Thursday, August 27, 2009

World Championships Review - US Sprints

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

When the world's best get together you get to take a real good look at yourself. Big fish in small ponds get to feel what its like to swim with nothing but big fish! In the process some fish find out they aren't as big as they once thought. And so it was with our sprinters when they hit the track in Berlin as we found out just how many big fish we really have.

Berlin was a Good News, Bad News meet for the US in the sprint realm. The Good News is that we are still the deepest nation on the planet when it comes to the sprints. The Bad News is that the rest of the world has come far enough along that our depth is no longer a major factor when it comes to making championship finals and getting to the medal stand!

Championship sprint finals are no longer an All American affair. And though we are still in contention for gold medals, so is the rest of the world, making multiple medals more difficult to obtain than ever before. As comical as it may sound to some, we need to get back to basics and begin rebuilding our sprint base. If not for a couple of athletes our situation would be dire indeed. Lets take an event by event look at where we stand in the sprints after Berlin.

100 Men - Yes we have Tyson Gay. And he just may be the second best sprinter in all of history - perhaps able to challenge for #1 if we can get him healthy. Unfortunately after Tyson there is a precipitous drop in talent level! So when Tyson is on the blink we are doomed - and that's just not how we're suppose to roll here in the US.

Walter Dix has shown top level championship potential. But he's been missing in 2 of the last 3 Majors with various issues of his own. Behind them we have lots of sprinters slipping into 9.9x territory - but that is no longer good enough. Our sprint crew desperately needs another consistent 9.8x sprinter to go with Tyson if we are to be major contenders going forward. Bronze in Berlin was earned at 9.84. What was a gold medal run just a few short years ago is needed now just to get a medal - and by the next major in 2011 could find you off the podium. Michael Rodgers and Ivory Williams currently appear to be our best hopes to support Gay, and possibly Dix, in the 100 meter wars. If we can continue their development we could be solid come Daegu in 2011.

200 Men - This is perhaps the deepest of our sprint events IF we can get all of our sprinters healthy and on the track. Tyson Gay obviously leads the troops here as well. A group that contains several sub 20 second types in Xavier Carter (19.63), Wallace Spearmon (19.65), Walter Dix (19.69) and Shawn Crawford (19.79). But Crawford is beginning to age - though you couldn't tell it as he blasted 19.89 in another major. Spearmon has been suffering through injuries the past couple of seasons, and Dix went down to injury this year.

All have been on the podium, and all are competitive against the rest of the world save for Bolt and Gay. If we can get them all healthy we have wonderful potential here as Spearmon, Dix and Carter have the potential to run at least in the 19.5x zone. We're fine here given good health - for now. At the current rate of improvement of the rest of the world however, we need to be looking NOW to start developing the next generation.

400 Men - Once our deepest event, we've slipped dramatically in the past few seasons. Merritt has risen to the top and been quite dominant for two years now. In the process Jeremy Wariner has slipped to #2, but doesn't seem to inspired in that position. And instead of the two pushing each other into the lower reaches of the 43's, we ended up with a lot of mediocre runs from two men that should be running in record territory two or three times a year.

The real problem however, is the drop off after these two. Where once we had incredible depth between 44.2x and 44.6x we now have NOTHING. Behind Merritt and Wariner we only had TWO athletes under 45 seconds - unheard of since the late 80's! It only took 45.02 seconds to win the bronze medal in Berlin - we've had high school kids that could run close to that and better! That we could not sweep this event is a shame; that we had an athlete out in the first round a travesty!

Given the level of performance needed to be successful at 200 meters, it might be in the best interests of some of those athletes unable to crack the 20.25 barrier to look to the 400 for success. And even there, with Merritt at 19.98 and Wariner at 20.19, it's still a tough climb to the top. But youngsters coming up need to take a look at Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt and decide if they have the chops to go against them, or is moving up a spot in distance a smarter move. My guess is that for many the smarter move lies here.

100 Women - A large group of women all stuck somewhere between 11.00 and 11.15. As with the men, the problem is that global expectations have shifted, and that range is no longer good enough. That's what it takes these days to be assured of getting into a final - and won't put you in the medal discussion.

Carmelita Jeter appeared ready to emerge out of that group, and ran solid for bronze. She PR'd in the rounds in Berlin in 10.83, but we need to see a bit more patience from her and her race pattern so that we get that 10.7x that she showed capable of earlier in the season. But, as with Tyson Gay and the men's 100, there is a drop behind Jeter. No one else was under 11.00 this year and that just won't get it done. Vets Lauryn Williams and Muna Lee are looking to be on the other side of their careers, but there is potential at work. Alexandria Anderson and Marshavet Hooker are at the head of a group of young women fully capable of joining Jeter under 11 seconds on a regular basis. And a very talented cluster from which to develop talent.

200 Women - Allyson Felix is as sold as a rock here, having just won her third World Championship to go with silvers in the last two Olympics. But, in a familiar refrain, there is a big drop off behind her. Luckily there is a big drop off globally after the first two or three athletes. Not to mention that we have a solid group of youngsters in Alexandria Anderson, Marshavet Hooker, Porsha Lucas and Bianca Knight, that I think will be ready in one or two seasons (by Daegu). Of the three women's sprints I have the most confidence in the ability of our youth to emerge here.

400 Women - This is a very interesting event. Sanya Richards has been #1 for half a decade now, but just won her first global gold medal. Then, repeat after me, there is a huge drop off - sort of. I say sort of because Allyson Felix has shown that when she contests this event, she is as good as anyone in the world. And frankly, scary as it may sound, this may be her best event even though she focuses on the deuce. So she really gives us a strong 1,2 combination as evidenced in the 4x4 where she put the race away on the second leg before Richards closed just as strong to lead us to the 6th best time in history.

Now after these two there IS a big drop, which is surprising given that just a couple of seasons ago the likes of Mary Wineberg, Natasha Hastings and Dee Dee Trotter gave us a very strong contingent of quarter milers. This season Debbie Dunn seemed to begin an emergence and had very strong performances in the relay in Berlin. If she can continue her improvement we will be in pretty good shape here. Likewise if we see further improvement from youngsters Jessica Beard and Joanna Atkins.

The bottom line to all this is just as I said in the beginning. We are still the deepest sprint nation on the planet, but the rest of the world has caught up on the top end rendering our depth moot unless we set about strengthening that depth. We need athletes to step up to assist the Tyson Gay's, Lashawn Merritt's, Allyson Felix's and Sanya Richard's of the US sprint scene.

There needs to be a shift in thought among those who want to be sprinters at the elite level. If you are a male and were thinking in terms of 9.90/19.80/44.50, think again. The game has changed. Ditto for the women, as 11.00/22.00/50.00 is just not good enough - not if you hope to mount the podium. Coaches need to take note. And USATF needs to find a way to get our best athletes with our best coaches - for the good of everyone concerned including the medal count! I understand the role of shoe companies and agents in coaching selections, but as we saw in the case of Jeremy Wariner in 2008, as well as others, coaching is critical and the shoe companies and agents are fallible as their reasons are not always in tune with the end result required by the National Team - and sometimes the individual.

In order to regain our status as THE premier sprint squad in the world, it will take some sort of collaboration between USATF, our best coaches, the shoe companies and the athlete's agents. They all need to be on the same page and working towards a common goal. Right now they work as a loose collaboration of groups "attempting" to come together. But the end results say that we are now falling short of that goal, and need to readjust in order to progress.

Those involved need to come to the table to develop a Plan that everyone can sign off on. One that takes into account the needs of all concerned and attempts, as best as possible, to address those needs. If we can come together, the world is in trouble once more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

World Championships Review

12th IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day Two

With the close of any Olympic or World Championship competition comes the inevitable "critique" of the event. Often that review is pretty easy - either the meet is really exciting or not. But as I sat down Sunday after the final 4x4 was done, and then again yesterday as I tried to jot down my thoughts, I realized that this meet was different than just about any other I had ever watched. And after much thought I've come to the conclusion that this was perhaps the most complex set of competitions that I've ever seen - a meet within a meet, within a meet.

The meet that most will remember is the Usain Bolt Show! Because there is no denying that Bolt was the main attraction in Berlin. The unbelievaBolt one was uber fast, not once but twice setting world records that I would say could stand for quite some time - except I know they won't. Bolt ripped up and down and around the track leaving the competition in his wake, and electrifying the crowd with his personality and extraordinary feats of sprinting. The opening two days of the meet with the build up to his showdown with Tyson Gay was clearly THE highlight of the meet. Watching them through the rounds. Speculating on what would happen. Then the electric final with Gay running out of his head and yet there a stride and a half in front from start to finish was Bolt and the two fastest men to ever grace the planet gave us a show that most will remember to the grave. Opening Saturday and Sunday, Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, showed us just what this sport can be when presented at its best - The Greatest show on Earth!

But then Bolt left the track - and the cadence and tone of the meet changed DRAMATICALLY! We watched what was happening on the track, but we were really waiting for Bolt and Gay to take to the track again. But in less than 24 hours we learned that Gay would not be running the 200 because of his groin, and the air went out of our balloon as the meet within the meet - THE MEET - was done. We watched the 200, but it wasn't the same because we knew there would be no challenge. The only question was what would the time be. And though in the end Bolt gave us a show, and we rejoiced at the time that flashed on the clock, we knew it would have been a bit sweeter if someone else had at least been in the same frame when the cameras showed him running down the track! And as much as the 100 showed us all that the sport can be, the 200 showed us that REAL excitement needs both Yin AND Yang. That Magic Johnson really needed Larry Bird. That in order to have a Thrilla in Manilla you needed BOTH Muhammad Ali AND Joe Frazier. We had a Thrilla in Manila on Saturday and Sunday. What we had on Thursday was an exhibition. And as great as the exhibition was it just wasn't the "Thrilla"!

But it was better than what we had during the rest of the meet. Because in the absence of Bolt v Gay, and Bolt going solo, we were left with a bunch of athletes simply going through the motions. No disrespect to the others that competed but the supernova that was Usain Bolt cast a light of expectation so bright that everything else was eclipsed in its shadow! And though some truly great athletes took to the track their personalities and performances just didn't match up.

In short, while many say that Bolt is great for the sport, sometimes greatness can create a divide. Bob Beamon took the long jump forward, and at the same time set it back almost two decades - ditto Lee Evans and the 400. And what Berlin showed us is that while the sport is embracing Usain Bolt, it desperately needs to find others! Merritt v Wariner just didn't have that same swagger to it. Lagat v Bekele was great but easily forgotten. Track and field needs STARS - plural - or it will be eclipsed by its own, single bright light!

For all the grandeur of competition that a World Championships provides, this one also exposed the sport's glaring weakness as a professional endeavor - the inability to hold its audience with more than a single athlete! And for all the reports that have been done, and attempts to make the sport more "fan friendly" by cutting down meets and eliminating events, what Berlin proved is that its not fewer events or shorter meets that fans crave but searing, high level competition!

They will come in droves and stay for days on end if given superior competition. They will also stay home in droves regardless of the shortness of the meet or enticements provided if the competition itself is short of expectations. What track and field needs is Usain Bolt v Tyson Gay X 10 - and not just one meet a year. The IAAF and track and field need to set about the business of developing a plethora of stars in much the same way that a once stuck in the doldrums NBA had to develop a universe that included Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, David Robinson, and Michael Jordan ALL at the same time! When the sport figures out how to do THAT the issue won't be is the meet short enough, but is the stadium large enough to seat all the fans!

I have other observations from Worlds that I will be talking about in the coming days, including the performances of the US team, and the drug and gender issues that were raised last week. But clearly Berlin gave us a glimpse of what the sport can be - but only a glimpse.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

World Championships - Closing Weekend

12th IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day Nine

An interesting World Championships for the US came to a close with one more relay disaster, but a lot of promise elsewhere.

After the debacle of the US men's 4x1 squad there was hope that redemption would come in the form of the women's team. But that was not to be as the women also failed to get the baton around the track. This time second leg Alexandria Anderson ran up too quickly on Muna Lee. But if that alone weren't enough Lee pulled up in the process, and had to be taken off the track with an injury - while the squad got to watch their heat go in a pedestrian 43.07! This is two meets in a row that both the men and women's teams failed to make the relay finals. There was a lot of talk after Beijing about the poor job done at relay camps in previous years. But apparently not having any camps at all wasn't the solution either.

Without the US as combatant, the squads from Jamaica had things their own way. For the men there was much anticipation of a potential WR in the 4x1. That, however, was not to be as Jamaica merely cruised to victory in a meet record 37.31 - the #2 time ever. While not as fast compared to all time performances, the Jamaican women still had an easy time in winning in 42.06. The wins gave Jamaica a sweep of the 100 meter related events.

Likewise the US pulled out a sweep of the 400 related events as open winners Lashawn Merritt and Sanya Richards anchored victories in the men and women's 4x4's - the women's 3:17.89 being the 6th best performance in history. With Usain Bolt winning the men's 200 and Allyson Felix the women's, it gives the US and Jamaica an even split in the battle for global sprint gold! A split that we need to look at rectifying in future meets. Something I'll be talking about in future posts.

Likewise in our quest for "30" medals, while we closed well this weekend, we fell well short of the goal. The weekend showed much promise, however, as we won a pair of gold medals in the men and women's long jump - Brittney Reese with a world leading 23' 3.5" jump that was also a personal best. And in the middle distances we added to the medal count as Shannon Rowbury claimed bronze in the women's 1500 while Bernard Lagat turned in a herculean effort in the 5000 running winner Kenenisa Bekele to the line and losing by only .24 - with stitches in his foot! And that women's 1500 saw Christin Wurth Thomas and Anna Willard go 5th and 6th. Giving us three finishers in the top six! Outstanding improvement and huge promise for the future.

But this meet has been another indication of how much the world has caught up, and how poorly we have reacted to the challenge. I hope it finally serves as a wake up call, and a catalyst for true change within our system. And I'm talking about real change and not rhetoric. A year of rhetoric has brought us a total of one FEWER medals than in Beijing - a move in reverse!

Still a few more meets left this season, starting with the always excited Weltklasse in Zurich at the end of this week. But I think its time for some real soul searching for the US. I know I'll be taking a look.

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.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

World Championships Day Six - More UnbelievaBOLT

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

Often a meet becomes defined by an individual - someone who dominates. If the opening weekend didn't define this meet as belonging to Usain Bolt, then today certainly did.

I said earlier in the week that 9.58 was a time that had only been discussed previously in fantasy terms. Well the winning time of today's 200 meter final (19.19) has never been discussed in ANY terms! Such was the magnitude of the performance. It doesn't even look like a time that one would discuss in track and field! Yet that is where the clock stopped today as Usain Bolt crossed the line miles ahead of his nearest competitor!

Oh, the race. Almost forgot about the race - as I'm sure the other 7 competitors would wish they could. Consider that second place Alonso Edward ran 19.81 and was only .02 slower than former WR holder Michael Johnson had ever run in a World Championships. Yet he almost needed binoculars to see Bolt cross the line. Or how about Shawn Crawford. His 19.89 was only .10 off his winning time in the 2004 Olympic Games. But here didn't earn him a medal at all - but did provide a great view of Bolt's WR run. Such was the enormity of this victory.

The race was over after 50 meters. Bolt made up staggers well before he exited the turn. And with Tyson Gay nursing an injury, there was no one that could mount any sort of challenge. Which left Bolt in a race against the clock as he headed towards the finish - a race he won in 19.19 seconds. With 9.58 and 19.19 efforts this has become the most unbelievaBOLT meet ever! The equivalent of Bob Beamon in Mexico City times two, or MJ in Atlanta squared.

The athletes in the race, fans of the sport, and those looking to compete in the future will all be trying to wrap our minds around these performances for quite some time. Everything else today paled in comparison. We did get Blanka Vlasic winning the high jump and avenging her earlier defeat to Arianne Friedrich. And a Caribbean sweep of the medals on the track with Melaine Walker (JAM) winning the 400 hurdles and Ryan Braithwaite (BAR) the 110 hurdles. But the race on everyone's lips was the 200 - which by the way with 5 men under 20.00 was the deepest 200 meters ever run. And with 3 days of competition left, I think most are now waiting with baited breath to see what the relays have in store. And we won't have long to wait as the first round begins tomorrow.

Results, schedule and start lists can be found here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

World Championships - Day Four and Five

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

Pretty quiet the past couple of days. The big highlight was Sanya Richards finally getting the "monkey off her back" by winning her first global gold medal after being ranked #1 in the event for the past 5 years. A beautiful race, she finally ran "her" race and beat the field decisively in a world leading 49.00.

Of course it seems with this meet that for every up moment there is a down one, and yesterday we got the news that Tyson Gay was withdrawing from the 200 - which meant we would not get another Tyson Gay / Usain Bolt match up. Bummer, because so far that's been the real highlight of these championships.

Bolt and the other sprinters did run the opening round and quarterfinals of the 200 meters with no major casualties. Likewise the men ran the opening round of the 400 meters where we are awaiting the next big match up of this meet - Lashawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner.

Day four finished up with a US 1,3 in the men's 400 hurdles as Kerron Clement defended his title with a world leading 47.91 with teammate Bershawn Jackson taking the bronze. But perhaps the real star of the event was young Jehue Gordon (TRI). Just 17 years old he was just a hair from the bronze medal as he finished in 4th place in 48.26. A World Junior Record, Trinidadian national record and only .03 from the bronze medal - and he will still be eligible to compete at the World Junior Championships NEXT year!

Day five was a big day for qualifying rounds, with only a handful of finals - and few medals for the US. The Discus saw an upset win for the host nation as Robert Harting came through with a personal best 227' 9" inch throw to take the gold. Bernard Lagat got the days lone medal for the US with a bronze medal in the 1500 meters. In what became somewhat of a tactical race, Lagat found himself boxed in coming down the backstretch and around the final turn. He was able to unleash his kick down the homestretch but had given up too much ground to the leaders. Interviewed later, he indicated that he was ready to give it everything he has in the 5000 as he was very disappointed with his finish. Look for Lagat to be a serious contender in the 5000 final.

Another disappointment occurred in the women's 100 hurdles when Olympic champion and favorite Dawn Harper clipped an early hurdle and never recovered - finishing in an uncharacteristic 7th place. Teammate Virginia Powell was only 1 place ahead of her in 6th place as Jamaican Brigitte Foster Hylton took the gold in 12.51.

Day Five ended with another teenager making waves, as South African Caster Semenya devastated the women's 800 field. Leading the first lap in a rather torrid 56.83, she then "stepped on the gas" and ran away from the field never looking back! Her margin in the stretch was some 15 plus meters as she ran a personal best and world leading 1:55.45 with defending champion Janeth Jepkoskei a well back 1:57.90 in second place!

Tomorrow the pace will quicken - literally - with finals in the men's 200 and 110 hurdles, along with the women's 400 hurdles and a showdown in the women's high jump between Arianne Friedrich and Blanka Vlasic. Should be a good day of competition.

For results and schedules check here.

Monday, August 17, 2009

World Championships Day Three

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

A very mixed bag today, and somewhat of a let down after yesterday. Very hard to top that men's 100 meters. Though the women had their final today - and it too was very fast.

But before that there was excitement of a sort, as World Record Holder Yelena Isinbayeva no heighted in the pole vault and failed to gain a medal of any color! Perhaps the biggest shock that this meet will see. We knew there was a small chink in her armor as she recently took second on count back to today's eventual winner Anna Rogowska (POL), but no one expected a no height from what has been the queen of the pole vault! Her failure was a US gain, however as it opened the door for Chelsea Johnson to move up and tie for the silver medal off of her season's best 15' 3".

Which marked a pretty good day overall for our troops. We got three qualifiers to the final in the men's 1500 with Lopez Lamong, Bernard Lagat, and Leonel Manzano all turning the trick. Excellent showing, and perhaps we have a shot at medaling! We also got an American Record performance from Jenny Barringer - a super 9:12.50 that garnered her 5th place in a very fast final won in a world leading 9:07.32 by Marta Dominguez (ESP) in an upset of Russian Gulnara Galkina who had to settle for 4th just ahead of Barringer.

We did have our share of disappointment today as none of the ladies in the 800 made it through to the final. Rather shocking considering that Maggie Vessey had shown to be in the class of these ladies. But Vessey never got untracked today as she started in last place in her heat and stayed there! Never moving up and seemingly never making an attempt to do so. She was eliminated in a race that she easily could have won as the wining time was only 2:00.62.

The highlights of the day, however, were the men's 10000 and the women's 100 - both finals. In the 10000 a swift pace throughout, found Zersensay Tadese taking the lead at 6000 meters and leading Kenenisa Bekele into the gun lap. Tadese clearly had dreams of upsetting Bekele, but Bekele quickly turned that into a nightmare as he took off at the bell and cruised away in a new meet record of 26:46.31 - making it his record tying 4th title at the distance.

And that win set the stage for the day's final event - the women's 100 meter dash. Through the rounds some favorites had emerged - Kerron Stewart (JAM), Shelly Ann Fraser (JAM), Carmelita Jeter (US) and Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM). And while the race was not as otherworldly as the men's it was one hot race. Bursting out from the gun was Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser, with Stewart and Jeter in hot pursuit. It was a three woman race that turned into two by the 50 meter mark as Stewart began to close on the diminutive Fraser. Stewart kept inching closer and closer as they approached the line, but Fraser out leaned her 10.73 to 10.75! A world leader for Fraser. Jeter was able to nail down bronze for the US cause in 10.90. So the day ended on a good note.

Tomorrow the finals start to come hot and heavy as we are approaching the mid way point of the meet. Biggies in the women's 400 with Ohuruogu v Richards; and a hot 400 hurdles. But tomorrow is also the beginning of the second Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay showdown with the first round of the men's 200 on tap.

Full results of today's action plus tomorrow's start lists and schedule can be found here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

World Championships Day Two - UnbelievaBOLT !!

12th IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day Two

Words can't describe what I watched earlier today - so I invented a new one! How else do you describe the greatest 100 meter race in the history of the planet?

Consider that Asafa Powell finally ran near his potential in a Major. At 9.84 he would have won almost every other major ever contested. Today he was rewarded by setting a record for the fastest ever third place - in any race!

Consider that Tyson Gay shattered the American Record and came within a hair of Usain Bolt's WR with his sizzling 9.71! Only Bolt's 9.69 Beijing race has been faster - meaning Gay would have won any other race ever run in the history of the planet. Yet Tyson pounded his thigh as he came to a stop knowing that he had just become the second fastest human in the history of mankind - because he had just lost to the fastest!

Because on this day Usain Bolt did something totally incredible, blowing right by his own WR to something here-to-fore only talked about in fantasy terms - an unbelievaBOLT 9.58. That's a nine followed by a dot, a FIVE, and an eight. Yes a FIVE! Nine FIVE eight.

I knew that these warriors were ready to do something special. But to be honest I was looking at lowering the record somewhere to the mid 9.6 range. But I guess this is what happens when titans refuse to show weakness. In a race where I figured the win would go to the man that best minimized his weakness, BOTH men exhibited very good starts in the final. So with neither man having a weakness, the race went to the man that had the best strength - and Bolt eats up space like nobody's business! And eat up space he did.

That ability was flashed just before the start of the race as the lane assignments were announced. As Bolt stood between Powell and Gay, he towered over them like the big kid on the playground over everyone else. And as they entered the blocks I knew that unless Tyson Gay was able to get some space between he and Bolt early, it was going to be a long day for Mr. Gay.

At the gun Bolt (.146) and Gay (.144) had very good reaction times. Not as good as four others in the race, but very good for them. It put them both right with the field from the first step and the race for gold was on. It lasted only 20 meters however, as the long smooth strides of Usain Bolt began to edge ahead of the quick powerful strides of Tyson Gay. As the pulled away from the rest of the field there was no let up in either one, as you could sense that Bolt knew that Gay would not falter. A quick glance around 80 meters told him that Tyson was still there and as both men drove across the line Bolt then looked to his right - where the clock stopped at the unbelievaBOLT time of 9.58 - a new WR by .11 sec, the largest drop ever in the 100 meter record since automatic timing became the standard!

Tyson Gay was outstanding in defeat. He dropped the American Record by a whopping .06 - the largest drop since Maurice Greene took the AR from 9.85 to 9.79. Gay's 9.71 is the fastest ever losing time in any race in history - and it makes him the second fastest man in history! No man has ever done more to win a race - yet still lost. When asked after the race if he felt badly, Gay hit the nail on the head when he said "no, it took a WR to beat me"! But then, that's how it should have been.

Yes, there were other events today - mostly qualifying rounds. Jessica Ennis (GBR) took gold in the Heptathlon with a world leading 6731, Valerie Vili (NZL) won gold in the shot at 67' .75", and Olga Kaniskina the gold in the 20K walk at 1:28:09. But this day clearly belonged to the sprinters and particularly to Usain Bolt. Because today he was simply UnbelievaBOLT!

Full results of today and tomorrow's schedule can be found here.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

World Championships Day One

12th IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day One

Very interesting opening day. A few disappointments. A couple of well earned wins. And a possible preview of a repeat of Beijing.

With a lot of qualifying taking place in the early round, the meet got going in earnest with the women's steeple heats. And if the heats are any indication, then gold is going to Gulnara Galkina (RUS). Running in Heat 1, she simply ran clear of the field and never looked back. She seems to know only one way to run, annihilate the competition! Which is what she did, winning easily in 9:17.67 with her closest competitor, Antie Molder (GER) a far back second in 9:21.73 - a National Record! So dominant was Galkina that she controlled the next two heats as heat 1 was so fast that everyone else had to finish in the top 4 of their heats to assure qualification! Among the qualifiers was Jenny Barringer (US) who controlled the first half of her heat before settling in and falling back slightly, then kicking in the final 200 to secure her place. Barringer's speed will certainly be a plus, but I don't see anyone being a match for the Russian. Makes me wish Jenny had chosen the 1500.

Shortly after the 10000 one of the most anticipated events of the program started its first round as the men's 100 meter competitors took to the track. With 12 heats I won't go through each and every one (though I was awake at 2am to watch them), but just hit the highlights. Most of the principles made it through this round, though Asafa Powell (JAM) got a huge scare. Running in heat 3, Powell burst from the blocks and quickly ran away from the field only to shut it down mid way. As he relaxed towards the finish the rest of the field quickly came back on him and at the line Powell barely got the third spot - only .02 ahead of 4th place. Had he not gotten 3rd he would have been eliminated as the time would not have held up to take him to the next round! Race favorites Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay had no such trouble as both qualified easily - Gay with the rounds fastest mark of 10.16. Bolt, however, looked to have the easiest time running almost nonchalantly to his 10.20 heat win. The only major casualty of this round was Derrick Atkins (BAR) who was eliminated in his heat. Atkins was the silver medalist in Osaka, but will be no where near the podium this time around.

The rest of the morning session was uneventful, and things didn't begin to warm up again until the evening session when the men took to the track once again in the quarterfinals of the 100 meters. Five heats in this round with heat 1 seeing Dwain Chambers (GBR) and Richard Thompson (TRI) give each other a good run in 10.04 and 10.08 respectively. Heat 2 saw a double false start elimination before Michael Rodgers (US) accelerated mid race and ran to a 10.01 win. In heat 3 Asafa Powell made amends for his earlier lapse in the opening round by again blasting away at the start but this time running through 80 meters before easing to a 9.95 win over Darvis Patton (US). If Powell's start in heat 3 was stellar then Tyson Gay's start in heat 4 was dismal. Starting as if he were looking to give the field a handicap, Gay then accelerated mid race and ran through the field before easing to a 9.98 win ahead of Michael Frater 's (JAM) 10.09. The quarterfinals ended with Usain Bolt literally toying with the field as he ran side by side with training mate Daniel Bailey (ANT) laughing as they went 10.02 and 10.03.

After watching the first two rounds the battle between Bolt and Gay seems to be leaning the way of Usain Bolt. Bolt has been starting very well, while Gay has not had a decent start yet. Asafa Powell, Daniel Bailey, and Michael Rodgers have emerged as the front runners for bronze. Gay still seems to be the main threat to Bolt, but he must start better to have a shot as Bolt seems to be in Beijing shape at this point.

Then we got what I considered the first shocker of the day in the women's 10000. With a group running together most of the race, Meseret Defar (ETH) took over on the backstretch of the final lap and looked to be in control coming off the final turn and heading up the finishing straight. But suddenly she seemed to falter and teammate Meselech Melkamu went by her. Then with a spurt 19 year old Linet Masai (KEN) went right by Melkamu at the line as Melkamu raised her arms in what she thought was victory! Defar never falters, but did here and what seemed like sure gold with 50 meters to go turned into a 5th place finish. Amy Yoder Begley was the top finishing American in 6th place.

The US got its first gold medal of the meet as the day began to move to a close as Christian Cantwell finally got that elusive outdoor gold medal. Cantwell finally met with his potential in a Major. Cantwell hit a huge 72' 3.5" throw in the 5th round to secure the gold medal he has been searching for most of this decade.

Great opening day of competition. Tomorrow's schedule is below. Results of all rounds and events can be found here.

16/08 10:05 W Shot Put Qualification
16/08 10:10 W 800 Metres Heats
16/08 10:45 W Javelin Throw Qualification
16/08 11:00 M 3000 Metres Steeplechase
16/08 11:35 W Long Jump Heptathlon
16/08 11:55 W 100 Metres Heats
16/08 12:00 W 20 Kilometres Race Walk Final
16/08 12:15 W Javelin Throw Qualification

Afternoon session

16/08 18:05 W Javelin Throw Heptathlon
16/08 18:35 W 100 Metres Quarter-Final
16/08 19:00 M Triple Jump Qualification
16/08 19:10 M 100 Metres Semi-Final
16/08 19:25 W Javelin Throw Heptathlon
16/08 19:40 W 400 Metres Semi-Final
16/08 20:15 M 400 Metres Hurdles Semi-Final
16/08 20:20 W Shot Put Final
16/08 20:50 W 800 Metres Heptathlon
16/08 21:35 M 100 Metres Final

Friday, August 14, 2009

Finally ! Worlds Start Tomorrow

The wait is over. Tomorrow the biggest meet of the year begins - the World Championships. Start lists are now up. Television schedule and internet links are listed on the right of this blog. The schedule for the opening day is listed below.

There will be two finals tomorrow - Men's Shot Put and Women's 10,000. American's have a chance to gain medals right off the bat in the Shot with Reese Hoffa, Christian Cantwell, and Dan Taylor being three of the top four throwers this year. Shot leaders.

Top American hopes in the 10,000 will be Amy Begley Yoder and Shalane Flanagan. 10,000 leaders.

Opening day will also feature the heats and quarterfinals of what should be one of the highlights of the meet - the men's 100 meters. The US will be lead by defending champion Tyson Gay as he attempts to defend against Olympic champion Usain Bolt (JAM). The US will also be represented by Mike Rodgers, Darvis Patton and Rae Edwards. 100 leaders.

A great way to start the weekend!

Saturday - August 15

Morning session

15/08 10:05 M Shot Put Qualification
15/08 10:10 W 100 Metres Hurdles Heptathlon
15/08 10:50 W 3000 Metres Steeplechase Heats
15/08 11:00 W Triple Jump Qualification
15/08 11:20 W High Jump Heptathlon
15/08 11:40 M 100 Metres Heats
15/08 12:00 M Hammer Throw Qualification
15/08 13:00 M 20 Kilometres Race Walk Final
15/08 13:05 W 400 Metres Heats
15/08 13:20 M Hammer Throw Qualification

Afternoon session

15/08 18:15 M 1500 Metres Heats
15/08 18:20 W Shot Put Heptathlon
15/08 18:50 M 100 Metres Quarter-Final
15/08 19:00 W Pole Vault Qualification
15/08 19:25 W 10,000 Metres Final
15/08 20:15 M Shot Put Final
15/08 20:20 M 400 Metres Hurdles Heats
15/08 21:10 W 200 Metres Heptathlon

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Who Will Be The World's Fastest Human ?

The men's 100 meters is THE glamour event at almost any track and field competition. The dragsters of track and field, they cover the length of a football field in some 9.x seconds! Hence the winner of each year's Major is dubbed "The World's Fastest Human".

As if the normal expectations for this race aren't enough, this year's rendition in Berlin is taking on EPIC proportions. Consider that this race will feature:

• The two most recent global champions, Tyson Gay ('07, Osaka) and Usain Bolt ('08, Beijing). Both will be in attendance and both are seemingly at the top of their games.

• The two most recent Athletes of the Year in the sport of track and field Usain Bolt ('08) and Tyson Gay ('07) .

• The two most recent #1 ranked athletes in the 100 meters, Usain Bolt ('08) and Tyson Gay ('07).

• Two athletes with legal 9.7's to their credit this season - Gay (9.77) and Bolt (9.79).

• Two undefeated athletes as neither Bolt nor Gay have lost this year.

• The current World Record holder (Usain Bolt) against the current American Record holder.

Having said all of that however, many are treating this race as a mismatch and foregone conclusion. But that is because memories in this sport tend to become fixed on one or two moments in time, with expectations set accordingly.

For example, Michael Johnson was, and will always be, thought of as the athlete that flashed around the Atlanta track in 19.32 seconds. Maurice Greene was burned into the consciousness of many winning in Edmonton in 9.82 while dragging a pulled muscle the final 20 meters of the race. And the world has the vision of Usain Bolt running clear of the field and thumping his chest on the way to gold in a WR 9.69 in Beijing! A vision that says to many that Bolt is invincible.

But, that vision lacks one important element - the man who 6 weeks before had run 9.77/9.85/9.68w on his way to the US title. So while nothing can take away from the stellar performance exhibited by Bolt, the absence of a healthy Tyson Gay does raise the question: What If?

By this weekend THAT question will be answered! Two days. Four rounds. One champion. And if the gods of conditions are kind, a new World Record. Such is the potential of these two sprinters.

The exploits of Usain Bolt have been well chronicled. A WR 9.72 in New York last year after only a handful of career races at the distance. Followed up with a WR 9.69 and gold in Beijing. He's had a slower start to this season and fewer races than last year, but he began peaking well late with 19.59 and 9.79 efforts in Lausanne and Paris. Both in rainy conditions.

After his superb series at last year's Trials, Tyson Gay spent most of last summer rehabbing and found himself eliminated in his semi in Beijing. Working to get back to form, Gay had a slow start to this season running a couple of 400's before opening up over 200 meters at 19.58. When he ran the 100 he ran 9.75w, 9.77 (=AR) then a final tune up of 9.79w in Stockholm before heading to Berlin. Very quietly Gay has run sub 9.80 in all of his finals when healthy over the past 14 months.

Not surprising (that Gay's times would be similar to Bolt's) when you consider that in spite of their physical differences their race patterns are almost mirror images! Let's take a closer look at these two competitors.

Usain Bolt

Strengths: At 6' 5" and very lean, Bolt has long, powerful levers. To this he adds the ability to turn over with the rapidity of a man 6' 0"/ The result is that he eats up yardage in huge, quick gulps! This gives him a wicked mid race surge and finishing power.

Usain Bolt

Weakness: Poor reaction to the gun combined with those long levers make early rapid acceleration difficult. It typically takes him 30 to 40 meters before his "overdrive" kicks in. He also has a tendency to relax / shut down at the end of races.

Tyson Gay

Strengths: Powerful foot placement and drive against the track. Also has very rapid turnover. His turnover combined with his drive gives him maximum return from the track and better "bounding" action than other sprinters. Thus though short in stature, he gets longer stride action than athletes of similar height. This plus his rate of turnover gives him a "warp drive" effect in mid race. He's also very strong around the finish line and has tremendous focus.

Tyson Gay

Weakness: Poor early acceleration and pick up. Typically takes 30 to 40 meters before his "overdrive" kicks in.

Thus, when we look at these two they are actually more similar than they are different. In addition, the race will have other factors that could affect the outcome. One is the presence of Asafa Powell. While Powell has a very poor record in Majors, he is the world's preeminent starter. As such he could become the "rabbit" in this race. His early pace and who is closest to him through 50 to 60 meters, could play a key role. This makes lane draw extremely critical - how close are Bolt and Gay to each other and who is closest to Powell. Both have displayed the ability to be unaffected by Powell's blitz starts, so proximity to him could provide the "help" needed to run a faster early race than usual.

Another key factor to this race could be the element of false starts. Both athletes are notoriously poor starters. So an advantage at the start would be beneficial to both athletes. False starts tend to nail everyone in the blocks. And starters tend to hold longer in Majors than in "Circuit" meets. This could be an advantage to the better of the poor starters.

The most important part of this race will be the section between 30 and 60 meters. This is the peak acceleration phase for both sprinters. After this point I do not believe that either athlete can run the other down without the lead athlete making a major mistake. So the race within the race should be this 30 meter segment - the sprinter that wins the interior 30 meter dual will win the race!

So who wins? For my money it's a coin flip. The man that executes best in that moment will win - I believe it's that close. I give Tyson the edge in intensity, drive and finish - if its close he's better around the finish line. I give Bolt the edge in confidence and what I'm going to call "ground eating ability" - that ability to eat up huge chunks of real estate when in full stride. But at the end of the day I think it will be weakness that determines this race. And so far this year Bolt's start has been a cut below Tyson's. So it is here that I believe the race will be decided - by the man that executes his weakness best. So I am going to hedge and say that Tyson gets the better start and thus crosses the line first - on the lean in to the tape! A narrow, very narrow victory. But then, that is how it should be with these two!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ten Overlooked Moments From the World Championships

Maurice Greene

This time of year everyone looks back on their favorite moments from World Championships past. Reading various articles all over I've come across the standard fare. The Tokyo 100 meter final and long jump. Jonathon Edwards' 60 foot triple jump and several other WOW moments from the championships. But in a quarter century there have been many many memorable moments. So many that a whole host of them have been pushed back into the darkness of our consciousness. So, instead of doing another Top Ten list of highlights, I decided to put together 10 moments that I feel shouldn't be forgotten. So without further adieu here (in chronological order) are 10 moments from World Championships past that I think have been overlooked.

1. 1983 - Sergei Bubka wins pole vault at 18' 8.25". This was Bubka's first ever global title. A relative unknown at the time, this was his springboard to what became a phenomenal career. By January of the following year Bubka cleared 19' .5" for his first World Record and there was no stopping him as he won nearly everything in sight through 1995. He still dominates the all time list and is still the holder of the WR at a phenomenal 20' 2"!

2. 1987 - Carl Lewis wins long jump at 28' 5.25 and defeats Robert Emmiyan. Everyone remembers Carl Lewis and Mike Powell at the World Championships in Tokyo. The meet where Powell eventually broke the World Record while Carl Lewis finally jumped 29 ft only to lose. But before Powell was a threat, Robert Emmiyan jumped 29' .75" on May 22, 1987 - beating Carl Lewis to the 29 ft barrier and becoming a serious threat to King Carl's long jump supremacy. Emmiyan never posed a serious threat to Carl, however, as he won easily over the Russian's 27' 11.75" best. Carl didn't meet his conqueror until Tokyo.

3. 1987 - Calvin Smith wins second 200 title at 20.16. Everyone remembers Michael Johnson winning 200 titles in '91 and '95 - mostly because of his super win in Atlanta at the '96 games. But before MJ was winning 200 titles, the then 100 meter WR holder was also winning multiple 200 meter titles. That's right the 100 meter WR holder! Calvin Smith was known as the sprinter that finally took down Jim Hines venerable 9.95 from Mexico City with his 9.93 at Colorado Springs July 3, 1983. But Calvin never won a global title over 100 meters - he kept running into Carl Lewis. He did, however, win titles in the 200 in Helsinki '83, and again in Rome 1987. This title coming by the narrowest of margins in one of the closest 200 finals ever as his 20.16 just edged out the 20.16 of Gilles Guineherve (FRA) and the 20.18 of John Regis (GBR).

4. 1987 - Edwin Moses wins second 400H title in 47.46. That Edwin Moses won another World title was not big news. After all, he was well into what became a 122 race winning streak! What was big news is that the streak nearly came to an end on this particular day as rivals Danny Harris (US) and Harald Schmid (FRG) took him to the wire and a photo as they were 2nd and 3rd both in 47.48! As they came down the stretch and went into the finish line for a brief moment it seemed as if Edwin may have finally lost. But it would be another year before that would actually happen.

5. 1987 - US wins 4x1 in 37.90. The time was extremely well for that period in time - just .07 off of the then WR - but that is not what makes this race special. What makes it special is the man on the third leg - one Harvey Glance. Glance was a young upstart in 1976 who was a co-favorite to win 100 meter gold in Montreal. He missed the mark in the 100 but ran lead off on the gold medal winning 4x1.Four years later Glance was a member of the ill fated 1980 Olympic squad - a team that never took to the track because we boycotted the Games! A now aging Glance missed out on teams in '83 and '84. But 11 years later a resurgent, veteran Glance once again mined gold - as the third leg on the Rome relay team. And now 22 years after his final gold medal, Glance is once again on a World Championships team - this time headed to Berlin as coach of the 4x1! Let's hope that his experiences can be parlayed into yet another gold medal.

6. 1991 - Greg Foster wins third 110H title in 13.06. Greg Foster is one of the most underrated and underappreciated hurdlers in history. That happens when you rise on the world stage at the same time as one Renaldo "Skeets" Nehemiah! Fierce rivals in college and then internationally, it seems that Renaldo was always getting the better of Greg. And then just when Renaldo gave it up to play professional football and you think that it was now Greg's world to dominate, poof, there appears Roger Kingdom - who breaks Renaldo's World Record and wins two Olympic titles in a row. But in between it all Greg Foster won the first World Championships 110H title in 1983, and for good measure added the second and third meets to his collection. Only Allen Johnson (with four) would win more.

7. 1991 - Jackie Joyner wins long jump in battle with rival Heike Drechsler. Everyone remembers THE big long jump battle that took place in Tokyo - Powell v Lewis. But unfortunately few remember the OTHER long jump battle that took place between Joyner and Drechsler - perhaps the two most talented female athletes from the mid 80's through the mid 90's. Drechsler competing in the sprints and long jump (WR setter in the 200 meters), Joyner in the Heptathlon and long jump (WR setter in both). They are only two of a half dozen women to ever jump over 24 ft and still stand 2nd (Joyner) and 3rd (Drechsler) all time in the event. Their '91 battle nearly saw both reach 24 ft as Joyner went 24' to defeat Drechlser at 23'11" - Drechsler's performance being the longest losing performance ever in a major.

8. 1997 - Maurice Greene wins the 100 in 9.86. Maurice Greene was a promising sprinter in 1995 running a windy 9.88 and defeating then legend Carl Lewis at the Texas Relays. He made the World Championship team that year, but failed to make it out of his quarterfinal. Injury in 1996 found him sitting in the stands at the Olympic Trials and watching as others made the team for Athens. 1997 was different, however, as Greene had multiple PR's at Nationals before going to Athens and defeating Olympic champion Donovan Bailey in near WR time. Athens proved to be the jumping off point for one of the greatest sprint careers in history as Greene went on to win two more World titles in '99/'01 an Olympic title in 2000, set a WR in 1999 and become the first man in history to run 50 legal sub 10 second 100 meter races.

9. 1999 - Wilson Kipketer wins third 800 title in 1:43.30. Kipketer is best known as the man that put the 800 record out of reach of mere mortals with his super 1:41.11 in 1997. What is remembered less is that he was also a very good championship competitor when he wasn't beset with malaria. Malaria kept doing him in during Olympic campaigns, but he was able to win three World titles - more than any other half miler in history - and unfortunately this race in Seville was the last title he would win. If not for his health, one wonders just how much he would have lowered the 800 record!

10. 2003 - Kenenisa Bekele wins 10000 over Haile Gebrselassie. We often see a changing of the guard in major championship events, but typically it's the young lion beating down the old lion as he struggles to maintain his pride. Not so in Paris. Bekele took the mantle of the world's best distance runner by beating the then WR holder in the fastest 10000 meter final EVER. These two warriors put it out there and went toe to toe for 10000 meters. When they crossed the finish line only a second separated them as Bekele won 26:49.57 to Haile's 26:50.77! No shame in defeat for Gebrselassie who has gone on to become the WR holder in the marathon at 2:03:59 while Bekele currently holds the WR's at 5000 (12:37.35) and 10000 (26:17.53). This was easily the greatest ever championship distance showdown.

Keep your eyes open during this year's edition of the World Championships. You never know when you'll be watching history in the making.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ten American Stories to Watch in Berlin

11th IAAF World Athletics Championships: Day Eight

Mixed in with the competition, every major championship has its share of stories running in the background. Every event has its share of back stories - athletes looking to over come odds, rebound from adversity, emerge in their event, or simply trying to make their mark. Berlin will be no exception. Following are ten US stories that I think will shape events in Berlin.

10. Jeremy Wariner - THE top quarter miler this decade, Wariner found himself #2 in 2008 after leading the way and winning everything in sight from 2004 thru 2007. Many attributed Wariner's "decline" last year to a highly publicized break from coach Clyde Hart. A break that came to an abrupt end with the announcement at this year's Nationals that they had patched up their differences and would be working together once again. Since then Wariner hasn't been seen much on the track. His times have been much slower than at this point in season's past, though his final tune up race showed a very strong finish in the stretch. Rival Lashawn Merritt has pretty much had his way with the event this year, so the real question now is will Merritt dominate Berlin as he did Beijing or will Wariner return the favor and take Merritt's newly found crown away.

9. Jenn Stuczynski - When you talk about the women's pole vault the name that sticks out is Yelena Isinbayeva - the Russian that has dominated the women's event in much the same fashion that Sergei Bubka once dominated the men's. Since 2004 she has broken records and completely rewritten the all time list in the event. As dominant as Isinbayeva has ben however, Stuczynski has still managed to creep into contention. She is one of only three women to ever vault over 16 feet, and this year their bests on the season are only 4cm apart. And with Isinbayeva suffering a rare defeat recently in London, there could be a chink in the armor. A chink that Stuczynski could be ready to attack. At her best, Jenn can compete with Isinbayeva. The key will be believing in herself and bringing her best on the day. If she is successful she could bring pole vault gold back to the US.

8. Christian Cantwell - Cantwell is the 7th longest shot putter in world history - but you wouldn't know it looking at his championships results. He hit his huge throw (73' 11.5") back in 2004 - a year in which he was the US and World Indoor Champions. But outdoors he finished 4th at the Olympic Trials and missed his shot at Athens glory. And such has been his career - rather inconsistent. Long throws in some meets, mediocre in others. US outdoor champion in '05 (71') followed by a 5th at Worlds (68' 5.75". Adidas Classic winner in '07 (72' .75") followed by a 5th at Nationals (66' 1"). Last year we finally saw him get close to his huge potential as he hit his final throw of the competition in Beijing to take silver at 69' 2.5". This year Cantwell is once again among the top putters at 71' 7.25" - #3 in the world - and after finally having some success last year in Beijing it will be interesting to see if his immense talent will finally carry him to the top of the podium. Cantwell is always a threat to hit a BIG one. Can he finally put it together and hit that big throw when it matters most?

7. Allyson Felix - Felix is one of the best long sprinters ever developed in the US - and she's still only 24. Twice she has come home with World Championships gold in the 200 meters - Helsinki '05 and Osaka '07. No other woman has won more than one World Championship and only three other women in history have won two global titles - Barbel Wockel ('76/'80), Marion Jones ('00/'01) and Veronica Campbell ('04/'08). Felix has the opportunity to become the only sprinter, male or female, to win three World 200 meter titles, and join Michael Johnson ('91/'95/'96) as the only sprinters to ever win three global titles at this distance. Her task will not be easy as she must face the woman that she beat for her other two titles but who beat her in two Olympic appearances - Veronica Campbell Brown. One of these women could make history. The other run valiantly in the attempt. Felix looked to be in fine form with a world leading 21.88 in her final tune up for Berlin. If she can put together a similar race in Berlin she will make history.

6. Galen Rupp - America has had a long and storied tradition in the distance events. Names like Jim Ryun, Frank Shorter, Steve Prefontaine, Sydnee Maree, Henry Marsh, Steve Scott, Rob Kennedy and Alberto Salazar grace the pages chronicling the history of distance running in the US. But those pages have been rather empty since the 1990's. As the African nations have emerged as world powers in the distances, we have seen our fortunes decline dramatically. But suddenly we have the pairing of a once high school star with a once American great, and that pairing of former HS star, Galen Rupp, with former world star, Alberto Salazar has created an athlete that appears to be on the cusp of world level greatness. The story here is less one of medal possibilities than it is of finally seeing a competitive, home grown distance runner show the early promise that made Steve Prefontaine such a legendary figure. I wait not to see him cross the line in first, but to watch him hold his own on the big stage. If he can do this, our distance hopes for the future will take a quantum leap forward.

5. Sanya Richards - Since Richards joined the ranks of sub 50 quarter milers in 2004 (49.89 best) she has dominated on the clock and in races not called the Olympics or World Championships. She's won more races and run faster than any of her contemporaries, becoming the AR holder in 2006 at 48.70. You have to go back to 1996 to find anyone running faster! One would expect that being that much better than her peers she would have a string of championships three or four globals long. But Richards has had difficulty parlaying her amazing talent into gold medals. A 6th in '04, silver in '05, missed the team in '07 and bronze in '08 has been Sanya's legacy so far in the spotlight. Once again she is the world leader in the event heading to Berlin having run 49.23 this summer. But for Richards the trip to Berlin is not to see how fast she can run, but whether she can outrun her past, and her competition to cross the line in first place.

4. Women's 1500 Meter Crew - When I read the final list of US entries for Berlin my heart skipped a beat when I saw the name of Anna Willard in the 1500 and not the steeplechase. Willard is perhaps the gutsiest of a group of young women that have emerged in the US in the middle distances. With her joining Shannon Rowbury and Christin Wurth Thomas at the starting line, we have the best group of 1500 meter women we have ever sent to any major championship. All three have the potential to make it to the final. And once there World and Olympic finals tend to become all about pace. With THREE horses in the fight, I don't think I've ever been as excited about our prospects in a middle distance event since Johnny Gray and Mark Everett were running wild in the 800 meters back in the early 90's. These women have speed, heart and strong competitive natures, and I'm dying to see how well they do in Berlin. All three have the ability to run sub 4:00, putting all in possible medal contention in the right race.

3. Dwight Phillips - Phillip's story is interesting because of the path he has travelled. Phillips had a three year run near the middle of the decade that was as good as it gets winning the Olympic title in '04 and World titles in '03 and '05. It seemed like the beginning of a run that would last the decade. But if anything is certain in track and field it's that there are always new stars emerging, making the future anything but guaranteed. After getting out over 28 ft during his three year run he suddenly was back around 27 ft and watched Irving Saladino become the world's top jumper - jumping over 28 ft and winning the World title in '07 and the Olympic title last year while Phillips took bronze in '07 and then failed to make the team for Beijing last year. But just when it seemed that Phillips was bottoming out, he returned this year with a vengeance. This year Phillips has had the longest jump since 1991 with his 28' 9.75" jump in Eugene, and has had several jumps over 28ft. He's become more consistent than ever and has beaten all of his peers including Saladino. After a couple of down seasons, Phillips has rebounded and is headed to Berlin looking to regain the World title AND challenge the 29 ft barrier. Now THAT's a turnaround.

2. Men and Women 4x1 Relays - The US annually has the talent to put together sprint relay squads that are capable of challenging for the gold medal. Historically we've won more 4x1 titles than any other country on the planet. If we get the stick around the track we're immediately in contention. Did I say IF we get the stick around the track? I did. Because far too often in recent memory the stick hasn't made it around the track. Bobbled batons have done in either the men's or women's squad in just about every major run this decade! And last year in Beijing after winning both relays in Osaka BOTH squads dropped the baton in Beijing! And to add insult to injury, the men got to watch the Bolt/Powell lead Jamaica team that they beat in Osaka take gold AND set a new WR in the process! Berlin will see both our men's and women's squads take to the track again, and JOB ONE will be to get the stick around the track! With that accomplished the next step will be to beat our Jamaican rivals, and the men will have the added incentive to attempt to regain the WR. Of course it all goes down the drain if the stick hits the track once again!

1. Tyson Gay - Two years ago Tyson Gay was the toast of the track world. He won double gold in Osaka beating then WR holder Asafa Powell in the 100 and setting a meet record in the 200 - breaking a Michael Johnson mark. He finished the year as the sport's #1 athlete for 2007. But what a difference a year can make. The beginning of 2008 saw the emergence of Usain Bolt, and mid season saw him run one of the greatest set of sprint rounds in history at the US Trials in the 100 before succumbing to injury in his first round heat of the 200. A summer of rehab saw him take to the track without a single race since his injury and much less than sharp. He failed to make the Beijing final and watched as Usain Bolt won double gold with double WR efforts. Gay started this season slowly, first nursing a slight injury then running 400's in his first few appearances on the track. His sprint debut however, was with a PR 19.58 in the 200 and though he's raced sparingly he has been awful fast when he has - his legal best of 9.77 equaling his AR and the world leader heading into Berlin. Gay was reported to have a groin injury in July, but he finished up his preparation for Berlin with a 9.79w effort in defeating Asafa Powell once more. THE two headline athletes heading into Berlin are Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt and they are clearly headed for what could be two epic battles. They have supplied the fireworks this summer and will be THE top story in Berlin.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In the 100 Meters Silver is a Curse

The most glamorous event on the World Championships stage just might be the Men's 100 meters. Along with winning the gold medal comes the coveted title of "The World's Fastest Human". 100 meter champions often become the "rock stars" of the sport and household names. Jesse Owens, Jim Hines, Valeri Borzov, Carl Lewis, Maurice Greene, Tyson Gay, and Usain Bolt all became household names via championship victories in the 100 meters.

But while the gold medalists of this most prestigious event have gone on to fame and fortune, the silver medalists have not been nearly as fortunate. Instead of being the launching pad to the top of the podium, 2nd place in the 100 has mostly lead to a reversal of fortune in subsequent years.

Going back to Berlin and the Olympics of 1936, the name of 100 meter champion Jesse Owens is still strongly etched in the minds of track fans as we head to Berlin in 2009. Ralph Metcalf, on the other hand, repeated his silver medal performance of 1932 with yet another silver behind Owens in Berlin. Twice the Second Fastest Man in the World, Metcalf became a footnote in history while Owens went on to international and long lasting fame with his win.

Track fans remember Bobby Morrow, Bob Hayes and Valeri Borzov, but only die hard fans remember the names of Thane Baker, Enrique Figuerola, and Robert Taylor - their runner ups whose careers went in another direction. That "luck" or perhaps "curse" of being the 100 meter silver medalist has carried forward from the time when there was only one major championship every four years (the Olympics) until today with three global championships in each four year cycle.

Following is the history of the 100 silver medalists since the start of the World Championships in 1983. We will see how last year's silver medalist, Richard Thompson (TRI) fares in Berlin.

1983, Helsinki, Calvin Smith . Injured and failed to make the Olympic team in the 100. Bronze medal in Seoul. Failed to make the team for Tokyo, Barcelona, and Stuttgart.

1984, Los Angeles, Sam Graddy . Left the sport to play professional football.

1987, Rome, Ray Stewart*. Injured in the Seoul final and finished last. Finished 6th in Tokyo, 7th in Barcelona, 8th in Stuttgart, 8th in Gothenburg, and failed to get out of his quarterfinal in Atlanta.

1988, Seoul, Linford Christie*. Finished 4th and out of the medals in Tokyo. Rebounded with gold in Barcelona and Stuttgart. Injured and finished 6th in Gothenburg. False started out of the Atlanta final.

1991, Tokyo, Leroy Burrell. Finished 5th and out of the medals in Barcelona. Failed in attempts to make the teams for Stuttgart, Gothenburg, Atlanta and Athens.

1992, Barcelona, Frankie Fredericks. Finished 6th and out of the medals in Stuttgart. Finished 4th and out of the medals in Gothenburg. Silver in Atlanta.

1993, Stuttgart, Andre Cason. Injured and failed to make the team for Gothenburg. Injuries forced him to leave the sport.

1995, Gothenburg, Bruny Surin. Finished 5th in his semi in Atlanta and failed to make the final. Silver again in Seville.

1996, Atlanta, Frankie Fredericks. Finished 4th and out of the medals in Athens. Injured and did not start his semi in Seville. Did not compete in Edmonton and Paris. Failed to get out of his quarterfinal in Athens.

1997, Athens, Donovan Bailey. Injured and failed to make the team for Seville. Injured and did not make the team for Seville. Injured and finished 8th in his quarterfinal in Sydney. Finished 6th in his semi in Edmonton. Note that Bailey was twice gold medalist in 1995 & 1996 before his silver medal performance in '97.

1999, Seville, Bruny Surin. Injured in his semi and finished last. Injured and finished 8th in his semi in Sydney. Injured and finished 7th in Edmonton.

2000, Sydney, Ato Boldon. Finished 4th and out of the medals in Edmonton. Finished 5th in his semi and failed to make the Paris final. Finished 4th in his heat in Athens.

2001, Edmonton, Tim Montgomery. Finished 4th and out of the medals in Paris. Finished 7th at the Trials and failed to make the team for Athens. Later suspended from the sport for drug use.

2003, Paris, Darrel Brown. Injured and failed to make the team for Athens. Injured and did not compete in Athens. Finished 7th in his semi and failed to make the final in Helsinki. Failed to make the team for Osaka. Finished 8th in his quarterfinal in Beijing.

2004, Athens, Francis Obikwelu. Finished 4th and out of the medals in Helsinki. Disqualified in his heat in Osaka. Finished 6th in his semi and failed to make the final in Beijing.

2005, Helsinki, Michael Frater. Failed to make the team for Osaka. Failed to make the team for Osaka. Finished 6th and out of the medals in Beijing.

2007, Osaka, Derrick Atkins. Finished 6th in his semi and failed to make the final in Beijing.

2008, Beijing, Richard Thompson. ???

(*) - Results changed with the drug suspension of winner Ben Johnson.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is 30 Medals a Realistic Goal ?

As we head to Berlin I am reminded that earlier this year USATF CEO Doug Logan set a goal of 30 medals in London. This after our 24 medal showing in Beijing. Ever since that goal was set I've been asking myself, and others, if that is a realistic goal?

When looking at our teams on average it's clear that, in spite of what were characterized as "down" performances in Beijing, the sprints and hurdles routinely carry the day when it comes to winning medals in major championships. On average we can count on at least one medal in the 100, 200, 400, short hurdles, 400 hurdles, and both relays for both the men and women in any given major. Often multiple medals in several of those events. So, even being conservative, we can pretty much count on 15 medals in the "short" events before our team is even selected - putting us half way to our goal at the start of each season!

So the real question becomes, can we get 15 more? Or more specifically HOW do we get the other 15?

If Team USA were truly a team - working together year round in pursuit of a common goal - I would divide the load among Departments. I would set a goal of 5 medals for the Distance Department, 5 medals for the Weight Department, and 5 medals for the Jumps Department. It would then fall to each Department Head to prepare his/her athletes to achieve this goal.

The good news here, is that historically we've shown the ability to score 5 medals in each of these "Departments". Unfortunately, the current reality is that in recent years/majors we've had difficulty scoring points in these areas with any regularity.

If we've done it in the past, then what's the problem? Clearly we have talented athletes in this country. We have a HUGE pool of talent to draw from. We have a "feeder system" in the colleges. So why can't we get to 30? Especially since it seems so simple when broken up into Departments. But I think the problem is that we really DON'T have Departments.

You see Team USA is not a true "team". It is a collection of athletes and training camps from all over the United States that meet at a training camp for a few days each year prior to going to battle against the rest of the world at major championships. As such they are a group of independent contractors, so to speak. And like any independent contractor each training group is limited by the resources that it has available. So it is not coincidental that we typically see medals being won in bunches by training camps. The Santa Monica Track Club. The New York Running Club. HSI. The Oregon Track Club.

We can do it in small groups, when those groups have the right resources, chief among them coaching. What we have to do as the larger group is pull the "camps" together into Departments. If we are to pick up those other 15 medals we will have to become more of a "National Team" with regional branches as opposed to individual camps trying to come together once a year. We will have to find a way to get our best resources (coaches) out to our best athletes - regardless of what "camp" they belong to. In short we have to figure out as Team USA how to coordinate resources nationally so that we can nurture our best talent, per event, to develop medal winners across the board!

So, can we get to 30 medals? I think the long term answer is, yes we can. But in order to do so, we will have to stop relying on "luck" and develop a coordinated system. Team USA needs to become an ongoing, year round effort, where resources are shared and results monitored. When medals are determined and won via a coordinated system instead of the haphazard model that currently exists, we will reach and surpass 30 medals.

Until then we will continue to see medal counts in the 20's - depending on which training camps are most effective each year.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Time for the US to Step Up and Host a World Championships

With two weeks until Worlds and no other meets to look forward to, my mind is now fixated on the World Championships and Berlin.

The World Championships have been a staple in Europe since its' inception in 1983. So far eleven renditions of the meet have been held and all but three of those have been on the European continent - the other three were held in Japan (twice) and Canada.

The thing that I find most interesting is that not once has the event been hosted by the United States. In the twenty six years that the World Championships have been in existence the US has hosted two Olympic Games (Los Angeles, 1983 and Atlanta, 1996) and is currently a finalist in the bids for the 2016 Games. But we have yet to play host to the World Championships.

Rather ironic when one takes into consideration that we are routinely at the top of the medal charts come Worlds. We lead the way on the track, its time we stepped up to lead the way off the track. Hosting the World Championships is one way to take a step towards that lead position - not to mention the benefits it would have for the sport here in the US.

Hosting the Worlds would bring the sport's top track and field athletes to the United States. Not just one or two at a time, but an entire week of the best in the world competing right here at home. And with New York and Eugene becoming members of the new Diamond League and these meets moving to the summer, we could see a huge bump in the number of top level athletes participating in these meets as well! The end result would be three VERY high class track competitions taking place on US soil. The level of which is typically only seen in Europe.

There is no greater way to bring the sport to life here in the United States. Soccer experienced a huge rise in popularity in the US during the mid to late 90's - due in large part to the FIFA World Cup being hosted by the United States for the first time in 1994. Since then we have hosted the Women's World Cup in 1999 and 2003 - further strengthening soccer's image in this country and maintaining the fervor that the sport enjoys here. Hosting the World Championships in Track and Field could pay the same sort of dividends in terms of popularity and awareness of the sport in this country.

And now would be a most opportune time to place such a bid. President Obama is a big sports fan and just last week met with the head of FIFA to lobby on behalf of the US effort to host another World Cup. So it is conceivable that his aid could be enlisted in putting together a bid to host the World Championships of Track and Field.

We're long overdue. Our athletes are showcased all over the world, its time to showcase them right here at home. And in spite of our placings in meets all over the world including the Olympics and Worlds, I do not believe that the rest of the world takes us seriously as the "leader" in the sport. Hosting a Worlds would go a long way towards overcoming some of the negativity that has come our way over the past decade and assuming a leadership position internationally. It's time to step up and make that move.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Stockholm is in the Books - Next Stop Berlin

IAAF Super Grand Prix - Stockholm

Stockholm closed out the first half of the European Circuit in fine style. Several potential medal contenders competed and gave us some indication of how they might perform in Berlin. Among them:

Jeremy Wariner (US), 400 meters. Wariner won handily in Stockholm. But the time (44.83) and the manner in which he won the race (laid back and kicking in the end) didn't give me pause to believe he can beat Lashawn Merritt.

Allyson Felix (US), 200 meters. Felix gave the kind of performance we saw from her when she won World gold in 2005 and 2007. Fast on the turn, she lead into the straight and easily outdistanced the field down the straight to win in a world leading 21.88 - also a stadium record earning her the only diamond on the day. Anything close to this form in Berlin gives her the gold.

Dayron Robles (CUB), 110 hurdles. Robles is back in form after his bout with the flu. With Liu Xiang out of the picture this year, it doesn't appear there will be anyone in Berlin that an mount a formidable challenge to the WR holder.

Jenny Barringer (US), 5000 meters. Barringer had been missing from the European Circuit, until yesterday. All she did was set a new personal best (15:05.25). She looked fit, confident, and easily repelled the challenge of Russia's Natalya Popkova. Barringer will be competing at the shorter 3000 steeplechase in Berlin. She's definitely fit, let's see if she can get in there and get a medal.

Christin Wurth Thomas (US) 1500 meters. Wurth Thomas may have emerged from the shadows of others like Barringer and Shannon Rowbury yesterday. Christin (4:03.01) won the 1500 over Rowbury (4:05.47) and looked impressive as she powered along on the final lap to secure the win. With times of 4:01.72 and 3:59.98 to her credit, Wurth Thomas has become a real threat to get in the final in Berlin and make something happen.

Tyson Gay (US), 100 meters. Gay has a nagging groin problem and has lost some training time because of it. It didn't seem to affect him yesterday as he once again easily outran former WR holder Asafa Powell with a sizzling 9.79w (+2.6). Gay is clearly on pace to put up a stellar defense of the sprint titles he won in Osaka. Only Usain Bolt (JAM) truly stands in his path.

Stockholm was full of fine performances. Full meet results can be found here.

Now we get a two week break before the start of Worlds on August 15. Lots to review, and ponder before then.