Saturday, May 18, 2019

Shanghai Diamond League

                    by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Note: I’m writing from Olympia, WA, where I’m covering the 35th Anniversary Celebration of the 1984 Women’s Olympic Trials Marathon. Joan Benoit Samuelson, Jacqueline Hansen, and Doris Brown Heritage are in attendance, along with many of the competitors who toed the line in 1984.

I’m presenting here an overview of Saturday’s Shanghai Diamond League Meet, along with a link to more extensive results.

I’ll have much more from the Marathon Trials commemoration in the coming week.

Diamond League Shanghai
Several events were highly hyped in the run up to the meet, and not one of them disappointed.

The long-awaited clash between 400m hurdles superstars Rai Benjamin (US) and Abderrahman Samba (Qat) found them tied coming off the 7th hurdle, but Samba powered away from Benjamin over the last two to win 47.27-47.80 and establish a new meet record.

Sydney McLaughlin’s Diamond League debut came in the 400m - not her specialty, which is the 400m hurdles. Nonetheless, she finished a very creditable 2nd to Bahrain’s #1 of 2018, Salwa Eid Naser.

If anything, the men’s 5000 was overhyped in terms of how fast it might be – it’s May and no one wants to run 12:44 quite yet – but the competitive showdown between Ethiopian stars Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega did not disappoint.

Pacer Bram Som was instructed to take the field through the first kilo in 2:30 and did so in 2:30.2 – late again! – but the second pacer was not nearly as masterful as Brom and the pace drifted into the 66 second per lap range. Barega then took the lead, followed by world cross country champion, Joshua Cheptegai, who took it next.

It was a free for all on the last lap with Kejelcha and Barega duking it out. Kejelcha, who has been working on improving his finishing speed, put it on display with an especially impressive last 50m to take the win. All is not lost for Barega: he’s 19.

There was a huge upset in the women’s shot put as heavily favored Liu Gong lost to rising star Chase Ealy (US)), who PRed in 19.58 – much to the disappointment of the hometown crowd. Yu Wang won the high jump on the countback on home soil at 2.28 with three tied at that mark. Li Ling scored a notable Asian record for China in the pole vault. The top 4 all cleared 4.72, and she took 3rd with Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi and Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou 1-2. Sandi Morris (US) was a notable and unexpected 4th.

In the men’s 100m, Noah Lyles (US) caught Christian Coleman (US) at the line after a furious finish over the last 30m, 9.86-9.86. (That is not a typo). Can you say 4x100m relay?! Not incidentally, this is a personal best for the 200m specialist.
Noah Lyles at 2018 USATF Championships
Photo Credit: USATF
The women’s 100m featured Olympic Champion Elaine Thompson (Jam), Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, and Aleia Hobbs (US), who had anchored the winning US 4x100m team at World Relays the week before. Lo and behold, the veterans Okagbare and Thompson finished 2-3 to Hobbs’ 11.03. 

Said Hobbs, "This is my biggest win."

Hobbs was sporting a cast on her wrist after fracturing it while playing laser tag two weeks ago. Note to Hobbs: you just defeated Elaine Thompson and you may play laser tag again in 15 years.

Our favorite spanning the globe result came in the men’s long jump won by Jamaica’s Tajay Gayle, with China’s Wang Jianan second, and South Africa’s Ruswahl Samaai third.

Complete results:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

World Relays Yokohama - Day 2

This is Why We Run the Races: Part Deux
by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved
Photos by Roger Sedres for the IAAF
Brazil's Paulo Camilo de Oliveira
anchors the upset
Men's 4x100m Relay
If you made predictions for the 2019 IAAF World Relays, may I help you get that egg off your face?

What? Oh, I have egg on mine?

Surely you picked Brazil to win the men’s 4x100m. No?

France to win the women’s 4x200m. What?

Trinidad and Tobago the men’s 4x400m? 

Not enough eggs to go around?

You picked Poland to dust off the US in the women’s 4x400m. And you had Italy for 3rd, right?

The refrain of this meet: this is why we run the races.

Women's 4x400m Relay
Poland's Justyna Swiety-Ersetic
anchors the upset
Poland set the tone for an upset-filled day with their unexpected victory in the women's 4x400m relay. The race was won on the final pass as Poland was 3rd coming to the exchange and 1st coming out.

Anna Kielbasinska is the unsung heroine of this win for her textbook pass, with props to Justyna Swiety Ersetic for a terrific anchor; she held off Courtney Okolo of the US and top-notch hurdler Janieve Russell of Jamaica - that's heady stuff. 

Even though Russell took the lead briefly with 200m to go, she had to work too hard to get there, and Ersetic sped to a surprisingly comfortable victory over the US, with a strong team from Italy in 3rd.

Men's 4x400m Relay
 Trinidad and Tobago's Macho Cedenio
anchors the upset
OK, this is not such a huge upset as Trinidad and Tobago won the 2017 World title. The US had a 15 meter lead with 300m to go, but super-closer Macho Cedenio ran down US' Paul Dedewo for the win. Dedewo almost pulled off a spectacular win (note him in mid-air in the photo, above), but he began to tie up with 30m to go. To add insult to injury, the US was disqualified for a lane violation on the last exchange.

The next time Trinidad and Tobago wins the men's 4x400m, it won't be an upset anymore, as the United States teams from London 2017 and today can attest. Had it not been for today's DQ, the US would have been silver medalists in the last two major 4x400s. Belgium finished 3rd with only two of the bevy of Borlee brothers running today.

Women's 4x200m Relay
France's Maroussia Pare
anchors the upset
Jamaica fielded a team with two Olympic champions, Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. They got a lot of attention, but not of the kind they had hoped for. Video of Jamaica's abysmal passing will outlive them - especially Thompson's opening pass to Stephanie-Ann McPherson - and the US team can thank Jamaica for having even worse passes than theirs. Meanwhile, France, in lane 9, had the privilege of not viewing the disasters occurring inside of them, and they did what their Middle School coaches taught them to do and they did it to perfection. France, China, and Jamaica took the podium places.

Mixed 4x400m Relay
Dontavious Wright Anchors the US
to the World Mixed Relay 4x400m title
The US won this event handily, and part of the pre-race speculation - in what order would the teams run their athletes? - was answered when all teams ran men on the opening and closing legs while women established several of the final places on the 2nd and 3rd legs. The US had a comfortable win over Canada, with Kenya earning bronze.

Men's 4x200m Relay
Remontay McLain Anchors the US to the 4x200m Relay Title
All went according to form as the US, South Africa, and Germany won the medals. The US team passed well and established enough of a cushion that Remontay McLain held off South Africa's 100m star Akani Simbine. Simbine closed well on McLain, who simply had too much of a lead to overcome. Germany set a national record in 3rd, while South Africa's 1:20.42 is an area record.

Women's 4x100m Relay
Aleia Hobbs Anchors the US to the World Relays 4x200m Title
The United States ran the same team two days in a row, and this consistency paid off in a big way. NCAA Champ Aleia Hobbs was given a comfortable enough lead by Dezerea Bryant, but Jamaica's Jonielle Smith took an 'it's not over 'till it's over' attitude into her anchor leg and made up a substantial amount of territory on Hobbs, only to lose by .02, 43.27 to 43.29. Germany was a comfortable 3rd in 43.68.

Men's 4x100m Relay
Brazil's 4x100m Relay Team
after the upset

With Justin Gatlin leading off and Noah Lyles on anchor, this was to be a slam dunk for the US, correct? Not so fast. The US team might have taken a page from the victorious US women book and run the same team two days in a row.

While not terrible, the US passing was merely average, and that's not good enough at this level. Brazil was in lane 7 (interesting how some teams in the outer lanes did so well in this meet) and doing just what France did in the women's 4x200: sticking to crisp passing and taking the lead out of the final exchange. Brazil's Paulo Camilo de Olivera ran a brilliant anchor and held off a a hard-charging Lyles by exactly the same margin as the US women's 4x100m team: .02, 38.05 to 38.07, with Great Britain in 3rd in 38.15.

Pssst. Want a meet summary? 
For the first time in World Relays history, Jamaica did not win a gold medal. 
You heard it here first.
Special thanks to IAAF senior website editor Jon Mulkeen for making available Roger Sedres' magnificent photos of this compelling event. 
And thanks to Sedres, of course, for his terrific images.
Winners' Parade

Saturday, May 11, 2019

World Relays - Yokohama - Day 1

First Day - Saturday, May 11

by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

The Day 1 World Relays highlight came in a semi-final, not a final, as Denmark's women's 4x100m relay team reminded us of why we run the races.
Mathilde Kramer of Denmark anchors the 4x100m relay to a heat win
and place in the final.
Roger Sedres for the IAAF
With podium favorites Great Britain/Northern Ireland and France dropping the baton, and with Canada disqualified, Denmark more than took advantage of their competitors' miseries as they ran a superb race with crisp passing, and they set a national record of 43.90. The joy - and shock - was evident on the face of anchor Mathilde Kramer, caught in the magnificent image by Roger Sedres for the IAAF.

In the other heats, the United States ran a world leading 42.51, and Denmark finds itself as the 7th-fastest qualifier in Sunday's final. Denmark has drawn lane 3 for the final, next to the United State in lane 4; this could be mightily to Denmark's advantage. A podium finish would set off a celebration royale.

Shuttle hurdles: more arms in the air.
Devon Allen anchoring the US to victory in the shuttle hurdles.
Roger Sedres for the IAAF
After a withdrawal by Jamaica and a false start by Australia, only Japan and the United States were left to duke it out for the win. Japan started strongly and held a surprising lead going into the 3rd leg when Sharika Nelvis reminded everyone of which country dominates the women's hurdles. She restored order by surging into the lead, and Devon Allen anchored going away.

What are they going to do with the bronze medals?

2x2x400m Relay - A new event in need of explanation.
Donavan Brazier anchoring the US to victory in the 2x2x400m relay.
Roger Sedres for the IAAF
The first '2' refers to the number of athletes running: one woman and one man. The '2x400m' refers to the total distance each athlete runs.
That's right, each runs 400m twice.
But not in succession.
The two athletes alternate 400m, so the key is judging how fast to run the first one when you'll be starting the next in approximately 50 seconds.
You also get to choose who goes first - the woman or the man?

It's little like the last workout before State: two incredibly high level repetitions on short rest.

The US team of Donavan Brazier and Ce'Aira Brown won with Australia a delighted 2nd; Joshua Ralph's spectacular anchor took the Aussies from 5th to silver. Japan took bronze, to the thunderous approval of hometown fans, while Kenya was disqualified after having led for the first three laps.

There were few other major surprises in the rest of today's races, all of which served as qualifying for Sunday's much-anticipated seven finals. Japan will field teams in the finals of the men's 4x400m as well as the women's 4x200m, and in the heats of the men's 4x200m. Their best opportunity for a podium finish is in the M 4x400m, though they are seeded very evenly in the M 4x200.

The social media highlight of the day came when Japan - a heavy favorite to medal in the 4x100m in front of the home crowd in Yokohama - botched the 3-to-4 pass, Yuki Koike to Yoshihide Kiryu.

But they did so with elegance, style, and creativity. There has never been a pass like this and there will never be another. 'Arming' the relay pass is a whole new concept.

Here is video of the pass in a link to Steven Mills' @Trackside2019 page on twitter:

You just watched it, didn't you?!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Doha Diamond League

by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Caster Semenya was the star of the 2019 Diamond League opener - on the track as well as off. Generous and gracious in the face of those who are not, Semenya let her running do the talking as she won the 800m in a blistering 1:54.98 against a field that featured all the medalists from the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championships.
Caster Semenya after winning the ISTAF Title in Berlin, 2018
Photo credit: Gallery4/ISTAF
The depth of the results was remarkable as 1:59.07 was Raevyn Rogers’ time in 5th place; ahead of her in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th were Francine Niyonsaba, Ajee Wilson, and Nelly Jepkosgei.

“For me, I believe nothing is hard in life because it is up to you how you take life,” said Semenya, referring to the CAS (Court for Arbitration of Sport) decision against her this week.

“As an athlete, I believe in sportsmanship, and what sports teaches you is to keep pushing on despite all odds. I know life could be difficult at times but I'm a believer and I believe there is always a way to resolve issues. One of my firm belief is that there is always a way out for everything. So if a wall is placed in front of me, I jump it. I'm going to keep enjoying my life and live it. I will keep on training and running. To me, impossibility is nothing.”

“It's all about inspiring the world,” she said, further, in an interview on the Olympic Channel. “When you are a living testimony of God, you cannot let things affect you personally.”

So strong were today’s performances that it was hard to tell it was the first week of May.

Delilah Muhammad set the tone for the day in the first track event, the 400m hurdles, as she blew past the field coming around the final turn and won going away in 53.61, a 1.11 margin of victory over a stellar field. World indoor and outdoor champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer (US), Olympic relay bronze medalist Anna Ryzhykova (UKR), and World and Olympic Games finalist Janieve Russell (Jam) have some work to do.

Sweden’s Daniel Stahl set the Diamond League discus record with his 71.29/233-10 statement, one which drew scant response from his competitors, as he won by over two meters. Setting the DL record is no small feat when we consider who has thrown before him, and he gains a huge advantage by achieving this in the World Championships ring.

“I had great power and I have been working on my technique a lot and training hard in the gym so I expected it and I am really happy,” he said. “I hope to return here for the IAAF World Championships and win again. The big focus though is always to have fun and big power.”

Sam Kendricks won the pole vault in 5.80/19-¼, while 2016 Olympic Champion Thiago Braz (BRA) finished a strong second. His attempts to return to his Olympic heights may finally be coming to fruition.

A surprise in the women’s long jump was that Tianna Bartoletta did not qualify for the final. There went an intriguing matchup against the 2018 IAAF Female Athlete of the Year, Caterine Ibarguen (COL), who scored a narrow win over Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, 6.76/22’2¼ - 6.74, with Australia’s Brooke Stratton another centimeter behind in 3rd.

The women’s high jump had “star is born” written all over it.  Let’s let Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh say it in her own words.  

“I was so surprised that I won because I am the youngest competitor here,” she said, “so I am extremely happy to take the win and to jump a personal best.”


She is 17.

Remember her name in October.

Five men broke 1:45.00 in the 800m; the resurgent Nigel Amos won in 1:44.29. Donavan Brazier (US) seemed to be moving into perfect placement with 180m to go when he had to steady himself when some jostling took place. Still, he recovered nicely to work his way back from 5th to 3rd at the finish.

Brianna McNeal is the World and Olympic Champion in the 100m hurdles. That was hard to tell today as the field blew by her over the 7th and 8th hurdles and she finished a surprising 7th in 12.94. Jamaica’s Danielle Williams’ 12.66 ruled the day.

“I didn't expect that,” said Williams. “It was a big surprise so I am very happy. It was a big step forward for me, I am so happy I got the win, I went for glory. Now, I just need to remain consistent and stay injury free.”

Hilary Bor (US) won everything except the last 100m of the men’s 3,000m steeplechase. He took the lead with 600m to go but stutter-stepped repeatedly as he approached the final barrier and Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali sprinted past to win, 8:07.22 to 8:08.41 – a personal best for Bor. 

Nonetheless, the manner in which Bor took control of the race in its latter stages was impressive, and he served noticed that he’ll be a medal contender in October.

“Finish second behind Soufiane (El Bakkali) a world silver medalist, is a great achievement and it means I’m doing something right,” said Bor. “My goal now is to go back and study the race and see how I can improve… I love the stadium and the atmosphere here tonight is great.”

Put him in a 100m race and he’ll be taking attendance from behind. Put him in a 200m race and you have an Olympic Champion. Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev ran a scintillating early-season 19.99 to win going away. He led coming off the turn and was never challenged.

Similarly, Dina Asher-Smith dominated the women’s 200m with her 22.26 world leader. Jamile Samuel of the Netherlands was a big surprise in 2nd in 22.90 over Phyllis Francis and Blessing Okagbare among others in a deep field. Asher-Smith won triple gold at the European Championships in Berlin last summer, but she has yet to mine World or Olympic metal. This serves notice to notable absentees Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bah) and Jenna Prandini (US) that Asher-Smith is a force to be reckoned with in 2019.

With an 800m split of 1:53.32, it was surprising to see 11 men still in contention 300m later at the bell of the men’s 1500m. In a mild upset, Elijah Manangoi held off Timothy Cheruiyot in the area that had been Cheruiyot’s strength in his domination of the 2018 season, the last 120m. The top 7 finishers were from Kenya.

Anticipation for this meet had been high after a stellar indoor season was capped by outstanding performances on the outdoor and relay circuits, most notably by Ryan Crouser’s 22.74-74 7¼ world leading shot put at Long Beach. As noted here before, he seems well on his way to a world record this year, and today he won with apparent ease at 22.13. However, New Zealand’s Thomas Walsh put him on notice that it won’t be quite so easy, as he finished a scant 7cm behind.

In a stellar concluding event, Hellen Obiri outsprinted Genzebe Dibaba (these are words you don’t hear often) in a women’s 3000m race that saw the top 6 break 8:30. The 2019 World Cross Country champion held off the 2008 and 2009 U20 World XC titleist, 8:25.60 to 8:26.20. I would have used the term “down the stretch they come” as two of the greatest distance runners in history battled it out, but tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby, so that phrase is already taken.

It was 88 F (31 C) degrees inside the refurbished Khalifa International Stadium and 99 (37 C) outside the stadium, so while 88 is hot, it could have been worse. This is of import not only for track and field’s September/October World Championships but for the 2022 soccer World Cup as well.

A sophisticated cooling system has been installed in the stadium, and several track and field journalists noted how surprised they were at how much difference it made, one indicating that he felt cold in the media tribune (press row) near the top of the stadium. Cold! The system is so strong that it is turned off as competition begins so there will not be interference from the wind it generates.

Next Diamond League stop: Shanghai on May 25th.

Thanks to IAAF for making the flash quotes available.