Monday, April 4, 2011

Season Starting Quietly

I had expected to see a few bombs dropped by this point in the season. But aside from L.J. Van Zyl running first 47.66, then 44.86, the season has been rather somber so far.

The Florida Relays had some promising entries early on – Tyson Gay in the 4x4, along with the seasonal debuts of Justin Gatlin, David Oliver and Xavier Carter. All pulled out prior to the start of the meet, however – none yet ready to display their wares.

And it’s not just the sprinters and hurdlers. The top middle distance runners have yet to step to the track, as neither have the top distance runners, jumpers or throwers. In short the world’s elite are clearly eyeing The World Championships in August and are being very careful not to debut too early. Or more precisely, being careful not to establish a peak that they must ride too long.

Watching the competition over the last half decade or so  I can understand the hesitation. The men’s 100 and 110 hurdles both boast the 3 fastest men in history. The women’s 100 should have at least three women that have run under 10.80 competing this season. Last year there were seventeen men under 13:00 in the 5000 and seven women broke 4:00 for 1500 meters.

In short one must be at one’s absolute best come championship time if you want to have any hope at taking the gold medal – or any medal for that matter. And given the recent triage list of athletes during any recent season, some of the most oft injured have been those in what I will call the “medal bracket”. Athletes like Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Dayron Robles, Sanya Richards, Kenenisa Bekele, along with many others.

So after watching the first few weeks of the outdoor season unfold, it is my guess that we are going to see a lot less of the stars this year, but with a high level of quality when we do. Because quality racing/competing requires more rest in between outings than frequently competing at more reduced physical levels. And given that this is a livelihood for these athletes, I would expect that most of that competition will take place in more lucrative surroundings such as the Diamond League events.

Now that doesn’t mean that there isn’t quality track and field going on. In spite of the cancelations Florida saw some outstanding performances. Minus Gatlin and Carter, Florida’s own Jeff Demps blitzed a slightly windy (+2.2) 10.07, marking himself early on to repeat as NCAA champion. Florida State’s Maurice Mitchell ran a world leading 20.36 in the 200 as did Natasha Hastings (USA) with a 22.77 in the women’s event.

Ashton Eaton, who is certain to make an impact in the decathlon this year, set 3 personal bests (shot put, javelin, and discus) while competing in a small meet at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And Tabarie Henry (ISV, 44.83) and Rondell Bartholomew (GRN, 44.65) ran the world’s two best 400’s in Baton Rouge LA, and Lubbock TX, respectively this weekend.

So the competition is still hot! But expect most of the competitive excitement to come from the college ranks. As it looks like we may not see true “debuts” of the elite until after the beginning of May, with the Diamond League kicking off in Doha on May 6.

Of course fresher athletes should mean extremely high level performances. I’ll take that trade off. Especially since the level of track and field at the NCAA level is very high itself. And with most of the top NCAA teams already looking strong – i.e. Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida State, Oregon – on both the men’s and women’s side – it should make for a great “early” season.

Which should in turn lead into what I’m hoping is an improved Diamond League. And then of course what should be a very exciting World Championships. If we can get the majority of our elite athletes to the line healthy in Doha, there should be some very exciting fireworks!

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