Thursday, July 30, 2009

Stockholm - Final Stop on the Road to Berlin

The athletes get their final big tune up for Berlin tomorrow in Stockholm. Being the final stop we get a chance to see several potential medalists in their final races before worlds. Among them the most intriguing match up on the day should be in the Men's 100, where world leader Tyson Gay (US) meets up against former WR holder Asafa Powell (JAM). An interesting race for both men as Gay will want to show his fitness following the announcement of groin trouble that will require surgery at year's end. For Powell, he neeeds to show that he is a contender along with Gay and Bolt, having been beaten soundly by both this summer and finding himself in 5th, 5th, and 6th in various meets this year.

Another that will want to show that he is indeed a contender for gold in Berlin will be Jeremy Wariner, who's had a down season by his own standards. With a best of "only" 44.66 this season, and looking rather human, Wariner needs to come up with a performance that will mark him as being on par with Lashawn Merritt who has looked every bit the Olympic champion this season.

On the women's side we get a look at Allyson Felix (US) in the 200 against Kerron Stewart (JAM). Stewart is the world leader in the 100 this year (10.75) and will be contending for gold in that event in Berlin. She should give Felix a very stern test in the deuce as Felix prepares to defend her title in Berlin.

We'll also get our first look in Europe this summer at Jenny Barringer in the 5000. Barringer has been quiet since Nationals, and it will be nice to see her level of fitness ahead of Berlin.

Full start lists can be found here. At the conclusion of this meet the countdown to Worlds begins!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

America's Female Middle Distance Runners Step Up Their Game

AVIVA London Grand Prix - Day Two

It's been a while since we've headed towards a Major and I've felt we had a real shot at a medal in the middle distances on the women's side. Not since Jearl Miles Clark in the 800 in the late 90's and Suzy Favor Hamilton in the 1500 at the start of this decade have we really had the talent to make an impact internationally.

That's changed in a big way in 2009! We got our first glimpse at the Prefontaine Classic where Jenny Barringer just missed victory by.01 while breaking the 4 minute barrier in the 1500 (3:59.90). Behind her we also saw outstanding runs by Anna Willard (4:01.44) and Christin Wurth Thomas (4:01.72). We also watched Maggie Vessey come from way back in the field for an upset win in the 800 in 2:00.18. Her stretch run showing that she had what it would take to run under 2 minutes.

They showed they had talent in Eugene, but Europe loomed large come summer, as success has been a rare commodity for US middle distance runners on the other side of The Pond. But this year has been different. Anna Willard got an 800 win in Paris at 1:58.80. Christin Wurth Thomas ran second in Rome and broke the 4 minute barrier in the 1500 with her 3:59.98 run. And just yesterday Maggie Vessey shocked the 800 field in Monaco with her 1:57.83 victory.

On the heels of Shannon Rowbury's emergence last year - 4:00.33 and ranked #6 in the world in the 1500 - suddenly we have not one, not two, but FIVE young ladies that can truly compete on the world stage over 800 and 1500 meters!

We will see in a few weeks just how well they do in Berlin. But the one thing they all seem to have in common is a very strong competitive spirit. So whether they do well at Worlds or it ends up being a "learning experience", I am confident that we have a bright future in store with these young ladies. It's been a long time coming.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vessey Crushes PR in a Monaco Grand Prix Filled with Highlights

Herculis Athletics Meeting

With the sports' big headline makers this season - Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt - taking a break today, one would have thought that the Monaco Grand Prix would be a bit lackluster. Nothing could have been further from the truth!

Today's meet may have been the most overall exciting to date - as it should have been with the World Championships just a few weeks away. In a meet filled with highlights, I have to say that for me the most exciting was Maggie Vessey's (US) 800 meter victory. Vessey has been teasing with the 2:00 barrier all season with tactics reminiscent of '72 Olympic champion Dave Wottel - sit way back in the pack and see how many competitors you can catch in the home stretch. All season I've been waiting to see what she could do if she would just stay close during the race. The answer came today as she did just that and then used her finishing strength to outrun Russia's Mariya Savinova 1:57.84 to 1:58.39 - Vessey's first foray under the 2:00.00 mark! It gave her the fastest time in the world so far this year, and more importantly gave her the "A" standard for Berlin. Vessey only finished 4th at Nationals, however, 3rd place finisher Phoebe Wright has only met the "B" standard, so Vessey should get a spot in Berlin based on today's race. A good thing since she is clearly our best hope in Berln.

Vessey's race was just one of a number of highlights to what was a very outstanding meet. Among other highlights on the day:

• In the women's 400H Lashinda Demus demolished the field by nearly two seconds - including Olympic champ Melaine Walker - with a stunning 52.63! The #4 time in history, and only .02 off Kim Batten's AR. Olympic champ Walker was a far back 54.20. Demus has been consistently fast this year and just became a very strong favorite for gold in Berlin.

• The men's 400H produced the year's first clockings under 48 seconds as vet L.J. Van Zyl (RSA) won a close one over Bershawn Jackson (US) 47.94 to 47.98.

• Mehdi Baala (FRA) put himself in the medal picture for Berlin with a solid win 1500 meter victory in 3:30.96.

• Sally McClellan ran clear of a strong 100H field to run 12.50 for an Oceania record, backing up some other nice runs this year and putting herself in the medal picture. The time was the #2 time in the world this season.

• Abubaker Kaki (SUD) looked strong over 800 meters winning in 1:43.50. He held off the final straight charge of Borzakovsky (1:43.58) - which is bad news for the rest of the world given that Kaki is just returning from injury. In third place Nick Symmonds (US) set a personal best at 1:43.80. It's looking like Symmonds can be a finalist in Berlin and once there perhaps use his competitiveness to earn a place on or near the podium.

• Lashawn Merritt looked easy in the 400 in 44.73. It was an easy and almost effortless win.

• Shelly Ann Fraser parlayed her quick start into a 10.91 victory. Veronica Campbell Brown tried to hold on early but Fraser was smooth in holding off Brown and the charge of Debbie Ferguson McKenzie who improved her best to 10.97 in second. Fraser equaled her time from Rome and is putting herself in possibly add the World title to her Olympic win.

• Dayron Robles appeared to be over his previous bout with the flu as he flew past the field and won clearly in 13/06.

• Moses Kipsiro (UGA) added Uganda to the mix of potential distance medal winners in Berlin with his 7:30.95 victory.

• As expected the women's 1500 came down to Maryam Jamal (BRN) and Gelete Burka (ETH) over the final lap, but Jamal never let Burka go by as they rounded the final lap. Jamal maintained her position in front and eased away a bit around the final turn and down the straight to win in 3:58.83 over the 3:59. for Burka. Anna Willard finished just off her PR with a 4:01.68 in 4th.

While I've enjoyed watching the Tyson and Usain show, the season has seemed a bit down overall. Today it finally felt like a championship season. Only one more to go - Stockholm - before Worlds.

Full results of Monaco can be found here.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Road to Berlin - Next Stop Monaco

Olympics Day 12 - Athletics

Only two big meets left to the end of July and the two week break before the World Championships. Monaco will be the penultimate stop on the road to Worlds, and presents several interesting events.

The men's 100 will be without Usain Bolt or Tyson Gay for the first time in weeks. 200 man Wallace (US) is entered however, and will get to test his speed against Beijing finalists Churandy Martina (AHO) and Darvis Patton (US). A good move since Spearmon will need to get out well to have any shot at Bolt and Gay in the 200 in Berlin.

In the men's 400 this year's find, David Gillick (IRL) will get a chance to test himself against world leader Lashawn Merritt (US). His performance in Monaco will go a long way towards seeing if he can be a medalist in Berlin.

The men's 800 gives us another look at world leader Abubaker Kaki (SUD). He was injured weeks ago, but still has the top two times this year. If he has returned to form he will be as close to a lock as there is in this event come Worlds. He should get a good test from vet Yuriy Borzakovskiy (RUS)

In the women's 1500 we get a match up of the women that should go 1,2 in Berlin - Gelete Burka (ETH) and Maryam Yusuf. They are the top two on the clock and on the track. We should get a good race from them as gutsy Anna Willard (US) is sure to keep them honest.

Likewise, we get a head to head match up in the women's high jump between Ariane Friedrich (GER) and Blanca Vlasic (CRO). Friedrich has been Vlasic's only conqueror and being the competitor that she is Vlasic should be looking to turn the tables on Friedrich in Monaco. The winner of this meet could have a bit of a psychological edge heading into Berlin.

Monaco has solid fields all around and should give us a good look at several athletes with podium potential in Berlin. For start lists click here.

The meet will be streamed live on Universal Sports.

Doping Cloud Shows Weakness in the System

As Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay traded eye dropping races this weekend in London in preparation for their impending showdown in Berlin, the sport once again finds itself once again dealing with the news of multiple doping offenses coming out of the sprint community.

This time, the news comes not out of the United States - which has gotten more than one black eye this decade via doping scandals - but out of Jamaica, the home of multiple WR breaker Asafa Powell and the sports newest wunderkind double Olympic champion Usain Bolt.

The names of the athletes were reported via an Italian Newspaper this weekend: Yohan Blake, Marvin Anderson, Sheri-Ann Brooks, Allodin Fothergill and Lanceford Spence. While an unnamed Jamaican official appeared to be happy that "none of the world stars are involved" this is not the kind of news that one wants to hear on the eve of the World Championships and definitely not from a country with the recent history of Jamaica - meteoric rise of several athletes amid the lack of a doping agency in place until just this year.

Though they are not Asafa Powell or Usain Bolt several have been prominent within the sport. Both Anderson and Brooks were on Jamaican 4x1 squads in Beijing last year and Anderson was a finalist in the 200 in Osaka in '07. While Yohan Blake has been on a steady rate of improvement becoming the #3 Jamaican in history in the 100 behind only Bolt and Powell. So simply because they have yet to win global individual medals (being a "star") should not be reason to downplay the news.

Nor should the substance detected - Methylxanthine - be downplayed. Though, we have already seen Dr. Herb Elliott, a member of the IAAF's Medical and Anti-Doping Commission and JADCO, say that "nothing major" is involved in the recently confirmed tests. In truth while it is not listed on the World Anti- Doping Agency prohibited list, Methylxanthine falls within a category of stimulants banned by the agency, anti-doping experts said. As such it's use is in violation of anti doping laws.

Given the statements made by Elliott it will be interesting to see how JADCO and the JAAA deals with this situation. Especially given the stance of Jamaica, it's fans, and it's athletes regarding the drug busts of other countries, where they have publicly adopted a "no tolerance" policy - in spite of the fact they have been lax in putting their own Anti Doping agency in place and have refused to join the Regional Anti Doping Agency in lieu of having their own. Yet in the past when American and European athletes have received positive tests, a single test has been cause to label an athlete a "cheat", with no excuse being good enough for exoneration. Regardless of the purported knowledge of the athlete in question, he/she has been taken to task by Jamaicans as being responsible for what is in their body. And the discovery of a foreign substance "one" time out of tens and hundreds of tests has been met with a cry for life time bans. So it will be interesting to see if they hold their own to this same exacting standard.

Justin Gatlin was held to task for taking Attention Deficit Disorder medication prescribed by a physician and used since he was a preteen. And Torri Edwards was taken to task for ingesting a substance found in a drink she took on foreign soil. Both served bans imposed by the IAAF as a result, as in each case the substances involved were either on the banned list or within a category banned by WADA.

But more importantly, for those with short memories, the dominoes that came crashing down via BALCO started with a drug that was seemingly minor - Modafinil. And of all the lessons that we should have learned from BALCO, one that should be clear is that minor drugs are often used in concert with "major" drugs to achieve varied desired effects! Many of the BALCO athletes that were eventually found to have been using the designer drug THG, also used Modafinil, EPO, HGH and Insulin.

So, rather than settling on the substance as being "minor", a Red Flag should go up that we have FIVE different athletes using the same innocuous drug! So the search should immediately go forward for "what else" may be involved. Because from Ben Johnson, to BALCO we know that "drug cocktails" have been the methodology of the best of the drug cheats. And we learned from BALCO that minor drugs can often be the gateway by which we discover stronger, even undetectable, drugs.

Unfortunately this multiple bust also corroborates comments made last year by Victor Conte (BALCO Chemist) that the drug flow was going through the Caribbean and Jamaica and suggested that WADA and the IAAF send disguised testers into Jamaica to get a handle on the situation. Conte, however, has been seen as bitter by many in the track and field community because of his own incarceration over BALCO and his words were ignored.

And it is here that we see the flaws in a system that seemingly has opened the door for such behavior to exist. Because instead of ensuring that Anti Doping procedures were being followed, the IAAF allowed Jamaica - in an Olympic season - to go WITHOUT having JADCO in place or being a part of the Regional Caribbean Anti Doping Agency. A serious flaw in the system as the anti doping procedure was allowed to be usurped - not only by a member nation, but by the governing body of the sport itself!

There were no repercussions for either action - or lack of action. Instead we were told that they would send testers in to conduct tests (around the time of their Trials) . Not only a conflict of interest since the testing bodies are to be autonomous from the governing faction of the sport, but also condoning the lack of out of competition testing - the period leading up to the major portion of the season being the peak time of "loading" for those athletes that cheat. In addition, Jamaica has no validated testing facility so we have been left in the dark regarding the samples that were taken with no knowledge of samples tested, results, etc - a lack of transparency that exists in this sport when it comes to drug testing in general, another serious flaw in the system. So it will be interesting to see how the IAAF handles the situation now that we have positive tests coming out of a country that has basically been allowed to forgo administering tests up to this point.

Will Jamaica continue to be treated outside of the rule of the Anti Doping Code, or will we see the same actions taken by WADA and the IAAF that have been administered against other nations with athletes in similar circumstances - the imposition of bans. And with the knowledge that the last MAJOR drug scandal (BALCO) that haunted the sport started in a similar manner - a cadre of athletes testing positive for a seemingly innocuous drug - will we see JADCO, WADA, and the IAAF attempt to look deeper into this situation. Will we see them go back and examine previous tests, or possibly utilize other means to further evaluate the athletes in question? Will we see Non Analytical Positives being utilized again? Or will we see further inaction?

And depending on the final outcome of any investigations that are conducted, I am also curious to see how the coaches and associated athletes are treated in response to this matter. In the BALCO situation the coaches were held as liable for the activities of the athletes. The assumption, and subsequent finger pointing, was that if the athlete is doping that the coach knows and is complicit with the program. As a result the coaches of BALCO athletes have been cut off from the sport, and the training partners of some have been looked at with a jaundiced eye - that if doping is occurring within the camp then others are aware and probably doping too.

This is of particular concern as two of the athletes involved in this latest bust (Yohan Blake and Marvin Anderson) are members of the Racers Track Club - as high profile a training camp today as SprintCap, HSI, and Santa Monica Track Club in previous eras. So this has the potential to have the same kind of ramifications on Jamaican sprinting as BALCO did with US sprinting depending on the final disposition of the cases of the athletes involved. Any time drugs are found in your most high profile training camps the potential fallout looms large.

As such this is a very ugly cloud that has come over the sport - as it is any time that doping comes to the fore. We have yet to go more than a couple of seasons in a row this decade without having the integrity of the sprints, and more importantly the sport, called into question. It begs the question from me as to WHY the sport refuses to move away from Urinalysis as its primary method of drug testing and deterrent, to Blood Testing/Blood Passports - a methodology far more exact and capable of monitoring changes within the system even before the specific "substance" has been identified.

If track and field is to move forward and shake free of the shackles that "drugs" continues to belabor it with it is time to make this move! We can ill afford to continue to limp along with a new "scandal" every other season. The reputation of the sport can't continue to take these hits if we have any hope of moving forward and building the sport into the 21st Century. At the very least, the IAAF and WADA should mandate that all nations institute some form of "Project Believe" for their most elite athletes, as the US has done, so that there is NO question as to the cleanliness of the athletes and the legitimacy of their performances. Only by increasing and improving testing - not excusing lack of testing - will the sport improve an image constantly tarnished by positive test results.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Bolt and Gay Highlight London

We're heading towards the home stretch on our journey to Berlin and no one is blazing that stretch like Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt. London was the first time we've seen them on the track together this year - though it was in separate races.

Neither had any difficulty dispatching with their competition. In the 100, Bolt survived a shaky start to blast by the field in 9.91 (-1.7). Well ahead of second place Yohan Blake's (JAM) 10.11. Bolt was expected to get a competitive tune up here from compatriot Asafa Powell, but Powell was a well beaten 6th (10.26) and not looking like a man ready to challenge the Dynamic Duo of Bolt and Gay.

Gay was entered in the 200 here - amid stories of groin trouble and impending surgery at the end of the season. Gay looked healthy in London as he once again burned everyone on the turn before relaxing his way to a 20.00 (+0.4) ahead of Wallace Spearmon's 20.35. Gay eased in the stretch to protect his groin which has given him discomfort. Time will tell how well he will be able to manage his discomfort in Berlin, but clearly he at full strength is the only athlete capable of competing head to head with Bolt. So his presence in Berlin is needed.

Elsewhere on the track we got world leading efforts from Lashinda Demus (US) and Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH). Demus ran 53.65 to win the 400H by nearly a second over Olympic champion Melaine Walker's (JAM) 54.55. Dibaba, meanwhile, took over the world lead in the 5000 with her 14:33.65.

It was also nice to see US milers doing well in Europe. In the men's mile we got a rare 1,2,3 sweep with Bernard Lagat (3:52,71) leading Leonel Manzano (3:53.01) and Lopez Lamong (3:53.35). In the women's 1500 Anna Willard (4:07.95) and Shannon Rowbury (4:08.21) went 1,2. Hopefully we are seeing athletes that will be heading to Berlin sharp and ready for action. And ready to improve our fortunes in the middle distances.

But the clear stars of the meet were Gay and Bolt. Bolt finished off his weekend with an anchor on the 4x1. Running well clear of the field in spite of the disqualification of his team. Unless someone else steps up over the next few weeks, Berlin is shaping up as the Tyson and Usain, Usain and Tyson show!

Full meet results can be found here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

London On Tap For Friday/Saturday

London will be one of the final tune ups before the big party in Berlin. As such it will be one of the best attended venues by top athletes this season. So we'll get a peak at some of the athletes that should shape events in Berlin.

Among those in attendance we will get a look at:

• 4x1 relay squads from the US and Jamaica.

• Long jump leader Dwight Phillips (US) against Australian upstarts Fabrice Lapierre and Mitchell Watt.

• 400 hurdle leader Lashinda Demus (US) and Olympic champ Melaine Walker (JAM).

• 100 hurdle leader Lolo Jones fresh off her 12.47 effort.

• 200 leader Tyson Gay in his final 200 before Berlin.

• A deep 100 meters that includes: WR holder Usain Bolt (JAM), former WR holder Asafa Powell (JAM) and rising sprinters Daniel Bailey (ANT), Yohan Blake (JAM), Ivory Williams (US) and Simeon Williamson (GBR).

With the World Championships scheduled to begin on Aug 15, London, Monaco and Stockholm will be the final big competitions before the start of Worlds. So we should expect to see some stellar performances as athletes should be nearing their peak for Worlds!

List of athletes and events can be found here.

The meet will be broadcast online live on Universal Sports.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Berlin Match Ups - Women's 200

Olympics Day 13 - Athletics

In track and field the 100 is typically the showcase sprint at almost every meet. In Berlin, the women's 200 has the potential to upstage the 100 as two of the world's best sprinters happen to be competing in this event - Allyson Felix (US) and Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM). These two women have dominated this event in the big meets since the middle of the decade.

Veronica Campbell Brown has been Jamaica's most decorated sprinter this decade accounting for Ten medals in Olympic and World Championships competition! Two of those performances were gold medals in the 200 meters in both the '04 Olympics in Athens and last year's Games in Beijing - and both times rival Allyson Felix found herself in the silver medal position.

Allyson Felix has been rather prolific herself on the world stage herself however, with seven global medals of her own. And in the World Championships Felix has been able to turn the tables on Campbell Brown winning gold medals in the 200 in Helsinki '05 and Osaka '07 - with Campbell Brown taking fourth in Helsinki and silver in Osaka.

Their battles on the world stage have been something to behold. In Athens the 22 year old Brown showed young, 18 year old Felix how it was done with a sizzling bend that put Felix, and her powerful finish out of reach. The results were personal bests for both as Campbell Brown won 22.05 to 22.18 - Felix's mark good enough for a World Junior Record.

A year later in Helsinki, Felix turned the tables. Once again Campbell Brown got out well but Felix ran a superior stretch to win in 22.16 - becoming the first teen to win a World Championships sprint gold medal.

Two years later in Osaka, Campbell Brown went to the starting line in the 200 already the winner of the 100 meter title and was looking to complete the double. Felix, on the other hand, was looking to repeat as World Champion. Campbell Brown once again ran a blistering bend, but this time Felix was just off her shoulder and used her strength to run away from Campbell Brown and the rest of the field down the stretch. Winning going away in 21.81 to the 22.34 silver medal performance of Campbell Brown.

Back on the Olympic stage in Beijing last year however, Campbell Brown once again blazed the turn and put great separation between herself and the rest of the field. Separation that Felix was not able to overcome as Campbell Brown ran the stretch of her life to take gold in a splendid PR of 21.74 to the 21.93 of Felix in second. So, as we look towards Berlin, they stand 2-2 in Majors. Campbell Brown double Olympic champion, Felix double World champion. With Berlin sitting as the rubber match between the two.

Their match up is one of contrasting styles. One a sprinter with mad turnover. The other with the strength of a quarter miler, relaxed and relentless. Campbell Brown bursts from the blocks and blazes the turn so fast that she looks like she will run right out of her lane! Her frenetic stride burying the competition before she exits the turn. Heading down the straight she heads towards the finish line holding a lead that is rarely overcome.

Felix, on the other hand, runs the turn as if her goal is merely to maintain contact - seemingly measuring the energy of her competition. Then as she emerges onto the straight her stride lengthens as she goes into her form of overdrive getting stronger as her competition begins to lose steam. She doesn't look like she is running any faster, yet one by one she overtakes the field until the only thing left to pass is the finish line.

Thus we have the Tortoise v the Hare - Campbell Brown the blazing hare, Felix the steady Tortoise of sorts. The advantage would seemingly go to the blazing sprinter, who only has to hold on to the lead. Something she has shown the ability to do in two pressurized Olympic Games. But in two Worlds the powerful Felix has been able to stay close enough on the turn to power past in the stretch. So the question here is whether the glass is half empty or half full - can Campbell Brown separate enough on the turn, or can Felix stay close enough on the turn? This race should be decided in the middle 40 meters of the race - last 20 meters of the turn, first 20 meters of the straight.

Both women are rounding into form at the right time it appears. Campbell Brown just set her season's best in the 100 last week (10.97), Felix just this week (11.08). Neither has run the 200 since June when both won their respective National titles - Felix 22.02 (+3.2), Campbell Brown 22.40 (-1.1). Felix has continued to run the 400 up through 10 days ago. And it is that little tidbit that I think shifts the score in Felix's favor - as she's been able to maintain her strength while improving her speed and there is still time to get sharp. Whereas for Campbell Brown there is no time left to get stronger.

It's still a close call, Felix will have to stay close enough to use that power of hers. But I'm betting that this time history will repeat itself and Felix will stay close enough to Campbell Brown in the first half of the race to out run her in the second half. Felix will win this round and run her streak of victories at Worlds to three - giving her the most World Championships 200 titles of any sprinter in history and equaling Michael Johnson's three global titles.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Several World Leading Marks in Rethimno

Track and Field: USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships

Lead by Lolo Jones' (US) 12.47 win in the women's 100 meter hurdles, the Rethimno track proved to be quite fast today. Jones was injured earlier in the year at the Drake relays and wasn't able to return to form in time to be a factor at Nationals, but she was near her old form today winning in her season's best time.

Another who appeared back in form was Carmelita Jeter (US) who has looked less than her best since arriving in Europe following Nationals. She ran under 11 seconds for the first time since hitting Europe winning the women's 100 in 10.97 ahead of an 11.08 for Allyson Felix (US). Keeping with the tone of fast women, Debbie Ferguson McKenzie clocked a world leader in the 200 with her 22.32 victory.

The men were fast too, as Ivory Williams (US) won the 100 in a PR 9.93 stating his case for inclusion on the US 4x1 as only Tyson Gay has run faster among Americans this year. Also fast was Panamanian Alonso Edwards as he improved his yearly best to 20.00 as he just edged Jamaican Steve Mullings' 20.01 in the 200.

A blazing day at the track for a "small" meet. Full results here.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Paris Provides Another Peak at Berlin

Athletics Areva Meeting - Saint-Denis

With most athlete's starting to wind up their preparations for Berlin, the meets here during the last part of July will give us our last peak at some of the sports main players.

Right off the bat yesterday we got a look at Jeremy Wariner. He won the 400 but only in a time of 45.28 and not with the type of run that we have come to associate with him. We didn't get the blistering third 100 that has been his past trade mark. And he wasn't as dominant in the final 50 as we've come to expect. He had company coming off the final turn, was able to create some separation right afterwards, but lacked that killer punch in the final stages of the race.

There was talk that the winds in the stadium may have hampered his race, but it didn't seem to pose a problem for Sanya Richards who crushed the women's field with a blistering 49.34, just off her season leading mark of 49.24. Sanya used a very solid race pattern to defeat second place Novalene Williams (JAM, 50.38) by over a second. Sanya has dominated her event this summer, and will enter Berlin a heavy favorite at this rate. Only her own nerves can keep her from gold at this point, which unfortunately they have done in the past.

Another heavy favorite for Berlin will be Kenenisa Bekele (ETH), yesterday's winner in the 3000 meters. Bekele's 7:28.64 victory looked fluid and easy as his closest competition came from Bernard Lagat, who in spite of running a PR 7:33.13 was no match for Bekele over the second half of the race. Lagat's run showed that he is in excellent shape and will be a factor in Berlin. It also showed that Bekele will be a favorite at whatever distance he runs.

Another who looks to be emerging as a favorite for Berlin is new vault find Renaud Lavillenie (FRA). His winning mark of 5.70m was not as impressive as the way he handled the competition. He won easily over second place Daniel Dovessi (FRA) 5.60, and his clearances were clear and easy.

Then there was the performances in the men's 100 meters contested in the rain as it began to rain late in the meet. The event was won by Usain Bolt in 9.79 giving him the #2 time in the world. But behind Bolt were PR performances by second and third place sprinters Daniel Bailey (ANT) 9.91 and Yohan Blake (JAM) 9.93. Outstanding sprinting for all three. Bolt's run answered the call of Gay's 9.77 in Rome. And with each race by these two it's clear that the men's sprints in Berlin will be a two man show. In spite of the personal bests by Bailey and Blake, Bolt, with an average start at best, simply blew by them mid race and won going away - in much the same fashion that Gay blew by Asafa Powell in Rome. With Bolt now at 9.79/19.59 and Gay at 9.77/19.58 Berlin could see the greatest sprint showdown in history!

For full results of Paris click here.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Berlin Match Ups - Men's 400

IAAF World Athletics Final 2008 Day 1

One of the things that makes track and field exciting is great head to head competition. Nowhere are the head to head battles any bigger than at the World Championships and Berlin will have its fair share. With four weeks to go before the Opening ceremony, I will be taking a look at several of these match ups, starting with the men's 400 and Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt.

Wariner owned the 400 in the middle of this decade winning the Olympics in 2004 and the World Championships in '05 & '07. Wariner rarely lost, and then only in meets that were off the radar and really didn't matter - about once a year. But something happened on his way to a defense of his Olympic title last year - a worthy opponent stepped up his game, Lashawn Merritt.

Merritt emerged as a freshman at East Carolina University during the 2005 indoor season - right after Wariner won Olympic gold. A triple threat sprinter in high school (10.47/20.72/45.25), Merritt's 44.93 indoor 400 made him #2 all time behind Michael Johnson and got him a professional contract before he ever ran an outdoor race in college. Merritt had to work his way to the top of the professional ranks however - placing 4th at nationals in his initial try and just missing a spot in the 400 at Helsinki. Even though he finished in the 4th position he was also overlooked for a spot in the 4x4 final, running only in the opening heats. 2006 saw him improve to 44.14 however, and 2007 found him taking silver to Wariner in Osaka. Merritt's perseverance finally paid off last year as he dominated the world, and Wariner, capping the season with his gold medal performance in Beijing.

Finally turning the tables last year, Merritt has been a man of confidence this year. Running well enough to be the #5 performer in the world in the 200, and beating everyone in his path in the 400. Back in Texas, Wariner has competed sparingly, and mid season announced that he was going back to the coach that guided him to all of his gold medals - the same coach that he left early last year amid contract squabbles - Clyde Hart.

Since announcing his return to coach Hart at US Nationals, Wariner has been M.I.A., apparently getting back to basics with his old coach in an attempt to regain his throne - a throne that Merritt clearly has no intent on giving up without a fight! They have yet to meet head to head this year so Berlin will be their "OK Corral"!

So the question on the table is simple: will Merritt follow up his Olympic gold with World gold or will Wariner get back on the winning track?

Wariner became dominant by running with uncanny precision - almost like a human metronome. A first 200 in the 21.0/21.2 range, was followed by a third 100 that crushed the competition. The final 100 was a matter of holding form and holding off any challengers. Something he did with ease from '04 to '07. Then last year Merritt learned how to control his speed to cruise the same first 200 and added new found strength to stay with Wariner in that third 100 - something no one else had been able to do during his reign on top! The final 100 found both men going toe to toe to the line in every race except the Olympic final - where Wariner uncharacteristically seemed to have nothing left. The Olympic final aside they were near mirror images of each other all season - with most of their races being decided by a few hundredths of a second.

This year Merritt seems better than ever. Though he has yet to run under 44.50, he consistently cruises 44.5's as if he is out on training runs. Wariner on the other hand hasn't been seen since June, and his earlier runs while efficient, have lacked his flow of previous seasons. With Wariner being "quiet" during the European season there is an air of mystery to their impending showdown in Berlin. What's he been working on? Will he have a new "twist" to his race / race pattern in Berlin? His coach, Clyde Hart, is the man that crafted WR holder Michael Johnson's stellar career after all - and until their split last year, Hart had Wariner on the same path. But Hart and Johnson never had to face a challenge the likes of Merritt - a real sprinter running the 400 - because Johnson was always the real sprinter in the race! And it was his ability to run with controlled speed that made him superior to his opponents.

So while Wariner has become the master of the 400 from a rhythm standpoint (The Human Metronome), it is Merritt that has the better foot speed. Speed that he has combined with improved strength to craft a race that is more like that of Michael Johnson - Wariner's manager and mentor! Thus we are now presented with the compelling picture of Wariner competing against the image of his mentor!

Looking at the race in this manner - the precision like execution of Wariner versus the speed and strength of Merritt - I'm going to go with the man most like the current WR holder, Lashawn Merritt, as this year's World Champion. The 400 after all is a sprint - and speed kills! Unfortunately not enough sprinters take to this race - but when they do it's awesome. Quincy Watts did, dominated, won Olympic gold, and ran 43.50 before injuries ended his career. Michael Johnson did, dominated, won double Olympic gold, quadruple World gold, and set a WR of 43.18 along the way.

Merritt started his run of gold last year in Beijing by using the same kind of blistering third 100 that made Watts and Johnson so lethal. The same spot in the race that Wariner used to craft his own period of dominance. But while Wariner has held "pace" in putting distance between himself and the opposition, the "sprinters" hit the gas and leave the opposition wondering what happened. It is that "wonder" that I saw in Wariner in Beijing, as it happened before he was able to respond. My crystal ball says that we will see that same acceleration in the third 100 from Merritt in Berlin once again, and that while Wariner will respond, it won't be fast enough. Merritt leads off the turn and past the finish line, and he will once again have gold placed around his neck - as we are witnessing the year of validation for the next dominant force in the event.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Stuttgart 1993 - My Favorite World Championship

Javier Sotomayor of Cuba clearing the bar during the High Jump event
With this year's World Championship only one month away, I thought it was time to start focusing on it. And my first thought was to round up my top ten moments from Worlds Championships past. But as I began to do so something strange started happening, the name of Stuttgart became VERY prominent! As a sprint fan Tokyo '91 and the men's 100 immediately came to mind as did Rome '87 and Osaka '07. But then suddenly four Stuttgart performances in a row appeared on my screen and I began to realize that I was actually getting ready to pay homage to one meet instead of several.
So that is what I am going to do, pay homage to the World Championship that is so etched in my mind - the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany! Why was Stuttgart special? Because it had EVERYTHING! There were World Records and near World Records. There was tremendous competition with the photo being needed to decide several events - and it was tremendous on both the men's side and the women's side. Among the athletes competing in Stuttgart were some of the sports all time greats. And then there were the relays!
So without further ado let me review some of the highlights from the World Championship I consider the best one ever.
For sprint fans, this was one meet that did not disappoint - and not just one event, but across the board!
Men's 100 - There was the "showdown" between Linford Christie and Carl Lewis. The one that had been talked about for almost a year after Carl didn't make the US team for Barcelona, and Christie won the Olympic title. The drama was further enhanced when Andre Cason won the National title in a windy 9.85, over Mitchell (9.85) and Lewis (9.90)! Linford proved that he was indeed The Man with a 9.87 victory over Cason (9.92), Mitchell (9.99) and defending champ Lewis (10.02). Christie’s mark at the time was only .01 off of the WR!
Women's 100 - Not to be outdone the women created their own buzz with a fast, close, and deep race as Gail Devers repeated her Olympic win with another nail biter - a 10.82 win over Merlene Ottey (also 10.82) that needed a careful read of the photo to sort out. Gwen Torrence (10.89) and Irina Privalova (10.96) made this another deep race and solidified a rivalry among this group of women that lasted well into the decade.
Men's 200 - Carl Lewis and Mike Marsh had been talking about taking a shot at the then WR of 19.72. Marsh had come oh so close in Barcelona with an eased up 19.73 in his semi. Both Lewis and Marsh felt they had the goods to take Pietro Mennea off the books. Through the rounds Frank Fredericks and John Regis showed that they would have to be taken seriously and in the final both ran strongly down the stretch to show just how seriously as Fredericks won in a then African Record 19.85. Regis (19.94) and Lewis (19.99) made this the first race with 3 men under 20.00! A feat not reproduced until the WR race in Atlanta 3 years later.
Women's 200 - Again, not to be outdone, the women had another stirring battle, this time with Ottey (21.98) very narrowly claiming victory over Torrence (22.00). Privalova (22.13) and Marie Jose Perec (22.20) were close on their heels in a race that would produce medal winners even today.
Men's 400 - This race brought together the three fastest men in history at that point! Then WR holder Butch Reynolds (43.29), Olympic gold medalist Quincy Watts (43.50), and National Champion Michael Johnson (43.75) who was beginning to assert himself in this event. The race was exciting and fast, as Johnson set a new PR in winning in 43.65 over Reynolds' 44.13. Watt's actually had a shoe come apart on the final turn yet finished in 45.05 with one good shoe!
The hurdle races were also of the highest quality. So much so that they produced two World Records, a national record and solidified a WR holder as one of the best all time!
Men's 110 hurdles - The men's short hurdles had some of the best technicians the event has ever seen in Colin Jackson and Jack Pierce, as well as one of its fastest sprinters in Tony Dees. With the three semi final races going in quick times to Jackson (13.13), Pierce (13.11) and Tony Jarrett (13.14) the final looked to be fast. Fast was an understatement as Colin Jackson won in the WR time of 12.91 - a mark that lasted until Xiang Liu set a new standard in 2006! Silver and Bronze went to Jarrett (13.00) and Pierce (13.06) in times that would win most major races!
Women's 100 hurdles - Having missed out on completing the sprint/hurdle double at the Olympics, Gail Devers did the trick here in fine fashion with her winning time of 12.46 setting a new American Record and making her the fastest combination sprinter/hurdler in history.
Men's 400 hurdles - This race featured the man that took the event under the 47 second barrier - Kevin Young. Young had shattered Edwin Moses venerable WR the year before with a Beamonesque 46.76. He entered here as a strong favorite having run consistently in the 47 second range all year. He didn't disappoint, winning in 47.18 - his second fastest time ever and the 7th fastest all time to that point. Behind him, three others ran under 48.00, Samuel Matete (47.60), Winthrop Graham (47.62), and Stephane Diagana (47.64), for one of the deepest races the event has ever seen. Note that 7th place finisher Derrick Adkins would later become Olympic Champion himself!
Women's 400 hurdles - While the men's version of this race had the WR holder in it, the women's version would end up setting a new WR! Rivals Sally Gunnell and Sandra Farmer Patrick ran each other to the line with only .05 separating them as Gunnell set a new WR (52.74) and Farmer Patrick an American Record (52.79). Sixteen years later these women are STILL #5 and #7 on the all time list!
And then, there were the relays!
Men's 4x1 - How fast was the 4x1? Well the US squad ran 38.12 - to win their opening round! After that "warm up" they set sail in the semi and equaled the WR of 37.40 (a mark that was just broken last year)! They were followed by Canada (37.99) and Great Britain (38.05) with marks that would win most Majors - and we're still in the semi finals! The US squad scared the record yet again in the final with a sizzling 37.48 - the #3 time ever! Great Britain finished second in 37.77 with Canada third at 37.83 - only the final in Osaka has had more teams under the magical 38.00 barrier!
Women's 4x1 - The women's race featured one of the finest sets of female sprinters the sport has seen at one time. As a result, the US, Russia, and Jamaica had plenty of talent to put out on the track, and these women came through in tremendous fashion. The speed of the US team and the superb passing of the Russian team found Privalova and Devers getting the stick virtually even. And as if they were battling in a 100 meter sprint, they ran stride for stride down the stretch in a finish that found Devers once again in this meet waiting for the outcome of a photo to find out her fate. The result was a virtual dead heat with both teams setting National Records of 41.49! Russia got the nod for the gold, but both teams were granted the Championship Record. The time is still the #3 time in history.
Men's 4x4 - Question: What do you get when you take the three fastest quarter milers in history and throw in a solid leadoff? Answer: You get the Stuttgart team for the US and a blazing WR of 2:54.29! A sensational lead off leg of 44.43 was run by Andrew Valmon, and was followed up by a blazing 43.59 by Quincy Watts. From that point on the race for gold was over and the race was now against the clock. A 43.36 by Butch Reynolds and it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the record was going to be broken as long as Johnson could put in something under 44sec. He did that, and then some, with the fastest leg in history - 42.91 and the squad took nearly 1.5 seconds off the WR with their 2:54.29 - dismantling the previous WR that had been set the year before at the Barcelona Olympics. Only another WR effort of 2:54.20 in 1998 is faster.
Women's 4x4 - The women's race was intriguing because both the US and Russia were going to use sprinters in their efforts. Gwen Torrence and Irinia Privalova had already run and gained medals in both sprints and were integral parts of the National Record setting 4x1 squads. And both came through once again in this event. Torrence lead off the US team in 49.03 - obliterating the Russian leadoff (50.85). From that point forward it was the US Against the clock as Maicel Malone (49.44), Natasha Kaiser Brown (49.51) and Jearl Miles Clark (48.73) ran their way to the #4 time in history - 3:16.71! The Russians gave valiant chase, but legs of 49.31 (Alekseyeva), 49.81 (Ponomaryova) and a sizzling 48.41 anchor by Privalova were not enough. Yet their 3:18.38 still stands as the #8 time in history!
Now these were the highlights - the best of the best. There were even more outstanding performances in this meet! We were also treated to a distance double by Haile Gebrselassie - 27:46.02 for gold and 13:03.17 for silver - and a 1500 win (3:34.24) by former WR holder Noureddine Mourceli, two of the all time greats in their events.
In the field events, winners Javier Sotomayor (HJ, 2.40), Sergey Bubka (PV, 6.00), Mike Powell (LJ, 8.59), Mike Conley (TJ, 17.86), Werner Gunthor (SP, 21.97), and Dan O'Brien (Dec, 8817) all had sterling marks. While on the women's side Jackie Joyner Kersee had an outstanding 6837 pts in the Heptathlon and Anna Biryukova set a WR of 15.09m in the Triple Jump.
All told there were an amazing FIVE WR's set in this competition! As well as numerous marks that were among the top ten all time in various events. The high level of competition as well as the tremendous marks that were set makes this the most outstanding of all the World Championships held to date. Ten years after its inception this meet was hitting on all cylinders! And sixteen years later, I hope that Berlin can come close to the excitement and grandeur that was Stuttgart. With competitors like Yelena Isinbayeva, Tyson Gay, Usain Bolt, Tirunesh Dibaba, Dayron Robles, Lashawn Merritt, Maryam Jamal, Kenenisa Bekele, Dawn Harper, Dwight Phillips and others scheduled to compete, it is possible that Berlin could very well reach this lofty level.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How to Win the 4x1 in Berlin

11th IAAF World Athletics Championships: Day Seven

The one thing that World Championships and Olympic Games have that is missing from most other meets is the relays - the 4x1 and the 4x4. These events are quite possibly the most exciting on any track docket when they are contested, as they are fast, involve several athletes, and have a lot of action and movement among the teams.
With only a few weeks left until the start of the World Championships in Berlin, most countries will be looking to solidify their squads for Worlds. Putting together teams for the 4x4 is pretty straight forward - put your four best quarter milers on the track and let them have at it. But the 4x1 is more of a chess match. The handoffs are done blindly and require a great sense of timing to execute properly. And while three legs of the 4x4 are identical (leadoff requiring blocks and utilizing a stagger) each of the four legs of the 4x1 are pretty unique. Which means that placement of personnel becomes a little trickier.
We head to Berlin in the aftermath of relay disaster in Beijing. A botched baton handoff put us out of the competition before we could get down the finish straight. To add insult to injury, we lost the world record in the process as Jamaica set a new standard - the first time since 1991 that we have not held the global record!

As such, Berlin presents 3 goals for the US men's squad this year.

1. Get the stick from the starting blocks to the finish line.
2. Defeat rival Jamaica and bring home the gold.
3. Set a new world record in the process.

So in anticipation of the excitement of the 4x1 in Berlin, I'm going to look at the needs of the relay and the squad that I think should take to the track for Team USA. So here is my "Theory on Relay Construction".
I'll start by saying that there are two things that I DON'T feel you have to have A) Stars, B) pure 100 meter sprinters. Don't get me wrong, if you have a star or two that you can put on the team it certainly enhances your chances. But if you don't, getting athletes that can work together towards a common goal is every bit as important - even stars only work within the construct of the system. As for pure 100 meter sprinters, I much prefer sprinters with 200 meter skills than "pure" sprinters. The relay involves running a bit further than 100 meters and having sprinters that can continue to run through the zones without fading is critical to keeping the stick moving at full speed around the track - not to mention completing the passes. So while our general tendency has been to "put the first 4 across the line in the 100 meters" on the 4x1, I also look at 200 meter sprinters for potential relay talent because they have the speed and the strength to move the baton through the zone, and they often possess needed turn running skills.
Having said that what I look for is:
1st leg – The leadoff leg requires someone explosive. If it is out of the blocks great, but more than that someone with great "pick up", and a good solid turn. You'd be surprised how many 200 meter sprinters fit this leg to a "T"! Larry Black and Mike Marsh were classic lead offs, but one name epitomizes the lead off leg - Jon Drummond!
2nd leg - Someone with great hands, as this person must receive AND pass the stick! This sprinter should also be a great "stretch runner". There is no "drive" phase to work through, so he must be able to "lift" and create speed. This person should also have great speed endurance, since they must be able to push that 3rd man all the way through the zone if necessary. When I visualize the second leg I think Leroy Burrell, Steve Riddick and Bernard Williams!
3rd leg - This leg also requires great hands, as this person also has to take AND pass the stick! But this sprinter also needs to be a great turn runner. He (or she) must be able to accelerate well around a turn and drive into the straight (usually a very good 200 runner)! Classic 3rds were Calvin Smith, John Regis, Chandra Cheeseborough and Dennis Mitchell - and collegiately Mike Conley and Michael Johnson were horses here. No coincidence that all were great 200 meter sprinters!
Anchor - This leg requires great closing speed. It is the 3rd legs job to make sure that the stick gets to the anchor. Now you want someone that can close it out! You must be able to hold on if you're ahead, and run someone down if you're behind - and speed endurance a must! When I visualize the anchor position I think Steve Williams, Carl Lewis, Evelyn Ashford, JJ Johnson, Christine Arron! Again sprinters with solid 200 meter credentials!
Heading into US Nationals, it looked like the difficulty in putting together a 4x1 would be trying to decide who would be left off the squad. But after Walter Dix and Rodney Martin went down to injury the relay pool got a bit smaller very quickly. Still, I think there is enough to put together a winning squad, which brings me to my suggestions for Berlin.
1st leg - Shawn Crawford - Crawford is a wily vet and one of the world's best turn runners. He will be in medal contention in Berlin in the 200 solely because of his skills on the turn. Shawn also has experience running the 4x1 in international settings, is adept at handling pressure, and has a proven history of rising to the occasion in big meets. Anyone that doubts that should go back and take a look at his 19.73w win at Nationals.
2nd leg - Wallace Spearmon - This is where the loss of Dix will be felt as he would have been the choice for me here as he looked ready to have a career season this spring. Without Dix I'm torn between Rae Edwards and Wallace Spearmon - Edwards more of a pure sprinter but a strong finisher vs Spearmon more of a long sprinter but with great pick up. I go with Spearmon primarily on the strength of his experience. He's teamed with Tyson Gay as a 2/3 combination in winning the '06 World Cup in 37.59 and the '07 World Championship in 37.78 - defeating a Jamaican squad featuring Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. He's been running on relays with Tyson Gay (see 3rd leg) for several years and they have a synergy that money can't buy. He's fast (9.96, 19.65), experienced and doesn't rattle. So he gets the edge over Edwards. It's close enough, however, that should Spearmon's speed seem in question approaching Worlds I would not hesitate to substitute Edwards here.
3rd leg - Tyson Gay – Gay and Bolt are the hottest sprinters on the planet heading into this meet. His season has already been well documented. But as if the times weren't enough to put him on this squad, over the years he has been redefining how the turn is run! His 200 meter races find him running past the opposition on the turn as if they are in another zip code. And his 3rd legs in previous competitions have found him doing the same. If there is a point in this race that is almost guaranteed to blow things open, it would be here with Tyson Gay.
Anchor - Darvis (Doc) Patton - Patton is a solid, veteran sprinter. He runs a solid race, and finishing is his forte - and closing speed will be critical here. Patton is strong enough to hold off the finishing rush of all but Tyson Gay or Usain Bolt - and I don't expect that he will be racing either one here. Similarly he has the potential to make up ground on all but Gay or Bolt. So, for me, he fits what you want from your anchor. The key being to WIN the event before you get to this leg!
Well, that's my theory and my squad, and I'm sticking to it. We'll see how things turn out in Berlin, and how not only the US but the other contenders construct their teams. This is one race that you won't want to miss. It could be the rubber match in a three event series between Gay and Bolt if they end up with a split in the individual events.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Gay Answers Bolt's Call as Sprints Highlight Rome

IAAF Golden League

Tyson Gay and Kerron Stewart made strong cases for why they could both be atop the podium as the Road to Berlin passed through Rome today.

Gay blazed a world leading 9.77 in just his second 100 of the season as he handily defeated former world record holder Asafa Powell and a very strong field. Gay used a decent start and tremendous mid race surge to run by Powell and the rest of the field on his way to victory.

Kerron Stewart (JAM) used a similar surge midrace to overtake the blitz start of countrywoman and Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser. With her win she replace Fraser as world leader and solidified her early season performances as she lead the world for the majority of the spring. In other Rome action:

Women's 1500 - defending champ Maryam Jamal (BRN)cranked out a stunning 3:56.55! Crushed the field with a grinding last lap. 3:59.98 for Christin Wurth Thomas as she takes second place! Continuing her improvement and showing that she is not afraid to get in there and run.

Men's 5000 - Bekele easy in 12:56.24 for the world lead. Top 6 under 13 minutes. Makes sub 13 look like a walk in the park.

Women's 100 hurdles - Olympic champ Dawn Harper in 12.55. Very strong second half of the race took her to a clear victory with little pressure.

Men's 110 hurdles - Robles in 13.17 after a somewhat slow start. Easy win after Dexter Faulk false started on the firs go round.

Women's 400 - Sanya Richards, 49.47 once again dominated the field which this time included defending World 200 champion Allyson Felix (US).

Men's Long Jump - Dwight Phillips (US) buried the field early with a big 8.61m (28' 3") jump.

Full results can be found here.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Next Stop - Rome

With the season hitting high gear on the way to the World Championships next month, Rome sits in the position of coming off an exciting Lausanne meet. With the weather playing a factor for many in Switzerland, I had to take a look at the weather report for Rome tomorrow.

The forecast: Partly cloudy skies. High 83F, humidity 40%. Winds SW at 10 to 15 mph. 5% chance of precipitation.

Translation - it should be a good day for competition.

Start lists are up and it looks like there will be lots of stars stopping in Rome. We got to see Usain Bolt do his thing in Lausanne on Tuesday, tomorrow we get to see Tyson Gay as they head for what appears to be a Clash of the Titans battle in Berlin. Gay will be running the 100 meters for the second time this season where he'll be facing Olympic finalists Asafa Powell (JAM), Churandy Martina (AHO), Michael Frater (JAM), and Richard Thomas (TRI). Powell showed a glimpse of his previous form in Lausanne with a convincing win, he will be severely tested by Gay who in only two races this season has run 19.58 and 9.75w.

While lacking in star quality, the 400 will have Ireland's David Gillick who just ran himself into possible medal contention in Berlin with a 44.77 in Madrid this past weekend. It was a huge PR for Gillick and tomorrow we'll see if that was his step up to the next level.

In the 1500 we get another look at Augustine Choge (KEN) who is starting to look like "The Man" this year in the metric mile. While defending World 5000 champion Bernard Lagat (US) gets to test himself against World Record holder Kenenisa Bekele, my favorite right now for the title in Berlin.

With the weather being a bit more cooperative, we could get a huge long jump showdown with Fabrice Lapierre (AUS) the Madrid winner, Godfrey Mokoena (RSA) recent setter of the African Record, world leader Dwight Phillips (US), and defending World champion Irving Saladino (PAN) all in attendance.

On the women's side we get a huge match up in the 100 meters with recently rejuvenated Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser (JAM) going up against the season's two hottest sprinters in the spring Kerron Stewart (JAM) and Carmelita Jeter (US). Jeter was undefeated this year until her loss to Fraser in Lausanne and will be looking to reverse things in Rome.

We'll also get a rare showdown in the 400 between world leader Sanya Richards (US) and defending World 200 champion Allyson Felix (US). Richards has been hot since US Nationals taking the world lead down to 49.23. Felix doesn't contest this event often, but is tough when she does and has been known to beat Richards.

The women's 100 hurdles will give Sally McClellan (AUS) the surprise winner in Lausanne a chance to show that she is indeed a contender for the podium in Berlin, as she gets another shot at Dawn Harper (US), Brigitte Foster Hylton (JAM) and Priscilla Lopes Schliep (CAN).

Rome should turn the heat up yet another notch as we head towards the final 30 days before the World Championships. For full meet line up click here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gay v Bolt - Williams v Quarrie Revived

2008 Reebok Grand Prix - Mens 100m

In the mid 70's the hottest matchup in the sprints was that of American Steve Williams vs Jamaican Don Quarrie. Two of my favorite sprinters of all time, they dominated the clock, the rankings, and the competition. They were the dominant sprinters on the planet between 1973 and 1976 in both the 100 and 200. They raced each other often, and had some legendary duals - none more so than their dual setting of the 200 meter record (19.8) at Eugene in 1975 - a true classic.
Williams was tall and lean with a graceful stride at top speed that ate up ground in huge chunks. Quarrie was shorter, with classic knee lift, and tremendous turnover - their contrasting styles delivering an asymmetrical beauty to their matchups.
Some 30 years later this classic matchup has been revived in the form of American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Usain Bolt. The matchup is not totally new, as they have faced each other often over 200 meters the past several years. But last year Bolt added the 100 meters to his repertoire, became double Olympic champion, and set world records in both events - becoming a multiple threat along with Gay who was double World champion in Osaka but was injured prior to Beijing.
They have yet to meet this year but each has had races that show that a showdown is looming. None more so than Tyson's 19.58 200 in New York on May 30, and Bolt's 19.59 200 just yesterday in Lausanne - the first time two races of such magnitude have been run in the same season. I've watched both races multiple times now and am struck by the ghosts of Williams and Quarrie. Although here in the New Millennium the styles are reversed with the Jamaican being the long striding sprinter this time around and the American the knee lifting, turnover machine. But they bear more than just a technical resemblance to their '70's counterparts because, like Quarrie and Williams before them, Gay and Bolt truly seem to love the competition.
Whereas the top sprinters of the middle of this decade seemed more intent on how much they could earn by meeting each other, these two warriors are a throwback to a more fun time in the sport. A time when athletes got along off the track, but fought like warriors on it! Quarrie and Williams could often be seen laughing and smiling at the end of a meet though they had pushed each other to the limit earlier. And it has been refreshing to see Tyson and Usain sincerely congratulating each other after races and giving props to each other in post race interviews. And you can see in their runs this year that they are both aiming for the other and that both are ready for the challenge!
The sprints have longed for the return of Williams and Quarrie, as the two key elements that fuel the sport are nationalistic pride and mano a mano competition. And it has been a long time since we've had that in the sport - especially from two men this great in two different disciplines. It couldn't have come at a better time as sprint fans have been waiting for this type of matchup for years.
New York and Lausanne were glimpses at the future - a future that will come alive in Berlin. That is the beauty of having warriors that love competition, because you know that when they take to the track the possibility of something magical happening is as close as the sound of the starting gun. I've waited 30 years to see Williams v Quarrie revived and I have no doubt that the sprints in Berlin will be just as exciting as that 1975 race in Eugene! This is going to be a great World Championships.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Jamaica's Day at Lausanne whets appetite for Bolt v Gay

Golden Spike IAAF World Athletics Tour - Ostrava

Lausanne is always one of the top spots on the European Circuit, and in spite of cool, rainy weather today was no exception. Though the weather put a damper on many events, two things were clear today - it was Jamaica's day to shine, and the match up that the world is now waiting for is Usain Bolt v Tyson Gay.

First Jamaica Day. Several of Jamaica's top sprinters have taken their share of lumps from American sprinters this year. Today revenge was served on a wet, cool platter. Starting with Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser in the women's 100. Fraser had already tasted defeat to Carmelilta Jeter (US) at the Pre meet this year - and was soundly beaten. Today Fraser blitzed from the blocks, a la Beijing, and in spite of a strong late race surge from Jeter, bested her rival 11.03 to 11.06.

Then it was Asafa Powell's turn. Like Fraser, Powell had been beaten twice this year by Mike Rodgers (US) this year's break through sprinter. Powell, like Fraser, blitzed the start, and ran free and clear of the field winning in a romp in 10.07. Compatriot Steve Mullings was 2nd in 10.29 with Rodgers a far back third in 10.30.

The onslaught continued with 400 hurdler Isa Phillips besting Defending World champion Kerron Clement in the stretch for an easy 48.18 to 48.51 win. With the meet ending with Kerron Stewart (JAM) running away from the women's 200 meter field in a strong negative wind to win going away in 20.72.

Now, I know that many of the US athletes just arrived in Europe and haven't gotten rid of their jet lag just yet, but those were some serious beat downs, and not the way you want to look with the World Championships just around the corner!

But the biggest win came prior to the end of the meet when Usain Bolt set sail in the 200 meters. Bolt has been running well all season, but not quite in the form that we saw him in last year. Then Tyson Gay made his seasonal sprint debut in May in the 200 meters and since then Bolt has seemed a bit more focused. How focused? Well at Jamaica champs he ran 9.86 to take the world lead and had stated prior to Lausanne that he was looking for a fast time on the friendly Lausanne track - wide turns and a bit of altitude.

In spite of rain falling and a slight negative wind, Bolt did just that, as at the gun Bolt took off as if he was running 100 meters! He made up the stagger on US 200 champion Shawn Crawford, and ran through the line a la Beijing. The result - 19.59, just behind Tyson Gay's world leading 19.58. The first time in history that two men have had 19.5 clockings! This of course has sent message boards crazy! With calls of Bolt being alien; ready for 19.1; and Tyson Gay having no chance against the Olympic champion - in short the type of talk that precludes a showdown that the sport sorely needs!

While each time one runs, his fans see invincibility, I see two exciting races shaping up Berlin. Bolt's 19.59 today in the cool and rain was certainly one of the most impressive runs I've seen. But before the hype gets too carried away, Bolt has been sprinting over 100 and 200 since Mar 14 when he ran a windy 9.93 so is obviously race sharp. Lausanne is also the most friendly 200 meter track in the world yielding times of 19.63 in '08, 19.78 in '07, and 19.63 in '06. In contrast the New York track has yielded clockings of 20.08 in '08, 19.82 in '07, and 20.09 in '06 - not as friendly turns and run much earlier in the season so athletes are not as sharp. Add the fact that this was Tyson's first sprint race of the season and done coming off base work running the 400 - his 45.57 coming three weeks prior - and what we have is another highly impressive race!

Calling either race superior at this point is a matter of conjecture as times are always "conditional" in my book, but suffice it to say that we have two supreme athletes that are headed for what could be the greatest showdown in the history of the sport!

We get our third look at Tyson Gay this year on Friday when he runs the 100 in Rome. Bolt, I know, is confirmed to run in London on the 24th. There is no match race scheduled between these two before Berlin on Aug 15, so their individual runs the next few weeks will be watched with much anticipation.

Never have we had the prospect of an Olympic champion and World champion meeting in these circumstances - both being double champions and both young and fit and in what appears to be their prime! Berlin could give us a double treat. In the meantime, as long as we get this type of performance from them both along the way, this is going to be one entertaining summer.

For full results of the Lausanne meet click here.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Big Week Ahead - First Up, Lausanne

USA Track and Field National Championships Day 4

With the World Championships just a little over a month away, the competitions are beginning to heat up. Many of the sports top athletes have competed sparingly up to this point, but this week we start to get some races and match ups that will bring some focus on the Berlin medal hunt.

Lausanne will get that going in a big way tomorrow, as several high profile athletes take to the track AND the field. Some events to keep your eyes on!

Men's 100 - US champion Michael Rodgers will have his third meeting of the year with Jamaican champs runner up Asafa Powell. A critical meeting for both as Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt appear headed for a showdown over the gold medal, this could be a bronze medal preview. Rodgers has beaten Powell in both previous meetings, and Powell barely eaked out a win in Oslo over Daniel Bailey (ANT) and Michael Frater (JAM) - Frater will be in Lausanne.

Men's 200 - This could be the highlight event of the meet - taking the spotlight from the 100. The key match up will be US champion and '04 Olympic champion Shawn Crawford v Jamaican champion and '08 Olympic champion Usain Bolt. Crawford ran a swift, but wind aided 19.73 in winning the US title. Bolt a wind hampered 20.25 in his first 200 of the season - though he blazed a 9.86 in the 100. To spice things up the event will have Olympic 400 champion Lashawn Merritt who is third on the yearly 200 list at 20.07. Also in the race will be Churandy Martina (AHO) dq'd for a lane violation in Beijing after finishing second. Crawford will be looking to show he can compete with Bolt. Bolt will want to get close to Tyson Gay's world leading 19.58. This should be a scintillating race. Lausanne has some of the gentlest turns in the world, making sub 20's common there in the last few years. Both Bolt and Crawford tend to run blistering bends - so keep your eye on the turn!

Men's 110 Hurdles - Olympic champion Dayron Robles v US champion David Payne. Robles is the clear favorite for gold in Berlin, but David Payne (Beijing bronze medalist) finds a way to run his best against the best. The field is full of quality hurdlers and that will keep everyone on their toes. But the real test for everyone will be to keep pace with Robles who, based on his progression in his past few races, could be ready to go under 13 seconds here.

Men's 400 hurdles - Defending World champion Kerron Clement v Jamaican champion Isa Phillips. Phillips has been one of the best in the world to date, running consistently hot times. Clement has run well, and worked on his speed by running the open 400 at the US championships where he made the world team in that event. The race should come down to Phillips superior hurdling v Clements speed and finishing strength.

Men's Long Jump - Another hot event. World leader Dwight Phillips (US) has finally found consistence at 28 feet. Godfrey Mokoena comes off his African Record 27' 10.75" in Madrid. In the mix will be Fabrice Lapierre, winner in Madrid with a wind aided 28' 1.5". If Mokoena and Lapierre can find the same form as Madrid, this could end up being a very interesting and special competition.

Women's 100 - We get our second meeting this season between Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser and this year's undefeated US champion Carmelita Jeter. Jeter has beaten everyone in site including Fraser, while Fraser has struggled to find last year's form. Fraser did emerge to take the yearly lead at Jamaica nationals with her 10.88. Lausanne will be a test of Fraser's start against Jeter's wicked mid race surge and finish.

Women's 1500 - This race could be very interesting as world leader Gelete Burka takes on a field containing Christin Wurth Thomas - #5 on the season. The last time they raced at the Prefontaine Classic Burka ran her second sub 4 of the season while Wurth Thomas ran her seasonal best. Since then Christin made the US team while displaying very fast early race tactics. Will be interesting to see if she attempts to go out hard against Burka - and whether she can hold her off.

Women's 100 Hurdles - Possibly the most loaded event of the day. Lead by Olympic champion Dawn Harper (US) and defending World champion Michelle Perry every woman in the A race will have a personal best of 12.60 or better. Harper is running well, having won the US championships, but Virginia Powell finally put it together in that race after a couple of down seasons due to injury. The wild card in this race could end up being LoLo Jones (US) herself done in by injury earlier in the season, and just finding her way back to the track. Jones failed to make the US squad for Berlin and will be looking to show her dominance over the competition on the Circuit. This race should be blazing fast - and close.

Lausanne is has top level talent in every event. Full line ups for the meet can be found here. We could have several new world leading marks heading into Rome later this week. The meet can be seen online here.

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Road to Berlin Starts in Oslo

DKB-ISTAF - IAAF Golden League

Now that the National Championships are done, and the teams for the World Championships are set, the European season gets under way in earnest today in Oslo. The second stop on the Golden League Oslo has a rich history of fine distance running, and should live up to that today. Potential highlights:

Men's 800 - Abubaker Kaki (SUD) v Yuri Borzakovski (RUS). Borzakovski is a fine kicker but Kaki has been the dominant 800 man the past couple of seasons. Could be an early picture of the final in Berlin.

Women's 5000 - Merseret Defar (ETH) takes to the track once again in search of a World Record. Defar has a history of running fast in Oslo, having set a World Record here back in '07. She was supposed to meet rival Tirunesh Dibaba, but that fell through when Dibaba pulled from the meet with an injury earlier in the week. Still expect Defar to run fast as several Kenyans remain in the race.

Dream Mile - One of the long standing traditions in Oslo, we should not be disappointed this year as world leader Augustine Choge (KEN) leads a strong field in one of the meets signature events.

Men's 5000 - We get a chance to see Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) in action. Bekele is the World Record holder in the event and will be looking for his first sub 13:00 clocking of the season. His chief competition should be Ali Abdosh (ETH) who currently sits in the #2 spot on the yearly list (12:59.56) just ahead of Bekele (13:00.76).

Men's 100 - They do sprint in Norway, and their top sprinter Jaysuma Saidy Ndure will take on the challenge of some of the worlds best. Lead by former World Record Holder Asafa Powell (JAM), the field also contains Olympic finalist Churandy Martina (AHO) who has been running well in '09, and rising star Daniel Bailey (ANT).

Information on the meet can be found here

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Track Investments Also Underperforming During Downturn

AT&T USA Outdoor Track And Field Championships - Day 4

Many individuals have had their investment portfolios hit hard during the recent economic downturn. So much so that it has become common for people to avoid opening their financial statements to so as not to see the latest bad news.

Given the performances of some of the sports biggest names in the past couple of seasons, one can only imagine how those that write the checks to some of the sports highest paid stars are feeling these days about their investments in the sport. Consider.

Jeremy Wariner - Olympic Champion in '04 and World Champion in '05 & '07 saw his fortunes take a negative turn last year. Beaten several times by rival Lashawn Merritt, he found himself nearly a second back in Beijing. This season has started slowly, as Wariner has a best in the 400 of only 44.66 (a jog for him two seasons ago), and bowed out at Nationals in the semis of the 200 taking last in his semi in 20.83.

Asafa Powell - Powell spent the early part of '08 nursing injury, as he has most seasons. While he convalesced he watched countryman Usain Bolt take his world record and become the top sprinter in the world in both the 100 and 200 meter dashes. Back to form by Beijing, Powell once again found himself off the podium and in 5th place. 2009 has once again started with injury, with Powell running his first sub10 of the year just a week ago while taking second at his Nationals in 9.97. And for the first time since 2003, Powell found himself a far back 5th in a non major and has lost twice to upstart Mike Rodgers.

Walter Dix - One of the most sought after sprinters ever in college, Dix signed one of the sports most lucrative contracts ever last year. He rewarded his employers with double bronze medal performances in Beijing. Dix looked ready to improve on his performances as he quickly took over the world lead in his first race in early spring. Only to disappear from the track in a reported dispute with his management company. As a result Dix raced very little this year, then showed up to Nationals and failed to make the final in the 100 and was forced to pull out of the 200 as he suffered a hamstring injury in his 100 semi. The rest of his season looks as cloudy as the first half.

Xavier Carter - The "X-Man" appeared to be on the verge of greatness a couple of seasons ago as he became the first sprinter since Michael Johnson to run sub19.70 with his sterling 19.63. Since then Carter suffered injury during Nationals in '07, and again during the Trials in '08 and spent both seasons competing little in Europe while missing both Majors. Carter came into Nationals healthy this time around, but failed to get out of his semi in the 400 and missed out on a ticket to Berlin in the 200 taking 5th in the final.

Alan Webb - Webb was going to be the man that would bring medals to the United States in the middle distances. A high school prodigy, Webb broke the venerable Jim Ryun's High School Record in the mile with an awesome 3:53.43. But its been a steady fall down hill from there. He didn't get out of the heats in Athens '04; was 9th in Helsinki '05; 8th in Osaka '07; failed to make the team in '08 & '09.

There are others, but these are among the most visible and highly paid athletes in the sport - that's a lot of money NOT reaping dividends! Meanwhile, the sport is full of individuals making Olympic and World finals that can't get a shoe contract, and having trouble getting lanes in meets on the Circuit! A few seasons ago shot putter Adam Nelson was wearing a shirt that read "Space for Rent" as he was openly soliciting a contract - and he is a two time Olympic silver medalist, World Championships gold medalist, and three time World silver medalist!

My point here is that the methodology used to pay athletes in this sport is seriously out of whack! For one we seem to pay based upon potential rather than rewarding achievement. We give a ton of money to some people up front, then don't seem to have money on the back end for those that are actually getting the job done!

On the one hand we crave "stars", but don't seem willing to nurture them while they get there. Instead we pay big money to those that appear to have already arrived while others toil in obscurity. Perhaps the shoe companies should look for a way to balance their athletic "portfolios" - spending money on developing and producing athletes as well as paying those that seem to already have reached "star" status. Much the same way as investors spend money on the stocks of developing companies; invest in sure and steady bonds; and also invest in Blue Chip stocks!

Not that I don't want to see big money paid to our star athletes. More so, however I would like to see that money spread around more evenly - for the benefit of the sport. That's a lot of underperforming money up above, and a lot of athletes struggling that will play key roles in Berlin. There should be a way for them all to get paid!

So just as the average American has had to go back to square one and reevaluate how they are investing their money, perhaps the shoe companies and others should take a good look at how they are investing in this sport. Because just as the economy has been faltering, so has track and field. And at the heart of both there are some economic basics that have been ignored. The US Government is trying to address the general economy. I would implore those holding the purse strings in track and field to the same.