Saturday, August 13, 2016

Day 2 - Event Previews - Fearless Picks + Predictions

2016 Olympic Track and Field / Day 2 – Saturday, August 13
M 100m
Funny, I think there’s not a lot to say about the men’s 100m. Or maybe it’s all been said so many times that it seems repetitive. So I’m going to stay away from the good guy/bad guy storyline and just stick with the facts.

1. The Olympic 100m is a strength event. Four rounds are run in two days, though saying that is a bit misleading, as those rounds are actually run in 37 hours, not 48. The eight Olympic 100m finalists are thus competing in their 4th event in 37 hours.

Let's take a look at the schedule:

13 August, Saturday
9:30am – preliminary round
12:00 noon – round 1

14 August, Sunday
9:00pm – semi-finals
10:25pm – final

Most world records are set in one-day invitationals in which there are no heats; however, there are notable exceptions to this and one of the most noteworthy is Usain Bolt’s double-world record performance at the Berlin World Championships in 2009.

A world record here? It can be done.

2. Usain Bolt has been the dominant sprinter in the world for almost a decade. He is 6-time Olympic and 11-time World champion. He is the world record holder at 100m (9.59) and 200m (19.19) and anchored the Jamaican sprint relay team to a world record 36.84 in winning London Olympic gold.

This year, Bolt has been somewhat off his form, if you call 9.88 and 19.89 off form. His most important mark of the year is his 19.89 run on July 22’s London Diamond League race. This served notice that he is back, though he wasn’t gone for long with a gimpy hamstring. He was publically derisive of those who wrote him off so quickly.

3. Justin Gatlin has defeated Bolt twice, once each at 100m and 200m.

The first came in the Helsinki World Championships in 2005, when the then-18 year old Bolt made the final but faded to last in the 200m. The second came in the 2013 Rome Diamond League meet when Gatlin beat bolt in the 100m, 9.94-9.95.

But here’s what’s instructive about the supposed Bolt-Gatlin rivalry: it’s far more talk than action. The only great race it has produced is Bolt’s 9.79-9.80 Beijing 100m win.

Here’s how Gatlin has fared the seven times Bolt has beaten him over 100m:
2nd – twice
3rd – twice
4th – twice
6th – once.

That’s a rivalry?

4. This race: while it clearly seems to be Bolt vs Gatlin again, watch out for Trayvon Bromell. Gatlin won the Olympic Trials in 9.80, with Beijing bronze medalist Bromell close behind in 9.84.

Bromell has had quite a year, as the 21 year old also won World Indoor gold against Jamaica’s Asafa Powell.

Andre De Grasse of Canada, who tied Bromell for bronze in Beijing, is well off the radar screen this year.

France’s Jimmy Vicaut is 3rd on the world list at 9.86 – interestingly, behind Gatlin and Bromell and .02 ahead of Bolt. Akanai Simbine (RSA) is progressing rapidly and is the only other sprinter under 9.90 this year at 9.89 (with a substantial but legal wind of 1.9 meters per second).

Jak Ali Harvey (Tur) surprised everyone to win the Stockholm Diamond League race albeit in a slowish 10.18 on a miserably rainy day; this made his 2nd place in the European Championships less of a surprise.

It’s not unusual for the lists to be this modest going into the Olympics; let’s see what they look like at 10:30 on August 14!

Special note of Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis: he’s 40 and has 14 - 100m races to his credit this year, and has been under 10.00 once at 9.93. However, his 12.08 at the London Diamond League meet in July was not at all encouraging.

My analysis:

-        Bolt is king until he’s not;
-        Gatlin can do more damage in the 200m than the 100m;
-        it will not surprise me a bit to see Bromell take silver.

Come to think of it:

1. Usain Bolt, Jam
2. Trayvon Bromell, US
3. Justin Gatlin, US

W Triple Jump
There’s an odd result in one of this year’s Diamond League meets: Birmingham, England, on June 5th:

1. Olga Rypakova (Kaz)
2. Caterine Ibarguen (Col)
It was the first time that Ibarguen lost to anyone since she was upset by Rypakova in the 2012 London Olympic final. Ibarguen’s defeat there fueled a win streak of over three years, one that saw Ibarguen win 34 consecutive meets as well as two World Championships.

She has not lost again since Birmingham and remains a prohibitive favorite for the gold medal in Rio, the only item missing from her extensive resume.

A surprise in 2nd in Beijing was Hannah Minenko of Israel, who was a mere centimeter farther than Rypakova - which made her not a surprise when she won silver in Amsterdam at the European Championships in July.

Venezuela’s Yulimar Rojas won the World Indoor title in Portland, while Paraskevi Papachristou won bronze in both the World Indoor and the outdoor European Championships.

There’s a moderate triple jump renaissance underway on the women’s side in the United States. For the first time since 1996, the US is filling all three positions on its Olympic team. Led by Keturah Orji, the team will pick up valuable experience in Brazil, and each member needs to PR by at least half a meter to be in contention.

The absence of Russians will affect this event as veteran Yekaterina Koneva, ranked #3 in the world last year, has not been granted a waiver.

1. Caterine Ibarguen, Col
2. Olga Rypakova, Kaz
3. Hannah Minenko, Isr

W 3000m Steeplechase
Kenya’s ’15 World Champion Hyvin Kiyeng and her former countrywoman, Ruth Chebet, now of Bahrain, alternated Diamond League wins the first four races of the year. The 5th was won by Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia, the #1 ranked steepler in the world last year.

In the first two DL meets, Chebet and Kiyeng traded wins, and in the next two the other was absent - leaving them in the intriguing position of having defeated only each other this year.

In a scintillating race at the Pre Classic in late May, Chebet dipped under 9:00.00 with her 8:59.97 to nip Kiyeng at the finish by 4/100ths. These were the #2 and #3 times of all-time behind the 8:58.81 WR of Gulnara Gulkina of Russia in the 2008 Olympics. Emma Coburn set the American record in the Pre race at 9:10.76. In their other head-to-head matchup, Kiyeng won over Chebet by over 8 ½ seconds in Shanghai earlier in May.

Ghribi, with Olympic and World gold and a World silver to boot, has by far the best major meet competitive record in the field, but her times have not been close to those of the two list-leaders this year.

Sofia Assefa (Eth) has amassed a strong competitive record this season, but her times have not once been in the same league as Kiyeng and Chebet. Emma Coburn has improved significantly and will either have to improve her finishing drive or drop her time by 10 seconds - or both - to be in the chase for a medal.

Not to be overlooked is Germany’s surprise Beijing bronze medalist, Gesa-Felicitas Krause, who was rather quiet on the circuit this year until she won the European title in Amsterdam in a runaway in 9:18.85.

I don’t often call for a world record, but here, one seems necessary to win.

1. Ruth Chebet, Brn
2. Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi, Ken
3. Habiba Ghribi, Tun

W 400m
There it is, the women’s 400m final on Monday, August 15, specially tailored to Allyson Felix’s 200m/400m double, so that she could get the difficult one out of the way and then concentrate on her favorite. Alas, the double was not to be, as Jenna Prandini’s flailing finish of a lifetime in the Olympic Trials cost Felix a spot in the 200m.

Felix handily defeated Shaunae Miller (Bah) in the World Championships final last year, though Miller’s 49.67 in second was nothing to sneeze at. But Felix’s 49.26 left no doubt as to who was #1.

The rematch is set, with Miller #1 on this year’s world list at 49.55 and Felix 2nd at 49.58. Miller is running well against the best with three Diamond League wins to her credit.

It’s a thin world list with only 5 under 50.00, and running that fast is no guarantee of making an Olympic team as Courtney Okolo (US, 49.71) and Quanera Hayes (US, 49.91) found out the hard way in the US Trials 400m final in which they finished 6th and 8th, respectively, with Okolo’s place a particular surprise.

Second and third at the US Trials were, nonetheless, no surprises, with Phyllis Francis 2nd at 49.94 and super-vet Natasha Hastings 3rd in 50.17. Both should join Felix in the final, and the US may well take home two of the three medals.

Francis is intriguing, as she passed her initial foray into the world of championship meets with a very creditable 7th at ’15 Worlds in 50.51. She tested her speed at a late July meet and ran a 22.50 200m. Everything’s firing on all cylinders, thank you. Also, she is, if anything, under-raced this year, which could well be an advantage in this multiple-rounds meet.

Outside of the US trio and Shaunae Miller, who else? Well, that would be the entire nation of Jamaica.

Stephenie Ann McPherson won the Oslo Diamond League meet while Novlene Williams-Mills won Stockholm. NW-M’s 49.14 4x400m anchor in Beijing gave Jamaica the gold over the US. Christine Day was second to McPherson at the Jamaican Trials in a swift 50.29, just behind McPherson’s 50.04, with Shericka Jackson 3rd in 50.42 and Williams-Mills 4th in 50.64. Can you say 4x400m relay victory again?

This could be a spectacular race, with Felix and Miller well ahead of a great third. Behind them, Francis and McPherson will duke it out for bronze; this will be a fantastic race within the race. McPherson should have it based on experience and years of multiple round events, including relays, in which she is a ’15 gold medalist. When it comes to footspeed, not much separates them with Francis having an 11.34-11.44 edge. In 400m PRs, it’s McPherson by 2/100ths over Francis at 49.92. But it’s Francis’ 22.50 that I can’t get out of my mind. That’s .43 better that McPherson’s.

I think Felix and Coach Bobby Kersee have something special planned. In the absence of a 200m/400m double, how about a sub-48:00? Of course, Felix could always anchor the US to a world record in the 4x400m relay.

Or both.

1. Allyson Felix, US
2. Shaunae Miller, Bah
3. Phyllis Francis, US

M Pole Vault
Renaud Lavillenie (Fra) has been the greatest pole vaulter in the world for the last six years and has been ranked #1 by Track and Field News for each of those years. So why does he have only one outdoor gold? He’s 2012 Olympic Champion, but when it comes to outdoor Worlds, he has one silver and three bronzes on his resume. Seems he jumps better indoors, as he’s won Indoor World titles twice and set his world record indoors as well.

Most of the best marks this year are indoors marks, too, not outdoor. Only Sam Kendricks (US), Jan Kudlicka (CzR), and Kevin Menaldo (Fra) have cracked the top 10 with outdoor bests.

Kendricks, who has won the US outdoor title three years in a row, was 2nd behind Lavillenie at World Indoors and won the US Olympic Trials. He’s only 24 and improving all the time. Kendricks seems to be the hot jumper of the year in much the same way World Champion Shawn Barber (Can) was last year. Barber won Worlds at 22 and has finished 2nd to Lavillenie in the last three consecutive Diamond League meets.

In last year’s wild World Championship finish, there were five medalists: Barber, gold; Raphael Holzdeppe (Ger), silver; and Lavillenie and the Polish duo of Piotr Lisek and Pawel Wojciechowski in bronze – all five over 19’. Holzdeppe has World gold (Moscow, ’13), World silver, and Olympic bronze, to his credit. Seems he enjoys his time on the podium.

Keep an eye out for Joseph Stanley of France, who competes in Lavillenie’s shadow; he has finished 4th in Diamond League meets three times, PRed at the end of June, and is peaking at just the right time.

Lurking in 3rd on the world list is relatively untested Thiago Braz of Brazil at 19’ 5.5”.

On a given day, you can humble a nation.

1. Renaud Lavillenie, Fra
2. Sam Kendricks, US
3. Shawn Barber, Can

M 10,000m
In a scintillating men’s 10,000m final in Beijing Worlds, team running by Kenya came close to being Mo Farah’s undoing. Geoffrey Kamworor, Paul Tanui, and Bedan Karoki took it to Farah in the late stages of the race and almost pulled off the upset. With three laps to go, Farah took the lead at last, only to be challenged again by the supremely talented Kamworor, who, somewhat impudently, led for the next 800m. Farah took the lead for good with just more than a lap to go, and his remarkable kick staved off Kamworor by less than a second.

Second verse, same as the first? It will be interesting to see what the Kenyan runners learned from that race. The team tactics almost worked, as Kenya went 2-3-4, with Tanui 4th behind Kamworor and Karoki. Kenya would do well to employ the same tactics, but at 26:30 pace if they really want to find out what Farah is made of. The knock on Farah is that his PR is ‘only’ 26:46.57, and that he has never come close to world record pace at this distance. Some knock, as his multiple double-gold medal performances show.

In this year’s Prefontaine Classic, two relatively unknown Kenyans - William Sitonik and Nicholas Kosimbei - took it to Farah again, but Farah, who is supremely confident in his kick, blew by Sitonik with 100m to go for the win. While 5 were under 27:00 in this race, 26:53.71 will hand it to Farah every time; it’s just not fast enough to defeat him.

Galen Rupp has run hot and cold this year, and it’s hard not to think he’s taken on too much, as his attempted Olympic Trials distance triple finally came apart in the 5,000m. Many question his decision to double in Rio, where the 10,000m comes on the second day of competition and the marathon on the 10th and last.

Will Rupp recover in time? It’s a moot point here, as he’ll run the 10,000m fresh. Since his London silver, Rupp has finished 4th and 5th at this distance in Moscow and Beijing; he’s headed in the wrong direction at 10k, though I think his prospects are much better in the marathon.

Ethiopia’s Yigrem Demalash won the Ethiopian Trials in a world-leading 26:51.11, while Tamirat Tola was 2nd in that race and 3rd at Pre; Tola finished under 27:00 in both races.

Demalash has been hanging around the upper echelons of Ethiopian distance running since he won the world Junior title in 2012; he broke through in this year’s Ethiopian Trials race that left the DNF list looking like a who’s-who MASH unit: Yenew Alamirew, Ibrahim Jeilan, Imane Merga, and some guy named Kenenisa Bekele. Demalash is fast and may just be the one to set the sizzling pace needed to take the sting out of Farah’s kick.

1. Mo Farah, GB
2. Geoffrey Kamworor, Ken

3. Yigrem Demalash, Eth


  1. Coach- who is NBC highlighting? None of these gals are on your list. Could it be they don't know what the hell they are talking about??

  2. Hi Jack, An interesting part of this is that I have not seen a single minute of NBC coverage! "Broadcast Restriction"! Will look forward to comparing notes when I get back.