Friday, September 18, 2009

Post Berlin Review - US Middle Distance

IAAF Golden league

Post Berlin Review - US Middle Distance

For years, actually a couple of decades now, the US hopes in Majors has rested on the shoulders of the sprints, hurdles, and relays. In Berlin, we still garnered the majority of our medals from the speed events. But for the first time in a very long time our middle and long distance corps showed signs of life - of promise for the future.

Surprisingly, we still showed the greatest weakness in the lesser of the distance events - the 800 meters. On the women's side, Maggie Vessey showed that experience counts as much as talent when it comes to running at this level, as she failed to make the final running only 2:03.55 in her semi after running an outstanding 1:57.84 during the summer (still the #3 time on the season). Despite her failure in Berlin, we know that we have a world class half miler in our women's ranks capable of competing with the best given some more seasoning and confidence in her ability. And dare I say that the confidence will be MOST important for Maggie.

On the men's side, however, while Nick Symmonds has the heart of a lion, he just doesn't have the speed necessary to make his way onto the medal stand. And in spite of his ability, Khadevis Robinson is just not the guy to lead the way. After watching Berlin, and some post Berlin races, I'm convinced that the only way that we are going to get back to being competitive in this event will be to convince a few quarter milers to move up a notch - a la Alberto Juantorena!

Our best 800 men have almost always had solid base quarter miler speed. Past US greats like James Robinson, Mark Everett, and David Mack were all athletes that were capable of running 44 seconds on the 4x4 and Everett had a best of 44.59 in the open 400. We desperately need to get back to that type of 800 runner if we are to have any chance of competing on the world stage. I would love to see someone like Darold Williamson, whose better days in the 400 are clearly behind him, give the event a shot - as he has the speed, the build, and I believe the temperament to make the transition work. Would be better to be a star in a new event, than a fading memory in an old one.

Conversely, the 1500 showed a lot of promise this year. In Berlin, both the men's and women's squads had THREE finalists - THREE! We've never had three women in a global final of any kind and you have to go back to 1932 to find three American men in a global final. That's three quarters of a century - ancient history in track and field!

And this time around we scored medals for both the men and women - a bronze in each. Stunning achievements in an event where outside of Bernard Lagat, we have been beaten like a drum by the rest of the world since the early 90's on the men's side and throughout this decade on the women's side.

The most outstanding leap into international competitiveness occurred on the women's side where we had an amazing three women break the 4 minute barrier as Anna Willard (3:59.38),Jennifer Barringer (3:59.90) and Christin Wurth Thomas (3:59.98) all turned the trick. Add in Shannon Rowbury (4:00.81) and we had four women among the top 10 fastest in the world this season! That equals the number of American women in the top 10 this year in the 100 meters, and one better than the three American women among the top 10 in the 400! Quite an achievement!

So 2009 may be the year that we began to turn the corner on the middle distances for the women. Especially if we can get Jenny Barringer and Anna Willard to focus here instead of the steeplechase. No offense to the steeplechase, where both could have bright futures as they are extremely talented young ladies. But the future is now for both if they focus in this area. As a matter of fact, Willard has the ability to be one great 800/1500 doubler. And while Vessey was the fastest American time wise, Willard is our most competitive. And I have no doubt that if she were to focus here we would see her running times in the 1:57 range as well - and doing so with regularity.

The men still have some development to do. We are showing much promise in the 1500 - and that's without discussing young German Fernandez who spent some time with the longer distances, but (as with Willard and Barringer) who could be our brightest hope over 1500 meters. The Oklahoma Sttate frosh ran 3:39.00/3:55 early this year before giving his attention to the 5000. He has the "guts" to be extremely competitive here with some focus.

The 800 for men is where we have some serious work ahead of us. Rudisha and Kaki are already at 1:42 and look to be ready to possibly go even faster. They are young, gifted and extremely talented. We have to start looking for talent to compete with THAT level of half miler. Which, to me, means that ultimately we need to convince some quarter milers to move up and take the challenge!

But the good news is overall that we are in a position to make finals at this point. Now we need to work to challenge for the top spot on the podium.

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