Saturday, January 29, 2011

Question – Should USATF Allow Merritt to Compete at Worlds?

As I’m checking through results this morning, I see that USATF President Stephenie HIghtower is debating whether or not to “waive” the rule that defending World Champions must compete at our National Championships in order to defend at Worlds.

The issue in her mind being that “rules are rules”, and wondering if they would be “setting a precedent” by allowing him to run without competing at Nationals.

I’m going to give you my two cents and then you can state your opinion either by voting on the poll to the right and/or leaving a comment.

Based on the history of the “Wild Card” for Worlds precedent has already been set. The Wild Card was initiated in 1997, precisely because Michael Johnson was injured and UNABLE to compete at Nationals – and therefore unable to earn a spot on the team and defend his title in Athens. So the Wild Card was created to allow defending World Champions to go directly to the World Championships without having to go through their National Championships.

So the precedent was set with the very first athlete to use the Wild Card as Michael Johnson did NOT compete at the 1997 National Championships!

Technically neither did Maurice Greene when he defended his World title at the next World Championships in Seville in the 100 meters. Greene began competition in both the 100 and 200 at Nationals but withdrew from the 100 final in order to focus on earning a spot to Seville in the 200 meters. He did so with the knowledge that he already had spot in Seville in the 100 no matter what happened in the 100 final – because he was already in as the defending champ holding the Wild Card. So Greene focused on the 200 team – and made it.

It was after this that USATF looked at what athletes needed to do to constitute being on the team. And Greene’s 1999 performances were the basic guideline – as one merely has to show and compete – regardless of the event – and is not required to run in the final.

Which then leaves the question of why does it then matter at all if the individual shows up to run a single round of any event? Now the real reason is that USATF wanted to insure that our top athletes made an appearance at the National Championships – that there was not a mass exodus of top talent because “x” number of athletes didn't have to compete because they held Wild Cards. That’s a marketing reason not a “make the team” reason IMHO.

The only legitimate answer I can come up with is “to show fitness”. If that is the case then one doesn’t even have to compete at Nationals at all in order to show fitness. Though again, going back to the institution of the Wild Card ruling, it was put into place because an athlete was NOT fit at the time of the National Championships.

Having said all of this, my conclusion is that precedent was set with the very institution of the Wild Card rule and that the rule that is currently in effect has absolutely NOTHING to do with setting one’s “qualification” for Worlds.. Therefore my conclusion is that USATF should simply disband the rule altogether as it really serves no useful purpose! And Merritt, or any other athlete should be the Wild Card pass that they earned when they finished first in the previous World Championships.

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Americans to Watch in 2011


With the indoor season now beginning to heat up, it’s time to wrap up previews on athletes to watch this year. So last but not least is my list of Americans to watch this year. A tough list since I have so many favorites and see so much potential for this season.

Trying to narrow down the list to only ten was much harder than I thought it would be  – so I extended the field to what I’m calling my “Track and Field Dozen”. Some are names that are everyone’s lips, and some are individuals that may not be. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are all tough competitors who will make a mark on the world stage this year – IMHO. So without further adieu here is my list of Americans to watch in 2011.


David Oliver – 110 hurdles

Oliver was the 2010 US Athlete of the Year – having set two America records and going undefeated in his event. In 2011 he will be looking to improve on last year’s campaign by adding World gold and potentially a WR. It won't be easy as he will face the current Olympic champion and WR holder (Dayron Robles, CUB) and the previous WR holder and Olympic champion and ‘07 World champion (Liu Xiang, CHN).


Allyson Felix – Sprints

Felix will be going for an unprecedented fourth straight 200 title in 2011. As if that weren’t enough, she may also be attempting to win gold in the 400 as well! She has the ability – she was ranked #1 in the world for 2010 in BOTH events. But it won’t be that simple, as she will have to beat two time Olympic 200 champion Veronica Campbell Brown (Jam) and reigning World 400 champion Sanya Richards (US) to get to the top of both podiums.


Christian Cantwell – Shot Put

I think I’m going to start calling Cantwell The Lord of the Ring – because that’s what he’s been since his silver medal in Beijing. World outdoor champion in ‘09 and World indoor champion in ‘10, Cantwell lost only two competitions in 2010 and won the Continental Cup. He’s become exceedingly consistent over 70 and is the early favorite for Daegu gold in my opinion – not to mention a threat to toss one out near the 74 foot mark!


Chaunte Howard Lowe – High Jump

Chaunte became the American record holder in the high jump when she leapt 6’ 8.25” in Cottbus GER, then bettered it with a 6’ 8.75” jump at US Nationals last year. She maintained form throughout the summer going toe to toe with last year’s World Female Athlete of the Year Blanka Vlasic. Time and again she took Vlasic to misses on the count back and will be looking to upend her in Daegu.


Tyson Gay – Sprints

Gay may be the most recognizable track athlete in America, because it’s his task to defeat the most recognizable track athlete in the world – Usain Bolt. A task he found himself up to in 2010 as he defeated the man they said couldn’t be beaten in their only encounter last year – winning the 100 in what was a shocker to most in Stockholm. Double World champion Gay (‘07) will attempt to take back both crowns against Bolt who won both in ‘09. Thiers's should be the biggest rivalry of 2011 – must see TV!


Kara Patterson – Javelin

Patterson made the javelin interesting for American track fans last year as she set a new American record (218’ 8”) and went toe to toe with the best in the world winning in Eugene; taking second in Gateshead, Monaco and London; and garnering third in Berlin. She will be looking for that kind of placing when she arrives in Daegu. As Patterson is one of our few hopes on the infield.


Bernard Lagat – 5000/10000

Lagat is often overlooked. At the beginning of each year his age is discussed as a reason why Bernard “should be” a step slower. What’s forgotten is that with age comes wisdom and Lagat may be the wisest of them all whenever he takes to the track. Last year the 35 year old merely set an American record in the 5000 (12:54.12) and looked as spry as ever. The same spyness that he showed in taking the silver medal at Worlds in the event in ‘09. Unless they try to run the “old man” into the ground, look for Lagat to be somewhere around the podium once again in Daegu.


Brittney Reese – Long Jump

Brittney is another of those athletes that tend to get overlooked. Perhaps because she has yet to approach the gaudy American record of 24’ 7” – but then none of the world’s current crop of jumpers has either! Which is why she is the reigning World champion in the long jump and the fourth longest jumper of the last couple of seasons at 23’ 3.5”. She’s still only 24 years old, so she has a very bright future ahead of her. One that could possibly include a defense of her World title later this summer.


Dwight Phillips – Long Jump

That’s right another long jumper! For all of our failings on the infield we’re still golden in the long jump. Because just as Reese won the women’s event in Berlin, Phillips took the men’s gold as well. And Phillips is no stranger to the feel of gold around his neck having won the Olympic title in ‘04 and World titles in ‘03/’05 to go with his Berlin medal. The 33 year old’s PR 28’ 8.25 is still fresh having been set in ‘09 and he was the #1 ranked long jumper in the world in 2010. Look for Phillips on the Daegu podium.


Chris Solinsky – 5000/10000

Last year was a break out season for Solinsky as he set the AR in the 10000 (26:59.60) and moved to the #2 all time spot among Americans in the 5000 (12:55.53). More importantly he was competitive against the world finishing 5th in Stockholm and 3rd in Zurich. I expect Chris to be even more race savvy this year, and hopefully add a bit of a kick. He and Lagat will give us something we haven’t had in decades – a viable duo in in the distances in international competition.


Female Middle Distance Crew

I’m cheating here a bit, but I didn’t want to leave anyone out. Truth is we have developed a very potent middle distance group among the women. Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer) Anna Pierce, Christin Wurth Thomas, Shannon Rowbury, Morgan Uceny, Alysia Johnson, Phoebe Wright, and Maggie Vessey have all moved to within striking distance in the middle distances (800/1500). Perhaps the most depth we’ve ever had. I’ve got to think that at least one or two of these ladies is podium bound. Rowbury was there in Berlin placing 3rd in the 1500. I think this time around we place in both the 8 & 15.


Leonel Manzano – 800/1500

Speaking of the middle distances, the rapidly improving Andrew Wheating tends to get all the press, but quiet as it’s kept Leo Manzano improved just as rapidly in 2010. Manzano was equally as fast in the 800 (1:44.56), faster in the mile (3:50.64), and just a tad behind in the 1500 (3:32.37). And in the 1500/mile he had big finishes in London (3rd), Brussels (2nd) and the Continental Cup (3rd). He and Wheating will both be battling for a spot on center stage in Daegu.


Carmelita Jeter – 100

Jeter is the second fastest woman in history over 100 at 10.63. That puts her smack dab in the middle of the biggest national rivalry in the sport – the US v Jamaica in the sprints. Jeter was 3rd in Osaka (‘07) and 3rd in Berlin (‘09). Jeter’s top end may be the best in the game, but she leaves too much ground to make up in the early stages of the race. If she can get that start together she’ll be golden – even semi together. I think John Smith will find a way to get her there on time in Daegu.


Bershawn Jackson – 400 hurdles

Batman went “Old School” last year and picked up his old stride pattern between the hurdles. The result was a near undefeated season and a seasonal best of 47.32 – just .02 off his PR. He looked like a rejuvenated athlete after a couple of injury plagued down seasons. He enters 2011 brimming with confidence and I dare say that to beat him will take a PR from most this year, because I believe Batman can get close to 47.00.


There’s my Track and Field Dozen – one more than a Baker’s Dozen with some extra names tossed into the middle distance ring! And I still have more that I wanted to throw in there. But I will work their names in as the weeks and months go by. Suffice it to say that we look good as the year begins. With a bit of good health and some improvement here and there we should be in for one excellent showing come Daegu.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Indoors Beginning to Get in the Groove

What has been a relatively quiet indoor season began to pick up the pace this past weekend as we begin to see more of the elite athletes taking the stage. This past weekend we saw several in action.

Multi eventers Ashton Eaton (US) and Jessica Ennis (GBR) showed very good early season form. Ennis taking over the world lead in the 60H (8.03) and setting a shot PR of 47’ 11.25”. While Eaton turned in marks of 16’ 8.75” in the pole vault, 7.68 in the 60H and a 1:55.90 in the 800! At this rate both athletes will be forces to recon with in their respective multi events this year.

The word force applies quite well to reigning World shot put champion Christian Cantwell (US) who started out his season with a 69’ 7” toss. Cantwell is in a groove now, and I’m going to hedge my bet early, but if he isn’t injured (knock on wood) he’s going to be real hard to beat.

Another who could end up being a force is Teddy Tamgho (FRA) who three jumped all the way out to 57’ 3.5”. Already the indoor record holder at 58’ 8.75”, he’s the only jumper over 55’ 6.5”. He could so dominate this event if he learns to hold his composure together in big meet situations.

Collegiate competitors also began to flex their muscle this weekend. Texas AM defeated LSU on both the men and women’s side. Giving indication that they will once again be a force on the national scene. Indiana’s Andy Beyer might be giving headaches this year as he took the world lead in the 3000 with his 7:48.35 – school record. And Duke’s Kate Van Buskirk set a Collegiate record in the 1000 of 2:41.00. Not bad for a school not known for track and field excellence!

And US middle distance runners Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer), and Phoebe Wright continued to look good Simpson running a world leading 4:28.60 mile and Wright a world leading 2:00.30 in the 800 at the New Balance Games. A real  nice run for Jenny coming off last year’s layoff. And Wright seems to be taking up where she left off last year – one of our top improving middle distance prospects.

Things should really get cracking this coming weekend with the Millrose games on tap and more of Cantwell and Simpson and the debut of Jenn Suhr in the pole vault. I’ll be taking a closer look at Millrose before Friday.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ten Young People To Watch in 2011

One of the nice things about this sport is watching the development of youth. While it is harder these days to make an impact internationally as a young person, the opportunity is still there for many. Following are ten young people that I think will have that opportunity in 2011. 


Kirani James – Granada – 400 meters

This young man was just a breath away from running under 45 seconds last year in the quarter (45.01) – and he was only 18 years old! The World Youth Champion in ‘09, he added the World Junior title and NCAA title to his resume in 2010. Next stop, Daegu. And I will be very surprised if the smooth striding James is not a finalist at this year’s World Championships.


Halima Hachlaf – Morocco – 800 meters

The women’s 800 meters has been looking for someone to “take over” for a while now. There hasn’t been a repeat winner in a major over the distance since Maria Mutola won back to back World’s in ‘01/’03. As a 21 year old last year Hachlaf showed signs of moving into prime position as she won the Rome Grand Prix early with her PR 1:58.40, along with a second in Gateshead. Her fitness waned thereafter and she had a couple of DNF’s – indicative of perhaps injury during midseason. But at her best she seems capable of running with anyone – and in what is a wide open event that could produce a medal.


Abubaker Kaki – Sudan – 800 meters

David Rudisha took all the headlines in this event in 2010, but two years prior in ‘08 Kaki broke the African AJR Record indoors and the WJR outdoors! He improved to 1:42.23 last year and became the fifth fastest performer in history. A feat that went virtually unnoticed during Rudisha’s all conquering season. Look for Kaki to continue to improve in ‘11 and provide competition for Rudisha. He’s too good a competitor to just sit back and let Rudisha rule the event without putting up a fight.


Queen Harrison – United States – Hurdles

It’s not often that we see women that are truly adept at both hurdle distances. Last year we had two – Tierra Brown and Queen Harrison. Harrison settled the question of who was best with a double victory at the NCAA Championships on her way to becoming the women’s winner of the Bowerman Award for 2010. She’s since turned professional and will take her 12.61/54.51 PR’s into battle against the world’s elite athletes. It will be interesting to see if she focuses on one event or attempts to make the US team in both.


Christian Taylor – United States – Jumps

The US has been suffering through a very long drought in the triple jump. After a string of superb triple jumpers – Willie Banks, Mike Conley and Kenny Harrison – we haven’t had a true gold medal threat since Harrison’s victory in Atlanta way back in 1996. Taylor has the ability to change that. The young man definitely has the talent with bests of 45.34 in the 400, 26’ 3.25” in the long jump, and 56’ 4.5” in the triple jump – and he’s just a j20 year old junior at Florida. Taylor is on the early Bowerman Watch List, and on my list as someone that will make an impact for the US internationally during the next few majors, as I believe he has the potential to make us creditable again in the triple jump.


Sandra Perkovic – Croatia – Discus

Croatia is known as the home country of last year’s #1 female track and field athlete – Blanka Vlasic. I think that’s about to change as young Croatian discus queen Sandra Perkovic also seems to be headed to stardom. In her first season of “senior” competition she won the Diamond League finale in Brussels, took the European title in Barcelona and finished second in the Continental Cup in Split. Not too bad for the young 20 year old. I’m dying to see what she does in Daegu.


Andrew Wheating – United States – Middle Distance

Americans have always had a fascination for middle distance runners. Pre started his career in the mile. Jim Ryun will forever be an icon. And we have watched with baited breath the career of Alan Webb. While Webb is on the comeback trail, the next great American middle distance runner may already be here. Wheating started out by leading the Oregon Ducks in their pursuit of a national title during last spring. While the Ducks fell just short,  Wheating did his share winning both the 800 and 1500 at the NCAA Championships. After a brief respite he turned his attention for a short time to Europe. Long enough to run PR’s of 1:44.56, 3:30.90 and 3:51.74! One can only imagine what he will be able to do now not having to run for collegiate points and with his sights on Daegu.


Darya Klishina – Russia – Long Jump

Jamaica turns out sprinters, Kenya distance runners and Russia turns out jumpers! Russia turns out long and triple jumpers like clockwork and Darya could end up being the best of them all. As a 19 year old last year she was #2 on the yearly list with her NJR of 23’ 0.75”. She also competed well, beating her countrywomen at the Znamensky Memorial and winning Diamond League meetings in Stockholm and London. Having already shown she can compete with the best she will be setting her 20 year old sites on Daegu. And I will be surprised if she isn’t on the podium.


Jehue Gordon – Trinidad – 400 hurdles

There are a lot of good young hurdlers out there, including Jesua Anderson (48.47) and  Johnny Dutch (47.63) so to say that Gordon could be the best of the lot is saying a mouthful. But at the tender age of 17 he finished fourth at the World Championships in his PR 48.26! Two years later Gordon is still only 19, yet will be looking to improve upon that placing. The only way to do that will be to get on the podium – a prospect that I think is very likely.

Gabby Mayo – United States – sprints/hurdles

Gabby probably fell off a lot of people’s radar as she missed a great deal of last year to injury. Yet in spite of missing the best meets of the year she still managed to run 11.13 in the 100 and 12.81 in the 100 hurdles. Pretty awesome when you consider that she ran the 100 mark in April and didn’t compete after late May. The US is usually pretty deep in both sprinters and hurdlers – and our national teams are tough to make. But I like Mayo’s heart and there is something about her that says she’s going to be tough to keep off the team. We need a young sprinter to step up. I think Mayo could be that sprinter. At 21 years old she’s just about the right age to do so.


There is just a ton of talent out there. These 10 are just the tip of the iceberg. All have talent and that certain “it” that I think will see them all progress up the ladder of success in 2011.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Olympic Tracks Must Be Preserved


There is a  discussion on the table as to what will happen to London’s new Olympic track once the games are over. Apparently a soccer league wants to take over the facility, tear it down and rebuild it without the track – and that is drawing criticism from some corners. As well it should in my opinion.

The Olympic Stadium is the focal point of the Games themselves. Although it doesn’t seem like it during the three years between Games, track and field IS the heart of the Games. So it would seem that somehow the Games – the Olympic movement – should play a role in advancing the state of track and field across the globe. To that end, I think that the biggest gift it can give the sport is the track and stadium that is built to host the Games.  A legacy that would continue on long after the the flame of the Games has been extinguished.

Look no further than here in the United States and the lack of a legacy from the 1996 Games in Atlanta. Atlanta had a fine stadium – and a track that was clearly built for speed. Two meets – one prior to the Games and the Games themselves – produced some of the greatest sprint marks ever seen to that point in time. Then it was all taken away. No one else got to take advantage of that blistering surface. A travesty for the world’s sprinters – though I’m sure the distance runners didn’t mind.

More importantly it deprived us, the United States, from furthering the cause of track and field in this country. Had we retained the stadium/track, we would have had a facility to use as the heart of a bid for the World Championships. Creating the likelihood that a Worlds would have been held here in the US by now. We would also have had a facility in place for another Olympic Games bid – as well as all the accoutrements for an Olympic village.

We also would have a proper place to hold other events such as the Olympic Trials, National Championships, NCAA Championships, and perhaps even a Diamond League type event. And that is where I think the IAAF should come in.

I think that the IAAF should create a plan with the IOC whereby Olympic stadiums have some connection to the IAAF and the sport of track and field. For example, while soccer may be given a lease to the London stadium, the track should be retained. In turn the IAAF should work with the London organizers on developing some sort of competition schedule involving the track and stadium.

Going back to Atlanta and the ‘96 stadium, if that had been done the IOC and IAAF could have helped find a tenant for the stadium. Then worked with USATF on a timeline to use the stadium for a Worlds bid, as well as putting the stadium into a rotation for Trials and Nationals competitions. They could also put the stadium onto the annual competition calendar. Because I think as each Olympics is complete that city should begin to host annual world class events. The Games can be used as a stepping stone to bring track and field regularly to that portion of the world – so the stadium isn’t simply a visual reminder that the Games was once there. For example, when Rio comes and goes in 2016 beginning in 2017 there would be a world class event in Rio every year. You could even develop and “Olympic Circuit” over time that would consist entirely of former Olympic sites.

My point is that Olympic stadiums can, and should, have a purpose outside of just the Games themselves. There is a tremendous expense that goes into the development of them and they should be used to give back to the movement and to sport – especially the sport for which it was designed. London could very easily be used to host Worlds at some point and they already have a world class meet that could easily be moved into the stadium. The IAAF should take a lead roll in working with the IOC on this matter and future matters regarding the use of Olympic stadiums once the flame has gone out. They should start with London.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

IOC Decision on Merritt – Wrong Yet Again

Doping is proving to be the biggest problem facing track and field – because it’s an issue that it just can’t seem to get right. And that’s saying a lot given the problems it faces in marketing; getting it’s best athletes to compete against each other; and finances – specifically getting enough revenue to pay more than a handful of athletes what they are truly worth.

So to say that doping may be the biggest problem of them all is saying a mouthful. But just take a look at the latest blunder in the sport – this time coming out of the IOC. Most are familiar with the case of Lashawn Merritt who was convicted last year of taking a banned substance – a substance that everyone involved admitted A) was taken inadvertently via an over the counter product used for “male enhancement”, and B) provided Merritt with NO assistance or enhancement outside the bedroom!

Yet the first blunder of the sport was to institute a two year time out for the offense – later reduced to 21 months for “cooperation”.  A major blunder when you consider that so  many individuals from other countries have been allowed three to six month suspensions for the same type of infraction – inadvertent ingesting of a banned substance via another substance. Which leads us to the inequity of our doping standards.

That aside, however, Merritt has been, and will fully serve, the time that was given him. But the sport will NOT consider his punishment complete. Because the ruling from the IOC is that Merritt regardless of intent, or the fact that he will serve the prescribed punishment, will under no circumstances be allowed to participate in the 2012 London Olympics – whether he tests clean as the driven snow in the intervening year and a half or not!

Now I’m not sure how they do it in the rest of the world, but here in the United States we have what is called Double Jeopardy, which essentially means that you cannot be punished for the same offense more than once!  Yet in track and field that is the standard, because IOC law says that if you serve a sentence of greater than six months you are not allowed to participate in the following Olympics.

I find several bits of irony in this. One is that,clearly that is why some countries avoid giving their top athletes suspensions of greater than six months – to retain their Olympic eligibility. Which is why I feel that those matters should solely be in the hands of the IAAF and WADA.

Two is that the intent is clearly aimed at those individuals who have attempted to defraud the system – i.e. cheat, dope. A ruling of inadvertent use clearly says that the individual did NOT attempt to cheat – and the ruling on Merritt stated as much.

Three is that Merritt, and any other athlete serving a sentence of whatever length, has already been punished according to the laws of the sport! A punishment that I am assuming is made to get those athletes that are competing “illegally” out of competition with those that are competing legally. If his inadvertent use provided no assistance, then Merritt’s performances were always “legal” and there was never any reason to remove him from competition – or to keep him from any further competitions, including the Games.

But the final irony is that while he, or any other athlete, can not compete in the “”next” Olympics, he would be eligible to compete in the following Olympics! So what purpose is it to keep him out of any Olympics at all – other than to simply punish him again? But it gets better, because the IOC says it isn’t punishing him at all! Because according to the IOC it is not a “sanction”, but rather an “issue of eligibility”! Now I’m sorry, but that’s like the government telling you they aren’t imposing a new “tax”, but rather a new “fee”. Because no matter what you call it they are taking more money from you, and in this case they are not allowing him to compete based on the six month or greater ban. And isn’t it interesting that this “condition” will not matter in the following Olympics! Sounds like an additional “ban” or “punishment” to me.

Too bad the sport doesn’t’ spend as much time and effort in “catching” drug cheats as they do trying to figure out how many ways they can ban them once they do. Because banning an athlete, or punishing him or her more than once (especially for inadvertent use) does NOTHING towards catching those that are out there ACTUALLY CHEATING. That is where the sport needs to be spending its time and resources.

This ruling is ridiculous. It’s Double Jeopardy for a man that has been told that his use was inadvertent and that he received NO aid from the substance that was found in his system. It’s a travesty and they need to be called to the carpet on it. Not just for Lashawn, but for any athlete in the same situation. We have rules, we have bans. We need to stop rehashing on punished athletes and get to the business of figuring out how to eliminate the drug problem. Instead of keeping the ones we have in the forefront of the news for years on end as if we’ve really accomplished something. If the sport wants to accomplish something then catch someone else and do like fisherman do – throw the small ones back and let me know when you catch a REAL fish.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Event to Watch in 2011 – Men’s 200

Being a World Championship season, 2011 will no doubt have it’s share of “hot” events. I’ve already taken a look at some of the stars that I think bear watching this year – and by association so should their events. But there is one event that I think could be the star of the season – the men’s 200 meters!

Why the men’s 200? After all it’s typically the 100 that has fan’s mouths drooling. Well, because right now the deuce has it all – star quality, depth, rising stars, intriguing stories and a rivalry. Everything you need for one outstanding event. Yes, the 100 usually gets top billing – and it will be a hot event again this year as well – but the 200 has more elements to it this year.

For starters we have the reining World and Olympic champion, who also happens to be the WR holder, looking to defend his title – Usain Bolt, JAM. Bolt is also looking to defend his 100 title, and should he win the 100 in Daegu would come into this event looking to become the first ever to defend double World titles. He will do so toeing the line as the man who has set the last two WR’s in the event at 19.39 and 19.19 – the hottest sprinter in the world in 2008 & 2009.

Standing in his way, however, should be the man who last defeated him at this distance in a major – Tyson Gay, USA – as Gay was the double sprint champion in Osaka (coincidently the last time Worlds was held in Asia). It was also the last time we saw Gay and Bolt compete against each other over this distance! Since then both have have improved dramatically, but in Bolt’s two major championship/WR setting runs Tyson Gay was on the sidelines with injuries. Rather important because Gay is the only sprinter that can run with/beat Bolt on the turn and therefore pressure him in this event.

Interestingly enough, however, while Gay took the ‘07 title from Bolt, he is not the last sprinter to defeat Usain at this distance. That distinction belongs to Wallace Spearmon (USA) who defeated Bolt in Brussels on September 14, 2007 with a 19.88 run. Ironically Bolt finished third in that race as Xavier Carter finished second and also ahead of Bolt – after beating Bolt the week before in Zurich. All of which means that the last three individuals to defeat Bolt over this distance are all scheduled to take to the track in 2011.

Both Spearmon and Carter (USA) have had injury issues in the intervening years, but last year Wallace had his best season since ‘06 (when he set his PR 19.65) as he had a season’s best 19.79 and ended the year ranked #2 in the world. In spite of the injuries, Spearmon still found his way into medal position in ‘08/’09 (though DQ’d for a lane violation in ‘08). So the prospect that he will have a healthy championship season ]in 2011 means the potential for the return of a sprinter that just a few years ago was running toe to toe with both Bolt and Gay – and winning. Because at his best Wallace Spearmon is possibly the best finisher in the world. 

Increasing the depth in this event should be the man who ranked #1 last year, ahead of Spearmon – Walter Dix (USA). Dix was the double bronze medalist in Beijing behind Bolt and, after missing much of ‘09 to injury, returned last season to run within .03 of his PR (19.69), defeat Tyson Gay (19.72 to 19.76) in Eugene, and end up with the #1 ranking in the world for 2010. When he’s healthy and motivated, Dix is one tough competitor as he showed in both Beijing and Eugene. He’s a turnover machine that just keeps churning, and he’s a good enough turn runner to be in the fray coming off the bend – tremendously important when competing against both Bolt and Gay.

2011 could end up being the year of “Returning to Health” as another that should add to this event’s depth is Berlin Silver medalist, Alonso Edward (PAN). Edward became the youngest ever medalist in this event at Worlds in ‘09 as the then 19 year old sizzled to a 19.81 – fastest ever for that age. Edward missed last year’s outdoor season with a strained hamstring, however, curtailing his development. Should he come back fully healthy this year we could see one of the world’s best young sprinters get back on track – which could give us another high end 200 man. Because after finishing ahead of sprinters the level of Wallace Spearmon and Shawn Crawford in Berlin as a 19 year old this young man’s potential is scary.

Another youngster who began to actualize his potential last year is Yohan Blake (JAM) who went from a pre-2010 best of 20.60 to 19.78 last season! Blake only competed at this distance twice in ‘10, but with times of 19.78 and 19.86 to his credit announced that he may be more of a player in the deuce than in the 100. It will be interesting to see if he gives the 200 more attention in 2011. If so, he will add significantly to the depth in the event. 

Another who added to the depth of the 200 in ‘10 was Curtis Mitchell (USA). With a 19.99 to his credit at the beginning of the summer, Curtis Mitchell became yet another youngster adding his name to the list of sub 20 performers, and another to watch in 2011. Especially since he cut his season short in June and did not participate in any of the real heavy 200 meter races that occurred on the European circuit. Mitchell is another of the new breed of tall sprinters at 6’ 4” and is still learning to run this event. Once eh puts it all together he is going to be dangerous – as if 19.99 isn’t already dangerous.

And as if there weren’t enough young talent out there, there is Ryan Bailey (USA) who ran 20.10 in spite of dealing with several injuries during the course of the season. Then there is also young Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, who broke the 10 second barrier in the 100 (9.97) and found time to clock 20.16 only running a handful of deuces. Both Bailey and Lemaitre clearly have more in them and should be interesting to watch this year. Throw in Xavier Carter (USA) who is still trying to work his way back to his 2006 form (19.63) and the well chronicled story of Justin Gatlin (USA, 19.86) returning to the sprint wars – both now training together under the tutelage of sprint coach Brooks Johnson – and there are more sub 20 and potential sub 20 sprinters out there than any time in history – and who knows who will emerge THIS year!

So knowing that the chance of seeing Bolt v Gay happen before Daegu is slim to none, there is still plenty of top level talent out there to populate just about any meet that has the foresight to have the men’s 200 on it’s schedule! Which then takes us to the grand finale and what should be the first head to head in three years between the winners of the last three major championships in this event – Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt! A final in which we could have a final in which every competitor toes the line with a PR under 20 seconds – and a race that could see every finalist finish under that mark!

So this is why I believe that the men’s 200 will be THE event of the 2011 season. It has perhaps the world’s hottest head to head in Bolt v Gay, as well as the greatest top end depth of any event out there right now. Throw in the potential  of a WR and some serious all time list altering, and not too many events have everything that this event will bring to the table this season.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ten International Stars to Watch in 2011

Originally I thought about putting together a list of 10 athletes to watch this year. But as I surveyed the track and field landscape I decided that there are so many more athletes that deserve to be mentioned. So I’m going to do this in stages, starting with Ten International (non US) stars that I will be watching this year. I will also be taking a look at some Americans that I will be watching closely as well as some young talent that I think may have an impact this year – there is a lot of good young talent out there.

But first I will take a look at some of the global talent out there. Daegu should be one hot meet and there will be a lot of talent on display. But these ten, for me, could be the best stories to watch on the way to Daegu – and during the meet itself. So here is my list of ten to watch in 2011.


David Rudisha – Kenya – 800 Meters

I will start my list with the reigning men’s AOY. Rudisha’s exploits in 2010 have been thoroughly covered – twice WR setter, three times under 1:42, undefeated and dominant. After the previous WR setter (Wilson Kipketer) had his all conquering season it was followed by an off season (no major championship) so he didn’t immediately get the chance to validate his all conquering season. Rudisha gets his follow up season with a championship on the line. So the challenge for Rudisha will be to win gold on the heals of becoming the greatest half miler ever on the clock. Previous WR setters Kipketer and Sebastian Coe had their difficulties doing just that.  Illness curtailed Kipketer and Coe was beaten by Ovett in ‘80 and Cruz ijn ‘84. So Rudisha’s journey will be one to watch as he will be in everyone’s sight on his way to Daegu. And it was only ‘08 when Abubaker Kaki set the WJR and looked prime to take a shot at Kipketer. Rudisha beating him to the mark should make him a bit hungry. And a hungry athlete is a dangerous athlete.


Yelena Isinbayeva – Russia – Pole Vault

Yelena returns to competition following her one season sabbatical last year. Once one of the most dominating track and field athletes ever she came up empty in Berlin, and following a not up to her standards 2010 indoor season decided she needed indefinite time off. That lasted through the end of the 2010 outdoor season as she has stated that she will be returning to competition in February. After her time out to reenergize, it will be interesting to see if she can step back in and dominate the event that she has owned since 2004 – winning outdoor titles in Athens, Helsinki, Osaka, and Beijing while setting 13 outdoor WR’s.


Usain Bolt – Jamaica – Sprints

Double sprint gold (100/200) and four WR’s in Beijing and Berlin have made Bolt a household name. It’s also put a huge target on his back. Not that there are many capable of hitting the bull's-eye, but he is competing with the #2 & #3 all time performers in the 100 (Tyson Gay & Asafa Powell) and the #3 all time performer in the 200 (Tyson Gay) – Gay himself was double gold medalist in Osaka. In addition, 2010 did see several young athletes begin to get “in range” – most notably Nesta Carter (Jam, 9.78) – as well as a return to form of perennial 200 medalist Wallace Spearmon (USA, 19.65). No one one has repeated as double World Champion – only Maurice Greene, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay have turned the trick once. Bolt will be attempting to become the first to do so.


Teddy Tamgho – France – Triple Jump

Mark off 59 feet and then imagine someone ”hop, skip, and jumping” their way across that distance. Only three men in history have done so – and Teddy Tamgho is one of them. Tamgho had a solid season in 2010, but was unable to capture the European title finishing a disappointing third. In Daegu he will not only be facing Barcelona conquerers Phillip Idowu (GBR) and Marian Oprea (ROM), but most likely Sweden’s Christian Olsson and the Cuban trio of Alexis Copello, David Girat, and Yoandris Betanzos – a formidable group indeed. Tamgho has proven he can jump far, now he has to show he can compete.


Veronica Campbell Brown – Jamaica – Sprints

While the world has become quite familiar with Usain Bolt, Veronica is the most decorated athlete in Jamaica’s stable of sprinters. Campbell Brown lead the world on the clock in both sprints in 2010 (10.78/21.98) and has won two Olympic titles in the 200 (‘04/’08), and one World title in the 100 (‘07) to go with seven total individual medals in global majors. Campbell Brown showed an improved start in the 100 last year which makes her even more dangerous in the 100. And in the deuce her only real challenge comes from three time World Champion Allyson Felix (USA). The women’s sprints haven’t had a double sprint champion since the 1991 version (Katrin Krabbe, GER). Campbell Brown will be gunning to be the first in two decades.


Renaud Lavillenie – France – Pole Vault

Steven Hooker is more well known and is the defending champion having won in Berlin, but France’s Lavillenie has been improving every year the past couple of seasons and has been the more consistent vaulter during the “normal” summer seasons. Like Tamgho, Lavillenie has proven that he can vault high – now he has to prove that he can compete. Winning the European title last year was a good start, but in Daegu he will have to overcome Hooker, fellow countryman Romain Mesnil (himself on the rise) and potentially American’s Brad Walker and Derek Miles. Lavillenie has 20 foot potential in my opinion. He’s going to have to show 20 foot heart as well.


Blanka Vlasic – Croatia – High Jump

The women’s 2010 AOY, Blanka has been THE name in female high jumping since 2007 and won the World Championships in both Osaka and Berlin. She proved her competitive mettle last year as time after time she repelled the challenge of Chaunte Howard Lowe who co-lead the world last year with Vlasic. While repeating as World Champion will be a challenge, with Howard Lowe and Emma Green (SWE) giving chase, the bigger challenge may be in Vlasic’s pursuit of Stefka Kostadinova’s WR – set way back in 1987! She came within a tantalizing centimeter in 2009 and has taken several shots in the past couple of seasons. She has the ability, but will she finally conquer the height?


Liu Xiang – China – 110 Hurdles

Between 2004 and 2007 Liu did it all, winning an Olympic title (‘04), a World title (‘07) and setting two WR’s. Liu was beginning to look nearly unbeatable when it mattered and then was struck down by injury. He has spent the last two seasons trying to recover from an Achilles injury, and his 13.09 win at the Asian Championships to close out 2010 gave glimpse that he may be back. At his peak, Liu was one of those athletes that did not look fast but always found a way to get to the line first. A tremendous competitor, his competitiveness will be challenged in 2011 as the emergences of Dayron Robles (CUB, 12.87) and David Oliver (USA, 12.89) now give him two foes that can run stride for stride with him on any given day. His path to Daegu will be closely watched – and should he, Robles and Oliver all make it to the final it could be a run for the ages.


Jessica Ennis – Great Britain – Heptathlon

Jackie Joyner Kersee (USA), Ghada Shousa (SYR), Carolina Kluft (SWE) – in my  opinion the studs of Heptathlon in the 80’s, 90’s and ‘00’s. Watching Ennis compete, my gut tells me that she is going to be the stud of the next decade. To win in Berlin, London, and/or Moscow she will have to be because there are some strong women out there, most notable Natalya Dobrynska (UKR), Jennifer Oerser (GER) and Hyaleas Fountain (USA). She defeated them for the title in 2009, but all are much improved since then – but so is Ennis. I believe that she should be 6925 this year and over 7000 in London. We will see how close I am.


Kenenisa Bekele – Ethiopia – 5000/10000

This is the man that took the 10000 title from Haile Gebrselassie in 2003 in perhaps the most stirring distance battle ever in a major – 26:49.57 to 26:50.77! Since his emergence he’s become the WR holder at both 5000 & 10000, and has won eight World and Olympic titles – including both the 5000 & 10000 titles in Berlin. Bekele sat out the 2010 campaign with injury so, as with several other stars in 2011, the question for this year is can he get back to his dominant winning ways? So far in his career Bekele has proven to be the second coming of Gebrselassie – which means the odds are strongly in his favor. But the distances are highly competitive and there is a strong rivalry between the Ethiopians and the Kenyans for global distance supremacy. Not to mention the crafty Bernard Legat (USA) who set a new AR last year and Chris Solinsky (USA) who set multiple PR’s and showed that he may be ready to compete at this level. Until he is taken down, however Bekele is the man to beat. It will be fun watching him run with the target on his back.


These are the Ten International stars that I will be watching most – but certainly not the only ones that I will be watching. This sport is as hot as ever and there is depth at every event. So watching them all maneuver their way to Daegu should be a lot of fun.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Andrew Howe to Get Back into the Sprint Game


I was quite excited to read that Italian long jumper Andrew Howe has plans to start sprinting again.

Howe has long exhibited a talent for the 200 meters. He ran 20.99 as a 16 year old a decade ago, and followed up with 20.28 as a 19 year old, He still sits at #12 all time as a Junior in spite of running the event only “part time”! The names of those who performed better as a junior include Francis Obikwelu (20.24), Joe Deloach (20.24), Dwayne Evans (20.22), Walter Dix (20.18), and Usain Bolt (19.93). All Olympic medalists in the event and all but Evans sub20 performers.

While Howe has performed well in the long jump (27’ 9.5”), I’ve long felt that the 200 may be his better event. And that at the very least he could perform the LJ/200 double a la Carl Lewis, Larry Myricks and Mike Conley. Given what appears to be the potential to run under 20 seconds in the deuce, he may be a bigger medal threat over 200 than in the long jump. Especially when you look at the fact that he has yet to approach 28 feet – something Lewis, Myricks and Conley were all able to do with some regularity.

And as a sprint fan I would love to see Europe get back into the sprint mix. The continent hasn’t had a legitimate medal threat in the 200 since 2004 when Kostas Kenteris (GRE) and Francis Obikwelu (POR) were at their peaks. It’s been nearly a decade since Europe has had a sub 20 sprinter – Kostas Kenteris running 19.85 back in 2002.  And prior to Kenteris winning gold in Sydney (‘00, 20.09) you have to go back to 1993 to find a European 200 medalist in a Major – Great Britain’s John Regis winning silver in Stuttgart at 19.94.

Europe is long overdue to be a factor in the sprints. French sprinter Christophe Lemaitre finally got below 10 seconds in 2010 and still has much room for growth. With a bit of work he could be a finalist in Daegu. I think Howe could be the man for Europe in the 200. He’s only 25 years old, and in spite of some injury difficulties in the past should just be entering what could be his prime years in the sport.

The sprint wars could use some variety aside from the dominance of the United States and Jamaica. It’s time for Europe, Africa and South America, among others, to step up to the plate. Perhaps Howe can join Lemaitre as a legitimate player from Europe.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Ten Things to Watch in 2011

BERLIN - AUGUST 20:  The logo for the Daegu 2011 World Championshisp on display during day six of the 12th IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on August 20, 2009 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Goodbye 2010. Welcome 2011. Last year was fun, but there is something special about having a Major championship to look forward to. It makes the season seem more “official”.

The athletes seem to feel that way anyway. Last year saw many athletes take time off, and end season’s early. We may see more athletes begin their seasons a bit later this year – as they extend their preparation for Daegu. But one thing is for certain – the competition should be fierce this year.

With that in mind, here are 10 things that I think will bear watching in 2011.


The Collegiate Indoor Championships

The indoor season has lost much luster over the years. The number of top level meets has decreased, and the best of the elite athletes tend to avoid the “boards” and focus their efforts on preparing for the outdoor season. The one area of the sport that still regards the indoor season as “serious” is the colleges. And their focus during the winter is on winning indoor championships – individual and team. Watch the squads from Florida, Oregon, and Texas AM – annually the nations best – as their battle for collegiate supremacy begins with the indoor championships in Columbus Ohio.


Justin Gatlin

Gatlin’s story is well known, so no need to repeat it here. Suffice it to say that his “comeback” last year, though brief, was successful. At least I would say that 10.09 in a handful of races after a four year “layoff” was success. This year he has changed coaches and is working with veteran coach Brooks Johnson – the architect behind David Oliver’s dominant 2010 season. Gatlin’s journey will bear watching in 2011 as he attempts to make the U.S. sprint squad for Daegu. Once a double World Champion, it will be interesting to see how close he can come to the last two double World Champs – Tyson Gay (‘07) and Usain Bolt (‘09).


The Diamond League

I would have thought that the off season would have been the perfect time to debut the Diamond League. After all there was no Major to conflict with athlete’s training/competition schedules. If there was difficulty getting the best to go head to head last year, it will be more difficult this year, as these meets may take a back seat to the athlete’s focus on Daegu. After all, the need to rest, rehab, or get in additional training time will supersede potential meet commitments. Not to mention that for over a decade now, many of the top stars have taken the approach of avoiding “contact” until The Big Meet. Let’s see how the Diamond League deals with the issue of presenting high level match ups in a championship season.



This could be the most important hire for the sport here in the US is several decades. The issue here is not about how many medals we win in London, Moscow or any other championship. Rather it’s about what role the US will play in the sport globally as we move forward. Will we host a Major? Will we develop the infrastructure necessary to bring the sport back to prominence here in the US? Will we increase the number of “elite” level meets held here in the US and will we get greater exposure of meets on TV? The answer to these and other questions will lie in the success or failure of this hire. USATF says that a new chief will be hired by the end of the first quarter – in time to monitor preparations for Daegu.


The Men’s 110 Hurdles

You want a story/rivalry/marketing opportunity, it’s all right here. The three fastest men in history – all from different parts of the world. David Oliver just dominated 2010 and set his AR. Dayron Robles dominated 2008, won Olympic gold and set his WR. Liu Xiang was the Athens (‘04), Helsinki (‘05) and Osaka (‘07) champion, and twice a former WR setter. All three should be healthy and in their prime in 2011 – and love to compete when healthy! The all time list in this event could take a beating in 2011, and the final in Daegu should be a barn burner. 12.85 could be in the offing this year.


The NCAA Outdoor Championships

What started the year off indoors will culminate with the outdoor version – annually the world’s best team oriented championship competition. Last year’s meet saw the men’s championship go down to the very last event – and Texas AM scoring a 1 point victory over Florida. They should both be in the mix again this year – along with the squad from Oregon – as the nation’s best collegians will gather in Des Moines for the seasons' final battle. It should also give us a glimpse into Daegu as many international stars hone their craft at US colleges. And I have a feeling we will see several members of the US team for Daegu warming up in Iowa.


Yelena Isinbayeva

It’s not often that an athlete at the top of their game just walks away from a sport, and then walks back in. Back in 1993 Michael Jordan announced his “retirement” saying that he had lost his desire to play. A year and a half later, in 1995, he returned to the game he had once dominated – and picked up where he left off. After failing to medal at the outdoor World Championships in Berlin and the indoor World championships in Daegu, Isinbayeva announced on April 10th that she was going to take an “indefinite” break from track and field saying "At this moment I cannot exactly say when I will return to competitions." Well that moment appears to be at the Russian Winter Meeting in Moscow on Feb 6. We will see if the Double Olympic Champion will take up her WR setting and title winning in 2011.


The U.S. National Championships

Always a major event, this time around should pose many questions? Will Tyson Gay come through healthy on his way to sprint showdowns in Daegu – after all his last full championship did not end well. Will Allyson Felix attempt to double in the 200/400 – if she does we could see a Felix v Sanya Richards showdown over 400. Which Walter Dix will show up – the sizzling sprinter that double medaled in eijing and defeated Tyson Gay in Eugene this past season, or the injured half interested sprinter who sometimes just seems happy to be there? Does Gatlin make the squad? How will our middle distance runners perform – will anyone emerge from this group ready to compete for medals in Daegu? And aside from our shot putters, long jumpers, pole vaulters, Chaunte Howard Lowe and Kara Patterson will we see any other field eventers step up to the plate and look podium ready? For the answer to these and other questions we look to Eugene once again – Jun 23 – 27.


The Jamaican National Championships

According to the media, there is a rivalry brewing between the US and Jamaica. It’s mostly a 100 meter rivalry (men & women) combined with Usain Bolt’s double medal winning performances in the last two Majors that has the media talking. But heading into Daegu it’s really a two man race in both short sprints with Usain Bolt & Tyson Gay going head to head for world sprint supremacy. The Jamaican Championships, coupled with the US National Championships, will tell us if anyone else on either side is ready to step up and be counted as podium material behind the mercurial duo. And whether or not there is health and depth behind Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell Brown. After this weekend, the wagering on the Daegu sprints will escalate dramatically.


The World Championships – Daegu South Korea

This is the big one! The meet we will all be awaiting with baited breath. Where all the questions will be answered. Will we see a sub 1:42 in major competition (David Rudisha)? Will the US get the baton around the track in the 4x1’s? How will their layoffs affect the performances of Justin Gatlin, Yelena Isinbayeva, Shelly Ann Fraser and Lashawn Merritt? Is Christphe Lemaitre ready for the big time? Who gets gold, Oliver, Xiang or Robles? Chris Solinsky, finalist, medalist? And who is the world’s fastest man, Gay or Bolt – or do we get a split? Daegu will hold all the answers!

2011 has the potential to be the most exciting season in history. It’s got every kind of story imaginable as we begin the journey. It should be a track fans nirvana!