Monday, September 18, 2023

A Few Days in Sorrento

by Mark Cullen

It would be hard to conceive of Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic as a more fitting end to a season that stands out as one of the most memorable.

Could it get any better than a 5,000 meter world record in Prefontaine’s signature event by Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay in a mind-bending 14:00.21?

Or how about Mondo Duplantis’ 20-5 ¼ world record pole vault – on his first attempt! Has this become his Eugene calling card?

The Diamond League finale was preceded by what many are calling one of the greatest World Championships.

In turn, this Diamond League championship compares favorably to any held before.

(It might be helpful, if you have the time and inclination, to first read my report of Saturday’s stat-fest at Hayward Field, below.)

 Australia's Matt Denny Wins the Discus
photo by Marta Gorczynska for Diamond League AG

Typical of the excitement was the men’s discus - held, seemingly, just after brunch on Sunday with its 11:30 am start.

Nothing like a final-throw win to wake up the crowd and stir the competitive juices.

Not to mention topping a field that included World and Olympic champions.

“I’ve always gone to the majors with the goal to win,” said Australia’s Matthew Denny, newly crowned Diamond League discus champion.

The 27 year old had made World and Olympic finals four times, but this was the first time he left as major meet champion – or medalist. 

However, as 10 x national champion, as well as World University and Commonwealth Games gold medalist, he’s had plenty of practice ascending the podium

“I thought we could be on for a PB here,” understated the surprise titlist, who won with a last-round heave of 68.43 (224-6), a personal best and national record.

“This really cements my point that I can be the best… and that’s my goal for Paris.”

Denny thinks the winning throw in Paris will be in the 71-72 meter range. “That’s the goal and this gives me great confidence going into next year.”

Denny was ready for what was to come on Sunday.

“I had a lot of energy in me,” he said. “I was pretty twitchy and I was just ready to compete. I knew that I could potentially put something together.

“I wasn’t going to count Daniel (Stahl) or Kristjan (Ceh) out. I’m just so happy to finish on such a high note for this season because it’s been a great season, and I wanted to finish it the right way.”

Making the mental transition from Budapest to Eugene was not, for Denny, the same strain it was for a number of other athletes who found it difficult to sustain energy and focus and to bridge the three-week gap from one major championship to another.

Denny credits new coaching and a revamped team for a renewed and energized perspective.

“I’ve been really refreshed this year in the way that I conduct my whole process of training,” he said. 

“After Worlds I had a little break with my wife and we went to Sorrento in Italy. I did some band work, but not full sessions, and it just recharged me.”

“I got 4th at Worlds and I got the national record,” he said, “but I’m in the game to win World Championships. It’s hard to be satisfied with 4th.”

“So, to turn it around and reignite it… I had a whole point to make this year. We wanted to finish this year on a stamp and we did that.”

“I feel refreshed,” Denny reiterated.

It showed.

A few days in Sorrento will do that.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Brave New World

                                                            by Mark Cullen

It’s a late night for track and field statisticians.

So many lists, so many revisions.

The statistics are staggering.

Yared Nuguse (US) runs 3:43.97 for the mile and finishes second.

New Zealand’s Sam Tanner runs 3:49.51 and finishes eleventh.

Indeed, the slowest of the 13 finishers in Saturday’s Diamond League Final Bowerman Mile was Kenya’s Abel Kipsang in 3:53.50. 

Ahead of him was Elliott Giles of Great Britain, whose faster than 58 seconds per lap pace garnered him only a 12th place finish.

Usually, 6th place doesn’t get much ink. Perhaps it should this time. University of Oregon graduate Cole Hocker demolished his PB by almost 3 seconds and ran 3:48.08 – two-tenths of a second behind Kenya’s Reynold Kipkorir Cheruiyot.

The significance of Cheruiyot’s 3:48.06?

It’s the World Junior (U20) record; this lad turned 19 at the end of July.

Did we mention? Jakob Ingebrigtsen won by a nose, outleaning Naguse to win in 3:43.73, a scant six-tenths short of the world record.

    Jared Naguse and Jakob Ingebrigsten
     Photo by Matthew Quine for Diamond League AG

The madness extended well past the men’s mile.

Faith Kipyegon (Ken) outsprinted one of the deepest fields in history.

Trouble was, it wasn’t a sprint – or was it? She scared her own 1500m world record of 3:49.11 with a stellar, dominating 3:50.72, a 3+ second margin over Ethiopia’s Diribe Weltije.

3:59.57 got you 9th in the women’s 1500m, as Great Britain’s Melissa Courtney-Bryant found out the hard way.

Nine women finished under 4:00 minutes.

Sub-4:00 for 1500m has become the benchmark for women that running sub-4:00 for the mile once was for men.

Now, it’s sub-3:50 for male milers. Will it soon be 3:55.0 for women? Is it already?

Faith Kipyegon 
photo by Marta Gorcznska for Diamond League AG

Rai Benjamin (US) wasn’t leading over the final hurdle of the men’s 400m hurdles, but he was leading when it counted most: at the finish line, just a few meters later.

His 46.39 leads the world this year and is the meet as well as Diamond League record. Karsten Warholm’s 46.53 is, astonishingly, none of those. Today, what that got him was 2nd in the 7th fastest performance ever.

 Washington State’s popular graduate CJ Allen got a sweet ovation upon introduction; his 48.62 – not long ago a lock for a podium finish -  got him 9th and last as the top 7 broke 48.00.

 A look at the all-time lists reveals that longtime world record hurdler Kevin Young (46.78 in ’92) dropped off the all-time top 10 performance list today, joining Edwin Moses (47.04, ’83), who preceded him in statistical purgatory.

Shall we continue? 

How about 8:51.67, the #3 time in women’s steeplechase history?

You’re on to this by now: yes, this was second place for Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech behind Winfred Mutile Yavi’s winning 8:50.66, the second fastest ever.

The current world record holder second to the current World champion.

Yulimar Rojas won the triple jump at 15.35 (50 4 ½), just outside the all-time top ten. If only she didn’t already have 9 of those top 10 marks, she might have had even more to celebrate today.

Chase Ealey set the American and Diamond League records in the women’s shot put at 20.76 (68-1½). And Katie Moon set the pole vault meet record of 4.86 (15-11 1/4).

Meanwhile, no one in the men’s and women’s javelin, men’s triple jump, and men’s steeplechase got a personal best, season’s best, Diamond League record, etc. These results keep us grounded.

One stat stands out above all others today:

In the men’s mile, 13/13 ran season’s bests, a result so unlikely as to seem almost anomalous.

It gets better.

11/13 ran personal bests

6/13 ran national/area records.

When we say that everyone in the men’s mile peaked at just the right time, we’re not kidding.

Said Ingebrigtsen, “Everything is possible.”