Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bolt's Legacy

In His Own Words

Usain Bolt's final press conference of his career was held at London Olympic Stadium after the World Championships concluded Sunday with a special tribute to him.

Bolt was thoughtful, reflective, and funny, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to ask him a question; he gave careful consideration to my inquiry about his legacy.

This is a transcript of our exchange, with minor editing. I have highlighted sections, below.

MC
Usain, Mark Cullen for Track and Field News and the Trackerati website.

Much has been made of your forthcoming absence from the sport, but instead, what do you think you have left that will help the sport to grow in the future? In other words, what do you think your legacy to the sport of track and field is?

UB
I’ve proven that with hard work anything is possible. My motto says 'anything is possible; I don’t think limits.'

For me, I was actually sitting down today and doing an interview and it was ironic that my motto says 'anything is possible - don’t think limits' and no one would ever feel like I’ll be beaten in a championship. And I feel that it shows a high level to the kids: continue trying in anything you do.

I feel I’m on the wrong end of this situation (laughs wryly, referring to his 100m bronze), but I personally feel this is a good message to the kids: work hard, be strong, and let’s push on; and for me, if I can leave something like that to the younger generation - that with hard work, no matter what’s going on, you can be the best that you can be - then that’s a good legacy to leave.

MC
Thank you.

Usain Bolt's Farewell Ceremony at London Olympic Stadium

photo courtesy of and copyright by IAAF/Getty Images




Saturday, August 12, 2017

Did Great Britain Foul China in Men's 4x100 Relay?

Watch this video and decide: did Great Britain's Adam Gemili foul China's Bingtian Su in the 4x100m relay?

Note Gemili raising his arm and Su flinching in response.

Great Britain won the race and China finished 4th.

Click on link here:



Friday, August 11, 2017

Steeple Shocker

Emma Coburn and Courtney Freirichs stunned the distance running world with a wholly unexpected 1-2 triumph in the women's 3000m steeplechase at the World Championships in London.

Coburn set a personal, American, and Championship record of 9:02.58, breaking her previous best by over 5 seconds.

Frerichs' 9:03.77 broke her own best by an astounding 15.32 seconds. She came in with a best of 9:19.09 and left as #7 on the all-time world list, with Coburn ahead of her at #6.

In a dramatic and electrifying final lap, Coburn and Frerichs sprinted away from the Kenyan and Bahraini athletes at precisely the moment it might have been expected that the reverse would happen.

Not tonight.

As they sprinted off the last water jump, Coburn broke away for the win while Frerichs sprinted away from Kenya's Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi for silver.

In a historic race whose implications will reverberate for years to come, Coburn and Frerichs rewrote expectations for US women in the steeplechase.

With Evan Jager's bronze, the US won half of the steeple medals here and recorded a nifty tally of gold, silver, and bronze.

Frerichs summarized it best when she asked - several times - "Is this really happening?"



This just in: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

photo courtesy Getty Images/IAAF












Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Perfect Night for a Duck

The Oregon Duck began her reign in the rain.

Phyllis Francis is the new World 400m champion.

In a stirring display of tenacity and confidence, Francis powered past favorites Allyson Felix (US) and Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bah) in the final 40 meters to claim her first individual World title.

Francis ran a personal best 49.92.

While that is the slowest winning time in World Championship history, the cool, wet weather kept times slow, distances short, and competition fierce on a night marked by persistent and heavy rainfall.

Francis is Oregon’s first major meet sprint champion since Otis Davis, who won the Olympic 400m in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Francis was unsure of her position at the finish.

"Me?" she asked when told she had won.

Her mental approach worked to perfection.

Francis "put doubt on the back burner," she said, and the secret to her success is "patience and believing in yourself." 

She had both patience and belief in bundles Wednesday night. 

Doubt was nowhere to be found.

Before the race she told herself, "You deserve to be there. We're all finalists and whatever happens, happens."

The two runners she swept past are individual Olympic champions, Felix at 200m and Miller-Uibo - she of the famous Rio finish line dive - at 400m.

"They are such phenomenal competitors - I was just telling myself to stay up with them."

Francis' win is the culmination of a well-planned progression through the major championship ranks. She placed 7th in the 400m at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and 5th at the Rio Olympic Games. 

An accomplished relayist, the 25 year old Francis owns 4x400m relay gold from both the 2015 World Relays and the 2016 Olympics.

"It means a lot to me... this is a huge step that is blossoming into something great in the future for my career."

Francis said of her last 40m, "I've got to go back and look at it. I was telling myself to be patient and go with the flow. I told myself 'don't panic, don't freak out, don't get too excited. Put your arms down, put your legs down, and keep going.' "

On winning the World title with a personal best time, Francis said, "It's a good feeling - I'm ecstatic. It's so surreal right now."

Francis has a fan in none other than Allyson Felix. When asked what advice she would give Francis about her career path, Felix said, “I think she’s already doing fabulous.”

Fabulous indeed.

On a perfect night for a duck, this Duck ran a perfect race.


Note the facial expressions of Miller-Uibo, Francis, and Felix (l-r)
Phyllis Francis Framed Felicitously by Flames
photos copyright by and courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF





Spinning in the Rain

It's pouring in London.

It's Wednesday of Worlds - the midpoint of these Championships - which have been characterized by cool but generally favorable conditions for the athletes.

No steam bath of Rio, no furnace of Sacramento.

All was well until last night when it got cold.

As a Seattle native, I am well-prepared for damp conditions, but I got chilled to the bone last evening in spite of multiple layers of clothing. The cold started in my hands and traveled up my arms into my core.

Now it is wet - soaking wet.

It was raining when I awoke early this morning, and soon I'll head back into it for travel to the evening session. From the Underground (subway) station to the stadium is easily a mile.

I'll be able to tolerate wet shoes quite successfully. My coaching mantra in Seattle: rain days are practice days.

But this, most unfortunately, is a day of finals in the women's shot put, and qualifying in the men's hammer.

Not a good day to be spinning in a ring.

The women's long jumpers, too, will encounter a possibly slippery takeoff board.

In conditions like these everyone hesitates just a touch, and that hesitation wreaks havoc. Athletes become understandably cautious.

Caution changes everything when throwing caution to the wind is what we're here for.

Dwight Stones - 1976 - Montreal. 3rd in the high jump final in the drenching rain when the covering of the stadium was not finished on time, he set the world record in good conditions just days later in Philadelphia.

In a statistical and geographic oddity, Stones had set the world record also in Philadelphia on June 5th. For Stones, world records were bookends to Olympic bronze.

Ask Stones if weather conditions made a difference - in his career, in his life.

I understand that everyone is competing under equal conditions, and that athletes should prepare for all. But how well can anyone prepare for drenching rain? Or, for that matter, blistering heat: 111F/44C, as it was at US Nationals in Sacramento, CA this year?

Is it time for us to consider covered stadiums as a requirement for World Championship sites?

Did I mention that the 2019 World Championships are in Doha, Qatar?









Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Cold Evening in London

Events that like warmth are left in search of it tonight.

It's 59F/15C in London Olympic Stadium.

Much anticipated finals will be held in the women's javelin, men's steeplechase, men's 800m, men's pole vault, and men's 400m.

There is much buzz about a possible win by Evan Jager (US) in the steeplechase, and even more about the possibility of a world record by Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) in the men's 400m.

Most unfortunately, the single person most likely to push van Niekerk was Botswana's Isaac Makwala. It is widely being reported that he was turned away at the gate tonight. A norovirus went through his hotel, and he is now only 24 hours into the 48 hour quarantine requirement.

The steeple, 800m, and 400m will take place within a sparkling 40 minutes at the end of tonight's program.

A great finish is guaranteed.



Friday of Worlds

Four years ago, just weeks after I started this website, I went to a morning session of the 2013 Moscow World Championships and posted a description of the experience.

Hours later, Sieg Lindstrom of Track and Field News placed "Teardrop of Sunlight" at the top of the center column of the Track and Field News website.

On Friday of Worlds.

Exposure was never like this.

It was the turning point for my blog - the before and after moment.

In fond acknowledgment of what has proved to be a turning point in my life, here is a link to "Teardrop of Sunlight":

http://www.trackerati.com/2013/08/teardrop-of-sunlight.html

A longer piece, "A Ride for Robert "- my #1 post these last four years - tells the story of how I came to that moment:

http://www.trackerati.com/2014/12/a-ride-for-robert.html

I would like to thank my readers - you honor me every time you read a story. Thank you for your enthusiastic support.

I remain deeply grateful to Sieg Lindstrom and Track and Field News for their ongoing support and encouragement;

to Thomas Byrne of IAAF's Spikes Magazine who has been singularly enthusiastic about my perspective on this sport we care so deeply about;

to the crew at LetsRun.com for their ongoing support of my work - and for their courage and the risks they take to make ours a sport of honor and integrity.

Meanwhile, it's Friday of Worlds again, and this evening I'm honored to be trusted with covering the men's hammer throw and women's steeplechase finals for Track and Field News.

What a difference four years makes.

I've got to get back to the stadium.

With gratitude and appreciation,

Mark Cullen
www.trackerati.com

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
World Athletics Championships

Photo by Dmitry Rozhkov




Monday, August 7, 2017

Good to the Last Drop

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. 
Take a look at the finish of the women's 100m.
Torie Bowie (lane 7, US) wins 100m over Marie-Josee Ta Lou (lane 4, Ivory Coast)
Note the positions of Bowie and Ta Lou.
Bowie is leaning forward so far that she lost control of her footing.
Ta Lou is straight up and almost leaning back.

There it is: the difference in the race.

1/100th of a second.

Here is what happens next:
Bowie's momentum causes her to fall after the finish line.
Here is the difference 1/100th of a second can make in someone's life:
Bowie and Ta Lou embrace after the final results were posted.
Yes, silver can be a bitter disappointment.


Bowie's finish is reminiscent of Emily Infeld's (US) in the 2015 Beijing 10,000m when she ran through the finish line to nab bronze from Molly Huddle (US). It also conjures a vision of Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH) throwing herself across the line of the women's 400m in Rio to nip Allyson Felix (US) in one of the most stirring 400m races ever run. 


This 100m was surely its equal.


Photos courtesy of and copyright by Getty Images/IAAF.
Thank you.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bronze

Usain Bolt, a sprinter from Jamaica, won the bronze medal in the men’s 100m dash.

That could be the opening line of reports written by journalists covering the event.

But it’s not – not anywhere, and not here.

How about this?

Mason Finley, a thrower from the United States, won the bronze medal in the discus.

Yes, that’s a likely lead.

How different bronze looks when it’s worn by Usain Bolt and Mason Finley.

Bolt is, of course, not just any sprinter, but one who changed the face of the sport. To say that the sport is in his debt is to put it ever so mildly. While bronze may seem a disappointment now, some perspective is in order. Bolt won silver in the 2007 Osaka 200m.

He wasn’t perfect in the 100m, either, as we seem to forget; he false-started in the 2011 World final in Daegu. With time, I hope we’ll view this bronze differently than we might today.

Our long-term perspective should be that, in sprints, he medaled in senior major championships over the course of 11 years, which is an utterly remarkable and unlikely achievement.

Bolt first appeared on the world scene in the World Youth championships – in 2001. A space odyssey, indeed.

This was a down year for the 100m and a down year for Bolt. Bolt’s start was not that of a world champion in any of his races here, and while it was not a huge surprise that he lost – well, there’s that word again. He finished 3rd. In the entire world. But his previous achievements led us to expect more than we had a right to.

For Mason Finley, the excitement of the final four rounds was palpable. 16th on the discus world list coming into this meet, Finley stated after qualifying that his goal was to break the 66m barrier again. Finley, who was 11th in the Rio Olympics at 62.05/203-7, brought a PB of 66.72/218-11, set in 2016, to this meet.

So he threw over 67m on his first throw.

And over 68m on his second.

From the second round on, he was in bronze medal position, and he defended it vigorously throughout. The countdown was on. Throw after throw, round after round, champion after champion came after Finley’s 68.03/223-2 - a stunning number for him regardless of place.

Finley’s bronze is an unexpected triumph. While it’s tempting to say that he is the little engine that could, I did note during our interview that I was looking up at the underside of his chin. He’s 6’8”, 345lbs.

Finley was thunderstruck at his achievement, and when asked how bronze changes his view of where he fits in the discus cosmos, he demurred and asked for time to absorb it all.

“Especially when you’re talking about (Piotr) Malachowski (defending champion, 4th) and (Robert) Harting (Olympic and 3x World champ, 5th), it’s crazy to me,” he said. “These guys are my heroes.”

The other bronzes won Saturday night were by Ruswahl Samaai of South Africa in the men’s long jump and Agnes Jebet Tirop of Kenya in the women’s 10,000.

While Samaai, 25, has been nipping at the edges of major meets, he had yet to medal. He has been operating in the shadow of his teammate, Luvo Manyonga, this year’s champion. Samaai finished well. He claimed bronze on his 5th jump and then his 6th was best of all.

Agnes Jebet Tirop, 2015 World Cross Country champion, twice finished 3rd in the World Junior 5,000m, and on Saturday won her first major meet track medal, bronze in the women’s 10,000m.

Think there’s not joyous celebration in her camp today? Most certainly, though at 21, her potential is vast and the color of her medals is sure to change.

Of the four finals Saturday night, how do the bronzes rate?

Three joys and a disappointment, though not nearly the disappointment it seems on the face of it.

Gold doesn’t tarnish. With proper care, neither does bronze. Just buff it from time to time to reveal the master craftsman’s achievement underneath.





Usain Bolt and Mason Finley
photos courtesy of and copyright by Getty Images/IAAF.









Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saturday Morning at Worlds

The story of the morning was athletes who had to spin. It rained on their parade, and with few exceptions, the women’s hammer throwers and men’s shot putters threw less well than expected in the Saturday morning qualifying rounds. Slippery surfaces left athletes understandably tentative and cautious.

Nothing says it better than that 2016 world Athlete of the Year Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland finished second to her teammate Malwina Kopron. The world record holder and Olympic champion was satisfied with her throw nonetheless.

"We have to be ready for all conditions and it all went OK for me to qualify with the first throw,” she said. “The circle is OK, the throw was also solid, it felt normal, like a throw at the beginning of a competition.”

Striking fear in the hearts of her competitors, she said of Monday’s final, “I hope I will manage to open the competition with a solid throw." Her idea of a solid throw is a world record, which is close to likely if the weather conditions are good.

While there was nothing spectacular about the men’s 800m heats, Donavan Brazier (US) looked exceptionally good in the last 180m of his qualifying heat win. His stride was elegant and seemingly effortless. Watch out. The 800m resumes with semi-finals Sunday evening.

Thomas Walsh unleashed a sterling 22.14/72-7¾ season’s best to lead the shot put qualifiers. All four US entrants advanced – 2016 Olympic Champion Ryan Crouser, 2015 World Champion Joe Kovacs, two-time World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting, and 23 year old Darrell Hill. The main casualty of qualifying rounds was Jamaica’s O’Dayne Richards, the surprise bronze medalist in the 2015 Beijing Worlds.

The expected showdown between two-time World and Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen (Col) and her young rival from Venezuela, Yulimar Rojas, will take place in Monday evening’s final. Both qualified easily, but 2008 Olympic champion Olga Rypakova served notice that she’s not quite through yet; she was the surprise leader of the entire qualification at 14.57/47 9¾ . 

The much-anticipated men’s 400m featured strong performances by the favorites in the opening round. South Africa’s world record holder Wayde van Niekerk won his heat in 45.57, while Isaac Makwala of Botswana led all qualifiers in 44.56. LaShawn Merritt (US) qualified in 45.00, while teammate Fred Kerley, the discovery of the NCAA season, advanced in 44.92.

The women’s heptathlon featured a scintillating high jump between Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez and Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium. Rodriguez became the crowd favorite when she PBed three times on her way to earning 1171 points. Thiam, the surprise Rio gold medalist, tied Rodriguez  at the same height, and both earned the honor of setting the championship record. Rodriguez is only 8 points behind leader Thiam after two events. Another surprise in the making?

This evening features finals in the men’s 100m, women’s 10,000m, men’s long jump, and men’s discus. The heptathletes will contest two more events, the shot put and 200m. 

As for the men’s 100m, Usain Bolt is looking as vulnerable as he ever has. I will not be surprised to see someone else win. He displayed an uncharacteristic sign of lack of confidence yesterday with his lengthy complaints about the blocks. How many times have I seen an athlete set up his excuses in advance? I’d love to see him win and close out his glorious career in style, but teammate Julian Forte and US emerging star Christina Coleman both have a chance to pull the upset. Watch out, too, for Christopher Belcher (US), who has been under 10.00 only once but has competed exceptionally well when it counts in what has been a slow year for the event.

Meanwhile, the women’s 1500 is as deep as it’s ever been and four UK athletes will compete, with Laura Muir a medal favorite who needs to get through to Monday’s final.

Earplugs anyone?!