Friday, August 3, 2012

Day 1 - Friday, August 3 - Finals: Men's Shot Put, Women's 10,000m Run

Olympic track and field gets underway today - the four-year wait is over! 

Nuggett of the day: what is track and field called in Europe?
Answer: Athletics 

That's why we have the World Athletics Championships, not the World Track and Field Championships. 

Same with the international governing agency of T+F...
the IAAF is the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Here are the event previews for today's finals. 
Have a terrific time watching the first day of... ummm... Athletics!

Men's Shot Put
One way to analyze these events is not to pick 1-2-3, but rather, to assess the chance that each athlete has to earn a medal. In the men’s shot put, each of 7 men has a 90% chance of medaling, so deep is the field; indeed, 10 of the last 12 Olympic and World Championship medals have gone to this crew. It’s tough to break into the upper echelons of world class shot putting, so dominant is a small group of putters. Adding to the drama is the well-known but unfortunate tendency for the US throwers to tear up the world stage all season long, only to fall apart as a group at the World or Olympic championships.

Reese Hoffa – US - 5’11”, 324 - The 2007 World Champion has been on a tear this year, with wins in 3 Diamond League events as well as the US Olympic Trials.

Ryan Whiting – US - 6’3”, 300, 2nd at the Olympic Trials; won the World Indoor in Istanbul in March.

Christian Cantwell – US - 6’4”, 340 – silver medalist in Beijing, World Champion in Berlin in 2009, 3rd at the Olympic Trials, and then he threw a dart into everyone’s predictions when he threw 73’ 2 ½ “ in a meet in Champaign Illinois in early July – over a foot farther than anyone else in the world this year.

David Storl – Germany – 6’6”, 269 – last year’s world champion at 21 and 2nd in this year’s world indoor, the baby of the event has remarkable speed in the ring. When he is not tossing a 16 lb steel ball around, what does he do? He’s a police officer. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tomasz Majewski – Poland – 6’8”, 313 – now this is what I call notorious big - the defending Olympic Champion took second at the Worlds in 2009, but plummeted to 9th in the Worlds in Daegu last summer. He’s back on track, with 3rd in the World Indoors this year and 2nd behind Hoffa at the Prefontaine Classic.

Dylan Armstrong – Canada – 6’4”, 306, won the Paris Diamond League meet and has been in the top 3 of all 9 events he has entered this year. World Champs silver medalist in Daegu, and a heartbroken 4th in Beijing where he missed his Olympic medal by 1 cm. Measure it. His coach is none other than Ukraine’s legendary hammer thrower, Anatoliy Bondarchuk, ’72 Olympic Champ and ’76 bronze medalist, who now coaches in Kamloops, British Columbia. And for those of us who have been around for awhile: Bondarchuk is now 72 years old. (sorry!)

Hall of Shame: Andrei Miknevich – Belarus – always lurking around the top in championship meets, he is a three-time world championships medalist, including gold in Paris in 2003 a week after he returned from a two-year drug suspension. Never have I seen such overt hostility from all the other competitors to one athlete in a single event. And it’s rare for a European crowd to boo a world champion. Had his suspension lasted one more week, Adam Nelson would have been world champ. I saw Nelson’s coach outside the stadium afterwards; he was so angry he couldn’t speak.

Missing this year: Adam Nelson, US - with only three entries maximum per country, Nelson not only didn’t make it through our Olympic Trials, he bombed out in the opening round in the drenching rain in Eugene. Nelson has won 4 World Championship silver medals, as well as two Olympic medals of the same color. Remarkable. And he won gold at Worlds in 2005. I’m still trying to understand why, in that pouring rain in Eugene, the women’s hurdles race was postponed for two hours while the men’s shot put continued. Wonder what the protocol will be in rain-prone London.

It’s a toss up (sorry) for third between Armstrong and Storl, but I’ve gotta go with the aptonym.

  1. Reese Hoffa, US
  2. Thomasz Majewski, Poland
  3. Dylan Armstrong, Canada
Women's 10,000m
In spite of her spectacular 2011, Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya) finds herself underdog to the resurgent Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia in another classic matchup of the two dominant distance running countries – and stars. At what was, unofficially, the Ethiopian women’s Olympic Trials at the Eugene Diamond League Meet (Pre Classic), Dibaba was in serious difficulty with a troublesome stomach; she kept pressing the lower right side - numerous times over the last several laps. And yet she found a way to win. While she wasn’t at her best, she nonetheless stayed with the leaders and even pressed the pace at times to leave herself with only two contenders with a lap to go, including countrywoman Belaynesh Oljera and Kenya’s Florence Kiplagat. They were still together with 100m to go. And she beat Oljera by almost half a second and Kiplagat by over 2. The New York Times said later that week that it took Dibaba15 seconds to compose herself and be able to speak after the race. 15 seconds? It took me 15 minutes! She’s the defending Olympic champ at this distance as well as 5,000m, has, for balance, won two world championships each at 5k and 10K - and did I mention her four world cross country titles? Oljera will be in it again with a lap to go, and if I were picking 4tth, she’d be the one – she just needs more closing speed. Sally Kipyego of Kenya, nine-time NCAA champion at Texas Tech and Oregon Track Club member, has finished between 2nd and 5th in every major race she’s run on the track in the last two years, including, most notably, silver in last summer’s World Championships 10k. Only Dibaba’s return keeps her from silver here, but an Olympic medal would cement her place in the Kenyan pantheon. Joyce Chepkirui, second in Kenya’s Olympic Trials, brings 4:08 1500m speed to the table, and Russia’s spelling bee champ, Yelizaveta Grechisnikova, will be happy to pick up the pieces should Dibaba and Cheruiyot vaporize before the finish.

1. Tirunesh Dibaba, Ethiopia
2. Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
3. Sally Kipyego, Kenya

*This just in: Dibaba’s nickname is “The Baby-Faced Destroyer"

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