Monday, December 19, 2011

Rupp Enters U.S. Marathon Trials

The calendar has yet to turn to 2012, but already we have news that may shape the U.S. Olympic team for London, as Galen Rupp was a last minute entry into the marathon trials scheduled for January 14th in Houston, Texas.

Interestingly enough Rupp will be running his first ever marathon at the Trials. He was able to enter the race because 10,000 meter and half marathon times are allowed for entry. Rupp set an American Record of 26:48.00 for 10000 last year, which is easily under the qualifying standard of 28:30, as is his half marathon time of 60:30 run at last year’s New York City Half marathon (qualifying standard of 1:05).

I find his entry very intriguing because historically America’s best marathoners have come from the ranks of 10000 meter runners. Guys like Bill Rodgers, Frank Shorter, and Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar, were all 10000 meter runners who moved up to the marathon with tremendous success. That pattern holds true internationally as well, as runners like previous marathon WR setters Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrsellassie moved up to the marathon after stunning careers over 10,000 meters.

If Rupp is successful in his bid to make the team, this move could give us a marathoner capable of holding his own against the best in the world in London. Rupp brings tremendous speed to the event with his 26:48.00 10000, and he was the fastest American over the half marathon last year – a race in which he finished ahead Ryan Hall, the fastest U.S. marathoner of 2011 at 2:04.58. Of course Rupp has yet to cover the full marathon, but when your coach was himself a top 10000 meter runner AND a former American Record holder, he should be able to gauge whether or not there is potential in Rupp making a run over the full marathon distance. Having watched both the career of Salazar and now the career of Rupp, I don’t think this move was made without careful consideration and the feeling that success is a definite possibility!

So suddenly we have our first real “drama” in the selection process for the U.S. team for London – can Rupp in his debut at the distance get into that top three and make the marathon team for the Olympics, because if he does, Salazar & Rupp will have two thirds of a year to get him ready for the Big Show! And that could be one of the stories to watch over the Olympic season.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Very, Very Early London Favorites

Christmas is less than a week away, and we’re within counting distance of the dropping of the ball in Times Square and the start of the New Year. So it must be time to start talking about the Olympics!

Olympic talk will dominate the world of track and field in 2012 – it always does in an Olympic year. So what better way to start/instigate discussion, than to put some early predictions out there. Of course we don’t even know who will be competing in London just yet, since everyone will have a selection process of some sort to go through. So instead of saying these are my predicted “winners”, this is my list of “Favorites” for London. Those athletes that I think if everything goes right for them could take the top of the podium at the Games.

So here is my list of favorites, followed by some general comments by competitive areas. Let the debates begin!


Event Men’s Favorite Women’s Favorite
100 Yohan Blake Carmelita Jeter
200 Tyson Gay Veroinica Campbell Brown
400 LaShawn Merritt Allyson Felix
800 David Rudisha Mariya Savinova
1500 Silas Kiplagat Morgan Uceny
5000 Bernard Lagat Vivian Cheruiyot
10,000 Kenenisa Bekele Vivian Cheruiyot
Steeple Ezekiel Kemboi Yuliya Zarapova
110H/100H Xiang Liu Sally Pearson
400H Jeshua Anderson Lashinda Demus
High Jump Ivan Ukhov Blanka Vlasic
Pole Vault Renaud Lavillenie Fabiana Murer
Long Jump Mitchell Watt Brittney Reese
Triple Jump Christian Taylor Olha Saladuha
Shot Put Christian Cantwell Valerie Adams
Discus Robert Harting Yanfeng Li
Hammer Koji Murofushi Tatyana Lysenko
Javelin Andreas Thorkildsen Maria Abakumova
Multis Trey Hardee Tatyana Chernova
4x1 Jamaica United States
4x4 United States Unites States


Sprint Comments

Perhaps the hardest events to predict are the sprints. And I’m sure my early favorites here will be a bit controversial – primarily because I’ve not put Bolt as favorite in either sprint. Blake is just improving too rapidly. And while Bolt & Gay are one and two all-time and ultimate warriors, both have the Achilles heel of poor starts. If either nails it he could win, but Blake is the most consistent from the blocks. As for Gay and the deuce, in limited action he ran 19.58 & 19.40 (straight) while battling injuries in ‘09/’10 and dropped 44.89. Add his screaming turn and the fact that all that was done early season without peaking, and don’t forget he’s 9.7 on any given day with a 9.69 PR and he has all the elements – just needs good health. And dare I say that while Bolt has dominated the last three Majors, he hasn’t faced Gay, or the improved Blake. Stay tuned! Merritt over James, yes. James Improved tremendously in 2011, but Merritt lead the world with just a handful of races and barely lost in Daegu with no base behind him. James will have to get to sub44 to take London. This battle will be HOT!

Jeter wins without a great start in Daegu. She’s got to be the fave. Veronica Campbell Brown is looking to win her THIRD in a row in the deuce, and is coming off her first Worlds win. She’s my early favorite but this is Felix’ favorite event and she doesn’t take losing lightly. And the spectre of Jeter continuing to improve here makes this the hottest women’s sprint in London. On the other hand I see Felix as the best female quarter miler in the world – and yes I know that Richards Ross hasn’t retired. We’ll see if Felix doubles again, but if she does she’s my early favorite here because she now has a year of doubling experience under belt and she and coach WILL make adjustments.


Hurdle Comments

in the 110 hurdles, Dayron Robles and David Oliver have shown that they are as good as it gets when healthy, but there is something about a healthy Xiang Liu when the chips are on the line! Just go back and look at that Daegu race. He can be beaten, but someone is going to have to get out and run away from him to do it. The men’s long hurdles were a mess this year. I finally went with the young stud poised for growth in Anderson. The vets are aging and just didn’t get it done this year. We could be turning the corner of change in this event.

Sally Pearson. Sub 12.30. It’s going to take a lot for others to dial into her area code at this point. The long hurdles, on the other hand has several women capable of crossing that line first, but for now I’m going with the experience and talent of Demus.


Middle Distance Comments

These events are beginning to develop solid cores of favorites. In the men’s half, right now gold is Rudisha’s to lose. He’s that good. Kaki could get there. But right now Rudisha rules. The metric mile is a bit more of a mystery, but Kiprop and Kiplagat are the heads and tails on the coin. Will be interesting to see if Kaki runs it more in 2012 though!

On the women’s side Savinova looks to be settling in in the half mile. Semenya is lying in wait, but the spirit seems lacking. In the metric mile there are several capable women right now – probably about half dozen or so. But Uceny has the most solid/consistent race pattern. This will be another exciting final in London.


Distance Comments

On the one hand I believe Bekele to be back – and that means trouble for everyone else. On the other I don’t think he will double. With that in mind I think that “Old Man” Lagat is still the world’s best kicker not named Kenenisa, so he’s my early 5000 favorite. In the 10,000 Bekele v Farah could be the new Bekele v Gebrsellassie!

On the women’s side Cheruiyot is an easy call in the 5000, as there is no one in her league right now. The 10,000 is the question mark. Will the other women let her have her way there? For now she’s my double favorite, but only just barely. Because I can’t believe they will just let her run easy here before running her “better” event.


Jumps Comments

I know Jesse Williams just won gold, and I do have faith in Jesse. But Ukhov has the ability to jump higher than anyone we’ve seen in a very long time – and he’s seasoned. All things being equal he gets my nod – but prove me wrong Jesse. In the pole vault not sure what happened with athletes coming out of nowhere in Daegu, but Lavillenie is the most consistent of the last few seasons – and he jumps high too. Mitchell Watt fell prey to an old lion in Daegu – and there are a lot of young lions waiting in the wings. But he rates early fave for me off of consistency on the 2011 season. Taylor gets my nod in the triple jump because of his consistency as well – he consistently comes through and gets better in the clutch!

Blanka Vlasic is a member of my All Swagger team! She has it in droves and a subpar Blanka made a run at gold in Daegu. Gotta be the favorite. Murer gets the nod in the pole vault as Isinbayeva works her way back to form. My guess is that this may be one of the first changes I make next year. Brittney Reese is a talent and is my early fave. But a warning as Darya Klishina is tighter technically – and this IS a technical event. You can only win off of natural ability for so long. The women’s triple jump has a handful of women within a finger’s width of each other. Saladuha gets the early nod off my gut.


Throws Comments

I know the men’s shot put is a contradiction to what I’m going to say, but I find that in the throws solid vets tend to rule. That’s why all the names in my men’s throws are so familiar, starting with Christian Cantwell and the shot put. I don’t see the big man getting pushed off the podium in London and he’s my favorite for the top spot. He will bring the shot back in line with the men’s discus (Harting), men’s hammer (Murofushi), men’s javelin (Thokildsen), women’s shot (Adams), women’s discus (Li), women’s hammer (Lysenko) and women’s javelin (Abakumova). Someone is going to have to come take the gold from them. That said Spotakova was oh so close to getting the nod from me in the women’s javelin.



Hardee gets the nod in the Decathlon because he’s more complete than Eaton. But this is another of those, could go either way picks. On the women’s side I went with Chernova because of steady growth. But this could be another pick em by the time they get to London because Ennis will be at home.



Jamaica gets the easy nod for the 4x1 because they’ve finished the race and set two WR’s in the last three Majors. However, I’ve felt for a decade that the WR is soft – and it’s still soft. And the U.S. showed – without Tyson Gay – that it could run leg for leg with Jamaica in Daegu, until disaster struck! This event will be one of those barber shop/internet message board conversation pieces throughout 2012. As for the 4x4, Jeremy Wariner – injured. Tony McQuay – injured. Intermediate hurdlers – subpar. And LaShwn Merritt still crossed the line first. Hard not to make the U.S. the favorite.

Jamaica set a NR, and was still behind the first place U.S. squad in Daegu. The U.S. is the favorite, but when you have VCB, if you can get her close, you have a shot! The U.S. women are as strong a favorite here as the men are. IN the post Eastern Bloc era, U.S. squads have turned in the most consistent set of marks in history. And Felix is one of those “relay beasts” that has the ability to bread a 4x4 wide open.

Ok, there are my Early London Favorites. I wanted to get those out there before we actually hit 2012 and the indoor season gets going in earnest. My gut says this is going to be one VERY exciting season.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dear Track Santa – 2011

santa clus clothingIt’s that time of year to put in my request to good old Track Santa for my track and field gifts for 2012. The 2011 season was pretty good overall, but one can always wish for more! So here’s my letter and list for Track Santa (I hope I get everything)!

Dear Track Santa,

I’ve been really good this year. I watched every meet that was available on television – indoor, elite, college and high school. I watched a ton of meets online (thanks for increasing the free feeds this year). I supported my local high school team, and I got finish line seats at every meet I went to. And I made sure to watch and cheer for every event at every meet – track and field.

I’m really looking forward to the Olympic year, with the Trials and the Games and all the other meets. But there are some things I want to ask for, that would really make the year great.


A new CEO for USA Track and Field

It’s time for a new CEO. We’ve been rudderless for far too long. I know that the best candidates seem to not want to bother, but please convince at least one of them that with the right person, this could be a great job AND a great federation. We already have the best collection of talent across the board in the world. With the right guidance great things could come.


A Revised False Start Rule

We saw the debacle that was the men’s 100 final in Daegu. While that was the most high profile DQ of the year, it was one of many. From the Allyson Felix “huddle” at the Prefontaine Classic (in the 400 no less, AND a huddle in the 100); to the DQ of defending national collegiate champion, Jeff Demps at the SEC championships; to Dwain Chambers DQ in the Daegu semis before Bolt’s infamous false start! Please give the powers that be the intelligence to understand that a) athletes that false start are not trying to cheat; b) these athletes are under a tremendous amount of pressure; c) no rule is going to prevent false starts from happening, because “stuff” just happens; d) since false starts can’t be prevented, no rule is going to save precious “TV time” (I actually think the new rule takes more time with all the “huddles” that they have; and e) no other sport sets the rules for its premier events to try and actually eliminate athletes from competing! All that said, two false starts worked just fine – there was no need to break it.


A Revised Anti-Doping Plan

Two more high profile doping suspensions in 2011 make many believe that the system may be irreparably broken. But this is the New Millennium – the age after the Six Million Dollar Man – and we have the technology to fix it! I’m even going to help you with this one Santa because I’ve been working on a plan that I’m going to send to you that I think may help. I will post it here before the clock strikes midnight on 2011.


Head to Head Match Ups of the Best Male Sprinters

I’m going to stop saying that we need more head to head’s because in some events we are getting them. The 110 hurdlers gave them to us pre Daegu. So did the women’s sprinters as well as the women’s hurdlers – both short and long. We got lots of field event head to heads. The problem Santa is that the sport’s most high profile athletes – the men’s sprinters – are scared to race! Mind you Santa, I’m not calling them “chicken”, but we don’t have Jim Hines, Charlie Greene, Steve Williams, Don Quarrie, Linford Christie, Mo Greene, Ato Boldon, or Frankie Fredericks around anymore. We now have the New Millennium equivalent of Valerie Borzov and Kostas Kenteris – sprinters who only show up to race the best at Majors. Please convince the sport that setting up contracts based on performing against the best is the way for sprinters to get paid! Because I think most of are tired of watching “Time Trials” leading up to one good race a year.


Good Health for the World’s Best Athletes

I know there will be injuries – its part of the game. But sometimes the triage list of track and field’s best looks more like a log from war. Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Blanka Vlasic, Teddy Tamgho, Wallace Spearmon, Tony McQuay, Jeremy Wariner, Emma Green, Lolo Jones, Ryan Bailey, Kenenisa Bekele, Andrew Wheating, and Bryan Clay are just a handful of top level athletes that suffered through various injury ills over the last year. I understand that getting everyone that matters to London in one piece is nearly impossible, but the more that can achieve that goal the more exciting the Olympics will be. So if it’s not asking too much, I’m asking for a high turnout of HEALTHY elite athletes in London for the Games.


That’s it Track Santa. Like any kid excited about Christmas there is certainly more that I could add to the list. But if you will deliver these things I will be very happy – and so will most of the fans of the sport! So while I’m writing the list, consider it a list from the fans in general and do your best to come through for us.

Thank you

The View From the Finish Line

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Twelve Days of Track Christmas

imageIt’s the holiday season, and exactly twelve days before Christmas. So in the spirit of the season, I thought I would retool the Twelve Days of Christmas to fit my favorite sport. This should be sung to the tune of the original. So a quick departure from the serious before closing out the year, my twelve days of track Christmas.


“On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me”:

  • A squad that doesn’t drop the baton
  • Two unexpected stars
  • Three new tracks
  • Four world level meets
  • Five gold medals
  • Six runners running
  • Seven steeplers leaping
  • Eight sprinters training
  • Nine vaulters vaulting
  • Ten jumpers jumping
  • Eleven javelins flying
  • Twelve throwers throwing

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Exciting and Disappointing Moments in 2011

As I continue to look back on the 2011 season, there were several moments that were both exciting and disappointing. That’s one of the wonderful things about this sport – one moment it can give you chills, the next leave you disappointed. So I decided to sit down and come up with 10 things that did both for me this year.

I have to say that as I contemplated the season, I found that the sprints were very disappointing overall. I hope that trend changes in the Olympic year. Cheerfully, however, I found much excittement across the board, which I think bodes well for the upcoming season.

So with that, and in no particular order, here are 10 disappointments and 10 exciting moments from 2011:



Ten Disappointing Moments of 2011

1. Tyson Gay Injury – It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen the sport’s top sprinters going head to head, even in Majors. When Tyson Gay announced that he would not be competing at nationals and was ending his season, the Bolt v Gay matchup that we had all been looking forward to was once again put on the shelf.

2. Usain Bolt False Start – This was not a good year for the 100 meters, as nearly half of my “Disappointments” have to do with this event. When was the last time a favorite showed up for a Major 100 final and false started out of the race? Way back in 1996 when Linford Christie false started out of the Atlanta final. I was disappointed then too.

3. Women’s 1500 at U.S. Nationals – I’m sure some are scratching their heads on this one, but I found it extremely disappointing that someone could run the gutsy race that Christin Wurth Thomas ran and NOT get a chance to run at Worlds. After taking the pace out a la Paula Ivan in Seoul ’88, Wurth Thomas missed making the team by .01sec! Further strengthening my feelings that a “Real” Worlds where the best are invited regardless of country.

4. Morgan Uceny’s Fall in Daegu – Uceny had one of the finest season’s I’ve ever seen for a U.S. miler. As she headed down the backstretch of the penultimate lap in the World final it looked like she was getting into position to run for gold. Then on the same turn that dream went to the track as Uceny was inadvertently tripped when another runner went down. I hate to see an athlete have everything seemingly come together only to have fate intervene!

5. Mike Rodgers/Steve Mullings Drug Suspensions – Not much more needs to be said. The sprints have had more than their share of negative news and the 100 had an abundance of it this year. But of all the negative news having TWO of the sport’s top sprinters suspended in the same season is a new low.

6. Andrew Wheating’s Season – Wheating looked like the next great thing in 2010 – his runs in Europe after a strenuous collegiate season giving hope that the U.S. would once again be in the thick of the 1500 meters. The highs of ’10 were followed by the lows of ’11 and I’m hoping that 2012 finds things back to normal for this young man.

7. World Championships 110 Hurdles Final – This was supposed to be one of those golden races. The top three hurdlers in history together on the same track. And a young upstart who had already had an upset win in Stockholm. Then one of the big three is subpar in Daegu and the other two collide with one being dq’d! Not the way this was written up at the start of the season.

8. World Championships 400 Hurdles Final – No one collided in this one, but it would have provided an excuse for the horrible performances turned in by some of the sport’s best hurdlers. Never have so many sub48 hurdlers fallen so short of the mark in a race as LJ VanZyl, Bershawn Jackson, Angelo Taylor and Felix Sanchez were ghosts of finals past.

9. Florida Dropped Baton in the NCAA Final – This one was disappointing on two levels. First there was the fact that defending 100 champion Jeff Demps didn’t make the final – a screamer! Then looking for reDEMPtion he never got the stick. It was also disappointing as the final had the potential to be one of the greatest ever as Florida, Texas A&M, Florida State and Illinois had all run outstanding rounds!

10. U.S. Men Drop the Stick Again in a Major – The third time is supposed to be the charm, but then I guess no one informed this squad. Since winning in Osaka in ’07, the U.S. men have failed to finish a final in three straight Majors! As they say on ESPN, “C’mon Man”!


Ten Exciting Moments of 2011

1. Mo Farah’s Prefontaine 10,000 – Some find the distances boring, and a 28:00 10K can be. But when the racing gets down hear 27 minutes the laps fo by quickly and there is excitement all the way around. Such was the case in Eugene as Mo Farah took an exciting win at 26:46.57 as nine men were squeezed in between there and 26:55.29!

2. Ngoni Makusha NCAA 100 Victory – Nothing like a great 100 to thrill the senses, and this was such a race. Channeling the spirits of Bob Hayes, Carl Lewis and Donovan Bailey, the slow starting Makusha blazed through the middle of the pack for the win in an NCAA record 9.89!

3. Dwight Phillips World Long Jump Win – I think most had given up on Phillips for this season. After all, if not for the bye, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near the long jump final, finishing a distant 10 at U.S. Nationals. They say, however, never underestimate the heart of a champion, and Phillips embodied that statement as he nailed down yet another gold medal in a Major!

4. U.S. Nationals 400 Final – It wasn’t the fastest race of the year. It didn’t feature Merritt or Wariner as champion. Instead we got a young Tony McQuay crossing the line first. Exciting because it shows that we’re still growing quality quartermilers! And while this young man succumbed to injury in Daegu, it’s always nice to know that the 400 pipeline is still working.

5. World Championships Women’s 100 Final – Every once in a while a race comes together. The top athletes make it through the rounds, and you everyone performs up to expectations. This race was one such race. This event’s big three showed up and got it done as Jeter, Campbell Brown and Baptiste gave the crowd a show. Even defending champion Fraser Pryce, who hadn’t had a very good season, had a great run! If only every event would come together like this.

6. Sally Pearson World Champs Win – I know I’ve talked this race to death, but 12.28 in the 100 hurdles is as awesome a performance as there is. It was poetry in motion. And it’s always nice when we see athletes do it right and approach suspect performances.

7. David Rudisha’s 1:41.33 – Rudisha makes the 800 look ridiculously easy! He cruises 1:43’s like he’s walking in the park. He runs 1:42’s to put the competition out of reach. So when he runs 1:41 it seems to go almost unnoticed. But the only races faster than this year’s 1:41.33 are four WR setting runs, and only previous WR holder Wilson Kipketer has ever run as fast!

8. Christian Taylor World Triple Jump Win – Another performance that I’ve mentioned a few times now, but when a young kid comes up with this kind of performance in the heat of battle, he deserves praise. The fact that it’s an event that we (the US) have been in the doldrums in for several years was icing on the cake.

9. Brussels Men’s 200 Meters – Perhaps the race of the year. Note I said race and not performance, because for the first time ever we had two men run under 19.6 in the same race! Yohan Blake’s performance was brilliant, but Walter Dix was also outstanding in defeat. And one can only wonder what we will get if we ever get these two on the track with Bolt AND Gay and all four go mano a mano!

10. LaShawn Merritt 4x4 Anchor in Daegu – Nothing beats the excitement of relay running, and the most exciting relays are those that find someone coming from behind for the win. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched one of these in a Major – 1991 to be exact. This time however, we were on the winning end, and that made it doubly sweet!

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Best Performers of 2011

imageDecember is already a third gone – not much time left in this year. As a matter of fact the indoor season is already getting started! My how time flies when you’re having fun!

So before the month gets away, and Baby New Year shows up, I want to give out some kudos to athletes that I feel really got the job done in 2011. I’m going to call them “The Best of 2011”. Some categories are a bit nontraditional – Best Start for example - while others will probably be seen on other lists – like Best Performance.

Just a bit of fun as we wind down the year, and a chance to hand out a little praise. So without further ado let’s get started.


Best Start, Male – Asafa Powell

He may have difficulty holding the true studs off at the finish, but Powell is still the fastest man out of the blocks. It wasn’t an easy win this year though. Countryman Steve Mullings was vying to take over the title, but his suspension takes him out of the running. Ditto Mike Rodgers who has a great get away, but fell to the testers a la Mullings. The man who may take the title in earnest next year however, is Jamaica’s Nesta Carter. The relay leadoff man is my #2 and rising.


Best Start, Female – English Gardener

This was a tough one to decide. Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce still has a nice getaway, but it was not as dominant as in the past. And in the hurdles it was Sally Pearson ahead at the first hurdle and never looking back. But the woman that simply blazed out of the blocks in 2011 was Oregon frosh English Gardener. The Powell/Carter of the women’s 100, the gun goes off and Gardener is meters up on her opponents before they come out of drive phase! A little finishing strength and she could be the surprise of 2012!


Best Finish, Male – Kirani James

I know, some were probably expecting Usain Bolt or Yohan Blake – and both were in the running. And Ngoni Makusha’s come from behind win to take the NCAA 100 title had Carl Lewis written all over it. For me, however, James invoked visions of Lee Evans and Butch Reynolds – power down the straight while reeling cats in, over and over! And the stretch run between James and Merritt in Daegu was vintage track and field.


Best Finish, Female – Carmelita Jeter

Take off the “er” and you have “Jet” and that’s just what Carmelita was in full flight – a jet. She ran 10.70 and 10.78 from behind – as she did when she ran 10.64 & 10.67 in ’09. Only VCB (Veronica Campbell Brown) is in her league over the final 50 of the 100 – and “Jet” put that to bed in Daegu! Now if she can just develop a semblance of a consistent start, to go with that last 60 overdrive could we see FloJo challenged?


Best Track Performance, Male – Yohan Blake, 19.26

I’m still in awe of anyone that runs under 1:42 in the 800 – that’s just a stud’s performance. And David Rudisha did it again with his 1:42.33 – simply awesome. But as they would have said back in the day, “19.2 ain’t no joke”! As a matter of fact it’s the #2 performance ever. And to top it off he did it from behind while beating a 19.56. Just a few years ago 19.32 was the stuff of legend. Now? Nuff said.


Best Track Performance, Female – Vivian Cheruiyot, 14:20.87

This was another tough call for me. Sally Pearson’s 12.28 is literally WR territory in my mind – as only 3 Eastern Bloc athletes have run faster. This on the heels of a 12.36 semi – only Gail Devers among Western women has run faster. But after much internal debate I’m giving the nod to Cheruiyot coming as it did as the second half of a 10,000/5000 double. Both women performed their best on the brightest stage, but Vivian gave an all time performance over 5000 after running a quality 10,000.


Best Field Performer, Male – Christian Taylor, 17.96m/58’ 11.25”

This is actually one of my favorite events, and it’s great to see a lot of young talent coming forward. The best of these appears to be Mr. Taylor. For starters he’s made a habit of finding his best jumps late in the competition. And none was any better than this one, as it was in response to a 58 foot jump by defending champion Idowu. Taylor kept his composure and bounded out to the #9 performance in history to become the #5 all-time performer.


Best Field Performer, Female – Betty Heidler, 79.42m/260’ 6.75”

A WR trumps all, and that’s what Heidler produced in 2011. She didn’t just break the record however; she smashed it by a whopping 1.12m/3’ 8”! Now that’s leaving your mark. While others are trying desperately to get into WR territory in various events, she hit this one out of the park.


Most Improved, Male – Mo Farah

In a world dominated by Ethiopian and Kenyan distance runners, Farah moved to the head of the class in 2011. His British Record 12:53.11 lead the world over 5000 meters, and he backed it up with gold in the event in Daegu. He took an oh so close silver at Worlds in the 10,000, though he showed even more improvement there on the clock – dropping his pre 2011 best from 27:28.86 down to a stunning 26:46.57! He could be the big “home crowd” medal winner with the Olympic Games being in London in 2012!


Most Improved, Female – Morgan Uceny

Yet another tough one for me to sort out – and one I may get some argument on. Heidler got consideration – you have to when you set a WR. But the WR was a big outlier for her. It really came down to Pearson & Uceny. Pearson dropped to 12.28 from a pre-2011 best of 12.50, and she was the picture of perfection time after time. Uceny dropped to 4:00.06 (tantalizingly close to sub4) from a pre-2011 best of 4:02.40, while running textbook perfect races repeatedly. At the end of the day, I decided that the improvement Uceny’s race – both in terms of becoming one of the best “tactician’s” on the circuit, as well as her improvement in times – slightly outweighed Pearson’s improvement in consistency. Slightly.


That’s my list. I’m sure there may be some disagreement – means we have more stars in this sport than we spend time talking about! And that’s a good thing. I have a few more things I want to look back on before Christmas gets . Much to look at before we close the door on 2011.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Swagger – Who has it in Track and Field?

I was watching SportsCenter yesterday and caught Deion Sanders talking about the evolution of defensive backs in the NFL. Of course it being “Neon Deion”, he talked about the “swagger” that he brought to the position, and how others have tried to emulate it. That made me think about track and field, wondering about the amount of “swagger” we have in our sport.

I know what swagger is, and I think most people know what swagger is, but I decided to look it up to see what the official definition is before I started looking for it, and I found the following:

Swag-ger: verb, 1) to walk or strut with defiant or insolent air. 2) to brag or boast noisily. Noun, 1) swaggering manner, conduct, or walk; ostentatious display of arrogance and conceit.

I checked several sources and the various definitions I found were all basically the same, which made me laugh. Because in general when I think of swagger, negativity does NOT come to mind. When I think of swagger I think of confidence. I think of athletes that have complete faith in their ability. Athletes that KNOW they are going to win; come out on top; dominate their opponents.

If you say swagger, I say: Bob Hayes, Jim Hines, Steve Williams, Renaldo Nehemiah, Edwin Moses, Carl Lewis, Sergei Bubka, Javier Sotomayor, Linford Chiristie, Donovan Bailey, Hicham ElGuerrouj, Mo Greene, and a young Haile Gebrsellassie. Athletes that stepped to the track with a walk, a look, an air that said “I got this” even before the gun went off.

Now I know, both from the dictionary definitions, and from talking to people over the years, that many abhor the idea that athletes are often “cocky”, “conceited”, or “self-absorbed”. That for every person that loved Deion Sander’s moniker of “Prime Time”, there were those that couldn’t stand him. That for every fan of the Los Angeles Lakers’ “Showtime”, there were those that preferred the “blue collar” Boston Celtics.

It would seem that times they are a changing however. I remember when the U.S. relay squad took off their singlets, and posed for the crowd after winning the 4x1 in Sydney – and were chastised for being too arrogant. Eight years later in Beijing Usain Bolt did a jig and posed for the crowd and started a new craze! Of course, just because one dances or preens for the camera, doesn’t mean the athlete has “swag”. It’s not simply the movements, but the athlete behind the movements!

So looking at the year just ended and looking forward to the Olympic year that now is only several months away, I decided to take a look for today’s athletes with swagger, because ultimately many of them will be picking up medals in London. Who are today’s Lewis, Bubka, Christie and Greene. Who are the athletes that show up saying “I got this” even on a bad day?

It’s no coincidence that all that found themselves on my list have also found their way to gold. But it may surprise some that I have several women on my list! With that in mind, here is my list of track and field athletes with the most “Swag”!


#10. Brittney Reese – Knows she has hops.

#9. Angelo Taylor – “Been there, done that!”

#8. Jeremy Wariner – Shades, so he can see what the others don’t.

#7. Phillips Idowu – When your hair is this color you have to be good!

#6. Veronica Campbell Brown – Jamaica’s best of all time and she knows it.

#5. Dwight Phillips – “There’s a medal involved? I got this!”

#4. Carmelita Jeter – Knows she has a gear the others don’t and it shows.

#3. Yelena Isinbayeva – “Medals, records, yes I have them all”!

#2. Blanka Vlasic – She was dancing before Bolt, and with good reason!

#1. Usain Bolt – Let me fix my hair before I go out here and dance when I’m done!

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Heroes of 2011

imageWow, it’s December already, and there’s still so much left to talk about regarding the 2011 season. Several events left to review and some outstanding performances to look at. And I’m going to try to get to as much as I can before the clock turns to 2012.

One thing that I don’t want to overlook is what I’m going to call my heroes of 2011 – a group of athletes that in my opinion were tremendous competitors in 2011. They were entertaining and competitive all year long – and I’m looking forward to following during 2012.

With that, here are my heroes of 2011:



Carmelita Jeter (USA) – sprints

I fully expected Jeter to have a great season in the 100 meters. She’d been building to World Championships gold since 2007 when she won the bronze medal in Osaka. One of the things that I was looking forward to in 2011 was her battles with Veronica Campbell Brown – and they did not disappoint. What I did not expect from Jeter, and was pleasantly surprised with, was her rise in the 200 meters! It’s not common to see a short sprinter move up to challenge in the longer sprint, but that’s what Jeter did this year. She defeated defending World Champion, Allyson Felix, three times over 200, and won the silver medal behind this year’s champion, Veronica Campbell Brown. Now I’m not only looking forward to Jeter’s 100 meter battles, but her head to heads with the best over 200 in 2012.


Christian Taylor (USA) – triple jumpimage

The triple jump used to be one of those events where Americans were consistently in contention. Willie Banks, Mike Conley, and Kenny Harrison had made the triple jump one of our better events in the field for some time. Since Harrison’s Olympic win in 1996, however, we’ve had quite the drought in the event. Aside from a brief moment in ’05 when Walter Davis got us back to the top of the podium in Helsinki (followed by bronze in Osaka) we’ve had no one for the better part of two decades that could really challenge the world’s best – until 2011. This year, young Taylor became a combination of Willie Banks and Kenny Harrison – a come from behind wizard a la Banks, and a talent capable of spanning out near 59 feet a la Harrison. The result, a World title while becoming the #5 all-time performers in history – and he’s only twenty one years old! For the past couple of seasons we’ve been talking about Teddy Tamgho. Suddenly Tamgho has company and this could be one of the best events in the sport for some time to come.


David Rudisha (KEN) – 800 meters

What can I say about Rudisha that I haven’t already said over the last couple of seasons? He did the seemingly impossible last year by taking down an 800 WR that had stood since 1997. This year he proved that that was no fluke, by running a sizzling 1:41.33 in Rieti – the # 5 performance in history. What may have been even more impressive however is the fact that he went to Daegu and dominated the rest of the world while adding a gold medal to his resume. Some may not consider that a major accomplishment, until you consider that winning medals in Majors has not always come easily to 800 meter world record holders. Sebastian Coe, the first man to run under 1:42, never won a major over 800. Wilson Kipketer won three World titles, but never the Olympics. So Rudisha dominating as he did in a Major was a huge accomplishment, in my opinion. And I’m dying to see if he can do it again in London.


Morgan Uceny (USA) – 1500 meters

We’ve been waiting for some time for the next great American Miler – the next Jim Ryun or Mary Decker (Slaney). I think we found her this year in Morgan Uceny. We’ve had tremendous success these past couple of seasons in the women’s middle distances here in the U.S. Along with Uceny we’ve seen great improvement from Christin Wurth Thomas, Anna Pierce, and this year’s World Champion Jenny Simpson, among others. But of them all, Uceny has shown the ability to consistently put her race together. To always be in contention. And most importantly, she’s shown the ability to put a race away – a killer instinct. She was the world’s best in 2011 and I expect to see her moving up on the third lap in the final in London, before beginning her kick with 150 meters to go to the finish. We’ll see what happens from there.


Sally Pearson (AUS) – 100 hurdles

The women find themselves competing against each other AND the ghosts of eastern bloc athletes past. As the all-time lists and record books are filled with the names of women from eastern bloc countries that we all know achieved their marks illegally. It makes it tough on the women to garner headlines by breaking records like their counterparts on the men’s side – which is why I found Pearson’s performances to be the best on the year for me. First off, Pearson completely dominated her competition – not easy to do in an event that is both too short to allow for error and highly technical. But Pearson did just that. Her sizzling 12.28 win in Daegu, however, made her the only “Western” athlete to run under the mystical 12.30 barrier! Only women with the names Donkova, Zagorocheva, and Narozhilenko had accomplished that feat before. Now Pearson stands to potentially become the best of them all, in an age where most women only dream about approaching WR status.


Mo Farah (GBR) – distances

Somewhere around the mid 1980’s the distance vents became the property of Africa, as athletes from that continent simply started dominating everything from 1500 meters through the marathon. For the past quarter century when you think major championships you start talking about Kenya, Ethiopia, and Morocco before adding the names of athletes from anywhere else. The lone exception over the past half-decade has been Bernard Lagat, but the caveat with Lagat is that he started out in Kenya, and we’ve benefited from his transfer here to the U.S. In 2011, however, Britain’s own Mo Farah went toe to toe with the big boys of the 5000/10,000 and won – bringing home World gold and silver respectively. Some will say that Mo has African roots, as he is Somalian by birth. But Farah has been in Britain since the age of six, and for all intents and purposes his upbringing and training has been as a Britain – just as his victories are cheered. And while I cheer with passion the athletes from Africa, it’s always nice to see from countries outside of Africa do well in the distances, because it enriches the sport.


Christophe Lemaitre (FRA) – sprints

imageSpeaking of enriching the sport, that is what my final hero did in 2011. For most of the last decade the sprints have been dominated by athletes from the U.S. and the Caribbean islands – with few others able to break up that monopoly. In 2010 Lemaitre became something of a “novelty” as he became the first white sprinter in history to break the 10.00 barrier. In 2011 Lemaitre moved from novelty to consistent elite sprinter and the podium in Daegu taking bronze in the 200 and just missing with his 4th in the 100. Four times he ran under 10 seconds in the 100 legally, topped by an NR 9.92; and he became the #2 European in history over 200 with his 19.80 in the deuce. Lemaitre is not longer a novelty, he’s a serious contender for medals in London.

Those are my heroes for 2011. Some of the best the sport has to offer.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Exclusive Q&A with LaShawn Merritt

imageI had the distinct pleasure of sharing a conference call yesterday afternoon with defending Olympic 400 meter champion LaShawn Merritt. This year’s World silver medalist is in base training for the upcoming Olympic Games, preparing hard to defend his title.

He took time out after practice to speak with me about his career and the upcoming Olympic season. It was an enjoyable exchange and I found LaShawn quite introspective. He seems very focused on London and I suspect that the battle for the Olympic gold medal will have to take a path through Merritt.
With that, here is what LaShawn had to say about the 400, his career, and London.
Conway – LaShawn I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to me. First off you’re one of the most talented sprinters in the world. In high school you were among the best in all three sprints – 10.47 (12th), 20.72 (3rd), 45.25 (1st). Why did you choose to focus on the 400?

LaShawn – I really started running the quarter because my coach said that real men run the 400. And the 400 just came more natural to me. I just feel in the quarter that everything, my body, my mind set, everything just seems more natural, just geared for the 400.

Conway – You were in the high school class of ’04. That class had some big names: Walter Dix, Ivory Williams, Xavier Carter, Galen Rupp, and Jason Richardson. You’ve emerged as the most successful of them all so far. How do you feel about that?

LaShawn – I just think the day that I turned professional before everybody I kind of got a jump on them as far as running as an elite athlete. I had to learn faster. They got to go to college and play around with it for a while. Not that they weren’t serious, but I was forced at 18 to treat it as a job. While they were in college I was already on the circuit and had to take it very serious at a younger age. But right now I feel they’re coming on. Jason did really well this year and so did Walter. I think they all are going to do better as time goes on.

Conway – You’ve focused on the quarter, but still run 19.98 in the deuce. Have you ever thought about trying to make a World or Olympic team in the 200?

LaShawn – You know what, I have. Me and my coach have talked about doing it when I’m later in my 20’s. Mike (Michael Johnson) did it and I think anything can be done with hard work.

Conway – We all know about your time out. What was it like not being able to compete for the better part of 2 seasons?

LaShawn – It was hard. I felt like a caged animal, literally. There wasn’t too much I could do except get up and train, go to school during the first part, and come home. Over and over and over again. There was no income coming in. My mind was somewhere else. I didn’t know what my future in the sport was going to be, I just had to work hard and have faith. I just had a date when I knew I was going to come back and show what I could do. I knew I had to come back and be dominant. So I had to put in the work to do that. I just trained hard so I would be able to dominate when I got back.

Conway – What were you thinking as the deadline approached for you to race knowing that no one had run faster than 44.6?

LaShawn – I just knew that I had worked hard and I was ready to run.

Conway – Well, I watched you in Daegu and you were just blowing it out from the first race. Was it hard trying to keep your emotions in check? And do you think that perhaps you lost the gold to your emotions?

LaShawn – Man it was crazy. I didn’t know what my feedback was going to be from the stands. I didn’t know a lot about how my body was going to respond, so I just had to put myself in the moment I was in. I got there and knew I had trained well and was ready to run fast so I just executed my race – and I ran the fastest time in the world. I knew I was in good shape and ready to run real fast. When I got to the finals it was sort of a new experience because it was the first time I had not run several races prior to a Championship. I went out and ran but my body and mind weren’t in one accord because I didn’t have all the races behind me. I just went out and was leading and just got to a zone where my body hadn’t been in a long time for my body and mind to know what to do. I wasn’t in sync, body and mind. You train to be there and do this and I think that’s what took me through to that point. I’m thankful for having the opportunity to do that and run that well. I got second at Worlds and didn’t have a great race on a certain day, but it let me know I was blessed with a gift. So I have to go out and work hard to take advantage of that gift.

Conway – Well, you got a very close silver in Daegu in spite of everything that happened this year. MJ is the only quarter miler to repeat as Olympic champion. Can you repeat, and if you do where do you think it would put you in a conversation about the all-time greats in the event?

LaShawn – In 2012 my goal is to be Olympic champion. There is nothing else I think about. Every day in training I think about that, that’s what I do everything for. And when I get there that’s what I’ll be thinking about, just getting it done. When I win I will be among the greats and leave my legacy on the sport and it will be from all the hard work I’ve put in on the track.

Conway – I’m going to mention three quarter milers and I want you to tell me what comes to mind – Jeremy Wariner.

LaShawn – He executes. When he executes he’s dominant because he did it for so long. So Jeremy is about execution. Can we make up a word, because if we can he’s an executionist. He’s a guy who you don’t really know what’s going on with him. He stays to himself. He gets in a zone. He has the shades on and goes out and his main focus is he’s going out to execute his race. That’s what he does. And when he does he wins. When he doesn’t he doesn’t win.

Conway – Tony McQuay, this year’s National champion.

LaShawn – I spent some time with him and got to know him, because we were on the team together in Daegu. I watched him run at Nationals, but he only ran that one round at Worlds. When I think of him I think he’s a young talent. Very talented. But he’s still kinda young.

Conway – Kirani James, this year’s World Champion.

LaShawn – When I think of Kirani I think of young and hungry. He just seems to want it really bad.
I go out every day to get ready. I have no choice but to go out and be hungry, execute and use my talent. Because that’s what I’m up against every time I step on the track. So I guess that’s me because that’s what I have to beat.

Conway – Is there anyone else on your radar for the Olympic season? Better yet, given that everyone that matters is healthy; can anyone challenge you for the gold? Is there anyone out there standing in your way?

LaShawn – You can’t leave anybody out. I know running this event year after year I was getting better because I took it serous and learned more and got better. Other  people can surprise you and come up and do the same thing. Guys like the Borlee twins, Jermaine Gonzales. Guys who were maybe injured this year. There are 8 lanes in the final. 8 people will line up for the final in the Olympics and anything can happen. It will come down to who’s ready, mentally and physically; who is prepared; and who executes.

Conway - No one has run a 43 since ’08 (you ran 43.75 and Jeremy ran 43.82) without your time away do you think you would have run 43 in ’10 or ’11 and will you be ready to run 43 next year?

LaShawn – I think I was in shape to run 43 this year. I was in shape for it. But to tap into 43 you not only have to be in shape you have to be race sharp and I wasn’t race sharp. I do believe I will touch 43 seconds next year. I do believe that. I’ll be ready.

Conway – Easily your highlight moment of this year, at least for me, was your anchor in Daegu on the 4x4. Usain Bolt says he wants to go for four gold medals in London by leading the Jamaican 4x4 to victory – along with the 4x1/100/200. How do you feel about that?

LaShawn – We have the most dominant quarter milers in the world and we’ll be ready to take on whoever steps into it. You can’t just get out there and run it. It takes work. It takes a certain mindset. If the US puts the team together that we can there is no country that can match up with our four legs. If we have four fresh legs to put up against any other four fresh legs we will be dominant.

Conway – You’re still young – 25, 26 come London. You’re currently the 5th fastest quarter miler in history. You have an Olympic title and a World title. With good health you should have 5 or more good seasons ahead of you. What are your goals for the future?

LaShawn – Just to go out and continue to work hard and enjoy what I do. That’s the main thing. If I can continue to go out and compete well, then everything will come if I just go out and do what I do. So I want more medals and just go out and have fun with this talent I’ve been blessed with. And note to myself that track and field is not a sport where you can last that long in it. So there’s a time where I will have to focus on what to do after track and I’m starting to think about that now too.

Conway – Well before we hang up, what would you like for fans to know about LaShawn Merritt?

LaShawn – That he’s an honest guy, a hard worker, and that I go out and train hard so that when I line up I can be dominant. That’s the equation. To put in the hard work so that when the lights are on you can go out and get what needs to be done, done. You train hard for that 43 seconds you race, so I just go out and get it done.

Conway – LaShawn it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much for your time.

For those of you that would like to follow LaShawn during the Olympic season his Twitter is @LaShawnMerritt and his website is

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2011 in Review – Men’s Long Jump

In spite of the fact that I tend to talk more about the running events than I do the field events, I’m actually a huge fan of the field events. It just seems that lately some of the excitement is missing in the field.

I remember when the long jump featured great battles like the U.S. Championships in 1987 (San Jose) with Carl Lewis (8.65m/28’ 4.5”), Larry Myricks (8.63m/28’ 3.75”) and Mike Conley (8.55w/28’ 0.75”w) all over 28 feet. Then there was the Olympic Trials of 1988 (Indianapolis) with Lewis (8.76m/28’ 9”) and Myricks (8.74m/28’ 8.25”) dueling in the rain. And of course the epic 1991 World Championships final (Tokyo) where Mike Powell set the existing WR of 8.95m (29’ 4.5”) with Lewis leaping 8.87m (29’ 1.25”) legally and 8.91m (29’ 2.75”) windy!

We’re a ways from there, yet this season looked like we may have been on a path to begin to approach that range once again as Mitchell Watt (AUS) jumped 8.38m (27’ 6”) in mid-March then came back to go 8.44m (27’ 8.25”) in mid-April – all during the Australian summer. With the rest of the world getting in gear with the start of the Diamond League, Watt continued to jump far once again hitting 8.44m in Shanghai. The surprise was the relatively poor showing of defending World champion Dwight Phillips (USA) 4th in a modest 8.07m (26’ 5.75”).

The jumpers would resume their battles in Hengelo with another former champion, Irving Saladino (PAN) showing good form in an 8.38mw (27’ 6”w) win with Phillips back in 6th in 7.97m (26’ 1.75”). At the next stop in Eugene, however, Saladino would no height, as Greg Rutherford (GBR), Godfrey Mokoena (RSA) and Sebastian Beyer (GER) would lead the way in a windy affair.

With no long jump in either Oslo or New York, the biggest news during the period was the NCAA championship victory of Ngoni Makusha (ZIM) who spanned 8.40m (27’ 6.75”) in Des Moines. The other big news in June was the 10th place finish of Phillips at the U.S. Championships, as he was only able to get out to 7.89mw(25’ 10.75”w) as youngsters Marquis Goodwin (8.33w/27’4”w) and Will Claye (8.19mw/26’ 10.5”) lead the way to Daegu.

Heading to Europe there was again a gap in meets in the DL as there was no long jump in Paris, Birmingham, or Monaco – leaving the jumpers with meets in Stockholm and London as their major opportunities prior to the World Championships. Watt made the most of it leaping 8.54m (28’ 0.25”)in Stockholm (Saladino in 3rd at 8.19m/26’ 10.5”) and then 8.45m (27’ 8.75”) in London (Britains’s Chris Tomlinson runner up in 8.30mw/27’ 2.75”w). Making Watt a heavy favorite to bring home Australia’s fist ever long jump gold.

Ah, but the best laid plans of mice and men are oft strewn asunder, and so it was in Daegu. In the qualifying round of Daegu defending champion Phillips showed life leading everyone at 8.32m (27’ 3.75”). And though the favored Watt was consistent, leaping an 8.33m (27’ 4”) of his own in the final but it would not be enough as Phillips leapt 8.45m (27’ 8.75”) for the win and the gold – leaving Watt with silver. NCAA champion Makusha would span 8.29m (27’ 2.5”) for the bronze medal as Saladino would finish 22nd and fail to make the final.

At this point the season was done. Makusha would win in Zurich in a modest 8.00m (26’ 3”) with Phillips in 3rd and Watt in 7th. And that was really the end of the year for the major players. So, how did they rate on the season?


#1 Mitchell Watt Australia

The silver medalist was easily the year’s best. He was 10 – 4 overall on the year and though he didn’t take World gold, he was the year’s best in every other category. His wins included Shanghai, Stockholm and London and he beat everyone on the year.


#2 Yahya Berrabah Morocco

Who you ask? Yes it was a very tough year in this event and in the end I went with the 4th placer in Daegu. He was 7 – 4 on the year, though several of his wins were in lesser meets. Still, he won in Luzerne and Barcelona, was 2nd in Stockholm and 4th at Worlds. When you take a look at the competition that was enough for #2 in my humble opinion.


#3 Irving Saladino Panama

Saladino had a solid if unspectacular season this year. His big problem being his melt down in Daegu. He was only 3 -4 on the year, but had wins in Hengelo and Paris. He was also 3rd in Stockholm and 4th in London. Given the year this event had if he had gotten anywhere close to getting on the podium he probably would have garnered the #2 spot.


#4 Ngoni Makusha Zimbabwe

Makusha was 5 – 2 on the year, but spent a lot of time against collegians. He did win in Zurich and took the NCAA championship, which was actually a tough meet this year considering in comparison to most meets. And of course he picked up bronze in Daegu.


#5 Dwight Phillips United States

This is the best I can do for the gold medalist, and some may consider this too good. He was only 1 – 6 on the year, his one being the big one. He did finish 2nd in Berlin, and had 4th place finishes in Shanghai, Zurich and New Castle. On that basis, he gets my 5th slot.

Next up the women’s version.