Monday, April 26, 2010

Weekend Review – Penn

Track and Field: 116th Penn Relays

As excited as I was that Penn was finally here, I feel somewhat let down now that it’s over. Yes, there was a Bolt sighting. And yes there were huge crowds. But there were several things that I found disappointing.

There were highlights. The Tennessee Lady Vols picked up where they left off last year winning three titles this year taking the 4 x 800, 4 x 1500 and distance medley relays. A tough feat to achieve at any meet, let alone Penn. The men’s distance medley relay had one of the closest finishes of the meet as American’s David Torrance (4:00.47) and Leonel Manzano (4:00.04) gave serious chase after Kenyan Josephat Kithii (4:00.61) as Kenya (9:24.97), USA Blue (9:25.02) and USA White (9:20.04) finished closer than most of the sprint relays!

Which is where my disappointment starts – our sprint relays. The big attraction at Penn is supposed to be USA v World with a big focus on the 4x1 and 4x4 relays. Yet I found myself very disappointed with what we put on the track. As I stated prior to the meet we put a lot of effort into “balancing” out our squads. With Usain Bolt in attendance this year “balance” wasn’t what was needed! Nor was the manner in which we put our teams together, as neither 4x1 was put together to win in my humble opinion.

Two men’s squads, and on both squads we placed athletes on the second legs noted more for their starts than their finishes (Travis Padgett & Mike Rodgers)! Then for an odd sort of consistency both squads started individuals more noted for their finishes than their starts (Walter Dix & Ryan Bailey)! The result? We looked good coming into the first handoff, then got blitzed down the backstretch. Our weak finishers had trouble pushing the third legs through the zone making for poor exchanges. Third legs couldn't catch up and Bolt received the baton slightly ahead and the race was over! Running 8.79 on the anchor the last thing that Bolt needed was for us to hand him victory on a silver platter! So we got waxed by a Jamaican team starting Mario Forsythe (bests of 10.16/20.84) and with no Asafa Powell (more MVP v JAAA issues)!

The women won their “showdown”, but only because injury to Sanya Richards moved Allyson Felix from third leg (she’s a HORRIBLE turn runner) to second leg where she’s one of the best in the world – because from what I hear she was originally slated for third leg duty! Call it fate, but Allyson did what she does – blazed the straight and gave us a solid lead. From there it was a matter of holding the lead and giving it to Carmelita Jeter who was NOT going to be caught by anyone. So, yes a win, but what are the people in charge of our relays thinking? We have gone the last two majors without setting foot in the 4x1 final for either the men or the women. Yet we invite our chief competition here to compete against us and treat it like a pick up race on a playground. We have some serious work to do, and I didn’t see it being done at Penn.

For example, Jamaica beat us in the women’s sprint medley. But could we not find two 200 meter runners for the first two legs? We ran two quarter milers Natasha Hastings and Dee Dee Trotter and it showed as Jamaica’s Kerron Stewart – Olympic 200 bronze medalist – wiped us up on the second leg. Then to add insult to injury we anchored our most competitive half miler (Anna Pierce) on the “B” squad. So while Sheena Tosta put us back in the game on the third leg 400, Jamaican anchor Kenia Sinclair had no challenge and ran away and hid.

And while we won both 4x4’s, our men’s squad looked almost like a “B” squad as we had no Lashawn Merritt and no Jeremy Wariner. We won with two 400 hurdlers (Bershawn Jackson & Angelo Taylor) leading the way on the final two legs. Not how you want to go against “The World”. I’ll be looking at our 400 situation later this week. We have work to do or we will suffer again come Daegu and London. Unfortunately we don’t get many opportunities to work on it so we can’t afford to waste any of them. But Penn seems like an opportunity wasted.

I was also very disappointed in the telecast by ESPN. We got TWO hours – a biggie for track and field. But we got maybe an hours worth of track. We got a segment on Sanya Richards and her off season marriage though she didn’t compete. We got a segment on Lashawn Merritt’s suspension and Doug Logan’s comments – does the average or casual fan need to hear this, I thought we were trying to ATTRACT people to the sport! And we got to see the Jamaican victory in the 4 x1 about 4 times! As I have said before, if we can only sell our competitions based on a single individual then we have lost the battle for fans and viewers. We have to start to sell the public on multiple stars or we are doomed! I mean, quiet as it’s kept, Allyson Felix was the only elite athlete to take home two wins at Penn (4x1 and 4x4). And where was all the collegiate action?

I will end my conversation on Penn on a high note. The coverage from Flotrack was AWESOME! Thanks Flotrack I got to see the college competition and the high school competition. I actually got to see Tennessee complete their triple win. I got to see Ryan Baily pick up another win (10.15) – out of lane 2. I got to see Mississippi State and Florida go toe to toe in the 4x2 with Tavaris Tate (MsSt) just out leaning a hard charging Calvin Smith (Fl) for a .04 win! I got to see all the heats of the 4x1’s and 4x4’s and distance and sprint medley’s – high school, college and elite!

An outstanding job that was only interrupted when they had to shut down temporarily for the USA v World events as they were prohibited from showing them. If you haven’t seen their web casts check out they stream several meets live and then have event by event archives. Next best thing to being there. They and Universal Sports have become two of my favorite weekend stops when I can’t be there!

May is around the corner and the sport will be changing gears. Collegiate conferences and regional meets. The Diamond League will get started with the Doha meet. Some smaller invitational meets, and high school state meets. So we will start to see the best of the high school and collegiate athletes, and the elites will start to show up for some individual work – finally!

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