Sunday, August 1, 2021

Finally - Finals!

After an extra year's wait and much anticipation, the first multiple-finals day of Olympic competition did not disappoint. 

Elaine Thompson-Herah sped to a 10.61 win in the 100m, a time so fast it knocked even Florence Griffith-Joyner's name off the masthead as Olympic record holder. Legend Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was second in 10.74, with Jamaican teammate Shericka Jackson third in 10.76. The depth of these times is remarkable, as is the Jamaican sweep - though a Jamaican sweep in the sprints is no longer a surprise. 

Their times rank #2, 8, and 11 on the world all-time list, and many are saying that this is the greatest women's 100m ever run. Tough to disagree, with the usual caveats for time (era), place (dirt track or Mondo), and shoe company. 

Meanwhile, the 4x100m world record is just as nervous as the other 7 teams in the sprint relay final.

Each of the medalists in the shot put has a story. China's Gong Lijiao won her third medal but got to stand on the podium for the first time. The other two times she advanced to the podium only after drug cheats ahead of her were DQed, long after the competition was over. Dame Valerie Adams (NZ) won bronze, her 4th Olympic medal, two of which are gold. Did I mention her 4 World Championship titles?

Raven Saunders (US) won silver. The courageous 3-time NCAA champ at the University of Mississippi, Saunders experienced a rough transition from collegiate to international competition. She was one of the first to come out publicly about the need for mental health awareness among elite athletes. Her path was cause for much concern; online, she was open and brutally honest about her struggle. 

With a newfound sense of her purpose - as well as her place - in the sport, she displayed in Tokyo a return to the confidence she exhibited early in her career.

Saunders made the most of her Olympic experience: not only did she win silver, she wore a "Joker" mask that got international attention as it went wild on Twitter. More seriously, she is direct in taking on anti-gay venom online. However, her online sweep is broad; she lamented her looming return to US toilet seats, the ones in Japan apparently having spoiled her for life. 

Highly recommended is her Twitter feed @ravenHULKSaunders. Do yourself a favor and follow her. She misses nothing.

(Update: no sooner had I posted this than I was made aware of Saunders' podium protest. I've not been seeking out medal ceremonies - perhaps I should.)

Sweden's Daniel Stahl was an expected winner of discus gold. It always helps to be grounded in the familiar in international meets far away from home. Training partner Simon Pettersson surprised no one more than himself by joining his close friend on the podium with silver and a discus 1-2 for Sweden.

Meanwhile, the path to 100m gold now seems to be through the 400m. Both Shericka Jackson (bronze) and Fred Kerley (silver) were 400m specialists before they stepped down (or up, depending on your point of view) to the 100m. How does 400m experience affect 100m performance? 

The 100m does not have single components in the Olympics in the same way a one-race invitational would. Rather, it rewards a combination of strength and speed as the event progresses through four rounds over the course of a day and a half. Strength helps. It's not uncommon for the finals to be slower than the semis, but this time around, the finals times were astonishing:


Imagine running 10.76 in your 4th race in a day and a half - and getting bronze!

In the US Olympics Trials women's 100m, the speed was in the semi-finals (3rd round), not the finals (4th).

Semis         Finals
10.64         10.86
10.83         10.99
10.84         11.03
10.95         11.11
10.96         11.15
10.96         11.16
10.98         11.20
11.03         11.22

Finally, Poland's surprise victory in the mixed 4x400m relay has been cause for much national celebration. And it's always a surprise when, no matter the format, a US 4x400 team is 3rd. But the Athletes of the Day are clearly the silver-medal winning team from the Dominican Republic. 

They were as unlikely to win silver as, say, an Italian winning the men's 100m. Who could ever imagine that?! (With apologies to Pietro Minnea...!)

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