Saturday, July 9, 2011

Paris DL – Like Showtime at the Apollo


You know the Apollo Theatre in New York – where some of the best acts in the world go to test themselves on their way to the big time – and even after. That’s how I felt watching the stream of the Paris leg of the Diamond League. A lot of great talent, most of which I really liked with some expected crowd pleasers; some unexpected talent; and an act that I wanted to have taken off the stage. 

The act that I wanted taken off the stage came in the men’s 400. Who would ever have thought to see Jeremy Wariner’s name listed in FOURTH place in a 400 – just one slot above Oscar Pistorius? Given Wariner’s recent form I was thinking (hoping) that a battle between he and Chris Brown would have been in the offing. But it was clear when they came off the turn and Chris headed down the stretch for home that Wariner was battling something other than Brown. As he just isn’t looking like the man who won Olympic and World gold in ‘04, ‘05 & ‘07. Or even like the man that won World & Olympic silver in ‘08 & ‘09. THAT man would be toying with sub44 right about now as he fine tuned for Daegu. Instead this version of Wariner watched Brown and Jonathon Borlee battle down the straight while he unsuccessfully tried to fend off Jermaine Gonzalez. For the first time since 2003 (when Wariner first caught my eye) I’m worried for Jeremy. I want to see him run at least once more before I say what’s on my mind, but I’m starting to worry and I can’t wait until Merritt gets on the track so I can see what kind of form he is in – because right now it can’t be any worse.

Contrast that with the 110 hurdles where the main protagonists, David Oliver and Dayron Robles, both showed up with their game faces on. Here was entertainment of the highest order as 2011 Hurdle Showdown #3 ended in a virtual tie with Robles getting the nod in an oh so close finish as both men clocked 13.09! Robles had the better start and the better technical run over the hurdles. Oliver’s raw power saw him pull even mid race in spite of hitting some hurdles along the way. Robles finished how he started, however, – just a bit smoother at the line with a well timed dip – and now he’s back in the game and we have a true Big Three heading to Daegu! And if this seasons showdowns between Oliver, Robles and Liu are any indication, this is going to be one great race in South Korea.

So is the women’s 100. We already know about Carmelita Jeter and Veronica Campbell Brown – easily the two top women in the event this year. We’ve also seen the makings of a great “supporting cast” in Kerron Stewart and Marshevet Myers. Add another name to those in contention with yesterday’s upset of Campbell Brown by Kelly Ann Baptiste. Baptiste has been toying at being among the upper echelon sprinters with fast times here and there over the past few seasons. In Paris she clocked a fast time AND beat Veronica Campbell Brown! Veronica had a solid start and went to make her move and separate in mid race. But Baptiste matched her move and outran her to the line 10.91 to 10.95 – and moved herself into medal contention. The question is was it a one time thing, or can she run with VCB and Jeter when the times get a tad hotter?

If we’re talking about entertainment, then we have to talk about Usain Bolt – the sports resident entertainer. Competing in the 200 against a field where the top names were Lemaitre and Patton that is what the crowd was expecting – an entertaining race. And Bolt didn’t disappoint. In spite of alerting the media and the crowd that he was suffering from the flu, Bolt preened and joked for the camera and the crowd and then summarily put away the field (after a 10 minute equipment delay) with a 20.03 win as Lemairtre came second in a SB 20.21. Watching Bolt run for the 4th time this season however, I have to ask: is he vulnerable this year, and does it even matter with Tyson Gay on the shelf. Because so far this season he is looking more like the ‘06/’07 version of Bolt than the ‘08/’09 version – in the case of the deuce a sub20 sprinter to be sure but not a sub19.50 sprinter. Even so, with no Gay can anyone else challenge anyway? Beijing silver medalist Alonso Edward was conspicuous by his no show in Paris, Darvis Patton by his pedestrian 20.59 in third. Leaving me hoping that the Bolt Show has better guest stars at it’s next showing!

Speaking of better showings, I hope that our 1500 meter runners can be a bit more accommodating in their next outing. On the one hand it’s hard to complain when we have four men all run under the “A” standard over 1500 meters in the same race. However, the operative word here is race – and that something only Bernard Lagat and Leo Manzano truly did. The race was won by Anine Laalou in a sizzling 3:32.15 with Lagat a close third in 3:33.11 and Manzano competitive in 6th at 3:33.66. Andrew Wheating in 9th (3:34.39) and Mathew Centrowitz in 11th (3:34.89) were just never in contact in spite of the times – and Wheating looked spent to me at the end of the race. The good news is that Centrowitz is improving rapidly and is at a truly world class level. Now if we can just get everyone out of the back of the pack and with Lagat and the leaders we just might get close to that podium.

Another performance that provided hope and has to be mentioned is that of Jill Camerena Williams in the shot put. On the heels of her battle with Michelle Carter at Nationals she showed up in Paris and took third with an AR equaling toss of 66’ 2.5”!  After two very solid back to back competitions I have to feel that she is in the middle of a true break through season. And for the first time in a couple decades or so I really feel like a medal is possible in this event.

Today could be called Intermission, because tomorrow the Diamond League is back on stage in Birmingham England – and the men’s shot putters take center stage with Dylan Armstrong, Reese Hoffa, Christian Cantwell, Ryan Whiting and Tomasz Majewski. We’ll also get a look at some of Usain’s competition with Asafa Powell and Mike Rodgers heading up the 100 meters. Teddy Tamgho and Philips Idowu  will be going head to head in the triple jump. Carmelita Jeter takes another shot at the 200 meters. While Sanya Richards gets to test herself again over 400. And I’m dying to see if Morgan Uceny can get it done again in the 1500! It’s a big weekend for track and field.

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