As I continue to look back on the 2011 season, there were several moments that were both exciting and disappointing. That’s one of the wonderful things about this sport – one moment it can give you chills, the next leave you disappointed. So I decided to sit down and come up with 10 things that did both for me this year.
I have to say that as I contemplated the season, I found that the sprints were very disappointing overall. I hope that trend changes in the Olympic year. Cheerfully, however, I found much excittement across the board, which I think bodes well for the upcoming season.
So with that, and in no particular order, here are 10 disappointments and 10 exciting moments from 2011:
Ten Disappointing Moments of 2011
1. Tyson Gay Injury – It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen the sport’s top sprinters going head to head, even in Majors. When Tyson Gay announced that he would not be competing at nationals and was ending his season, the Bolt v Gay matchup that we had all been looking forward to was once again put on the shelf.
2. Usain Bolt False Start – This was not a good year for the 100 meters, as nearly half of my “Disappointments” have to do with this event. When was the last time a favorite showed up for a Major 100 final and false started out of the race? Way back in 1996 when Linford Christie false started out of the Atlanta final. I was disappointed then too.
3. Women’s 1500 at U.S. Nationals – I’m sure some are scratching their heads on this one, but I found it extremely disappointing that someone could run the gutsy race that Christin Wurth Thomas ran and NOT get a chance to run at Worlds. After taking the pace out a la Paula Ivan in Seoul ’88, Wurth Thomas missed making the team by .01sec! Further strengthening my feelings that a “Real” Worlds where the best are invited regardless of country.
4. Morgan Uceny’s Fall in Daegu – Uceny had one of the finest season’s I’ve ever seen for a U.S. miler. As she headed down the backstretch of the penultimate lap in the World final it looked like she was getting into position to run for gold. Then on the same turn that dream went to the track as Uceny was inadvertently tripped when another runner went down. I hate to see an athlete have everything seemingly come together only to have fate intervene!
5. Mike Rodgers/Steve Mullings Drug Suspensions – Not much more needs to be said. The sprints have had more than their share of negative news and the 100 had an abundance of it this year. But of all the negative news having TWO of the sport’s top sprinters suspended in the same season is a new low.
6. Andrew Wheating’s Season – Wheating looked like the next great thing in 2010 – his runs in Europe after a strenuous collegiate season giving hope that the U.S. would once again be in the thick of the 1500 meters. The highs of ’10 were followed by the lows of ’11 and I’m hoping that 2012 finds things back to normal for this young man.
7. World Championships 110 Hurdles Final – This was supposed to be one of those golden races. The top three hurdlers in history together on the same track. And a young upstart who had already had an upset win in Stockholm. Then one of the big three is subpar in Daegu and the other two collide with one being dq’d! Not the way this was written up at the start of the season.
8. World Championships 400 Hurdles Final – No one collided in this one, but it would have provided an excuse for the horrible performances turned in by some of the sport’s best hurdlers. Never have so many sub48 hurdlers fallen so short of the mark in a race as LJ VanZyl, Bershawn Jackson, Angelo Taylor and Felix Sanchez were ghosts of finals past.
9. Florida Dropped Baton in the NCAA Final – This one was disappointing on two levels. First there was the fact that defending 100 champion Jeff Demps didn’t make the final – a screamer! Then looking for reDEMPtion he never got the stick. It was also disappointing as the final had the potential to be one of the greatest ever as Florida, Texas A&M, Florida State and Illinois had all run outstanding rounds!
10. U.S. Men Drop the Stick Again in a Major – The third time is supposed to be the charm, but then I guess no one informed this squad. Since winning in Osaka in ’07, the U.S. men have failed to finish a final in three straight Majors! As they say on ESPN, “C’mon Man”!
Ten Exciting Moments of 2011
1. Mo Farah’s Prefontaine 10,000 – Some find the distances boring, and a 28:00 10K can be. But when the racing gets down hear 27 minutes the laps fo by quickly and there is excitement all the way around. Such was the case in Eugene as Mo Farah took an exciting win at 26:46.57 as nine men were squeezed in between there and 26:55.29!
2. Ngoni Makusha NCAA 100 Victory – Nothing like a great 100 to thrill the senses, and this was such a race. Channeling the spirits of Bob Hayes, Carl Lewis and Donovan Bailey, the slow starting Makusha blazed through the middle of the pack for the win in an NCAA record 9.89!
3. Dwight Phillips World Long Jump Win – I think most had given up on Phillips for this season. After all, if not for the bye, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near the long jump final, finishing a distant 10 at U.S. Nationals. They say, however, never underestimate the heart of a champion, and Phillips embodied that statement as he nailed down yet another gold medal in a Major!
4. U.S. Nationals 400 Final – It wasn’t the fastest race of the year. It didn’t feature Merritt or Wariner as champion. Instead we got a young Tony McQuay crossing the line first. Exciting because it shows that we’re still growing quality quartermilers! And while this young man succumbed to injury in Daegu, it’s always nice to know that the 400 pipeline is still working.
5. World Championships Women’s 100 Final – Every once in a while a race comes together. The top athletes make it through the rounds, and you everyone performs up to expectations. This race was one such race. This event’s big three showed up and got it done as Jeter, Campbell Brown and Baptiste gave the crowd a show. Even defending champion Fraser Pryce, who hadn’t had a very good season, had a great run! If only every event would come together like this.
6. Sally Pearson World Champs Win – I know I’ve talked this race to death, but 12.28 in the 100 hurdles is as awesome a performance as there is. It was poetry in motion. And it’s always nice when we see athletes do it right and approach suspect performances.
7. David Rudisha’s 1:41.33 – Rudisha makes the 800 look ridiculously easy! He cruises 1:43’s like he’s walking in the park. He runs 1:42’s to put the competition out of reach. So when he runs 1:41 it seems to go almost unnoticed. But the only races faster than this year’s 1:41.33 are four WR setting runs, and only previous WR holder Wilson Kipketer has ever run as fast!
8. Christian Taylor World Triple Jump Win – Another performance that I’ve mentioned a few times now, but when a young kid comes up with this kind of performance in the heat of battle, he deserves praise. The fact that it’s an event that we (the US) have been in the doldrums in for several years was icing on the cake.
9. Brussels Men’s 200 Meters – Perhaps the race of the year. Note I said race and not performance, because for the first time ever we had two men run under 19.6 in the same race! Yohan Blake’s performance was brilliant, but Walter Dix was also outstanding in defeat. And one can only wonder what we will get if we ever get these two on the track with Bolt AND Gay and all four go mano a mano!
10. LaShawn Merritt 4x4 Anchor in Daegu – Nothing beats the excitement of relay running, and the most exciting relays are those that find someone coming from behind for the win. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched one of these in a Major – 1991 to be exact. This time however, we were on the winning end, and that made it doubly sweet!