Saturday, July 30, 2011

Merritt Is Back – 44.74 in Stockholm Debut


Yesterday was travel day, as I was returning from a nice week long vacation. Of course I was traveling during the Stockholm meet so had to wait until last night to finally see the results. And of all the results the one I was most interested in was the men’s 400 as it was LaShawn Merritt’s first 400 in nearly two years – and there is only one month until the World Championships.

With the way the event has gone this year, I was hoping for something in the 45.25 range. I figured since the world leader was 44.65, that that would get him within the leaders, and give him time to get sharp. So I was ecstatic when I saw that he had run 44.74 and nearly pulled off the win – out of lane two!

I spent the morning reviewing videos from the meet, and Merritt’s race was very nice for an opening run. After a very solid first 300 meters, Merritt and Jermaine Gonzalez (JAM) came off the turn fairly even and ran each other to the line, the Jamaican just edging ahead for the win in 44.69. But with twenty one months of  rust to knock off, I’d say a fairly impressive run for Merritt – for my money one that moves him to the head of the class for Daegu. After all, everyone else has had all year to get to where Merritt is and he did it in his debut. He looked good and almost sharp. And with a couple more runs should be extremely hard to beat. Also take note that hurdler Angelo Taylor (USA) was fourth in 44.82 and is quietly moving himself into a strong position for the 400H title!

With only a handful of competitions left, it’s really getting down to the wire and some athletes seem to be in a very solid position. One of those is Carmelita Jeter (USA), who in spite of the strong headwinds that hampered many of the days events, once again powered away to victory in the 100 meters (11.15, –2.4). Jeter is very much in a rhythm right now and looks like she is ready to improve upon the two bronze medals she’s picked up previously in World Championships competitions. In Stockholm she put away Marshevet Myers (USA) and Kerron Stewart (JAM) – two of her primary competitors for Daegu. Myers also looked very strong in second, and the U.S. should have a very solid 1,2 punch in this event at Worlds.

Another athlete that continues to set himself apart from the field is 1500 meter runner Silas Kiplagat (KEN), who fresh off his world leader in Monaco, followed the leaders through a rather slow pace before taking over in the final lap – seemingly running just hard enough to keep everyone off his heels. The results was another win, this time in 3:33.94 – showing his ability to win regardless of the pace. The best American Showing was Lopez Lamong in 7th at 3:35.87. And once again the American contingent (Russell Brown & Leo Manzano) was well off the pace and never really a factor in the race. Not giving  me much hope about our chances in Korea.

We did get an unexpected boost in the men’s 110 hurdles however with a stunning run by Jason Richardson. The race was supposed to be another showdown between David Oliver and Dayron Robles, but Robles pulled out of the race. That should have meant another easy victory for Oliver as his only competition over the past couple of seasons has been Robles and Liu Xiang of China. But Richardson got a superb start and ran a very clean race. Meanwhile a couple of lanes over, Oliver was fiercely hitting hurdles. The result was a clear win for Richardson in a near PR 13.17 – INTO a –2.3 wind! And suddenly the three man race that’s been anticipated for the past year could have an uninvited fourth. Because if Richardson can run like this in Daegu he could upset more than just Oliver.

Another “surprise” could be in store in the men’s long jump. With many jumpers showing a lot of inconsistency this year, Mitchell Watt (AUS) has been an exception. His season has been strong and consistent and yesterday he caught a legal wind and jumped out to a PR 8.54m (28’ 0.25”) win to set a NR and become the first jumper over 28 feet this year! Irving Saladino (PAN) currently #3 in the world distance wise was a well back third at 8.19m (26’ 10.5”). For my money, Watt is moving into a very strong position in this event.

I was also pleased to see Jesse Williams (USA) compete strongly in the high jump taking second at 2.32M (7’ 7.25”) behind Ivan Ukhov (UKR, 2.34m 7’ 8”), but finishing well up on the Russian contingent of Silnov, Shustov and Dmitrik. It bodes well for his chances in Korea.

Finally, I must mention Sally Kipyego’s Kenyan Record win in the 5000 meters. Kipyego has been running well all season and yesterday turned in a sizzling 14:20.87 to lead a Kenyan 1,2,3 just ahead of Shalane Flanagan in 4th. Kipyego’s moved her into the #3 position all time with the #4 performance. Only Ethiopians Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar have run faster. Flanagan’s 13:46.80 was just off her PR 14:44.80 and indicates great fitness for her just ahead of the World Championships.

Stockholm was a solid meet, even if many marks were hampered by the winds. The last Diamond League competition before Worlds will be the London meeting coming up this coming Friday and Saturday – the only Diamond League meet to contest all of the sports’ events. The final “big”  meet before the Big Dance. Should be a doozy!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Stockholm Preview


With each race we get a little closer to Daegu, and as the clock winds down there are only two more Diamond League meets until the big dance. The next one is in two days in Stockholm Sweden and there are potential stories in abundance.

The return of Usain Bolt to a venue that has seen him lose two 100 meter races in the last three years – this time in the deuce. The return to action of defending World 400 champion LaShawn Merritt after a near two year layoff via suspension. Another Oliver / Robles head to head. And American milers get to test themselves ahead of Daegu.

Events on my radar.


Men’s 400

This could be the most important 400 meter race of the year outside of the World Championships since it will be the first race in nearly two years for LaShawn Merritt (USA). This race will tell us exactly where he is, or isn’t, with a month to go before Worlds. He should get a stern test with list leader Rondell Bartholomew (GRN), and top contenders Chris Brown (BAH), Jonathon Borlee (BEL), and Jeremy Wariner (USA) all scheduled to be in the race. For my money if he can open up with anything under 45.50 and/or finish in the top three in this race he will enter the medal fight. If he shows up and runs under 45.00, everyone else better look out!


Men’s High Jump

This is one of those field events where we have a serious shot at a medal – even potentially gold. U.S. Champion and current world leader Jesse Williams (2.37, 7’ 9.25”) gets a real strong test against a deep Russian crew of Aleksey Dmitrik (2.36, 7’ 8.75”), Aleksandr Shustov (2.36, 7’ 8.75”) and Ivan Ukhov (2.34, 7’ 8”). A good outcome against this trio would bode well for Williams’ chances in Daegu. Which would be nice since we haven’t seen a medal in this event since the ‘04 Games in Athens.


Women’s 800

Right now, I’m not sure we can win a medal in either the men’s or women’s 800 meters. With time growing short, U.S. champion Alysia Montano, and teammate Alice Schmidt will get a very stern test against former world leader Sviatlana Usovich, (BLR), Caster Semenya, (RSA)  and Halima Hachlif (MOR). All have run in the mid 1:58 range so are well paired based on the clock. It will be tactics and heart that will begin to separate individuals in this race. U.S. 1500 champion Morgan Uceny is also scheduled to run – fresh off of PR runs of 1:58.37 & 4:01.51 within the past week, as she prepares for the 1500 in Daegu. She could be the hottest runner in the race. Montano will take the pace out, can she hold off the rush of the field? That will be her big test before going to Korea.


Men’s 1500

Speaking of tests, we get another look at two of our milers as Lopez Lamong, and Andrew Wheating get to test themselves against the two men I feel are shaping up to be prime competitors for gold in Daegu – Silas Kiplagat (KEN) and Asbel Kiprop (KEN). Kiplagat is coming off a season’s best 3:30.47 in Monaco and is hot having won in Nairobi just prior in 3:31.39 – I expect him and Kiprop to drive a hard pace. So we should get a very good look at the conditioning and racing tactics of Lamong and Wheating. Both are capable of being competitive in this kind of race, the question is will they get in there and do so. With only weeks left until Daegu, this could be a “dress rehearsal” for them.


Women’s 100

Talk of the men’s 100 meters had dominated much of the talk this summer. But, quiet as it’s kept, the women’s race should be every bit as exciting. Four of the top five women heading into Daegu will go at it in Stockholm with Carmelita Jeter (USA) leading the way. Jeter has run 10.70 this year – and is #2 all-time with a PR of 10.63. She and teammates Marshavet Myers (10.86) and Miki Barber (11.09) will go toe to toe with Jamaican #2 Kerron Stewart (10.87) and Trini Kelly Ann Baptiste (10.91). With only Jamaican’s Veronica Campbell Brown (10.76) and Shelly Ann Fraser (10.95) missing this will be somewhat of a mini final just ahead of Worlds. Jeter has been running the 200 lately and showing improved strength. We’ll get a glimpse of whether or not that has also improved her race in the 100.


Men’s 110 Hurdles

It’s been conceded for most of the year that the run for gold in Daegu will be a three man race between Liu Xiang (CHN), David Oliver (USA) and Dayron Robles (CUB). In Stockholm we’ll get another head to head between Oliver and Robles. It will be the second such meeting between the two, the previous meeting in France resulting in a near dead heat as both men clocked 13.09 – Robles winning by thousandths of a second. It was the technical grace of Robles vs the power of Oliver with Robles’ lean coming out on top. Expect something similar in Stockholm. They will be challenged by Aries Merritt (USA) and Dwight Thomas (JAM) currently #’s 4 & 5 on the world list. But this race belongs to Oliver and Robles, as Oliver will be looking to even his season record against the Cuban. Oliver is already 1-1 with Liu and should be well tested heading into Daegu.


Men’s 200

The most anticipated race of the meet could well be the men’s 200 – as any race involving Usain Bolt seems to draw attention these days. Lately it’s not for the fast times he’s put down in the past, but rather to try and gauge just where he is in terms of fitness and race sharpness. When we last saw him in Monaco, he won a hard fought 100 against countryman Nesta Carter in 9.88 – not exactly what the world has become accustomed to seeing from Bolt. Leading to much conversation as to whether or not he will be vulnerable in Daegu. I don’t expect there to be any such competition for him in this race as his SB is 19.86 and the closest men to him have yet to run under 20.26 – Marvin Anderson (JAM, 20.27), Alonso Edward (PAN, 20.28) and Saidy Ndure (NOR, 20.25), so for Bolt the question will be how fast does he run the race and how does he look doing it? My guess is that to be where he wants to be in the 100 – running sub 9.80 – that we will need to run something in the 19.55 to 19.65 range to show that ability based on his previous seasons.

With the World Championships so close, I’m sure there will be much chatter following this meet, with the condition of both LaShawn Merritt and Usain Bolt dominating the conversation.

Monday, July 25, 2011

LaShawn Merritt – Is There Time?


With a month to go to the World Championships, every performance is put under the microscope to try and decipher what it could mean for prospects in Daegu. The buzz last week was the still shaky form of defending double sprint champion Usain Bolt. Soon the form of another defending champion will get sliced, diced, and questioned multiple times – that of defending 400 champion LaShawn Merritt.

The status of Merritt has been well documented. Suspended for using an over the counter male enhancement product (not of the track and field kind) Merritt’s suspension will be up in two days – July 27th. At that time he will be eligible to begin competing again. As the defending World Champion he has an automatic bye to Daegu. A bye he will be able to use thanks to USATF granting him an exception from competing at the National championships – a must for all U.S. team members barring exemption by USATF.

So, as of Wednesday, Merritt will have thirty days to get sharp and attempt to defend the title he won in Berlin. Perhaps not as daunting a task as one would have envisioned a year ago, as the event is in the midst of a serious down cycle heading into the World Championships.

The current world leaders in the event are:

44.65 Rondell Bartholomew GRN
44.68 Tony McQuay USA
44.74 Kevin Borlee BEL
44.78 Demetrius Pinder BAH
44.83 Tabarie Henry ISV

Not exactly the kind of performances that should put fear into a man with a PR of 43.75. When last we saw Merritt on the international stage he was winning the World title in Berlin at 44.06 – well ahead of runner up Jeremy Wariner’s 44.60. He was undefeated in 11 finals with 6 of them faster than this year’s current world leader. So, based on the performance level of this year’s crop of quarter milers it’s conceivable that he could repeat as champion. That is if time has not taken the edge off of his race.

Time being the operative word this year for Merritt. Did his nearly two years off take the edge off of his race? Will a month be enough time for him to get that edge back? Just what kind of times can we expect from him when he gets on the track? But the biggest question of all is: where will he compete to even get a time in to see where he is competitively?

Beginning with his “return” date of July 27, here is the schedule of meets leading up to the World Championships

27 Joensuu, Finland
29 DN Galan, Stockholm, Sweeden
30-31 Nambu Memorial, Sapporo, Japan
31 Gyulai Memorial, Budapest, Hungary
2 Karlstad, Sweden
5 Sidlo Memorial, Sopot, Poland
5-6 Aviva GP, London, England
9 Tallinn, Estonia
10 Cuxhaven, Germany
11 Copenhagen, Denmark
13 Bochum-Wattenscheid, Germany
13 Lappeenranta, Finland
13-14 U.S. v Germany Multis, Chula Vista, California
17-22 WUG. Shenzhen, China
**27** World Championships, Daegu, South Korea

Those are the opportunities that are out there. I will be keeping an eye on all of these meets for any results coming from Merritt. Right now the 400 is wide open, and we could use Merritt’s experience there and in the 4x4 relay. According to the entry lists for Stockholm, Merritt should get his first test in Sweden.  I’m sure the chatter will start once the results from this race are posted!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Men’s 100, A Preview, Preview


The men’s 100 is always one of the most exciting events at any Major championship. But usually that excitement occurs during the rounds, especially in the final.

This season, however, has already seen a lot of excitement. The first salvo came way back on April 16th when Steve Mullings ran 9.90 to get the season humming. That got fans anxious to see what Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay would do when they opened up! We finally got responses from the last two World Champions when Bolt went 9.91 twice (5/26 & 5/30) and then Gay motored 9.79 on 6/4 – the same day that Mullings went 9.80 in a different venue. And all seemed right with the sprint world.

Then the sprint market started to fall. On June 23rd we watched Tyson Gay appear to struggle in the first round of the 100 at the U.S. Trials. The next day Tyson did not run in the semis and told us that an injury was forcing him out. Shortly thereafter he had surgery to end his season.

Then, nearly a month to the day after Tyson’s struggling opening round in Eugene, we got Usain Bolt’s third 100 of the season – a struggling, near loss to countryman Nesta Carter in 9.88. Suddenly, not only is Gay out completely, but Bolt doesn’t appear to be the same sprinter that won in WR times in Beijing and Berlin.

Now, almost a month to the day before the start of the World Championships, the race that was supposed to be the “Showdown” between Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, has taken a completely different spin.

For many the conversation has now moved to “can Asafa Powell” finally get a gold medal. As the man with over 70 sub10 races to his credit, has zero Olympic medals and only 2 bronze medals in World Championships competition. Some see this as an open door to redemption for Powell.

Others see it as an opportunity for another Jamaican to step up and claim the crown to “keep it in the family” so to speak. After all, Steve Mullings started out at 9.90 and is down to 9.80 as we speak. And Yohan Blake, a young man many felt destined during his junior days, ran 9.88 last year, started the season with a windy 9.80, and at 9.95 is positioned well to make the final. Both have had their own injury bugaboos however, and they are not as sharp as they were earlier in the season.

U.S. fans also see a crack in the door. Our last gold was Gay’s win in Osaka (‘07), and with the Beijing and Berlin winner looking “vulnerable” there is talk that U.S. champion Walter Dix could run to victory. And some viewing a potential win by former champion Justin Gatlin, as vindication for the “time out” he was given by the sport. Yet, they too have had injury issues over the course of the season and their post Trials performances have been good but not great. Meanwhile Trials third placer, Mike Rodgers, placed third in the Monaco race against Bolt, leaving some to feel that if he can’t beat Bolt at this stage that gold will elude him.

And though Jamaica and the U.S. seem to have a stranglehold on this event, one must consider at least two “outsiders” that do have the potential to upset the apple cart. One is Christophe Lemaitre (FRA) who last year became the first white sprinter to run under 10 seconds. He’s repeated that feat three times this year (with another right at 10.00). But as he showed in his 5th place run in the Monaco race, he’s still a bit “rough around the edges” to prevail against sprinters of this caliber.

The other outsider that should at least be mentioned in the conversation is African Ngoni Makusha (ZIM) who ran a blazing 9.89 to set a collegiate record and win the NCAA championships. And while Makusha’s technique is much cleaner than Lemaitre’s, he’s the least experienced sprinter in the field. This is his first season giving it any real attention. And he has only two races under his belt – a 9.97 ACC Championship win and the NCAA Championships win. At least championship races don’t seem to bother him! But this IS a step above where’s he’s run before. To his credit, however, his forte before this year was the long jump – and he placed 4th in that event in Beijing. So perhaps the bright lights won’t get to him.

So where does that leave the event? Well it appears to be the most open it has been in a championship setting since the 2003 World Championships in Paris. Then defending champion Maurice Greene was also injured and struggling with his form – eventually being eliminated in his semi final. The WR holder at the time, Tim Montgomery newly minted at the end of ‘02, found himself beaten into 4th place, as long time vet Kim Collins (SKN) stole gold with youngster Darrel Brown (TRI) taking silver after setting a WJR in the quarterfinals (10.01). That’s the kind of thing that happens in races with lots of uncertainty.

I’m not quite ready to predict this outcome for 2011 – not just yet. There is still nearly a month to the day before we start the rounds. That’s still time to get sharp or sharper – though not enough time to “get in shape”. There are still two Diamond League events left, and I would like to see at least one more race from each of the principles before I step out on that prediction limb. With 30 days to go, however, it looks like a potential toss up race. I will say that the main characters in this “play” are Bolt, Powell, Mullings, Dix and Gatlin. All have been in a Major final before – Mullings on the Jamaican 4x1. And all have won medals – Bolt & Gatlin gold, Dix and Powell bronze, Mulllings relay gold. This will not be a “Circuit” race. This is a championship setting and managing the rounds and one’s nerves will make a difference.

The key to it all is still Bolt – and where he is competitively in one months time. We know at this point that he will not be the 9.58/9.69 monster that we saw in Beijing and Berlin. Not struggling to 9.88 with only weeks left to get sharp. The question then becomes how much faster can he get in a few weeks time? For my money after watching him in Monaco there is still much room for technical improvement. His start isn’t sharp. His transition from drive phase to full sprinting movement has been off and he lacks fluidity. With that said I think (IMHO) that he can take another .10 to .15 off his time by Daegu – putting him somewhere in the 9.73 to 9.78 range. Good enough on the low end for another Bolt romp in a major; close enough on the high end to open the door for someone else. Definitely so if he isn’t able to drop below 9.80, because historically we’ve seen several individuals drop into the 9.8x range even when their PR’s were in the 9.9x range – and this race will be full of men that have run 9.8x. Leaving the question: who is capable of pulling off an upset should Bolt falter? My best guess lies among the foursome of Powell, Mullings, Dix and Gatlin.

So there is my first cut. I still need to see another race or two before I’m ready to step out on that prediction limb. I’ll give my final thoughts after London closes on August 6th.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Monaco – The Long and the Short of It


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!


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Monaco – Next Stop on the Road to Daegu


There aren’t many opportunities left to check yourself if you are headed to Daegu. Three big ones as a matter of fact – Monaco, Stockholm and London! The first of these, Monaco, is tomorrow.

I’ve learned to not take pre meet entry sheets as the end all be all, but there are some things/individuals that I will be watching for.


Women’s Long Jump

Both Darya Klishina (RUS) and Brittney Reeese (USA) are scheduled to compete. They have both PR’d recently and are the only two women over 23 feet. Throw in Janay Deloach (USA) and you have the three longest jumpers in the world this year. Definitely a preview of potential Daegu medalists.


Men’s Pole Vault

Season leaders Brad Walker (USA) and Renaud Lavillenie (FRA) are both in the field. So is defending World champ Steven Hooker (AUS) who is looking for his first outdoor mark this year. Hooker is cutting it close with World’s just around the corner. He’s going to need every meet he can get to get sharp. Lavillenie, on the other hand, has cleared 19’ 1” in May, June and July – so seems very sharp this year. Gold should come from within this trio.


Men’s 800

World Record holder David Rudisha will be running – which over the last couple of seasons means everyone else is running for second place. Such should be the case once again in Monaco. The man I’ll be watching in this race is Nick Symmonds. Can he stay anywhere near the pace, and can he get anywhere near a 1:43? He has to be able to do both if he wants any sort of shot at approaching the medal stand in Korea.


Women’s 200

Four of the five women I expect to have an impact in Daegu are entered – Allyson Felix (USA), Shalonda Solomon (USA), Carmelita Jeter (USA) and Kerron Stewart (JAM). Only Jamaican Veronica Campbell Brown is missing. This is Felix’ pet race, but she has run the 400 far more often this year. Her turn will be a concern here. Solomon and Stewart need to look sharp. And Jeter needs to show increased strength. The medals won’t be decided here, but everyone should get a good idea of just where they are with weeks to go.


Men’s Triple Jump

As Dorothy said to Toto “we’re not in Kansas anymore”, and that’s what Will Claye (USA) and Christian Taylor (USA) will be saying to each other in Monaco as they begin to face life and competition abroad. These two dominated the collegiate scene this year, but now will face others capable of going 57/58 feet on any given day. Chief among them could be recent Ukrainian find Sheryf El Sheryf, who just went 58’ 1.5” to win the European Junior meet in Ostrava. this trio is the future of the event and will get a good welcome to the big time against defending World Champion Phillips Idowu (GBR) and super vet Christian Olsson (SWE).


Men’s 100

It’s nearly August and defending World champ and WR holder Usain Bolt has a season’s best of “only” 9.91. Couple that with his press interview where he said not to expect a WR run from him this year, and one wonders where he is with just a few weeks until blast off. 2011 sub 10 performers Nesta Carter (JAM), Mike Rodgers (USA), Christophe Lemaitre (FRA), and Saidy Ndure (NOR) are about to find out. I’ll be looking at the entire Bolt race tomorrow – to see just how sharp he is. Carter and Rodgers will need to work on their finishes if they want to be close to Bolt. Lemaitre and Ndure will need to work on their starts. The 100 is such a technical and short race that pre Major’s races don’t usually tell much about where the medals are going. They do, however, give a peek into how sharp competitors are. Anyone hoping to have a shot at unseating Bolt better have their race dialed in by now!


We’re coming off the final bend and heading down the homestretch on our way to the real starting line in Daegu.The final minutes of baking before we take the cake out of the oven and let it cool before putting on the icing. And Monaco should at least tell us who is almost ready for cooling and icing!


Click here for complete start lists.

U.S Track’s Revitalization Could Start in Cali


As we approach another World Championships I am once again struck by the fact that it will not be in the United States. Nor are we among the nations that are preparing bids to host any of the upcoming editions of the world’s biggest track and field event. Once again demonstrating that we have a big black hole in this country when it comes to hosting competitions outside of your standard “relay” meet.

Don’t get me wrong, we do have Track Town USA. The Oregon burb of Eugene that is host to one of the world’s top meets in the Prefontaine Classic – one of the best meets in the Diamond League since it joined the fray. As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for Eugene we might not have any presence when it comes to major meets, because quite frankly the New York meet has been up and down.

Eugene has certainly earned it’s moniker of Track Town being a regular host of the Olympic Trials, National Championships and NCAA meets in addition to “Pre”. Thank goodness that Nike has proven to be a good corporate citizen and taken Eugene under it’s financial wing.

That said, if we are going to get back to a position of prominence on a global level, we need to preserve and promote Eugene, but at the same time develop a collection of international meets and a center for potential “global” meets such as the Olympics and World  Championships.

While Eugene is Track Town USA, I think that the potential “center” of the sport in the US lies in California. After all, historically California has been a leader in track and field in this country. From production of athletes to hosting of events, California has a rich history in the sport:

  • Los Angeles has hosted two Olympic Games.
  • Los Angeles, Norwalk, San Jose, Palo Alto, and Sacramento have all played host to the National Championships.
  • Los Angeles and Sacramento have played host to the Olympic Trials.
  • Highly successful international level meets have been held in Los Angeles, San Diego, Palo Alto, San Jose, Fresno, Berkeley, Sacramento and Modesto. Everything from the Fresno and Modesto Relays, to the Jack in the Box, Bruce Jenner, Kinney and Pepsi Invitationals, and East Germany v USA and USSR v USA dual meet competitions.

California has:

  • Great weather
  • Great facilitates via a plethora of major colleges (starting with UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal of the Pac10).
  • Facilities in cities with access to major transportation and housing.
  • Facilities in cities in and near entertainment centers and travel centric type activities.
  • A great fan base.

As Eugene is Track Town USA, California has proven that it can be Track Central USA – something desperately needed here in the U.S. USATF needs to get back to the business of building the infrastructure of the sport in this country. We need to stop losing meets – like we did with this year’s West Coast Relays – and reinvest in developing meets, training centers, and ultimately a host location for the World Championships.

California is the place to begin as it already has the necessary base from which to build.

Our global footprint on the sport is rapidly diminishing. We have the world’s deepest and strongest team, yet our best athletes go elsewhere to ply their trade because they can’t do so at home. In terms of global economics it’s the equivalent of having to outsource our jobs to other countries because we lack the facilities here at home – and complain because all our jobs are going overseas!

Japan has been wracked with devastation via earthquake, tsunami, and the subsequent threat from a broken Nuclear plant – but is putting together a bid for the 2020 Olympics. Yet in a country rich in facilities we can’t find the where with all to renovate one to meet the standards needed to host a World Championships!

I’m going to get back to preparing to watch the World Championships. I implore USATF to make preparing to host one a major priority. Because in the process of preparing to host one, it will have to work on rebuilding the infrastructure of the sport in this country. I suggest you look to California as it will take less work to achieve that goal.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Will it Take to Win Gold in Daegu?


With just about a month until the big dance, it’s time to start putting together predictions. Phase One is identifying what I think it will take to win gold. As we get closer to the meet – about two weeks out – I will add my thoughts on medalists.

Most teams have been selected, so we have a pretty good idea who will be in attendance. The hard part, however, is that this has not been quite the stellar season that one may have expected. There have been lots of injuries and under performing athletes making it more challenging to predict performances – but I’m going to try.

The biggest item has been the loss of Tyson Gay, but right there with it has been the less than stellar (by his standards) season of Usain Bolt – with almost every sprinter of note sporting some sort of injury/ailment at some point this season. Also under performing have been a bevy of quarter milers lead by Sanya Richards and Jeremy Wariner – and we have yet to see Lashawn Merritt on the track at all. And we’ve seen injury beset half miler Abubaker Kaki, and triple jumper Teddy Tamgho.

Of course not all has been gloomy. The female sprinters have been putting on a show early on with Carmelita Jeter, Veronica Campbell Brown, Marshavet Myers and Kerron Stewart looking quite good – and Allyson Felix setting herself up for a potential 200/400 double. Most of the world’s hurdlers have also looked good, lead by the trio of David Oliver, Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles – who have indulged us with a trio of head to heads already this season. While the women’s long hurdlers are quietly setting up for a potential barnburner in a few weeks. The field events are solid and deep as are the distance events. And the good news is that in most events the principles are on their way to Daegu with their health intact.

So with all that in mind, here is what I think it will take to win gold in South Korea.

Updated Daegu Predictions

Event Men Women
100 9.73 10.68
200 19.52 21.70
400 44.25 49.30
800 1:42.25 1:56.50
1500 3:32.50 3:59.50
Steeple 7:59.00 9:05.00
5000 12:58.00 14:55.00
10000 27:10.00 30:20.00
110H 12.86 12.45
400H 47.60 52.90
4x1 37.25 41.30
4x4 2:56.50 3:18.00
LJ 28’ 0” 23’ 3”
TJ 58’ 6” 48’ 5”
HJ 7’ 8.5” 6’ 7”
PV 19’ 6” 15’ 10”
Shot 72’ 6” 68’ 0”
Discus 228’ 0” 217’ 0”
Hammer 268’ 0” 255’ 0”
Javelin 295’ 0” 225’ 0”
Dec/Hep 8800 pts 6900 pts

Monday, July 18, 2011

Why Soccer, But Not Track?


That’s the question I was asking myself this weekend as the final game of the FIFA Women’s World Cup came to an end. With Team USA a contender from the opening of the tournament, America was watching. ESPN showed our matches, and Americans across the country watched. And as Team USA advanced to the semifinals and then to the final game, living rooms and sports bars were packed to watch Team USA go for the FIFA Championship!

If only I could say that the same would be true come August 27th through September 4th. But alas you and I both know that it won’t be. The real question is: why not?

Most will lament that track just isn’t popular in the United States. That we have too many other “professional” sports to occupy our attention and our time. And I will reply that it didn’t seem to stop the fervor that was held for Team USA and the World Cup!

I will also argue that track and field is as popular as any other sport, and arguably more popular than soccer. After all, according to the most recent survey done by the National Federation for State High School Associations (NFHS), track and field ranks NUMBER TWO in participation among high school male athletes! That’s right #2. Only football ranks higher than track and field in terms of number of boys participating. In our wake in the top ten in order are: basketball, baseball, soccer, wrestling, cross country (!), tennis, gold, and swimming/diving. The numbers are even BETTER for girls with track and field ranking NUMBER ONE ahead of: basketball, volleyball, softball, soccer, cross country (!), tennis, swimming/diving, competitive spirit squads and golf!

Translating that to the college level, among Divisions I, II & III, 898 schools have cross country programs and 678 have track & field programs. Soccer comes in at 763 schools with programs. Comparing with the “major sports”, 625 schools have football programs, 897 have baseball programs, and 1,022 have basketball programs – and while the actual numbers were not available, one would have to assume that based on the size of the average squad of each, that track and field should outnumber them all in terms of individuals participating. (Data from the NCAA’s 2006-2007 Sports
Sponsorship and Participation Report)

The point here is that our numbers are right there with everyone else’s in terms of participation – actually better than most. We have the athletes, and by default name recognition because we’re churning out individuals that are aware of our sport and should have some semblance of allegiance/affinity for it – i.e. a fan base. One would think a potentially good sized fan base when you add into the mix the parents, siblings, and friends that tend to make up any given track “community”.

Let’s also add, that we have as many “championships” as anyone. NCAA I, II & III, NAIA, NJCAA, Junior Olympic, Youth, Club, and Masters. Which means we should be leaving a nice “footprint” of who we are and what we do somewhere along the way. And it should help that we are the core sport of the Olympic Games – only the biggest sporting extravaganza in sports history!

So, why so much attention for the FIFA World Cup, while the vast majority of those same people aren’t even aware that there is a World Championships of Track and Field? For my money the answer is MARKETING. We, as in USATF, do a lousy job of telling our story.

America knew that there was a World Cup and that Team USA was going to be a major contender. Why? Because it was everywhere. It was in newspapers. It was talked about on talk radio. It was on the local news and in ads on TV. America was reminded that we had won this thing before and were back in position to do so again, and national pride was being stoked!

Does America have a clue that we are the top nation at the World Championships on a regular basis? Are they aware that between Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt we haven’t lost a men’s 400 since 2003? That the last time Team USA and Jamaica actually went head to head on the track in the 4x1 that Team USA actually won (‘07) against a team that finished off with Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. Does America have a clue that Allyson Felix is gunning for her fourth 200 title in a row or that Brittney Reese is the defending long jump champion? Or how about the fact that the defending “Worlds Greatest Athlete” is non other than American Trey Hardee? The answer, sadly, to all of these questions is: NO! Because we haven’t told anyone!

Where is the stream of press releases being sent out to all the major papers across the country? Why aren’t we sending ads and promo DVD’s to ESPN and trying to get them to interview USATF “staff” and athletes of note? Why aren’t promotional DVD’s begin sent out in mass to news affiliates across America? We have Tre and Ashton, why aren’t they being used like Dan and Dave? Yes, I know that Dan and Dave was an Olympic promotion – and that is precisely my point. Just because the rest of the world waits for the Olympics to come around doesn’t mean WE have to wait until the Olympics to tell OUR story!

We have the world’s best track and field squad – every year! We have more global stars than soccer, or any other international sport outside basketball. A match up between Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt is perhaps the most anticipated global event since Carl V Ben. USA v Jamaica may be the biggest national rivalry in the world in any sport. We have what it takes to cause Americans to turn on their TV’s and root for good ‘ole Team USA. So why don’t they? Because America doesn’t know – and it’s time we started telling them.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Greatest Performers In Worlds History - Great 8


It doesn’t seem like it’s been nearly 28 years since the first World Championships. Yet twelve versions of the Championships are in the books, and Daegu will make it a bakers dozen. Not quite the 115 years the modern Olympics have been around, but rapidly closing in on the number of events that have been held – London will be the 30th (XXX) Olympiad.

It would seem, however,  that there have been enough renditions of the World Championships to start looking at who the top performers have been. So I have come up with my Great Eight. Four men and four women that I feel have been the ultimate performers at the Games. My eight is not based on a single performance, or a single Championships, but rather the standard of excellence that they set throughout their careers and over several Worlds.

Not that there haven’t been outstanding performances that should be highlighted. There have been and I will be saluting them in a subsequent post. But there have been some athletes that over and over again have been able to rise to the occasion under the spotlight of the World Championships – and it these individuals that I am going to highlight today.

In no particular order, here is my Great Eight. Note that all are included based on their individual performances, not relays. As I feel that relays provide a slightly unfair advantage to the sprinters. These athletes all stand tall on what they accomplished on their own. 


Carl Lewis (USA)

Love him or hate him, Carl left his mark on this sport. Carl was in the very first world championships in 1983 and competed in his final meet ten years later in 1993. During that time he won a 100/long jump double in ‘83; another 100/long jump double in ‘87; gold in the 100 and silver in the long jump in ‘91, and took 4th in the 100 and bronze in the 200 in ‘93. His greatest meet was in ‘91 when he set a WR 9.86 to win the 100 and jumped 29’ 2.75”w to take second in the long jump. Carl’s long jump performance included a legal 29’ 1” giving him the greatest series in history. The greatest sprinter/jumper in history, he solidified that title in the World Championships.


Michael Johnson (USA)

Johnson is the reason that athletes have a bye into the World Championships today as injury kept him out of the U.S. Trials for Athens. After the IAAF created the bye, he promptly went to Worlds and won the 400 to continue a streak of wins begun in 1991 when he took gold in the 200. Gold in the 400 followed in ‘93 and then gold in both the 200 & 400 in ‘95. We’ve already discussed ‘97, then he finished off his career at the World Championships with another gold over 400. That final 400 win came courtesy of a WR 43.18 that still stands, and three of his 400 wins were under 44 seconds (43.65, 43.39 and 43.18)! Johnson set a standard in the 400 that is still unmatched.


Hicham El Guerrouj (MOR)

“El G” stamped himself as perhaps the greatest miler in history via his domination of the all time lists and his domination of the World Championships. His first appearance in 1995 “only” resulted in silver, as he lost a  battle with then defending World Champion (and WR holder) Nouredinne Morceli. He returned the favor in ‘97, however, taking gold over Morceli who finished fourth. He then went on tear, winning gold again in ‘99, ‘01 AND ‘03. To put icing on the cake, his ‘03 win was part of a 1500/5000 double as he also took gold in the latter event! El G’s World performances were always enough to win – his ‘97 gold coming in a pedestrian for him 3:35.83. It just so happened that in ‘99 with Noah Ngeny running a sizzling 3:28.73, El G needed a 3:27.65 to take gold – a Championships Record that still stands.


Sergei Bubka (UKR)

When you say pole vault, the next words are “Sergei Bubka” because the man left an indelible mark on the event, as the top 13 marks all time bear his name! The same can be said for the World Championships. Bubka made his debut on the world stage at the first rendition of this meet in 1983. He proceeded to win the event at SIX straight Worlds – ‘83, ‘87, ‘91, ‘93, ‘95 and ‘97 – unprecedented in any event! That doesn’t begin to tell the story, however, as in all but one meet (‘95) he set a Championship Record with a winning series of 18’ 8.25” (‘83), 19’ 2.25” (‘87), 19’ 5” (91), 19’ 8” (‘93), 19’ 5” (‘95) and 19’ 8.5” (97). Bubka didn’t just win, he was excellence personified as he did so. Arguably the greatest performer in Worlds history.


Jackie Joyner Kersee (USA)

It’s only fitting that the female version of the World’s Greatest Athlete, Heptathlete Jackie Joyner Kersee be on this list. Because not only was she able to win gold as the world’s best heptathlete, but she also went head to head with the world’s best in the long jump and was able to win gold there as well! Her first appearance at Worlds in ‘87 saw her win gold in both the long jump and heptathlon. She followed that up with a solo long jump win in ‘91 and then solo Heptathlon gold in ‘93 before finishing out her career with a 6th place finish in the heptathlon in ‘95. Not quite the longevity that you see with my men’s entrants on this list, but when you look at the women’s side of the ledger, dominating past more than two meets has been the rarity. And for “JJK” to last through four renditions of worlds as a multi event athlete is more than we’ve seen male or female!


Ana Quirot (CUB)

Ana was an athlete in the mold of countryman Alberto Juantorena as she was world class in both the 400 and 800. Though world ranked in both at various times in her career, it was the 800 that she ran at Majors – and ran exceedingly well. She was only 4th in her first appearance in 1987, but returned in ‘91 to move up to silver. Then tragedy struck as she was severely burned in a fire, and many thought her career was over. Sadly she missed the ‘93 version of the meet. But then there she was in ‘95 taking gold in a sizzling 1:56.11 – though she still bore the scars of her injuries! One more appearance in ‘97 saw gold again in 1:57.14. I’m typically not one to include “feel good” stories for the sake of including a feel good story, but competing over a 10 year span of Worlds and winning two gold and a silver would be nearly reason enough for inclusion, to do so after such a tragic accident – and to return to such an outstanding level of performance just has to rate as one of the greatest performers in history in my book.


Gail Devers (USA)

Gail was the rare athlete that was able to win gold over the hurdles and on the flat. In her case it was over 100 meters as she began her World’s career with a silver over the hurdles in ‘91. She kicked it up a notch in ‘93 however as she won gold in both the hurdles and flat 100 – the 100 over one of the toughest fields in history as she defeated all time greats Merlene Ottey (JAM), Gwen Torrence (USA) and Irina Privalova (RUS). Going back to focus on the hurdles in ‘95 she won yet another gold to finish off her career, for a nice four meet haul. Outstanding when you consider she competed in two events where the slightest mistake is the difference between gold and perhaps not even being on the podium.


Merlene Ottey (JAM)

Ottey was known as the Bronze Queen throughout her career, because of her haul of bronze medals in Olympic and World competition. She mamy not have won ever race, but she still makes my list however, because no one faced as many great athletes and great fields as she did and still find their way to the podium – over and over and over again. Ottey started her run with the very first Worlds in 1983 and nearly a decade and a half later was still medaling in 1997. Along the way she finished: 100 4th, 200 bronze (‘83), double bronze in 100/200 (‘87), double bronze in 100/200 (‘91), 100 silver, 200 gold (‘93), 100 silver, 200 gold (‘95) and 200 bronze (‘97). That’s an incredible run just to be competing that long – more incredible that she found her way to the podium every single time.


There you have it, my Great Eight. A group of athletes that were not just great once or twice, but demonstrated excellence in the sport’s biggest meet time and time again. In another ten years some of this year’s competitors may be vying for a spot on this list.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Where’s The Dominant Miler?


For most of the World Championships’ quarter century run, the “metric mile” (1500 meters) has seen some truly elite “super” milers rule.

The first edition in 1983 was won by Steve Cram (GBR) over an all star field that included Steve Scott (USA), Said Aouita (MOR), and Steve Ovett (GBR) – almost as a prelude to his WR in ‘85.

1991 saw Noureddine Morceli (ALG) win as a preface to his own WR in ‘92, before going on to win again in ‘95 – as well as set another WR in ‘95. In ‘97 the mantle was passed to Hicham El Guerrouj (MOR) who repeated in ‘99, ‘01, and ‘03 – and set the still standing WR in ‘98 while running 13 of the top 20 times all time along the way!

Since then we’ve seen a revolving door in the event with Rashid Ramzi (BRN), Bernard Lagat (USA), and Yusuf Kamel (BRN) all taking the title. Kamel was not a major factor last year, and is even less so so far in 2011. So it’s a pretty solid bet that Daegu will once again see another “miler” take the victory stand this year.

Have we seen the last of the dominant miler? I realize that the WR in both 1500/mile are WAY out there, so I’m not necessarily saying that someone should rise up and start rewriting the all time lists. It has been a while, however, since we’ve seen that miler that dominates the competition. A Ryun, Coe, Morceli, El G, that is able to just win win win – and of course doing it in fast times.

Given today’s group of milers, fast times means something under 3:31 – and someone able to go 3:29/3:30 at will would clean up on the Circuit and at Majors. When you look at the list of the top 10 over 1500 meters in the last couple of seasons the potential seems to be there:

  1. 3:29.27 - Silas Kiplagat - KEN
  2. 3:29.47 - Augustine Choge - KEN
  3. 3:29.53 - Amine Laalou - MAR
  4. 3:30.20 - Haron Keitany - KEN
  5. 3:30.90 - Andrew Wheating - USA
  6. 3:30.96 - Mehdi Baala - FRA
  7. 3:31.06 - Ryan Gregson - AUS
  8. 3:31.20 - Asbel Kiprop - KEN
  9. 3:31.21 - Antar Zerguelaine - ALG
  10. 3:31.47 – Abdalaati Iguider – MAR

The issue has been that those have been mostly one off races with much slower back up performances – the exceptions being Choge (3:30.88), Keitany (3:30.90), and Kiplagat (3:30.61) who all have significant backup performances. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with the potential for a great miler to come forth. Believe it or not, Kiplagat, Choge and Laalou are all faster than Sebastian Coe’s best of 3:29.77! Keitany better than Ovett’s 3:30.77 – with Wheating and Baala close. What made Coe and Ovett great was their competitive nature and the ability to compete close to their best on demand.

That is what we are lacking now. The gutsy, go to the well, kind of milers that we saw in Ryun, Coe, Ovett, Cram, Aouita, Komen, Morceli and El G. Perhaps we will get a start to a new legacy in Daegu. After all, Worlds seemed to be a good stepping stone for Cram, Morceli and El G. And I’m betting that one of the men listed above wins gold in Korea. I’ll tell you which one when we’re a bit closer to the opening of the meet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

If It Ends In “1” The “4” is Wide Open


Sounds like directions in a math class, but I’m actually talking about the 400 meters and the World Championships.

Since the beginning of the World Championships in 1983, the men’s 400 has seen some very dominant athletes. From initial champion Bert Cameron; through Michael Johnson’s reign from 1993 thru 1999; and the dual reign of Jeremy Wariner & Lashawn Merritt from 2005 thru 2009 this has been an event with little to wonder about as far as who would be standing on the podium. Except in years ending in the number “1”! Because. for some reason, “1” is not only the loneliest number, it also seems to signify a changing of the guard in the 400 – at least for a year.

In spite of seeing the first sub44 quarter milers in 20 years emerge in the late 80’s (Butch Reynolds, Steve Lewis & Danny Everett), and five others find their way under 44.40, the year 1991 found itself with several injured and sub par athletes. List leader Michael Johnson (44.17) had not yet made the full move to the 400 and only ran the 200 in Tokyo. Sub 44 sprinters Butch Reynolds and Steve Lewis were injured and Danny Everett only had a best of 44.42 for the year. Leaving the door open for Antonio Pettigrew to step thru with a 44.57 victory. The slowest winning time for ten years – until the 2001 World Championships!

From 1993 thru 1999 Michael Johnson – who had moved up to the 400 full time – dominated the World Championships winning all but one in a time under 44 seconds (“only” 44.12 in Athens ‘97). His retirement after the 2000 Olympics once again opened the door to the 400. It was assumed by many that perhaps Tyree Washington or one of the Harrison twins would be heir apparent. But Washington decided to try his hand at professional football and the Harrison’s went back into their non Olympic year funks – leaving an aging Pettigrew as America’s top talent in Edmonton. The door once again ajar, saw Bahamian Avard Moncur take gold in 44.64 – only 1983’s 45.05 being slower among World Championships victories.

The event continued in a state of flux for the next two seasons, with Leonard Byrd (44.45) the ‘02 list leader and Tyree Washington returning to the sport to lead the clock in ‘03 at 44.33. But in ‘04 the event found it’s legs again with the rise of Jeremy Wariner to the podium in Athens. In ‘06 Lashawn Merritt found his form, and between the two of them have won everything in site from ‘04 up thru the last World Championships in ‘09.

But once again we are in a year ending in “1” – and once again the event is in a state of flux. Merritt has yet to be seen on the track as he is returning from a suspension. The defending champion from Berlin, his form is unknown and we won’t see him until weeks before the big dance. Berlin runner up (and the winner in Helsinki and Osaka) Jeremy Wariner’s form has been on display – and it’s not been up to standard. His season’s best is only 44.88 and he’s lost 4 of his last 5 races – including the national title to collegian Tony McQuay. In addition, last year’s rising quarter miler, Jamaica’s Jermaine Gonzalez, didn’t make the Jamaican team. And the event hasn’t seen a sub 44 since Lashawn Merritt’s win in Lausanne in 2008! This door isn’t ajar, it’s WIDE open.

So, who will walk through the door and claim the title this year? Frankly it’s anyone’s best guess. In my opinion the prime candidates are – in no particular order:


Tony McQuay (USA)

McQuay’s season started with injury indoors, delaying his outdoor debut. After a 46.34 seasonal debut in early May and a 2nd place at the SEC’s, he PR’d at the NCAA Championships (44.87) before taking a close second in the final. He improved both his placing and PR with a 44.68 win at the U.S. Trials for Daegu, and is currently #2 in the world on the clock. This will be his first international competition but he has run PR’s in 3 of his last 5 races (including heats and finals) and looks very strong in the stretch. The one thing that seems to be in his favor this year is his freshness, and so far he has not competed since Nationals.


Kevin Borlee (BEL)

Borlee is also a young talent – one who at 23 years of age has a lot of international experience. Borlee won in Madrid with a PR 44.74 after taking second in Lausanne. His previous best was run in the rounds at the Beijing Olympics when he ran 44.88 in his semi. He’s been a relay staple for Belgium over the past several years contributing a 45.34 leadoff in Beijing and a 44.66 last year in Split. He’s coming off a 2010 season that saw him run very consistently with six races between 45.01 and 45.32, and if his recent form is any indication should be in the range that it could take to medal in this years race.


Kirani James (GRN)

While his countryman Rondell Bartholomew is the current list leader (44.65) it is James with the pedigree.  James set a WJR indoors this year at 44.80, and sits at #7 on the current outdoor list at 44.86 – an Area Junior Record. He was the World Junior Champion in this event in 2010, and the World Youth Champion in 2009. He won this year’s NCAA Championships ahead of Tony McQuay, and one only has to watch him run to see the strength and power that he possesses in the home stretch. By the way, the kid won’t turn 19 until after the World Championships. And like McQuay he will have fresh legs in Daegu with only seven races under his belt (including rounds) and he hasn’t competed yet in Europe.


Jeremy Wariner (USA)

To completely count Jeremy out would be blasphemy.  It’s not like his SB is 45.50, though 44.88 is a long way from his PR of 43.45. My issue with Jeremy isn’t just that he’s lost races, it HOW he’s lost them. His rhythm in the second turn is gone. His strength in the stretch has been missing. That said, he’s been here before as has his coach (Clyde Hart) and if anyone can “fix” this they can – if there is something that can be fixed. Wariner has been a champion too many time to count him out until he’s been knocked out. But I do hate seeing him up against the ropes.


Lashawn Merritt (USA)

The “X” factor this year – because I have  no idea what his form is. I know that many want to immediately grant him gold. But after a two year layoff and not being able to compete until four weeks until the start of Worlds, it doesn’t leave him much time to get sharp. The good news for him, is that this is a year ending in “1” and the event is wide open right now. Anything near 45.00 or better in his debut and he moves to the head of the class in my book. If he’s struggles to break 46 that’s a different conversation.


There’s still a month and a half to go, so there’s time for just about anyone to emerge. But it is interesting that “1” seems to be a turning point in this event – unless of course Merritt or Wariner wins in which case status quo will remain intact. And THAT will be the story of this event come mid August. Does it become the year that breaks the “!” mold and maintain the previous status quo; or will 2011 once again signal a changing of the guard in the 400?  It’s going to be an interesting race.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Allyson Felix - Double Trouble


Last year Allyson Felix was undefeated – in two events! She won the Diamond League series in both the 200 and 400 meters – setting herself up for a potential run at a double in 2011. Since the end of 2010 the most oft question asked of Ms. Felix has been: are you going to double in Daegu?

Of course, Felix has been playing it close to the vest and has not yet committed to whether she will attempt to double or not. But she does have the opportunity to do so as she won the 400 at the U.S. Trials for Daegu, and has the bye in the 200 as defending champion – opening up several options. With that under her belt she is almost guaranteed a spot on the 4x4 team at Worlds. Having also run the 4x1 in several international situations, she will almost certainly be given a spot on that squad as well.

So the question is: just how much work does Felix want to undertake in South Korea, and what are her chances of success? While we’re waiting for the official word from the Felix camp, I thought I would take my own look at the 200/400 double from her perspective.

We have seen the double completed before. Valerie Brisco (US) won the double in Los Angeles (‘84) with times of 21.81/48.83 – both Olympic records at the time. Michael Johnson (US) won the double at the ‘95 Worlds in Goteborg in 19.79/43.39 – the deuce a World Championships record. And in 1996 both Johnson and Marie Jose Perec (FRA) won doubles in 19.32/43.49 and 22.12/48.25 respectively – Johnson’s deuce a WR & his quarter an Olympic record, while Perec’s 400 was an Olympic record. Pretty good running when it’s been done!

So, how would an attempt by Felix compare to those of Brisco, Johnson and Perec? Well, for starters, neither of the others had short relay duty, though they all ran on their respective 4x4’s. Johnson, however, while running the 4x4 in ‘95 had to withdraw in ‘96 due to the strain on his body from his double – most specifically the 200 portion of the double. If Felix is indeed scheduled for both relays, that would make her workload a bit more daunting that the previous doublers – though only AFTER the double itself has been completed.

So, how would the actual double itself compare? During the first half of the double, the 400, Johnson and Perec were clearly superior to their competition. Brisco, on the other hand had to contend with Chandra Cheeseborough whom she had been trading the American record with in ‘84 – each breaking the record twice. Cheeseborough was the record holder going into the final, Brisco the record holder coming out, though Cheeseborough also finished under her previous record. So Brisco definitely had the rougher first half of the double.

All three previous doublers had at least one serious protagonist in the second half of their doubles – the 200. In ‘84 Brisco had to face Florence Griffith, Merlene Ottey and Kathy Smallwood – all with the potential to beat her. In ‘95 and ‘96 Johnson had to face Frankie Fredericks – one of the few men to defeat him at the distance during his career. And in ‘96 Perec also had to go up against Merlene Ottey – near the end of her career.

So, ranking them on competitive difficulty Brisco had the tougher double, with Johnson in the middle and Perec arguably the easier path to victory.

Comparing Felix’ chances, in the 400 she would benefit from what appears to be a very down season for Sanya Richards – who to this point is a shell of the woman that was silver in ‘05, bronze in ‘08 and gold in ‘09. Based on current form, Felix’ stiffest competition should come from Novlene Williams Mills and Amantle Montsho – PR’s of 49.63 & 49.83 respectively. With a best of 49.70, a seasons best of 49.81 and having a history of relay legs in the neighborhood of 49.0, Felix goes into Daegu arguably in about the same position as Valerie Brisco – just slightly behind the best of her competition, but extremely competitive.

It’s the 200 where the comparison gets a bit more dicey for Felix. Whereas the others had perhaps a single true threat, Felix faces up to four. Veronica Campbell Brown is Felix’ chief rival in this event and was the winner of the Jamaican Trials. Felix has defeated her twice in World Championships competition but also lost to her twice in Olympic finals. Kerron Stewart finished just behind Felix in the ‘08 final in Beijing and will be on this year’s Jamaican squad. Then there is Carmelita Jeter, winner of the U.S. Trials 100 and surprise runner up in the 200. Jeter’s strength seems to be improving with each race and she will be what I call an “X” factor in Daegu. We really don’t know what her potential is, but with a 100 PR of 10.63 and season’s best of 10.70 she almost has to be able to get under 22.00 (current best of 22.23). Finally there is U.S. Trials winner Shalonda Solomon, currently the world leader at 22.15 and also seemingly with the potential for a sub 22.00 run. PR wise however, only Campbell Brown (21.74) has a faster best than Felix’ 21.81. Still with Stewart having a best of 21.99 and Jeter and Solomon seemingly capable of matching that or better. Felix definitely has the tougher 200 match than the doublers that preceded her.

So where does that leave Felix? Well she’s as tough a competitor as Brisco, Johnson and Perec. She has three straight World 200 titles, and some sterling relay legs that say so. She’s the only person in history to win U.S. titles at 100, 200 and 400 meters – all of which take a different sort of mental strength to achieve. And she’s already proven that she can defeat the world’s best over both 200 & 400 meters. The key for Felix will be how well she handles the rounds of the 400, and the condition and mental strength of her competition in the 200 – because Campbell Brown, Jeter and Stewart will be on the second half of sprint doubles of their own!

With all that said, what will she and coach Kersee decide to do? I’m not sure. The “X” factor in the Felix decision process could be the fact that the deuce is her favorite event, and she does have the opportunity for a World Championships four peat there – something we’ve not seen yet in any of the women’s events. So I can’t say how that shot at history may affect their thinking or planning. Of course, while the double has been accomplished twice by women in the Olympics, it has yet to be done at Worlds. So there is the potential for that precedence. Six of one, half a dozen of the other?

At the end of the day, I would suggest that she go through with it. She’s capable, in my humble opinion, and to do so would give her TRIPLE history – first woman to do the double; first one with four straight world titles in the same event; first woman with four golds in the same Worlds – assuming we can pull off the relay double – and it’s not every day you get a chance at becoming the female version of Jesse/Carl! Not to mention that it would make her the greatest of the long sprint doublers! Besides, chances to make history don’t come along every day.

Carpe Diem Allyson!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Birmingham DL – Uceny Wins Again


Ten days after her surprising win in Lausanne, Morgan Uceny once again took to the track against a world class field. And just as in Eugene and Lausanne she came away with another victory. Actually the word victory doesn’t adequately describe the masterful piece of work that Uceny engineered on her way to once again dominating a class field as she is proving to be perhaps the best tactician in U.S. middle distance running today. Only Bernard Lagat shows the kind of skilled running tactics currently being displayed by Morgan.

In Birmingham Uceny settled in over the first two laps and let the pace get established. Then on the third lap she went to work using the penultimate 400 meters to casually work her way through the field to the front of the pack just as the bell lap began. Then she tucked in with the lead group, never letting herself fall more than a few steps off pace and never giving up her position on the inside rail. Finally in the final 200 meters she skipped through a potential box, went to the front, and as has become her signature this year, went sailing down the homestretch casually fending off any potential challenges by simply running away from the competition. Competition that included Maryam Jamal and Kalkedan Gezahegn – currently #1 & #2 on the yearly list!

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an American miler look more confident against international competition and I’ve watch Mary Slaney, Suzy Hamilton and Regina Jacobs among others. I don’t want to jinx her, but right now her races are becoming tactical works of art, and I am excited about her prospects in Daegu.

It was also exciting to see Galen Rupp take second in the 5000 and set a new personal best of 13:06.86. Over the past few seasons we’ve seen the emergence of Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky, and Dathan Ritzenhein while we’ve been kind of waiting for Galen Rupp to grow up. After watching Rupp win the national title over 10,000 along with 3rd in the 5,000; and now this run in Birmingham; I think that we’ve finally seen Rupp grow up over the past month. And I think he will acquit himself well in Daegu. In Birmingham he basically shadowed training partner Mo Farah, as they let a group of Ethiopians set the pace for the race before outkicking them all – including world leader Imane Merga – as Farah thrilled the British fans with his 13:06.14 victory! Yes Birmingham was a good day for American middle and long distance hopes – and not too shabby for the Brits eitiher.

It was not a very good day, however,  for Sanya Richards who has yet to win a 400 meter event this year. As a matter of fact, her fourth place finish in Birmingham mirrored that of training camp mate Jeremy Wariner two days ago in Paris, as she too faded badly in the stretch. Friday was the first time I’ve seen either of the pair have absolutely no “oomph” in the stretch and now I’ve seen it twice from both athletes in two days! Now I’m wondering if either one will even get to the final in Daegu, and whether either should be given relay duty – a hard statement for me to make. And after this race Allyson Felix has to be giving more thought to taking on that 400 in Daegu as there really doesn’t seem to be anyone out there that can stop her in the event.

Of course the 400 would be the first leg of a 200/400 double and if Richards is making the 400 look easy, Carmelita Jeter may be giving Felix pause as far as attempting the double. On the heels of twice running 22.2’s at Nationals and taking second, Jeter once again took the event on in Birmingham. She was a very close third in Birmingham. But it isn’t the place that has me thinking her chances at a medal may be increasing, but the stretch run that she made to get to third. After an opening turn that I can only describe as “uninspired”, Jeter hit the gas and looked very much Felix/Campbell Brown like in the stretch closing on both Bianca Knight and Marshevet Myers before losing by only .03 at the line! By the way, the turns by both Myers and Knight could bode well U.S. relays hopes in Daegu!

Other interesting results saw Teddy Tamgho struggle in the triple jump with only one fair jump and a 5th place finish as Philips Idowu exacted revenge with a victory at “home”. Abubaker Kaki won the men’s 800, but after following the rabbit through a 49.4 opener struggled to finish in 1:44.54. I don’t think that caused David Rudisha much worry. And with no Bolt and no Gay Asafa Powell found himself holding off stable mate Nesta Carter in the 100 with a 9.91 to 9.93 win. But the big news of the day in the race was another athlete being thrown out to a false start and Mike Rodgers withdrawing after initially taking to the blocks – resulting in a six man race.

After two Diamond League events in two days, we now get a ten day break until the DL resumes in Monaco on July 22nd. While we’re waiting, however, there will be Rethymno (13th), the Euro Under 23 Championships  (14th), the Central American Championships (15th), and the Euro Junior Championships (21st) to fill the time. Meaning a brief respite for many athletes to rest and heal up a bit before the final push before Daegu. It also means I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for some lesser competitions to see who might be competing on the down low!

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.