Saturday, September 8, 2018

Continental Cup Day #1 - Track's Big Experiment

Highlights and Lowlights
Distinctive Format a Work in Progress

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

Taking Joy in What She Does Better Than Anyone in the World
Continental Cup Triple Jump Champion
Caterine Inbarguen

photo courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF/Continental Cup

IAAF has crafted a brief summary of the format of the Continental Cup:

That they needed to speaks to the sometimes unnecessarily complicated scoring system in place for this meet.

In its simplest, the Continental Cup has four regions of the world competing against each other: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Americas. There are variations on this depending on the event, and I'll describe several of today's best events as well as one that I think was hurt by the format.

DeAnna Price (Ams/US) defeated World and Olympic champion, Anita Wlodarczyk (Eur/Pol), in the women's hammer. Her win brought her back to the heights she enjoyed when she set the American record at US Nationals in Des Moines in June, a 78.12 (256-3) whopper that put her firmly in #4 position all-time.

This capped a challenging second half of the season for Price; after Des Moines she did not get past 64.82 (212-8) meters in the London Diamond League meet, her only loss of the season. It must be noted that Price threw under extraordinarily challenging conditions there when she competed in spite of having been notified of her grandfather's passing an hour before the meet began.

"This is way better than I did in London, I'll tell you that," she said today, her exuberance back.

"I've been really focusing on trying to get to that next level, and Coach Lambert had me really focus on being able to capitalize on the format."

"We didn't know about the setup until the week before," said Price, who found herself in a winner-take-all format against Wlodarczyk in the fifth and final round.

"Everybody had that pressure," she said of the three rounds followed by two elimination rounds. "It worried me because you're not really able to push it because if you foul you're done, you're out. Today I was very fortunate to be locked in and keyed on the technical work."

When asked what it means to have defeated the Olympic and World Champion and world record holder, the always focused Price said, "It doesn't mean anything - she still has the farther mark." At the same time she acknowledged, "I have a lot of respect for Anita; it's crazy to think that I did beat Anita, but I'm going to keep striving to get first."

Highlight of the season? Having her coach and fiancee by her side.

"It was the drive and dedication of my coach to get me through," she said, referring to the summer dip, a period when she had not been feeling well and her throwing was not going well. "He got me through everything, and I couldn't be more thankful for Coach James Craig Lambert."

Their wedding is in October.

Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali went down and was in agony in the men's steeplechase, an event which showed the down side of this experimental format. With El Bakkali out, Evan Jager a no show, and two eliminated in the 'devil take the hindmost' format, Conseslus Kipruto (Afr/Ken) started waving to the crowd with 350m to go.

Matthew Hughes (Ams/Can) didn't seem to take kindly to that, took off after Kipruto, and got a huge crowd response for doing so. However, the valiant challenge didn't last long, and after the finish line Kipruto walked around as if he had just warmed up while Hughes was flat on the track. All ended well when Kipruto extended his hand and helped Hughes off the tarmac.

It's not a good sign when the most competitive part of the race is the chase for 3rd and 4th, an 8:32.89-8:33.76 showdown won by Yohannes Chiappelini (Eur/Ita) over teammate Fernando Carro (Eur/Esp). Kipruto's winning time was a walk-in-the-park 8:22.55, while Hughes finished in 8:29.70.

The women's 3000m provided redemption for Holland's Sifan Hassan who was dismayed to lose to Hellen Obiri in the Diamond League 5000m final. Hassan stormed past the finish line going into the final lap and won going away in a championship record 8:27.50.

In the highly anticipated women's 400m, Salwa Eid Naser defeated Caster Semenya, 49.32-49.62. Semenya comes back in the 800m on Sunday.

Those who picked Russia's Anzhelika Sidorova to win the women's pole vault are probaly related; improbably, Katerina Stefanidi (Eur/Gr) was 2nd and Sandi Morris (Ams/US) 3rd.

One of the highlights of this team-by-continent format was the quality and remarkable depth of the relay teams. In a scene we may not see repeated again, Bahamas' Shaunae Miller-Uibo ran the second leg of the sprint relay and passed to Jenna Prandini (Ams/US/OR). Prandini ran a scintillating curve and assured Americas the win.

Jenna Prandini hands off to Vitoria Cristina Rosa 
in the women's 4x100m relay.

photo courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF/Continental Cup

"It's been a fun day getting to represent Team Americas. It's a fun meet to get to switch it up and have some fun," said the former Oregon Duck.

"We've never handed off to each other before," she said of Miller-Uibo, "but we've both run relays and we know how to do it. It was really fun to get out and run with people I've never ran with before."

After starting the season with an injury, "This season turned out a lot better than I anticipated so I'm really excited for next year heading into Worlds and the year after."

About her approach to the late (Sep/Oct 2019) World Championships, Prandini said, "I don't really have to do any of the adjusting - it's all about my coach and him telling me what to do. I'll just be out there doing the work but I'll just be counting on him to get the timing right."

Similarly, the Americas' men's sprint relay featured Mike Rodgers (Ams/US), Noah Lyles (Ams/US), and Yohan Blake (Ams/Jam), while Tyquendo Tracey (Ams/Jam) on anchor was the least prominent member of this stellar quartet, which won in 38.05.

One of the deepest fields of the day was in the men's 400m hurdles. #2 all-time Abderrahman Samba (APA/Qat) stormed into the lead off the 6th hurdle and was never headed as he won by over a second in 47.37. Jamaica's Annsert Whyte was 2nd in 48.46, with Karsten Warholm (Eur/Nor) and Yasmani Copello (Eur/Por) 3rd and 4th in 48.56 and 48.65 - all outstanding times. When, by the way, have you ever seen 400m hurdles results without a US athlete in the top 8?

Abderrahman Samba
400m hurdles champion
photo courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF/Continental Cup
Introductions were by region, with both athletes from each team side by side, introduced at the same time. I very much enjoyed the team spirit of this event today.

The meet was announced - twice - as a sellout, but it didn't look like one. Perhaps the rain scared people away, but it stopped raining well before today's events began.

As for the Joker, here's how it works. A team captain has two Jokers s/he designates every day. If a Joker wins, the winner gets double the points for his/her team - 16 instead of 8. But only for winning; no bonus for 2nd place.

It's kind of like having double S+H green stamps, only better.

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