherry has run her way to the top of the yearly American list. This is one of the smaller fields of the meet based on the entry list, but one that is deep in talent with vets Ginnie Powell, Jenny Adams, and former two time World gold medalist and defending champion Michelle Perry all waiting to gain berths to Berlin.

Jones would be a prohibitive favorite were it not for the injury. Not having competed recently it will be hard to evaluate her until she takes the track. Harper was an unknown until she snuck onto last year's team and then won her surprise gold. The others are all hungry and looking for their break through. The crystal ball is cloudy on this one, but I can't cop out, so:

1. Lolo Jones
2. Michelle Perry
3. Damu Cherry

Watch - Ginnie Powell. Powell may be the most talented woman in the field. She has shown world class speed in the 100 when healthy - and speed is a premium in this event. She has been injured in the past season or two, but has been working her way back. If she shows up in her best form, she could put these women away.

Women's 400 Hurdles

An event that has been slow to develop this year, there are a lot of talented women entered. Lashinda Demus was in that 4th place slot last year - just missing out on a trip to Beijing. She was leading that race early and was passed very late in the race for what had appeared to be a sure ticket to the Games. She's currently leading the world this year and has run well. Vets Tiffany Williams and Sheena Tosta are two of the women that went by Demus as she faded at last year's Trials - Tosta eventually earning the silver medal in Beijing.

The best of the rest would appear to be NCAA Champion Nicole Leach - a talented hurdler that is just off the pace of the leading women. A strong race could net her a spot. It will take a bit of improvement for the other women in this field to mount a serious challenge - but its happened before. However, barring that type of improvement this week, this team should come down to:

1. Lashinda Demus
2. Sheena Tosta
3. Tiffany Williams

Watch - Nicole Leach. The NCAA champ is in a position to challenge. Chief question for her will be whether or not she has had enough rest from her exploits in Fayetteville.

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