Texas A&M Double Champs Once Again
Congrats to Pat Henry and the Aggies of Texas A&M as once again they pull off the double team championship! In a meet where rivals Florida and Oregon had the big time performers – Eaton, Taylor, Theisen, Demps, Wheating, et al, the Aggies ground it out and their athletes got points when they needed to. They started the meet out on the women’s side without multi point scorer Gaby Mayo, and began the final day of competition on the men’s side by not finishing the 4x1. Yet in spite of the adversity, they came through when they needed to and picked up double hardware once again.
Each of the top schools had their moments. Oregon’s men took advantage of a very slow early pace in the 1500 to pull out a 1-2-3 sweep as Andrew Wheating became only the 5th athlete in meet history to win the 800/1500 double. Florida’s men did what they’ve done all year in the 4x1 – win it. Giving Demps his second gold of the meet. And with A&M not getting the stick around the track it was the Gators who appeared to be in the drivers seat. Oregon’s women got a huge race from frosh Jordan Hasay in the 1500 getting up for third and big points and their 4x4 edged out the Aggies for the relay title.
But in the end the Aggies used the 200 meters to score big – 22 for the women with a 1-2-5 finish; 10 for the men with a 2-8 finish. The women won the 4x1 and the men got a huge win in the 4x4. The women had the title won before the 4x4 while the men had to wait out the results of the long jump. With Florida’s Taylor only scoring in 4th the men won by 1 point! I also have to give congrats to Mike Holloway (Florida) and Vin Lananna (Oregon) and their athletes, because their squads are always right there. Every year they are in the mix and just points away from the title. Sort of like watching the Lakers and Celtics – every year you know they are going to be in the mix. Clearly Henry, Holloway, and Lananna are three of the best coaches on the college scene. So a big shout out to all three.
The NCAA Shows the Value of Team in the Sport
Believe it or not two Diamond League events took place while the NCAA Championships were running – Rome and New York. And while I’m sure that true fans of the sport found time to watch the meets and check the results (I did) the NCAA was the draw that, at least for me, created the most excitement and kept bringing me back to follow! Yes there were faster times and further and higher marks in Rome & New York. But what the collegiate meet had in abundance was more excitement! There were more events with stirring match ups, sizzling head to heads.and exciting relay competition. But most of all there was the team competition. Every race, every jump, throw and vault had meaning. The results of A.J. Acosta were just as important as those of star Ashton Eaton. Okagbare won the 100 but we were just as tuned in to where Jeneba Tarmoh and Porscha Lucas would finish. Ryan Whiting won the shot title but behind him Kemel Mesic was fighting to win a title too. Fans were looking at form charts, adding & subtracting points, projecting what was needed in coming events and having FUN with the sport!
Four full days of competition and no one was BORED. All the events – men AND women. No gimmicks – no races were run down the middle of Eugene’s main street – just exciting competition. No world records were in jeopardy, nor was the meet sold based on the anticipation of records. But the fans in the stands and at home were thoroughly engaged. Not just for a couple of hours, but for four full days, for hours a day. So don’t tell me that fans will only sit for a couple of hours of track at a time. Or that we need to cut meets in half to attract people through the turnstiles. Or that we have have to have a world record attempt in every meet, or run odd distances or in strange prefab venues to make it exciting. What we need to do is get the best we have on the track. Competing against each other with some regularity. And perhaps throw in a team concept to tie it all together – because everyone loves to have something to rally around! The IAAF and those running the “elite” end of the sport need to pay attention.
The Diamond League
Speaking of the elite end of the sport needing to pay attention, what was the person that put the Diamond League schedule together thinking about? Rome on Thursday (in Europe) then New York on Saturday (in North America)! I’m thinking that someone may need to be tested for drugs – and not the performance enhancing kind. That’s not even adequate travel time, let alone time for athletes to recover from one meet to the next. So you’re guaranteed to dilute your fields for both meets – even running half a meet for each. Then to top it off there are three weeks until the next event. Which, oh by the way, is going to be run right after several national championships – including ours here in the US. So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Prefontaine meet will either have several withdrawals and/or sub par performances.
It would have made more sense to give a week between Rome and New York. That would give athletes plenty of travel and acclimation time from Europe to North America as well as a meet closer to their national championships to be sharp. Then a week rest rest, nationals, and then give another week and restart the Diamond League the second week of July. But once again we have the elite side of the sport running as if there is no coordination – just a loose assemblage of meets. I almost get the feeling that the US leg of the “league” has been set up to fail.
Rome & New York
In Rome Lashinda Dumus continues on a tear this season as she ran the first sub 53 second 400H race of the year. Her winning time of 52.82 was the =11th best mark of all time and only .21 off her own PR set last year in Monaco. She’s having a great season. Chaunte Howard-Lowe is also having a fantastic season in the high jump. Once again she pushed Croatia’s Blanks Vlasic to the limit with both jumping 6’ 8” – Vlasic winning with on fewer misses at the previous height. Howard-Lowe is becoming a force in this event – very refreshing to see. Lashaunte Moore is also emerging in the women’s 100. Her win here showing that her previous 10.97 was no fluke. The race was marred by two disqualifications as both Miki Barber and World & Olympic champ Shelly Ann Fraser (JAM) were tossed after false starts. This new rule is going to eventually bite the sport in the bottom when someone like Fraser gets tossed in a major championship.
American men faired well in Rome also. Walter Dix ran another sub20 in the 200, blazing the turn and running away from the field with a very nice 19.86. Dix is beginning to solidify his position as the #3 man in this event behind Bolt and Gay. And judging by the way he ran that turn is working at trying to become a serious challenger. We also finally got a pretty solid performance from Jeremy Wariner in the 400. Not sure what to take from the race however. On the one hand Wariner won in 44.73, taking the world lead in the process. On the other hand he was run down in the stretch by Angelo Taylor and only won after a review of the photo with Taylor running 44.74. Nice to see Wariner under 45 seconds, but the manner in which Taylor ran him down says that he still has a long way to go to regain his former form.
Two days later we got the New York meet. Which didn’t seem much different this year than before it became part of the Diamond League. Actually in some ways perhaps a bit less. From the telecast the stands were not as full as in past years – or at least it seemed that way. I think in part because the meet was built up around the participation of Usain Bolt who had to withdraw because he’s been nursing some sort of Achilles strain. Then there was all the “negative” publicity regarding the lack of a match up between Bolt and Tyson Gay, as Gay has also been nursing a sore hamstring. Though I have to say that unless there was some last minute deal that was struck that was never publicized Gay was never scheduled to run in New York! From everything that has been published plus their own postings on their web sites, the only place they’ve been scheduled to meet since the start of the season has been in Brussels in August. So all the talk of no showdown because of two injured athletes seemed to be erroneous and only served to provide negative publicity to a sport that really doesn’t need it. If the sport spent more time trying to develop more of its stars, New York would have been in fine shape.
For example, the best race of the meet on the track involved two rivals that the sport does little to promote. Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) v Allyson Felix (US) in the 200 meters turned out to be one barn burner of a race. Brown is the two time Olympic Champion. Felix the only three time World Champion (male or female). Both have pedigree, tons of gold between them, and always compete to the fullest. They did so again in New York with Campbell Brown getting her first ever win against Felix outside of the Olympics as they sizzled to a 21.98 to 22.02 finish. An awesome display of speed by both women – a possibility that was never sold to the public prior to the meet.
And since this seems to be “Rant Monday”, let me say that the sport seems to sell its soul to get televised, yet Saturday while New York was televised live we saw nothing of the two other events that were truly noteworthy. In the men’s pole vault, Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie sailed 19’ 2.5” over the bar. An outstanding early season vault and the #2 vault in the world this year. Even more significant was the 59’ 0” triple jump by his countryman Teddy Tamqho. Tamqho became only the third man in history to soar over the 59 foot barrier, and solidifies his claim as one of the best triple jumpers ever coming on the heals of his world indoor record earlier this winter. Both of these performances were missed by the television crew however, and thus by the viewing audience. We were treated to interviews of both Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay on the status of their current health. As once again this sport missed an opportunity to promote itself and its athletes in exchange for presenting a myopic view of the sport to a rare television audience in this country. I’m a huge sprint fan, but we’ve got to get beyond just Bolt and Gay – because there are so many more meets where neither will be competing.
At any rate it was one long, full weekend of competition. The season is in full gear. And believe it or not the national championships are less than two weeks away.