Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Very Civil War

by Mark Cullen

The Great Race is a fund-raiser for Muscular Dystrophy, held annually between the University of Oregon and Oregon State in conjunction with the heated football rivalry known - unfortunately - as The Civil War. Oregon’s early ‘70s 800m star, Steve Bence, wrote an engaging story featuring the 1974 Great Race, in which he focused both on Steve Prefontaine’s role as anchor and on the meaning the race came to have for Pre (links below).

A full team was full - 45 runners. All but the final four miles were run on Friday, and the race finished in the host's stadium at half-time of Saturday's football game. The time differential was applied to Saturday’s first runners and the race to the stadium was on.

I ran the Great Race, likely in '74, when the race finished in Corvallis. Bence noted that his t-shirt – green printing on yellow – was what he was wearing in Nike’s first product catalogue. My shirt is red on white, with the name “SWEETSER” on the back in honor of the women’s dormitory which sponsored my leg of the relay. 

On race day, the air was rife with dark rumors of previous mischievous predations, of runners purposely misdirected to the wrong level of the stadium. This happened in Corvallis, of course, as my beloved Ducks would never stoop to such tactics.


I rode a bus on race day and was dropped off well down the road on Highway 99. In a day of no cell phones or instant communication, an occasional cyclist came by with a report of a substantial Oregon lead – much to my relief. As a relatively new runner, the last thing I wanted was the pressure of protecting a marginal lead.

In spite of the heat that accompanies the football rivalry, this race did much to better relations between the two universities, as 41 pairs of supposed adversaries stood together awaiting our turns. My Oregon State counterpart and I stood out there for a long time - upwards of an hour - with just each other to speak with.

I remember his last name – Renfro – a familiar name in athletics in the state of Oregon in those days, though this Renfro was not a famous athlete, nor was he related to Mel, the legendary U of O football and track and field star and NFL Hall of Famer.

This Renfro certainly appeared to be a good athlete, however. Tall and strong, with easy confidence in his athleticism.

I thought I was doomed in the event of a close race.

We talked and got to know each other, and he seemed altogether reasonable for someone from Oregon State - all things considered.

We’d warm up together only to warm down again.

As the batons approached, more and more people came by.

'It’s getting closer,' they reported.

As the lead vehicle approached with flashing lights, my worst nightmare came true.

Two runners running together stride for stride after almost 30 miles.

Mr. Renfro and I got our batons simultaneously.

Panic is a strong motivator and I likely could have paced Roger Bannister for my first quarter mile. I had the lead, but there were three quarters to go.

A car pulled up beside me and Duck cheerleaders and fans screamed their support.

Pride is a strong motivator.

So is the distinct possibility of abject humiliation.

Mr. Renfro pulled up to me as I tired, and we settled into a more reasonable pace.

Much was on the line, not the least of which was the possibility of my having to explain to Bill Bowerman and Bill Dellinger how I lost the lead for the U of O. The '72 Olympic Coach and his Olympic 5k bronze medalist successor were my running class teachers in different years.

I was told I broke five minutes that day out there on Route 99.

Of course, that was in a mile measured by the odometer of a car, then the universal standard of measurement.

But Mr. Renfro was not a miler. Like me, he was roped into this event at the last minute. I pulled away in the last quarter mile and handed the lead to my successor.

The matter was settled fair and square at halftime of the football game the next day, and with a narrow Oregon win.

I have the t-shirt still:

At a time of divisiveness and fear - Bence’s article was posted on the Track and Field News website at midpoint between Paris and San Bernardino - I take heart in the memory of all these pairs of young men strung out along the Oregon countryside. Mr. Renfro and I were just two enthusiastic students pleased as punch to be representing our universities, gracious and polite to each other and searching for ways to keep the conversation going. 

Kind and respectful, encouraging and supportive, we put the ‘civil’ back into this Civil War. He and I exchanged exactly the same words as the batons approached: “Good luck.”

I’ve always wondered what the other conversations were like that day, as runners from rival schools would have to negotiate the social minefield that would be ours when we returned to our dormitories and fraternities. What on earth would we say when we got back to our respective camps – that the other runner was a surprisingly respectable guy?

Well, yes.

*                                                                               *                                                                        *                 


Many thanks to Steve Bence for taking the time - in the middle of the holidays - to communicate with me about The Great Race. A tremendous help and much appreciated.

In addition to its posting on the Track and Field News website, Bence's article has appeared at:

and on Doug Binder's website where the piece is available as an ebook:

There are all sorts of research issues attendant to a race this old and with such thin documentation. An interesting one is: how far is it from Eugene to Corvallis? Not as simple an answer as you might think - I have three different sources with three different distances and therefore different numbers of runners. I have used the 45 legs statistic (41 run on Friday, 4 on Saturday) published in the Eugene Register-Guard on November 17, 1972, as it is the most contemporary reference I've found.

The Great Race was a men's only relay (varsity women's track and field and cross country were club sports then), but I'm happy to report that in its current iteration, the race is, of course, co-ed. The race still exists but in substantially modified form (sadly, it looks as thought the high entry fee would prohibit most university students from participating now):

Bence's prominence on the University of Oregon track and cross country teams is not ever to be understated, as these program covers attest:

When you're sharing the program cover of an Oregon home meet with Steve Prefontaine... that's correct: 'nuff said.

(Programs from my personal collection.)

I would be grateful for any correspondence which would shed further light on the history of The Great Race.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

trackerati in Track and Field News and NW Runner

In better news in this dismal but possibly redemptive week for international track and field... a personal note.

My five event reports from the Beijing World Championships - men's and women's hammer throw, men's and women's discus, and men's javelin - are in the World Championships edition of Track and Field News. 

My 'coverish' story on Laurel James, founder 40 years ago of Seattle's Super Jock 'n' Jill, is in the November/December issue of Northwest Runner.

These magazines are on your newsstands now; T+F News internationally, NW Runner regionally.

I'm not able to post links here as both publications are subscription-based and password protected. However, by agreement with the publisher, I'll be able to post my Laurel James story the day after Thanksgiving, the 40th anniversary of the opening of the store - and yes, 40 years to the day since I shopped there first. I was the first customer at their Redmond store when it opened last fall.

Why 'coverish'?! The story is highlighted as an insert on the cover.

Thanks to Sieg Lindstrom of T+F News and Frank Field of NW Runner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Interview" with Segway Man gets to the bottom of the Segway fiasco

trackerati: How are you liking your new digs in Outer Mongolia?

Segman: Well, I didn’t know it was possible to get here so fast!

trackerati: We didn’t know there still was a Chinese Gulag.

Segman: There wasn’t! They made one just for me.

trackerati: How long do you expect to stay?

Segman: How long have you got?

trackerati: That’s not the question. How long have you got?

Segman: (blank stare)

trackerati: So, why did you take out Bolt?

Segman: I was just trying to get a great pic of him.

trackerati: Did you?

Segman: It’s a lovely photo, really, except his feet are in the air.

trackerati: If only you had knocked over Justin Gatlin instead, The Guardian would have paid for your new life in Great Britain.

Segman: So that’s who was screaming at me saying I hit the wrong guy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Oiselle and Among RW's 50 Most Influential in Running

Oiselle founder and CEO Sally Bergesen has been named one of the 50 most influential people in running by Runner's World magazine. We are honored at to count Bergesen as a longtime friend and one of our earliest supporters.

The Runner's World citation says in part:

"Oiselle is still small fry compared with the giants of the running industry—with sales at almost $10 million last year—but in opening its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle this summer, Bergesen’s showing that her flock is here for the long haul. She’s a fighter—fearlessly critical of the likes of Nike and USATF—and she needs to be; as this very grouping demonstrates, she’s elbowing for space in an industry dominated by male executives. Her women’s-only apparel brand has fostered a fierce following..."

Congratulations, too, to Weldon and Robert Johnson, co-founders of Their citation says in part:

"The masterminds behind perhaps the most engaged online community of runners—particularly those at the front of the pack—have also earned their stripes as tenacious watchdogs...’s homepage has become an essential bookmark for followers of the elite sport."

Weldon and Robert have been generous with linking to articles on trackerati, most recently my piece about my meeting with Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang in Beijing. Their prominent placing of "A Ride for Robert" helped to assure the article's success and turn it into one of my top two most viewed pieces of my first 100 posts.

I am deeply grateful to Sally, Weldon, and Robert for their ongoing support, and could not possibly be more pleased with their success and their well-deserved recognition.

Congratulations all around!

Here is a link to the Runner's World article:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Melissa, Ashton and Cheering Chinese

Sometimes you get lucky when covering these events.

The very first time Track and Field News linked to an article of mine, it was two summers ago after the Harry Jerome and Victoria International meets in Canada. The focus was on several athletes and on their quest to achieve the World Championships “A” standard.

The first athlete I wrote about was Melissa Bishop, who shrieked when she crossed the finish line and saw her time: 1:59.76, her first time under two minutes, and an automatic qualifier for the 2013 World Championships.

She was not on anyone’s radar screen for a medal here until the semi-final rounds when she ran 1:57.52 to win the deepest qualifying round in World Championships history (1:58.50 did not make the finals out of this semi).

Tonight she won silver, just .09 out of what would have been one of the most improbable golds at these championships.

As it is, it’s one of the most improbable silvers.

All of you claiming to have had her in your top three in your prediction contests likely know “O Canada” by heart.

Ashton Eaton’s javelin throw was key to putting him in position to go after his world record in the decathlon; his second throw - had it been fair - would have made his task in the 1500m much easier.

Many on press row thought he had thrown in the towel on the first lap, and it was clear after two laps he was well behind the pace needed to break his own world record. But Eaton, as he had in his world record in the US Olympic Trials in 2012, played a waiting game. Turns out he was just warming up.

Eaton unleashed a tremendous kick in the last 300m and stopped the clock at 4:17.52, just under the 4:18.25 he needed. He added 6 points to his best-ever score, which now stands at 9045.

Chinese Athletes at Worlds
After not having struck gold during their own Olympics in 2008, China did so in the women’s 20k racewalk when Hong Liu won gold – and Xiuzhi Lu added silver for good measure. China has seven medals in these championships, one gold, five silver, and one bronze.

Tonight’s crowd reaction to the men’s sprint relay silver was among the most compelling I’ve heard in the eight World Championships I’ve attended.

Deep-throated, visceral, a soul-touching sound.

Last Sunday, China’s Bingtian Su made the 100m final and finished last.

You shoulda heard ‘em for 9th.

I’m sitting in the Bird's Nest and am certainly feeling wistful in this inevitable moment of departure.

I'm working on a reflection about the meet and these remarkable three months since the press pass came my way; I need a little time, distance, and a sunny airplane ride across the Pacific to complete it. 

In the meantime, I’ll close with this: for this experience, I am grateful beyond words.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Hup Holland!

The Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers won the 200m tonight in 21.63, a championship record and the fastest time in the last 17 years. Many are calling it the greatest women’s 200m ever run, as Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson and Veronica Campbell-Brown won silver and bronze in 21.63 and 21.97.

Schippers won the first Dutch World or Olympic gold medal since 1992 when Ellen van Langen struck Olympic gold at 800m in Barcelona.

Schippers completed her ascendancy to the top of the world sprinting ranks which began with double gold at the European Championships in Zurich last summer.

The 33-year-old Campbell-Brown won her 18th major meet medal.

Schippers took the lead with 3-5 meters to go in an exceedingly close race. She knew she had it, but I wasn’t celebrating along with my many Dutch relatives quite yet. There was a hush in the stadium as fans awaited the posting of the results – and then a huge roar as the very popular Schippers’ name came up first.

Medal ceremony is at 18:05 local time on Saturday for those of you - ok, us – who have waited 23 years to hear Het Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem, played at a World or Olympic championships.

In a previous post I mentioned my interview by Radio Beijing. How this came about was that I was at the press conference for the medalists in the men’s hammer throw. I am covering this event for my own website as well as Track and Field News and the Throwholics website in Germany. I had some questions for the medalists, including ones about their technique. In a press conference in which only four questions were asked, I asked three of them.

A reporter from Radio Beijing approached me afterwards and she asked if I’d be comfortable with being interviewed. Remind me next time to ask what about.

That evening, Su Bingtian, had become the first Chinese man to qualify for the finals of the 100m. The reporter asked if I was surprised that a Chinese man would make the 100m final.

Not exactly a softball question! I replied that I was not, of course, and went on to have a thoughtful discussion with her about the socioeconomics of track and field. We discussed one of my favorite parts of the meet, the first round of the men’s and women’s 100m, when athletes from countries which sometimes don’t have a single track compete at this definitive distance. This year, for example, Tashi Dendup, a teenager from Bhutan, set his country’s national record of 12.15. I’ll let you know if the interview is posted.

Interview with Segman gets to the bottom of the Segway fiasco

trackerati: How are you liking your new digs in Outer Mongolia?

Segman: I didn’t know it was possible to get here so fast!

trackerati: We didn’t know there still was a Chinese Gulag.

Segman: There wasn’t! They made one just for me.

trackerati: How long do you expect to stay?

Segman: How long have you got?

trackerati: That’s not the question. How long have you got?

Segman: (blank stare)

trackerati: So, why did you take out Bolt?

Segman: I was just trying to get a great pic of him.

trackerati: Did you?

Segman: It’s a lovely photo, really, except his feet are in the air.

trackerati: If only you had knocked over Justin Gatlin instead, The Guardian would have paid for your new life in Great Britain.

Segman: So that’s who was screaming at me saying I hit the wrong guy!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lightning Bolts and Twitter Mavens

Bolt vs Gatlin Part Deux
The Usain Bolt/Justin Gatlin travelin’ road show stopped in Beijing once again this evening. After the super hype that accompanied their 100m showdown, tonight’s event seemed positively tame in comparison.

While Gatlin couldn’t beat Bolt, a Chinese photographer on a Segway nearly did. He tripped Bolt and both went down hard, but Bolt, in spite of joking that the photographer “tried to kill me,” bounced back and seemed none the worse for wear.

Bolt was his usual playful self before the race; has he ever met a camera he didn’t love?! Gatlin, on the other hand, seemed tense and nervous, and his smile for the camera seemed forced. The outcome of this race was no surprise.

I attended part of their post-race press conference and was surprised to find a fairly friendly and respectful relationship between the two. Bolt razzed Gatlin about his age, and Gatlin said that what the rest of the world doesn’t see is Bolt calling him “old man” in the waiting room before races.

Gatlin as evil and Bolt as good is disaggregated by Alan Abrahamson in this thoughtful and discursive piece from his site, 3 Wire Sports: As you’ll see, good vs evil is neither as simple nor as cut and dried as it seems.

Hammer Time
The 80.85/265-3 fourth round hammer throw by Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk is a championship record and the second-farthest hammer throw in history. Poland has won three of the six hammer medals in these championships; their men’s team won gold and bronze – a dominant performance by one nation in one event. 

Even more impressive is Germany’s across the board performance in the throwing events, as they have advanced two or more to finals in all but one throwing event so far. In that, David Storl won silver in the shot put.

Heartbroken at the end of the women’s hammer was Amanda Bingson (US). The top 8 advanced to the last three throws (and a likely top 10 world ranking). Bingson was in 8th place with only two throwers left who could displace her out of the last three rounds. Moldova’s Zalina Marghieva topped Bingson’s mark by 3cm: 237’ 5” – 237’ 4”.

400m for the Ages
Last night’s men’s 400m race was one for the ages. 

Specifically: 23, 29, and 22. 

In order to medal, you had to run under 44 flat. South Africa’s 23 year old find Wayde Van Niekerk defeated veteran LaShawn Merritt, 43.48 - 43.65. No slouch in bronze was Grenada’s Kirani James in 43.78. 

James won this title in 2011 in 44.60. When he won the 2012 London Olympics, he ran a slowish 45.23. Neither time would have medaled here.

James is a favorite of mine in the stat book. He holds the record for the fastest 400m ever run by a 14-year-old - 46.96 - which is nice work if you can get it. He’ll turn 23 next month.

IAAF Daily Event Reports Link
I took a break from writing daily summaries to write a piece about the importance of both the reality and the symbolism of the results in the men’s javelin, in which gold and silver were won for the first time by throwers from Africa. It’s received a strong online response and was posted on the popular RunBlogRun website today, along with another piece about women’s hammer qualifying. 

As it’s not possible for me to summarize all 47 events and do each justice, here is a link to the excellent daily event summaries being prepared by the crack IAAF writing team:

Throws Twitter Maven
When you think of me you think of twitter maven, right? Hello?

Or better yet, you think of me as throwing events twitter maven - no?

Well, I started sending out round by round qualifying and finals results on twitter, and the international throwing community found these faster than Anita Wlodarczyk can spell her name. To say that there’s been a whole lotta tweetin’ and retweetin’ goin’ on is to put it mildly. The tweets are reaching an estimated audience of upwards of 75,000 during each event, and throwing fans are delighted to see their events getting this kind of attention.

This is not completely out of the blue. The German site Throwholics is posting my articles about the throwing events, and they have a very dedicated and enthusiastic following.

Still, I knew all this had gone too far when a USATF staffer saw me in the mixed zone and said, “Hey, there’s the throws guy!”

Please don’t tell anyone in Eugene, OK?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Watching History

The podium in the men’s javelin looks quite different than it ever has before.

Once the province of Northern and Central European countries, tonight’s podium looks like this:

Gold              Kenya               Julius Yego
Silver             Egypt                Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed
Bronze           Finland             Tero Pitkamaki

Until tonight, the IAAF World Championships men’s javelin final had been held 14 times.

42 medals had been awarded – and there were no ties.

Of these 42 medals, 37 were won by European countries, 3 by North America, 1 by Asia, and 1 by Africa.

Tonight, two of the three - gold and silver - were won by Africa.

It is a truism in track and field that the simpler the event the more diverse the medal winners. Put on a pair of race walking shoes and the medalists come from six continents. Put on a pair of running shoes and socioeconomic barriers to World and Olympic success begin to fall away.

But the more highly technical the equipment required for an event, the more likely the medalists are to come from an increasingly narrow geographic and socioeconomic range.

The smaller world we live in is one of the reasons access to the technical events is broadening. Tonight’s winner, Julius Yego, is well known in Kenya as “The YouTube Man.” He is a self-taught javelin thrower who says in a video he produced, “My coach is me, and my YouTube videos.”

At the end of the most famous of his self-produced videos, Yego says, “As the world progresses, everything changes.”

It does, indeed.

The medal ceremony for the men’s javelin will be held Thursday evening, August 27, at 18:35.

Take a moment to watch it.

You’ll be watching history.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Women's Hammer Throw Qualifying

One and done – that was the morning’s hammer throw competition for Poland’s world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk, one of the most prohibitive favorites in any event of these World Championships. 

Wlodarczyk's 75.01/246-1 leads 12 qualifiers into Thursday’s final.

China, Germany, and the United States grabbed 6 of the 12 qualifying spots.

Zheng Wang (3rd, 73.06/239-8) and Wenxiu Zhang (4th, 72.92/239-3), will have the support of this highly vocal hometown crowd.

Germany’s 31-year-old 2007 World champ Bette Heidler (9th, 70.60/231-7) seeks her 5th World or Olympic medal in her 10th appearance at a major meet. Compatriot Katrin Klaas (7th, 71.41/234-3) goes for her first major medal in her 8th attempt; she was 4th in 2009 and 5th in the 2012 London Olympics.

US teammates Amber Campbell (72.06/236-5) and Amanda Bingson (69.99/229-7) advanced by placing 6th and 11th, respectively. Campbell noted that she feels very comfortable in this facility as these World Championships mark her fourth competition in the Bird’s Nest. 

“It feels super comfortable, the people are always super accommodating, so it’s a great atmosphere to throw in.”

“It’s been a very good year so I’m just going to keep building on that,” she continued. “I had a 72 to open with and I’ll take it!”

Campbell was gracious to teammate and fellow qualifier Bingson. “I’m so happy for her. I know she was back here sweating but she’s a solid, solid girl and strong enough to do great tomorrow.”

US record holder Bingson, who finished 7th in the first qualifying group and then had to wait through the second before learning she had advanced, was excited by her 3rd throw, a three meter improvement over her other legal mark.

Until this point in her career, she said, “… it’s been super, super jumps, and now we realize at 75m, you just can’t make those kinds of jumps anymore.”

“I know I have the strength and I have the power and I know it’s in my head. I know on the last throw I just relaxed a little bit and trusted myself to do what I knew I had to do.”

Bingson is delighted with her performance here so far, but her sights are clearly set on Rio.

“Next year is really what we’re banking on.”

Beijing Buzz - August 25 - Day 4

After a morning’s rest in the Bird’s Nest, competition at the 15th IAAF World Championships resumed this evening.

First up was an upset in the women’s discus. World and Olympic champion and pre-meet favorite Sandra Perkovic could not get unwound until her final throw when she vaulted from 4th place to 2nd to capture her third consecutive major-meet medal with a throw of 67.39/.

Cuba’s Denia Caballero’s first round 69.28/227-3 stood up for the win. This was not a total surprise as she threw over 70 meters earlier this summer. Nadine Muller’s (GER) 65.53 withstood a final round challenge from Cuba’s Yaime Perez that missed bronze by 7cm. Germany finished 3-5-7 and Cuba 1-4 in two terrific national performances.

Great Britain’s Olympic champion Greg Rutherford returned to the winner’s spot on the podium in the long jump. He had only two legal jumps, and they both beat the best everyone else had to offer. His winning 8.41 - 27’7 1/4'” is his seasonal best.

Australia’s Fabrice La Pierre’s 5th round 8.20-26’11” vaulted him into silver medal position and broke a lot of Chinese hearts. His come-through performance knocked Jianan Wang, Xinglong Gao, and Jinzhe Li down a spot each, but China had a memorable national performance of 3-4-5 nonetheless.

The men’s 400m hurdles produced another surprise as Kenya’s Nicholas Bett won from lane 9 in a world-leading 47.79. Exceptionally fast times were required to medal; Russia’s Denis Kudryavtsev won silver in 48.05 and Jeffery Gibson won bronze in 48.17. Kerron Clement missed bronze by .01 of a second in a dismal meet for US 400m hurdlers.

There were few surprises in the night’s last two events, at least not at the front. The Kenyan and Ethiopian middle distance crews came to the fore as Genzebe Dibaba (Eth) and David Rudisha (Ken) won their respective specialties.

Rudisha controlled the men’s 800m and even slowed it down. So feared is he that no one would go by. He won the race going away… which is exactly what Dibaba did in the 1500m. Her last lap is simply unbeatable, and it was clear with 800m to go that the race was for 2nd. American Jenny Simpson bravely went with Dibaba, but it was a failed mission as she faded to 11th.

IAAF is reporting that Dibaba’s last 800m was run in 1:57.2.

This would place her 2nd on the yearly outdoor world list in the open 800m.

Men's Hammer Final

(Apologies for text issues in this article; issue diagnosed and will be fixed later today.)

Pawel Fadjek won twice on Sunday.

First, he won the men’s hammer competition as expected, and by a dominating margin.

Second, he won for understatement of the year when he said, “I came in as a heavy favorite.”

Fajdek lived up to his advance notices with a dominating 2.33/7-7 ¾ margin of victory with his 80.88/265-4 fourth-round winner over Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov.

“I was training hard for this championships and I felt very confident,” said the World Champion, who repeated his win from Moscow in 2013.

On a terrific day for Poland which saw teammate Wojciech Nowicki pull off an unexpected podium finish, Fajdek said, “The medal has got an even sweeter taste as my roommate got the bronze medal.”

Nowicki said, “I have always been trying to catch up with my friend Pawel Fajdek, as he always encouraged me.”

Kristzian Pars (HUN) was in bronze medal position until Nowicki unleashed his last-round throw of 78.55 to tie Nazarov. Nowicki said, “I was trying my throws again and again but still it was not good enough. It worked in the last round - I am very surprised.”

Nazarov won silver on the basis of the superior second-best throw, 78.06 to 77.20/256-1 to 253-3.
Nazarov was ecstatic about his medal-winning performance.

“I am feeling a big joy right now,” said the newly crowned silver medalist. “I realize that I won the silver medal, but it took me a long time to get there. Now, finally, I won a medal at the World Championships.”

Nazarov hopes his medal will grow the sport in his home country. “I want to promote athletics in Tajikistan,” he said, and noted that Tajikistan has previously had a hammer gold medalist in Andrey Abduvaliyev in 1995.

Fifth placer Sergey Litvinov (RUS) said he needs to go back to the Litvinov of 2011, 12, and 13. “The training was more motivated then,” he observed. “I was ready today 100%, but I can do more in the preparation.” While his speed in the ring was good, “I am not very powerful.”

About his famous name, Litvinov said, “I am a very lucky guy. Not because my father is Olympic champion ('88), not because he threw 86m (WR 86.74), but because he knows a lot about hammer. This is the difference: not every hammer thrower knows a lot… He was training alone and was thinking and (doing) a lot of experiments.”

“I am very lucky because I can go (train) this way. I know the way. He didn’t know the way.” He admires his father for having figured out hammer training on his own. While his father is not his trainer, he is his advisor, and Litvinov the younger appreciates very much the insight his father brings to his program.

Litvinov is looking forward to Rio. “In two days I go back to Russia and start the preparation,” he said,” and he is impatient to begin his focused and demanding year-long program.

“I don’t want rest.”

Fajdek found it “weird” that no one else is throwing 80m when he does so almost every competition. He noted that age is a factor in this event, and that, “Everyone over 30 is having a problem.”
The 26-year-old noted that he, too, had significant problems with his back last year. “This time I think only about my health… not much weightlifting but only throwing and this is why I throw it so far this year.”

When asked how he develops and improves his remarkable speed in the ring, Fajdek said, “I do nothing special” in training and “my coach has same rules of training as from 60 years.”

His assistant coach, Jolanta Kumor, said that now that the competition is over, they will analyze every part of Fajdek’s performance and technique, and even such variables as the weather. “First I will congratulate him,” she said. But then, in a few days, it’s back to the business of training.

When asked what he did well in terms of technique in the World Championships competition, and what he needs to focus on moving forward towards the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Fajdek said that more important things come first.

“Something good to eat... maybe Wojciech and I go to Pizza Hut to eat something good,” he said with emphasis, as the local hotel food has not been to his liking. “After a few days’ rest, back to training. Rio is really coming fast so we have to be prepared there.”

He looks forward to working again with his coach, Czeslaw Cybulski, who was struck by a hammer thrown by Fajdek in June, and who watched the competition from his hospital bed.

“I hope it’s often we go back to work together.”

Monday, August 24, 2015

Beijing Buzz - Monday Evening, 8/24 - Day 3

5 Finals, 5 Scintillating Competitions

Tonight’s women’s triple jump final featured longtime rivals Caterine Ibarguen (COL) and Olga Rypakova (KZ). Ibarguen won her second consecutive World title with a season’s best 14.90/48’10 ¾”, while Rypakova was edged by a centimeter for silver by Israel’s Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko, who became that country’s first woman to medal at Worlds. Giants of the event Olga Saladukha (UKR) and Ekaterina Koneva (RUS) were surprise 6th and 7th place finishers.

The men’s steeple was a disappointment for American Evan Jager, who faded to 6th in his much heralded quest for a medal. Kenya swept the top four positions and surprising Dan Huling (US) sprinted by Jager to claim 5th.  

Ezekiel Kemboi won his 4th consecutive World steeple title. In one of the greatest distance running careers of all-time, Kemboi, who won the Olympics in 2004 and 2012, made up for his 2008 Beijing 7th in fine style tonight. In addition to his 6 major meet golds, he also won World silvers in 2003, 2005, and 2007.

Canadian and University of Akron student Shawn Barber won the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships 3 years ago. Today he turned dragon slayer as he fended off some of the world’s greatest track and field stars and won the pole vault in 5.90/19’4 ¼”.

Raphael Holzdeppe (GER) prolonged the suspense by clearing 5.90 on his final try, but the 2013 champion could not improve on that height and gold was Barber’s. Bronze medalist Renaud Lavillenie, the IAAF and Track and Field News 2014 world athlete of the year, failed in his second consecutive bid to win a World outdoor title.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100m in 10.76 to join Usain Bolt as Jamaican World 100m champ. Dafne Schippers (NED) set a Dutch national record of 10.81 in winning silver.

Visibly moved by her achievement, Schippers, who rose to prominence only a year ago with her 100/200 double in the European Championships, sealed her position in the top ranks of sprinters with her first major meet medal. Fetchingly, she used the Dutch flag as a handkerchief to wipe away tears. Torie Bowie (US) finished 3rd in 10.86; her bronze is her first major meet medal as well.

The women’s 10,000m was unlike any run at this level for some time. That is, there was a pack of 7 with one lap to go. No Tirunesh Dibaba running a victory lap before the race was over - and three Americans were in the mix. The sprint was on and was won by Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot in 31:41.31. Ethiopia’s Geleta Burka took silver, and what happened next was painful to watch.

Molly Huddle (US) appeared ready to cap her magnificent career with bronze, but she seemed unaware of teammate Emily Infeld, who was in 4th and closing fast. Huddle drifted to the outside, and she failed to protect lane one and force Infeld to go around her. Huddle raised her arms in triumph a step short of the finish line – and Infeld rushed by on the inside to grab bronze by .09 of a second.

Remember, ya always gotta protect the infield.

Beijing Buzz - Monday Morning, 8/24 - Day 3

A relatively quiet morning in the Bird’s Nest – at least as compared to the 100m madness of last night. It was a hot and steamy walk over here, but there’s a welcome breeze.

I remain amazed at how fast these events go. No, not the 100m… the six rounds of the men’s hammer last night, for example, seemed to go by in a flash.

After a brief recap of this morning’s qualifying and two major non-qualifying surprises for the US, I’ll close with something unexpected from last evening.

Pole Vaulter Demi Payne was rumored earlier in the season to be practicing at world record heights. But the NCAA champion had difficulty with her steps today and did not advance to Wednesday’s final.

Long jumper and medal favorite Marquis Dendy had a final jump that echoed that of Katarina Johnson-Thompson in yesterday’s heptathlon – oh so close, lengthy discussion, but ultimately a failure to advance on the third opportunity. He has another shot at a medal in the triple jump.

In this morning’s women’s discus qualifying, the results from the two groups were remarkably parallel. That is, each group produced two automatic qualifiers and well as four by next-best distance. Had an interesting experience with Gia Lewis-Smallwood, which I’ve described in more detail in my separate post about today’s discus qualifying.

Christine Day looked uncommonly smooth in winning her 400m round. Not at the top of most lists of medal favorites, keep an eye on her as the rounds progress.

The steeplechase still looks good for a US medal as Emma Coburn advanced comfortably in her heat. The range of times among the three heats was remarkably narrow, as the 15 finalists qualified between 9:24.38 – 9:30.23.

Realized I failed to mention in the midst of last night’s magic that it wasn’t magical for everyone. Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury advanced to one of the championships’ most anticipated finals, tomorrow night’s 1500m. The remarkable run of Lauren Johnson came to an end as she missed the final by one place; she ran well in her semi but acknowledged that she just didn’t have it in the last 100m.

Up tonight are finals in the men’s pole vault, women’s triple jump, women’s 10k, men’s steeple, and women’s 100m. Much anticipation in the US delegation about the prospects of Evan Jager in the steeplechase; will he put a dent in Kenyan dominance of the event with a medal tonight?

Much anticipation, too, among Oregon Ducks everywhere: Jasmine Todd and English Gardner toe the line in tonight’s 100m semis, of which there are three. It’s a brutal qualifying system that has the top 2 finishers in each plus the next two fastest advancing to the final just under two hours later. Both Todd and Gardner face legends in the sport. Todd goes up against Veronica Campbell-Brown and Gardner faces heavy favorite Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

Meanwhile, last night I was interviewed by Radio Beijing. This came about when I asked several questions of the men’s hammer throw medalists in their press conference; only one other journalist did so. I’ll have more on this in a post to follow.

Women's Discus Throw Qualifying

The results from the two qualifying groups in this morning’s World Championships women’s discus throw were remarkably similar. Each group produced two automatic qualifiers and well as four by next-best distance.

Boom! We have ourselves a final of 12, with all of the favorites advancing to Tuesday evening’s final.

Germany had two automatic qualifiers in Nadine Muller (64.39) and Julia Fischer (63.38). Croatia’s discus queen Sandra Perkovic, World and Olympic champion, also surpassed the automatic qualifying standard (63.00/206-8) with her 64.51, and Cuba’s Denia Caballero led all qualifiers at 65.15 (213-9).

With Shanice Craft also advancing, Germany leads the event with three finalists.

The US had two advance, Gia Lewis-Smallwood and Whitney Ashley. In an interview with trackerati, Lewis-Smallwood said, “It was nice and easy. My coach and I knew what the distance would be - what would most likely be in the top 12. Throw it nice and easy, get it in, get it done, go home, conserve energy for tomorrow.”

Lewis-Smallwood said she felt comfortable in the ring this morning. “Honestly, my goal was to be smooth and let the technique work just to get to the next day, don’t worry about the distance. You can style out tomorrow with your whole soul, and then you let what happens happen.”

Speaking of letting what happens happen, a few minutes after our interview, I ran into Lewis-Smallwood as I was on my way out of the Bird’s Nest and she was seeking her way back to the athletes’ warmup area. Fortunately, I knew the way, and we walked together for several minutes.

It’s clear Lewis-Smallwood's many years of experience have made a meet like Worlds more comfortable for her to navigate in spite of the time change, food change, and distance from home. 
The US champion is a very thoughtful, engaging, and energetic individual,

With the event's best gathered, an exciting and possibly dramatic competition is expected. 

The women’s discus final begins at 19:00 on Tuesday, August 25, in the Bird’s Nest. 

Here is a link to the startlist:

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Beijing Buzz - Sunday Evening, 8/23 - Day 2

So, there was a 100m race?!

Usain Bolt answered the skeptics with a narrow but decisive with over Justin Gatlin in tonight’s 100m final. The future is well-represented in a third place tie by collegians Trayvon Bromell, who attends Baylor, and Andre De Grasse, who is from Canada and attends USC.

The semi-finals featured an in-control Bolt winning his semi; in spite of much discussion that he almost lost, he didn’t. Look closely at the tape: in the last 5-7 meters he looks left at the field repeatedly and runs just well enough to win. An in-your-face I’m-still-here kind of move.
Which he proved beyond the shadow of a doubt in the final.

The men’s hammer throw was won by Poland’s Pawel Fajdek by 2.33 meters over Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov. A surprise 3rd placer was Poland’s Wojciech Nowicki.

Joe Kovacs (US), the heavy favorite in the shot put, pulled out a 5th round winner over Germany’s David Storl. O’Dayne Richards (Jam) set a national record to beat out the area record set by New Zealand’s Tomas Walsh and win bronze.

Jessica Ennis-Hill (GB) won the heptathlon while Canada’s Brianne Theisen-Eaton won silver. Theisen-Eaton tried to steal the victory in the 800m but came up short in the final 100m. Latvia’s Laura Ikauniece-Admidina set a national record in a bronze medal winning performance.

It was an electric the atmosphere in the Bird’s Nest before, during, and after the men’s 100m final. Nine advanced to the final as three had tied at 9.99 in qualifying for the 7th and 8th spots. So, the 9th lane was used to accommodate a historic final in which all had qualified under 10.00. 

Femi Ogunode of Qatar ran 10.00 flat in his semi-final and did not qualify. Tough company, indeed.

Beijing Buzz - Sunday Morning, 8/23 - Day 2

It’s a steamy morning in Beijing. The temperature is 77F/27C and the humidity is 74%. For fans there’s a helpful breeze in the stadium, but it didn’t help the men's 20 kilometer racewalkers this morning. They had a surprising 08:45 start time – surprising that it was that late. The men’s marathon yesterday started at a more merciful 07:35, not that it ultimately helped much.

Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez overtook China’s Zhan Wang in the very late stages of today’s 20k walk to win in a personal best of 1:19:14. A huge surprise in the bronze medal position was Canada’s Benjamin Thorne in a national record 1:19:57.

With three under 1:20 for the medals, the next three walkers finished under 1:21. The next ten came in in the next minute – a remarkably deep field.

How do you know you’re at Worlds? 16th place is 1:21:56.

The Men’s 400m heats were spectacular. In the first, four men broke 45.00. 

In the second, Yousef Masrahi (Saudi Arabia) and Rusheen McDonald (Jamaica) tied at 43.93, with Botswana’s Isaac Makwala 3rd in 44.19.

Olympic finals are jealous.

Great Britain’s ace Martyn Rooney scored a PB 44.45 in 4th, and The Netherlands’ Liemarvin Bonevacia set a national record of 44.72 in 5th. Czechoslovakia’s Pavel Maslak was the only member of this heat not to advance; his 45.16 would have won the 5th heat. Kicking himself for the rest of his life for missing this epic race will be Israel’s Donald Sanford, who did not start.

Stat maven K Ken Nakamura said, “This is the greatest first round 400m in history. The 400m has the potential to be the highlight of the meet.”

Women’s 100m
Not to be outdone, Torie Bowie (US) stepped to the line in the women’s 100m rounds in her first major meet appearance.

“Today, I wanted to stay relaxed” she said. “This is my first major championships and I came out here extremely nervous today. I had to constantly tell myself to relax, focus, do what you’ve been doing in training. My main goal was to try to execute the first 20 meters of my race because everyone knows it’s my weakness, it’s been my weakness. And I’ve worked really hard the past two weeks to try to correct it.”

She won in 10.88, the fastest first-round women’s 100m in the 15 iterations of these championships.

Men’s Shot Put
The usual suspects are through to tonight’s final; Joe Kovacs (US), David Storl (GER), and Reese Hoffa (US) all met the automatic qualifying mark of 20.65/67-9. Last to qualify was New Zealand’s young phenom with the fetching name of Jacko Gill. He edged out the US’s Jordan Clarke by 5cm.

It will be a throwing fan’s dream tonight as the men’s hammer throw and shot put finals unwind.

Women’s Heptathlon
Unfortunately, today’s biggest news was Katarina Johnson-Thompson’s failure to record a legal mark in the long jump. In silver medal position at the time, she appeared to have jumped the longest jump of the meet, but after several minutes’ review by officials, it was determined she had - barely - scratched. She now has the second lowest score of those remaining in the competition, but much to her credit, she competed in the javelin which followed, and seems determined to complete the competition with its final event, the 800m, this evening.

Meanwhile, here’s an example of what life can be like for prominent track and field athletes worldwide. 

Here is David Macharia in the Daily Nation, which covers East and Central Africa. This is after a mixed day for Kenya yesterday when its men’s marathoners did not medal, yet their men’s 10k team went 2-3-4. (Bolding is mine.)

"The 10,000m trio of Geoffrey Kamworor, Paul Tanui, and Bedan Karoki salvaged some Kenyan pride on Day One of the 2015 World Athletics Championships here after a horror show in the men's Marathon. After a disappointing performance in the first event of the day, where the highly-fancied team of Wilson Kipsang, Dennis Kimetto and Mark Korir went AWOL on the road, Kenya ended the day with some hope."

No pressure.

(Thanks to Track and Field News for the link.)

At US Nationals in Eugene, by the luck of the draw of which cards were placed next to each other for seating assignments, my press row compatriot to my left was Steve Ritchie of the Statesman Journal of Salem, Oregon. He covers athletes from Salem to Bend, with a stop in Prineville, Ashton Eaton’s hometown. Steve and I hit it off in Eugene and looked forward to staying in touch.

I had started my writing from Beijing with a reflection on the process by which my press pass came about, and vowed that that would be the last of my ‘can you believe this coincidence’ stories – for this meet, anyway.

Steve is sitting next to me. 

Granted, press row seats are assigned by nation, but still… the US delegation occupies a number of rows.

On my other side? K Ken Nakamura, one of the world’s greatest track and field statisticians.

I’ll fight you for my seat!

*From now on I'll be referring to the press section by its more contemporary name: the media tribune. Believe me, it's far more than one row.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Beijing Buzz - Saturday Evening, 8/22

Kenya vs Portland – and Portland wins!

With nine laps to go in the men’s 10,000m race, it was Kenya vs the Independent Republic of Portland. Mo Farah and Galen Rupp led the charge for their respective countries, Great Britain and the United States, as well as their Portland based Nike Oregon Project. With one lap to go and Rupp in 3rd, it looked like Farah and Rupp would go 1-3, possibly even 1-2. But while Farah used his trademark kick to hold off Kenya’s new star, Geoffrey Kamworor, Rupp faded badly at the top of the backstretch and slowed to a jog to the finish line when he knew his 5th place was assured.

Kenya employed terrific team tactics in an effort to end Farah’s World, Olympic, and Prefontaine Classic reign as 10,000m king. Silver medalist Geoffrey Kamworor said, “We worked as a team trying to beat Mo Farah, but he is a tough guy to beat. I learned a lot from this race, it was very tactical, very slow from the beginning but getting faster and faster.”

Paul Tanui said of his bronze medal performance, “It was a hard race, a very tactical race. But the Kenyan team worked together very well from the first lap until the very end. I will celebrate this medal with my family.”

Mo Farah’s gold hung in the balance when he stumbled and almost fell on the last lap. “I nearly went down, but I managed to stay on my feet, thank God, and win the race.” Farah noted that he is here without his family. “I do it for my family and the people behind me, for my wife and my kids. My wife is expecting, soon, another baby is on the way.”

A few additional Day #1 Evening notes:

Women’s shot put: the form charts held true as the standings after the morning qualifying rounds held up in the evening. Christina Schwanitz won by a narrow margin over China’s Lijiao Gong, 20.37m – 20.30m (66’ 10” vs 66’ 7 ¼”). Michelle Carter (US) won bronze.

Men’s 400m hurdles: Bershawn Jackson was today’s stunner in any event. The US champion and co-favorite began to lose his form down the homestretch and stutter-stepped badly over the last hurdle. He finished a startling non-qualifying 7th in his heat. He was hoping to celebrate his 2005 Helsinki win when he was 20 years old with a repeat performance here.

Men’s 100m
Here’s my summary of this evening’s men’s 100m qualifying:

Usain Bolt (Jam) cruised to a win in his heat and qualified for the semi-finals in 9.96.
Asafa Powell (Jam) cruised to a win in his heat and qualified for the semi-finals in 9.95.
Jimmy Vicault (Fra) cruised to a win in his heat and qualified for the semi-finals in 9.92.
Trayvon Bromell (US) cruised to a win in his heat and qualified for the semi-finals in 9.91.
Justin Gatlin (US) cruised to a win in his heat and qualified for the semi-finals in 9.83.

In other words, we didn’t learn a lot we didn’t already know.
Semis and finals tomorrow.
Bolt vs Gatlin.

We ought to learn a lot more.

Beijing Buzz - 8/22

Beijing Buzz
Saturday Morning, 8/22, Day 1
Marathon Mess
This morning’s marathon results show just how spectacular Sammy Wanjiru’s 2:06:32 was on the same Olympic course in 2008. The closest anyone got to his remarkable time today was 5:56 slower in conditions that were only marginally better.

An outstanding field fell apart. 24/65 starters did not finish in the hot and humid conditions, including the current and past world record holders, Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang.

Not surprisingly, no one recorded a personal best, though a surprising 12 recorded seasonal bests, including Scott Smith (US), whose 2:24:53 earned him 28th place, only 12:25 behind the winning time of Eritrea’s 19-year-old sensation, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie.

There was much confusion about whether or not to run an extra lap after running the first 100m in the stadium and crossing the start/finish line.

Even finishers around 2:25-2:30 - by which time officials should have had ample time to respond - were mightily confused about whether or not to continue. Most finishers stopped when waved down by an official farther down the track, and many ran into and through the groups of heptathletes who were warming up for the high jump.

A poor show, indeed – and surprising, especially the lack of timely response once it was so evident there was a problem.

Cheer for China
Qualifying for tonight’s shot put final went according to form, with Michelle Carter (US) a strong second behind favorite Christina Schwanitz. China’s Lijiao Gong and Yang Gao qualified 3rd and 9th, respectively. Tia Brooks (US) finished a heartbreaking 2cm out of the finals. 

Expect the Nest to be rockin’ later this evening when the Chinese take the stage. A nationwide audience of hundreds of millions. No pressure. 

When a Chinese athlete is introduced in the Bird’s Nest, it gets a little deafening in here.

I had an interesting exchange with Jenny Simpson at the USATF press conference on Friday. Simpson is the 2011 world champion in this event, and 2013 silver medalist.  

Often overlooked is her 2009 5th place steeplechase finish in Berlin, where she ran a magnificently paced race to finish fifth in an American record of 9:12.50. With her 1500m PR now 3:57.22, many observers think she would have a legitimate shot at the steeple world record of 8:58.81.

When I asked if she had any plans to incorporate the steeple into her future plans, she said it was unlikely, as she wants to limit the possibility of injury, and she demurs to her friend and training partner Emma Coburn, who broke Simpson’s record with her 9:11.42 in 2014.

With her Berlin 5th, Simpson - who was then known as Jenny Barringer - has a record of 5-1-2 in the last three World Championships, one of the finest records in US middle/long distance history.

She concluded, “Thanks for remembering the Barringer days.”

Men’s 10k Tonight

With Mo Farah’s major meet streak on the line, the field will be crazy to let it be a kicker’s race once again. The fields keep playing into his hands by letting him unleash his withering kick at the end. The only hope his competitors have of ending his streak is to take it out on this warm and humid night and try to burn the sting out of his kick. 

One name: Geoffrey Kamworor. A young talent from Kenya, Kamworor and teammate Paul Tanui are the two who have the best chance of pulling the upset against the World and Olympic champion. I would like nothing more than to see what Mo can do in a race that finishes in the 26:30s.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Men's Hammer Throw Qualifying

Marks were notably short in the men’s World Championships hammer throw qualifying in the Bird’s Nest in Beijing this morning. Only two throwers achieved the 77.00 (252-7) automatic qualifying standard, 1/30 recorded a seasonal best, and no one recorded a personal best.

Favorite Pawel Fajdek (POL) led all qualifiers with his 78.38 (257-2), and Great Britain’s Nick Miller advanced with 77.42 (254-0).

Tuomas Sappanen’s (Fin) 74.74 (245-2) made him the lone qualifier to advance with a seasonal best.
The 12th and last qualifier, Slovakia’s Marcel Lomnicky, advanced to tomorrow’s final with a best of 74.51 (244-5), and Conor McCullough (US) just missed qualifying by 20cm in 13th place.

“I was expecting to have to throw 75 plus - maybe 76 - to get through,” said McCullough. “I’m not sure why the bottom line was a little bit lower. The final’s tomorrow so guys may be holding back a lot.”

Hungary’s Krisztian Pars, who qualified in 9th place with an uncharacteristic 75.37 (247-3), said, “At the beginning of the season, I felt I could throw 83.00 (272-4) this year. But after that I have been struggling with pain in my left hand and then with my back. I could not train very much and now I miss it.”

He added, “I go to the gym now to do some weight lifting.”

The Czech Republic’s Lukas Melich was the major casualty of the day. He said, “As the defending bronze medalist from Moscow, I was expecting to get to the final. But my shape is not ideal this year.” After an injury, “I trained too much and it did not work for me.” His 72.12 (236-7) left him in 20th place.

The final is Sunday evening, 8/23, at 18:30.

Beijing Buzz - Day 1, Morning

The morning session of the first day of the 15th IAAF World Championships has unusual bookends: the longest race and the shortest.

First up is the men’s marathon at 07:35, and the session concludes with heats of the much anticipated men’s 100m at 12:40.

In between, we have the first two events of the women’s heptathlon, as Canada’s Brianne Thiesen-Eaton attempts to join husband Ashton as multi-event royalty. Evan Jager’s quest to end Kenyan dominance of the 3,000m steeplechase gets underway, and the first round of the women’s 1500m – one of the most electrifying events of the year – begins. 

Just think: new world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, Jenny Simpson, Sifan Hassan, and Shannon Rowbury - and you haven’t even had your second cuppa jo yet!

The Krisztian Pars - Pawel Fadjek rivalry renews in the hammer, and the first round of the men’s 800m gets underway, with much speculation that world record holder David Rudisha may be in much better shape than he claims. One of China’s brightest hopes for a medal comes in the women’s shot put as Lijiao Gong tries to upset favorite Christina Schwanitz. Notable is the absence of Valerie Adams, whose 56 meet win streak was broken earlier this year; she just underwent surgery - again - in her native New Zealand. I hope this is not the end of her magnificent career.

The good vs evil storyline of Usain Bolt vs American drug cheat Justin Gatlin starts to play out in the opening round of the men’s 100m. No false starts, please.

The men’s marathon field is loaded. This is news;  not every outstanding marathoner chooses to run Worlds since the six World Marathon Majors are so much more lucrative. As noted here yesterday (scroll down, below), Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto – the former and current world record holders in the event – are among the favorites for medals.

Kipsang has won four marathon majors (London twice, Berlin, New York), and Kimetto has never finished worse than third in these events. Kipsang holds the edge as a tactician, though I’m afraid he’s remembered for going out too fast in the London Olympic race, where he nonetheless won bronze. Kipsang has run in the 2:03-2:04 range every year since 2010. He won New York last fall with a confident, definitive move in Central Park.

Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, this year’s London winner, is absent from this field; I had him as a medal pick for sure. Once again Kenya's hyper-political selection system costs them a legitimate chance at a medal. It will be interesting to see what role Kenya’s Mark Korir plays in helping teammates Kipsang and Kimetto; he could play a key pacing and tactical role.

Name champ Lelisa Desisa (Eth) is remarkably consistent, and his Boston win this year was impressive. Nonetheless, he has thrived most in ‘time trial’ races.

Olympic (2012) and World (2013) champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda is two times king. A huge upset in the first race, an unexpected confirmation in the second. He’s a brilliant, patient game day racer, no matter the pace. It’s time to give him his due and pick him to win. It pains me to pick Kipsang for second as gold here would be the perfect end to a memorable career… lots of pressure on him as he knows that the whole running world is watching to see just how patient he’ll be.

For third? Kimetto would be a logical pick, but I was particularly impressed with Ethiopia’s Haile Berhanu in his win under hot conditions in Dubai this past January. He’s 20 and has won all four of the marathons he’s ever run. His is an atypical progression (4 marathons at 20?!), as he’s skipped basic training in the 5k and 10k. I’m going with the newbie for 3rd.

     A note about event coverage and predictions. My goal here is to provide a narrative of the championships from beginning to end. My prediction tome (usually about 24 pages) is something I prepare for the Olympics every four years. In that, I make predictions for all 47 events before the first event begins. Here, I’ll be observing the development of each event throughout the qualifying rounds and semis, and will offer observations about who’s hot and who’s not, and whether or not the favorites are likely to live up to expectations in the finals. I’ve written up the marathon here as it’s a finals-only event. I'll be covering the men's and women's hammer, men's and women's discus, and men's javelin for Track and Field News. Any writing I do about throwing events will also be posted on the Throwholics website. 

A note about web access and blocking. The Chinese government blocks Google (this website is Google-based) and social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The blocking has been particularly challenging the last two days, in spite of my use of a VPN (virtual private network). All of these sites work in the stadium, but not in my hotel room near the stadium. That’s where I’m writing right now, and I have no idea if I’ll have this posted before the marathon begins or not. It took at least two extra hours to get yesterday’s piece on Kipsang and Kimetto posted.

Meanwhile, the air quality is the best it's been in 10 days  - how fortuitous is that?! It's 70F with 73% humidity at 6:33am with the marathon set to begin in 62 minutes.

Let the games begin!