Tuesday, November 29, 2011

2011 in Review – Men’s Long Jump

In spite of the fact that I tend to talk more about the running events than I do the field events, I’m actually a huge fan of the field events. It just seems that lately some of the excitement is missing in the field.

I remember when the long jump featured great battles like the U.S. Championships in 1987 (San Jose) with Carl Lewis (8.65m/28’ 4.5”), Larry Myricks (8.63m/28’ 3.75”) and Mike Conley (8.55w/28’ 0.75”w) all over 28 feet. Then there was the Olympic Trials of 1988 (Indianapolis) with Lewis (8.76m/28’ 9”) and Myricks (8.74m/28’ 8.25”) dueling in the rain. And of course the epic 1991 World Championships final (Tokyo) where Mike Powell set the existing WR of 8.95m (29’ 4.5”) with Lewis leaping 8.87m (29’ 1.25”) legally and 8.91m (29’ 2.75”) windy!

We’re a ways from there, yet this season looked like we may have been on a path to begin to approach that range once again as Mitchell Watt (AUS) jumped 8.38m (27’ 6”) in mid-March then came back to go 8.44m (27’ 8.25”) in mid-April – all during the Australian summer. With the rest of the world getting in gear with the start of the Diamond League, Watt continued to jump far once again hitting 8.44m in Shanghai. The surprise was the relatively poor showing of defending World champion Dwight Phillips (USA) 4th in a modest 8.07m (26’ 5.75”).

The jumpers would resume their battles in Hengelo with another former champion, Irving Saladino (PAN) showing good form in an 8.38mw (27’ 6”w) win with Phillips back in 6th in 7.97m (26’ 1.75”). At the next stop in Eugene, however, Saladino would no height, as Greg Rutherford (GBR), Godfrey Mokoena (RSA) and Sebastian Beyer (GER) would lead the way in a windy affair.

With no long jump in either Oslo or New York, the biggest news during the period was the NCAA championship victory of Ngoni Makusha (ZIM) who spanned 8.40m (27’ 6.75”) in Des Moines. The other big news in June was the 10th place finish of Phillips at the U.S. Championships, as he was only able to get out to 7.89mw(25’ 10.75”w) as youngsters Marquis Goodwin (8.33w/27’4”w) and Will Claye (8.19mw/26’ 10.5”) lead the way to Daegu.

Heading to Europe there was again a gap in meets in the DL as there was no long jump in Paris, Birmingham, or Monaco – leaving the jumpers with meets in Stockholm and London as their major opportunities prior to the World Championships. Watt made the most of it leaping 8.54m (28’ 0.25”)in Stockholm (Saladino in 3rd at 8.19m/26’ 10.5”) and then 8.45m (27’ 8.75”) in London (Britains’s Chris Tomlinson runner up in 8.30mw/27’ 2.75”w). Making Watt a heavy favorite to bring home Australia’s fist ever long jump gold.

Ah, but the best laid plans of mice and men are oft strewn asunder, and so it was in Daegu. In the qualifying round of Daegu defending champion Phillips showed life leading everyone at 8.32m (27’ 3.75”). And though the favored Watt was consistent, leaping an 8.33m (27’ 4”) of his own in the final but it would not be enough as Phillips leapt 8.45m (27’ 8.75”) for the win and the gold – leaving Watt with silver. NCAA champion Makusha would span 8.29m (27’ 2.5”) for the bronze medal as Saladino would finish 22nd and fail to make the final.

At this point the season was done. Makusha would win in Zurich in a modest 8.00m (26’ 3”) with Phillips in 3rd and Watt in 7th. And that was really the end of the year for the major players. So, how did they rate on the season?


#1 Mitchell Watt Australia

The silver medalist was easily the year’s best. He was 10 – 4 overall on the year and though he didn’t take World gold, he was the year’s best in every other category. His wins included Shanghai, Stockholm and London and he beat everyone on the year.


#2 Yahya Berrabah Morocco

Who you ask? Yes it was a very tough year in this event and in the end I went with the 4th placer in Daegu. He was 7 – 4 on the year, though several of his wins were in lesser meets. Still, he won in Luzerne and Barcelona, was 2nd in Stockholm and 4th at Worlds. When you take a look at the competition that was enough for #2 in my humble opinion.


#3 Irving Saladino Panama

Saladino had a solid if unspectacular season this year. His big problem being his melt down in Daegu. He was only 3 -4 on the year, but had wins in Hengelo and Paris. He was also 3rd in Stockholm and 4th in London. Given the year this event had if he had gotten anywhere close to getting on the podium he probably would have garnered the #2 spot.


#4 Ngoni Makusha Zimbabwe

Makusha was 5 – 2 on the year, but spent a lot of time against collegians. He did win in Zurich and took the NCAA championship, which was actually a tough meet this year considering in comparison to most meets. And of course he picked up bronze in Daegu.


#5 Dwight Phillips United States

This is the best I can do for the gold medalist, and some may consider this too good. He was only 1 – 6 on the year, his one being the big one. He did finish 2nd in Berlin, and had 4th place finishes in Shanghai, Zurich and New Castle. On that basis, he gets my 5th slot.

Next up the women’s version.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

2011 in Review – Men’s 1500 Meters

Like the women’s version of the metric mile, the men’s 1500 final in Daegu was a far cry from the way the season itself played out. Not to mention the difficulty in sorting things out due to the constant change in leadership on the track.

Things got crackin in earnest in Doha as young Nixon Chepseba (KEN) torched the track for a WL 3:31.84 to win over Silas Kiplagat (KEN, 3:32.15), Mekonnen Gebremedhin (ETH, 3:32.28), Caleb Ndiku (KEN, 3:33.05) and Haron Keitany (KEN, 3:33.39)- showcasing Kenya’s depth, and signaling that making the Kenyan team for Daegu would be extremely tough. A little over a week later, Chepseba torched the field in Shanghai in a 3:31.42 over Asbel Kiprop (KEN, 3:31.76), Gebremedhin (3:32.36). Kiplagat (3:32.70) and Augustine Choge (KEN, 3:33.38).

The Prefontaine Classic would showcase the mile with Keitany turning a WL 3:49.09 defeating Kiplagat (3:49.39), KIprop (3:49.55), Gebremedhin (3:49.70) and Ndiku (3:49.77). Oslo would also feature the mile and this time Kiprop crossing the line first in 3:50.86 ahead of Keitany (3:51.02) and Gebremedhin (3:51.30) – with Chepseba in 6th at 3:53.36. Things would change completely in Paris as some non-milers got involved, half-miler Amine Laalou winning in 3:32.15 over Kiprop, and Bernard Lagat (USA, 3:33.11). But the key race during the month of July was the Kenyan Championships where Kiplagat (3:31.39 WL), Kiprop (3:32.26) and the surprising Daniel Komen (3:32.47) would earn berths to Daegu, while young stars Chepseba (6th, 3:33.96) and Ndiku (7th, 3:35.50) could find no room on the bus – giving me yet another reason to wish we had a “true” World Championships!

When things resumed in Monaco, KIplagat would lower his world best to a sizzling 3:30.47, with Chepseba recovering from his Nairobi defeat in 3:31.74, and half miler Abubaker Kaki (SUD) running a PR 3:31.76 and Kiwi Mick Willis getting an NR at 3:31.76 – easily the best race of the year. London, featuring the mile, would be the final race before Worlds and would find Americans Leo Manzano (3:51.24) and Bernard Lagat (3:51.38) controlling the race in the absence of the top Africans. And so we headed to Daegu.

In Daegu the form charts held for the first two positions as Kiplagat and Kiprop controlled the race and came home with gold and silver. What followed was a totally surprising bronze medal from Matthew Centrowitz (USA), as unexpected names populated the results sheet from 3rd through 6th where Gebremedhin finally crossed the line in 7th place.

Post Daegu racing would begin in Zurich where Chepseba (absent from Worlds) would once again cross the line in first (3:32.74) ahead of Kiplagat (3:33.56) as gold medalist Kiprop faded badly in the final stretch run (7th 3:34,89).Kiprop would regain form in Rieti scorching 3:30.46 to win going away from Willis’ 3:35.52. The Berlin 1500 would find Choge winning in 3:31.14 over Abdelaati Iguider (MOR, 3:31.60) and Chepseba (3:31.66) – closing out the season with yet another swift race.

Now to try and sort it all out, as this was one of the tougher calls I’ve had to make.


#1 Silas Kiplagat Kenya

Silver medalist in Daegu, Kiplagat gets the runner top spot here. While he did not have the best win/loss record on the season, he was 3 – 2 over my runner up, and took silver in Daegu. His season record of 5 – 7 included wins in Eugene, Monaco, Stockholm. and the big Kenyan Nationals race.  He was also runner up in Doha and Zurich. A fine record overall, as well as a solid performance at Worlds.


#2 Nixon Chepseba Kenya

Chepseba’s season record of 9 – 4 was easily the best on the year. And it was done with little padding as he won in Doha, Shanghai, Zurich and Zagreb, with a runner up in Monaco and a 3rd in Stockholm. He was 2 – 3 with World silver medalist Kiplagat – including the Kenyan Trials race that knocked Chepseba out of Worlds – but his seasonal record overall was just too good  to be overlooked.


#3 Asbel Kiprop Kenya

A tough call for the World Champion, but his season record of 3 – 7 just didn’t hold up against the top two in spite of the Daegu win. He also won the fast Rieti race, however, And was runner up in Shanghai, Paris and Stockholm. Good enough for the third spot here.


#4 Haron Keitany Kenya

Another tough call here for 4th and 5th but a pair of runner ups in Hengelo & Oslo, combined with a pair of 3rd place finishes in Eugene and Zurich edge Keitany ahead of my #5.


#5 Mekonnen Gebremedhin Ethiopia

A win in Oslo; runner up in Eugene; and third place finishes in Doha, Shanghai and Hengelo land Gebremedhin here.


Next I’m going to detour off the track for a bit and begin to examine the field events.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

2011 in Review – Women’s 1500 Meters

Typically when in doubt, the result of the year’s Major championship does wonders to help sort out the top athletes on the season. When it comes to ranking this year’s women’s 1500 however, Daegu rendered itself fairly useless in the matter.

The season got going in earnest as Anna Mishchenko (UKR) won the first stop on the Diamond League in Doha with a WL 4:03.00 – setting a decent early pace. Mishchenko showed consistency in Rome running 4:03.53, but that was only good for 4th place as Maryam Jamal (BRN) laid the hammer down coming home in 4:01.60 for a new WL. Jamal would lower that SB three days later in Hengelo, scorching the oval for a 4:00.33 to turn back the PR’s of Kalkidan Gezahegne (ETH, 4:00.97), Siham Hilali (MAR, 4:01.33), and Irene Jelegat (KEN, 4:02.59).

The Prefontaine Classic would see one of the year’s best fields take to the track with Gelete Burka (ETH) emerging victorious in a tactical 4:04.63 ahead of Jamal (4:05.44), Morgan Uceny (USA, 4:06.32), Nuria Fernandez (ESP, 4:06.66) and Nancy Langat (KEN, 4:07.04). New York would see yet a different victor as Kenia Sinclair (JAM) would win the wind hindered race in 4:08.06 over Uceny (4:08.42), Gezahegne (4:08.46) and Burka (4:09.84) – as no one was dominant over the first half of the Euro season.

Morgan Uceny would then win a very tough U.S. championships in 4:03.91, running away in the final half lap from Jenny Simpson (4:05.66), Shannon Rowbury (4:06.20), and Christin Wurth Thomas (4:06.21) – Wurth Thomas missing out on a trip to Daegu by the narrowest of margins. A berth to Daegu secured, Uceny would head to Europe picking up wins in Lausanne (over Mishchenko, Gezahegne, and a back in 10th Jamal) and Birmingham (again over Gezahegne and Jamal) before heading to Monaco – the last big 1500 before Daegu. Monaco would be one of the year’s fastest races as Jamal once again found her way to the front of the line winning in 4:00.59 ahead of Btissam Lakhouad (MAR, 4:01.09) and Uceny (4:01.51, PR) who left it a bit late this time out, closing well but not catching the top two.

And so they would enter the World Championships with Jamal and Uceny on a role and Gezahegne and Lakouad running well. But the script was turned on its head in Daegu. Things seemed “normal” through two and a half laps. Then midway through the second turn of the third lap Hellen Obiri (KEN) would trip and fall, taking Uceny down with her. Uceny would be unable to recover, and though she didn’t fall, Jamal seemed knocked out of her rhythm as well. The final lap would see Natalia Rodriguez (ESP) take control and look to steal the race, as she would lead coming off the final turn. As they headed up the final stretch Jenny Simpson (USA) and Hannah England (GBR) would turn on the afterburners, catching and passing Rodriguez with Simpson coming away the victor (4:05.40), England (4:05.68) and Rodriguez (4:05.87) filling out the medals.

The top women would gather for one last go ‘round in the Diamond League final in Brussels with Uceny getting redemption, a world leader, and a new PR with a 4:00.06 win over all of the principals from Daegu, and the season, in tow – taking us to the top five rankings.

With the medalists from Daegu not playing a major factor the rest of the season ranking was a tad difficult, but not impossible – and note that none of the top women has a winning record for the season as the women raced fairly often and did a good job of playing “Ro Sham Bo” with each other.


#1 Morgan Uceny United States

At the end of the day Uceny earned my #1. He 4 – 5 record was statistically the best. She led the world on the clock at 4:00.06. She had key wins in Lausanne, Birmingham, and Brussels; was 2nd in New York and 3rd in Eugene & Monaco – placing well when she didn’t win. And she was 2 – 1 over my #2 – all enough to garner the top spot.


#2 Maryam Jamal Bahrain

Jamal was #2 on the clock with her 4:00.33. Her 3 – 5 record came courtesy of wins in Rome, Hengelo and Monaco; a 2nd in Eugene; and 3rds in Birmingham & Brussels. So like Uceny in most cases she placed well when she didn’t win.


#3 Anna Mishchenko Ukraine

Mishchenko is the one of the few top finishers from Daegu in my top five, having finished 4th at Worlds. She was the busiest of the top rankers with a 4 – 9 record on the season. She won in Doha and at the Colorful Daegu meet early season. She was 2nd in Lausanne and finished 3rd in Rieti & Stockholm (ETC) in addition to a pair of 4ths in Rome & Brussels – solid enough to earn 3rd here.


#4 Hannah England Great Britain

Britain’s silver medalist in Daegu garners the 4th spot here. The British champion was 2nd in London, 3rd in Barcelona and 5th in Brussels. Finishing well often enough to parlay silver into the #4 ranking.


#5 Kalkidan Gezahegne Ethiopia

The fifth placer from Daegu gets the same spot here. Runner up in Hengelo & Birmingham; 3rd in New York; and 5th in Doha & Lausanne she was the most consistent of those not in the top four.


So there you have it. That’s how I saw the women in the 1500. Next the men’s 1500 – and a Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Is There a Benefit to the U.S. being in the Diamond League?

imageI ask this question because last week the Diamond League schedule was released and once again it looks like the New York and Eugene meets received less than preferential treatment.

First let’s look at the scheduling aspect. The Prefontaine Classic (Eugene) is scheduled for June 2nd – two days after the Rome meet on May 31st. Similarly the Adidas/New York is scheduled for Jun 9th – two days after Oslo’s Bislett Games! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out a couple of things real quickly.

The first is that the athletes will have a very clear choice to make – to compete in Europe, or to cross the ocean and compete in the U.S. for two meets, or actually in one meet depending on your event. There is no opportunity to compete twice in Europe then come to the states, or vice versa to compete in two meets in the states then go back to Europe. One will either be in one place or the other, as the prospect of traveling back and forth across the ocean is impractical from both a financial and logistical point of view – logistics meaning the physical toll it would exact on the athletes with time changes, jet lag, etc.

So that aspect alone will restrict attendance at both meets, because with 2012 being an Olympic year and June the month of most Olympic Trials meets, the odds are that most people will want to stay as close to home as possible in order to be as fresh as possible for Trials meets. Of course, there is another decision that is completely taken off the table for the athletes – what events they can compete in in each meet. Because as I’ve lamented ad nausea, the Diamond League meets are only half meets – and the U.S. meets get the short end of the stick here as well!

First off here are the events that will be contested in each U.S. meet:

Men 200 400 800 1500 110H TJ DT JT
Women 200 400 ST HJ PV LJ DT  


Men 200 400 800 ST 110H HJ LJ DT
Women 100 800 5000 400H PV TJ SP JT

The first thing you notice is that the star potential is taken off the table as there is no men’s 100 in either meet. Given that a) the 200 is the lesser contested of the two sprints (100/200) in any season, let alone an Olympic one, and b) with Trials meets coming up it will be less likely to see a sprinter here than in the 100, it’s a fairly safe bet that seeing Bolt, Gay, Dix, Blake, et al is nearly slim to none in the U.S. No offense to any of the other star level athletes out there, but there goes a large chunk of the star quality and drawing power in this sport – no offense just fact at this point – because right now the 100 is The marquee event in the sport.

The next thing I noticed is no men’s 5000 or 10,000 in either meet – a huge negative for the Pre Classic in my opinion which has always been the country’s premier distance meet. This is a meet that is named after a distance running icon, yet will not have EITHER event on the schedule – almost un-American. The historical significance aside, it also means that seeing any of the major African distance runners is virtually out of the question in the U.S. meets – a tragedy that is really on par with missing out on the world’s top sprinters!

Some might say that Pre will have the men’s 1500, and I would say that you’re right there – so perhaps we may get a few milers to town in Eugene. But the next noticeable slight is that neither meet will have the women’s 800 or 1500 meters – two middle distance events where the U.S. has really begun to shine in the past few seasons! So not only will distance mecca Eugene be without the African distance runners – and our own Ritzenhein, Rupp, Solinsky et al, - but they will also be without ” home” favorites Uceny, Rowbury, Wurth Thomas, Simpson, Wright, Gall, Montano and Vessey to name a few.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of top level athletes out there to put in these meets. We do get the 110 hurdles which has star potential with the likes of David Oliver, Jason Richardson, Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles. We do get both the men’s and women’s 400 which could have LaShawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner, Allyson Felix, and/or Sanya Richards. But the reality is that we lose out on some serous BIG name potential off the top just from the schedule. So I have to ask: Is there any benefit to being part of the Diamond League, or were we better off when we had a strong Pre, New York and Home Depot on our schedule? For my money the answer is – yes.

New York went from the exciting Tyson Gay v Usain Bolt meet of 2008 to the sleep fests we’ve seen the past couple of years – as logistics and event scheduling as virtually killed this meet in my humble opinion. Just two years ago (year before DL) the Pre meet boasted Gelete Burka (3:59.89) barely over Jenny Simpson (3:59.90); Asbel Kiprop (3:48.50) over Haron Keitany (3:48.78) in the mile; Vivian Cheruiyot (5:31.53) over Maryam Jamal (5:31.88) in a 2000: and Bernard Lagat (7:35.92) over Saif Shaheen (7:36.87) in a 3000; in an awesome display of distance running fitting the man the meet is named after – there will be none of that this year!

The Diamond League is proving to be an abject failure on several levels, including what it is doing to what few meets we have left here in the United States. It seems like there is little real thought going into the scheduling process – especially when it comes to creating meets in the U.S. that a) have any real appeal, and b) that make any kind of logistical sense.

New York is but a shell of what it was becoming a few scant years ago, and if it weren’t for its Nike affiliation Pre would be in the same boat. USATF needs to take a hard look at the competition schedule here in the United States, and look for ways to provide more and better opportunities for OUR athletes to be able to compete HERE at home. Because at the current rate youngsters growing up today will have no idea what a real world class meet looks like live, up close, and personal.

The Home Depot and California Relays meets need to be resurrected and put back on the schedule. New York and Eugene need to become FULL meets again that are worthy of attracting the world’s best without having to be bent and twisted to fit the Diamond League format. Because if we have any hope of regaining a place of prominence within the track and field community with respect to competitions here in the U.S. this is certainly not the way to do so. We’re not just losing ground to traditional track countries like Great Britain – which now has London, Gateshead AND Birmingham on the schedule – but to upstarts like Doha, Kingston, and Daegu. Granted Jamaica is a trackc happy place and has been working towards getting a major meet on the map for a while, but Doha and Daegu? When Wallace Spearmon ran 19.65 there in ’06 I had to Google it to see just where it was!

I won’t even begin to reel off the names of world class meets I used to frequent in this country; just suffice it to say that we are a LONG way from there. Many were excited that we got Diamond League status for New York and Eugene, but it’s starting to look like another form of slow death for U.S. meets if we don’t step up and do something about it. At least that’s how it’s starting to look to me.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

2011 in Review – Women’s 400 Meter Hurdles

imageThe women had a much better season relative to their male counterparts. Whereas the men seemed to have difficulty coming up with quality times, the women had no such troubles. Right off the bat, the women started asserting themselves as Lashinda Demus (USA) turned 54.85 to set a solid world lead on May 7th. A week later she lowered her SB to 54.58, but found herself behind the rapidly improving Kaliese Spencer (JAM) at 54.20. Two weeks later they would take to the track in Eugene with Demus turning the tables with a 53.31 to 53.45 win over Spencer – with defending World and Olympic champion Melaine Walker 3rd in 53.56 and up and coming Zuzana Hejnova (CZE) debuting at 54.25 – and the season was guaranteed to be both fast and exciting.

With the start of the European season following the National championships period, Demus would take a break til late July, but that didn’t take away from the action as Paris would see Hejnova crank out a huge 53.29 NR to win over the likes of Spencer (53.45), Natalya Antyukh (RUS, 54.41) and Walker (55.06). Demus would get in another race in Luzerne winning in 54.21. Then Stockholm would see Spencer take a 53.74 to 54.71 win over Walker, before hammering a huge PR 52.79 in London over Walker (53.90) and Hejnova (54.74) to head to Daegu with the best time in the world.

The World Championships final lined up with Spencer in lane 2 with Demus just outside her in lane 3, Hejnova in lane 4 and Walker in the outside lane 8. At the gun Demus and Walker were out like bullets as both women flew down the backstretch and around the final bend. They came off the turn nearly even as Demus would pull away slightly as they headed up the straight. Both women ran hard but Walker was unable to make a dent in Demus’ lead as both women stopped the clock with superb times – Demus taking the 52.47 to 52.73 win in the #3 time ever. Spencer ran strongly in the third position until halfway down the straight when she was overtaken by Russian Natalya Antyuhk for the bronze medal.

Spencer would come back to win in Zurich over Walker (53.43), Demus (54.04), Antyukh (54.50) and Hejnova 54.89), before closing out the season with another win over Antyukh in Rieti. And that will take us to the rankings.


#1 Lashinda Demus United States

The World Champion was 5 – 2 on the season with wins in Eugene and Luzerne, to go with a runner up in Shanghai, and her third in Zurich. She was the best on the clock and had a 2 – 2 season split with my #2. Earning her the top ranking here.


#2 Kaliese Spencer Jamaica

Spencer was only 4th in Daegu, but her 6 – 3 season record had wins in Shanghai, Stockholm, London and Zurich. The only woman she did not dominate was Demus whom she split with.


#3 Melaine Walker Jamaica

Walker’s season record was “only” 2 – 7 but that’s because most of her losing was done against the top two women. Walker was runner up in Stockholm, London and Zurich and had 3rd place finishes in Shanghai and Eugene. And she ran her best when she needed to taking silver at the World Championships.


#4 Zuzana Hejnova Czech Republic

After much thought Hejnova gets this spot. She was only 7th in Daegu, but had a 4 – 4 record overall – one of the best. She won Oslo, Praha, Stockholm ETC, and Paris and was 4th in Eugene and London.


#5 Natalya Antyukh Russia

The bronze medalist comes in 5th here. The Russian champion was 2nd in Praha and Rieti and 3rd in Oslo and Paris, and had the best record in competitions outside of worlds compared to other women further down on the chart.

Now that I’m back in ranking mode I’ll take on the 1500 meters. But I do have some comments related to the Diamond League schedule that was just released that I will sneak in as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Should Distance Runners Be Given a “Pass” in Evaluations?

imageI know I said I was getting back to rankings, but there is still a lot of time left before the calendar year is done, and there’s an interesting debate on the floor. The debate revolves around the selection of the Female Athlete of the Year by the IAAF, as the Kenyans are upset that Vivian Cheruiyot lost to Australian Sally Pearson.

Now I have to say that I too have issues with the IAAF’s selection process which basically takes the “AOY” and turns it into a popularity contest. Take the men’s finalists for example: Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, and David Rudisha. While Blake and Bolt did indeed have nice seasons, with a couple of high points, their overall seasons were not extraordinary. Not on par with athletes like Mo Farah and Robert Harting. But Jamaican fans are rabid and they vote in huge numbers – over and over – resulting in the popular Bolt emerging as AOY on the men’s side. At the end of the day that’s the decision that should have us looking at the IAAF system of selecting the AOY.

The debate on the table, however, is regarding the women’s choice, because in this case the system actually got the finalists right with three women who truly had outstanding seasons (Valerie Adams, Sally Pearson & Vivian Cheruiyot) – making the choice an extremely tough one. I know because it was the same choice I found myself forced to make when making my own AOY selections.

The IAAF winner, as already stated, was Sally Pearson, causing much hew and cry among Kenyans. Their argument: while all three women had undefeated seasons, Cheruiyot won two World Championships in Daegu vs one each for Pearson and Adams. Now I would agree IF the AOY was a measure of how many championships an athlete won on the course of the season. Then the selection process would be a simple matter adding up titles at the end of the year – medals in the case of a tie!

For my money, however, I take AOY to mean the athlete that had the BEST overall season. Not the best mark, not the best single meet, but the best overall season. That’s why in my analysis Cheruiyot finished behind both Pearson and Adams, because while she did win a 5000/10000 double at the World Championships she competed sparingly the rest of the year – twice over 10,000 and four times over 5000, with her 10000 marks being good but not exceptional.

Meanwhile Pearson and Adams were season long work horses. Pearson competing in eleven meets in her specialty in addition to several meets in other events; Adams in thirteen meets. Competing with such regularity these women opened themselves up to potential loss against the world’s best far more often – and prevailed.

So now to my question of the day. When I published my own AOY rankings earlier, I was asked if I took into account that distance runners don’t compete as often as other athletes – and my response was that I had. After all, we’re talking a race of 3 to 6 miles, which seems to me can be done more than say once a month or every other month. High school athletes run the two mile (or equivalent) weekly. Collegiate cross country runners compete every couple of weeks over three to six miles depending on gender.

And when I look at the sport in terms of event difficulty, I don’t rank the 5000/10000 in the same vein as I do the half marathon, marathon or multi events – events that take a tremendous toll on the body and that take serious time to recover. Looking at those events for comparison I see the typical elite decathlete competing two or three times a year, and marathoners competing in two or three marathons a year, plus one or two half marathons. Given that rate of competition for those “strenuous” events, I consider five or six races for a 5/10K runner to be rather lite.

Even looking at the toll that sprinting takes on the very elite – where sprinters/hurdlers seem to get injured frequently due to the extreme stresses on their muscles – these athletes are still competing within a seven to fourteen day cycle on average.

So I’m asking if distance runners should get a pass? Should it take an inherently longer time for recovery from a 13:00 5000, or a 27:20 10000 than from a 9.80 100, 13.00 hurdle race, or 1:43 800 – just to toss out some random numbers and events? Let me know what you think. Should Cheruiyot competing a handful of times then winning a World Double (semi & final in the 5000, final only in the 10000) trump the grind it out seasons of a Pearson or Adams where there is not only more wear and tear, but more risk of loss?

I am finding it to be an intriguing question. You’ve heard my thoughts I’d love to hear yours.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is London 2017 a Game Changer?

This week the IAAF announced that London will be host to the 2017 edition of the World Track and Field Championships. Interestingly enough, they will follow Beijing who will host in 2015, just as they follow Beijing as host of the Olympic Games (2008).

So the question I’m asking myself today is: does this change the dynamics of bidding to host the World Championships? Or phrased another way, will we see more pairings of the Games’ host following up by playing host to the World Championships – a “legacy” to further the use of stadia built in the construction of the Olympic facilities?

I actually rather like the idea, if that indeed is a “trend” going forward. I mean, it would have been great to have had Atlanta’s Olympic stadium/track preserved and the facility used to host say, the 1999 World Championships – no offense to Seville. It would have given the U.S. it’s first hosting of the global track championships, AND it would have provided us with a much needed track and field facility to use for other events such as Olympic Trials; NCAA Championships; another bid for a World Championships; and perhaps another Diamond League or Euro Circuit meet! All of which would have come “free of charge” via the Olympic construction of the site. Instead here we sit with nothing left from the construction of Atlanta save our memories of the event – and Centennial Olympic Park – nice, but not much of an athletics legacy from the world’s greatest athletic event.

I also like the idea from the standpoint of another suggestion I had earlier this year – reverting back to a four year cycle for the World Championships. If we were to have Worlds in the two year cycle between the Games – leaving a year gap both before and after – it would leave our athletes with a major championship to prepare for every two years. Which, given the stress and strain we are seeing affect our athletes would be just about right from the standpoint of ensuring that each competition would be populated with a healthy dose of the best the world has to offer.

In that scenario, simply following up the Olympics with the same site for the World Championships two years later, would ensure that a) a proper vetting process would have already taken place in the selection process; b) that the host site would have the best facilities available for Worlds, given that they would have been prepared with the Games themselves in mind; and c) the sport would get adequate exposure throughout the world – right now we’re looking at China, Britain, and Brazil if Rio were next in line.

It would also allow the various federations of the sport to utilize the monetary strength of the Olympic movement, to help develop track and field – specifically in building state of the art stadium/facilities. For example, I would encourage USATF (still in need of a CEO) to get together with the USOC to work on developing an Olympic bid with a World Championships bid in mind. Putting together a bid where hosting the Olympics provides the physical structure that has been lacking to formulate an adequate World Championships bid. Such bids could even be put together to include the potential use of the stadium for events such as Soccer’s World Cup – the ultimate idea being to create a “Sports Center” within the country that could play host to the world in multiple events.

Pairings of this type also fit into the overarching goal of the Olympics to bind the international community together through sport (my own paraphrasing). My point here is that I do like the concept. In a world where finances are becoming a premium across the globe, sport needs to look at ways to maximize its dollars to get the biggest bang for the buck – and multi-use stadiums would do exactly that. Multi use in the sense that it isn’t built for the staging of a single event then later dismantled or left sitting as a white elephant on the landscape. I look forward to seeing athletes gather once again in the “Bird’s Nest”, and now eagerly anticipate the “double championships” to be held in London (“12/’17). Having the world go to Rio twice would be nice, as would having them come here to the U.S. (hint).

At any rate, it’s something for the sport to think about if it hasn’t already. Beijing and London could be just coincidence, but it could change the game.

Time to get back to the rankings – up next the women’s 400 meter hurdles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bolt Wants Four London Golds – But are Any Certain?

Usain Bolt stated recently that he now wants to add the 4x4 relay to his repertoire in an attempt to go for four gold medals at the London Olympic Games. The last time we saw a four medal haul at the Olympic Games was by Carl Lewis in 1984 – before that it was Jesse Owens in 1936. So it is indeed a very rare occurrence – one that requires both dominance over one’s opponents as well as a bit of luck and good fortune.

Owens was one of the most dominant athletes of his day. But in fairness to the competition, Ralph Metcalf didn’t run his best 100 in Berlin, starting very poorly – that bit of good fortune on Owens part. Lewis too was one of the most dominant athletes of his day. But again in fairness to the competition, WR holder Calvin Smith was injured just before the Trials and just missed making the 100 meter squad – and would run a windy 9.94 before the Games, as well as perform on the winning/WR setting 4x1 at the Games: similarly Mel Lattany who ran the 3nd fastest time in history to date at 9.96 in May was also injured before the Trials; and Ron Brown, who had previously beaten Carl Lewis in the 100 at the ’83 Jenner Classic (10.02w to 10.03w) would be injured prior to the Games and was not at his best in Los Angeles – all contributed to the good fortune on Lewis’ part.

The last time any athlete attempted to win more than three medals was Marion Jones’ “Drive for Five” at the Sydney Games of 2000. She won the 100/200 double and ran a leg on the victorious 4x4. But she couldn’t find her form in the long jump finishing in the bronze position; and injury to teammate Inger Miller left her off the 4x1 and doomed the team to bronze there as well – showing just how quickly poor fortune can derail the medal hunt.

I bring these things up, because even for the most dominant of athletes the path to gold can be tenuous, and while Bolt was certainly more than dominant in Beijing, the landscape for 2012 has already changed dramatically.

In Beijing, Bolt was the beneficiary of some of that Carl Lewis good fortune as his chief rival and previous year’s double World Champion, Tyson Gay, fell to injury at the U.S. Trials. With no one else remotely in the same zip code as Bolt & Gay in the sprints in 2008, Bolt was left with no resistance on his way to romps in both sprints and the 4x1. Four years later that scenario appears to have changed dramatically.

First there is the status of Tyson Gay. Fighting through injuries in ‘09/’10/’11 he finally went under the knife last year to take care of his problems. From everything I have heard he is coming along nicely and should be competing injury free for the first time since the ’07 season – a season in which he won three gold medals himself. And while fighting through injuries the past few seasons he has still managed to set new PR’s of 9.69, 19.58, and 44.86. Better is expected in 2012.

Then there has been the development of Yohan Blake, last year’s World Champion in the 100 meters. With Bolt out of the final due to his false start, Blake ran through the field on his way to a clear victory. As impressive as that was however, he really turned heads with his season ending 19.26 to win the 200 in Brussels – the #2 time in history and only .07 off of Bolt’s WR! At 21 years of age, Blake is just about in the same spot Bolt was entering the 2008 season – only significantly faster across the board.

That brings me to another young man with tremendous upside potential – Ryan Bailey. The 22 year old Bailey is a year older than Bolt was entering the Olympic year of ’08 but has bests of 9.88/20.10 in spite of missing the 2011 season to injury. Bailey has two things going for him as he enters the Olympic season however. One is that he brings the tall sprint frame that Bolt has made famous – 6’ 4” tall and extremely coordinated. As a matter of fact looking at football stars such as Calvin “Megatron” Johnson (6’ 5”), Brandon Marshall (6’ 4”), Antonio Gates (6’4”), and Kellen Winslow (6’ 4”) tall is the new athletic! The second thing he has going for him is his new choice in coaches – sprint guru John Smith. As fast as Bailey has been to date, his start has been horrible and he has had difficulty staying healthy. Smith teaches the most efficient start technique in sprinting history, the Drive Phase, and has shown throughout his history to be able to keep his athletes healthy and fit – his latest being Daegu sprint and hurdle champions Carmelita Jeter and Jason Richardson. And did I mention he coached multiple World and Olympic champion Maurice Greene? Bailey should benefit greatly from Smith’s tutelage.

Also joining Smith’s camp is Daegu double silver medalist Walter Dix. Dix’ silver medal double is a follow up on his double bronze medal performance in Beijing. Like Bailey, however, he has done so in spite of flaws within his race – most notably his first 40 meters. So like Bailey, he should benefit greatly from Smith’s coaching acumen and could see significant improvement on his already impressive PR’s of 9.88 & 19.53!

There are two other sprinters worth noting in this conversation. In the 200 meters there is Wallace Spearmon – a perennial medalist and finalist throughout the last half decade. Spearmon sports a 200 meter PR of 19.65, but has battled with injuries for the last several seasons – yet ran 19.79 in ’10 coming off surgery the previous season. Spearmon is significant because before the injuries set in HE was the dominant 200 man in the world, consistently beating both Bolt and Gay, and healthy he has the best closing speed in the event. Good health and a better bend and Spearmon is a factor and in the conversation.

The other sprinter of note is former 100 meter WR holder Asafa Powell. Powell has run sub10 more times than any other sprinter in history (over 70 and counting). His problem has never been speed, but competing against the best on the brightest stages – Worlds and Olympics. Powell was in the championship runs of Gay (’07) and Bolt (‘08/’09) coming 3rd, 5th and 3rd. Should Powell find his nerve in London, he could become the factor many have long waited to see.

Of course, as Marion Jones discovered, when chasing a dream as lofty as four gold medals, there are some things that are out of one’s control – the relays. And in Bolt’s case half of the desired four gold will be dependent on his teammates. The 4x1 has proven to be a gold mine for Jamaica in the last three majors – in part because they have run very fast, but also in part because of failure on the part of U.S. squads. The lesson here being that just as U.S. squads have come away empty handed due to not getting that stick around the track, the potential is always there. The Jamaican women found this out in Beijing when they took to the track a heavy favorite with the U.S. women having left the baton on the track, when they too failed to finish in the final and watched inferior teams pick up the hardware. Speed is important, but the 4x1 is ultimately about moving the stick. By the way, the last time that the U.S. squad got the stick around the track they won gold ahead of Jamaica – who had both Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt!

But perhaps the greatest stumbling block in the path to four gold medals is the event that Bolt now wants to add – the 4x4. Entering the final in Daegu with perhaps the weakest squad the U.S. has ever put on the track for a Major championship, the team still emerged victorious by a half second – extending a winning streak in the event to fifteen straight Major wins going back twenty years – the most dominant record in any event over the last two decades! During the same time frame the closest Jamaica has come to the top of the podium was a silver behind the U.S. in ’95 (2:57.32 to 2:59.88), with nine bronze medal finishes in ’91, ‘96’, ’97, ’99, ’00, ’01, ’03, ’05, & ’11. With the clearance of LaShawn Merritt for London, the impending return to form of Jeremy Wariner, and the usual emergence of new 400 talent, I would expect the U.S. squad in London to be much stronger than the team that returned home with gold this year – making for a very tough row to hoe for any other team looking to take the top of the London victory stand – and making for a very rough path for four gold medals for any sprinter in London.

There is something magical about Olympic seasons, as they bring out the best in the world’s athletes. Good athletes become great, just ask Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson, or even Usain Bolt himself did in the past. And entering this Olympic year there is a preponderance of sprint talent waiting for its chance at greatness. Many of whom I outlined above, some of whom will emerge that we never expected to be in the hunt – that’s the way of the sport.

Bolt’s pursuit of four gold medals will be a much watched story of 2012, just as Lewis’ was in ’84 and Jones’ was in ’00. Will he emerge as Lewis or Jones, only time will tell. One thing is for certain, given the varied stories that will make up the sprints in the Olympic season, there will be much to watch and talk about. I wish Bolt and his competitors Godspeed.

Friday, November 11, 2011

2011 in Review – Men’s 400 Meter Hurdles

David Greene David Greene of Great Britain wins the gold medal in the Mens 400m Hurdle Final during day five of the 20th European Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on July 31, 2010 in Barcelona, Spain.This was a very interesting event. On the one hand it had the potential to be great with athletes like Angelo Taylor, Bershawn Jackson, Johnny Dutch, and Javier Culson returning from a hot 2010 season. And with L.J. Van Zyl blazing from the late winter, it looked like this might be THE hottest event of the year. But things just didn’t pan out in 2011, which ended up being a season that fizzled more than sizzled.

L.J. Van Zyl (SA) started out like a house a fire blazing 47.66 in Pretoria on Feb 25 – faster than anyone in history had ever run so early in the season! He came back to win the South African title in a swift 47.73 on Apr 10, and the die was cast for a very fast World Championships with the season not even truly under way, and the bar set high for the rest of the world.

Van Zyl kept the heat on throughout the month of May winning Doha in 48.11 over Bershawn Jackson(USA); Rome in 47.91 over David Greene (GBR), Angelo Taylor (USA)and Javier Culson (PUR); and Ostrava in 47.66 over Greene again. At that point Van Zyl was looking like one of the most dominant athletes on the planet, with the question being: would anyone step up to challenge him?

Then came June, New York, and an ill wind that slowed everything down. Suddenly Van Zyl looked vulnerable – finishing in 4th place behind winner Javier Culson (48.50), Bershawn Jackson and David Greene – and the season began to change. US Nationals would see three men run under 48.00 – Jeshua Anderson (47.93), Bershawn Jackson (47.93) and Angelo Taylor (47.94) – further threatening Van Zyl’s dominance.

But as the Euro Circuit got going in earnest it was David Greene winning in Lausanne (over Culson) and Birmingham (over Jackson and Culson) that began to look like the one to take over the event. That is until Angelo Taylor came back to a win in Monaco in a rare sub 48 (47.97) over Jackson and Greene, looking like a hurdler that was beginning to hit his stride. Then in London, the final race before Worlds, Taylor would DQ, Culson would get the win, and Daegu was looking like anyone’s race to win.

Daegu would end up being the only World Championships to not be won under 48 seconds with David Greene’s 48.26 becoming the slowest winning time in Worlds history. Culson would take silver (48.44) and Van Zyl the bronze (48.80) – with former World champion Bershawn Jackson (49.24) and former double Olympic champion Angelo Taylor (49.31) well back in 6th and 7th.

Post Worlds was anticlimactic with Culson winning Brussels and now it’s time to try and sort it all out.


#1 David Greene Great Britain

Greene get the nod via his gold medal at Worlds and the best overall record. It may seem odd to pick an event leader that didn’t have a winning record ( 4 – 5), but virtually no one did in this crazy season. In addition to Worlds he won in Stockholm (ETC), Lausanne and Birmingham. But was also 2nd in Rome, Ostrava & Brussels to go with 3rd in New York and Monaco – making him the most consistent hurdler on the season to go with his World title.


#2 Javier Culson Puerto Rico

Silver at Worlds, Culson had wins in New York, London and Brussels. He had only one other runner up slot (Lausanne) a single 3rd (Birmingham) and a 4th (Rome). Overall his 5 – 5 record was statistically better than Greene’s, but he lost to Greene at Worlds, Lausanne, Birmingham and Rome, so he sits in the same spot he occupied in Daegu.


#3 L.J. Van Zyl South Africa

If I were awarding slots based on half a season, Van Zyl’s first half would have given him the top spot hands down. But his melt down in the second half of the season cost him dearly, as after running away with Doha, Rome and Ostrava he could only manage 4th in New York and Monaco and an 8th place in Berlin. IN spite of the only winning record at 5 – 4 he gets this slot on the strength of his early season and his bronze in Daegu.


#4 Bershawn Jackson United States

Only 6th at Worlds, this was not one of Jackson’s best seasons – as a 1 – 7 records will attest. Still Jackson was the runner up in Daegu (Colorful), New York, Nationals, Birmingham and Monaco. So garners the 4th spot as the most consistent of the rest.


#5 Angelo Taylor United States

Taylor’s season was very similar to Jackson’s. His seasonal record was only 1 – 6 and he finished 7th at Worlds. But he did win in Monaco, and was 3rd in Daegu (Colorful), Rome and Nationals to slip into the 5th spot.


Next I’ll take a look at the women’s event, where they preformed much more admirably.