Track is my field: Mark Cullen's international track and field website featuring storytelling, commentary, and predictions and event analyses for the Olympics and World Championships. I'll be writing from the 2018 European Championships in Berlin in August. I'm active on Facebook and Twitter: @trackerati.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Day 5 - T+F Event Previews and Picks

for events beginning on
Day 5 – Tuesday, August 16

W 5,000m
The ’15 World Championship 5,000m was an Ethiopian sweep, but not nearly in the order anyone might have predicted. Genzebe Dibaba was a prohibitive favorite to win, but her 1500/5000 double was not to be; gold and bronze is never a bad meet, unless you’re the queen and you don’t want to give up your crown.

Almaz Ayana (Eth) shot to the top of her country’s distance running ranks with a stirring 14:26.83 World 5,000m win, and since then, she hasn’t looked back, as we saw so clearly on the opening day of the Olympics when she obliterated the world record at 10,000m.

Genzebe Dibaba’s key mistake may well have come much earlier in the meet when she ran the fastest first round 1500m in history – a 4:04.59 – the most unnecessary race I’ve ever seen in that she ran far faster than she needed to in order to advance. It caught up to her when she faded to 3rd in the Beijing 5,000m, and in Ethiopian athletics, the penalty is harsh. Who would have guessed a year ago that she would be entered in only one event in the Olympics?

Dibaba’s sister Tirunesh will carry the family flag in the 5,000m. At this distance, she has Olympic gold from London and two bronzes, one dating all the way back to 2004. Add World titles in ’03 and ’05… and did I mention cross country? She’s won four World XC titles.

Senbere Tefere (Eth) won silver in Beijing; she and Genzebe Dibaba waged a furious battle for second, which the 20 year old won. Words I’d never thought I’d write.

Kenya’s Hellen Obiri brings terrific range at 2:00/3:57/8:20 to her ever-growing resume. She won against deep Diamond League fields in Eugene (5,000m) and Monaco (3,000m) this year, and set her 5k PR of 14:32.02 in Eugene.

In Eugene, she served notice to her Kenyan Olympic teammates Vivian Cheruiyot and Mercy Cherono when they finished 3rd and 4th in that race. Still, Cheruiyot has quite a collection of medals at this distance: World golds in ’09 and ’11, and silver in ’07. Cherono has two World 5ths and a silver from Moscow, but it’s her four 2nds in DL races this year that show she has moved up a step in the world order.

(Note: the picks at the end of each preview are the ones I entered in the http://www.atstat.org/ Olympic Track and Field prediction contest. Entries were due on Thursday, August 11, the day before the Olympic track and field began. From time to time I will post both the contest entries as well as a revised entry based on updated results since last Friday.)

1. Almaz Ayana, Eth
2. Mercy Cherono, Ken
3. Hellen Obiri, Ken

Revised after 10,000m:  Ayana still for the win, with Cheryuiot for silver, and still a toss up for me between Obiri and Cherono, with the nod continuing to go to Cherono.

W Pole Vault
Two of my three picks for medals tied for 4th at the ’15 Beijing World Championships. So why are they two of my favorites?

Jenn Suhr, silver and gold medalist in the last two Olympics, has been the pre-eminent pole vaulter of the last quadrennium. She won the World Indoors in Portland and is the American record holder at 16-6/5.0. Interestingly, Suhr has only those two golds, though multiple finishes on the podium and in the top 5.

Sandi Morris’s rapid ascent up the pole vault ranks finds her at 16-2¾/4.95 and quite suddenly, it seems, #3 all-time in the world behind Suhr and Russia’s absent pole vault queen, Yelena Isinbayeva. Morris won bronze in this year’s World Indoors and was second behind Suhr at the US Olympic Trials. 3rd placer Lexi Weeks, NCAA Champion for Arkansas this year was third in the US Trials and is a likely finalist at only 19 years of age.

The Beijing World Champion, Yarisley Silva of Cuba, is #4 all-time and won silver behind Suhr’s gold in London. She has a complete set of major-meet medals with her Moscow ’13 Worlds bronze rounding out the set. She has one Diamond League win to her credit this season.

With two Diamond League 2nds this year, Switzerland’s 22-year-old Nicole Buchler was tied for bronze in Portland but lost a World Indoor bronze on the countback.

The hottest jumper is the world right now is Katerina Stefanidi of Greece, won has won 4/6  Diamond League meets and was 3rd in another – a remarkable level of consistency in an event which is notorious for its ups and downs. Consistency medals in this event.

Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou (Gr) won Beijing bronze and was ranked #1 in the world last year, but she hasn’t won in 7 outdoor meets this year. Too bad the meet isn’t held indoors as she has won four times under cover this year (the Indoor Olympics – I’ll get right on that!).

Doing these previews is a matter of analyzing what’s in front of me and making predictions based on what I hope is a thorough sifting of the available information. But on a more personal level, even though I haven’t picked her for a medal, I can only hope that Brazil’s Fabiana Murer acquits herself well at home. No pressure – it will only be the most important meet of her life, one which will define her in the eyes of 100,000,000 people.

1. Jenn Suhr, US
2. Katerina Stefanidi, Gr
3. Sandi Morris, US

M 1500m
Asbel Kiprop has been the most dominant 1500m runner in the world since 2009. He has been ranked #1 in the world five times, and has won the Beijing Olympic as well as three consecutive World titles. He has won 23 Diamond League (add two of the old Golden League meets, too) titles in all events (800m, 1500m, mile).

Twenty three.

Much is made of his occasional ‘failure’, as the British press would call it. He fell apart in the Monaco DL meet this year and finished 6th – if you call 3:32.03 falling apart. Well, actually it is when a distance runner finishes one place ahead of you. Mo somethin’.

Teammates Ronald Kwemoi and Elijah Manangoi finished 1-2 in that mid-July race. No matter how you look at it, that bodes well for Kenya. If Manangoi is anywhere near the lead with 50m to go, it’s possible he’s faster than even Kiprop over that short distance, and he moved from off the podium to on in mere seconds in Beijing. Kwemoi has a less distinguished competitive record than his Kenyan counterparts, but his PR is a scary-fast 3:28.81.

Ayanleh Souleiman (Djib) was ranked 3rd in the World last year but did not get out of the heats in Beijing. He tends to get a lot of press around major meet time and he won bronze in Moscow in ’13.

Abdelaati Iguider, Mor 3:34.67, an excellent tactician, has World and Olympic bronze to his credit, while neighbor Algerian Taoufik Makhloufi doesn’t win often, but when he does he makes it count. Think gold, London Olympics.

Nick Willis (NZ) and Matt Centrowitz (US) are great kickers but could not keep up with the final sprint in Beijing, and they finished 6th and 8th with the fourth Kenyan, Timothy Cheruiyot just ahead of Centrowitz in 7th. I have this itchy feeling that I should mention Great Britain’s Charlie Grice, who won the JV mile at the Prefontaine Classic in 3:52.64 and looked remarkably fluid and at ease in doing so; Grice was 9th in the Beijing final.

Centrowitz’s 8th was a surprise as he has been a terrific major-meet competitor, with a World Indoor title in Portland this year to go with his outdoor World silver and bronze, and a 4th in the London Olympics. An Olympic medal is all that’s missing for the Oregon Duck. Willis won silver at the Beijing Olympics and bronze this year at World Indoors.

I think Kenya is poised to win two medals; the question behind Kiprop is who and which medal. Centrowitz and Iguider are remarkably evenly matched for 3rd. The slower the first half of this  race, the better Centrowitz’s chances.

1. Asbel Kiprop, Ken
2. Elijah Manangoi, Ken
3. Matt Centrowitz, US

W 100m Hurdles
Not many expected Brianna Rollins to be the winner of the US Olympic Trials sprint hurdles. Keni Harrison had run the 2nd fastest time in history before the Trials at 12.24 and has since gone on to set the world record at 12.20. But in between she finished an inexplicable 6th in the US Trials and failed to make the US team.

Once upon a time – that would be 2013 – Rollins was the hot young star of American hurdling. She blasted onto the scene with a 12.39 at the NCAA Championships and then a scorching 12.26 at US outdoor nationals in Des Moines. She followed that with a World Championships win in Moscow, and now is leader of the US Rio sprint hurdle delegation at 24.

This year’s Diamond League races don’t help us as much as they could as Harrison had won 4/5. But Rollins won the 5th at Oslo, while Nia Ali has a 2nd and two 4ths to her credit; she is always in the mix. Ali was the upset winner of World Indoors, though I think it’s high time we stop thinking of her achievements as upsets; her Portland win was her second consecutive World Indoor title.

Kristi Castlin was more of a surprise to make the US team, but watch out – she is known for her flashes of brilliance in this event. (Quick: who won the ’14 Diamond League Van Damme final? Yup, that would be Castlin). She was 3rd in the July 22nd London Diamond League race behind Harrison and Rollins. Castlin, like Ali, shows up. A US sweep would not be a total surprise.

The biggest obstacle to that sweep is Tiffany Porter of Great Britain, formerly of the United States, who took one look around at US hurdle depth and exercised her citizenship free agency and fled for the UK team. Sister Cindy Ofili left for Great Britain last year. Nothing says United Kingdom like the University of Michigan, eh? They are both alums.

Porter has been a World Championships finalist twice and brought home (if you know what I mean) bronze in 2015. Porter just finished 3rd at the European Championships behind Cindy Roeleder (Ger) and Alina Talay of Belarus, who finished a surprise 2nd and 3rd at Worlds last year, yet were ranked only 9th and 10th in the world by Track and Field News due to their overall much thinner competitive records. Porter was 5th at ’15 Worlds and was ranked 5th due to her much deeper season.

Jamaica’s Danielle Williams won the ’15 Worlds race (in case you’re wondering, in that meet, US hurdlers had trouble either starting when the starter wanted them to or running over the hurdles rather than through them). But for one race in China, Williams’ entire ’16 campaign has been conducted in North and Central America, and in unimpressive times.

In a remarkable display of dominance, the US occupies the top twenty-three places on this year’s world performance list.

Finally, in our ‘leave it to the British press’ department, when Porter became a British citizen in 2010, she was asked at a press conference to sing their national anthem.

It did not go well.

There will always be an England.

1. Brianna Rollins, US
2. Nia Ali, US
3. Tiffany Porter, GB

M 200m
At the Beijing World Championships, the best view in the house went to South Africa’s surprise bronze medalist, Anaso Jobodwana, who got to watch the race unfold in front of him. Justin Gatlin ran a disheartened 19.74 to Usain Bolt’s 19.55, while Jobodwana ran an inspired 19.87 for 3rd.

Justin Gatlin defeated Olympic 400m gold medalist LaShawn Merritt 19.75-19.79 at the US Olympic Trials. It’s interesting to note that Merritt has the best time in the world this year just a hundredth ahead of Gatlin; he also has a deeper resume as he has broken 19.80 three times to Gatlin’s one, but it’s Gatlin who is national champion.

The men’s 200m comes after Gatlin and Merritt have run their strongest races. Gatlin will have the 100m rounds under his belt; Merritt the 400m (interestingly, those finals were back-to-back on the third day of the meet, when Bolt won the 100m and Wayde van Niekerk set a remarkable 43.03 world record).

Ameer Webb was hot earlier in the season as the US veteran (25 is veteran status in sprinting!) finally came into his own. His 20.00 seemed a bit slow at the Olympic Trials when he had run 19.85 in Doha in June (albeit with a legal but helpful 1.9 wind). He has been under 20.00 three times this year and is a likely finalist here; expect him to break 19.80 in the final - he may well set a record for place, given the competition ahead of him.

Bolt does show up when it counts, and while I do think he’ll win, it’s here that he’s most  vulnerable. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to pressure from two and not one. (Hint: don’t look to either side! That bad habit could hurt him here.)

World Championships 4th placer Alonso Edward (Pan) hasn’t broken 20.00 yet this year, but he also hasn’t finished worse than 3rd; count in two Diamond League wins and his competitive record matters far more than his times. Zharnel Hughes, Great Britain’s  21-year-old start of the future was 5th at Worlds, but his 21.21 for 7th at the European Championships makes an impact here unlikely.

Note that South Africa’s 400m World champion Wayde van Niekerk has run the 200m seven times this year, and twice flirted with breaking 20.00 in the South African national championships… the 200m comes after his best event… hey, why not?

I think this will be the best men’s 200m since Bolt’s world record in Berlin in 2009. With Gatlin and Merritt so solidly in the mix, and with wild cards like Webb and van Niekerk, this could be one of the greatest 200m races of all-time.

1. Usain Bolt, Jam
2. Justin Gatlin, US
3. LaShawn Merrittt, US

W Javelin
As in 2015, women’s javelin is all over the place. Duck! In a very evenly matched field, no single thrower emerges as a clear favorite.

Last year Barbora Spotakova finished 9th in the World Championships but still had the strongest overall season and was ranked #1 in the world by Track and Field News. She just topped the world list with her 219-4/66.87 to win the Czech title but then finished 5th against a thinner field in the Euro Champs. Nonetheless, she says that the foot injury that has plagued her for years is now healed. If so, watch out world. She is the two-time defending Olympic champion and won the 2007 World crown in Daegu.

The surprise winner in Beijing was Katharina Molitor of Germany, who won on the final throw of the competition. She has not followed up her triumph well this season, as her Diamond League finishes range from 4th-7th and she was 4th at Euro Champs.

Christin Hussong (Ger) tanked in the European Championships and didn’t advance to finals, but she later uncorked the #2 throw in the world, 217-10/66.41, on the same day but at a different meet than Spotakova’s world leader.

Madara Palameika (Lat) leads the Diamond League and has won there twice, with a 2nd and a 4th to back up her wins. This kind of consistency wins medals. BUT! She, too, fell apart in the European Championships, with a 7th place finish.

Kathryn Mitchell (Aus) is tied for 2nd in the Diamond League with three 2nds and a 3rd but is only 8th on the world list in distance this year. Still, three 2nds… Since she’s from Australia, it’s much more challenging for her to get exposure on the world scene.

It’s South Africa’s Sunette Viljoen (RSA) she’s tied with. While Viljoen has twice won World bronze, she has yet to have that one big throw when she needs it most. An up and down season with two DL wins, yet with distressing 7th and 5th place finishes at meets at the beginning of June and July, respectively. Not a great way to go into the Olympics.

So who didn’t tank at the European Championships? Why that would be Tatsiana Khaladovich of Belarus, the hottest javelin thrower in the world. She just won the European Championships with a PR 211-11/66.34 and followed that with a win in Monaco. The rest of the world is nervous.

I think the medalists will come from Khaladovich, Mitchell, Palameika, and Spotakova.

1. Tatsiana Khaladovich, Blr
2. Madara Palameika, Lat
3. Barbora Spotakova, Cze

W Long Jump
Serbia’s Ivana Spanovic has dominated the Diamond League this season with three wins and a second. She also brings the competitive experience of having won two World bronzes, and this year she won silver in the Portland World Indoors as well as the European title in Amsterdam.

And who won in Portland? Spanovic’s friendly nemesis, Brittany Reese of the US, who has won one Olympic and three World Championships. This season, Reese has a first and a second in Diamond League results and leads the world list at 23-11¾/7.31.

In true style, they have traded DL wins.

Tianna Bartoletta, as 19-year-old Tianna Madison, pulled off one of the great surprises in World Championship history when she won in Helsinki in 2005. She came roaring back to win again in Beijing last year - on her last jump - an unusual 10 years between titles. She has been 3rd twice on the Diamond League circuit this year and was second at the US Trials in 23-½/7.02.

London bronze medalist Janay de Loach, the 3rd qualifier at the US Trials at 22-9/6.93, was 8th at Worlds last year when Reese, who had a back injury, uncharacteristically did not make the final.

It was Great Britain’s Shara Proctor who fell victim to Bartoletta’s heroics in Beijing and settled for silver. Canada’s Christabel Nettey has finished second twice on the Diamond circuit this season and just missed bronze in Beijing.

Great Britain’s Shara Proctor led the Beijing final until Bartoletta uncorked her winning jump. Proctor won silver there and was ranked second in the world last year, but has been unusually quiet on the world scene this year with only modest results in two Diamond League meets.

Great Britain’s Lorraine Ugen won ’16 World Indoor bronze in Portland and was the 2013 NCAA champion for Texas Christian University. Note, too that Sosthene Moguenara (Ger) and Brooke Stratton (Aus) both have long jumps this year, but not the depth of competitive record of their more illustrious peers.

This just in: all it takes is one jump. Just ask Bartoletta – when she was 19.

1. Brittany Reese, US
2. Tianna Bartoletta, US
3. Ivana Spanovic, Serbia



No comments:

Post a Comment