Monday, June 29, 2009
US Nationals - The Results are In, How Do We Look?
The US National Championships concluded yesterday and all the results are in. With the meet serving as the selection process for August's World Championships, the immediate question is - how will we do?
There are six weeks until the start of competition on August 15th - so relatively speaking its just around the corner. But plenty of time for those not yet sharp to get there, but also long enough to be difficult to perhaps hold a peak already reached. As we saw last year in Berlin running extremely well now, doesn't necessarily translate into superior performances a month and a half later in a global championships.
While I have seen several writers lamenting that some top athletes chose to use their byes (defending World Champions automatically qualify to defend their titles) and ran secondary events or single rounds; and others critical of the lack of "records" being set at the meet, I will say that athletes and coaches appear to have learned from last year's debacle in Beijing, and approached this year's championships as the key stepping stone to global titles that it truly is.
This meet closed with few casualties to injury; with those expected to make the team on the squad; and with what appears to be on paper as good a team as can be put together here in the US. Yes we have some holes to fill - some areas where we need to improve. But we will be strong and competitive in a majority of events and should do quite well in Berlin.
Following is my assessment of how the team looks leaving Eugene. Hopefully in six weeks we will look even better.
Men's Field Events
We look very solid heading into Berlin in the field. The shot put and pole vault have strong veteran performers. Christian Cantwell, Brad Walker, Reese Hoffa, and Derek Miles have all been on the big stage and have shown the ability to perform well when needed. Dwight Phillips has become extremely consistent in the long jump this year and has been regularly over 28 feet for the last month with a huge 28' 8.75" that put him in reach of the 29 foot barrier. Expect medals in Berlin in these events.
The loss of Bryan Clay put a damper on our decathlon hopes, though the young men that will go to Berlin should get valuable experience, and have the potential to get close to medal territory. Elsewhere in the field we are in growth mode and have a bit of work to do. Especially in the triple jump where we have fallen way off. Once a global power, 54' foot jumps made the team in Eugene making this one of our weaker events in the field now.
Women's Field Events
Jenn Stuczynski is a threat for gold in the pole vault. She and Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS) could have a very strong battle in Berlin. Likewise discus thrower, Stephanie Brown Trafton showed that she is in form to potentially add a World title to the Olympic title she won in Beijing. Together they are our strongest hopes for medals in the field.
Though not as strong a bet, long jumper Brittany Reese has shown the potential to score in Berlin with a solid, consistent performance. Elsewhere in the field we are young and have a lot of growth ahead of us.
Galen Rupp is the modern day Steve Prefontaine. He's running well right now and is showing the ability to shift gears - important in international competition. He appears to be in the best condition of his life which means we should see an improvement in his 10000 meter PR of 27:33.48. If he can cut 20 to 30 seconds off of that he can be in medal contention in what is usually a tactical race in a major.
In the 5000 Dathan Ritzenhein was a popular name prior to Rupp's emergence. Ritzenhein has experience, and is fast enough (13:16.61) to be in medal contention in Berlin as most majors often go in the 13:20/13:30 range. And Bernard Lagat is the defending champion. So we should be well represented here.
I don't see any such opportunity in the steeplechase - another event where we have fallen way off the pace compared to where we used to be.
We appear stronger than we have in a while here. Jenny Barringer in the steeple; Kara Goucher in the 5000; and Amy Begley & Shalane Flanagan in the 10000 give us as strong a contingent as we have had in quite some time in the women's distance events. It is a stretch, but not impossible, that we could pick up 3 medals in these events.
Men's Middle Distances
Bernard Lagat is the defending champion in the 1500 meters. But after Lagat, this is an area where we were once strong, but now merely spectators after the first round. If the 1500 becomes tactical, perhaps one of our youngsters may have a shot to slip in. The 800 show little medal opportunity however. Symmonds and Robinson are veterans with plenty of experience. But neither seems to be fast enough to compete outside of the US. 1:44/1:45 is just not going to get us in medal contention with so many others running 1:43 and threatening 1:42.
Women's Middle Distances
Shannon Rowbury seems to be slowly rounding into form. At her best she can get in the 4:00 range and possibly medal. Kristin Wurth Thomas showed that she has a ton of heart. Another gutsy round of running in Berlin could put her in contention. And Anna Willard has the speed to be in the mix as well, having run 4:01 earlier this year and 1:59 for the half.
The 800, however, give us no such possibilities. Championship running goes around 1:56/1:57 to get into the medals and we are having difficulty getting runners under 2:00. When your miler/steeplechaser is also your leading half miler you have a problem - and we have a problem here.
The bad news is that we lost David Oliver to injury in the high hurdles. Oliver has been among the world leaders all season. The good news is that we are very deep in this event so we will still send multiple medalist Terrence Trammell, and last year's Olympic bronze medalist David Payne.
In the long hurdles we return all three medalists from Beijing (Kerron Clement, Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson) and add talented youngster Johnny Dutch. Three or four medals out of the two hurdle events is a strong possibility. We will be represented well here.
Dawn Harper was a surprise winner in the short hurdles last year. She just won the National championship in a super time, so she won't be sneaking up on anyone this time around. Damu Cherry is a fast veteran; Ginny Powell seems to be back from injury; and Michelle Perry is the defending champion. We have a strong shot here at more than one medal.
The long hurdle race is also a strong suit. Lashinda Demu. Sheena Tosta, and Tiffany Williams form a very solid trio all of which are capable of getting to the medal stand. So we will be well represented in both hurdle events in Berlin.
After last year's fall off in Beijing our men appear ready to get back to their medal winning ways. Tyson Gay showed that he will be faster than ever as he ran a windy 9.75 in what he called a bad race (his first 100 of the season). He will be joined by Mike Rodgers, the National champion in Gay's absence and one of the hottest sprinters of the season having beaten all except Gay and Usain Bolt - including two wins over Jamaican Asafa Powell. And super vet Darvis (Doc) Patten appears to be rounding into form at the right time this year.
Speaking of super vets, Shawn Crawford did nothing short of putting on a clinic on how to run the 200 meters as he motored his way to a windy 19.73 in crushing the field for the National title. He will join Gay in the 200 in Berlin to form the hottest duo ever in the event.
Only Usain Bolt stands between Gay and a repeat of his double victory in '07. Their battles could be the most anticipated of the World Championships - and the most entertaining. Behind them Rodgers will be in strong contention for the bronze in the 100 meters and Crawford in strong position for the 200 bronze.
In the 400 there are only two questions. In what order will Lashawn Merrit and Jeremy Wariner take gold and silver, and who will take third behind them? Such is the strength of our 400 meter team. So expect a large medal haul in these events in Berlin. Three to six medals should be attainable.
Carmelita Jeter is undefeated over 100 meters this year and ran 10.72w and 10.78w at Nationals. Muna Lee was right with her in the final at 10.78w. Muna also ran well in the 200 taking second (22.13w) to defending World Champion Allyson Felix (22.02w). We'll be sending a very strong contingent in the short sprints.
In the 400, Sanya Richards looks to be as strong as ever. If she can execute after rounds in Berlin (something she has had difficulty with in the past) she a solid medal contender and is good enough to win the gold. Behind her we are young and unproven this time around. However, like the men, three to six medals is not out of the question between the three events.
With a return to strength of our sprint squads, we should see an improvement in the medal count over Beijing. We still have several areas that need to be addressed, however, if we are to reach Doug Logan's goal of 30 medals in London. Frankly I think the goal IS attainable. We've been strong in the jumps (men and women) in the past and I see no reason why we can't be again. The resurgence of Dwight Phillips is an example of just how quickly this can happen.
The middle distances baffle me. We have some excellent coaches here in the US. And if there is any area of our sport that is popular among the masses it is distance/road running. So you would think that producing the likes of Galen Rupp and Jenny Barringer would be routine. Instead they are the exception. There is no reason that our middle and long distance squads shouldn't be as strong and deep as our sprint squads. We need to work on that. If we do, 30 medals in London is definitely achievable.
This year in Berlin we will not get there, but we should be somewhere in the 20's, and that is where we should be. Berlin should see us get back to "normal". Then we can look to Daegu (2011) for improvement.