Sunday, August 14, 2016

Day 3 - Previews and Picks: W Marathon + M High Jump

for events beginning on
Sunday, August 14

W Marathon
Mare Dibaba (Eth) had a pretty nifty 1-2 last year: 1st at Worlds and 2nd at Boston. And her fastest race of ’15? A scintillating 2:19:52 at Xiamen. As she showed at the World Championships, she has the unnerving ability to run fast over the last 9 km as well as the ability to run fast over the last 100m.

Teammate Tigist Tufa was 6th at ’15 Worlds and second in the ‘16 London race. Tirfi Tsegaye won this year’s Dubai Marathon in 2:19:41; as a veteran of the Ethiopian squad, she has deep experience extending back to wins in Tokyo and Berlin in 2014 and Paris in 2012. Indeed, she’s finished in the top 3 of every marathon she’s entered since 2010.

Helah Kiprop (Ken) finished 2nd in the Bejing sprint and then won the Tokyo Marathon this February. A DNF at London two months later suggests she may have been trying too much, too soon.

Jemima Jelebat Sumgong (Ken) won that race in 2:22:58; she was 4th in the Beijing sprint, a heartbreaking 3 seconds away from bronze. She has been running impressively well at shorter distances in 2016. Visiline Jepkesho (Ken) won Paris in April, and there you have it: three Kenyan teammates, each with a World Marathon Major win this year. So much for clearing things up!

US entry Shalane Flanagan brings considerable accomplishment on the track to the marathon phase of her career. She did not fare well in the heat of the US Trials in Los Angeles, but she is one of the mentally toughest runners on the planet, as she showed that day. Desiree Linden can set a pace and hold it – relentlessly, and Amy Cragg is an unknown quantity on the international stage.

1. Tirfi Tsegaye, Eth
2. Jemima Sumgong, Ken
3. Mare Dibaba, Eth

M High Jump
Two years ago this was the best event in men’s track and field. With a handful of jumpers in the stratosphere pushing each other in every competition, there was much talk about a world record, which was not achieved. Things have settled down a bit, which now makes it one of the most wide open events. The 2016 yearly best list is deep but not nearly as high as it was two years ago when 6 were over high jump’s 7’10 ½”/2.40 new standard of competitive excellence (the world record remains Javier Sotomayor’s (Cub) 2.45/8’ ½”).

The men’s Diamond League results couldn’t be a better reflection of the state of this event going into these Olympics. Bohdan Bondarenko has two firsts and a second, Mutazz Essa-Barshim has gone 1-4-6, Eric Kynard 1-2-2, and Gianmarco Tamberi took the other, ill-fated 1st.

Intriguing without a win is China’s Guowei Zhang; his 2-3-4 finishes put him in the thick of the medal race. No surprise, as he tied for 2nd with Bondarenko for silver in front of a thrilled crowd in Beijing last year.

Beijing gold medal winner Derek Drouin (Can) won at 7’8”/ 2.34. He preceded his Beijing title with bronzes in the ’12 Olympics and ’13 Worlds. He has had a quiet season and has jumped mostly in North America; his two forays into the Diamond League resulted in disheartening 5th and 7th place finishes. But watch out: he righted the ship with a 7’ 9 ¾”/ 2.38 in the middle of July and suddenly is 3rd on the world list coming into Rio.

Bondarenko has won 11 Diamond League meets in the past three years, and it is that consistency that always makes him a favorite. In the last three majors, he has 7th in London and gold and silver in the ’13 and ’15 Worlds… which actually is not quite the dominant big-meet record we tend to associate with him.

Eric Kynard won the US Olympic Trials; he also won Olympic silver in London but hasn’t medaled since. Still, this could be his year – he’s hot and he’s flying high. He comes in with a seasonal best of 7’8 ½”/2.35. Of some note is that Syria has a legitimate medal contender in Majed El Dein Ghazal, who is 6th on the world list at 7’ 8 ¾”/2.36m.

Veteran Robbie Grabarz (GB) has a 2nd and a 5th, just enough to remind his competitors of what he can do on a given day. His two most recent ‘given days’ resulted in bronze in front of the home crowd in the London Olympics and silver at the World Indoors in Portland. It was a long road back from injury to the Portland silver, and Grabarz cited it as being more important than his London bronze. He’s determined to quiet Great Britain’s notoriously hungry press.

Tamberi, the World Indoor champion, is one of the great characters in all of track and field – and that is saying a lot. He won the Monaco meet in a thrilling competition – and promptly tore a ligament in his ankle before he could even exit the pit. He is out of the Olympics, and we’ll miss his half-shaven face. (He shaves one side and not the other!)

Meanwhile, want to impress the nieces and nephews? Get out a tape measure and show them how high 7’10 ½”/2.40 is. Then sit down to watch the Olympic high jump with a newfound appreciation of just what it is these magnificent athletes are doing.

1. Bohdan Bondarenko, Ukr
2. Derek Drouhin, Can
3. Erik Kynard, US