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.

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