Thursday, August 29, 2013

Turn Right at Horse

Moscow has not exactly extended the welcome mat for these World Championships of Track and Field.

If this is a model for how Russia plans to welcome the world for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, billions will be watching as infrastructure, information, and management snafus accumulate to embarrass the hosts.

Not to mention the damage the host country’s position on gays - and its dig-in-the-heels response to worldwide blowback on this issue - has already created.

What will it be like in Sochi when the US joins the rest of the world watching the Winter Olympics? If these championships are a preview, those games are in trouble.

Much is made of the low attendance plaguing this meet.

Let’s do the math.

There are upwards of 12,000,000 people in Moscow.

The stadium, which can hold 82,000, is reconfigured for this event to hold about half that number, around 40,000.

40,000 out of 12,000,000 is .0035 of 1% of Moscow’s population.

99.9965% of Moscow can stay home and still the stadium will be full.

Even Usain Bolt can't attract a full house for Sunday evening's 100m final.

A frequently recurring analysis is that it’s vacation time in Russia and Muscovites are at their country dachas. Even pole vault king Sergey Bubka subscribes to a version of this, saying the persistent sunshine has drawn people away.

The socioeconomics - and logic - of this argument are distressing. How many can afford vacation homes when it’s expensive enough to afford one small apartment in Moscow? Are 12 million really on vacation?

If the traffic during my two taxi rides to the stadium is any indication, not exactly all of Moscow has fled to the countryside. Furthermore, many of the stadium seats were occupied by visitors like me - not to mention the thousands of wildly enthusiastic Ukrainians.

The crowds grow during the week, and the IAAF releases attendance figures that compare favorably to the 2011 Worlds in Daegu where… they closed off half the stadium in an unsuccessful effort to make it look more crowded.

That's two championships in a row. Is anyone listening?

Once inside Luzhniki Stadium, the obvious is begged.

Programs and dailies are difficult if not impossible to find. When was the last time you were in a stadium watching an event whose total worldwide viewership is estimated at 5 billion - and the seat rows and numbers were written on the backs of each chair in magic marker? This was true in section D on the second weekend, much to the consternation of hopelessly lost natives as well as visitors.

How nice it would be to see the shotputters. Not just the implement flying out from behind a sign, but how about the throwers as well? It’s a little like watching the skis of a ski jumper without the skier attached.

One afternoon I sleep through my alarm and dash to the Metro, groggy. I turn left when I should have turned right and end up nine stops away from the stadium. I miss the men’s steeplechase; this is damaging.

I do understand full well the responsibility of the tourist (me) to travel well; that is, to be prepared for travel in the host country. Yet even universally recognized diagrams or symbols – of the stadium posted on its subway stops, for example – would indicate some effort on the hosts’ part to make life easier on the visitors whose funds and endorsement they so eagerly seek.

If anyone saves the Sochi Games games it will be the people of Russia who extended themselves to me and others to help us get where we were going (and I will write about these trip and soul-saving wonders in my next post). A man with a tablet saves the day by taking the time to call up a map, and he redirects me to the stadium.

I bow, deeply, in gratitude. I still see the women’s 1500m, so all is not lost.

On the day of the men’s 50k walk, I encounter the foulest portable toilet offense of my traveling life. What would it take to establish and keep a regular schedule of cleaning these out?

Hosts note: these are things your guests remember.

Exiting the stadium becomes a patience tester. The stands are emptied one section at a time. On two nights it takes well over twenty minutes to be released; some fans report thirty.

Soldiers in uniform guard the exits.

Enthusiastically.

They are inflexible with their exit policy.

Once outside the stadium, the meager fan zone begs comparison not only to previous Worlds but to other major meets. Eugene’s 2012 Olympic Trials fan zone far exceeds this one in terms of welcome and engagement. In Eugene, I wanted to stay and explore. Here, there is no place designed to encourage people to gather, and we walk towards the Metro stop.

There, we are greeted by two long lines of soldiers and are funneled towards the subway entrance. I want to bail out to the right to join friends at a nearby restaurant. A young woman in uniform surveys the situation, denies my request, and says, “Turn right at horse.”

I look up.

Indeed, much farther along, another young woman - part of the equestrian corps - is in full military regalia atop an enormous beast near the Metro stop.

I march by dozens of soldiers and do, in fact, turn right at horse.

I understand full well the need for security as well as crowd control. But for crowd control you would need, well… a crowd.

*  *  *

On the second night, still not confident of my Metro-in-Cyrillic abilities,
I take a cab to Luzhniki Stadium.

As we arrive the driver turns to me and says enthusiastically,

“Stadion!!! Football - yes?!"

If the cabbies don’t know the World Championships are in town…





Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cue Bedlam - Moscow Moments from Luzhniki Stadium on Saturday, 8/17


It’s Saturday night in Luzhniki Stadium and the crowd is rockin’.

It’s the second ‘Russia night’ in a row as home country athletes surprise and delight the hometown crowd. 

The rhythmic chant of RUUSSS-EEEEEE-YYYAAA!!!!!!!! will wake me for weeks to come.

Russian success reaches deep beyond the favorites. Yuliya Kondakova PRs in the 100m hurdles for the second consecutive race and advances to the final. No pressure, mind you, as the crowd goes ballistic every time a Russian is introduced, not to mention what happens when they perform well.

The bubble bursts as Kondakova finishes last in the final - but hey, that introduction! I’d wear that around my neck for the next lifetime or two.

Favorite Anna Chicherova falters to tie for third in the high jump. No problem – insert Svetlana Shlokina for gold instead and give the crowd two medals to cheer.

Dimitri Tarabin steals bronze from Kenya’s Julius Yego with his dramatic last throw, thereby ruining a terrific story line about Kenya’s first javelin medal; the year before, Yego became Kenya’s first field event entrant in the Olympics and finished 12th

Ruined? Not for this crowd.

And most memorably, the Russian women take gold in the 4x400m relay as Antonina Krivoshapka fulfills her great potential with the anchor leg of a lifetime.

I’ll not attempt to catalogue every Russian success of this scintillating evening. However, it fairly predictably goes something like this:

A Russian medals: cue bedlam.

One of the unexpected pleasures of my many Worlds is learning the music of national anthems. Two of my favorites are from Jamaica and Russia, the Jamaican beautiful and elegant and the Russian beautiful and majestic.

Not a bad way to end the evening than to have a stadium full of Russians honor their relay team with a harmonized chorus of 40,000.

The Russian relay win is widely viewed as an upset, but I had Russia picked for gold long before the US lost Allyson Felix in this event, just as I had the Russian men for bronze. And I don’t think either pick was a stretch. Why?

National focus.

The Russians have known for years that they would be hosting Worlds. This gave them the opportunity to plan and to focus on earning medals in every possible way so they could be their best on this world stage. After all, the estimated worldwide television audience is over 2 billion (one source has it at 5); the marathon course was clearly designed as a travel brochure for Moscow.

The US waits until nationals to create a relay pool less than two months before Worlds and takes it from there. Handoff practice, anyone?

An awkward 3-4 exchange costs the US dearly in the 4x4. What you don’t want to do is give Krivoshapka hope. In Moscow. Tonight.

Observing that we need a stronger focus on relays is nothing new. It’s just painful to see it cost us again, especially when Russian success highlights the effectiveness of their system and the inefficiencies of ours.

Earlier in the evening I stand outside the stadium and watch the marathoners finish. Champion Stephen Kiprotich streams by, waving vigorously.

I watch several marathoners on the screen, straining to break 2:20. I note to myself how important this milestone is on a hot day like this, no matter the original goal. One of them is Jordan Chipangama of Zambia, who accomplishes this with 2:19:47, 29th place. The crowd claps and cheers at the screen and at his effort.

I feel somewhat disrespectful as I step away from my outside vantage point while runners are still finishing. But it’s time for the hurdles semis, my entrance is blocked by the marathon finish, and I know by now that this will create hurdles of my own in getting to my seat, the Russian military staffing this event not yet having established a reputation for flexibility.

During the evening Ben Rosario of Flagstaff, AZ, US, running entrepreneur, two-time US Olympic marathon trials qualifier, and founder of RunFanShop.com, takes his seat next to me. He is Jordan Chipangama’s coach. He and I speak track and field, and we’re in the zone. It’s the second major meet in a row I’ve met a thoughtful and engaging guy named Ben, and my track and field family grows again.

Ben can’t reach Chipangama on his cell phone, and he tries repeatedly. His concern for his athlete is affecting, and he can only trust that he is being taking care of down below. While Chipangama had hoped for more - he had a 2:10 in mind – all that matters now is that he is OK.

Brianna Rollins wins the 100m hurdles. In consecutive races we have two Olympic champions side-by-side, Dawn Harper-Nelson (2008) and Sally Pearson (2012). Neither wins as young Rollins overcomes a dismal start to win by .06.

As Rollins celebrates, the young Russian mother next to me turns and says, “Congratulations!”

If we could just leave the governments out of this...

Her husband and two-year-old are next to us, and in a gold medal performance, the two-year-old cheerfully withstands a withering setting sun assault without a peep.

I’d stand and sing for her anytime.



Saturday, August 17, 2013

Day 9 - Sun, 8/18 - w Javelin, m Triple Jump, m 1500m, w 800m, w 4x100m, m 4x100m


w Javelin
This year’s women’s javelin looks just like the women’s high jump: two big names at the top, with the field wide open behind them. Germany’s Christina Obergfoll trails Russia’s Maria Abakumova on the yearly list, but head-to-head, Obergfoll has won every contest, including four Diamond League meets, and she is 7-1 overall.

Two metres behind Obergfoll are Linda Stahl of Germany and China’s Huihui Lu. Stahl has been in majors finals three times and won bronze in London. She was fifth in her only Diamond League meet this season (why only one DL meet?) but won 6 others, including the German Championships to hand Obergfoll her only loss.Lu was fifth in London and is certainly one to watch.

Obergfoll has four Olympic and World medals - none of them gold. It’s her time.

  1. Christina Obergfoll, Ger
  2. Maria Abakumova, Rus
  3. Linda Stahl, Ger

m Triple Jump
With gold in Daegu and London, Christian Taylor (US) is going for the triple crown in Moscow. With four Diamond League wins, he has the best competitive record in the event this year – though do note a couple of uncharacteristic third-place finishes. London silver medalist Will Claye was third in Daegu – time to complete the set? Teddy Tamgho France is one of the most consistent performers since 2010; this year in 11 competitions he has four firsts, six seconds, and a third. Reserve a spot for him on the medal stand.

Last year’s World Junior Champion Pedro Pichardo of Cuba leads the outdoor world list at 58’ ½”; while he has jumped close to home for the first half of the season, he sustained his placings with 1st at Lausanne and 3rd at Monaco. One to watch.

Three entries in our all-name competition: Cuba’s Ernesto Reve – jumps an average of approximately two feet farther per competition at home in Cuba but falls off considerably when he competes off the island; for him, winning worlds would be a dream. Youngster Alexiy Fedorov, who always looks good in a hat, may not be quite there yet, but he was a surprise winner of the Russian National Championships. Italy’s Daniel Greco actually leads to world list at half an inch farther than Pichardo; not quite sure how an indoor March mark will stand up. Perhaps he’s been too busy painting?

  1. Christian Taylor (US)
  2. Teddy Tamgho (FR)
  3. Pedro Pichardo (Cuba)

m 1500m
A review of Kenya’s team might come close to a review of the best contenders for medals. Asbel Kiprop is only 25, and yet his Olympic gold medal stretches time back to Beijing, and his World gold updates it to Daegu. A last-minute injury in London saw him finish last when he was heavily favored to win. Now, he is an even stronger favorite to take gold in Moscow. With three convincing Diamond League wins, including his stunning 3:27.72 in Monaco, and a sub-1:50 finish, Kiprop is clearly the man of the hour. He is now within striking distance of the world record of 3:26.00, though that is not likely in a meet of heats.

His teammates Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Chepseba are stars in their own right, and Bethwell Birgen was pulled to a 3:30.77 in the dramatic Monaco meet; it seems that a Kenyan star of the future might have found his present. Kiplagat won the Kenyan Trials as well as silver in Daegu, and he won the Pre meet mile in 3:49.48. Chepseba also made the London final but was 11th ahead of Kiprop – not a great day in the annals of Kenyan distance running.

Ayanleh Souleiman (Dji) won Oslo and Paris, while Ethiopia’s Amon Wote won the DL Birmingham race; 3:49.88 got him 3rd at Pre!

The US Olympic 2-4 duo of Leo Manzano and Matt Centrowitz has been searching for a return to form. Perhaps the last two weeks of no racing will be to their advantage; their withering speed always makes them contenders, and their 2-4 in the London Olympics was better than… yes, any other nation.

  1. Asbel Kiprop,Ken
  2. Silas Kiplagat, Ken
  3. Amon Wote, Eth

w 800m
Everyone’s favorite seems to be Russia’s Maria Savinova, the Olympic and World champion.
She’s had an unusual approach to her season with only three 800s (and a 4x400 leg at the Russian Championships), but she’s confirmed her fitness with a 1:58.75 in early June. She peaks beautifully, and her winning times of 1:55.87 in Daegu and 1:56.19 in London ought to give her competitors pause.

Francine Niyonsaba (Bur) leads the world list with 1:56.72 in Eugene. Brenda Martinez (US) and Janeth Jepkosgei (Ken) followed her in Eugene in 1:58.18 and 1:58.71. Martinez won the London Diamond League race and was second to Alysia Montano in the US title race. Jepkosgei was last in the quick London final, but brings a wealth of experience with a complete set of World medals as well as silver from Beijing. She’s finished 2nd or 3rd in each of four major races this year.

Russia’s Olympic bronze medalist Ekaterina Poistogova is in the mix once again with a sub-2:00 win in Oslo. Morocco’s Malika Akkaoui is peaking well with two wins in her last three races and a stellar 1:57.64 in second behind Francine Niyonsaba (BDI) in Paris.

Niyonsaba, a London finalist 7th, has the best competitive record coming in to Moscow with three Diamond League wins, but, most unfortunately, is out with injury.

US champ Alysia Montano, fifth in London, was only seven tenths away from silver. The five-time US champion showed great fitness in 3rd in Paris in a fast 1:57.75, but followed with a DNF in Madrid

  1. Mariya Savinova, Rus
  2. Malika Akkaoui, Mor
  3. Alysia Montano, US

w 4x100m relay
With a 1-2-3 of English Gardner (10.85), Octavious Freeman (10.87), and Alexandria Anderson (10.91) joined by defending world champ Carmelita Jeter (10.93), the defending Olympic Champs look hard to beat. Great depth with Jeneba Tarmoh and Barbara Pierre should ease the early rounds. With Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price and Kerron Stewart, the Jamaican relay looks like a strong candidate for silver, even with Veronica Campbell-Brown out on a drug violation. Ukraine won Olympic bronze over a Nigerian team anchored by a now-faster Blessing Okagbare. Trinidad and Tobago will want to avenge their Olympic DQ; could be a fascinating matchup between Okagbare and Kelley-Ann Baptiste on anchor. Russia has had this meet as a national training focus for several years; expect a highly disciplined team with perfect passes. Ukraine returns from a bronze in London and with Mariye Ryemeyen having defeated Duncan over 200m in Lausanne.

  1. United States
  2. Jamaica
  3. Trinidad and Tobago

m 4x100m relay
With Bolt (9.85), Carter (9.87), Cole (9.96), and Ashmeade (9.99), Jamaica simply has more depth than the US with Gatlin (9.89), Locke (9.96), Rodgers (9.96) and Silmon (9.98). Did I mention Jamaica’s anchor? It’s wide open for bronze. Interestingly, St. Kitts has three at 10.01 or faster, and Great Britain has an outstanding anchor in James Dasaolu (9.91). Canada returns only two of last year’s bronze DQ team.

  1. Jamaica
  2. United States
  3. St. Kitts






Friday, August 16, 2013

Teardrop of Sunlight - Moscow Moments from Friday, 8/16


The morning sessions of the World and Olympic Championships have always held special appeal.

This is where the stories begin, surprises take place, the obscure line up against the greats, and national records are set by athletes who do not advance but who nonetheless become heroes in their own countries.

Much has been made of the sparseness of the crowds at these World Championships; they are never smaller than at the morning sessions. Yet this provides fans a terrific opportunity to connect more closely with the competitions, their developing storylines, and the thousand subtle moments that create the character of these championships.

There is one inherent difference between the morning and evening sessions: these are qualifiers, not finals; twelve in each field event leave with hope still alive.

Triple jumpers exit two by two after having met the automatic qualifying standard. They wave to the crowd and return appreciation. Javelin throwers who advance on their first attempt are done for the day. That’s it, just one throw.

This morning, the first to leave are those who succeed.

Their performances are greeted with roars from the crowd that belie our small numbers. The acoustics of this stadium amplify even moderate sound. Imagine when the soccer World Cup is here.

What would these championships be without the Ukrainian fans? In two separate sections they sit in massive numbers, their identity created by the blue and yellow shirts they wear in the image of their nation’s flag – rows of blue across the top and even more of yellow below.

Italy and Ukraine engage in the morning’s mightiest battle.

The top two will advance in each of three heats of the women’s 4x400m relay, with the 7th and 8th qualifiers determined by time. In an epic last-lap battle, Italy edges Ukraine by 1/100th of a second for the 2nd spot in this heat. Now Ukraine must wait through the next two rounds to see if they advance on time.

Ultimately, they do not, and that 1/100th will define their year. The human flag dissolves as disappointed Ukrainians head for the exits.

Great Britain’s Adam Gemili shatters his PR with a 20.17 200m – how’s that for breakfast? Brianna Rollins jets down the hurdles runway in 12.55. That’s the breakfast of champions.

Bruno Hortelano takes second in his 200m heat and advances in 20.47, a Spanish national record. That won’t make headlines anywhere but Spain, but oh the reception when he gets home.

The morning’s most engaging moment takes place between 19-year-old World Junior champion Delanno Williams (GBR) and Usain Bolt in their 200m heat.

With meters to go, Bolt looks around and starts to cruise in. He seems a bit surprised to see Williams so close and does a double-take at the temerity of this youngster to challenge him.

Williams break into a huge grin, Bolt does, too – and nods at the youngster. A nod of respect, a nod of appreciation, a nod of inclusion - a welcome into the club.

Many expect Williams to be a star of the future. Without saying a word, Usain Bolt has just said it’s so.

Friday morning dawns cool and sunny in Moscow. As the sun peeks into the stadium through the oval roof, it creates a broad swath of light at the far end which narrows at the near.

Like a teardrop of sunlight, it advances through the stadium, gradually rewarding this morning’s faithful with its welcome embrace.

Day 8 - Sat, 8/17 - m Marathon, w High Jump, m Javelin, w 5,000m, w 4x400m Relay,w 100m Hurdles, w 200m

m Marathon
Tsegaye Kebede (Eth) has won London twice including this year, and set his PR in winning Chicago in 2012. He won bronze in both Beijing and Berlin and is a great major meet competitor. Stephen Kiprotich, UGA, is the Olympic champion; since then, he’s finished 6th at London and run 27:58 for 10k.

Feyisa Lilesa, Eth, won bronze in steamy Daegu; it could be hot and humid in Moscow as well. He has been nipping at the heels of greatness but has yet to put together a major win.

The IAAF website notes that Bernard Koech (Ken) ran a 59:54 half-marathon in Lisbon two months after running 2:05:53 in Dubai in January. True, but he even more remarkably followed that with a 58:41 half marathon in June! A man of steel: fast and strong.

Lelisa Desisa (Eth) owns the world’s top mark on the pancake course in Dubai and then returned to win Boston in April. Is a third all-out effort too much to ask in 8 months? Note that 5 runners in all finished within 8 seconds of each other in Dubai!

I had hoped Geoffrey Mutai, Ken, one of the most consistent of the top-level road runners, would be in this race, but it appears not to be. Winner of Boston and New York in 2011 and Berlin in 2012, this year he has run 27:57 on the track and 27:37 and 27:39 on the roads. Did I mention his 58:58 half-marathon in February? Yowza!

With team running tactics, an Ethiopian sweep is not out of the question.

  1. Bernard Koech, Ken
  2. Tsegaye Kebede, Eth
  3. Lelisa Desisa, Eth

w High Jump
A home win for Anna Chicherova would be hugely popular.The World and Olympic champion also has a silver and two bronzes in her last 5 major meets. She has won four of six competitions this year, and has a 4-1 record against London silver medalist, the effervescent Brigetta Barrett (US). Barrett tops the yearly list at 6’8 ¼” with Chicherova ¾” behind.

In a wide open contest for bronze, Olympic bronze medalist Svetlana Shokolina gives Russia a strong chance of winning two medals. Italy’s young Alessia Trost is third on the worldlist, and Spain’s Ruth Beitia is right behind her. Croatia’s Blanca Vlasic is one of the notable absentees from this championship.

If this were about singing the national anthem, Barrett would win gold for sure.

  1. Anna Chicherova, Rus
  2. Brigetta Barrett,US
  3. Svetlana Shokolina, Rus

w Javelin
This year’s women’s javelin looks just like the women’s high jump: two big names at the top, with the field wide open behind them. Germany’s Christina Obergfoll trails Russia’s Maria Abakumova on the yearly list, but head-to-head, Obergfoll has won every contest, including four Diamond League meets, and she is 7-1 overall.

Two metres behind Obergfoll are Linda Stahl of Germany and China’s Huihui Lu. Stahl has been in majors finals three times and won bronze in London. She was fifth in her only Diamond League meet this season (why only one DL meet?) but won 6 others, including the German Championships to hand Obergfoll her only loss.Lu was fifth in London and is certainly one to watch.

Obergfoll has four Olympic and World medals - none of them gold. It’s her time.

  1. Christina Obergfoll, Ger
  2. Maria Abakumova, Rus
  3. Linda Stahl, Ger

w 5000m
There’s always something of a mystery about who is going to run which distance event, but this year we seem to be in for disappointment as the latest word from Moscow is that Meseret Defar will run only the 5,000m and Tirunesh Dibaba the 10,000m. It’s bad enough that we have so many stars missing from Moscow, but to have them there and dodge each other? The frostiness between the Ethiopians is well-established; is it really better to avoid losing than to walk away with silver? It seems neither wants to risk losing twice. Nonetheless, this makes Meseret Defar a heavy favorite to win at 5k and Tirunesh Dibaba an even stronger favorite to win at 10k.

Few could have been more heavily favored in London than Tirunesh Dibaba in the distances on the track. So when Meseret Defar pulled off her last lap shocker, it seems to have had an impact which ripples all the way to these worlds. Almaz Ayana (Eth) has actually run faster at 5k than her teammate Defar this season, as she was pulled to a 14:25 behind Dibaba’s 14:23 at Paris.

But Defar dusted the field by 6 ½ seconds in Oslo, with Kenya’s Viola Kibiwott next in a very creditable 14:33. Mercy Cherono, Kibiwott’s teammate and Kenyan Trials winner, will be in the mix as well, as she tested Dibaba in Eugene’s 5k and finished only half a second behind.

  1. Meseret Defar, Eth
  2. Almaz Ayana, Eth
  3. Mercy Cherono, Ken

w 4x400m relay
The United States dominated the Olympic 1600m relay by more than 3.5 seconds over Russia. How to make that up for a popular home-town win? Well, for starters, take Sanya Richards-Ross off the US team with injury. Russia and the US are tantalizingly close on paper this year, and this could well come down to how fast hurdlers Natalia Antyukh and LaShinda Demus run. This will be fun in front of the home crowd. Great Britain and Jamaica should duke it out for bronze; Jamaica has 5 under 50.91, while GB has former world and Olympic champ Christine Ohuruogu on anchor.

  1. Russia
  2. United States
  3. Great Britain

w 100m hurdles
Let’s see… NCAA and US champion… US and 2x collegiate record setter this year… 12.26… the #4 performer all-time with = #5 performance. Only .05 away from Yordanka Donkova’s (Bul) 25 year old world record. She has kept a low profile since US nationals with a couple of sharpening races in Switzerland and Finland… good coaching considering the multiple rounds she ran in June. Brianna Rollins is almost 2/10 of a second ahead of the world… and yet their is a question of experience. OK, she’s short on international experience but is used to the collegiate grind.

Much like Aries Merritt on the men’s side, Australia’s Sally Pearson is not having quite the dominant year she had on her way to Olympic gold. She had a busy July as she raced herself back into shape, but she remains almost 4/10 of a second behind Rollins on the yearly list.

Beijing gold medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson has more international experience than teammates Nia Ali and Queen Harrison, though Harrison has compiled a relatively strong competitive record this year. Harper-Nelson has three Diamond League wins to her credit, and only Rollins has more wins overall. The only thing keeping me from picking the veteran over the new star is a significant .27 time differential this season – but that can go in one hurdle, right?

  1. Brianna Rollins, US
  2. Sally Pearson, Aus
  3. Dawn Harper-Nelson, US

m 200m
Bolt seems a lock here as well as he leads the yearly list at 19.73, with teammates Warren Weir, Jason Young, and Nickel Ashmeade forming a stellar 4x200m – if only there were one. This could well be a repeat Jamaican sweep. Wallace Spearmon is not as high on the yearly time list as I’d like to see him, but the US veteran is an outstanding multi-round competitor. Isiah Young’s stellar 19.86 behind Tyson Gay at the US Nationals can’t be overlooked, especially after making the US London Olympic team, and he has recent collegiate multi-round experience.

  1. Usain Bolt (Jam)
  2. Warren Weir (Jam)
  3. Isiah Young (US)










Teardrop of Sunlight - Moscow Moments from Friday, August 16


The morning sessions of the World and Olympic Championships have always held special appeal.

This is where the stories begin, surprises take place, the obscure line up against the greats, and national records are set by athletes who do not advance but who nonetheless become heroes in their own countries.

Much has been made of the sparseness of the crowds at these World Championships; they are never smaller than at the morning sessions. Yet this provides fans a terrific opportunity to connect more closely with the competitions, their developing storylines, and the thousand subtle moments that create the character of these championships.

There is one inherent difference between the morning and evening sessions: these are qualifiers, not finals; twelve in each field event leave with hope still alive.

Triple jumpers exit two by two after having met the automatic qualifying standard. They wave to the crowd and return appreciation. Javelin throwers who advance on their first attempt are done for the day. That’s it, just one throw.

This morning, the first to leave are those who succeed.

Their performances are greeted with roars from the crowd that belie our small numbers. The acoustics of this stadium amplify even moderate sound. Imagine when the soccer World Cup is here.

What would these championships be without the Ukrainian fans? In two separate sections they sit in massive numbers, their identity created by the blue and yellow shirts they wear in the image of their nation’s flag – rows of blue across the top and even more of yellow below.

Italy and Ukraine engage in the morning’s mightiest battle.

The top two will advance in each of three heats of the women’s 4x400m relay, with the 7th and 8th qualifiers determined by time. In an epic last-lap battle, Italy edges Ukraine by 1/100th of a second for the 2nd spot in this heat. Now Ukraine must wait through the next two rounds to see if they advance on time.

Ultimately, they do not, and that 1/100th will define their year. The human flag dissolves as disappointed Ukrainians head for the exits.

Great Britain’s Adam Gemili shatters his PR with a 20.17 200m – how’s that for breakfast? Brianna Rollins jets down the hurdles runway in 12.55. That’s the breakfast of champions.

Bruno Hortelano takes second in his 200m heat and advances in 20.47, a Spanish national record. That won’t make headlines anywhere but Spain, but oh the reception when he gets home.

The morning’s most engaging moment takes place between 19-year-old World Junior champion Delanno Williams (GBR) and Usain Bolt in their 200m heat.

With meters to go, Bolt looks around and starts to cruise in. He seems a bit surprised to see Williams so close and does a double-take at the temerity of this youngster to challenge him.

Williams breaks into a huge grin, Bolt does, too – and nods at the youngster. A nod of respect, a nod of appreciation, a nod of inclusion - a welcome into the club.

Many expect Williams to be a star of the future. Without saying a word, Usain Bolt has just said it’s so.

Friday morning dawns cool and sunny in Moscow. As the sun peeks into the stadium through the oval roof, it creates a broad swath of light at the far end which narrows at the near.

Like a teardrop of sunlight, it advances through the stadium, gradually rewarding this morning’s faithful with its welcome embrace.



Thursday, August 15, 2013

Day 7 - Fri, 8/16 - w Hammer, m Long Jump, m Shot Put, m 5,000m, w 200m, m 4x400m



w Hammer
World and Olympic gold medalist Tatyana Lysenko won the Russian Championships at the end of July in a world-leading mark of 256’ 4”. She’s ready. She’s followed on the world lists by teammates Oksana Kondrateyeva in 2nd and Anna Bulgakova in 5th – a Russian powerhouse to be sure. Kondrateyeva has a huge PR this year but has competed only in Russia. Germany’s Betty Heidler has won major meet medals four times in a row, including gold in 2007, and she is undefeated coming into Worlds. Poland’s London silver medalist Anita Wlordarcryk has finished first or second in every meet this year. A scintillating competition is on tap; Russia could well bring home multiple medals. It’s hammer time!

  1. Betty Heidler, Ger
  2. Tatyana Lysenko, Rus
  3. Anita Wlordarcryk, Pol

m Long Jump
When I saw Alexander Menkov jump in Eugene in June, I thought I might be watching this year’s world champ. In six meets he’s won four and placed 2nd twice. Usually the early Diamond League meets reveal little about the year in store, but this was not true in Shanghai in May when Li Jinzhe was the unexpected winner and in an attention-getting 27 4 ¼”. But with only four competitions and no mark in two of them, I’m not ready to jump on his bandwagon quite yet. Great potential, but if he can’t take the heat in the Gent Flanders Cup…

One of the most exciting jumpers to come along this year is Mexico’s Luis Rivera who is either hot or not. When ‘on,’ he jumped a world lead 29 9 ¼”  and defeated Menkov in Kazan. In a busy season, he has finished out of the top 3 only twice in 12 meets.

NCAA and Paris Diamond League champ Damar Forbes deserves serious consideration as a medalist… Olympic gold medalist Greg Rutherford is just back from injury and barely made the British squad… Brazil’s Mauro da Silva was 2nd to Menkov in Eugene, third in London, and in what, granted, has mostly been a regional campaign, he has finished no worse than 3rd in a dozen meets.

It’s an extraordinarily tight field as 19 jumpers are within 12” of each other on top of the world list. An exceptionally young group makes this a fascinating event. Who will be oblivious enough to the moment to shock the world? I give home field advantage to Menkov in front of a raucous sold-out stadium.

Meanwhile, Rivera, an artist of the long jump, who has his doctorate in industrial engineering and is a clear medal favorite with the world’s longest jump this year, says that “if a dream crosses your mind, it will cross your life.” (IAAF website) He is 26. I am so unworthy!

  1. Alexander Menkov, Rus
  2. Luis Rivera, Mex
  3. Mauro da Silva, Bra

m Shot Put
Ryan Whiting has a Valerie Adams-like lead on the world lists of almost two feet. In 8 competitions he has won 6 times and finished 2nd the other two times. Reese Hoffa (US) was second to Whiting at the US Championships. The London bronze medalist (and Osaka world champ in ’07) isn’t showing his age quite yet as his 71’ 2 ¾” at second on the world list demonstrates.

David Storl won the German title in early July; he is down on the performance list this year at more than a meter behind Whiting, but the still-young (he just turned 23) London silver medalist and Daegu world champ is a great big meet competitor. And Whiting fell apart in London. Thomas Majewski (Pol) has two Olympic golds to his credit but is clearly off-form this year. Another 23-year-old, Ladislav Pravel (Cze), had a big early-season throw of 70’ 5 ¼”, and has been over 21 meters (just under 68’ 11”) a total of four times this year.

Belated Beijing bronze medalist Dylan Armstrong gets the travel award of the year as he threw in Vancouver, BC on a Monday, Lausanne on Thursday, and Victoria on Saturday. With silver in Daegu and 5th in London, he is always in the thick of it for the podium. Zach Lloyd picked the right time to PR when he grabbed the third spot on the US team in Des Moines.

I get nervous picking two medals for the US as our shot putters have often not lived up to their pre-major meet performances.

  1. David Storl, Ger
  2. Ryan Whiting, US
  3. Ladislav Pravel, Cze

m 5000m
Mo Farah is a prohibitive favorite to win this race. With an astonishing European record of 3:28.81 in the mile and a withering last 800m in the London Diamond League 3,000m, Farah can win at any distance he wants – including a charity match race he has proposed vs Usain Bolt at 600 or 800m.

Hagos Gebrhiwet scorched a 7:30 3k in Doha and beat a stellar field as well as the weather in New York. An Olympic 5,000m finalist and World Junior Cross Country champion in March, he has finished no worse than 3rd in anything since London. He upset Galen Rupp in the Boston Indoor this year (modesty prevents me from noting that not everyone thought this was an upset…). You know what he did the next day? He turned 19. If he is anywhere near the lead with 300m to go, watch out.

Galen Rupp certainly has the finishing chops to medal if he can be in the mix with 400m to go. The slower the pace the better he’ll do. I have a feeling that with what’s perceived as a bit of an off season for him, he’s lying in wait to pounce in Moscow.

Isiah Koech (Ken) has been third twice this season in deep Diamond League meets and won the Kenyan Trials. Edwin Soi (Ken) and Albert Rop (BRN) went 1-2 in 12:51s in the outstanding Monaco race. Yenew Alamirew (Eth) has won two Diamond League 5ks this year, and Alamirew and Gebrhiwet went 1-2 in 12:54-12:55 in Rome.

And who’s getting better with each race? The United States’ Lawi Lalang, that’s who. A possible American record?

  1. Mo Farah, GB
  2. Hagos Gebrhiwet, Eth
  3. Edwin Soi, Ken

w 200m
Allyson Felix finished second to NCAA and US champ Kimberlyn Duncan at the US Nationals,
and she is ever-so-slighty below her 2012 gold medal standards. Same can be said for Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. But Felix and SAFP are great big-meet competitors, and slighty off for them can be still be gold. Muriel Ahoure brings strong credentials at 22.24 and 10.91, the former her winning time at Monaco. And note that Ukraine’s Mariya Ryemeyen beat Duncan in Lausanne – I’m just sayin’. Duncan brings great multiple rounds experience and is a strong contender for a medal/

  1. Allyson Felix (US)
  2. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce
  3. Muriel Ahoure (CIV)
m 4x400m relay
The US dominates the 400m lists with 10 of the top 22. It could be pretty wide open for medals… Bahamas has great depth with Chris Brown on anchor… Jamaica has three at 45.28 or better with plenty of 200m runners who can move up… and Belgium will have plenty of crowd support with the three Borlee brothers. Last year’s surprise bronze medalist, Trinidad and Tobago, have only one athlete in the top 20 this year. Russia and Great Britain always have highly disciplined teams. Think Russia hasn’t made it a national priority to bring home a medal in one of the Championships’ signature events?

  1. United States
  2. Bahamas
  3. Russia




 

Walking in Moscow - Moscow Moments from Wednesday, 8/14


Frank Shorter once said – in West Seattle, 1979, at the Diet Pepsi 10k - that he could not imagine running a marathon in four hours.

“How on earth I could maintain my concentration for that long I do not know,” he said. “I have far greater respect for the four hour marathoner’s ability to concentrate than I have for mine.”

I’ve long shared the same feeling about the 50 kilometer walk. I mean, who does anything for 50k?

Maybe cyclists are warming up at that distance, but to race walk a marathon and then sprint another 4.9 miles? Whose idea was that?

When I think of 50k, I think of driving from Seattle to Tacoma.

Last year I watched the London women’s 20k walk on my laptop as Yelena Lashmanova passed multiple major meet gold medalist Olga Kaniskina in the last kilometer and set the world record while winning gold.

Remarkably, in a sport that heretofore has rewarded experience, that day her age matched the distance.

Wednesday in Moscow dawned cool and rainy - great conditions, it seemed, for the men’s 50k walk. But things changed rapidly as the sun came out and the moisture turned the race course into a steambath.

Sweden’s Andreas Gustaffson bonked at 45k.

Gustaffson held his form even though he was doing a race walker’s form of a marathoner’s death jog.

He grimaced frequently in the ever hotter sun, threw his head back and uttered deep guttural shot putter’s groans – and just kept shuffling forward

He was completely on his own. No father to rush out and walk him to the finish line, no medicos offering assistance as long as he was upright.

Each step was a decision.

And where did this happen? Right in front of judges row, where else?

Gustaffson kept focused on maintaining his form. 

No lifting now. 

No judges to decide this one. 

This was up to him.

It was remarkable to see him in such distress while maintaining such good technique.

The crowd cheered him on and we studiously avoided eye contact with each other; this was tough to watch.

He disappeared down the long straightaway and around the far bend.

Sometime later two men appear.

Bib 404, Spain’s Claudio Villanueva, is strong and confident.

Next to him: yellow and blue.

Gustaffson.

Remarkably, he has pulled out of his crisis and is walking well again. Villanueva is a lap ahead of him, and they help each other until Villanueva peels off for the finish.

The cheers as Gustaffson goes by… it’s our turn for something from deep within us.

This is too good, too deep, too personal, and it is way too much to hope that he might yet finish.

He goes by one last time and we gather by the video screen on which we earlier watched Ireland’s Robert Heffernan change his life and his reputation as he pulled off a hard-fought win. No more dreaded 4th place “lead medals” for him.

Gustaffson comes into the stadium and we suck in our collective breath. It may appear that our silence is strange, but we know that he has 500m to go.

He’s not there yet.

The anxiety in this international group of race walk fans – Chinese to my left, Russian to my right, Ecuadoran, Australian, Italian, Mexican, and yes, Swedish in just front of me – is palpable.

Gustaffson gives a huge fist pump as he crosses the finish line.

We clap and cheer and know we’ve witnessed something transformative. It’s impossible to have witnessed this and not be changed.

The results show that his 4:01:40 is, remarkably, a seasonal best.

But all that shows is his time.

We are privileged to know something special.

We know how he got there.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 6 - Thurs, 8/15 - m High Jump, w Triple Jump, m 3,000m Steeplechase, w 400m, m 400m, w 1500m


m High Jump
The hottest event in 2013 has been the men’s high jump. Everything but the world record has been cleared this year, and Javier Sotomayor’s venerable 8’1/2” from 1993 is at risk. I thought I’d seen the highest clearance we’d see this year at the Pre Classic in June when Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim soared to 7’ 10 ½” (and then declined to try higher heights, which always mystifies me – what, you think you’re gonna jump 7’10 ½” every day? – when you’re hot, go with it.) But Ukraine’s Bohdan Bondarenko topped even that with his 7’ 10 ¾” win over Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard at Lausanne.

Canada’s bronze  medalist Derek Drouin is tied with Russia’s Aleksey Dmitrik at 8’ 8 ¾” on the yearly list, with Russia’s Sergey Mudrov a quarter inch behind them. Fireworks, anyone?

My Canadian friends will hoot if I pick Kynard, so let’s take a close look at their competitive records. Kynard won the US title and has finished second in five major meets. Drouin won the NCAA title over Kynard but slipped to a worrisome fifth in Lausanne. I’m going to give the NCAA win the credit it deserves.

One prediction: the highest height ever not to medal. Someone could clear 7’9” and watch the medal ceremony from the stands. Note: Barshim also was Olympic bronze medalist as there was a three-way tie for third in London, and of the five medalists, only Great Britain’s Robbie Grabarz is not in the mix this year. Giving five medals in the men’s high jump in London could not have been a more appropriate indicator of what was to come.

  1. Bohdan Bondarenko, Ukr
  2. Mutaz Essa Barshim, Qat
  3. Derek Drouin, Can

w Triple Jump
Yekaterina Koneva is not the biggest name in this event, but with only one loss this year she needs to be given serious consideration as a medal contender in front of the more than friendly hometown crowd. The more established medalists are Olympic silver medalist Caterine Ibarguen of Columbia and Ukraine’s bronze medalist Olha Saladuha. Saladuha has been inconsistent in spite of her world-leading 48’ 10”, but such is the closeness of these top three that Ibarguen is second at 48’8” and Koneva is third at 47’ 7 ½”.
Hanna Knyazyeva finished 4th in the Olympics (then from Ukraine, now Israel); she has some strong results on the European circuit including 2nd at Paris and 3rd in London – she seems to be eaking well. Ibarguen has won four Diamond League events and seems a heavy favorite to win her country’s first World gold. As much as I’d like to see her do it, I like Koneva’s competitive record combined with a once in a lifetime chance to win gold at home.

Among the many contenders for bronze should any of the faves falter are Name Hall of Fame candidates Mabel Gay of Cuba, who had better watch out with that last name, and Greece’s Athanasia Pierra, whose brother, EU, was the cause of so much concern over the last several years.

  1. Yekaterina Koneva, Rus
  2. Caterine Ibarguen, Col
  3. Olha Saladuha, Ukr

m 3000m steeplechase
This season’s steeple is summarized in the finish of the Diamond League race in Eugene: The young and inexperienced Conselsus Kipruto trying to pass master of the event and Kenyan teammate Ezekiel Kemboi on the inside of lane 1. Kemboi looks both surprised and distressed; it will be fascinating to see who looks that way at the end of the final in Moscow. Kemboi was DQed for interference; seems the young one was interfering with his plans and Kemboi took action! Kemboi has twice mined Olympic gold, twice World championship gold, and three times World silver – a remarkable 7 major meet medals that go back 10 years. Meanwhile, Kipruto has won all five of his steeples this year; noteworthy is that three of them were Diamond League races, one was the Kenyan Trials, and he has defeated Kemboi twice. Kemboi is 31, Kipruto is 18.

Kenya’s remaining entries are no slouches. Abel Mutai won bronze in London, while Paul Koech’s bronze goes all the way back to Athens ’04. France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad has shown himself to be fearless in taking on the Kenyans in this event, and has two Olympic silvers and a World championship bronze to show for it. And US steeple star Evan Jager may well set an American record while finishing out of the medals.

It will be interesting to see what type of race this is and how it develops; remember, in spite of much talk about a world record (including from yours truly), Kemboi won London gold in 8:18.56. If they go out in 75, I’m going to scream.

The consensus is for Conselsus.

  1. Conselsus Kipruto,Ken
  2. Ezekiel Kemboi, Ken
  3. Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, Fr

w 400m hurdles
This will be one of the highlights of these championships. Zuzana Hejnova (Cze) and Perri Shakes-Drayton (GB) hooked up in a London Diamond League barnburner with Hejnova taking the measure of PS-D, 53.07 – 53.67. London silver medalist and defending world champ Lashinda Demus has been off the radar screen since mid-June, and with a middling competitive record until then, I don’t see her as a medal contender quite yet. An interesting approach to her season, with four competitive 800m in March and April. Olympic champion Natalya Antuykh (Rus) has been off the radar screen this year until a modest performance in the Russian Championships. Georganne Moline was 5th in London and 2nd both the NCAA and US championships.

  1. Zuzana Hejnova, Cze
  2. Perri Shakes-Drayton, GB
  3. Georganne Moline, US

m 400m hurdles
The US trio of Michael Tinsley, Kerron Clement, and Bershawn Jackson is fast and experienced enough that they could sweep the medals, unlikely as that might be. Off the radar screen again is Felix Sanchez, who pulled off one of the more improbable wins in London to match his golden performance in Athens. In 9 races this year, Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson has not medaled twice. Very reminiscent of last year when he was such a favorite going into London, where he was 3rd.

Clement, the Osaka and Berlin champ, brings a heady wealth of big meet experience. And Bershawn Jackson, perhaps my favorite off-the-radar pick to win in 2005, has, interestingly, never bettered his 47.30 from his Helsinki Worlds win. Tinsley, the Olympic silver medalist, has a series of 1sts punctuated by a 3rd and 8th this season. All those 1sts have got my attention. Besides, when it comes to gold medal contenders in Moscow, how many guys can say they won the 200m at the San Marcos Texas State Invitational in June? I rest my case. However, I’m probably going to pay for not picking Sanchez for the podium.

  1. Michael Tinsley, US
  2. Javier Culson, PR
  3. Kerron Clement, US

w 1500m
The Doha Diamond League race gave us an early indication of what was – and is – in store for us in the women’s 1500m this season. Sweden’s Abebe Aregawi won in a scorching 3:56.60, Faith Kipyegon (Ken) was second in 3:56.98, and Genzebe Dibaba (Eth) third in 3:57.54. Notably, there is then a gap to 4th, and only Hellen Obiri (Ken) has joined this threesome on the sub-4:00 list since with her 3:58.58 win in Eugene.

Aregawi was a surprise 5th place finisher in London in spite of being a strong favorite going in. She finished behind the Turkish 1-2 who now find themselves suspended due to drug positives, and she did not handle a slow, tactical race particularly well. Since then, she has dominated the 1500m world. She tops the world list in time, but more importantly, in wins, and she is undefeated this season: 5/5 in Diamond League races.

With two Diamond League 2nds as well as 2nd in the Kenyan Trials, Kipyegon has proved herself capable of high finishes off both fast and slow paces. She is only 19. Dibaba has raced two Diamond League 5ks in 14:45 and 14:37 while finishing 2nd and 3rd in her only two DL 1500m races.

Hellen Obiri won the Pre meet, the Kenyan title, and was 2nd to Jenny Simpson (US) in Monaco. Simpson won the US 5,000m title, and her strength and speed could prove devastating to this field, especially off a slow pace. Nancy Langat (Ken), the Beijing gold medalist, has run a lot of races this year but just not up to her previous level.

And the 17 year old US wunderkind, Mary Cain, will be the talkof this event; she has been on a near world-class tear and finds herself 26th on the 1500m list and 13th on the 800m. With blazing finishing speed she could produce quite a shocker in a slow final, as she did when she won the US indoor title in Albuquerque. But getting through the rounds to the final will be her big challenge.

  1. Abebe Aregawi, Swe
  2. Faith Kipyegon, Ken
  3. Hellen Obiri, Ken