Monday, April 18, 2011

Southern California Meets Lead Weekend


It was a great weekend of track and field around the globe, but it was nice to see some outstanding competition taking place in Southern California. I remember when “So Cal” had as many elite competitions as anywhere in Europe – this past weekend was a reminder for me of those days. And thanks to Runnerspace and FloTrack, I got to watch both the Mt SAC Relays and the UCLA/Oregon dual live. Way to move the sport forward!

Speaking of moving the sport forward, I’m hoping that dual meets like the UCLA/Oregon meet are a move “back to the future”. This is why I fell in love with track and field way back in the day. It proves that you don’t need world records set every week, you just need great competition. Throw in the team aspect with scoring and you have a combination that creates tremendous excitement. And this meet was as good as it gets with the meet coming down to the final event – the 4x4! All meet long both teams played to their strengths with Oregon scoring a points sweep in the 5000 and UCLA a points sweep in the 100. Although UCLA was a favorite on the pre meet points charts, it was Oregon holding out top quarter miler Mike Berry from the open 400 to rest him for the 200 & 4x4 that brought Oregon to the tie. Oregon swept the 400 without him, and Berry broke up the UCLA gang in the 200, then came back with a blazing anchor to lead Oregon to a runaway win the 4x4. This was track the way it is supposed to be, and I hope we get lots more duals and triangulars among the elite college programs.

In another part of the huge SoCal expanse we got a great Mt SAC Relays. Great high school competition, great collegiate competition and great elite competition. And not just one discipline, but distances, sprints, hurdles and the field! During the “Distance Carnival” Saturday night, there were what I thought were two great races. The women’s 5000 turned into a battle between American record holder Molly Huddle and middle distance star Jenny Simpson. Both women ran great, but Huddle’s “strength” won the day over the last lap as she was able to get a bit of daylight between herself and Simpson. And though Simpson finished second, I think her show of strength in this race will bode well when she takes to the track over 1500. Both women should do well this summer.

The other distance race that said much was the men’s 1500 with Oregon Track Club indoor find Russell Brown taking on Chris Solinsky who last year became a global force over both 5000 & 10000. Solinsky and Brown lead the race, with indoor NCAA champ Miles Batty (BYU) joining the fray. In the end it was a blitzing final lap (sub 54 sec range) that took Brown to a 3:35.70 PR just ahead of Solinsky (PR 3:35.89) and Batty (PR, 3:36.25, #5 all time college). Brown proves that his indoor season was no fluke and he will be someone to watch come Nationals. Solinsky showed a nice turn of speed in this race, which he will need internationally in the 5000. And Batty became a favorite for the outdoor NCAA title and a potential dark horse at Nationals.

And that was just during the Distance Carnival! During the regular portion of the meet we got world leaders in the 100 as Carmelita Jeter got the first sub11 of the season (10.99) and Norway’s Jaysuma Ndure ran 10.06 to tie for the world lead (Mike Rodgers 10.07 for the US lead). Hurdler Ginnie Crawford looked healthy as her 12.86 was just .01 off the world lead, and she teamed up with Allyson Felix on a 4x1 for another win. Scott Roth had the #2 vault outdoors with an 18’ 9.25” clearance and Jesse Williams took over the world lead in the high jump with a 7’ 8” leap. Great performances all around.

On the other side of the country, Florida and Texas A&M were both in attendance at the Tom Jones Memorial in Gainesville Florida. With both schools expecting to challenge for NCAA supremacy it was a chance to get to see them in action on the same track. While there weren’t a lot of head to head’s during the meet, they did go at it in the men’s 4x1 with defending NCAA champion Florida defeating yearly leader A&M 39.07 to 39.16 and the 4x4 with A&M returning the favor with a 3:04.77 to 3:06.43 victory. I expect to see both in the NCAA finals. I also expect to see Jeff Demps going for a defense of his 100 crown, and if this weekend was any indication he is going to be tough to beat. Demps clocked the world’s first sub 10 with a windy 9.96 (+2.4). Both of Demps races so far have been windy (10.06, +2.2) but both races have shown him to be dominating. Both squads had lots of top level performances, the Gators winning 10 events, the Aggies 9. But with A&M losing Curtis Mitchell and Florida gaining miler Dumisani Hlaselo and jumper Will Claye we could see an outdoor title to go with the indoor title for Florida come June. One things IS certain, both squads appear healthy and are loaded – look for a great NCAA meet!

And as I write this, the Boston Marathon has seriously entered the 21 Century as Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) blazed 2:03:02 for the win. Mutai’s time is faster than Haile Gebrselassie’s WR of 2:03:59, but had lots of tailwind on the downhill course so won’t qualify as the record. Ryan Hall will also not get credit for an American Record, but his 2:04:58 (4th place) was far and away faster than anything previously seen by an American (2:05:38 by Khalid Khannouchi, ‘02) and better than his 2:06:17 from ‘08. Making Hall look like a very serious contender in Daegu!

On the women’s side, Caroline Kiel won in 2:22.36, just ahead of American Desiree Davila (2:22:38). American Kara Goucher also looked good in fifth at 2:24:52 – a  personal best. Boston just underscored the improvement we’ve been seeing in US distance running over the past couple of years. Hopefully it will all translate to Daegu.

A great weekend of competition! Coming up next weekend will be the Kansas Relays, Oregon Relays, Johnson Invitational, McDonnell Invitational and Sun Devil Open, among others. Then we get Drake and Penn in two weeks. Relay season is in full gear!

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