Friday, July 9, 2010

Confirmation in Lausanne

July 08, 2010 - Lausanne, WAADT VAUD, SWITZERLAND - epa02241547 Debbie Dunn from the US wins the women's 400 meters race during the 35th Athletissima, an international IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting, 08 July 2010, at the Stade Olympique in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Lausanne was the half way mark of this year’s Diamond League. And as we hit the mid point of the season there seemed to be more questions than answers out there on the track. How healthy was Usain Bolt? Had Walter Dix and Debbie Dunn arrived? Would Dayron Robles return to dominating form? Just where is Jeremy Wariner in the grand scheme of the 400? Watching Lausanne’s Athletissima competition, I think we got the answer to these and more as several superb performances were turned in on the Swiss oval.

Of course the big question that was on the mind of most was the status of Usain Bolt. Bolt had missed the New York meet and Jamaican nationals while nursing a sore Achilles. Recent word was that it could curtail his competing over 200 meters. Taking to the track in the 100 meters Bolt had an average start and then did what Bolt does, steadily accelerated away from the field to a 9.82 win – equaling Asafa Powell’s world leader. He looked smooth and relaxed and ready to resume his season.

Dayron Robles (CUB) had similar results in the high hurdles. Hampered by injury last year, Robles has been slowly rounding into form this year. He entered Lausanne having run 13.09 & 13.08 in June, yet watched as the event was being taken over by David Oliver, who thrice has run under 13.00, including his AR 12.90 just last week. Robles confirmed his fitness with a flowing flight of hurdles that ended 13.01 seconds after the gun – with a less than stellar start. Robles looked the part of the man that set the WR two seasons ago, which means that a race between he and Oliver could become something epic!

Something epic is where it appeared Jeremy Wariner was headed a couple of seasons ago. Heading into 2008 the question wasn’t would he win a second Olympic gold, but could he do so in WR time? After Beijing, however, the question on everyone’s lips was “why did he change coaches”? As a coaching switch began two seasons of losses and a reversion of times as Wariner got slower instead of faster. To the point where the question early on this season was “when is he going to run under 45”? A 44.73 in Rome answered that question, but a dnf at nationals raised another – “is he healthy”? I think Lausanne was the turning point in his two year battle as he nearly looked like the old “Pookie” with his 44.57 world leading win. I say “nearly” because his dominating finish is still missing. But his first 300 was very controlled (circa ‘04 to ‘07) and though he didn’t run away from the field in the stretch he was still under control and strong. Watching him in Lausanne if anyone hopes to beat him they’d better do it soon before he is fully “back to normal”!

Bershawn Jackson is another athlete that had been battling with injuries over the past couple of seasons. Jackson has been healthy this year and running well as he has also returned to his old 15 step stride pattern in the 400 hurdles. With another win in 47.62, he was well under the 48 second barrier. More importantly “Batman” completely dismantled a field containing Angelo Taylor, Javier Culson, Felix Sanchez, Isa Phillips, and Kerron Clement – the best of the vets and the new blood – confirming his status as the king of the one lap hurdles.

Of course it wasn’t all about athletes “coming back”, for some athletes it was about confirming their newly found status among the world’s elite. And none did it better than Kenya’s David Rudisha. The world leader in the 800 Rudisha looked to have a battle on his hand entering the meet with South Africa’s Mbulaeni Mulaudzi scheduled to compete. Mulaudzi had shown the ability to defeat Rudisha, beating him in Berlin as he won the World title. But since then Rudisha has been a different runner as he showed in Lausanne. The two men followed the pace maker through a 50 second first lap before Rudisha took over controlling the race down the backstretch and into the final turn. It was there that Mulaudzi attacked and attempted to go past, and there that Rudisha very smoothly increased his tempo and began to move ever so slightly away as if to say “no not today”! Though only he and Abubaker Kaki have run faster this season than Rudisha’s winning 1:43.25, he was so under control that it looked more like a training run than a race. More and more he is looking like Wilson Kipketer in his prime – and he is only 21 years old!

At the other end of the age spectrum is Debbie Dunn. At 32 she’s just now “arriving” in the 400. She dipped under 50 seconds last year with her 49.95 best, but Lausanne marked her second sub 50 this season as she controlled this race handily with a 49.81 win. Dunn had looked very good at nationals, winning in 49.64, but Eugene provided somewhat of a hiccup as she finished a well beaten 4th behind Allyson Felix, Amantle Montsho and Sherika Williams. Dunn got back on track here turning the tables nicely on Williams and Montsho in what was the fastest race on the season depth wise. Dunn is definitely on par with the world’s best.

Of all the athletes looking to confirm their status yesterday, there was one who has competed this season with a definite chip on his shoulder – Walter Dix. Dix is clearly competing to show that the sprints aren’t “ a done deal” on the elite level. And his performances over 200 meters have been bringing him much attention. Once again in Lausanne he attacked the turn early and lead coming into the stretch. As with Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, the race was over at that point as he powered up the straight to a 19.86 win – his 4th sub20 this season. He showed his competitiveness in Eugene in his defeat of Tyson Gay, and here he showed his consistency as he broke the sub20 barrier while easily handling the field. He is easily the next name to be mentioned after Bolt & Gay – pending further confirmation by Wallace Spearmon – and appears headed towards the 19.5 range. But what I’ve loved about Walter this season is his “I’m in it to win it” attitude. He’s not afraid. He may take his lumps, but he’s going to do so at full speed. Sort of a sprinting Prefontaine – he’s going to push himself to the limit and take on whoever is out there! And I wish him nothing but the best, because pound for pound and inch for inch he’s one of the toughest competitors on the track.

Confirmations aside Lausanne was a great meet. Brittney Reese got a big long jump win, as did Renaud Lavillenie with his pole vault victory over Steven Hooker. Hooker looked to attack Bubka’s record this year, he may end up trying to match Lavillenie. Geleta Burka was huge down the finishing straight with her mad sprint to win the 1500 in a world leading 3:59.28 – the year’s first sub 4. And behind her in 5th place American Morgan Uceny (4:02.40) appears to be another middle distance runner on the rise here in the states. Great competition all the way around with eight world leaders set on the day. And with only a day off it’s Gateshead tomorrow.


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