Friday, August 21, 2009

World Championships Day Seven - Triumph and Tragedy

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

That's the only way that I can describe today - and this meet - for the US team. Paraphrasing Newton's Third Law of Motion, for every win in Berlin we seem to have to have some tragedy!

Today's triumph's came at the end of the meet in form of the women's 200 and the men's 400 - a pair of events that we can typically count on in global contests. Though as was also demonstrated today, certainty for the US in track and field is becoming a precious and vanishing commodity!

In the 200 we got a head to head battle between twice Olympic Champion Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) and twice World Champion Allyson Felix (US). In a race where it was important for Campbell Brown to run clear of Felix before they hit the stretch, Felix held her own on the turn and ran away down the straight to a clear win 22.02 to 22.35. The win gave Felix her third World title in the event - more than any other sprinter in history; and equaled the three total global titles won by Michael Johnson during his career.

Today's other win came courtesy of another head to head - this time between Americans Lashawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner. Their rivalry one of the stronger ones entering this meet, with Wariner dominating the middle of this decade winning global titles in '04, '05, and '07, before Merritt turned the tables last year with his victory in Beijing. Berlin was their first head to head this season and looked to be a battle for 300 meters. As heading into the home straight they were nearly side by side. But it was here that Merritt's confidence and superior speed shined through as he simply ran away down the stretch for a very convincing 44.06 to 44.60 win. The tide has clearly shifted in this rivalry if Wariner's body language is any indication. Because as Merritt put the hammer down, Wariner had no response at all.

But as I said above, in this meet we don't seem to be able to get away from tragedy, and so as it rained prior to the start of the meet, the air for the 1st round of the men's 4x1 heats was eerily like that in Beijing! This time however the team got off to a good start, got the stick around the track (though a bit shakily), and finished in front a certain qualifier for tomorrow's final. Until, that is, the British team filed a protest saying that the team passed BEFORE the passing zone on the final handoff from Shawn Crawford to Davis Patton. A protest that was upheld, resulting in the disqualification of the squad!

Now I've tried to stay away from "commentary" until the close of the meet, and have tried to stick to simply keeping track of what has happened each day. But what happened with this relay can not be ignored. First of all there was no foul called during the race - no red flags were issued. Second, upon multiple review of the tape, we're talking about a judgment call at best. Yes, Patton "touched" the baton a hair before entering the passing zone. But in football terms, he never took possession (and Crawford didn't release it) until he was well into the zone! Had this been the NFL the US relay would be taking the track tomorrow. Unfortunately that will not be the case. And frankly I can't find any reason why other than an apparent need to satisfy a complaint. To add insult to injury the leadership of USATF has apparently taken the position of acceptance without a fight in a situation where the team has been sorely wronged!

Clearly, judging from several things that have happened in this meet, as well as in the sport in general over the past few seasons, the USA vs the World slogan that the Penn Relays has adopted seems to be more than just a slogan. And that fight is being waged with less than adequate leadership. And in case anyone is paying attention, we are only halfway to that goal of 30 medals, have only two days left in the meet with only 31 medals left on the table! We're not going to make it. As a matter of fact we're going to have a hard time matching the Beijing total - which left us wringing our hands and conducting surveys and writing reports! Let's see what the next two days bring.

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