Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Nationals Recap - Hurdles
This move was sorely needed in my opinion, both to show that USATF is actually trying to work towards accomplishing something in Daegu, as much as to simply indicate that it is capable of doing the right thing for our athletes.
The key here is that Merritt will only have about a month to get race sharp as he will not be eligible to begin competing until July 27th – exactly one month before the opening of the World Championships. If he can get race sharp, however, he could be in a position to bolster our 400 meter team as well as provide some veteran strength in the 4x4. August meets have just taken on some added meaning.
Now, back to the recaps.
Looking at the results, the core of our medals in Daegu should come from the hurdles. Because in each of the four events we have gold medal potential.
The men’s 110 hurdles boasts the current AR holder and #3 all time in David Oliver. Surprisingly, for the first time in a long time we are not sending a “veteran” squad to Worlds. That’s because seemingly forever (at least back to the mid ‘90s) we’ve always had at least a pair of “super” hurdlers to count on – primarily because Alan Johnson and Terrence Trammell were always around. That streak ended with this meet as Trammell finally missed a team (after the retirement of Johnson just a couple of seasons ago). In his/their stead we will have Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson. Both are talented, but yet to show the ability to get into that elite sub13.10 range typically necessary to compete for medals at this level.
And that’s really the challenge to medaling in this event in Daegu, as this event contains the top three men in all of history. We have #3 in Oliver. They will be going to war against China’s Liu Xiang (#2) and Cuba’s Dayron Robles (#1). This is an event that could play out to be THE showdown of the meet on the men’s side.
Where we are young in the short hurdles, we have much experience and depth in the intermediate hurdles. Angelo Taylor won his first Olympic gold back in 2000. Bershawn Jackson a World gold in 2005. In the past half decade, Taylor picked up another Olympic gold (‘08), and Jackson Olympic bronze (‘08) and World bronze (‘09), and Taylor took out time to pick up a bronze medal in the open 400 in ‘07. These guys know how to compete on the big stage. And so does their young compatriot, Jeshua Anderson. All he’s done in his young career is pick up three NCAA championships, and NCAA silver, and win this year’s USATF championship! Any of these men is capable of picking up the gold medal in South Korea.
Their competition will be interesting. LJ Van Zyl (RSA) was on fire in the early spring and still leads the world on the clock. He’s not faired well in head to heads since the outdoor season has gotten under way in earnest. Britain's David Greene and Panama’s Javier Culson are also formidable opponents – Culson taking silver in ‘09.
So, how do we look for Daegu? I’m thinking one medal in the 110’s and two medals in the 400’s. Oliver is as solid a medalist as we have heading into Korea. He’s been consistently under 13 seconds in the past two seasons and only has two peers – Xiang and Robles. In the long hurdles the only issue is will someone from outside the US rise up to seriously challenge. The odds are that one or two will, but we have the horses to fight off most challenges.
How about the women? Well we’re pretty solid there as well. In the 100 hurdles we have three women who are just about as interchangeable as our men’s 400 hurdlers. Surprising because just two years ago names like Lolo Jones and Damu Cherry were prominent when talking about our hurdlers. But Dawn Harper is a gold medalist in her own right having won in Beijing, and Kelli Wells and Danielle Carruthers have been dominating the yearly performance list to this point. So despite what appears to be a changing of the guard, we’ve done so without a hitch – so far.
Also surprising is that the opposition has been very quiet this year. Canada’s Lopes Sliep is on maternity leave this year – explaining why she hasn’t been prominent this year. But little noise has been made by the other usual suspects – Derval O’Rourke (IRL), Brigitte Foster Hylton (JAM), Sally McLellan (AUS), Perdita Felicien (CAN) and Delloreen Ennis London (JAM). Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing!
As for the 400 hurdles, our squad resembles the men’s short hurdles squad. Lashinda Demus is one of the best all time (#5, #3 American). She also has experience with a silver in ‘05 bookending a silver in ‘09. We are young behind her, however, with Queen Harrison and Jasmine Chaney relatively new to this level – though Harrison did make the ‘08 team and the semis in Beijing before bowing out in 7th.
Unfortunately for the youngsters this event has a solid cast of international competitors including: Kaliese Spence and Melaine Walker of Jamaica, Bulgaria’s Vania Stambolova and Russia’s Natalya Antyukh – with Walker the defending World and Olympic champion.
So, what do our women’s prospects look like in the hurdles? I’m thinking two medals in the short hurdles and one in the long hurdles. The competition really seems to be lagging in the 100 hurdles. Of course everyone could be peaking for Daegu, but by this time of the year, there really should be more women in that 12.5/12.6 range. And there is also the potential for our women to get better. In the long hurdles we’re going to e depending on the consistency of Demus to get us a medal – potentially gold.
That’s how I see as of right now. Out of twelve potential medals I think we have the ability to garner six of them. That’s fifty percent, and the best haul of medals in any group of events. Which is why I say the hurdles should be the core of our medal haul in Daegu. Next I’ll take a look at the Middle and Long distances.