Friday, July 30, 2021

Off and Running

With only one final in the books, the sport of track and field can at least claim a near classic. 21 year old Selemon Barega won the men's 10,000 meter race, holding off Uganda's dynamic duo of Joseph Cheptegai (24) and Jacob Kiplimo (20). Hard to believe these are Uganda's first track and field distance medals as Cheptegai has already won World track and cross country championships and set world records at both 5,000 + 10,000 meters. 

Barega was a relative unknown when he won the Diamond League final at 5,000m at age 18 in Brussels. He ran 4:01.1 per mile pace (pause and absorb that) for the entire race, and 3:58.88 for the last 5 laps!

Here was my take on that race, which I was beyond privileged to see in person; take a moment to absorb these epic stats:

There was considerable conversation about the chances of the US runners in a race in which they historically have not done so well (forgive me for saying so the day after the 57th anniversary of Billy Mills' astonishing win!). 

Why? Because they ran so well in blazing heat in Eugene to make the team to begin with. So it was not an entire surprise to see Grant Fisher finish 5th, but it certainly was a welcome one. With so much emphasis on shoes and surfaces and pacing lights, it's refreshing to know that a brilliantly executed strategy still has its place, for Barega as well as Fisher.

In the runup to the Olympics, there was, quite understandably, much emphasis on Covid. In the bid process for the Games, there was much discussion of the weather.

If not for Covid, the weather might be dominating Olympic conversation. It played a huge role in making the 10,000m a race rather than a time trial. US 400m hurdles runner, Anna Cockrell, said after her first round race today, "It's soupy out here," and "I'm burning up." Please credit this as the only publication to mention Cockrell without mentioning her teammates.

The empty stadium might well have played a role in an 800m heat. Immediately after the gun went off, a runner stopped as the sound of the starter's gun ricochet around the stadium. There was, however, no recall gun, but the race was restarted nonetheless. 

The day was marred when the whispers of the last 24 hours unfortunately came true. Rumors abounded that there had been a positive drug test of a major athlete. Sorry that it's Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare, nabbed for HGH - human growth hormone. 

Okagbare has had a lengthy career at the top, and I'll note her age - 32 - only to make that point that it's not unusual for athletes to take performance enhancers after the age of 30, presumably to extend careers and the attendant income-producing opportunities.

Meanwhile, on days when it's 90F and with 80% humidity in Tokyo, I hereby declare that it's tacky to call first-rounds 'heats' or paces 'torrid.' 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Dateline: The Couch

 Greetings track fans. Greetings field fans. The hardiest among you will be watching the 1st round of the women's 100m right now. This is where the Olympics is the Olympics. Athletes from around the world come in search of PBs, national records, and glories yet to be defined. They've traveled a long way and under possibly fearful conditions. 

Someone comes in with a PB of 12.25 and leaves at 11.74, never to advance but having done herself and her country proud. This is the Olympics, and we'll know better 10 days from now if it all will have been worthwhile. She thinks so.

I'm approaching these Games a bit differently than I have in all but one of the previous eight. The predictions I have done in the past will morph into commentary about the events as they progress, most especially once we know the finalists. But I will comment on those results and try to give them some context. Here in the Pacific time zone finals begin as early as 4:15 am. Have I mentioned I'm old?! 

I have an epic schedule on Tuesday and Wednesday when I'll be covering the women's and men's hammer throws for Track and Field News - all of a sudden the fifth time I'll be covering majors for the magazine. That went fast. The women's final begins on Tuesday at 4:35 am Pacific - with a deadline 12 hours after the event finishes! Wednesday: rinse and repeat, only with a 4:15 am start.

While I hope we can all revel - sooner or later - in the achievements of these remarkable athletes, I'm well aware that that enthusiasm might well be muted, especially at first. Imagine the crowd reaction - had there been a crowd - in the first men's steeplechase heat today when Japan's Ryuji Miura unexpectedly shattered the national record with his 8:09.92, which is fast even without barriers. Suddenly he's someone to watch - someone totally unexpected - and the excitement grows. 

Looking forward to having that excitement grow with you over the course of the next 10 days. Thanks for checking in.