Track is my field: Mark Cullen's international track and field website featuring storytelling, commentary, and predictions and event analyses for the Olympics and World Championships. I'll be writing from the 2018 European Championships in Berlin in August. I'm active on Facebook and Twitter: @trackerati.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Day 4 - Monday, 8/6 - wPole Vault, wShot Put, m400h, wSteeplechase, m400m

Women's Pole Vault
Yelena Isibayeva is the world record holder, two-time Olympic Champion, two-time World Champion, and when you go to the all-time world performance lists to see where she ranks, she holds marks 1-14. That’s right, you have to get to #15 to find a name other than Isi’s. It doesn’t make her invincible, however – she hasn’t won a major meet medal since ’08, and I saw her no height at the Worlds in Berlin in ’09 – talk about a shocked stadium. She’s not as dominant as she used to be and finished 6th in the ’11 Worlds. She won 5 in a row this year and then, just to add a little drama to the season, she no-heighted in her last meet before the Olympics. When she’s on, it’s remarkable how effortless she can make vaulting appear. I think the silver and bronze will be decided among 4 vaulters. #15 on the all-time list (and #2 performer) is US record holder Jenn Suhr, who won silver behind Isi in Beijing, but hasn’t been a major factor in major international meets since then, though she’s been dominant on a national level. She was closest to a Worlds medal in 4th last year in Daegu. Fabiana Murer (Brazil) won gold in Daegu, and was 2010 World indoor champ. She and Silke Spiegelburg (Ger) have the best Diamond League records this year, but Spiegelburg has yet to medal in the World or Olympic Championships. Svetlana Feofanova (Rus) has a lengthy stellar record in major meets, with a World Championship all the way back to 2003 and a bronze as recently as ’11.

  1. Yelena Isinbayeva, Russia
  2. Svetlana Feofanova, Russia
  3. Fabiana Murer, Brazil

Shot Put
Valerie Adams (NZ) has won the recent majors triple crown: gold in Beijing followed by world titles in ’09 and ’11. Is there such a thing as the quadruple crown? She won that, too, with her ’07 World title added to the mix. Nadzeya Ostapchuck is remarkably consistent in major meets; with her World title in 2005, she has World silvers in ’03, ’07, and ’11, as well as a bronze from Beijing (08). Intriguingly, she leads the 2012 world list and has thrown over a foot and a half farther than Adams this year. Is she tired of polishing silver? Jill Camarena-Williams (US) was a surprise bronze medalist in Daegu in 2011 and finished 4th in the World Indoors this year. China’s Lijao Gong was just behind her in Daegu. Yevgeniya Kolodko has won the Russian National Championships two years in a row, but has not fared as well farther from home. Only 22 in a veteran’s sport, look for this enormous talent four years from now. Beware: Just back on the radar screen is Belarus’s Natalya Miknevich, silver medalist in Beijing, who launched herself back onto the yearly lists in 6th place at the Belarussian Championships in early July. What a terrific competition for 3rd. And the winner of bronze is no longer a surprise.

  1. Valerie Adams, New Zealand
  2. Nadzeya Ostapchuck, Belarus
  3. Jill Camarena-Williams, United States

400m hurdles
This was supposed to be the coronation of Great Britain’s Dai Greene; the 2011 World Champ seemed perfectly positioned for glory at home. Second to Greene in Daegu last year – and in Berlin in ’09 as well – was Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson. But it’s Culson who has had the magical year as he is undefeated and has been fearless in taking on all comers. He has won four Diamond League races and defeated Greene every time they’ve faced each other. In fact, his season is so stellar that with an Olympic Championship he just might find himself in consideration for world track and field athlete of the year – except, perhaps, for that Ashton Eaton fella. Greene can’t catch a break: even when he ran 47.84 in the Diamond League Paris race, Culson ran 47.78. The US sends a deep team with veterans Kerron Clement (world gold ’07 and ’09, Olympic silver ’08) and Angelo Taylor, who still doesn’t have a World Championship medal, but my, don’t those Olympic golds from Sydney (’00) and Beijing (’08) provide ample consolation?! A medal twelve years after his first would cement his position among active athletes as godfather of US track and field. But the winner of the US Trials was Michael Tinsley, who is a different kind of veteran – one who has been around for quite awhile (he’s 28) but finally is coming into his own. If he runs as opportunistically as he did in Eugene, he might surprise himself with his mettle.

  1. Javier Culson, Puerto Rico
  2. Dai Greene, Great Britain
  3. Michael Tinsley, United States
3,000m steeplechase
When Russia’s Yuliya Zaripova won ’11 World gold, Kenya’s Milcah Chemos won bronze. And when Zaripova won silver in ’09, Chemos won bronze. So why are so many picking Chemos to win? I’d have more confidence in her gold medal chances if she would just learn how to hurdle! She is noted – and noticeable – for her sideways lift over the barriers. Sofia Assefa (Eth) has finished second or third in four Diamond League meets this year and is #2 on the yearly best time list. Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew made herself part of the conversation with a quick time in Oslo this year when she finished 3rd to Chemos and Assefa. Making late appearances in the top ten of  the yearly list are two great champions: Spain’s 09 World Champ Marta Dominguez, and Russia’s 2008 Olympic Champ and world record holder, Gulnara Galkina, whose 9:24.60 this year in Moscow in June pales in comparison to her 8:58.81 world and Olympic record. But suddenly and unexpectedly, she’s in the mix.

  1. Yuliya Zaripova, Russia
  2. Milcah Chemos, Kenya
  3. Sofia Assefa, Ethiopia
400m
Kirani James will win Grenada’s first-ever Olympic medal in any event. But even though he was golden in last year’s World Championships when he was just 19 years old, this year has seen LaShawn Merritt’s (US) return to form after a drug suspension. He ran an eased-up 44.12 to win the US Olympic Trials and was clearly capable of much faster. However, he pulled up in the Monaco Diamond League meet (7/20) with a hamstring strain, and it’s not clear how serious an injury this is. Belgium has produced in twins Jonathan and Kevin Borlee two dynamic and exciting poster boys of European track and field. Kevin was bronze medalist in Daegu last year in that oh-so-close finish when 1st and 3rd were separated by 3/10 of a second and the top two by 3/100. Is it any surprise that with these two brothers Belgium won the 4x400m relay at this year’s European Championships? NCAA Champ Tony McQuay (Florida) was second in the US Trials, and this means he has twice this year excelled when running rounds. McQuay reminds me of a kid most said I was crazy to pick for gold in 1992: Quincy Watts, who went on to win gold.

  1. LaShawn Merritt, United States
  2. Kirani James, Grenada
  3. Tony McQuay, United States

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