Monday, August 30, 2010

Brussels & Rieti

Tyson Gay (R) of the U.S. wins the men's 100m race in front of Jamaica's Nesta Carter at the Memorial Van Damme, IAAF Diamond League athletics final meet, in Brussels August 27, 2010. REUTERS/Sebastien Pirlet  (BELGIUM - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

The Ivo van Damme meeting in Brussels marked the end of the Diamond League for 2010. And while it was the second half of the “finals” som,ehow the meet was not quite as exciting as I had anticipated. Especially in light of the Rieti meeting that followed. Perhaps it was the cool weather which seemed to keep most performances down a bit. But aside from a few events, the competition just seemed lacking. I will weigh in with my overall thoughts on the Diamond League in a later post, but there were a few highlights in Brussels.

The Brussels track always seems to churn out fast 100’s and this year was no exception. Tyson Gay went to Brussels looking for a new PR, but a combination of cool weather and a false start that the starter called on no one seemed to make Tyson hesitate at the start. There was no hesitation from Jamaica’s Nesta Carter, however, who is challenging Asafa Powell these days as the world’s preeminent starter. Carter exploded from the blocks and with outstanding pickup was clear of the field by 20 meters and looking to be on his way to an upset win. But Tyson Gay’s superior top end speed kicked in late race as he ran down the 9.85 of Carter with his own 9.79. His second 9.7 in as many meets and a race that could have been a 9.6 with better execution in the first half.

There was little wrong with the execution of David Rudisha’s 800 meter run as he demonstrated that he is clearly the world’s best over the distance. With this year’s #2 man Abubaker Kaki in the race, it appeared that Rudisha was out to send a message to his “rival” as he truly seemed to toy with him throughout the race.  With Kaki tucking in close to Rudisha early, Rudisha simply matched any move that Kaki made to keep him on his shoulder. Once off the final turn Rudisha shifted gears just enough to put a bit of daylight between the two as he ran easily to a 1:43.50 win. The difference in the two half milers was clear as Kaki was pumping his arms, and wagging his head for all he was worth as Rudisha flowed down the final straight. Only previous world record holder Wilson Kipkepter has ever looked as regal running so fast.

Speaking of regal, Reese Hoffa has been out to prove that Christian Cantwell may not be the King of the Ring, as once again he “upset” Cantwell in Brussels. Cantwell got back to form here and tossed the shot over 70 feet (70’ 11.25”) – which would have won him  most other competitions. But Hoffa has suddenly found his form and boomed a huge 72’ 8.5”  throw on his final toss. Cantwell won the Diamond League title, but Hoffa showed that the US still has a very formidable 1, 2 punch in the event. And with Chaunte Lowe out for the season Blanka Vlasic continued to dominate the women’s high jump as she became the only individual to win 7 events in the Diamond League.

Despite the fact that this was the second half finale of the Diamond League, the real fireworks took place in Rieti on Sunday, as PR’s fell left and right in Italy – headlined by David Rudisha’s second WR run in a one week span! The man is running with supreme confidence right  now, and the only question I have is just how much will he be able to lower the record? His strides are long, easy and almost regal. And as much as I am a huge fan of the sprints, Rudisha is the most impressive athlete on the planet right now – and that’s saying a lot considering how well David Oliver has run this year and the fact that Tyson Gay has taken down the only other sprinters to ever run under 9.75 this WR holder Usain Bolt and former record holder Asafa Powell! But twice now Rudisha has gone under 1:41.10 (1:41.01 in his latest record) and is making the 800 look like an extended sprint. Once again in Rieti no one was in the same zip code as Rudisha as he flowed up the track, yet in 2nd and 3rd both Boaz Lalang (1:42.95) and Nick Symmonds (1:43.76) scored big PR’s while getting caught up in Rudisha’s slip stream.

Speaking of PR’s (something the Rieti track has become famous for) Bernard Lagat scored another American Record this season, this time a 7:29.00 in the 3000 meters as he took second behind Tariku Bekele’s 7:28.70 world leader. Chris Solinsky, enjoying his finest season ever, also got a PR 7:34.32 in 5th, as he coincidentally became the #5 American ever.

But the real PR setting took place early in the meet in the men’s 100 meters as no fewer than EIGHT PR’s were set between the heats and finals, with another three athletes getting seasons bests. I know this will anger some, but after watching Asafa Powell “shut down” on a WR 9.74 here a couple of seasons ago (while running two 9.7’s on the same day) and now this sprint fest, I really have to ask if this event has been measured properly on this track. Because prior to (and after) Powell’s runs he had been no where near that form and no one here was remotely close to this fast anywhere else this season – including winner Nesta Carter, who had run 9.86 and 9.85 with blistering starts this season but dropped all the way to 9.78 here. Second place Ryan Bailey has been nursing various injuries this year  and came to Rieti with a 10.05 best, but left with runs of 9.95 (heats) and 9.88 (final). Mario Forsythe entered with a PR and SB of 10.09 but went 9.99 and 9.95 in Rieti. Christophe Lemaitre entered with a single sub 10 to his credit and left with NR’s of 9.98 and 9.97. And Michael Frater with a SB of 10.08 went home with a 9.98. Certainly impressive running but I have to wonder.

None the less, the one thing that I did leave with from this race is that Jamaica’s Nesta Carter is THE top man of the second tier and knocking very loudly on the door of the Big Three – Bolt, Gay, Powell. Only those three appear to be his superiors right now and I do expect Carter to give a strong run to get on the podium in Daegu. As I also expect of Wallace Spearmon who had another impressive run over 200 meters – this time winning in 19.85. This time Spearmon was among the leaders coming off the turn and eased his way quickly to the front and stayed there down the stretch, as no one was able to put any pressure on him. Appearing to be the healthiest he has been since the 2006 season, Spearmon should be a major player in the deuce in 2011.

All in all a great weekend of track and field. So good in fact that David Oliver ran 13.01 and Allyson Felix won her second Diamond and they are almost an after thought. And even though it’s just about September, we still have the Continental Cup in store next weekend! Not to mention some other non Diamond League events. But then Rieti wasn’t a Diamond League event either and look how that turned out!


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