What a day of track and field. I had other things I had to immediately attend to following the live stream of the Monaco meet since I’d already watched a large portion of the European Junior Champs and had been simultaneously watching a stream of the Barcelona meet. So it gave my mind time to marinate over what had been a meet filled with exciting competition.
Looking back on it now, it was an exciting meet for distance fans, but one that left you scratching your head if you are a sprint fan. So here is the long and the short of it.
For distance fans you got to see some of the best distance running in history, as we got world leaders in the men’s 800, men’s 1500, and men’s 5000. Nearly a world leader in the women’s 1500, and as close as you can come to a WR in the men’s steeplechase without actually getting one!
In the men’s 800 David Rudisha (KEN) tucked in behind the pacemaker who went sailing through the 400 in 49.61. The field was already working hard – all except Rudisha who looked like he was out for a weekend stroll. Shortly thereafter the pacemaker dropped off and Rudisha just kept cruising along! That was the race as Rudisha cruised past the finish line in a WL 1:42.63. Well up on the PB 1:43.15 of Asbel Kiprop (KEN) and the SB 1:43.83 for American Nick Symmonds. Rudisha is just about as solid a pick for gold as you can find heading into Daegu. Someone will have to seriously step theiri game up to derail this man from reachign the top of the podium. Meanwhile Kiprop solidified his presence in his primary event the 1500, as his speed is clearly on point as he heads to Daegu – and should he double he has the potential to medal in both. I’m pleased to see Symmonds under 1:44 as it shows he has the potential to get out of the rounds and into the final in Korea. But it sure would be nice to see him try racing closer to the front where his kick might have more of an impact!
While Kiprop was working his speed in the 800, the man that could be Rudisha’s chief rival was working on his endurance in the 1500. To that end Abubaker Kaki (SUD) took a very strong third in a PR 3:31.76, just .02 behind Nixon Chepseba (KEN) as both trailed the WL 3:30.49 of Silas Kiplagat (KEN). Just as Kiprop’s 800 best showed improved speed for the 1500, Kaki’s 1500 PR showed improved strength for the 800 – something he will need in abundance if he hopes to keep up with Rudisha. With a flip flop of events in Daegu, we should see a great 800 battle between Rudisha and Kaki, and a great 1500 battle between Kiprop and Kiplagat as these two pairs should both be in the medal hunts of their respective events.
Another potential medal race took place in the women’s 1500 as Maryam Jamal (BRN) and Morgan Uceny (USA) have become strong medal contenders in this event in my view. Today it was Jamal (4:00.59) coming out victorious over Uceny (4:01.51 in 3rd) after Uceny had taken the previous two races in Lausanne and Birmingham. Once again Uceny showed her racing savvy, as “Dr.” Uceny surgically sliced her way through the field on the third lap to put herself in position for another run at victory. This time however, she let Jamal get to far away in the early stages – and she’s just too good to be run down. The good news for Uceny is that her time was a new PR and she clearly left some time on the track – and it took a near season’s best for Jamal to turn the trick!
That 1500 came after a men’s 5000 where PR’s, SB’s and various records were the order of the day. The winner was Britain's Mo Farah who ran a sensational 12:53.11 – a world leader and National Record. He had to run that fast as Bernard Lagat – the ageless one – set another American Record in 12:53.60. And yes there were Africans in the race – they just finished behind this duo! And with the exception of Imane Merga (4th in 12:55.47) everyone else that finished in the top 10 had either a personal or seasons best on the day, as nine men ran under 13:05 – seven under 13:00! Farah and Lagat have both been having outstanding seasons, and suddenly Kenya and Ethiopia aren’t the only countries with a shot at the podium. As a matter of fact, based on the season to date, Farah and Lagat could actually finish 1, 2 in Daegu! This race solidified that potential for me.
But as fast and deep as the 5000 was the big news on the distance side was the men’s steeple where Brinin Kipruto (KEN) ran 7:53.64 – just .01 off of the World Record! Ezekiel Kimboi (KEN) ran a PR 7:55.76 for second while countryman Paul Koech ran a SB 7:57.32 in third as Kenya continues to be the dominant force in this event. Another deep event, nine men had either season’s or personal bests in this race, as distance fans were rewarded all day with sterling performance after sterling performance.
If distance fans were overjoyed, sprint fans were left scratching their heads and asking questions following the days sprints. In the first of these, the women’s 400, Amantle Montsho moved closer to being called a favorite with a hot win in 49.71 (BOT) – a PR and National record! More good news came with Francena McCrorory’s (USA) PR 50.29 in second, as she gets ever closer to the 50 second barrier. But there was much head scratching after vet Debbie Dunn (USA) crossed the line in 52.05 in seventh. Dunn entered the meet with a SB 50.70 (run at Nationals) and hadn’t run slower than 51.63 all season – this after setting her PR just last year at 49.64! Nothing about her race today made sense, and combined with Sanya Richards’ sub par season leaves question marks in our women’s 400 squad (and potentially the 4x4 relay).
The head scratching continued with the women’s 200 meters, where Allyson Felix (USA) made her fourth appearance of the year. It was a good news bad news race for Felix. The good news was that she ran a SB 22.32. The bad news was that it came in a second place effort to short sprint star Carmelita Jeter who ran to her third PR of the year in this event at 22.20. As if the loss to Jeter wasn’t “weird” enough, the real head scratching for me was due to the fact that Felix seemed to make up no ground on Jeter in the stretch – the bread and butter section of Felix’ race! I’m not sure if Jeter is getting stronger or if Felix’ finish is not up to standard. But with Jeter seemingly joining the ranks of Jamaican Veronica Campbell Brown as a short sprinter capable of taking on Felix over 200, I’m sure there will be more questions in the Felix camp as to whether or not she will attempt the 200/400 double in Korea. Because with Russian Kapachinskaya running a PR 49.35 at the Russian Champs today, and Montsho running a PR in Monaco, the 400 has suddenly gotten stronger, as has the deuce with the rapidly improving prospects of Jeter as a potential doubler. Now all three women’s sprints look hot for Daegu – will Felix want to take on the pressur eof the two longest? Stay tuned.
But the real head scratching, and rounds of questions running across the internet, came after the completion of the men’s 100 meters. The week started with the question: how fast would Usain Bolt run? As Bolt entered the week with two 100 meter races under his belt – a pair of 9.91’s. During the pre meet interviews, Bolt gave us an answer to the question – sort of – as he said not to expect a WR from him this year as he is not where he was in entering either Beijing or Berlin. I’ll give the big man credit, he didn’t lie. From the sound of the starters gun until a couple of steps before the finish line, not only did Bolt not look like he was ready for a world record, but he looked like he might not win the race! Nesta Carter (JAM) and Mike Rodgers (USA) were out to their typical blazing starts with Carter on the outside flying like Hasely Crawford in the Montreal final of 1976 – certain to steal the race! But working with the vigor of a drowning man reaching for a life jacket Bolt kept inching closer and closer until just before the line he edged ahead – winning the race in a SB 9.88, a scant .02 ahead of Carter. That was 9.88, not 9.58. Not even 9.78 – the current world leading time of teammate Asafa Powell. Suddenly the question making the rounds is not how fast will Bolt run, but whether or not he is vulnerable to being beaten in Daegu! And with good reason, because as hard as Bolt had to work for THIS win, only Mike Rodgers (USA, 3rd in 9.96) and Christophe Lemaitre (FRA, 5th in 10.03) among today’s competitors are expected to challenge for a place in the Daegu final. Missing from the race, and scheduled for Daegu are (with SBs) Asafa Powell (JAM, 9.78), Steve Mullings (JAM, 9.80), Ngoni Makusha (ZIM, 9.89), Keston Bledmon (TRI, 9.93), Walter Dix (USA, 9.94), Yohan Blake (JAM, 9.95) and Justin Gatlin (USA, 9.95)! Monaco should have been a cake walk compared to what lies ahead. Below is a video of the race so you can decide for yourself what you think of Bolt’s race. But after today I think he is as vulnerable as we’ve seen him since before the start of the 2008 season. I will take a look at Bolt and his primary challengers later this weekend.
Suffice it to say that Monaco was a great meet. Full results can be found here. Only two more biggies left before Worlds. Next week is Stockholm, but we have much to think about before then!