Monday, February 28, 2011

Sizzling 400’s Highlight Exciting Weekend


Now THAT was an exciting weekend of track and field! Hot races, hot team competitions and of course some stellar marks being put down by several athletes. But easily the best of the best on this weekend were a pair of 400 meter runs – a WJR for Kirani James and a National record for L.J. Van Zyl.


Kirani James – 44.80 WJR

I said a few weeks ago that Kirani James was one of the young athletes to keep an eye on this year – and he wasted little time in making me look like Nostradamus as he scorched 400 in 44.80 at the SEC Championships. The SEC final was run in two sections and in the first section Florida’s Tony McQuay scorched a 45.21 world leader of his own, so when James took to the track he needed at least 45.20 for the win. He went wire to wire as he became #3 all time indoors – behind only Kerron Clement (44.56) and Michael Johnson (44.63). McQuay was no slouch, his mark making him #10 all time indoors!


L.J. Van Zyl – 47.66 400 IH National Record

Van Zyl went into the first outdoor meet of the year with a best of 47.94. One lap of the track and ten hurdles later he had a national record 47.66. That time would have made him #3 in the world on the clock just this past year, and bodes well for his chances at improving on his 5th place finish in Beijing (6th in semi in Berlin). Note that the altitude in Pretoria (1363m) was undoubtedly a bit helpful, but sub 48 in February under any conditions is unheard of, this being the first time ever that it has happened. The previous February best was a 48.02 run by Ockert Brits in 2004 – also in Pretoria.


Florida Men win SEC Champs w/ Sterling Performances

The University of Florida served notice that it is ready to defend it’s indoor championship from last year with a solid victory at the SEC championships – 148 pts to Arkansas’ 136.5 pts for second. Always known for outstanding sprinters and hurdlers (John Capel, Bernard Williams and Kerron Clement among its alumni) they won the 60 (Jeff Demps, 6.55), 60H (Eddie Lovett, 7.73) and 200 ( Tony McQuay, 20.61 to go with a second place 45.21 behind Kirani James’ 44.80 WJR). But in racking up their impressive point total they had a shot put win (64’ 1”) from Kemel Mesic, a mile (4:04.21), 3000 (8:00.34) double from Dumisani Hlaselo, a Heptathlon win (5,816) from Gray Horn, and a 1,2,3 in the triple jump from Christian Taylor (56’ 11.5”), Will Claye (56’ 4”), and Omar Craddock (54’ 4.5”)! The triple jumpers would have finished 1, 2, 4 at US Nationals this weekend! Heading into the NCAA Championship meet, Florida sits as my favorite to repeat as champs.


US Nationals Highlights

As expected there were not a lot of stars in attendance at this year’s US Championships. None the less the there were still a number of outstanding performances.

Jenny Simpson pulled off a neat mile/3000 meter double. The times were not impressive – I forgot about the altitude of Albuquerque – but her dismantling of both fields was. In each race she ran up front before simply running away from the competition within the final 400 meters.

Bernard Lagat showed that he is still the class of US distance runners with his 3000 meter win. But I was also impressed with Galen Rupp in second. Lagat and Rupp ran together for the entire race until Lagat demonstrated the difference between he and the rest of the US distance runners – his ability to kick and run away in the closing stages. Rupp lacks that kick element to his race, but showed that he was not intimidated and that he can hold pace. Now if he (and a couple other guys) can develop that kick he’ll be good to go.

Ryan Whiting had the four longest throws of the shot put competition and went 70 feet on his 5th toss. Right now I see only Cantwell as his superior among US throwers.

Phoebe Wright got a dominating win in the women’s 800. The altitude precluded her from a fast time, but she is clearly one of the best of our new crop of 800 runners.

Mike Rodgers finally got that dominating win I’ve been looking for from him as he scorched the track with a 6.48 world leading performance. What I was most impressed by, however, is that he won the race without a blitzkrieg start. His race showed patience and a nice midrace surge. He will need that type of race to make the team outdoors for Daegu. 

Jenn Suhr dominated the pole vault and set a new American Record of 15’ 11.25”. And Natasha Hastings gave us the year’s first sub 51 in the 400 (50.83).

Two new women to keep an eye on after this weekend. One is long jumper Janay DeLoach who won this weekend’s competition with an outstanding 22’ 11.25” leap. Impressively she had 3 jumps over 22 feet and defeated Brittney Reese in the process. The other is sprinter Alexandra Anderson who scored a 6.12 to 6.13 win over Camelita Jeter. I’ve like Anderson’s race for a while, but this weekend she seemed to put it all together. She was poised and showed solid pickup throughout the race. Given her usually strong finish, she could make a solid run at the team outdoors – a finalist at least in my humble opinion.


Friday, February 25, 2011

US Indoor Champs – Look for Emerging Athletes


We’re accustomed to hearing “US Nationals” and immediately thinking Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix, Christian Cantwell, David Oliver and a host of other US “stars” of the sport. Such is rarely the case these days however when the word “nationals” is preceded by the word “indoor”.

Most global track and field stars use this time of year to establish their base training, and avoid the indoor season with a vengeance. Most prefer to wait until the early meets down under in Australia in March, or elsewhere in April. Making this year’s version of the US Championships like a cloudy night sky – with very few visible stars.

But like a cloudy night sky, just behind those clouds lurk several stars just waiting to emerge and be seen. And it is with that apprehension that I will watch this year’s meet. Because as I scan the entry list for this weekend’s event I see a half dozen names that I think have an opportunity to prove themselves ready to make a run at the team for Daegu come June.


Michael Rodgers – 60 meters (100 meters)

Outdoors the men’s 100 is one of the marquee events, and the US has one of the world’s marquee performers in Tyson Gay. But we’ve been looking for  “backup” for Tyson over the past few seasons. One of those in the running is Michael Rodgers. Rodgers currently co-leads the world over 60 meters and is the favorite entering this meet. If he is to become more of a force outdoors, however, he needs to start by showing some dominance here. Without Tyson Gay, Walter Dix, Ryan Bailey, Ivory Williams or Trell Kimmons to contend with, Rodgers needs to emerge as an “Alpha Male” and stake his claim as one of the nations best.


Ryan Whiting – Shot Put

Whiting is embarking on his first season as a professional after dominating the collegiate ranks last year. He’s had a good start indoors as he leads the world in the event. Cantwell won’t be competing – though Whiting does have a victory this year – but he will face Adam Nelson, himself a former World champion and the reigning Olympic champion. So this will be good test for Whiting in a championship setting before the big one in June. Taking a scalp here could go a long way towards securing a berth for Daegu come early summer.


Jenny Simpson – 3000 meters (1500 meters?)

Jenny is on the comeback trail having missed most of last season due to injury. In 2009 however, she was one of our top break out athletes scorching 3:59.90 (1500), 15:05.25 (5000) and 9:12.50 (steeple). She has a 4:28.60 mile and an 8:5078 3000 to her credit so far in her return this winter. Jenny is entered in both events in Albuquerque and I expect to see her improve in both. Where really looking forward for her to shine is the mile as I think she can be among the best in the world here, and some combination of Simpson, Pierce, Wurth Thomas, and Rowbury could be quite formidable.


Tavaris Tate – 400 meters

The 400 is one of those events where there is a lot of opportunity. With defending World and Olympic champion Merritt suspended until mid season, the only proven US “stud” out there is Jeremy Wariner – leaving at least two spots open in the race for the Daegu team. Tate is one of the young guns who began to emerge early last year – though we didn’t see him in Europe. Tate was a member of last year’s World Indoor Champs team and earned a gold medal in the relay. He has an opportunity to make a statement here and separate himself from athletes like Calvin Smith and Jordan Boase who have shown similar talent.

Phoebe Wright – 800 meters

Phoebe is one of the group of emerging female middle distance runners on the US scene. She won last year’s NCAA championships before running in the Diamond League and other European races and ended the season with a 1:58.22 PR. Wright is a gutsy, front runner – a style well suited to indoor racing. She should be the class of the field in Albuquerque and I wouldn’t be surprised if she notched her first indoor sub 2:00. If she can do this I think she sets herself up nicely for the outdoor season and a run at the Daegu squad.

Galen Rupp – 3000 meters (5000 meters)

Galen Rupp has been groomed to be a US distance star since his high school days. Though he was the “big name” in wait however, he had to watch as guys like Ritzenhein, Tegenkamp, and Solinsky blew by and became the new crew in US distance running. Rupp’s time may be upon us however, as he broke through strongly with a 13:11.44 AR in the 5000 just last week. This weekend will be Rupp’s chance to show that his breakthrough was no fluke. Rupp will be the big name in this race and it will be interesting to see how he performs in this setting. He needs to win and win big to begin to stake his claim to be named with Solinsky, Lagat and the others come time to battle for the three available spots for Daegu.

These are the budding stars that I think could emerge in Albuquerque. With so many stars missing from the starting line, these individuals will have a chance to hog the spotlight on their own. Instead of a meet devoid of stars this will turn out to be a coming out party for a group of new stars.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Conference Weekend Will Spotlight Big Three


For the collegiate athletes the conference weekend is the beginning of their real indoor season – conference followed by national titles. So the best of the collegiates will be on display. That means the Big 12 Conference, the Pac 10 Conference, and the SEC. The sports’ “Big Three” collegiate conferences when it comes to track and field and the sports “Big Three” teams – Texas A&M, Oregon, and Florida!

These are the conferences and teams that have emerged over the past decade as the cream of the crop in collegiate track and field – the teams that are always right there in the thick of the national championship battle. Look no further than the current rankings

Based on the USTFCCCA Computer Rankings the top 10 teams heading into this weekend are:


1 Florida
3 Indiana
4 Texas A&M
5 Arkansas
6 Stanford
8 Texas
9 Oklahoma
10 Penn State



1 Oregon
3 Texas
4 Arkansas
5 Texas A&M
6 Tennessee
7 Florida State
8 Oklahoma
10 BYU


Last year’s top finishing teams at the NCAA Indoor Championships were:


57 pts    Florida
44 pts Oregon
44 pts Texas A&M
42 pts LSU
38 pts Arkansas
25 pts Indiana
21 pts Arizona State
18 pts Northern Arizona
18 pts South Carolina
18 pts New Mexico
18 pts Minnesota



61 pts Oregon
36 pts Tennessee
35 pts LSU
33 pts Florida
31 pts Texas A&M
28 pts Auburn
20 pts Clemson
20 pts Florida State
20 pts UTEP
18 pts Iowa St, Virginia Tech, West Virginia

Look for some combination of these teams to be at the top of the heap when the championships are handed out again this year.

Defending women’s champ Oregon’s top performers heading into conference weekend:

Event Mark Athlete
60 7.25 Amber Purvis
200 23.27 Amber Purvis
800 2:06.64 Laura Roessler
Mile 4:34.75 Jordan Hassay
Mile 4:36.32 Anne Kesselring
3000 9:05.42 Jordan Hassay
3000 9:08.60 Alex Kosinski
5000 15:44.60 Alex Kosinski
HJ 6’ 0” Brianne Theissen
PV 14’ 3.5” Melissa Gergel
LJ 20’ 6.5” Jamesha Youngblood
Pent 4507 Brianne Theissen


Defending men’s champ Florida’s top performers heading into conference weekend:

Event Mark Athlete
60 6.57 Jeff Demps
60 6.64 Terrell Wilks
200 20.88 Tony McQuay
200 21.01 Leonardo Seymore
400 45.95 Tony McQuay
Mile 3:56.84 Dumisane Hlaselo
LJ 26’ 1” Will Claye
TJ 55’ 10.25” Will Claye
TJ 55’ .25” Christian Taylor
TJ 53’ 1.5” Omar Craddock
SP 63’ 4” Kemal Mesic
Hep 5747 Gray Horn

That’s how things look today. I’m sure there will be a lot of change after the dust has settled Sunday. Once the conferences are complete I’ll take a hard look at trying to handicap the NCAA meet. It should be another hot one – as should this weekend’s conference meets.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tamgho WR Highlights Weekend Activity


Teddy Tamgho (FRA) is at it again. Last year he set the World Indoor Record in the triple jump with a leap of 17.90m (58’ 8.75”). This weekend in Aubiere, France he went one centimeter better with a new record of 17.91m (58’ 9.25”) – increasing his previous world lead from 17.64m (57’ 10.5”).

Tamgho has been quite consistent so far this indoor season. His second best jump here was 17.58m (57’ 8.25). He won in Eaubonne with a leap of 17.59m (57’ 8.5”) and in Lievin with a jump of 17.46m (57’ 3.5”).

For comparison, during last year’s indoor season, Tamgho’s second best meet behind the WR was 17.25m (56’ 7.25”) – also in Aubiere. So it looks like the 21 year old is maturing into his role of making long triple leaps. If such is the case we could see an outdoor improvement over his 17.98m (59’ 0.25”) set last year in New York – and Tamgho could have the kind of break out season we saw from David Rudisha last year!

Two other athletes gave notice that this could be a stellar year for them as Mo Farah (GBR) and Galen Rupp (USA) set European and American Indoor Records in the 5000 at the Birmingham Indoor meet. Farah’s winning time of 13:10.60 made him the 10th best indoor performer all time over the distance, while Rupp’s 13:11.44 made him #13.

Farah is now only behind a set of nine Kenyan and Ethiopian distance runners all time, including the likes of Kenenisa Bekele, Haile Gebrselassie, and Daniel Komen among others – placing him in some very elite territory.

For Rupp it signals that he may finally be ready to actualize that potential we’ve known him to have for a few years, and that the work with coach Alberto Salazar is beginning to bear fruit. Over the past couple of seasons we have watched Matt Tegenkamp, Dathen Ritzenhein and Chris Solinsky blossom on the international stage and become competitive with the athletes from the African nations. If Rupp is able to continue his progress and back this race up with a few others, we could be looking at one of our strongest ever distance contingents come team selection for Daegu.

One other who also seems determined to do great things in ‘11 is high jumper Ivan Ukhov (RUS) who won without misses at 2.34m (7’ 8”) once again then took shots at 2.39m (7’ 10”). Ukhov already leads the world at 2.38m (7’ 9.75”) – a mark he’s cleared twice now. He’s had some close misses at the higher heights, and seems destined to go in the 2.40m (7’ 10.5”) range outdoors this year.

Look for more stellar marks coming out of the Stockholm indoor meet tomorrow and then some major collegiate conferences deciding championships this coming weekend.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Should the Olympics Adopt the IAAF Sprint Changes?

I ask that question because over the past few days I’ve read many, many complaints about sprinters receiving a “bye” from the first round of the Olympics – based upon the changes to be instituted at this year’s World Championships in Daegu.

I raise the question not because I am opposed to the scheduling change as it will apply in Daegu, because I stated in my previous post that I am definitely in favor of that change. Instead I raise the issue because I AM opposed to the change for the Olympics – but NOT for the standard reasons that have been given.

First off, let me clarify what I feel is a mistake on the part of many that also oppose this change for the Olympics. That mistake is in calling this scheduling change a “bye” – because apparently the reason for most of the vehemence on the part of many athletes and fans that do oppose this move is because they are against these sprinters getting a “bye” in the Games. I’ve even some make statements as ridiculous as "It's pretty much hanging medals around people's necks before they've started." . Really? I mean we are talking about 100 sprinters that won’t be running four rounds – they will be running THREE. I don’t think that qualifies as a “bye”. And unless they’re handing out medals to 100 participants per event, I’m not sure how that statement is remotely on track.

What IS happening is that there will be a first round of athletes that have NOT made the “A” or “B” STANDARDS that will be given an opportunity to move on to those three rounds in spite of not making the standard. So there is no “bye” but rather the “opportunity” to run in a race that you did not qualify for! A very important distinction.

Because having said that, there is “theoretically” a major philosophical difference between the Olympics and the World Championships – a difference that I feel is the tipping point between “opportunity” and “qualification”!

The Olympics is the world’s quadrennial celebration of world wide brotherhood. It’s a time when the nations of the world come together in what has become the planet’s biggest “Kumbaya” moment – performed under the banner of athletic competition. Under the Olympics' five ring banner, every nation is invited to send at least one participant in every event to compete. Under that banner representation is the right of all – regardless of how good the athlete is. Because under the Olympic ideal it is participation, not performance that is the goal of the Games.

Now we all know that the “perception” of the Olympics has changed from one of participation to that of the world’s greatest sporting event. Regardless of perception however, as long as the tenets of the Games remain as they have been since it’s modern inception by Pierre de Coupertin, the ideal that every nation has the right to participate means from the beginning of the competition until they are eliminated. Which in my book means that everyone starts at the same line – and in the sprints or whatever event that would mean from the first round until elimination! So there should not be a round where some participate for the “privilege” of competing against the rest. Ergo no adoption of the IAAF rule for the World Championships.

The World Championships, on the other hand, has established no pretext that it is anything other than a Championships competition. It was established with the sole purpose of determining the champions of track and field! The problem with respect to this conversation, is that the World Championships are patterned after the Olympic Games – and so people have come to look at them as “the same” but with different names. As a matter of fact most consider the Olympics to be of higher prestige. Which is why I have said for a long time that the World Championships needs to develop an identity of it’s own. Personally I would like to see the World Championships move to inviting only the top athletes to participate – moving it to more of a championships event than the Olympics’ Kumbaya event. Until that happens, I think that having the top 100 run three rounds and having a “run in” round for those that DO NOT MEET THE STANDARD is a compromise that is moving in the right direction. So I support this format for the World Championships.

For me it is not about how many times I see a particular athlete on the track, or if we are giving “byes” to 100 athletes in a particular event. It is about maintaining the highest level of competition that can be assembled under each format. For Kumbaya that means allowing one athlete per event regardless of ability and send him/her out there to take their shot against the rest of the world.  For a pure Championship it means getting the best available together and let them go at it. Unfortunately we have a somewhat “hybrid” championship event, which requires us to adopt a somewhat “hybrid” rounds system for the sprints.

So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. A thumbs up for the schedule change for Worlds as it’s a move in the right direction towards a pure championship. Thumbs down for the change for the Games because it is counter to the Kumbaya moment that has become the Olympic Games. What’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Daegu Schedule


The World Championships schedule is out and is quite different from schedules we’ve seen in the past. The IAAF Competition Committee’s attempt at “modernizing” the schedule.

While  “change” for the sake of change can become a negative rather than a positive – something done with regularity in this sport – this schedule is actually a step in the right direction in my humble opinion.

Many of the changes are cosmetic – trying to balance the number of finals across each day; keeping evening sessions to 3 hours in length; and scheduling qualifying rounds (i.e. first rounds) for morning sessions only.

Some however, are much more substantial. The most substantial being the elimination of the “first round” of the men’s and women’s 100 & 200 – at least for the truly elite! In it’s place will be a “preliminary” round in which those athletes that have not met the “A” or “B” standard compete to attempt to get into the “quarterfinal” round. While many are already complaining that this will deprive fans of seeing Bolt, Gay, Powell, Felix, Jeter, Campbell Brown and other elites in the “first” round I think this is one of the two best changes that were made in the schedule.

Let’s be real. The first round of the sprints is nothing more than a warm up for those athletes that will be contesting the semi finals and finals. Athletes like Bolt, and Gay “hold back” while running 10.2x while lesser athletes are struggling to break 11 seconds. It may sound harsh, but the first round is a matter of eliminating those athletes that were going to be eliminated anyway. Running a preliminary round does two things in my opinion. One, it enables the truly elite to spread their energy better through the rounds – which could ultimately lead to faster semis and finals. Two, it gives the lesser athletes a fighting chance to get out of the first round – similar level athletes competing against each other. While we get one less round with the elite’s, the rounds we do get should be scorchers!

The other change that I think is substantial is that the schedule allows for the 200/400 double. Significant because as the 100 meter times have dropped precipitously, the 200/400 begins to look a lot more attractive (in my opinion) to many athletes. For example, sprinters like Wallace Spearmon (9.96/19.65/45.22) and Xavier Carter (10.09/19.63/44.53) who were in the mix in the 100 when 10.10 might land you a spot in a final, might be much better served going with the 2/4 as opposed to the 1/2. Same for female sprinters like Allyson Felix (10.93/21.81/49.70) and Sanya Richards (10.97/22.17/48.70) who would have been forced to try the 1/2 IF they wanted the opportunity to double, but can now go 2/4 which is a more natural mix for both, as well as others.

So overall I think that the IAAF did a good job on this one. The one change that I am having some difficulty with, however, is closing out the meet with the 4x1 and not the 4x4! Sometimes I feel like tradition should trump modernization – and this is one of those times. Every meet on the planet closes with the 4x4 – from middle school to high school to NCAA’s to an all comers competition. And with good reason as it can often be one of the most stirring battles of the meet. Closing with the 4x1 is just out of place – they should have moved the 4x1 to start off the championships! It’s like having Turducken for Thanksgiving – yes it can be done, but wouldn’t you rather have a nice Turkey?

And while I’m talking about traditions, one thing I would like to see the meet get back to is running the men’s and women’s events concurrently – i.e. one followed by the other. It makes the meet rather disjointed for me to have the men’s final of the 100, then have to wait 24 hours to see the women’s final. Running the rounds through the final concurrently makes for a much more flowing experience – and can lead to a lot more of a dramatic build up to both finals. Especially when you have one exciting run over a distance, only to be followed by another at the same distance – that is doubly exciting! A Felix / Campbell Brown duel over 200 meters followed immediately by a Bolt v Gay dual makes for a day at the track that many would be talking about for the next 24 hours, if not a decade later. To have them on separate days doesn’t spread the excitement but instead dilutes the experience.

Allowing the 200/400 double and eliminating the first round in the sprints are steps in the right direction however. And I do applaud the IAAF on those moves, as they do begin to modernize the World Championships schedule. Now if we would just make it a true World Championships by getting away from the Olympic ideal that everyone should have a chance to compete and make it for the top athletes only in each event, THEN we would be really headed in the right direction. A suggestion I made several months ago along with a few other modernization ideas.

We’ll see how the new changes work. Let me know what you think about the new changes. Like em or hate em?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Solinsky 3:54.52 and Myers 22’ 6” in Weekend Action


Lots and lots of high level action this weekend! Let’s start with Chris Solinsky. He opened eyes last year with his outdoor opener in the 100000 where he turned in a new AR becoming the first American under 27 minutes. In his indoor opener in Seattle this weekend he turned in a world leading 3:54.52 in the mile – setting a new personal best in the process. I’m loving the range – from mile to 10000 – because it indicates that he just might be able to hold on in that final sprint in the 5000/10000 come this summer!

Speaking of range, Marshevet Myers hasn’t long jumped since her collegiate days when she sprinted and jumped at Texas. Her 22’ 6” leap at the Tyson Invitational gave her the #2 mark on the season and moved her into #4 all time American indoors. Already a major threat to make the US team in the 100 meters, Myers is starting to look like a threat in the long jump as well as only Brittney Reese among current US long jumpers is in that class. It will be interesting to see if she continues jumping during the outdoor campaign.

Also showing readiness for the outdoor season is last year‘s US AOY David Oliver who took the first head to head against Liu Xiang (CHN) with a 7.40 victory in Karlsruhe (Liu 3rd in 7.55). While a win this time of year is relatively meaningless, take note that Liu was near his indoor PR (7.42) set back 2007 – in Karlsruhe of all places – and is clearly on his way back. So any psychological advantage that can be gained is welcome. Oliver is still in the groove that he ended last year with, and Liu seems to be working his way into one. Expect some serious battles by the time we get outdoors.

Kellie Wells (US) also continued her fine indoor campaign in Karlsruhe, running a world leading 7.82 in the women’s hurdle event. Wells now has the top six times in the world this indoor season and is .16 sec faster indoors than ever before – which could mean a new PR (currently 12.53) outdoors. She’ll be one to watch once the under cover season is over.

Regarding athletes to keep an eye on, several were on display in Fayetteville at the Tyson Invitational. I’ve already mentioned Myers in the long jump. In the men’s high jump Kansas State soph Erik Kynard leapt 7’ 7.75”. We could use another high jumper as only Dusty Jonas was equal outdoors last year among Americans. So Kynard going 2.33m is very good news.

We also saw the reemergence of Torrin Lawrence (US) in the 400 meters in Fayetteville as he ran a world leading 45.82. Lawrence must love the Fayetteville track because he ran a sizzling 45.03 there last year. we didn’t see much of him outdoors however due to injury. Lawrence clearly has potential, the question is will we see him emerge as a threat to Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt or will he be another Martin McGrady – strictly an undercover guy! The Fayetteville oval was hot as Rondell Bartholomew (GRN, 45.84) and Tony Mc Quay (US, 45.95) turned in efforts in their heats that were also under the previous world best.

All in all another very solid weekend. Things should get VERY hot shortly as the indoor season will be winding down in the next few weeks. Collegiate conference meets, NCAA championships, various National Championships and then European Indoor Champs will all be here and done within the next few weeks. Things should get very exciting!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Fayetteville & Karlsruhe on Tap for Weekend


Two facilities with tracks and meets that have reputations for producing top level marks are on tap for this weekend.

The Tyson Invitational kicks things off today with action in Fayetteville Arkansas. If you want a sneak peak at the NCAA Indoor meet, look no further as many of the nations top collegiate programs will have squads competing here. Florida, LSU, Texas Tech, Indiana, Oregon, Penn St., Florida St., Auburn, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kansas St., and North Carolina are all top 25 teams. Throw in Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi and you also have a preview of the SEC Championships that will take place on the same track in a couple of weeks.

We should get a look at sprint leaders Jeff Demps (FL) & Rakieem Salaam (OK) going head to head. Also potentially a meeting between top milers Andrew Bayer (IN) & Ryan Foster (Penn St). The triple jump could produce a new collegiate leading mark with Will Claye (FL), Chritian Taylor (FL), and Tarik Bachelor (Ark) currently ranking 1, 2, 3. And with so many top programs in town look for some exciting 4x4’s!

On the other side of the pond in Karlsruhe Germany we’ll get a very early season look at two of the Big Three is hurdling – David Oliver v Liu Xiang. We’re a long way from the World Championships, but it’s always interesting to see how competitive dominant athletes can be even at this early point in the season – and these are two VERY competitive athletes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new world leading mark – which would end up being among the all time best marks ever.

Karlsruhe will also give us another look at rapidly rising high jumper Antonietta Di Martino (ITA). The 33 year old is having a breakthrough season indoors and could end up giving the women’s high jump a “Big Three”, joining Vlasic (CRO) and Howard-Lowe (US) in the high jump wars this year. Karlsruhe boasts several strong international fields and should produce some outstanding marks.

This should be the best weekend to date of the indoor season!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Has Alan Webb’s Window Closed?


My how time flies. It was 10 years ago now – a decade. The indoor season of 2001. Alan Webb was a senior in high school as he became the first high schooler to break the four minute barrier indoors in the mile with his 3:59.86 at the New Balance Indoor Games – a meet where just a few days ago he failed to break four minutes.

Webb was the toast of the track world. The heir apparent to Jim Ryun. The next great American miler. His exploits outdoors only fueled the growing legend as he ran 1:47.74, 3:38.56 and 3:53.43 outdoors – breaking Jim Ryun’s high school 1500 and mile records in the process.

Since that magic year of 2001 however, his career has been that of a rollercoaster – some very high highs and some equally low lows. After missing the ‘03 World Championships he gained a berth on the Olympic squad for Athens – but finished a disappointing 9th in his heat. The following year he made the World team for Helsinki, but finished 9th in the final. 2007 saw him at his absolute best on the track as he won US nationals in the 1500, then went to Europe and ran PR’s of 1:43.84, 3:30.54 and 3:46.91 during the month of July. But again on the big stage at Worlds he could only manage an 8th place finish in the 1500 final. The following year a 5th place finish at the Olympic Trials kept him off the Beijing team. And injury has hampered him since.

Not quite the story one would have written after that summer of 2001. The question now is whether or not that is the way the story will end, or can Webb still write a happy ending? This past weekend he started the 2011 chapter of the story with a mile at the New Balance Indoor Games. A race in which he finished 7th in 4:00.70 – ironically just ahead of new high school wonder kid Lukas Verzbicas’ 4:03.88.

Of course ones placing at this time of year in an indoor race is not completely indicative of what may happen come August on the other side of the world. Or more specifically what will happen at Nationals in June. After all three places back in 10th was Leo Manzano, one of last year’s break through athletes in the middle distances – who in my eyes is one of the favorites to make the team for Daegu.

What WILL impact Webb’s story, however, is the fact that there are a number of athletes breaking through at this time. Last year Manzano and Andrew Wheating made major moves in both the 800 and 1500/mile. Lopez Lamong dropped his PR down to 3:32.20 and Bernard Lagat clipped off a routine for him 3:32.51. In Boston we saw a new breakthrough as winner Russell Brown clocked 3:54.81. And athletes like A.J. Acosta and Mathew Centrowitz are training in the wings for their own breakthroughs.

So the road to Daegu will not be an easy one for Webb. And talented as he has been, his weakness has always been in racing. He’s always been able to run a fast time when setting his sites on one. It’s been another thing to race and put together the tactics needed to win a big race. That as much as fitness will be the challenge for Webb in 2011. Because Lagat, if he chooses the 1500, is as crafty as they come. Manzano and Wheating showed solid racing acumen in their races in Europe last summer, and Brown looked fairly savvy in Boston.

So one of the stories to watch this year will be that of Alan Webb. Will he make the team and finally get a medal in Daegu. Or will he be among the athletes that have put up great marks in their events, but withered when the bright lights got a bit too hot? Ten years after becoming the heir apparent, we will see if he finally arrives.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Another Solid Weekend of Action

Last week was a very quiet week. Not much new to really talk about. I was hoping that the weekend would change that – and while somewhat quiet the weekend did have its moments. 

Thank you to the New Balance Indoor meet, which was televised – it served as my lead in to the Super Bowl. Aside from Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel’s stirring 3000 meter win (7:35.37 while running the entire race with only one shoe)  the performances were just ok – as my grandfather used to say “nothing to write home about”. Don’t get me wrong, Jenny Simpson showed her competitive nature with a strong effort in the women’s 3000, taking second to Kenyan Sally Kipyego’s WL (8:49.74 to 8:50.78). And it looks like the Oregon TC has another potential mile find in winner Russell Brown (3:54.81, #8 all time US indoors). But, as we’ve seen with the outdoor meets, we just aren’t getting enough top talent to our meets – something that we will have to work on with more vigor both indoors and out.

Most big names are not taking part indoors or are doing so in a limited capacity – clearly focusing their seasons on the World Championships in August and using this time of year for their “base” training. Too bad, because when we do get a glimpse we’ve seen some nice performances. For example, last week we saw some outstanding efforts from Teddy Tamgho (FRA) and Jessica Ennis (GBR). This weekend we saw a blitzing 7.37 WL from David Oliver (USA,) that moved him to = #7 all time indoors; and another WR from Ashton Eaton (USA) as he improved his record from last year to 6568 pts. – a  69 point improvement. We also got the return of Yelena Isinbayeva to the track, where she proceeded to take over the world lead in the pole vault with a 15’ 9.25” clearance.

Hopefully we’ll get more of our top athletes out as the indoor season goes along, but I really don’t expect to see much over the next few weeks – not until we get outdoors in March and April. Until then look to the collegiates to give us a few highlights. Defending men’s indoor team champ Florida got footballer Jeff Demps back this weekend, and he immediately went to the head of the 60 meter list with a 6.57 dash at Virginia Tech. Demps took last year’s 60 and 100 collegiate titles and lead the Gators to the 4x1 title outdoors. His dash comes on the heels of Texas A&M sprinter Gerald Phiri running 6.59 last weekend. Keep an eye on the sprinters from both schools as they will have a say in which team takes this year’s indoor title.

Also keep an eye on Indiana’s Andy Bayer who is currently leading the NCAA over both the mile (3:57.75) and 3000 (7:48.35). Last time I checked Indiana alums include Jim Spivey and Rob Kennedy, and Bayer is beginning to look like he might be next in line.

So, though the season is taking its sweet time heating up things point to a very good season once it does.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Ukhov Highlights Weekend Action

A very busy weekend of indoor action saw lots of expected change in the yearly lists as the season began to heat up in earnest. Some of the most exciting marks occurring on the field.

None more exciting than Ivan Ukhov’s 7’ 9.75’ high jump on Saturday. The mark was just off his PB of 7’ 10.5” and was the highest jump indoors since 2007. He took a shot at the 8’ barrier before he was done coming up just short. Nonetheless Ukhov looks to be in fine form early.

Already leading the world in the triple jump, Teddy Tamgho (FRA) improved his seasonal best to 57’ 8.5” at a meeting in France. Tangho is proving to be extremely consistent early this season with three jumps here over 56’ 10” to go with last week’s 57’ 3”. Could be a special season if he can stay healthy and focused.

While on the triple jump, Florida’s Will Claye took the collegiate lead with his 55’ 3.75” leap at the Texas A&M Challenge. While A&M lead the Big 12 to a win over Florida and the SEC, Claye’s move to Florida this year (previously at Oklahoma) could tip the scales in the collegiate battle later this year for the team title. A&M took last year’s men’s title by 1 point over Florida and has lost sprinter Curtis Mitchell to the professional ranks. Meanwhile among it’s highly ranked recruiting class, Florida picked Claye. Keep watch on these two schools and Oregon as the season progresses.

Speaking of shifting balances of power, there was another nice battle on the field in New York as Ryan Whiting took the scalp of one Christian Cantwell 69’ 11” to 69’ 7”. Not an easy task given Cantwell’s competitive record over the past few seasons. The other battle that took place was among American decathletes Ashton Eaton, Tre Hardee and Bryan Clay who competed in a three event challenge – with the athletes placing in that order. A very early preview of what should be our team heading to Daegu later this year, as we have perhaps our best trio ever in the decathlon. And to punctuate the field strength Fabiana Murer (BRA) vaulted 15’ 6.5” to take the world lead in that event.

So definitely the weekend’s strength was in the field events. Even Britain’s multi event queen got into the act on the track and she upset Lolo Jones (US) in the 60 hurdles in a world leading 6.97 in Glasgow – David Oliver opening his season at 7.51.

Not completely unexpected as indoor marks in the field tend to be much more on par with their outdoor counterparts. The tightness of the indoor tracks making running marks a bit harder to come by. That said, Ukhov and Tamgho are looking like potential record setters at their current paces. So definitely two to keep an eye on as we head into the mid portion of the indoor season.

If you haven’t seen it yet, here is Ukhov’s leap.

Ukhov 7’ 9.75”