A clash of the titans, a clash of the walking wounded, or a clash of the geezer sprinters?
The titans: let’s look at the major meet (Olympic and World Championships) records of each of the major contenders, leading off with personal bests:
100m – 9.58 - Olympic Champion (08), World Champion (09), set world record 3x
200m – 19.19 - Olympic Champion (08), World Champion (09) + (11), World silver (07),
set world record 2x
100m – 9.80 – Olympic Champion (04), World Champion (05)
200m – 19.86 – Olympic silver (04), World Champion (05)
100m – 9.72 - 5th place Olympic Games (04) + (08), bronze medalist World Championships
(07) + (09), set world record 2x, tied own WR an additional 2x; sub-10:00 more times than anyone in history
100m – 9.69 - World Champion (07), World silver (09)
200m – 19.58 - World Champion (07)
100m – 9.75 - World Champion (11)
200m – 19.26, #2 all-time
The walking wounded: Usain Bolt (Jam) hamstring, Tyson Gay (US) hip, Asafa Powell (Jam) lower stomach muscle, as well as lingering concerns about his game-day confidence.
Age: Tyson Gay (29), Justin Gatlin (30), Asafa Powell (29) – sprinters at this age are almost always competing in their last Olympics.
4 rounds in two days
The reason so few world records are set in the Olympics or World Championships is that these are far different than single-day meets. A single-day meet is (almost always) a one-race affair – lay it all on the line in one great single effort. The one great single effort in the Olympics comes after 3 other great efforts in the qualifying rounds. The test at the Olympics is not who is best in the one great race – it’s who’s best at the end of four rounds. Here’s the men’s 100m schedule:
Saturday, 8/4 – 10:00am – run-in – possible first round
Saturday, 8/4 – 12:30pm – quarter-finals
Sunday, 8/5 – 19:45 – semi-finals
Sunday, 8/5 – 21:50 – finals.
Two 100s within an hour and a half on Friday, two more in just over two hours on Saturday.
Up to 4 races in 36 hours. To truly appreciate what it takes to survive this schedule, please try this at home. That’s what I thought!
Quick: What is Usain Bolt’s middle name? Major bonus points if you said “St. Leo.”
Rather appropriate, doncha think?! He remains King of this Jungle:
- Usain Bolt, Jamaica
- Yohan Blake, Jamaica
- Justin Gatlin, United States
To the 100m discussion above, we add these three names for consideration in the 200m:
Wallace Spearmon (US), Churandy Martina (NL), and Christophe Lemaitre (FR). Martina and Spearmon crossed the Beijing finish line in 2nd and 3rd and had their medal celebrations well under way when they were disqualified for running on the line. Spearmon won the US Trials and finished impressively in 19.82w. Martina set a PR of 19.94 in the New York Diamond League race. Lemaitre won bronze in Daegu in a scintillating 19.80; the Frenchman is used to running in London-like weather, and won the London Diamond League race on 7/14 in the rain, edging Martina 19.91-19.95.
With Bolt at 19.19 – Track and Field News’ men’s performance of the decade - and Blake at 19.26, the next fastest PR is Wallace Spearmon’s 19.65, though it dates to 2006. Blake took the measure of Bolt in the Jamaican Trials at both 100m and 200m, and Bolt has been working on healing his gimpy hamstring ever since (he was injured in 2006 and 2010 as well). This may be where rounds work against Bolt, as he could be running his 7th race in cold weather on a tight hamstring. I’m not at all convinced Bolt makes it to this final, but if he does, he rises to Blake’s challenge. For bronze, it’s a tossup between Lemaitre and Spearmon, and I give the slightest of edges to Spearmon, in spite of the fact that he called me “sir” in the Eugene airport this spring.
- Usain Bolt, Jamaica
- Yohan Blake, Jamaica
- Wallace Spearmon, United States
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.
- LaShawn Merritt, United States
- Kirani James, Grenada
- Tony McQuay, United States
David Rudisha (Ken) has owned this event for the past three years. Twice he has set the world record – currently at 1:41.01 – and fans around the world expect him to crush that record before the year is over. The only question is whether or not he’ll have the record in him in the Olympic final in his 3rd race in 4 days. Rudisha leads the world list by over a second and a half, and the only question in this race is which of King David’s supplicants will be smart enough to run for the glory of a medal, even if it isn’t gold. Remarkably, there are 13 individuals behind Rudisha on the yearly list who have all run in the 1:43s – all within .85 of a second of each other. An incredibly deep and competitive field. Abubaker Kaki (Sudan) was the boy wonder of this event when he burst onto the scene in 2008 and won the World Indoor title at age 18. Memorably, he won the World Indoor title before winning the World Junior title later that year. I would say the pressure was on at the World Juniors, no?! He has world-ranked 2nd behind Rudisha the last two years and yet he’s having an uneven season due to a hamstring injury which forced him to pull out of this year’s World Indoors. He’s mixed a 1st at the Prefontaine Classic (6/3) with 9th at Monaco (7/20), yet he just pulled off a return-to-form 1:43.69 at the beginning of July. Mohammed Aman has raced well on the Diamond League circuit this year, Poland has two fast finishers in Adam Kszczot (an early finalist in the name Olympics) and Marcin Lewandowski, and 2004 Olympic Champ Russian Yuriy Borzakovskiy is possessed of a withering kick – not to mention 4 World Championship medals. Sad to say teen sensation Abraham Rotich didn’t qualify for the Kenyan Olympic team; he rather easily would have been my pick for 3rd. Duane Solomon surprised everyone but himself when he made the US team in Eugene - and then gained international attention when he blew his PR out of the water with his 1:43.44* in 3rd at Monaco. Suddenly, his PR is faster than that of his far more famous compatriot, Nick Symmonds, the dominant US 800m runner the last four years. Symmonds has steadily improved his performance on the world stage with 6th at the Worlds in Berlin in 2009 and 5th at the Daegu Worlds in 2011. So I guess I’ll pick him for 4th, but I just don’t see his hang back and kick strategy resulting in a medal. While I would be delighted to see him medal at last, I am concerned about his focus as he seems to be getting caught up in his own celebrity; a recent trip to Los Angeles for a date with Paris Hilton ought to earn him an automatic DQ.
- David Rudisha, Kenya
- Abubaker Kaki, Sudan
- Yuriy Borzakovskiy, Russia
*Why does this time sound familiar? When Alberto Juantorena set his second world 800m
record in 1977, 1:43.44 was his world record time. He is the only man ever to win the Olympic 400m/800m double (Montreal,’76).
Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop became Olympic Champion in 2008 when Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi failed a drug test and was stripped of his gold medal. Kiprop won the 2011 World title and has been awesome to watch in 2012. At the Prefontaine Classic in June, Kiprop chugged along for 1300 yards (it was a mile) before dusting the field with ease in 3:49.40. He was similarly dominant in Monaco in a sterling 3:28.88. Silas Kiplagat (Ken) followed close behind, just as he was second to Kiprop in the 2011 World Champs. Nixon Chepseba has run under 3:30 twice this season and won in Hengelo (NL); a Kenyan sweep is not out of the question. Looking to break it up will be Nick Willis of New Zealand, who just set national and area (Oceania) records with his 3:30.35 in the fabulous Monaco race. As much as I’m impressed with how fast these four have run this year, championship races are far more likely to be sit and kick affairs, and Willis is a wiley veteran in his 3rd Olympics who has PRed at age 29. His 2008 silver is feeling lonely and would like some company. Likely finalists include Ayanleh Souleiman (Djibouti) and Ilham Ozbilen (Turkey) - and both Matthew Centrowitz, bronze medalist at last year’s Worlds at 20, and Leo Manzano, winner of the US Olympic Trials, have withering closing speed. All they need to do is position themselves properly with 165m to go… and Centrowitz has done this before. Sorry to say that ever-popular Andrew Wheating is believed to be having serious difficulty with plantar fasciitis; already a two-time Olympian at 24, his legacy extends far beyond the track – in fact, it extends to You Tube. Next time NBC runs an ‘Up Close and Personal’ segment, flee to You Tube and see someone who is clearly even more than a gifted runner. A clear call for me for 1st and 2nd; 3rd will be exceedingly close between Willis and Chepseba, but once again, I just can’t vote for Nixon.
1. Asbel Kiprop, Kenya
2. Silas Kiplagat,Kenya
3. Nick Willis, New Zealand
Kenya’s Paul Koech is the dominant steeplechaser in the world this year, and the argument can be made that he has been most consistent over the past decade in everything but World and Olympic championships. He’s won 4 World Athletics finals (a recently-discontinued end-of-season culminating meet), finished second twice, and 3rd once since 2003. This year he has won 3 of 4 races and is averaging just over 7:59 per race. Averaging. He runs exceptionally well in a variety of venues - except… Nairobi, at a mile of altitude in the Kenyan Olympic Trials, where he finished 7th and failed to make their team – again. Imagine his record if the Kenyan trials were held at sea level. The reason this does not seem to bother Athletics Kenya much (they still haven’t answered my email asking: so who’s really on your team this year? Have you made up your minds yet?) is that even without Koech, Kenya is favored to sweep the medals. Again.
Defending Olympic Champion Brimin Kipruto (and silver medalist in Athens ’04) scared the world record last year when he missed by a scant 100th. And here I thought that happened only in the women’s 100m! (I’m over it now – no, really.) OK, alright that was a thousandth. Where was I? Meanwhile, his teammate, Ezekiel Kemboi, has won the last two World titles, silver in the three before that (1st or 2nd in five consecutive World Championships), and when Kipruto “faltered” and won silver in the Athens Olympics, guess who won gold? And the third survivor of the Kenyan Trials is Abel (is he?) Mutai, who comes in with a pedestrian PR of 8:01.67 – a Kenyan Olympian without a sub-8:00 PR – who has ever heard of such a thing? (Actually, this question will send statnuts into a frenzy!) It’s also important to consider the number of Kenyans who have changed citizenship (as well as names, most confusingly). Turkey’s Tarik Langat Akdag spent much of his career as Patrick Kipkurui Langat, and the world record (7:53.63) holder in this event, Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Qatar, was once more famous as Stephen Cherono. A consistent high-placer (several 3rds, even), and 6th and 5th in the last two Worlds, he will send officials scurrying for a victory lap flag should any of the Kenyans falter. And with an even better chance of doing that is a terrific big-meet racer, France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Bennabad, with Olympic (08) silver and world bronze (11) to his credit.
On the world lists this year, 11 of the top 15 are from Kenya. Taking out the 8 who didn’t make the Kenyan Olympic team makes for interesting reading. (The Kenyan qualifiers are 1st, 3rd and 10th on the list.) In 7th place is Roba Gari of Ethiopia, who moves into 3rd place among Olympic team members. In 8th place and moving up to 4th is… Evan Jager? (US). (I’ll pause while you put away your smelling salts.) Let’s do a brief recap of his lengthy steeplechasing career. He ran 8:26.14 in his steeplechase debut at the Mt. Sac (CA) relays on April 19th and earned the Olympic “B” standard in that race. On May 18, in his second steeple, he ran 8:20.90 in spite of a brief but memorable scuba diving expedition in the water pit on the last lap, and got the Olympic “A” standard. So far, so good. His third race was the qualifying round at the Olympic Trials, where he won his heat in 8:30.60 on June 25. Race #4 was the Olympic Trials final with the top three (if with an “A” standard) rewarded with a trip to London. He won the June 28 final in 8:17.40, which is one way of celebrating the 60th day of your steeplechasing career. Widely expected to be a close race between Jager and Princeton’s NCAA Champ, Donn Cabral, Jager pulled away mightily on the last lap to win by 2.41 seconds. And what a memorable last straightaway it was. After the clearing the last hurdle, Jager glanced back and the reality of his margin over Cabral hit him. He burst into a wide grin, ran a few strides, and looked back again, as if – unbelieving – to make sure. The grin never left his face, and, with tongue wagging, looked into the crowd several times and then gave a huge first pump as he crossed the finish line – Olympian and US national champion.
On to the Olympics, right? Well, Jager and Coach Jerry Schumaker had a decision to make: train through to the Olympics or go to Europe and find out what international steeplechasing is all about. So they decided he would run one – just one – Diamond League race and otherwise keep the focus on training. Monaco was the choice, the famous Herculis Meet, this year on 7/20 – if you go to one Diamond League Meet in Europe, this is the one – and it was a stellar field, including 5 Kenyans (not counting the two rabbits): the aforementioned Paul Koech, Conselus Kipruto, the World Junior Champion, and Richard Mateelong, whose PR is 7:56.81. Not exactly ducking the competition. If you have a chance, go to Flotrack and find the footage of the last two laps of this race. Jager’s in 5th with 800m to go, passes into 3rd just before 400m, and pulls up on Kipruto’s shoulder around the curve from 400m to 300m to go. Kipruto senses a tiring Koech and goes after him, and passes him – in spite of a mighty stumble – with about 40m left. Jager flies in at 8:06.81, a new American Record, breaking Dan Lincoln’s 8:08.82, set in 2006. An 11-second PR. Race #5.
Race # 6 will be the Olympic heats on August 3. Should he advance, Race #7 will be the Olympic final on August 5.
Let me close with just one thing. Everyone gather ‘round. No, closer, so I can lower my voice so he can’t hear me. Please, no one tell him what he’s doing! If you’re a US steepler, you’ve got to know the rules. You’re not supposed to pass two Kenyans in the last 800m. You’re not supposed to race the Kenyan World Junior Champ on the last lap! So let’s let all this be our little secret, OK?! And what a delightful ’secret’ it is – clearly one of the great highlights of the US track and field season. I can’t wait to see how the rest of this story unfolds.
As for my picks… everyone and his uncle is picking a Kenyan sweep, and I don’t disagree, though these are not often fast-from-the-start races, and the longer the final goes at a pedestrian pace, the better the chances of Mekhissi-Bennabad for another major meet medal. As for the heats, they are of a type of running Jager hasn’t yet experienced in the steeple – varied tempo with especially fast finishes; the last 800m in each heat could be well under 2:00. But this is the year for Jager to do exceptionally well things he has not done before.
- Brimin Kipruto, Kenya
- Ezekiel Kemboi, Kenya
- Abel Mutai, Kenya
This year’s world 5,000m list is dominated by a single race: the Paris Diamond League 5k on July 7, in which the top ten times – in the 12:46-12:56 range - were run by 5 Ethiopians and 5 Kenyans. Clearly the deepest race in history, it produced 4 of the top 10 fastest times ever run. And yet the key words here are: ‘single race.’ A flat out barnburner with everyone running a lifetime best is not the championship style we’ve grown accustomed to in major international meets like the Worlds and Olympics. So the real questions out of a race like that are: who raced well? who won? That would be Dejen Gebremeskel (Eth), bronze medalist in Daegu, behind
Mo Farah (GB) and Bernard Lagat (US). Gebremeskel’s teammate, Hagos Gebrhiwet, set the World Junior record in finishing second to him in Paris. Farah earned World Championship gold (5,000m) and silver (10,000m) in ’11 to stamp himself as an – or the – Olympic distance favorite. He has only enhanced that perception with Diamond League wins in Eugene and London this year. In Eugene, he used a withering kick to win, in London a sustained drive over the last 800m. That each strategy works so well for him should strike fear in the hearts of his competitors. Bernard Lagat (US) is, at 37, trying one more time for his Olympic gold on the track (might he try the marathon at 41?). The ’07 1500m and 5,000m World champion has an extensive set of medals, including three silver and two bronze. This means he is always in it to the end; the question for London is what kind of finish does he have still in him, especially when compared to Galen Rupp’s decisive finish at the US Olympic Trials. Rupp has put his stamp on this event in the United States; can he bring the same kind of finish to the world level? The slower the pace, the better his chances to unleash his finish: his 1:53.45/52.53 to polish off his Trials win is truly world class. The Ethiopian and Kenyan teams are predictably deep, with five of the six entrants between them at 12:49.06 or faster (the sixth comes in with a sluggish 12:52.40!). Isiah Koech won Kenya’s Olympic Trials and was 3rd in the Paris barn-burner, and teammate Ewin Soi won bronze in Beijing.
- Mo Farah, Great Britain
- Dejan Gebremeskel, Ethiopia
- Isiah Koech,Kenya
Every now and then, as a track fan, you get to see someone’s breakthrough race – the before and after moment after which the athlete is never again the same. My favorite was seeing a young woman unexpectedly run away with the 400m in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, BC, and so I decided to follow her career closely to see where it would lead. Charmingly, the 2000 Olympic Champion in the same event is listed in the Victoria results as Catherine; we know her better as Cathy Freeman.
Similarly, Mo Farah had been a distance runner of the future until he dropped a 26:46.57 at the 2011 Prefontaine Classic, a British and European record. Before and after; what a difference half an hour makes. The Eugene stage was far more public than Victoria’s, and the scrutiny has been intense ever since. In spite of the scouring of the British press, Farah has managed to escape much of it, training as he does with Coach Alberto Salazar – and, notably, Galen Rupp - in Oregon. The distance runner now of the present won the 5,000m World title in Daegu last summer and took silver in the 10,000m. Can you imagine the stadium in London as he toes the line for these finals? What is now separating Farah from the rest is his fearsome kick, and he’ll need to judge it just a bit better in the 10k this time than he did last summer when he was corralled down the last straightaway by Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan who, oddly, is not entered here. Ethiopia’s legend Keninisa Bekele has, rather quietly, been running himself back into form after a two-year absence from the world stage. I doubt very much that he would show up for this, his international farewell, in anything less than medal shape. Geb Gebremariam (Eth) is far better known as a marathoner (2010 New York City Champ) and I’m surprised to see him entered here instead of the marathon. Kenya Athletics ran an experiment in Eugene this year: why not hold the men’s 10,000m Olympic Trials at close to sea level? This was an absolutely classic championship 10k: no pacers, varied pace, surges, surges, surges, everything on the line, every man truly for himself. Wilson Kiprop had impressive finish to win in 27:01.98 – and dropped his PR by 26 seconds in the process! Moses Mutai was close on his heels, just .27 behind. Much has rightly been made of Galen Rupp’s (US) rise to the upper echelons of world class distance running. His breakthrough (a la Farah a year earlier) 26:48.00 in the 2011 season-ending Brussels meet put him, finally, where many had long thought him headed. But he is still gaining experience with the surging tactics typical of championship meets, and in his most recent 10k race of that style, the 2011 World Championships final, he just wasn’t able to keep up when the last lap dash came. Still, he has improved notably in this regard, as his speed workout at the end of the Olympic Trials 5,000m showed: his 1:53.45/52.53 finish is world class, indeed.
- Mo Farah, Great Britain
- Wilson Kiprop, Kenya
- Keninisa Bekele, Ethiopia
There are 47 track and field events in the Olympic Games, and I have saved this preview for last; I’m writing it on Thursday morning, August 2, with track and field events set to start in (forgive me) 15.5 hours. Why did I save this one for last? ‘Cause ya just never know when Kenya might change its mind again about its men’s marathon team!!! Well, now that Kenya has finally made up its mind about the team – I think – let’s get on with the race. Or are we all too exhausted from the selection process to actually run?
It’s important to note that the Olympic and London Marathon courses are different, but it’s also important to note who has run well in London. Kenya’s Emmanuel Mutai won the 2011 London Marathon, but slipped to 7th in 2012. It’s nice work if you can get it when 2:08:01 is an off day; he holds the course record at 2:04:40. Also of note is his silver medal in the ’09 Worlds. Wilson Kipsang won here in April with the second fastest time on this course, just four seconds from teammate Masai’s records. Might you say that these two are evenly matched?! Kipsang has won four marathons in a row, an unlikely achievement for someone relatively new to the event. Two-time World champ Abel Kirui should be an obvious pick for a medal, but he has faded over the last several kilometers at London in each of the last three years. This year he was second at 40k and finished 6th. Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero debuted with a 2:04:23 win in Dubai in January; he’s 21 and #4 all-time. Ethiopia’s policy of picking its Olympic distance team based solely on time has left some talented competitors at home.
- Wilson Kipsang, Kenya
- Emmanuel Mutai, Kenya
- Ayele Abshero, Ethiopia
*While watching this race, I’ll note the absence of initial Kenyan qualifier Moses Mosop, who had to withdraw due to injury. He was my pick to win; his two world records in the same race – 25k and 30k – on the track in Eugene in 2011 is one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. No one who was there will ever forget his 63 second 45th lap. A good time to soften up the field – with only 30 laps to go!
With Dayron Robles’ (Cuba) world record of 12.87 as a reference point, Aries Merritt’s (US) three-meet streak of 12.93s takes on added luster. This means Merritt has missed the world record by .06 three times in a row. His PR was 13.12 coming into the Trials and 13.01 after the semis. Last year’s World Champ Jason Richardson was second in in the Trials in12.98, and with that time he became the first person in history to go under 13.00 twice in the same day, as he had won his semi-final in the same time. Note that it was raining during the US Trials final. London, anyone?! I saw Chinese star Xiang Liu win the Prefontaine Classic in a wind-aided 12.87 (and therefore not a world record tie) and thought I had seen the future Olympic Champion. He was so remarkably fluid that his time wasn’t that much of a surprise. Still, it’s important to note that the weather for Liu’s run was far better than that for the Olympic Trials finalists. It will be a huge advantage knowing you have run 12.93 – and 12.98 twice – in the rain. If Robles shows up he obviously will be a major factor, but it’s hard to know by now how seriously to take his announcements that he’s about to run his next race. Visa problems, again? Sergey Shubenkov (Rus) and Garfield Darien (Fr) waged an epic battle in the European Championships final, with Shubenkov edging Darien 13.09-13.15. They are likely finalists. Someone could break 13.00 and not medal. One of my most highly anticipated races of the meet.
- Aries Merritt, United States
- Jason Richardson, United States
- Xiang Liu, China
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.
- Javier Culson, Puerto Rico
- Dai Greene, Great Britain
- Michael Tinsley, United States
Valeriy Borchin (Russia) should be an easy pick for gold: defending Olympic Champion, World champ in 2009 and 2011… but then he fell apart in the World Race Walking Cup in May at home in Saransk. Let’s hope he got that one bad race out of his system. China’s Zhen Wang has the season’s second fastest time and biggest win, in Saransk. The always deep Russian team picked up the slack for Borchin as Andrey Kirov and Vladimir Kanaykin won silver and gold. (Russia went 2-3-5-6-10; how do you think they did in the team competition?!) Alex Schwazer (Italy) and France’s Yohann Diniz had exceptionally fast early-season times in Lugano in mid-March, while Ding Chen was a close second to Wang in Taicing later that month.
- Zhen Wang, China
- Valeriy Borchin, Russia
- Ding Chen, China
Alex Schwazer of Italy won Olympic gold in ’08, and is returning to form after a skiing accident, as his 1:17:30 20k win in Lugano shows. He backed that up with a 3 ½ minute 50k win in March and is a force to be reckoned with once again. Russia’s Sergey Bakulin is defending World champ, but was 5th in the World Cup with two teammates substantially ahead of him.
In that dramatic race, Sergey Kirdyapin edged Igor Erokhin 3:38:08 – 3:38:40. Can you imagine going three-and-a-half hours and losing by two seconds? I mean, it’s not bike racing. Australia’s Jared Tallent has rather quietly been collecting medals, silver in Beijing and bronze in Daegu; time to complete the set? Yohann Diniz of France, who majored in wine science, is #2 all-time. Erokhin has a slim competitive record due, possibly, to his two-year drug suspension. I think it’s a tossup between Igor and Jared for bronze, but I’ve gotta go with talent.
- Sergey Kirdyapin, Russia
- Alex Schwazer, Italy
- Jared Tallent, Australia
Quick: When was the last time the United States won the Olympic gold medal in this event?
2000 in Sydney. Since then, Great Britain (04) and Jamaica (08) have won; Jamaica really has dominated this event with gold in the 09 and 11 Worlds as well. The US is challenged to get the baton around the track as they have had numerous drops in major meets.
It’s instructive to look at the PRs of the top 4 of each of the two teams:
Jamaica United States
9.58 – Bolt 9.69 – Gay
9.72 – Powell 9.80 – Gatlin
9.75 – Blake 9.88 – Bailey
9.78 - Carter 9.89 – Patton
Jamaica is at least a tenth ahead per person.
Trinidad won silver in 08 and 09; last year’s World Champs results are not very instructive in terms of depth; Jamaica set the World record, but medal favorites Great Britain and the United States decided they’d rather sit on the track and chat (they collided) than get the baton around.
(When I attend the World Championships and watch the 4x100 finals with my great Track and Field News Tour crew, when the 4x100 final is announced, we shield our eyes and ask if it’s safe to look…) Holland (Holland?), France, Germany, and Great Britain all have a chance for third, but Trinidad goes in as the only one of this group to have three guys under 10.00.
- United States
The US has owned this event with gold in every Olympics since 1984. But this year’s seemingly invincible team has some vulnerabilities. For example, it’s great to have Jeremy Wariner on your team, but not quite so helpful when his season’s best is almost a second and a half slower than his PR. And how healthy is LaShawn Merritt? Belgium has the Borlee brothers in the 44s but their 3rd and 4th men are in the 46s; how would you order this team? Bahamas has a very evenly matched team, and this can make a big difference in positioning the team on the 2nd and 3rd legs. There has been much speculation about Usain Bolt anchoring Jamaica, but I don’t think so – the 4x100m final is the next day. Great Britain has similar balance and was edged out by Belgium at the European Championships; home track advantage could be substantial. With Oscar Pistorius on South Africa’s team, this race not only will be historically close, it might make history all its own.
- United States
- Great Britain
*Here’s an indication of how infrequently the relays are run with national teams:
What men’s relay team is ranked #1 in the world based on time going into the Olympics?
That would be the University of Florida, anchored in a split of 44.01 by Tony McQuay, the NCAA open 400m champion. On the women’s side, a USA national team put together for the Penn Relays ranks first, followed by those traditional powerhouse nations, Oregon and Louisiana State. Occupying places 4-9 are NCAA legends Ukraine, France, Czech Republic, Great Britain, Jamaica, and Germany, and storming in at #10 is the Kansas national team.
Jesse Williams (US) and Ivan Ukhov (Rus) have traded #1 and #2 world rankings the last two years, with Ukhov ranked #2 in 2009 for good measure. What Williams has to show for this is the 2011 World Championship title. What Ukhov has to show for this is two World titles – but they’re indoors. He jumps higher than anyone else outdoors - except in the major meets. Williams has had a few bumps along the way this year – not quite the stellar season he had in ’11, most notably when he backed into an Olympic berth at the US Trials in 4th place when 3rd did not have the “A” standard. Keep your eye on Trials winner Jamie Nieto, who jumped superbly in challenging weather conditions – not unlike the kind he may encounter in London. It’s high time he earned his first major meet medal. Defending Olympic champ Andrey Silnov (Rus) is back in fine form with his 7’ 9 ¼” jump in the Russian National Championships, second to Ukhov’s 7’ 10”. Robbie Grabarz (GB) will be helped by the home crowd, and he is jumping well going into the Olympics. So wide open is this event that the last 9 World and Olympic medals have been won by 9 different people.
- Andrey Silnov, Russia
- Jesse Williams, United States
- Robbie Grabarz, Great Britain
France’s Renaud Lavillenie is a heavy favorite to win this event. Bronze medalist in each of the last two World Championships, he has also been the #1 ranked vaulter in the world the last two years, as well as #2 in ’09. He has won the World Indoor, three Diamond League meets, and the European Championship, the latter in a stratospheric 19’7”. Germany’s Bjorn Otto was second to Lavillenie at both the World Indoor and Euro Champs, but otherwise brings a rather thin record to the table; his only world ranking, a #3, came in 2007. Still, he’s hot this year and has PRed at
19’ 5¼”. A more consistent performer over time is countryman Malte Mohr who’s done no worse than third in Diamond League meets and has PRed at 19’ 4¾”. If Germany had a pole vault relay team, the third leg would be no-slouch-himself Raphael Holzdeppe, who PRed at 19’1” just two weeks before the Olympics. Brad Walker (US), World Champion in Osaka (07) and silver medalist in Helsinki (05), won the US Trials in difficult weather conditions, which may bode well for him in London. World and Olympic champion Steve Hooker of Australia finally showed up on the world lists in late July. Watch out! He’s been known to win with a just a very few jumps (Berlin ’09). Last year’s gold and silver World medalists, Poland’s Pawel Wojciechowski and Cuba’s Lazaro Borges, are off the radar screen so far this year.
- Renaud Lavillenie, France
- Malte Mohr, Germany
- Bjorn Otto, Germany
This year’s world list tops out at only 27’ 4 3/4”, but there’s remarkable depth behind that mark. From 27’ to the top are 14 athletes; in the next 1 ¼”, another 11. So, 25 athletes separated by six inches: here, you pick this one! Tied for first at the top of the list is Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford, who has one Diamond League win to his credit this year. Another podium possibility for the Brits is Chris Tomlinson, whose PR matches the top of this year’s list. Australia’s Mitchell Watt has world championship bronze (09) and silver (11) hardware to his credit, not to mention a win in the London Grand Prix in mid-July. Sebastian Bayer (Germany) won the European Championships and has the 2nd longest PR among the entrants. Godfrey Khotso Mokoena has finished second or third in every Diamond League Meet he’s entered this year and won silver in Beijing (08) and Berlin (09). Marquise Goodwin (US) won both the NCAAs and Olympic Trials, the latter by PRing twice, including a dramatic last jump win. World (07) and Olympic (08) champion Irving Saladino nabbed bronze in Berlin (09) but was off the world radar screen until he suddenly won the Diamond League meet in Monaco on 7/20… watch out!
- Mitchell Watt, Australia
- Godfrey Khotso Mokoena, South Africa
- Greg Rutherford, Great Britain
*14th on the world list this year at 27’ is Ashton Eaton, the world record setter in the decathlon.
Former Florida teammates Christian Taylor and Will Claye dominated the US Olympic Trials; Taylor’s winning jump of 57’ 10 ¼”, just 3 ¼” ahead of Claye, was over three feet ahead of 3rd.
There have been two other dominant jumpers in the world the last four years. Great Britain’s Phillips Idowu is a terrific big meet competitor who has gone silver-gold-silver in Beijing and the two subsequent World Championships. His status is unclear, to put it mildly, as he has been injured and has been in a tussle with the British Olympic Association over his medical records; the British tabloids have had a field day with this. If you’d like to get a cultural perspective on the status of track and field heroes in England, just google his name with the word ‘injury.’
So who’s in it for bronze? Italy’s Fabrizio Donato won the European Championship, and Alexis Copello (Cuba) won bronze in Berlin. Ukraine’s Sheryf El-Sheryf was 2nd behind Donato and had a huge PR in Ostrava last year. A tremendous young talent, he’s not yet been consistent at the medal level, but his 58’ 1 ¾’ PR shows that on a given day, anything – and much – is possible. Lyukman Adams (Russia) soared to a huge PR in May after winning bronze in the World Indoors in March. Thanks to Luc for the – for me – easiest to spell Russian name ever.
Finally, French Indoor World Champ Teddy Tamgho is out with an ankle injury; so, too, is Portugal’s Beijing gold medalist and Berlin silver medalist, Nelson Evora, he with a second stress fracture of the shin. The triple jump does indeed put exceptional stress on the lower limbs, and we really weren’t looking for proof, especially not in this Olympic year.
- Christian Taylor, United States
- Will Claye, United States
- Lyukman Adams, Russia
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.
- Reese Hoffa, US
- Thomasz Majewski, Poland
- Dylan Armstrong, Canada
It’s the last round of the men’s discus competition of the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. Germany’s Robert Harting sits in the silver medal position and steps in the ring as the second to last competitor and it’s his last throw. To say that the place is going crazy is actually true as the home crowd stomps and claps and cheers and hopes against hope for a miracle. Good time for a PR, wouldn’t you say? Pity poor Piotr Malachowski of Poland, leader since the first round, as he watches Harting fling it into the lead. Cacophony. Malachowski, on the competition’s last throw, tries mightily to surpass Harting, but falls short. Bedlam. Top ten T+F moments I’ve seen in person. For good measure, and as if to prove it wasn’t hometown madness alone that propelled him to his win, Harting returns in Daegu (11) to win again. And for good measure wins this summer’s European Championship. Did I mention his PR this year? Set in the Ludvik Danek (’72 Olympic Champ) Memorial Meet in Turnov, Czech Republic, at the end of May, he leads the world going into the Olympics at 231’ 10”. With silver in Osaka in ’07, the only one of the last four major meets in which he has not won a medal is the Beijing Olympics, where he finished 4th. Time for Harting to win Olympic gold to cap his remarkable career, and he’s a heavy favorite to do so.
Malachowski won Olympic (’08) and World (09) silver (and, in fact, was second to Harting at the Danek Meet). If only the Olympics were in Poland, I might favor him for gold. Estonia’s ’08 Olympic Champ Gerd Kanter is high up the 2012 world list. Lithuania’s two-time Olympic Champ (’00 and ’04), two-time World Champ (’03 and ’05), national hero, and ageless (40) wonder, Virgilius Alekna, has messed with everyone’s minds by plunking one out there to 2nd place on the yearly list, 15” behind Harting and almost 4 ½ feet ahead of Malichowski. Every year our school hosts a delegation of students from Lithuania, and every year I surprise them when I ask them if they know who Virgilius Alekna is. I keep claiming that track and field is my international language, and every year this single question opens the door to a great conversation with these engaging Lithuanians. When planning where to live next, be sure to pick a country where a discus thrower is god.
Knowing all about this last round business in Lance Brooks (US), who, though he had led the Olympic Trials competition since the first round, still needed an “A” qualifier to get him to London, and he would need a PR to do it. What’s a little rain mixed with a whole lotta pressure? So, with 22,000 Hayward Field fans acting like it’s Berlin ’09 all over again, Brooks steps into the slippery ring needing a 65 meter throw. 65.15, no problem – it was Berlin all over again. Looking to replicate Harting’s ’09 homefield triumph is Lawrence Okoye (GB) who may have an even louder stadium behind him, if such a thing can be imagined. Perhaps the Queen will jump out of a helicopter, snag his discus, and transport it past the world record line. I’m just sayin’.
- Robert Harting, Germany
- Piotr Malachowski, Poland
- Virgilijus Alekna, Lithuania
*Special note to Lance Brooks: Your last name is Brooks. Your sponsor is Nike. Go figure!
Uncertain is the status of Koji Murofushi (Jpn), last year’s World Champion. He’s been at or near the top for a decade. Gold medalist in the Athens Olympics (04), it was seven years before he won his next medal, and it was gold in the ’11 Worlds. But he’s off the radar screed this year – not a mark (or a hit) in the top 40. Wither Koji? If he shows up, the rest will tremble. Similarly, Kristian Pars (Hun) has long been expected to win the World or Olympic championship, and he came 6cm away from pulling off a last-round win in Daegu. He won this year’s European Championships and is peaking well. Pawel Fajdek (Pol) is getting a lot of pre-Olympics attention for his nearly three-meter PR this year, but he crashed and burned in the Daegu final and didn’t make the top 8. Kirill Ikonnikov won the Russian Championships at the beginning of July. Beyond - or perhaps even including - first place, this event is wide open, as there is caution about each of the favorites. And just when you thought it was safe to make predictions, up shows Sergey Litvinov (Rus), suddenly 4th on the yearly lists. The World Champion in 1983 and 1987, and Olympic Champion in Seoul in 1988, is 54 years old. Excuse me, please, I have to take a nap.
- Kristian Pars, Hungary
- Kirill Ikonnikov, Russia
- Pawel Fajdek, Poland
Andreas Thorkildsen is Norway’s two-time Olympic champ (04, 08), World champ (09), and three-time Worlds silver medalist (05, 07, 11). So in every major meet since 2004 he’s won gold or silver. But in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately event, he is a surprising 10th on the world list going into the Olympics – not his accustomed spot. And he came in 3rd in the only Diamond League meet he entered, and that was at home in Oslo. Vitezslav Vesely (CZ) won the European Championship this summer and leads the world list by almost two meters; he has placed 1st or 2nd in four Diamond League events. Oleksandr Pyatnytsya (UKR) won two Diamond League events and is 4th on the world list behind Veseley. Vadims Vasilevskis (LAT) won the Eugene Diamond League Meet and was second to Pyatnytsya in Monaco just before the Olympics. Cuba’s Guillermo Martinez has not been heard from much this year, but he won silver and bronze in the last two Worlds. And where is Thorkildsen’s great Finnish rival, Tero Pitkamaki? Actually, in 9th on the world list, just ahead of Thor.
A difficult one to call in a wide open field, as I sense a changing of the guard in this event.
- Vitezslav Vesely, Czech Republic
- Oleksandr Pyatnytsya,Ukraine
- Vadims Vasileskis, Latvia
Many have said that the story of the US Olympic Trials was the (supposed) tie between Jenebah Tarmoh and Allyson Felix in the women’s 100m. I’m happy to report that this is not true. While it deservedly received tremendous immediate attention, what will last, as always, is the performance of the athletes, not the administrators (hey, I’m a former coach and athletic director and current official – I’m not taking an easy swipe at very dedicated and professional people here). And so, the greatest story from these Trials is Ashton Eaton’s World Record in the decathlon. His needed-to-break-the-record PR in the 1500m, Curtis Beach’s sportsmanship inspiration of the decade as he waved Eaton ahead of him to the finish line and to track and field infamy – these moments defined the Trials and are what people will be talking about 40 years from now.
The understatement of this preview may well be that Ashton Eaton is the overwhelming favorite in the decathlon. Not only has he just set the world record, he leads the world list by a staggering 481 points. And he did it in mostly miserable weather conditions. The two other major competitions this year have been the annual deca-fest at Gotzis and the European Championships. At Gotzis in May, Hans van Alphen (Bel) recorded a 300+ point PR to win over the charmingly named Eelco Sintnicolaas (NL) by just 13 points (his last name means Saint Nicholas in Dutch – the Dutch version of Santa Claus). 3rd at Gotzis was Germany’s Pascal Behrenbruch with 8433, who went on to win the European Championships with 8558. Cuba’s Leonel Suarez withdrew from the World Indoor meet reportedly due to problems with high blood pressure, but with a PR of 8654 and bronze-silver-bronze in Beijing as well as the last two Worlds, he may be primed for a significant improvement. What stands between two-time World Champion Trey Hardee (US) and a medal is his surgically (Tommy John) reconstructed elbow, and a verklempt-inducing moment at the Olympic Trials came when he successfully threw the javelin to virtually assure his membership on the US team - and he did, indeed, go on to finish 2nd behind Eaton.
Assuming all goes well in the first day’s five events, the track and field world will hold its breath at the beginning of the second day when Eaton lines up for the hurdles at 9:00am. Should he navigate those successfully, he’ll win the gold, and with even moderately better weather than what he faced in Eugene he’ll shatter his own world record with a score of over 9200 points.
- Ashton Eaton, United States
- Trey Hardee, United States
- Leonel Suarez, Cuba
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, noted for her doubly hyphenated name, is also noted for her World (09) and Olympic (08) golds. She slipped to 4th at Daegu (‘11) where 2nd, 3rd, and 4th finished in 10.97, 10.98, and 10.99. To set things right, she won both the 100m and 200m in this summer’s Jamaican Nationals and PR’ed in both as well - her 10.70 leads the world list by .11.
Carmelita Jeter (US) had a scintillating ’11 when she won the World 100m title in 10.90 and silver in the 200m. She also won the US Olympic Trials 100m this year after an uncharacteristically slow start to her season. Veronica Campbell-Brown (Jam) was second to
S-A F-P in the Jamaican championships in the season’s 3rd-best time. The 2007 World champ was 4th in ’09 and 2nd in ’11. Tianna Madison was the girl wonder of the long jump when she won the World title as a teenager in Helsinki in 2005;she’s finished 2nd in both of her Diamond League appearances this year. Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare has been a consistent performer on the world scene and broke through with her 10.96 (no aiding wind that day - there’s more there) in winning the Monaco Diamond League meet on 7/20 – she’s peaking well. Jamaica’s Kerron Stewart ran scintillating times in ’09 and returned to snag the 3rd spot on her Olympic team this year. Trinidad’s Kelly-Ann Baptiste ran an early-season 10.86 but has been fairly quiet ever since. Allyson Felix (US) does not have a strong international record in the 100m; perhaps she’ll make as dramatic an improvement in the 100 as she made in the 200 in the US Trials final now that she has the opportunity to run this race here. (Don’t even get me started.)
- Shelly-Ann Fraser Price, Jamaica
- Veronica Campbell-Brown, Jamaica
- Carmelita Jeter, US
On the other hand… I must say that I am really bothered by the mainstream press coverage of this event. Much is made in US media of Allyson Felix’s two silver medals in the last two Olympics, both defeats coming at the hands of Jamaica’s by now venerable Veronica Campbell-Brown. Could somebody please mention that Felix won three consecutive World Championship golds (05, 07, 09) in this event? This is one of the most remarkable accomplishments in recent sprinting history. So the question going into London is: is she ready to win on this stage? One of the thunderclap moments of the US Olympic Trials was Felix’s dominating sprint to become the #4 all-time performer, with the #6 all-time performance, in 21.69. This race has become Felix’s to lose. Veronica Campbell-Brown has seemed just off the top of her game this year, and she finished a surprise 3rd in the Jamaican national Championships behind Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Sherone Simpson. Fraser-Pryce is peaking perfectly. Carmelita Jeter, world silver medalist last year, was second at the US Trials and PRed in that event. Watch out for Russia’s Alexsandra Fedoriva, who blazed a 22.19 at the Russian National Championships. A major theme of this event is that almost every one of the major players has PRed this year, and that includes some of the most recognizable names in world track and field. Remarkable. They know what’s at stake, and they’re ready.This will be one of the definitive events of these games.
- Allyson Felix, United States
- Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce, Jamaica
- Carmelita Jeter, United States
Sanya Richard-Ross (US) went into the 2008 Olympics as the favorite but faded to third as Great Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu stormed to gold. SRR came back to win the World title in ’09, but then was felled by an illness she has preferred not to discuss publicly (she should get a gold for that). SRR was dominant in winning the Olympic Trials in Eugene in a then-world leading 49.28, which has since been eclipsed by Antonina Krivoshapka’s 49.16 in the Russian National Championships; AK won bronze in the 09 Worlds. ’11 World champ Amantle Montsho is running better than ever and looks to be in line for Botswana’s first-ever Olympic medal. Novlene Williams-Mills (Jam) won Olympic silver in ’08 and World silver in ’09, and is only half a second behind SRR on the world list going into London. An amazingly deep and competitive field. In any other stadium, I’d pick Krivoshapka for third.
- Sanya Richards-Ross, United States
- Amantle Montsho, Botswana
- Christine Ohuruogu, Great Britain
Pamela Jelimo (Ken), who won the Beijing Olympic championship at 18 and then vanished from the world scene with persistent injury, returned in style in March when, in her first international race in 4 years, she won the World Indoor title. Nice return! She leads the world list at 1:56.76,
a time she ran in early July. Teammate Janeth Jepkosgei has a full set of World medals with gold in ’07, silver in ’09, and bronze in ’11; these go nicely with her ’08 Olympic silver. Caster Semenya of South Africa, ’09 World champion and silver medalist in’11, is known for her 2nd lap strength, though Russia’s Mariya Savinova outkicked her to win in Daegu. Alysia Montano, US, runs fast times from the front and raced well in Daegu where she missed a Worlds medal by .04. But she can overdo that strategy: her Olympic Trials splits were 55.83/63.20, and this won’t work well in the London final; in Eugene, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th all closed faster than she did.
Russia’s team is impressively deep, as Yelena Arzhakova and Yekaterina Poistogova were 3rd and 4th in the Russian Championship race which saw 4 runners under 1:58. They are led by defending World champion Mariya Savinova, who won the Russian national championship race by .04. Fantu Magiso, Ethiopia, is the new star of this event; she’s won two Diamond League races, finished second in another, and been under 1:58 all three times. She’s only 20 in her first year on the international stage – her main challenge will be running qualifying rounds; her big successes this year have come in single-day, single-race meets.
- Mariya Savinova, Russia
- Pamela Jelimo, Kenya
- Caster Semenya, South Africa
You can tell it’s an Olympic year when some of the leading veteran contestants in an event start to set personal records, sometimes well into their careers. Five noted runners have set their 1500m PRs to date, and more are sure to follow. Abeba Aregawi of Ethiopia and Asli Cakir of Turkey are separated by just .02 at the top of the lists, and Aregawi has the best competitive record in Diamond League competition this year. While Aregawi’s progression has followed a somewhat more traditional trajectory, Cakir’s raised eyebrows when the former drug cheat dropped her personal record by five and a half seconds in one race. In that same race, Morocco’s Mariem Selsouli ran even faster that Cakir, and within weeks Selsouli flunked her second drug test and now faces a well-deserved lifetime ban from the sport.
Who medals will depend on the type of race that develops; fast from the start favors Aregawi and Cakir; slower and more tactical favors all three US runners. Jenny Simpson showed that she can kick well when she stunned no one more than herself with her World Championship win in Daegu last summer. And Morgan Uceny, world #1 last year (she was tripped in the Worlds final), won the Olympic Trials going away after a shrewd tactical race, while Shannon Rowbury put her speed to good use in clinching bronze in Berlin. Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba ran 3:57.77 in Shanghai, and Russia’s Katya Kostetskaya has terrific range over 800m and 1500m with PRs of 1:56.67/3:59. 28. I was going to pick her for a medal in the 800m, and the Russian was entered here instead. I think I know why!
How wide open is this event? The last 9 medals awarded in World and Olympic competition have been won by 9 different women.
- Abeba Aregawi, Ethiopia
- Katya Kostetskaya, Russia
- Morgan Uceny, United States
*I understand that Cakir has served her suspension, but if she wins, just how much joy will we take in her gold? Yes, I say the same for Justin Gatlin, Andrei Miknevich, and the rest.
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.
- Yuliya Zaripova, Russia
- Milcah Chemos, Kenya
- Sofia Assefa, Ethiopia
Track and Field News’ Female Athlete of the Year for 2011 was Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya, who won both the 5k and 10k at the 2011 World Championships and was undefeated for the year. (Track and Field News got it right; amid much controversy, hurdler Sally Pearson had one loss in her single event and yet was named IAAF Female Athlete of the Year – go figure.) Cheruiyot returns as favorite here, even though she’ll be challenged by Ethiopian great Meseret Defar, Athens Olympic gold medalist and Osaka (07) World champ. Still in the mix in every major meet she enters, Defar has won bronze in each of the last two world championships. Viola Kibiwott was third in the Kenyan Trials and is a bit of a surprise pick for this team; looks like Athletics Kenya has no faith in Sally Kipyego’s ability to double. Sylvia Kibet is a wiser choice as she was silver medalist behind Cheruiyot – and ahead of Defar - in the last two Worlds. Geleta Burka (Eth) brings 3:58.79 1500m speed to this race. And as we go to press, 5,000m world record holder Tirunesh Dibaba (Eth) appears only on the entry list for 10,000m.
- Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya
- Meseret Defar, Ethiopia
- Geleta Burka, Ethiopia
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.”
With England’s marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe having just confirmed that she will, in fact, not run in London, the focus shifts… Kenya swept the medals at last year’s World championships, with Edna Kiplagat, Priscah Jeptoo, and Sharon Cherop handling the brooms. Kiplagat and Jeptoo are back for London… and speaking of London, isn’t there a marathon there every year?! While the Olympic course is different, the surroundings are the same, and no one has felt more at home here than Kenya’s Mary Keitany. She PRed here in April with her second London win in a row in a stellar 2:18.37; her exceptionally strong finish is headed for legend. Kiplagat was over a minute behind her as she dipped under 2:20 for the first time. Lilya Shobukova (Rus) has won Chicago three times and London once, is noted for her strong finish, and is #2 all-time on the world marathon time list. Shalane Flanagan (US), Beijing 10,000m bronze medalist and winner of the US Trials, is noted for her remarkable mental toughness. Ethiopia has two strong contenders in Aselefech Mergia and Tiki Gelena, who won at Dubai and Rotterdam, respectively, this year. Hiding in the agate type is Mare Dibaba, 3rd at Dubai in 2:19:52 - and her name is Dibaba. ‘Nuff said.
- Mary Keitany, Kenya
- Liliya Shobukhova, Russia
- Edna Kiplagat,Kenya
I wish that Australia’s Sally Pearson would make it easier to pick her for gold. I mean, she’s the obvious choice, as she won the World title last year - but she lost her undefeated season to a face plant in the Diamond League finals in Brussels. At that point she had won 19 races in a row. She’s had another great season this year, only to complicate matters by recording her first loss in her last competition before the Olympics. She won silver in Beijing; the video of that final shows a delightful moment as she crosses the finish line, looks sideways, realizes she’s won a medal, and looks utterly shocked. (If you’re looking for her in those results, then she was Sally McClellan.) Dawn Harper won that race and returned this year to win the US Olympic Trials. A terrific competitor when she’s healthy and sharp, this year she’s healthy and sharp, though she’ll need to improve her seasonal best be a tenth or two to contend for a medal. Kellie Wells (US) pulled the upset over Pearson in – get this – the London Diamond League race in the rain. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. And Wells had predicted she would win; a little confidence is a good thing. Jamaica’s Brigitte Foster-Hylton, ’09 World Champ, has been consistently medal-fast this year.
Lolo Jones (US) should make the final, and Great Britain’s Tiffany Porter will have significant home field advantage.
- Sally Pearson, Australia
- Kellie Wells, United States
- Brigitte Foster-Hylton, Jamaica
Dominating the major meets since Beijing have been Melaine Walker (Jam) and Lashinda Demus (US). Walker won gold in Beijing; subsequently, it was Walker-Demus 1-2 at the ’09 Worlds, and Demus-Walker 1-2 in ’11. Demus won the US Trials in 53.98, and while Walker won the last Diamond League meet before the Olympics, it was in a time two seconds slower than her PR. Russia has had stellar performances from ’11 World bronze medalist Natalya Antyukh and Irina Davydova. Davydova won the European Championships in a world-leading time while Antyukh won the Russian Championships - in a new world-leading time! They avoided each other in these two races but will find that tough to do in London. Perri Shakes-Drayton (GB) won the London Diamond League race, the last before the Olympics, in wet conditions and took the measure of Walker and Davydova while she was at it. An impressive run against tough competition in difficult conditions at home. When asked the reason for her breakthrough performance, she said that before the meet she told herself to “pull my socks up and go for it.” Coaching really isn’t that complicated, is it?
- Natalya Antyukh, Russia
- Lashinda Demus, United States
- Perri Shakes-Drayton, Great Britain
Olga Kaniskina (Rus) has been the world ranked #1 for the last five years. Her 3 consecutive World Championship titles, as well as Olympic gold in Beijing, have made her untouchable in this event. Well, almost. Until she finished second to teammate Yelena Lashmanova in the World Cup by a rather substantial 55 seconds. But I don’t think that is going to happen twice, especially as this was Kaniskina’s seasonal best. China’s Hong Liu is very consistent in the big meets and has gone 4-3-2 in the last three majors. Elmira Alembekova (Rus) scorched a 1:25:27 (the #3 time ever) in February. Lashmanova is 20 and Alembekova is 22, and I’ll pick competitive record over time, especially since they’re both quite new to this level of the sport.
- Olga Kaniskina, Russia
- Liu Hong, China;
3. Yelena Lashmanova, Russia
*I strongly recommend watching one of the race walking events if you have the opportunity
(and you might want to start with either the women’s or men’s 20k instead of the men’s 50k!). It’s fascinating to watch it unfold and to recognize the sophisticated strategy required to be successful in the walks - which are at running pace for most mortals.
The 9 medals awarded in this event in the last three majors have been won by 8 different countries; could someone please hang onto the baton? This year Jamaica and the United States will field star-studded teams with at least 4 World or Olympic individual champions between them: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown (Jam), and Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix (US). For fun, perhaps they could put those four on the same team. Ukraine won bronze in Daegu last year, while Russia does not have its usual depth to select from this year. Trinidad has a terrific anchor in Kelly-Ann Baptiste. The US and Jamaica will mix it up for gold and silver, while it’s a tossup between Ukraine and Trinidad for bronze.
- United States
The last three major championships might be instructive here:
Olympics ‘08: 1. USA 2. Russia 3. Jamaica
Worlds ‘09: 1. USA 2. Jamaica 3. Russia
Worlds ‘11: 1. USA 2. Jamaica 3. Russia
Once again these three teams are very evenly matched on paper, with Russia’s composite time fractionally ahead of that of the US, and Jamaica as well-balanced as ever. Great Britain will have enormous support at home; they last medaled at Worlds in Osaka (’07), and three of those four team members will run here again, with a resurgent ’08 Olympic champ Christine Ohuruogu likely to anchor.
- United States
- Great Britain
The drama! The fashion! The tears! The makeup! What will the high jump be without them this year?! I am speaking, of course, about the absence of high jump diva Blanka Vlasic (Croatia). Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy tremendously watching her compete, and she earns all the drama she wants with her stellar international competitive record. But really, haven’t things gone too far when you google her name and you get “Blanka Vlasic Makes Pound Cake?”
Meanwhile, back on the jumping apron, Russia’s Anna Chicherova turned the tables on Vlasic to win the ’09 World title after finishing second in ’09 and 3rd in Beijing. Her form was flawless in winning the Prefontaine Classic in June, and in second was countrywoman Svetlana Shkolina, who also finished second to Chicherova at the Russian National Champions in early July. Both are jumping very well at just the right time. Chaunte Lowe won the US Trials at 6’7” with Arizona find Brigette Barrett second at the same height, and in difficult weather conditions. Both are jumping very well at just the right time. And notably, Lowe won the London Grand Prix in the middle of July, where she defeated Chicherova. I think that Chicherova wins in the sun, Lowe in the rain.
- Chaunte Lowe, United States
- Anna Chicherova, Russia
- Svetlana Shkolina, Russia
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.
- Yelena Isinbayeva, Russia
- Svetlana Feofanova, Russia
- Fabiana Murer, Brazil
A classic long jump competition at the US Trials saw three jumpers break 23’; imagine jumping 22’10 ½” and not making the team, which was the sad fate of Whitney Gipson. Two-time World Champ Brittney Reese won the scintillating competition with a last jump of 23’ 5 ½” to secure the win. Chelsea Hayes popped a PR by over a foot with a 23’ 3 ½” last jump to make the team, and Janay DeLoach took the third spot 23’ 2 ¾”after soaring over 23’ in qualifying as well. Natassia Mironchyk-Ivanova of Belarus is 2nd on the world list a centimeter behind Reese, though wind has been on her side (or at her back, actually) on her two longest jumps this year. Yelena Sokolova (Rus) and Shara Proctor (GB) both have a first and a second in Diamond League meets. Proctor had better get used to that roar.
- Brittney Reese, United States
- Natassia Mironchyk-Ivanova, Russia
- Janay DeLoach, United States
Let’s take a look at the best jumps in the world the last two years. Olga Rypakova (Kaz) is at
50’ ½”, and Caterina Ibarguen (Col), Olha Saladuha (Ukr), and Yargelis Savigne (Cub) are tied at 49’ 2 ¼”. Rypakova has the best competitive record in Diamond League events this year, with Ibarguen not far behind. Savigne has an outstanding competitive record with silver, gold, and gold at the 05, 07, and 09 World Championships, but she slipped to 6th in ‘11. Just behind them is Great Britain’s Yamile Aldama, who has been the focus of much attention in GB, not all of it positive, for having competed for Cuba and then Sudan before acquiring Bristish citizenship two and a half years ago. It will be interesting to see the reception she receives in the stadium.
- Olga Rypakova, Kazakhstan
- Caterina Ibarguen, Colombia
- Olha Saluda, Ukraine
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.
- Valerie Adams, New Zealand
- Nadzeya Ostapchuck, Belarus
- Jill Camarena-Williams, United States
A very deep field should pick its medalists from six. Defending Olympic Champion Stephanie Brown Trafton was as big a surprise winner as there was in Beijing, but in the two subsequent World Championships she finished 12th and 5th. Sandra Perkovic (Croatia) failed two drug tests last year but received only a 6-month suspension as the drug in question was found to be on the inadvertent food additive list. She has been the hottest thrower in the world this year with wins in the European Championships as well as 6 of the 7 Diamond League meets she has entered. Germany’s Nadine Muller has finished second to Perkovic thrice this year, was second last year in Daegu, and – this just in – second in July’s European Championships. You might call this a sterling record. Cuba’s Yarelis Barrios is great big-meet performer: silver in Beijing, silver in Berlin, bronze in Daegu. China’s Yanfeng Li is defending world champion and is 5th on this year’s world list. Darya Pishchalnikova (Russia) is getting a lot of attention because of her 231’11” throw, longest in the world in over a decade. She is back from an almost three-year drug suspension; her performance in the Russian Championships exceeded her previous PR by over five meters.
- Sandra Perkovic, Croatia
- Nadine Muller, Germany
- Yarelis Barrios, Cuba
Defending Olympic champion Aksana Miankova of Belarus roared back onto the world scene this year with the #2 throw in history, 258’ 2”. So, you think, nice comfortable lead on the world list? Not quite, as Russia’s ’11 World champion (and ’05 bronze medalist) Tatyana Lysenko is a mere 5” behind. Third on this list is none other than Germany’s ’07 World champion, two-time Worlds silver medalist and world record holder, Betty Heidler, who has thrown just over two feet short of her world record this year.
Cuba’s 4-time World # 1 ranker Yipsi Moreno is within striking distance of the leaders, albeit just over 10’ short of their seasonal bests. Yet she threw her 248’ at the beginning of July and seems to be peaking well; notably, Miankova and Lysenko’s seasonal bests are July marks as well. One of the greatest big-meet throwers in history, between 2001-08 Moreno won two world championship golds, two world silvers, and two Olympic silvers.
China’s Wenxiu Chang won bronze at home in Beijing and again in Daegu, and PRed in May. ’09 World champ Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland recorded her seasonal best less than two weeks from the start of track and field competition in London and she won this year’s European Championship.
4 of the world’s 6 greatest throwers with seasonal bests in July.
Three of them with lifetime bests this year.
3 world record setters: when Heidler set her world record, she beat Wlodarczyk’s. And when Wlodarczyk set her world record, she beat Lysenko’s.
This is one of the greatest fields in these Olympic Games. The best just keep getting better.
It’s hammer time!
- Tatyana Lysenko, Russia
- Betty Heidler, Germany
- Anita Wlodarczyk, Poland
Olympic Champion and world record holder – not many can say that, and not many have two World Championship silvers to add to the collection. Czech Republic’s Barbora Spotakova has been in the upper echelons of javelin for six years, and yet it seems that this Olympic championship may see a changing of the guard. South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen won bronze in Daegu and threw herself into the 6th spot on the all-time world list with her Diamond League win in New York this year. As much as I like Spotakova, and as heavy a favorite as she may be, I just have a feeling about Viljoen… especially as Spotakova has finished second three times in Diamond League meets this year, each time to a different competitor. Russia’s Mariya Abakumova has a complete set of medals – silver, bronze, and gold in the last three majors – and she scared the world record last year.
German star Christina Obergfoll won bronze in Beijing and ranks 3rd on the yearly list, and Great Britain’s Goldie Sayers won the London Diamond League meet in mid-July in the rain and beat Spotakova and Viljoen while she was at it. She broke the British record, and thereby her own PR… and the last time she PRed? In the Olympic final in Beijing.
- Sunette Viljoen, South Africa
- Barbara Spotakova, Czech Republic
- Goldie Sayers, Great Britain
This shapes up to be a great competition between Jessica Ennis of Great Britain and Tatyana Chernova of Russia. Ennis has the edge with a superior competitive record with gold and silver in the last two World Championships. And a terrific performance at this year’s prestigious Gotzis meet with a PR and national record of 6906 with Chernova 132 points behind in 2nd. Yet Chernova defeated Ennis in last year’s Worlds by 129 points. Could it get any closer? Imagine the stadium at the start of the last event (800m) with a gold on the line for Ennis. Kind of like Hayward Field in Eugene during Ashton Eaton’s 1500m! US champion and Beijing Olympic silver medalist Hyleas Fountain has been off the radar screen for two years but rebounded nicely in the rain in Eugene with her 6419. Beijing champ Nataliya Dobrynska (UKR) slipped to 4th in Berlin and 5th in Daegu, though she won the World Indoor pentathlon in Istanbul in March. While prognosticators often put too much emphasis on the indoor multi-events results (they are, after all, different events when one is 5 disciplines and the other 7), it might be noted that the world indoor record for the men’s heptathlon was set in Istanbul this year - for the third time - by some kid named… ummm… lemme see… oh, yeah, that’s right… Ashton Eaton, who so far, anyway, seems to have survived rather nicely the addition of three more events. Only 21 years old, Kristina Savitskaya won the Russian championships in 6681 in June, but has little to back up this terrific performance. A rising star? Jessica Zelinka (Canada) was 5th in Beijing and PRed in winning the Canadian Championships this year. Finishing 2nd in the same meet was Brianne Theisen, Oregon’s NCAA champ and the only heptathlete guaranteed of striking gold… when, later this summer, she marries Ashton Eaton.
1. Jessica Ennis, Great Britain
2. Tatyana Chernova, Russia
3. Nataliya Dobrynska, Ukraine
© 2012 Mark Cullen. All Rights Reserved