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!


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Preview – Brussels Diamond League

Friday will mark the end of the inaugural Diamond League with the Ivo van Damme meeting in Brussels. This meet will mark the second half of the “finals” that began in Zurich, with the final “Diamonds” being awarded. As in Zurich all the fields are loaded, so the events that follow are those that I expect may stand out a bit from the rest.


Men’s 100 WL: 9.78, Tyson Gay – USA Best Entry: 9.78, Tyson Gay – USA

Tyson Gay has been the dominant 100 meter sprinter this year with wins over Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell as well as the world’s fastest time on the season. His goal in Brussels is a PR – which means something faster than 9.69. However with temperatures expected to be in the mid to high 60’s a more realistic goal could be the meet record of 9.77 set by Bolt in last year’s meeting. With both Bolt and Powell now out for the rest of the season the race within the race should be between improving Jamaicans Nesta Carter and Yohan Blake for what could end up being the #2 position behind Bolt next year. With Gay showing an improved start this season and seemingly healthy, this race could be over by 50 meters. If that’s the case look for something in the neighborhood of 9.75 with the weather being more like London than ideal sprinting weather.



Women’s 200 WL: 21.98, V. Campbell Brown – JAM Best Entry: 22.02, Allyson Felix – USA

Only yearly leader Veronica Campbell Brown has beaten Allyson Felix this year – her first win over Felix that was not in the Olympic Games. With “VCB” not competing here this race is almost a “gimme” for Felix. Should she do the expected and win it will give her Diamond League trophies in both the deuce and the quarter and set up an interesting 2011 season – will she attempt the double in Daegu? If she attempts the double she will have the daunting task of facing VCB in the deuce and potentially Sanya Richards in the quarter. Potentially the biggest story of 2011. The drama here in Brussels will be whether or not she can run under 22 seconds with much of her recent focus on the 400.



Men’s 800 WL: 1:41.09, David Rudisha – KEN Best Entry: 1:41.09, David Rudisha – KEN

Rudisha has been THE standout in this event since his first race of the year, and is fresh off his WR run. Abubaker Kaki attempted to challenge Rudisha earlier in the season in Oslo only to just fall short 1:42.04 to 1:42.23 – a PR for Kaki. Since then their seasons have taken different directions. Rudisha has continued to improve his times while Kaki has reverted back to running 1:44’s. Kaki will have to be at least the runner that was in Oslo to have a chance at competing with Rudisha. This is a very important race for Kaki, as he needs to stay close and be competitive or he risks giving up a huge psychological advantage to Rudisha heading into next eyar’s World Championships. If the pace goes 50 flat or better it will most likely take at least a 1:42 to win – and the way Rudisha has been running possibly a 1:41.xx.



Women’s 800 WL: 1:57.34, Alysia Johnson – USA Best Entry: 1:57.34, Alysia Johnson – USA

Alysia Johnson has been the best on the clock, twice running under 1:58 this year. Mariya Savinova (RUS, 1:57.56) that has been the big winner this summer with the European title and wins at Znamensky, Pre and London. But it’s Janeth Jepkosgei (KEN, 1:57.84) who enters the finale with a 1 point edge over them both! This trio has the best shot at the Diamond League trophy in this event, but the bigger story here may be the entry of Caster Semenya in the field. Semenya, who has recently returned to the track, is rapidly improving with an eye on the Commonwealth Games in a bit more than a month. Given her current rate of race improvement this could be the only shot these women have of defeating the Olympic champion. Expect at least a 1:57 here as the pace should be fast to try and offset Semenya’s strength.



Men’s 400H WL: 47.32, Bershawn Jackson – USA Best Entry: 47.32, Bershawn Jackson – USA

Bershawn Jackson has dominated this event since the national championships. He’s beaten all comers, run under 48 second on 5 occasions this year, and leads the world at 47.32. Like Tyson Gay in the 100, Jackson believes he can go faster. He should get a good challenge in Brussels from Angelo Taylor who is coming off a seasons best 44.72 in the open 400 in Zurich. If his steps are on he should be able to pressure Jackson. This race should be a test of Jackson’s 15 step rhythm vs Taylor’s pure speed. So far Jackson’s rhythm has won out though they did finish within .01 in Monaco. If Taylor can surpass his season’s best 47.79 he can put some serious pressure on Jackson – either resulting in a win or a new best for Jackson.



Women’s 100H WL: 12.52, P. Lopes Sliep – CAN Best Entry: 12.52, P. Lopes Sliep – CAN

The power base in this event seems to have shifted this season. Long a staple of the US, Priscilla Lopes Sliep has become a very powerful and dominant force over the summer. And while not yet a force, Australia's Sally Pearson has emerged as a viable threat and has been very competitive of late. Both will get to take on American Lolo Jones who appeared on the verge of becoming THE dominant force just a couple of season’s ago – until she crashed the hurdle in Beijing.  Jones and Lopes Sliep are tied for the Diamond lead and this race will settle things one way or the other, but watch for Pearson to potentially win the race. The key will be the start. The woman leading over hurdle #2 should cross the line first.


This should be yet another good set of competitions with all fields being loaded. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and we get some solid marks to go with the high level of competition. There should be some good stories to talk about once the final event is complete.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Two Cents on Semenya

BERLIN - AUGUST 22: Caster Semenya of South Africa competes in the women's 800m during the IAAF World Challenge ISTAF 2010 at the Olympic Stadium on August 22, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

I’ve not written anything on the Semenya case as of yet for several reasons. Mostly because it is really a fairly complicated matter. Especially as it deals with issues of privacy.

I will start off by saying that the IAAF among other organizations involved in the sport including the South African federation have sorely mishandled this matter from the very beginning. She was known to be “special” early on and her case should have been treated as such knowing both the short and long term ramifications of any decisions made regarding her. As such, some sort of final dispensation regarding her “eligibility” to compete with other women should have been made prior to her entering any sort of international competitions. It was wrong to finally decide to “do something” after she won a gold medal in front of the entire world.

Having said that, any decision made regarding her status is not just about her, but about her competitors and the sport in general moving forward.

As much as we live in a “politically correct” world where we try to pretend that we are all the same – we are not.  We are unique in our own ways and have differences. And sometimes those differences define who we are.

In this case, if it is true that Caster was born with both male and female gender characteristics, then her differences put her in a category of “not quite” – as in not quite male but not quite female either at birth. While her rights to “privacy” have kept a lid on documentation that would either confirm or deny this “story” I must assume that there is some shred of truth as she is undergoing hormone therapy as a condition of the IAAF for her to return to the track.

But while she is classified as a woman, I’m not sure any amount of “hormone therapy” is going to undo the almost two decades of “Testosterone therapy” that her body has already undergone. Because just as it is the “out of competition” drug use that is most beneficial to drug cheats as it’s that time where the hard work of developing the body takes place, Semenya has undergone her own version of “out of competition” physical development her entire life. As a result she is more physically advanced than any woman not in her situation could ever be – and nothing that can be done now will change that.

It’s not her fault. She hasn’t tried to cheat. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is what it is. And while I respect her “rights” as a person, I also respect the “rights” of those she would compete against. And no matter how hard they train, they will never reach the physical level that she has achieved – not without artificial aid.

It is for THAT reason that I have come to my own conclusion that she should not be allowed to compete against the Alysia Johnson’s, Phoebe Wright’s, and Morgan Uceny’s of the world. Because if it is our policy as a sport that our athletes are not to compete against those individuals who have had an unfair advantage in development – i.e. “enhancement” – then unfortunately Semenya falls into that category.  Somewhat of an extreme matter of “strict liability” – you are responsible for what is, and has been, in your system whether it entered your system because you willfully or knowing put it there, and whether you did so with intent to cheat or not. If it’s there and you gained an unfair advantage – and in cases where advantage was NOT gained – you are in violation and can not compete against “non enhanced” athletes.

As Mr. Spock would say, “the needs of the many out weigh the needs of the few” – or in this case the needs of the one. And as much as I feel for Caster, I also feel for all those women out there that will never have the opportunity to compete against her from a level playing field – no matter what they do short of cheating. It is for that reason that I take the position that she should not be allowed to compete against them. It’s very unfortunate because no matter what the final decision is there is a loser – the ultimate question is how many losers?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More Rudisha 800 WR

David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya poses next to the electronic time board after setting a new world record following the men's 800m competition at the ISTAF Berlin Grand Prix athletics, August 22, 2010. Rudushia clocked at time of one minute 41.09 secoonds. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)

While the details on Rudisha’s WR run are still filtering in, I’ve found video of the race (below) and taken my own rough splits. This run saw Rudisha pass through 400 in 48.9, 600 in 1:14.5, and of course the 800 mark in 1:41.09. I’ve gone through my archives and found the splits for Rudisha’s 1:41.51 as well as Wilson Kipketer’s three WR runs in 1997 and Seb Coe’s 1:41.73.

1:41.73 Coe 24.4 / 49.7 1:15.0 1:41.73
1:41.73 Kipketer 24.0 / 49.6 1:16.3 1:41.73
1:41.24 Kipketer 23.0 / 48.3 1:14.5 1:41.24
1:41.11 Kipketer 23.8 / 49.3 1:14.6 1:41.11
1:41.51 Rudisha ??? / 49.5 1:14.4 1:41.51
1:41.09 Rudisha ??? / 48.9 1:14.5 1:41.09

Watching this video, as scary as it sounds, Rudisha is capable of better and sub 1:41 could be on the horizon.

Below is Wilson Kipketer’s 1:41.11 followed by Rudisha’s new mark of 1:41.09.



Rudisha 1:41.09 in Berlin!

It’s finally happened. Today in Berlin David Rudisha took down one of the most hallowed World Records in the sport as he turned two laps of the track in 1:41.09! I have yet to see the race or find any details other than the actual race results, but with second place a full three seconds behind it was clearly a solo effort on his part. Results state the rabbit took the field through in 48.65 for the first lap, which should have set Rudisha up for something around 49.0.

Kipketer’s record 1:41.11 had stood since August 24, 1997 – Rudisha  taking it down just two days short of it’s 13th anniversary! AWESOME. Rudisha now has the #1 and #4 best 800’s all time, both run this season.

Note that in 4th place, miler Leonel Manzano continues his breakout season with a PR over 800 meters. Further bolstering what appears to be a rapidly improving US middle distance corps.

More details on the race as they become available.


Berlin 800 Meter Results

1:41.09 WR David Rudisha KEN
1:44.34 Boaz Lalang KEN
1:44.49 Abraham Kiplagat KEN
1:44.56 Leonel Manzano USA
1:44.91 Jackson Kivuva KEN
1:45.07 Adam Kszczot POL
1:45.28 Belal Ali BRN
1:45.97 David Mutua KEN
1:46.84 Alfred Yego KEN
1:47.83 Sassren Ludolph GER
DNF Sammy Tangui KEN

Thursday, August 19, 2010

He’s Baaack – Wariner 44.13 in Zurich

Jeremy Wariner of the U.S. celebrates after winning the men's 400 metres event at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich August 19, 2010.       REUTERS/Ruben Sprich (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SPORT SPORT ATHLETICS)

Zurich’s Weltklasse invitational lived up to it’s storied tradition with some outstanding races on the track. In a meet with several standout events, the men’s 400 was especially sweet because, for me, it marked the true return to form of Jeremy Wariner. Now THAT is how Jeremy Wariner is supposed to look. Fluid, flowing in rhythm and running away from his competitors looking effortless. That’s the race that Wariner ran in Zurich as Jermaine Gonzales (44.51) did everything right in the first 300 meters, but just couldn’t hold off the final stretch charge of Wariner. The race was reminiscent of gold medal runs in Athens, Helsinki, and Osaka and with another year to work back to form, could mark the start of another Trifecta run in Daegu, London, and Moscow.

Also back on the winning track was Wallace Spearmon. Seemingly on his way to becoming “The Man” in the 200 during the ‘05 season, he watched first Tyson Gay (‘06/’07) then Usain Bolt (‘08/’09) emerge with superior form. Battling injuries the past couple of seasons, Spearmon began to look a bit more like his old self earlier this year. Zurich appears to have been a watershed meet for Spearmon too as after running a better than usual curve for him, he ran down Jamaica’s 2010 find Yohan Blake in the stretch to win in a seasons best 19.79 – his second fastest time ever. Spearmon was strong and fluid coming down the stretch as he reeled in the young Jamaican, who had defeated him earlier in the year in his personal best 19.78. This time around it was Spearmon looking quite confident and in form – and perhaps ready to get back in the game with Gay and Bolt.

Allyson Felix’ confidence is running at a very high level as well. Taking on the world’s top 400 specialists this year, she again was simply too strong in the stretch and as she rolled to a 50.37 victory. World leader Debbie Dunn, along with several others, gave valiant chase down the stretch, but once Felix took over coming off the final turn it was too late. Felix holds form late race as well as anyone in the world, and I would think that only a completely healthy Sanya Richards may be able to truly challenge Felix. It will be interesting to see if she goes for the long sprint double next year in Daegu.

The track continued to be hot for American’s as David Oliver once again dominated the 110 hurdles.  Oliver broke cleanly from the blocks and was never pressured as he breezed across the line in 12.93. Not quite the WR, but his fifth sub13 of the year – four of them in the top 15 of all time, two in the top five! Whether he finally get the record or not, this has been one of the top seasons in history for any hurdler, and Oliver will be the man to beat in 2011. If we can get him, Robles and perhaps a healthy Liu Xiang on the track in Daegu, something magical could happen. Because, no disrespect to the competition, but Oliver has spent most of this season racing against the clock.

Chris Solinsky, on the other hand, has taken American distance running from being happy to run PR’s on the clock to being truly competitive against the world’s best. In Zurich he stayed with the leaders throughout the 5000 meter race. And when the going got hot, he went with the kickers and held his own for most of the final lap! Eventual winner Tariku Bekele (ETH, 12:55.03) opened up day light on everyone in the final 150 or so of the race, but Solinsky ran with the rest through the line finishing in 12:56.45, just off second place Imane Merga’s (ETH) 12:56.34. More importantly Solinsky finished ahead of every Kenyan in the race including Eliud Kipchoge, Vincent Chepkok, and Kucas Rotich, among others. That in itself is a tremendous achievement and a watershed run for American distance runners. Solinsky proved himself to be a true competitor and a factor in this event. And he should be fun to watch in Daegu – I’m assuming he IS going to make the team.

Finally, the final event of the day, proved that US 4x1 relay running is NOT dead as a modest team of Trell Kimmons, Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers, won the event in 37.46 – the #2 US time ever, = #5 all time,  and the 2010 world leader. Spearmon to Gay on second and third legs has been what I have called “the internal engine” for the US in it’s most successful relays of late, including wins in ‘the 06 World Cup and ‘07 World Championships. In Zurich they gave anchor man Rodgers a lead that not even Usain Bolt would have closed had he been in the race! I’m hoping that this paring is the “base” around which we build our international teams heading into Daegu and beyond. It’s hard to argue with success and this paring has proven successful. Are you listening out there?

All in all it was a very satisfying day for the US on the track. Hopefully the performances in Brussels next week will be just as electrifying!





Preview – Zurich Diamond League

The Weltklasse has been one of the world’s most elite competitions as far back as I can remember – and that’s a long time! Often called, “The Olympics in a Day”, the Weltklasse (Zurich) is known for some of the best field’s every year even before the Diamond League, or Golden League, came along. This year’s version will be no exception. Especially given that those in competition to become Diamond League champions in their events must compete in order to be eligible.

With that being the case every event will be loaded and the competition fierce. However there are a few events that should stand out a bit from the rest:


Men’s 200 WL: 19.56, Usain Bolt – JAM Best Entry: 19.78, Yohan Blake – JAM

There will be no Usain Bolt or Tyson Gay with Bolt calling an end to his 200 season over a month ago, and Gay scheduled only for relay duty in Zurich. Nor will we see Walter Dix who narrowly defeated Gay in Gay’s injury comeback race in Eugene. Still this race is an important one when it comes to the men’s sprints. In his only 200 this season, Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, dropped his PR from 20.60 all the way to 19.78. Since then he’s improved his 100 PR as well (from 9.95 to 9.89). In Zurich he will face veteran Wallace Spearmon – 19.93/19.77w this season and a life time best of 19.65. With Gay and Bolt figuring to battle it out for the gold medal in Daegu, Zurich could go a long way towards telling us who could be in line for the bronze medal.


Women’s Javelin WL: 226’, Mariya Abakumova – RUS Best Entry: 226’, Mariya Abakumova – RUS

The world leader is in the field, but this event has become a battle between Olympic champion Barboa Spotakova (CZE) and new AR holder Kara Patterson (US). Spotakova is reported to be nursing a sore elbow. Patterson has been hot since winning the national championship and heading to Europe. Spotakova is leading the Diamond race, but Patterson still has a chance to win it all here. More importantly, Patterson has shown this summer that she is a legitimate medal threat in this event – an event that has become one of the few American bright spots on the field.


Men’s 110H WL: 12.89, David Oliver – USA  Best Entry: 12.89, David Oliver – USA

If there’s a track that cold be favorable for a hurdle record, Zurich could be the place. Three times the WR has been set in Zurich – Martin Laurer (13.56, 1959), Renaldo Nehemiah (12.93, 1981) and Roger Kingdom (12.92, 1989). And five times athletes have run under 13.00 here – Zurich has been kind to hurdlers. The weather forecast for Thursday in Zurich is sunshine and highs around 73 degrees. A solid run by David Oliver and we could see our third AR in the event this season – and a lowering of the WR. Oliver’s season has been well documented. He’s had no peers this year and is a leader for the Athlete of the Year crown this year in my opinion. This race could be the one to solidify that title.


Women’s 1500 WL: 3:57.65, Anna Alminova – RUS Best Entry: 3:57.65, Anna Alminova – RUS 

Simply put this is the deepest women’s 1500 of the year. Savinova, Burka, Langat, Dobriskey, Lakhouad, Jamal and Americans Wurth Thomas, Pierce and Rowbury. All are present and accounted for, making this somewhat of a preview of Daegu. Obviously we have a year to go and a lot can happen in a year, but most of the principle contenders in Daegu will be circling the track in Zurich. Giving US forces a chance to see just how close we are and where we need to improve to get on the podium. Alminova has been the Alpha Female this season, and the rest of the field will be chasing after her. I would love to see one of the Americans slip into that top three – or at least be in smelling distance. I think that will happen.



Men’s 5000 WL: 12:51.21, Eliud Kipchoge – KEN Best Entry: 12:51.21, Eliud Kipchoge – KEN

Another loaded event with all the top athletes on the clock in town to have a go. This includes the year’s top 6 on the clock – Kenyan’s Kipchoge, Chepkok and Kiptoo, and Ethiopian’s Gebremeskel, Merga, and Bekele (Tariku). More importantly American’s Chris Solinsky and Galen Rupp will have another chance to prove their position among the world’s best. Solinsky has had an awesome season – perhaps the best ever on the clock for an American – setting an AR in the 10,000 meters and becoming #2 all time in the 5000. In Stockholm he ran with the Africans right up until the kicking began in earnest in the final 200 – the one area where he still needs a bit of work. Rupp will be looking to improve on his PR 13:10.05 and possibly join the sub 13:00 club. This race should give us an idea how close we’re coming to being competitors in the distance events.



Women’s 400 WL: 49.64, Debbie Dunn – USA  Best Entry: 49.64, Debbie Dunn – USA

Dunn took over the world lead with her US nationals win. Since then she’s run under 50 seconds again in Lausanne. Russia’s Tatyana Firova and Kseniya Ustalova became #2 and #3 on the yearly list when they took gold and silver at the European championships and ran sub 50. Neither, however, was able to overcome Allyson Felix last week in London. THAT will be the task in Zurich as Felix is attempting to win double diamonds this year – in the 200 and 400. Felix has always shown potential in the 400 and sports a 49.70 PR to prove it. She showed just how strong she is in London as she held off the late race challenges of Dunn and Firova with relative ease. Another win against the stacked  Zurich field – which also includes Jamaica’s Williams-Mills and Williams as well as Montsho of Botswana and Russia’s Antonina Krivoshapka – would send a message to the world that she just might be ready to take on a 200/400 double in Daegu.


The Weltklasse is as deep as ever this year, and the usually fast track will be accompanied by decent weather – a recipe for both outstanding competition and great results. This should be one of the best editions of the meet ever.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

What’s Going on in the Field?

Jul 3, 2010; Eugene, OR, USA; Kara Patterson won the women's javelin at 216-2 (65.90m) in the 36th Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

With this season heading into the final month or so of competition, it’s time to start looking forward to next season. After all the World Championships are literally just about one year away.

US forces have had some nice surprises this year. Andrew Wheating, Leonel Manzano, Morgan Uceny, Phoebe Wright, and Alysia Johnson have emerged to bolster a growing middle distance corps. Jeremy Wariner is regaining form and Tyson Gay has found good health in the later stages of the season. Marshavet Myers seems ready to join Caarmelita Jeter in the sprint wars, and Allyson Felix is showing that she is a threat over 400 as well as the deuce. David Oliver and Bershawn Jackson are solid gold medal threats in the hurdles as are Lolo Jones and Lashinda Demus for the women. Chris Solinsky and Bernard Lagat, have added to what Dathen Ritzenhein and Matt Tegenkamp started last year in the distances. And Kara Patterson (Discus) and Chaunte Howard Lowe (HJ) have emerged as serious medal threats to go along with Christian Cantwell (Shot), Dwight Phillips (LJ), and Brittney Reese (LJ).

But, aside from this handful of stars, it’s the field where we seem to continue to underperform, and where we have so much more potential to improve our medal count in Daegu, London and Moscow. Very surprising since we have produced some of the greatest names in history in events where we currently are sorely lacking. In the triple jump for example, we are the country that produced Willie Banks, Mike Conley, and Kenny Harrison. Not too long ago, Hollis Conway and Charles Austin were as good as it got in the high jump. And while it’s nice that Phillips is in contention in the long jump, once upon a time we could boast being three deep with 28 footers – or at least a third that was 27 high! Similar story in the discus where we were once as deep there are we are currently in the discus with athletes like Ben Plucknett, John Powell, Anthony Washington and John Godina (in his second event).

If we are going to get anywhere near our stated goal of thirty medals in a major , we must get improved performances from the field. We will have to get some of our young talent like Christian Taylor (TJ), Dusty Jonas (HJ) and Andra Manson (HJ) over the hump and injured stars like Jenn Suhr (PV) and Breax Greer (JAV) back to good health. But most of all we have to find a way to improve our overall development in areas like the triple jump, discus, and hammer where we’ve just stopped being competitive.

I don’t expect to see any new talent emerge in these final few meets, but hope that our leadership at USATF can find a way to pull together our resources – monetary and coaching wise – to get our down events back up to a competitive level. It’s a challenge that must be met if we are to improve our medal count in the upcoming trifecta.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tyson Gay 9.78 Highlights London DL

LONDON, Aug. 14, 2010 Tyson Gay of the United States celebrates after winning the men's 100m sprint of the IAAF Diamond League London meet, at the Crystal Palace in London, Britain, Aug. 13, 2010. Gay won the title with season-leading 9.78 seconds.

While wet damp conditions in London hampered many of the events at this weekend’s Diamond League meet, Tyson Gay blazed his way to a world leading 9.78 in the first day’s highlight event. Looking very confident following his previous week’s defeat of Usain Bolt, Tyson once again started well, which meant that the race was effectively over by 30 meters. Only Walter Dix was with him at that point, but some 20 meters later Dix’ body gave out under the pressure as Tyson shifted gears and went on to his world leading mark – well clear of the field. In second Yohan Blake (JAM), set a new personal best of 9.89 as Olympic silver medalist Richard Thompson (TRI) was in a different photo in 10.05. Beautiful run by Gay. And more impressive than his win against Bolt was the fact that for the second straight race, Tyson displayed a better than average start – which could mean serious trouble for the world’s elite sprinters.

Finishing up the second day of competition was hurdler David Oliver, as he continued to dominate his event with a meet record 13.06. Oliver had a decent start but hit some hurdles during the race and never had serious competition. That and the poor weather put to rest any record attempts. It’s a testament to the season that he is having that his meet record time is now considered a bit “ho hum” by his standards. But only WR holder Dayron Robles has run as fast this season.

Also showing her dominance was sprinter Allyson Felix who won a 200/400 double – the 200 on day one in 22.37, the 400 on day two in 50.79. She one the deuce easily as no one was ever really close to her. The 400 required a bit more work as list leader Debbie Dunn (US) and European champion Tatyana Firova (RUS) made her work all the way to the finish line. But Felix demonstrated that her strength in sprinting is, well, her strength as she held off the two 400 meter specialists. I’m hoping that the schedule makers for the upcoming World Championships put together a schedule that will accommodate a 200/400 double for both the men and women – similar to the schedule put together for the 1996 Olympics – so that we can see Ms Felix in both events on the big stage. Could be very interesting.

In other action, Kara Patterson was just four inches from victory over Olympic champion Barboa Spotakova (CZE). Her 208’ throw just short of the Czech’s 208’ 4”. Patterson has broken through the 200 foot barrier this year and isn’t looking back, throwing over that mark regularly every week. For my money she’s this year’s break out athlete – at least on the women’s side – and looks to be a serious medal contender heading into Daegu. Another athlete becoming a tough contender is Morgan Uceny. In London Uceny ran with the leaders until the final strides of the 800. She held second down the final straight before just losing out in the final strides. Her 1:59.32 just missing second by .16 and just off winner Mariya Savinova (1:58.64). It will be hard to keep Uceny off the Daegu team at her current rate. She’s tough and competitive, and runs with a lot of heart.

Similar to Andrew Wheating who once again set a new PR in the 800. This time in taking second to Abubaker Kaki (1:44.38), whom Wheating (1:44.56) never let get too far away.  The time was impressive to me given that Wheating never really looked to turn it on. His long season seemed to wear on him a bit, as he appeared a little tired to me – yet set another PR. With a regular “pro” schedule next year, he looks like a sure candidate to run under 1:44, with a strong shot to make the final in Daegu. Another who looks capable of getting to a Daegu final is Leonel Manzano who improved his mile PR to 3:50.64 as he closed well to take 3rd behind Augustine Choge, KEN, 3:50.14) and Gebremedhin Mekonnen (ETH, 3:50.35).  Manzano became the #9 American ever over the distance, and gives us another strong looking middle distance runner to go with Wheating and Lagat.

All in all a strong set of performances were turned in by US athletes. The final two meets of the Diamond League – Zurich and Brussels – are on tap with Zurich slated for Thursday. Meaning we get more high level action in just a few more days!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Preview – London Diamond League

Well, we’re rounding the final turn on this season, with three meets left in the inaugural Diamond League season. On tap will be the biggest of the DL meets as London will contest all of the events on the slate over the course of two days – the only DL meet to do so. While it won’t be held in the upcoming Olympic stadium, it will take place in the city that will play host to the Games, giving those competing an idea of what the weather could be like come 2012. As I check the weather reports, the prediction for the upcoming two days is temperatures in the mid to high 60’s with chances of rain and thundershowers.

We will see how this affects the competition. For my money there are some events that should be outstanding regardless of the weather. Following are my events to keep an eye on in London.


Men’s 100 WL: 9.82, Asafa Powell – JAM
       9.82, Usain Bolt – JAM
Best Entry: 9.84, Tyson Gay – USA

This was supposed to be the second seasonal match up between Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay. Powell pulled from the meet earlier this week with continuing spine problems. This race should still be HOT however with the recent improvement of Yohan Blake and Walter Dix. Dix recovered from a horrible start last week to record a PR 9.88 in Nottwil, and earlier in Eugene gave Tyson Gay his only loss of the season with a 19.72 200. When Blake last saw Gay in Monaco, he finished second with a huge 19.78 200 PR. Both young men are hot and apparently not afraid of Tyson Gay. And Tyson, as we know, is fearless. Sounds like the recipe for an exciting and very fast 100. Tyson’s start was improved in Stockholm, which could mean trouble for the rest of the field. With these three running well, look for a new yearly leader to be put up barring rain.


Women’s 800 WL: 1:57.34, Alysia Johnson – USA Best Entry: 1:57.34, Alysia Johnson – USA

This is becoming one of my favorite events as the top women bring it every time out. We get to see Alysia Johnson take to the track as the favorite off her recent times – twice under 1:58 in July. She will face Russia’s Mariya Savinova (1:57.56) and Kenya’s Janeth Jepkoskei (1:57.84), this season’s other two sub 1:58 performers, and two women who, like Johnson, love to run from the front. Hot on their heels should be Morgan Uceny (USA), Jemma Simpson (GBR), Jenny Meadows (GBR), Yvonne Hak (NED) and Anna Pierce (USA) all of whom have run in the 1:58’s. A very deep field indeed. The race should be between Johnson, Ssvinova and Jepkosjei as they will put the pressure on early. Savinova has 1500 strength so is a slight favorite for my money, but Johnson has looked VERY good in her last couple of races – this will be a real test for her. And keep an eye on Uceny and Pierce. Both have been improving a lot late in the season and have the heart to stick their noses in their before the race gets away from them.


Men’s 110H WL: 12.89, David Oliver – USA Best Entry: 12.89, David Oliver – USA

Oliver has been in outstanding shape this year, and with times of 12.99, 12.93, 12.90, 12.89 has been running superbly. His main competition, WR holder Dayron Robles (CUB) has withdrawn due to injury. While it appears that we may not see the two face off on the track the rest of this year, it’s quite possible that we may see a new WR holder before the season is out. I’m so hoping that the weather holds up and gives this man a dry track to run on. Ryan Wilson (USA) and Ronnie Ash (USA) have been running well this year and will keep Oliver focused. But if we can see a decent start and no hit hurdles early, buckle up and enjoy the ride!


Women’s 400 WL: 49.64, Debbie Dunn – USA Best Entry: 49.64, Debbie Dunn – USA

The #1 (Debbie Dunn, USA) and #2 (Tatyana Firova, RUS) women on the yearly list went head to head in Stockholm with European champion Firova coming away with the victory. This week they meet again, with three time World 200 champion Allyson Felix in the race. Felix has been talking about trying a 200/400 double in the future, and with a 49.70 PR is certainly capable. She’s run 50.15 this year and sits at #8 on this year’s list. She will be the best finisher in the field and Dunn, Firova and the rest will be trying to get away from her kick. Both Dunn and Firova have been taking care of business between 250 and 300 meters. If they can separate from Felix coming off the final turn the race should be between the two of them. If not, Felix should bury them down the final straight. If anyone falters, Novlene Williams Mills (JAM), Sherika Williams (JAM), and Amantle Montsho ( BOT) will be right there waiting to pounce. My heart says Felix wins this, but it should be a close and exciting race.


Men’s 400 WL: 44.40, Jermaine Gonzales – JAM Best Entry: 44.40, Jermaine Gonzales – JAM

Former World and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner (USA) has been having a come back season of sorts. After a couple of down seasons and injuries he has been slowly making his way back to the top of the heap. He will enter this meet #2 on the yearly list behind the rapidly improving Jermaine Gonzales (JAM). Gonzales and countryman Ricardo Chambers went 1, 2 and set personal records in Monaco in Wariner’s absence.  In London they will get to test themselves against a man that once was in site of the world record – and who would like to get back there. The third 100 of this race will be the key. It’s where Wariner has always put his competition away – and where Gonzales and company will have to keep pace if they hope to have a shot at winning this race. Wariner has looked to be back in rhythm in his last couple of races – not a good sign for the competition. My gut says he runs around 44.20 in London, which means that anyone else that hopes to win better be ready to PR.


With two days and a full complement of events, there are far too many great events to detail each one. However I must say that the field events are LOADED. The men’s shot put will have Christian Cantwell and all the usual suspects – Nelson, Whiting, Taylor, Martin, Hoffa and Majewski. The women’s javelin will find itself with six of the world’s seven longest throwers, including Olympic champion Barboa Spotakova (CZE) and new AR holder Kara Patterson. While the men’s javelin pits rivals Tero Pitkamaki (FIN) against Andreas Thokildsen (NOR). The triple jump will find Teddy Tamgho (FRA) going against European championships conqueror Phillips Idowu (GBR).  And in one of the Diamond League’s closest Diamond competitions the men’s long jump has Diamond Leader Dwight Philliips (USA, 12 pts) going head to head with Fabrice Lapierre (AUS, 11 pts) in a battle that could eventually determine the Diamond League winner of this event.

The Diamond League has had its ups and downs but appears to be closing with a mad rush. There shouldn’t be a down event – just proving how exciting a FULL track meet can be. Get your snacks together and get ready for two days of high level track and field. This should be fun. 

Bolt Cuts Season Short – Still Plenty to Watch

July 17, 2010 - 06183190 date 16 07 2010 Copyright imago Panoramic Athle Meeting Areva Stade de France David Oliver 110m Haies  PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxFRAxITAxBEL Athletics Meeting Areva IAAF Diamond League Paris men Action shot Vdig 2010 horizontal premiumd.

The word this week on just about every media outlet available – track and field web sites, major newspapers, even USA Today and ESPN – is that Usain Bolt is calling it a season. Within days of his loss to Tyson Gay in Stockholm, Bolt announced that due to lower back pain he will be calling it a season. With Asafa Powell also complaining of lower back pain following his losses to Gay and Bolt, this ensures that 2010 will have had only 1 showdown each among the world’s top three sprinters. Leaving the sport with almost as much publicity over Bolt’s end of the season as we’ve had regarding the races of the Big Three.

On the one hand, like most of the rest of the world, I am saddened that Bolt’s season has come to an end. Not so much because I will miss his races this season, but because I was hoping that we would get at least one more race between he and Tyson Gay – they had been set since the beginning of the year to run in Brussels on August 27th.

But given how much space the world’s media outlets have given to his departure for the season, perhaps the media and the fans can begin to focus on some of the other outstanding talent this sport has to offer. Something I have been asking for all season long. So for those that feel that the sport has suffered a loss to whit it cannot recover until 2011, here are some other male athletes that warrant attention during the month or more of the season that is still left.


David Oliver


110 Hurdles

While the Big Three of sprinting has been banged up, nursing injuries, and running slightly below their potential this season, David Oliver has been putting together one awesome season in his event. Oliver is unbeaten this year – 13 wins in a row and counting – and has run under the elite 13.00 barrier on four occasions. He has run an American Record twice – 12.90 & 12.89, the 4th and 5th fastest times ever – and is just .02 away from the World Record. Oliver has done all of this without yet running anything close to a “perfect” race. If you’re looking for an athlete that’s a threat to set a WR on any given day, David Oliver is your man and the 110 hurdles the race you want to keep your eyes on.


Christian Cantwell


Shot Put

Another athlete in the midst of a stellar season. Cantwell has won 12 straight competitions outdoors to go with 7 indoors. While only 5 other men have tossed the shot over 70 feet this year and struggled with consistency, Cantwell has done so in 11 of his 12 outdoor meets (5 indoors) and leads the world at 73’ 6.25” – just .20 cm from the top 10 throws all time. If you add the last two meets of last season, he’s on a string of 21 straight wins. Not too shabby. Cantwell is putting on a clinic on how to shot put spin style in 2010 – and he’s doing so against some of the best competition any event has to offer up. He’s the Olympic silver medalist and the reigning World Champion and has taken over as the King of the Ring.


David Rudisha


800 Meters

1:41.11. That’s a mark that until this year has stood for over a dozen seasons as being unapproachable. This year however, may go down as The Year of Rudisha, because he has come within inches of this mark with plenty of season left. Rudisha started the year hot with a 1:43.15 – only 1 other athlete has run as fast this year – and currently sits atop the yearly list with the #3 time in history, 1:41.51 – making him #2 all time behind the legendary Wilson Kipketer. Undefeated in 8 meets this year, he’s fresh off of a 1:42.84 win at the African Championships. Without jinxing him, he’s almost certain to run under 1:42 again, with Kipketer’s mark a definite possibility. As a matter of fact, he has enough speed (45.50 PR set earlier this year) that, dare I say, he could make real history and surpass the 1:41.00 barrier. If so that would be every bit as impressive as 9.58 or 19.19 – possibly more so.


Bershawn Jackson


400 Hurdles

Bershawn took a couple of losses early this year (Oslo & New York) but has been on a tear since then. He started with a 47.32 win at Nationals. The world leader and a time bettered by only 9 men in history. Jackson is undefeated in his last 4 races, but more importantly has run under 48.00 in each! The ease with which he has been running this past month suggests that he may be able to run in the 47.20 area – a zone that only Edwin Moses has visited more than once. Jackson has won 6 of his  8 competitions this year – a season where he’s already run 4 of the 10 fastest times of his career. Jackson seems to have a youthful exuberance to his competing this season and he’s been fun to watch.


Walter Dix



Nesta Carter



Yohan Blake



And if you have to get your fix via the sprints, these are the top three up and coming sprinters on the scene this year. Typically in an off season one or two sprinters emerge to become threats during the following major championships trifecta. This trio seems to be the emerging group of 2010. Dix set a 100 PR of 9.88 just last week, and defeated Tyson Gay earlier in the season in the deuce with a 19.72. Carter defeated Dix in that 100 and set a PR of 9.86.  And Blake gave Gay a run for his money over 200 earlier this season while setting a 19.78 PR. Dix was in Beijing in ‘08 and picked up bronze in both sprints. All three could show up in sprint finals in Daegu, London, and/or Moscow. They are young and talented and improving rapidly. While most have been eyeing the Big Three this year (Bolt, Gay, Powell) this new trio could well be in position to score medals of their own soon. Dix and Blake are scheduled to go head to head against Tyson Gay this weekend in London. Then the pair is slated to go one on one in the 200 in Zurich. Could be a preview of the futures next hot showdown.


All of these individuals are having sensational seasons in their own rights, and deserve the same sort of attention we’ve been giving to Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell. Quite frankly they’ve been having better seasons overall, and hopefully they can get a bit of the limelight now that we know there will be no more “Showdowns” this year.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

R.I.P. Antonio Pettigrew

Early yesterday morning I got a text message telling me that Antonio Pettigrew had been found dead. As the day progressed details began to fill in. He was in his car. Involved an overdose of sleeping pills.

As I read the various articles that came out over the course of the day, I almost came to believe that Pettigrew had a short athletic career that began and ended with the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Because almost everything that was written detailed his admission of doping between that season, and how he and his teammates were stripped of their relay medals from the Sydney Olympics as a result.

But I remember Pettigrew long before 2000, because he was a mainstay of US international squads long before that. As a matter of fact he ran 44.27 as far back as 1989 when he was the world leader on the clock over all time greats Butch Reynolds (44.30), Danny Everett (44.36), and Steve Lewis (44.47) among others.

He would win a National title in 1991 in 44.36 and go on to win the World Championships gold medal in Tokyo in 44.57 defeating British great Roger Black (44.62), Danny Everett (44.63) and Cuban great Roberto Hernandez (44.86). The following season would see Michael Johnson begin his string of title runs in the event, so there was no more individual gold for Pettigrew, but he was a member of gold medal relay squads in Athens ‘97 (43.1 split), Seville ‘99 (43.8 split), as well as the oft mentioned team of Sydney.

He was consistently among the world’s top 400 men throughout his career with season’s bests of 44.71 (‘92), 44.45 (‘93), 44.43 (‘94), 44.23 (‘97), 44.40 (‘98), and 44.21 (‘99) before the 2000 season (44.57). So unfortunately while many will remember the negative note that his career ended on, there was much success long before the end. My recollection of the positive aspects of his career is not to dismiss the negative, but to remind that he was as any man with both positive and negative in his life – and in this case his career.

My heart goes out to those he left behind – his wife Cassandra, and son Antonio Jr. May he rest in peace.

Monday, August 9, 2010

My Two Cents on the After Spin of the Stockholm 100

ATTENTION EDITORS - REUTERS PICTURE HIGHLIGHT TRANSMITTED BY 1925 GMT ON AUGUST 6, 2010.   SIN504 Tyson Gay of the US wins the men's 100 metres final ahead of Jamaica's Usain Bolt at the IAAF Diamond League DN Galan in Stockholm  REUTERS NEWS PICTURES HAS NOW MADE IT EASIER TO FIND BEST PHOTOS FROM MOST IMPORTANT STORIES AND TOP STANDALONES EACH  Search for TPX in the IPTC Supplemental Category field or  IMAGES OF THE DAY  in the Caption field and you will find a selection of 80-100 of our daily Top Pictures.  REUTERS NEWS PICTURES, SINGAPORE TEMPLATE OUT

In the days since Tyson' Gay’s “upset” victory over Usain Bolt, much has been written and said. From message board arguments, to newspaper articles, to other bloggers. Everyone has been trying to “figure out” and/or “explain” how the “unbeatable” Usain Bolt lost to Tyson Gay. I’ve seen everything from “Bolt didn’t take Gay seriously”; to “Bolt wasn’t trying”’ to Bolt was out of shape”; to “the race didn’t matter”.

I’m going to chalk up most of the post race chatter to either youth – haven’t been watching the sport very long). Nationalism – we all like to think “our” athletes are unbeatable). Fanaticism -  fans sometimes get so wrapped up in their athletes they refuse to believe anything negative can happen. Media Hype – the media loves to build up individuals and teams to seem unbeatable. Because the reality of Stockholm, and all the races that have and will take place this year, is that they are not some Electronic Arts video game with artificial characters taking part, but real flesh and blood individuals competing against each other – and all real people are beatable.

Let’s start with world record holders. World record holders get beat sometimes. Since the first auto timed world record in the 100 was set in Mexico City in 1968 every world record holder has been beaten. Jim Hines, Calvin Smith, Ben Johnson (later taken away), Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Donovan Bailey, Maurice Greene, Tim Montgomery, Asafa Powell, and now Usain Bolt. Every last one was beaten while holding the WR. All except Ben Johnson who tested positive just after, and he was beaten in Zurich just before his record setting run. And, interestingly enough, neither Smith, Lewis, Burrell, Bailey, Montgomery, or Powell won a major championship while holding the WR. So for those with short memories, being the world record holder is no guarantee of victory.

Neither is being seemingly “invincible”. Edwin Moses met his “Waterloo” in Madrid after dominating the 400 hurdles without a loss in 122 straight races – then lost gold in Rome. Carl Lewis was the most dominant long jumper we’ve ever seen winning in Helsinki, Los Angeles, Rome, and Seoul before setting his lifetime best in the event in Tokyo – while losing! Michael Johnson ran a stunning 19.32 in Atlanta, then ran a match race against Donovan Bailey over 150 and lost. There are many, many others, but the point is simple – great athletes lose. Primarily because the competitions aren’t video games. And in real life you have to factor in the heart, desire, and competitive nature of the competition. Andre Phillips got tired of losing to Edwin Moses – so he worked to try and change that paradigm. Same for Mike Powell when it came to Carl Lewis – he wanted BADLY to turn the tables. And Donovan Bailey was out to prove that it was the 100 WR holder and not the 200 WR holder that was indeed the world’s fastest man!

Former Houston Rockets coach Rudy Tomjonovich once said “never underestimate the heart of a champion” and Winston Churchill once said “never, never, never give up”. Such is the nature of human beings that some refuse to be down for long. To date the greatest 100 meter runner in history, Maurice Greene (Bolt has a few more titles to win) rose up from the depths of being defeated. By contrast, multiple record setters Leroy Burrell and Asafa Powell, were unable to find victory when it mattered most. One of my favorite sayings (at least I think I said it first) is “it ain’t how fast you run, it’s when you run fast”. Meaning that regardless of how fast an individual is he/she has to be able to do so when it matters most. It is those intangibles – desire and ability to perform at one’s best under pressure – that make most champions.

Bolt is indeed a champion. He has performed at the highest level in back to back championships winning four individual gold medals and four world records in the process. But everyone seemed to forget that Tyson Gay has crossed the line first twice in a major championship himself. One of those races beating a man – Asafa Powell – that was the WR holder and supposed to be able to destroy him. That was considered an “upset” by many as well. But Gay, when faced with tough odds, always seems able to bring his best.

The other gold medal that Tyson Gay won in Osaka was against Usain Bolt himself in the 200 – the last time the two have met over the distance. Now, since then much has been chronicled about how much Usain Bolt has improved in the interim – all the way to 9.58 & 19.19. But what has gone unnoticed apparently is how much Tyson Gay has improved as well. The man that beat Usain Bolt was no 9.9x 100 meter man taking a shot at the big man. He wasn’t even the 9.84 sprinter that took down Asafa Powell in Osaka. Tyson Gay is the second fastest sprinter in history at 9.69! And over the last two seasons has run – 9.68w, 9.69, 9.71, 9.75w, 9.76w, 9.77, 9.77, 9.79w, 9.79w – 9 races legal and windy under 9.80. Guess how many races under 9.80 Usain Bolt has run, windy and legal,  in the same time frame – 7. So Tyson Gay has proved to have as much “leg speed” (i.e. able to run as fast) as Bolt. So Gay being able to defeat Bolt should NOT be that big a surprise. Besides, after Stockholm their record is only 2-1 in favor of Bolt (not sure where TFN is coming up with a third win). So it’s not as if Bolt has this long history of defeating Gay.

Of course the trump card here for Usain is that he has performed his best two times under the spotlight of the Olympics and World Championships. Which reminds me of a Maurice Greene quote. When asked how he felt his WR 9.79 compared to the 9.84 record of Donovan Bailey that he took down, Mo said in effect “his came on the big stage”! Because world records set in the Games and Worlds take on a superhuman persona. Those races seem bigger than life. and those that run them become bigger than life. And setting records in both – double records at that – has given Bolt the persona of being bigger than life.  But at the end of the day – or perhaps I should say prior to taking to the blocks – he still has to pull his designer uniform over his head just like the other competitors, and lace up his yam colored shoes just as they do.

And for some of his competition, those designer duds have a target on the back. Again quoting Mo Greene, when asked how he trained being “The Man” he in effect said “I train like #2, trying to be”. Because the true competitors of the sport are always trying to get to #!. And when you’re Mo Greene, Carl Lewis or Edwin Moses, YOU are the goal of those with true heart! Which is why there is no “unbeatable”, just those that haven’t been defeated YET. How long that takes depends on both the “hunters” and the “hunted” – what you do to stay there and what you do to get there.

So for all those looking for “reasons” why Bolt lost perhaps you’re looking at the wrong person and the wrong reasons. It may not be all about Bolt and whether or not he wanted or didn’t want to win – sounds rather ridiculous to even say. Yes he was injured earlier, but has since run 9.86 and 9.82 and defeated Asafa Powell who has also run 9.82 this season. And Tyson Gay has had injury ills of his own this season (and last). But then, to get a race full of athletes that are all 100% on any given day is somewhat of a fallacy. Charlie Greene took to the starting line of the 100 in Mexico City with a hamstring issue. Ditto Tommie Smith in the 200. Jim Hines beat Charlie Greene, Tommie Smith won gold in a WR. Calvin Smith was injured at the Trials in ‘84, Carl Lewis went on to double gold. Mo Greene pulled up during the race in Edmonton yet held off Tim Montgomery for the win. Tyson Gay took to the starting line in Berlin having nursed a groin all season – lost to Bolt, defeated Powell. When you line up only track nerds like me remember what your condition was, history simply writes down the results – wins, losses and times.

And to question that an athlete would step to the track with the intent to do anything less than their best, or would not try once there, impugns the integrity of the athlete – and ultimately of the sport. Champions – those with the hardware and those working hard to get it – are competitive by nature. You show up to win – in some cases against all odds. To do, or to assume that one would do, anything less begins to make assumptions about integrity that shouldn’t be uttered.

They ran a race and someone won and seven others lost. That’s how it works. Some win more than others, but all can lose. Shock and surprised? No I’m not. But then my memory is a lot longer than some others. Frankly it’s good for the sport. I’ve said all year that the sport needs rivalries and that we need to tout more than one or two athletes. Bolt v Gay can be exciting for the sport – especially when there is a question as to what the outcome might be. Predictability leads to boredom – and that’s the last thing this sport needs. We need excitement. Look at how much discussion this one race has elicited! Imagine what four or five races/events like this a week could do for track and field.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Tyson Gay Defeats Usain Bolt in Stockholm

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - AUGUST 06: Tyson Gay (2nd r) of USA wins the men's 100m from Usain Bolt (r) of Jamaica during the IAAF Diamond League meeting at the Olympic Stadium on August 6, 2010 in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

Now we officially have a sprint rivalry with Tyson Gay’s defeat of Usain Bolt (9.84 to 9.97) in the Swedish city of Stockholm. It was Bolt’s first defeat over the distance since July 22, 2008 when he lost to countryman Asafa Powell on this same track. It was also Gay’s first win over Bolt, although they had only met over this distance on two other occasions. A stat that has gone somewhat under the radar as Bolt has run roughshod over the rest of the world over the past two seasons.

With Usain Bolt setting three WRs in the event over the past two seasons (9.72, 9.69 & 9.58) and winning both the Olympic and World titles over the distance, many had come to think of Bolt as unbeatable. And quite frankly, his showings under the bright lights on the big stages of Beijing and Berlin gave a pretty good indication that he just might be Superman, as he obliterated both his competitors and the world record on each occasion. Unfortunately, as I have lamented on several occasions, head to heads against the world’s top dash men – currently Bolt, Gay, and Asafa Powell – are nearly as rare as blue diamonds. So with Bolt and Gay meeting only once in ‘08 and once in ‘09 over their careers, Bolt’s dominance has been defined by his Championship wins – the second in Berlin over Gay – not by a series of wins over his main rivals.

But Gay has quietly been demonstrating that he does have the goods to get it done – with a series of sub 9.80 runs of his own over the past two seasons that included a sizzling 9.69 AR that came courtesy of a poor start. And it is there that Bolt has excelled in his two previous victories over Gay, and where Gay turned the tables in Stockholm – at the start. On many occasions when previewing sprint match ups that feature strong finishers I have stated that it is the first 30 meters that typically decides the race. And Bolt and Gay are two of the strongest finishers the planet has ever seen.

In their first meeting in New York in 2008, Gay nailed the start of the race – but the race was called back due to a false start. On the second go it was Bolt that nailed the start and held off Gay with a new WR 9.72 (Gay 9.85). Gay showed that he too could run in that range at the Olympic Trials the following month with 9.77, 9.68w clockings of his own. But fell to injury in the 200 and was unable to make the 100 final in Beijing – won by Bolt in a WR 9.69. Both went into Berlin with fast season’s bests – Bolt 9.79, Gay 9.77. And though there was talk of Gay’s groin injury, the real story was told in the first 30 meters of the race as Bolt was the fastest man in the race to 30 and never looked back as he passed the line in his WR 9.58 (Gay runner up in 9.71).

So Gay had performed well against Bolt in both previous meetings, but you can’t give up ANY ground to Bolt early and hope to run him down. Just as, prior to Stockholm, all but Bolt knew that they could not give up any ground to Gay early and hope to run HIM down. Stockholm solidified the race model that neither Bolt nor Gay can be allowed to get in front early, as both have far too much top end speed to be run down – even by each other.

To their credit both men were gracious following the race. Bolt stating that it just wasn’t his day. Gay saying he wanted to defeat Bolt when he was at his best – as Bolt has had some injury issues this season. Of course Gay has had some injury issues of his own, and I applaud BOTH athletes for stepping to the track and running the race. Because that has been missing in the sprints – warriors going head to head in spite of not being 100%.

Bolt may take the next one, or even the next couple. Then again Tyson may turn the trick yet again. The one thing I can say with confidence is that the winner will be determined in the first 30 meters. With the man that passes that mark first fairly sure to win it. I’m looking forward to as many of their races as we can get.

By the way, there were other goings on in Stockholm. It just seems that the “Showdown” was the only event in town. And looking quite dominant was Bershawn Jackson as he demolished the 400H field. Jackson has gone back to a 15 step pattern and has shown that this event is all about rhythm as he has gotten himself into a zone! Today’s win in 47.65 put him well ahead of second place (48.50). It was Jackson’s 4th run under 48.00 this season – the entire world only had 3 in 2009. Jackson is beginning to churn out quality races like Edwin Moses and Kevin Young – the previous and current WR holders. At his current rate “Batman” is going to be hard to beat come Daegu.

While not turning in dominant performances, Chris Solinsky is beginning to look like a serious competitor over 5/10K. The world leader this year in the 10000 meters, Solinsky ran his favorite race in Stockholm – the 5000. And for the second consecutive run he set a personal best as he ran with the leaders throughout and finished fifth in 12:55.53 – the #2 in US history and faster than the American Record at the start of the year. Solinsky ran the kind of race I’ve hoped to see American’s run – stay with the pack and not let go. Chris did this and it wasn’t until the kickers did their thing that Solinsky truly lost contact, and finished only 2 seconds off the winner. He’s made great strides this year and is looking like a potential finalist in Daegu. Who knows what could happen then?

Christian Cantwell continued to show that he is currently the king of the shot, as he was the only thrower over 70 feet shoving the ball 72’ 5.75”, well clear of the 68’ 11.25” for second place Tomas Majewski (POL). While Chaunte Howard Lowe continued to show that she and Blanka Vlasic are in a different class than the rest as they once again dueled in the high jump. Vlasic (6’ 7.5”) winning another tough battle over Howard Lowe (6’ 6.75”). The US was also treated to solid performances by Brittney Reese (2nd, long jump), Debbie Dunn (2nd, 400), Allyson Felix (1st, 200), and Lolo Jones (3rd, 100 hurdles). And even though she was only 5th, Morgan Uceny continues to be impressive in the middle distances – this time over 1500. She continues to be a fierce competitor, running close to the leaders in every race she’s in. Her 4:02.72 was just off her best of 4:02.40 set a month earlier in Lausanne and her competitiveness seems to keep her in every race she’s in. I expect her to be a factor in 2011.

All in all a very good meet with solid performances by American forces and of course the victory heard round the world. Makes one look forward to the upcoming Aviva meet in London.


Top Five 100’s for Sprinting’s Big Three

Usain Bolt Tyson Gay Asafa Powell
9.58 9.68w 9.72
9.69 9.69 9.72w
9.72 9.71 9.74
9.76 9.75w 9.75w
9.77 9.77 9.77

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Look at the Career of Asafa Powell

Jamaican Asafa Powell looks for the race results after the men's 100m final competition at the Paris IAAF Diamond League meeting at the Stade de France near Paris on July 16, 2010.  UPI/David Silpa Photo via Newscom

Late Wednesday came word that Asafa Powell (JAM) was pulling out of the Stockholm Showdown with Usain Bolt (JAM) and Tyson Gay (US). While I was disappointed when I got the text message alerting me to the news I was not entirely surprised. One because the trade mark of elite sprinting in the New Millennium has been the lack of top level match ups in the men’s short sprints (100/200). The other because the history of Asafa Powell is rife with missed/avoided big races.

Powell became a blip on the sprint radar in 2003. That season was his first under 10.10 as he ran to a PR 10.02 in Brussels. It was marked, however, by his quarterfinal at the World Championships in Paris in which he and Jon Drummond both false started out. The Olympic season of 2004 saw dramatic improvement in his times as he improved down to 9.87 (again in Brussels). But his undefeated season was marred by his 5th place finish in the Olympic final. These two “inaugural” seasons among the elite were the last where we saw Powell compete regularly and against all comers (specifically the best of the elite) on a regular basis.

2005 saw Powell get even faster, as he had a spectacular (at that time) series of races in May/June that culminated in a new WR – 9.84 (Kingston), 9.85 (Ostrava), 9.84w (Eugene), 9.77 WR (Athens). This series of races was highlighted by two things. One was a loss to Olympic Champion Justin Gatlin in Eugene which would mark the last time the two would go head to head – and Powell’s last head to head against a top rival outside of a major championship until 2008. And Powell’s first injury in what has become a recurring series of injuries every year since. This one kept him out of the World Championships in Helsinki, as the new WR holder watched as Olympic champion Gatlin added the World title to his resume.

2006 saw both Powell and Gatlin run well early, with Gatlin dominating the clock in May. But it also saw Powell complaining of slight injuries and repeated failures to get both Powell and Gatlin on the track in head to head meetings. Reportedly because Powell felt that as WR holder he should be paid in excess of the Olympic and World Champion. In what has been one of the most ridiculous set of races I’ve ever seen in a meet, we were treated to two separate 100 meter dashes at the 2006 Prefonataine Classic – one featuring Justin Gatlin, the other featuring Asafa Powell – since negotiations couldn’t put them on the track together. Gatlin winning his section in 9.88, Powell his in 9.93w.

The next couple of weeks following Prefontaine saw both seasons change dramatically. Gatlin was suspended for his positive test from the Kansas Relays and didn’t compete again until his race in Estonia earlier this week. Powell regained health, ran throughout Europe, tied his WR 9.77 twice – in Gateshead and Zurich – and in the process ran to a record setting 12 sub10 races during the season. With Gatlin now gone, it appeared that Powell had the sprint wars to himself, but finishing behind Powell in Stuttgart, Berlin, and finally Zurich (in a PR 9.84) was a steadily improving Tyson Gay – and a new challenger for Powell.

2007 saw Gay solidify his growth from ‘06 with a slightly windy 9.76 (+2.2) early on in New York, 9.79 (+2.5) in Carson and a PR equaling 9.84 at nationals. In contrast we got more injury talk from Powell, and no head to heads until the World Championships in Osaka – though we did see Powell in Beograd (9.97), Oslo (9.93), and Rome (9.90). Again the lack of head to heads turned to the talk of contract negotiations in which the WR holder wanted top billing. When they finally met however, Osaka brought Tyson Gay his first global gold medal with a 9.85 victory in which Powell finished 3rd in 9.96. Two weeks later, however, saw Powell run 9.74 & 9.78 in a heat and final on the same day in Rieti – the 9.74 a new WR. A race without Gay or Osaka silver medalist Derrick Atkins as Zurich tried to negotiate a post Worlds race between Powell and Gay, but Powell declined choosing instead to compete in Rieti. Powell ran again in Brussels (9.84) and Stuttgart (9.83) – both without Osaka conquerors Gay and Atkins – before calling it a season.

2008 opened similarly to 2007, with the emergence of another strong rival. But this time the rival was a countryman as Usain Bolt exploded on the scene early with runs of 9.76 (Kingston), 9.92 (Port of Spain) and a WR 9.72 (New York) – with Gay running 9.85 in the New York race. Neither of the three met until Olympic Trials time. At US Trials Gay ran 9.77 (new AR) and 9.68w – then saw his season effectively put to bed with his injury in the 200. At Jamaica’s Trials it was Bolt over Powell (9.85 to 9.97). and the official changing of the hierarchy in Jamaica. Powell’s next race in Rome saw him pull up with a hamstring injury, but return 11 days later to edge Bolt (9.88 to 9.89) in Stockholm. Powell would not face Bolt again until Beijing, but continued with wins in London (9.94) and Monaco (9.82) before placing 5th in Beijing (9.95). Powell once again missed the Zurich race against his Beijing conquerors (Bolt/Thompson/Dix/Martina), but did find his way to Lausanne and a 9.72 PR win minus Bolt.

2009 followed the now established pattern. Top rivals Bolt and Gay opened hot (150 WR with 9.91 en route for Bolt 19.58 for Gay) amid talk of Powell injury. No head to heads until Jamaica Trials with Bolt again over Powell – 9.86 to 9.97. Then a loss to Gay in Rome (9.77 to 9.88) before the bronze medal performance in Berlin – Bolt (9.58), Gay (9.71), Powell (9.84). This was followed by a loss to Bolt in Zurich (9.81 to 9.88) and a loss to Gay in Shanghai (9.69 to 9.85). Then word that he had once again been nursing an injury.

Then of course there has been this season. The outstanding early season for Powell amid talk of being in the best shape of his life, and being ready to set a new PR this season. Then the losses to Gay (Gateshead) and Bolt (Paris). And now word that he has been injured since Paris, with no indication when he may be back on the track. Which more than likely will also negate his appearance in Brussels – up until last week the only confirmed meeting between the world’s three top sprinters this year.

So, as I stated up top, very disappointing, but when one follows the history of Asafa it is not too surprising. While he has become the most prolific sprinter in history with well over 60 sub10 legal clockings to his credit (7 under 9.80!), his spectacular times have come against less than the best in competition. None of his sub 9.80 races have come in a major, and only once (Berlin) has he run under 9.90 in a major. Outside of majors, only a handful of his sub 10’s have come against the superstars of the sprints – his best showing in ‘06 against the then developing Gay.

For most of his career, he has competed against the best of the second tier sprinters. And while this has given him awesome stats – lots of fast times, few loses, and high annual rankings – it hasn’t hardened him to the tough world of the sprint wars. A game where toughness and grit are as much in demand as pure speed – the qualities that win the big races. In contrast his primary competition (Maurice Greene and Justin Gatlin early, and Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay most recently) were all hardened through the rigors of competing against the best early on and taking their lumps!

Greene took hard losses early to the likes of Carl Lewis, Ato Boldon, Donovan Bailey and Bruny Surin before finally coming into his own with his own gold medal in ‘97. Bolt was regularly behind Wallace Spearmon, Xavier Carter, and Tyson Gay before coming into his own. And Gay was a regular behind Justin Gatlin, Leonard Scott, and Asafa Powell himself before coming into his own. They all shared the misfortune (or perhaps fortune) of watching others beat them. Making them more competitive – hungry to turn the tables. They all had to learn to dig down DEEP to find what it takes to win against the best, and to do it under pressure. There was no path of easy, “shut it down” victories on their paths to success. Adversity and challenge was a daily staple. And you could/can see a fierceness in their eyes at the starting line and during the race – competitors that WILL NOT be denied!

And it is this fierceness that Powell has lacked throughout his career. While the best of the best in sprinting have typically been like high end muscle cars – think vintage Chevy Camaro’s, Dodge Charger’s and Shelby Mustang’s – Powell has been more like a Ferrari. Perhaps the fastest car on the road, but you don’t really want to race it against that supercharged Corvette Z1, because like Brian O’Connor in “The Fast and the Furious” you’ll be saying “I almost had you” while the engine is ready to fall on the ground! And that’s where Powell’s career has been to date. Perhaps the fastest car on the road, but a bit delicate for the big races against the supercharged and muscle cars.

It appears that another season is done with no wins against his major competition. And with yet another trio of major championships on tap for 2011, 2012 & 2013, the window on Powell’s career is rapidly closing. In 2005, there were those that took it for granted that he would have triple gold at this point – not the two bronzes and 5th that he picked up. There is no doubt that he is fast. But he and his people are going to have to get him tougher and more resilient if there is any hope that he will make his way to the top of the podium. Bolt and Gay are still young, and there are youngsters like Walter Dix and Yohan Blake that are going through that process of taking their lumps as we speak – and getting tougher and hungry. The road ahead is not getting any easier.

There have been many very fast sprinters that have not gotten been able to master their “muscle car” counterparts when it mattered – Ralph Metcalf, Harry Jerome, Leroy Burrell, Ato Boldon, Calvin Smith, and Frank Fredericks come to mind. Some of the fastest sprinters of their eras – they just couldn’t get past that athlete or two that kept them from ultimate victory. That’s where Powell sits at this moment.

For my money he needs to get tougher. He needs to race more. Needs to take his lumps. Needs to get hungry. He needs to race Bolt and Gay in order to get better. Competing against Mike Rodgers, Keston Bledman, Trell Kimmons and Mario Forsythe isn’t going to get it done. Three and five meter wins against these guys won’t prepare you for the “whoosh” of Usain Bolt or Tyson Gay at the 60 meter mark.

I’m disappointed about Stockholm. Not that I felt that Powell was going to be a game changer in the race, but because we need to see him in the race. I want the event to be more than a head to head among the Big Two. I want to see the final in Daegu as a question mark before the gun for the final goes off. I want to see the 100 meters where it was in the late 90’s – with four or five men taking to the line as EQUALS with the outcome in question. And for THAT to happen we need the best of the best on the track competing against each other on a regular basis. Some need to take their lumps in order to reach the level of the others. Sometimes you have to win in order to lose. And those that fear losing, will. And I think therein lies the career of Powell to date. We will see what story the 2011 Chapter writes.