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Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.

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Jenny Simpson, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

 

Jenny Simpson Cites Joys, Challenges Of Being Champion

The United States can take pride in having its middle distance star Jennifer Simpson as the reigning world champion in the 1500. She is bright, articulate, and an exemplary personification of all that is right in the sport of track & field.

Two years ago - in Daegu - Simpson roared off the final curve in the world championship 1500 final to sprint on to a most unexpected world title. Forgiveness would been extended had this young, rising star - then only two years out of college - been unprepared to be champion, uneasy wearing the crown.

But Simpson rose to the challenge. She saw the world championship as an honor - an honor that came with significant responsibility. She saw in her reign the responsibility to conduct herself as a humble ambassador for the sport - behaving in a manner befitting the other great 1500 meter champions who had come before her. In a world where accomplished sports stars increasingly denounce any sense of responsibility as a role model, Jenny Simpson embraces it.

As is the case in virtually all walks of life, it is easy for those tasting success in sports to be gracious. But the true measure of character is how one responds when the inevitable difficulties arise. In 2012 - the year following Simpson's Daegu triumph - much was expected of the new world titlist. But as can be the case in track & field, it was not to be. The Olympic year proved to be an undistinguished period of challenge for the world champion: garnering no wins of great consequence, just grabbing the final spot on the US Olympic team, and failing to make the Olympic 1500 final. It was a sequence of events that would have rattled a lesser champion. But Simpson stayed strong, stood strong. Unwavering in her commitment to be an admirable champion, Simpson never once allowed personal disappointment to interfere with her self-imposed obligation to honor the position of champion by recognizing and fulfilling the several responsibilities that accompany a world championship title.

Now on her 4th U.S. World Championship team, Simpson has begun her quest to defend her world 1500 crown. And it comes during a period when Simpson is recapturing the middle distance performance skills that she demonstrated two years ago in claiming the title. In the first round of the women's 1500, Simpson ran with the air of a confident champion - controlling the race from the front, forsaking the opportunity to make a meaningless early-round "statement", and utilizing a beautifully controlled acceleration down the final straightaway. The defending champion finished second in her heat - in 4:07.16 - to easily move on to Tuesday's semi-final round.

In the mixed zone, Simpson assessed her first round performance. "I just felt like I needed a clean, smooth race," offered Simpson. "My best effort would be if I got out there and just really took control of myself from the start. I tried to stay to the outside and just pick a good spot up with the leaders." And with that trademark smile, she laughed, "I just said to myself, 'The top half of the race makes it through, so don't ever not be in the top half."

As a veteran of world class competitions on the big stage, Simpson knows well that patience and self-control are needed to navigate through treacherous rounds and to make the final with gas in the tank. "I tried to hold back the temptation to showboat," confides Simpson. "In these rounds, there is a temptation deep inside of you - because all of us have big egos once we get here - to show people what you've got. But I held back and said, 'Save it. You're in.' If you're in, it means you get another chance to do that." And with a flashing smile, Simpson adds, "So I am trying to save the turbo boosters for when I'm really going to need them."

In a serious mixed zone moment, the reigning world 1500 meter titlist reflected on what it is like to be the defending champion. "It is really different walking around the village," Simpson admits. "I think of it this way: there is a form chart. Somewhere the USA has a form chart on how they're going to get their medals. And this is the first time ever I've made the form chart. So I think to myself that I need to honor that. And what that means to me out here is to be the best representative I can be and not have any excuses filled in on the form chart at the end."

Jenny Simpson brings an uncluttered thought process to her role of world champion. "I think of it this way: the work is mine to do, but the burden [of being champion] is not mine to carry. There are four very capable U.S women on the team in the 1500 meters. And I have a lot of work to do to make it to the finals. But the burden is on my whole team which is a wonderful thing. I have a great wonderful, supportive team.. I like to think of it that way. I sincerely wish all of my teammates the best."

So what's ahead for the reigning world champion as the rounds progress? "I'm really fit. I'm really confident. And I'm racing like I'm really confident. And so it is translating well. So I am excited about today's round."

It is, of course, uncertain whether or not Simpson will be able to successfully defend her title. There are two more steps in her quest to repeat - and the competition will be fierce. But amid this uncertainty, one thing is known for sure. Win or lose, Jennifer Simpson will respond as she always has: as a composed young woman and a poised athlete - humble in victory, gracious in the wake of any setback, and always a tremendous representative for the sport of track & field.
 

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After running s shrewd semi-final race which qualified him for Tuesday's 800 meter final, an effusive Nick Symmonds is clearly enjoying himself while holding court in in the Mixed Zone. "I am just so ecstatic the way it is shaping up," an enthused Symmonds offers. "Today I felt really smooth going through the gears there. There were times - especially within the first lap - where I was like 'let's get going - come on - we're wasting this opportunity.'"

The eight qualifiers will have 48 hours to rest and prepare for the 800 final. But Symmonds can hardly contain himself. He sounds ready go right now. "I feel that I'm ready to run 1:43 - maybe dip under 1:43 if need be. That's what we're going to find out on Tuesday."

Earlier this summer in Des Moines - shortly after Duane Solomon and Brandon Johnson joined Symmonds as USA's 800 trio for Moscow - a certain brotherhood among this middle distance threesome was born. Each spoke openly of the distinct possibility that all three Americans could well make the 800 final at the world championships. And they nearly pulled it off - with only Johnson missing the final by .04 seconds.

Symmonds speaks with genuine admiration and respect for both of his 800 meter teammates. "I knew it [Johnson's valiant near miss to make the final] was going to be really close," Symmonds explains of Johnson's 1:44.89 - the fastest non-qualifier in WC history. "That's a tough break because he was right there. He ran a very courageous race to take the lead when he did. And I really thought he was going to get through. He's going to make a lot more of these finals. And I really think he will be in one two years from now."

And a decade of two-lap combat versus his old nemesis Solomon has only strengthened the bond between these two 800 meter warriors. "I am also really ecstatic that Duane {Solomon] is in the final," confides the 5-time national 800 champion. "It provides a certain amount of comfort to know that he is there. I've been racing him for ten years. I know exactly how he's going to run. He knows exactly how I'm going to run. You all know how we're going to run this. That's the fun of the cat and mouse game between him and myself."

Confident in his current fitness level, the sharp way he is presently racing, and his comfortable relationship with the media, Symmonds allowed himself to wax on about one of his grander plans: his three-year glide path to an ambitious Olympic Trials 800/1500 double. "I think I know how to race the 8," understates Symmonds. "As for the 15, that 3:34 [1500m PB] gives me a lot of confidence. When you're toeing the line against a guy like Centrowitz, you'd like to have a 3:31-3:32 PB next to your name. But again in championship 1500 running, you very rarely have to run that fast. I think a 1:42-type guy in a tactical 1500 can be lethal. So I look forward to the opportunity to run championship 15's in the future as well."

Inevitably, Symmonds' banter with the media turns to championship medals. Without question, Nick Symmonds has assembled one of the most impressive 800 meter resumes in U.S. history: 5 outdoor 800 national titles; two Olympic competitions capped with a personal best 1:42.95 5th place finish in London; and now 4 appearances in the world championships. When you look at Symmonds body of work, only one item is missing: a world championship or Olympic medal. And Symmonds is comfortable in discussing candidly this missing piece which would make his career mosaic complete. "As I've shown, I can make finals. This is my 4th global final in a row," he explains. "I need to prove I can win a medal in this darn event. And this is my best year to do it, I think."

He may well be right. Tuesday's 800 final looks to be an excellent opportunity for Symmonds to finally capture that coveted medal. "I think I have had the easiest path to the finals. 1:46.9 and 1:45.0 is a nice easy way to get through. And I've been able to save most of that last gear for that last race," Symmonds offers. Contrary to what many may think, one of the great 800 kickers in the game would like to see a fast pace in the final. "A 49 second first lap lines it up nice," Symmonds explains. "I don't have to run out in lane two. It's the shortest path along the rail. It strings out nicely. And it takes the kick out of some of these other guys' legs." Claiming a spirited pace wouldn't faze him, Symmonds adds, "I can kick off of 49. Some guys can't. Ideally, 49 / 1:16 are exactly the splits that I'd like to see. And I think those are the splits that Duane would like to see."

When pressed as to whether he would take the lead early if the final's opening pace dawdled, Symmonds draws broad laughter from the media by unhesitatingly retorting, "Absolutely not!" "No, I will, I will," he offers as the media quiets. "I'd rather not have to. And I don't think I will have to until the final 100," Symmonds forecasts. "As one of the faster guys in the race, I just want it to be honest. Let's just see who can run the fastest 800. If Duane's not going to lead it, I'll lead it. I'm sure some other guys would like to lead it. There will be 2, 3 or 4 guys there with a 100 to go. I still feel confident in my ability to kick off a slow pace. I think this is going to make for a very honest 800 and a very exciting 800 for the fans."

There is no denying there is a provincial component to the crowd support at these world championships. It is human nature to cheer on your countrymen and countrywomen. But these knowledgeable spectators are also quick to acknowledge a superlative performance regardless of nationality. And if Nick Symmonds can finally solve the puzzle and find a way to put together the type of 800 final performance that will allow him to climb the podium, it would not only produce wide-spread appreciation of an international nature. It would also result in one hell of a joyful post-race press conference.

 

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Galen Rupp, Moscow 2013, photo by PhotoRun.net

 


Galen Rupp Deals With The Burdens Of Success

 

Track & field is a fickle lover, the cruelest of all mistresses. One moment an athlete may produce a pinnacle moment, the performance of a lifetime. The following season - or even the next meet - that same athlete may inexplicably register a subpar time, height, or distance.

Our sport is one of ebbs and flows. It is not uncommon for track & field athletes to have spurts of progression sprinkled with intermittent bad patches. Combine these often-unpredictable performance swings with a sport where the margin for error is paper thin and you have an athletic challenge where only the most talented, the most resourceful, and the most resilient will flourish.

Galen Rupp is a case in point. About 17 months ago - in the late winter prior to the 2012 Olympic Games - Rupp faced off against Bernard Lagat in the USATF Indoor Championship 3000 final. Running off a solid pace, Rupp was soundly thrashed by Lagat when the wily veteran unleashed a vicious race-ending 200 meter sprint - a final circuit in 25.42 which left the young distance star struggling in the wake of the elder's powerful closing move. The following day, Rupp got spanked again in a spirited 1500 final. But Rupp didn't waver. Galen knew it was all part of Alberto Salazar's plan of under-distance racing to toughen his protege, to turn him into the late-race sprinter he would need to be to compete for a medal in London. Undaunted, Rupp forged onward - continuing his focused and scientific pre-Olympic build up with his new training partner Mo Farah. Rupp's steadfast approach paid off. 6 months following his Albuquerque indoor debacle, it wasn't Lagat who captured Olympic medals. It was Rupp - and his training partner Farah - who mounted the medal stand.

While Rupp's silver medal in the Olympic 10,000 was the undoubted zenith of his outdoor season last summer, it was not his only highlight. Many sparkling performances dotted Rupp's scorecard for 2012: PR's in the 1500 [3:34.75] and the 5000 [12:58.90] and meet-record national championship victories at 5000 and 10,000 meters.

But success in track & field has dual implications: elevated performances promote elevated expectations. Coming off his stellar race in London's 10,000 final, Galen Rupp has addressed post-Olympic competition with gusto. As 2013 got underway, Rupp picked up where he had left off the previous year. The Olympic medalist posted an early indoor mile mark of 3:50.92 - a PR - and took down the American indoor 3000 record with a 7:30.16 clocking in Stockholm. But some form of post-Olympic letdown - not yet evidenced - had to be expected.

Still, as the 2013 action moved outdoors, Rupp's American dominance continued. He once again captured the national 10,000 crown - his sixth in a row - with a workmanlike push over the final lap. His loss to Lagat in the national 5000 final could be dismissed as aberrational coming as it did off the ludicrously slow pace which saw the men passing 2500 meters slower than the halfway split the championship women posted in their own tactical 5000 final.

But something intangible seemed to be missing from Rupp's race day persona. Curiously, Rupp's 2013 outdoor racing schedule seemed to lack the extent of vigorous under-distance testing that had toughened him in 2012.

Repeatedly this season, Rupp has stated that he was putting all of his eggs into the World Championship 10,000 basket. And he surely did so. The World Championship 10,000 final here in Moscow was a wild and wooly affair. Unlike the often-painful tactical chess matches that have become more commonplace in international championship competition, this final displayed a refreshingly new strategy as the African runners took it out in a solid, crisp pace calculated to take the sting out of Mo Farah's withering finishing kick. With Paul Tanui and Abera Kuma sharing the workload, the race leadership pulled the field through a steady diet of circuits in the mid-60's. Through it all Rupp handled the pace with poise - chatting about positioning with his training partner Mo Farah and stationing himself in a commanding runner-up spot right behind Tanui with 6 laps remaining. Amazingly - with 4 laps to go - a lead mob of 14 runners - all bunched within less than 1.5 seconds - was left to fight it out for the medals. As a near capacity crowd roared its approval, the best 10,000 meter runners in the world gave it everything they had.

Over the final 800 - covered in 1:55 - Farah foiled the African strategy by unleashing the winning finishing kick that his recent sub-3:30 1500 suggested he had. Just steps behind the victor [27:21.71], a furious battle ensued for the final two medals. Ibrahim Jeilan [27:22.23] and Tanui [27:22.61] had just enough to keep Rupp [27:24.39] - who eased over the final meters when he knew the medals were gone - off the podium.

Poised - but obviously disappointed - Rupp was reflective about the championship race. "The gold medal was the only thing I was focused on. I thought I did a decent job of putting myself in a good position, but I just came up a little short," lamented Rupp. On the strategy of the race, the young distance star said, "We just try to prepare ourselves for every situation so nothing comes as a surprise. We were ready if it was fast or slow. We planned to deal with it." On his status as the Olympic silver medalist, Rupp added, "We never really focus on that stuff. It doesn't really matter what you did last year. It's just about moving on to the next one. The rest goes out the window when you hit the starting line." Will he reflect on this race? "It will be more of a learning thing tonight. You have to have a short memory now. This is behind us. No sense dwelling on it or worrying about it. It's full steam ahead now for the 5."

Track & field has a time-tested saying: you're only as good as your last competition. Sad but true. But the enduring champions are the ones that not only recognize and accept not the truth of that expression, but also are motivated by the reality that another opportunity is approaching. The inspired ones see that glass not as half empty, but as half full. They see that next contest as the opportunity for redemption.

We know Galen Rupp is an athlete with proven resiliency. He isn't dwelling upon the disappointment of this 10,000 meter final. He is looking forward to his next race - his next dance with the cruel mistress that is track & field.

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Ashton Eaton, A Day in the Life, 
photo by Doug Pensinger, Getty Images/IAAF, April 12, 2013



Epic Showdowns Will Spice World Championships

 

Can you feel it? It's a sense of anticipation. The 2013 track & field season is about to reach its apex, After four months of outdoor competition which has featured the gala early-season relays, some sensational Diamond League meetings, and an array of stunning individual performances, the preliminaries are now over. All eyes have turned toward Moscow as the 2013 IAAF Outdoor Track & Field Championships are poised to commence this coming Saturday.

The biannual competition for global crowns is always a majestic affair - orchestrated with pomp and reverence, but generally devoid of the political under-current and dilution from other sports which have occasionally dulled the luster of the Olympic stage. It is the purest presentation of championship track & field: no distractions; no issue-oriented side-shows; just the best athletes in the world competing for world titles on the track and in the field. It is this pristine athletic environment that has prompted many to proclaim the IAAF world championships as the best track & field competition of all.

Without exception, each championship battle in Moscow will feature spirited contests among the world's finest performers. But looking ahead, there are several selected competitions which are expected to be particularly keen - where long-awaited showdowns will finally take place. Here are some of the top marquee match-ups that the sport's aficionados are eager to witness:

m400: LaShawn Merritt vs. Kirani James. This has all the earmarkings of a potential classic. Merritt - the 2008 Olympic and 2009 World 400m champion - and James - the reigning Olympic and World 400m champion - together have the top 11 performances of 2013. While James holds a 5-2 lifetime edge over the American, recent 400 meter showdowns have been more evenly-matched. The pair has battled three times this year. The 22-year old Grenadian defeated Merritt rather handily early this spring in Shanghai and then later again in Paris where his WL 43.96 nipped Merritt by .13. In between his two losses to the James, Merritt took the measure of the defending world champion at the Pre Meet, 44.32 to 44.39. The Moscow final should a two-man race which could feature a gladiator-like battle down the home stretch.

wPV: Elena Ishinbaeva vs. Jen Suhr vs. Yarisley Silva. This three-way tussle in the women's pole vault has been anticipated for the better part of a year. Ishinbaeva - the legendary vault pioneer with Olympic golds from 2004 and 2008 and the current outdoor WR holder at 5.06m [16'7"] - will have home field advantage against her two formidable rivals: USA's Jen Suhr - reigning Olympic champion and indoor WR holder at 5.02m [16'5½"] - and Cuba's Yarisley Silva - this year's world leader with a vault of 4.90m [16'¾"]. A review of the trio's 2013 outdoor performances suggests a rock-paper-scissors showdown of epic proportions. Early this spring, Ishi tagged Silva with her only 2013 loss in Ostrava, edging the Cuban star 4.78m [15' 8"] to 4.72m [15'7"]. And Silva recently handed Suhr her lone loss this year in London, bettering the American, 4.83m [15'10"] to 4.73m [15'6"]. Yet in last year's Olympic final - when the chips were on the table - Suhr's winning leap of 4.75m [15'7"] defeated both Silva [silver medalist at 4.75m/15'7"] and Ishinbaeva [bronze medalist at 4.70m/15'5"] for the gold medal. This final should be one for the ages.

mHJ: Bohdan Bondarenko vs. Mustaz Barshim vs. Erik Kynard vs. Derek Drouin. Streakiness can be an important factor in the ever-fickle high jump. And Ukraine's Bohdan Bondarenko - with this year's WL at 2.41m [7'10¾"] - is jumping hot. Fresh off a London win at 2.38m [7'9½"] where he vanquished Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard [2.36m/7'8¾"], Bondarenko looks like the favorite. But his competition in Russia should be fierce. In addition of the American Kynard [the #3 2013 performer at 2.37m/7'9¼"], look for Qatar's Mustaz Barshim [the #2 2013 performer based upon his clearance of 2.40m (7'10¼") to win the Pre HJ] and Canada's Derek Drouin [Oly bronze medalist, Penn Relays record-setter, NCAA champion and the #4 2013 performer with a leap of 2.36m/7'8¾"] to be in the thick of the medal chase in what should be a highly competitive final. The championship record of 2.40m [7'10¼"] - set in Stuttgart in 1983 by Cuba's Javier Sotomayor - could be in danger.

wHJ: Anna Chickerova vs. Brigitta Barrett. This event should be an outstanding competition from all angles as the Russian gold medalist and the American silver medalist engage in a much-anticipated rematch of the London Olympic final. Since crowd favorite Blanka Vlasic was forced to be a late and reluctant withdrawal due to a lingering foot injury, the wHJ should be a two-athlete square off as only Chickerova [2.02m/6'7½"] and Barrett [2.04m/6'8¼"] have 2013 clearances of 2 meters or higher. With the widely-covered Edward Snowden incident increasing strain between the United States and Russia, the women's high jump has the potential to be one of the most visible and highly-publicized events of these championships. Might this east-west high jump showdown be the 21st century version of the earlier cold war high jump skirmishes between Valeriy Brumel and John Thomas?

Decathlon: Ashton Eaton vs. Trey Hardee. This heavyweight bout between two incredible decathletes should be a major highlight of these championships. As occasionally happens when two great athletes are in their prime in the same event [e.g. Coe vs. Ovett; Lewis vs. Conley; Yang vs. Johnson;], defending world champion Hardee and Olympic champion and WR holder Eaton push each other to new heights of performance. Hardee is a proud athlete who wants desperately to repeat as world champion. The Olympic champion - who scored 8291 points to capture the national deca crown while recovering from a slight knee strain - might be vulnerable if not fully healed. Eaton - who holds the world decathlon record in the first two decathlon events [the 100m and the LJ] - is an accomplished Day One performer. And he'll need that big first day in Russia, as 10 decathletes have posted 10-event scores this year which are superior to the Olympic champion's Des Moines total. But if Eaton's recently-improved throws performances sag, any early lead he might be able to forge could slip away faster than Bob Kraft's Super Bowl ring.

Each of these showdowns should provide drama-packed competitions. And as terrific as these contests are likely to be, there undoubtedly will emerge yet additional battles in other events - equally gripping - that will feature head-to-head duels that will include lesser-regarded athletes not anticipated to contend for world titles. It will be all of these tense match-ups - both the expected and the unexpected - that will have the attention of the track & field world riveted on Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium during the coming weeks.

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Ato Boldon, 2012 IAAF Centenary Gala, 
photo courtesy of IAAF Communications

 

Insights From Sprinting / Broadcast Icon

 

You can be fairly certain that there is at least one situation that would never arise when you interview sprint legend and bigger-than-life broadcasting personality Ato Boldon. It is highly unlikely that you could ever present a track & field question to Boldon upon which he would have no opinion. Brimming with passion for the sport in which he excelled as only few others have, Boldon - and his voracious love for track & field - simply cannot be repressed.


Boldon forged a distinctive career as one of the dominant world class sprinters of the '90's - medalling in two different Olympics ['96 and '00] and three different world championships ['95, '97, and '01]. As his competitive days began to wane, he sought other ways to stay involved with the sport he loved. Whether it occurred by design or by serendipity, Ato Boldon has done an excellent job in making an apparently-effortless transformation from world class sprinter to educated and insightful track & field commentator. His broadcast performances reflect his comprehensive pre-telecast preparation and the content of his comments demonstrates that he has worked hard to expand his knowledge beyond his beloved sprints to other track - and even field! - events as well. And - perhaps most importantly - his unbridled passion for the sport we love always shines through.


Boldon's extenuated journey has earned for him a special brand of respect. His dual-faceted career has conferred upon him a certain revered distinction only a very few in our sport can rightly claim. He is, in essence, an honored historian for track & field - aged enough to understand the "old school" aspects of our sport which is the genesis for all others, yet still young enough to relate effectively with the emerging generation of young track & field stars and to tap into the newly-revealed trends and attitudes of the sport.


Comfortable in this special pulpit, Boldon needs no urging to share his views about all things track & field. In a relaxed mood after completing a broadcasting stint at the USA outdoor track & field championships, the Trinidad & Tobago native is happy to expound on a variety of track & field topics.


His eyes begin dancing and his staccato delivery starts rolling when the man with 7 individual Olympic and world championship medals is asked to compare generations of sprinters - even the surfaces upon which they run. "It is like a trampoline now. They are running on a faster surface," explains Bolton in discussing the evolution of track compositions. But the Caribbean sprint star cites other factors for the abundance of today's faster times. "They [today's sprinting elite] know more now because they're standing on the backs of everybody before them. And the fact that everybody now understands what the drive phase is about puts them faster in the second half of the 100 meters. And that's why the times are faster. It would be easy to say man is getting faster, but it is the technique that is better."


But, Ato, aren't the athletes bigger and stronger now? "I don't look at Bolt and say his body is different," offers Boldon with a pout. "You can look at Yohan Blake, but Maurice Greene was as big as him. Tyson Gay doesn't have muscles I didn't have. I don't see a big change in the bodies. Look at the medalist from the Olympics: Bolt, Blake, and Gatlin. Only one of them would be considered really muscular. And there has always been a muscular guy in each era."


Boldon doesn't hesitate to delicately and forthrightly address the issue of performance enhancing drugs. "There may have been more muscular guys in earlier eras, but there were more drug positives back then, too. Let's not sugar coat it. In my era of sprinters, Dwain Chambers was probably one of those guys you would look at and think, 'Geez, that guy has got muscles in places I could never even dream of.' But then it comes out that some of the guys had chemical help."


The former sprint star even notes generational differences in the pre-race attitudes of the world's sprint elite. "In my generation, we [the world-class sprinters] came out and we were pissed off at everybody. I am pissed off at you in the stands. And I'm pissed off at the starter because he has the gun and I want him to fire it when I move. And I am definitely pissed off at the other seven guys who are next to me,' an animated Boldon explains. "Now these guys come out and are congratulating each other: 'Hey, I hope you do well!' But because I know a lot of these guys off the track, I know that it is all B.S. They all hate each other the same way we used to; it's just that they express it differently." Now in full flight, Boldon rolls on. "So Usain Bolt comes out and he's smiling and he's doing his Usain Bolt pose. But he understands when that gun goes off, he's going to kill these guys. Same thing we did, except that we learned from the generation before - the Carl Lewis/Ben Johnson era - that angry was how you had to be." But suddenly Boldon slows to offer the lesson: "Maybe this generation has the right answer. We are taught as sprinters you are going to run faster if you relax. So how can say you run faster if you relax, and then come out with your face all stiff? Maybe Bolt, Blake, and Gay and company have the right idea and that is: Come out and just relax. You're probably going to run faster if you just relax."


Boldon - who honed his persuasive skills during his stint as the Opposition Senator in Trinidad & Tobago's United National Congress - is quick to explain why recent American sprint surprises should have been expected. "There are two races at these [USATF] championships that somehow are surprises, but they are not surprises to me. The first one: Brianna Rollins. I've been tweeting about it for weeks: 'Watch what's going to happen.' The responses were, 'You're getting carried away as usual. She's not going to run that fast. It's just the collegiate season.' You saw what happened there," smiles Boldon. But there's more. "Going into our broadcast, I said I thought Allyson Felix is a little vulnerable. And the person who can do it is this young lady Kimberlyn Duncan because she has already had a collegiate season," explains Boldon as he goes on to analyze Duncan's upset win over Felix in the 200. "Now, is Kimberlyn Duncan going to be able to do that to Allyson Felix a lot? I don't think so. You have to remember, Allyson is coming off the greatest and most taxing year of her career last year - with all those rounds and all those races in London. So - emotionally and physically - she has got to take a step back. She has a lot of sponsor commitments. She has been flying all over the world" he explains. "So now it's time to get ready for Russia," a serious Boldon offers. "And I know Allyson. She smiles, but she is extremely competitive. She did not like what happened out there [losing to Duncan], no matter what she said. So she goes back to practice with her training partner Dawn Harper - who watched Brianna Rollins run that time that she has never run. And they're going to be on fire in practice because these youngsters are not playing. And, believe me; they know they have to be ready."


Bolden's analysis offers helpful insights into the dynamics of change currently underway in the women's long sprint. Ah, but the real question remains: who will win the women's world championship 200 meter dash? Will it be the Olympic champion Allyson Felix? The new upstart Kimberlyn Duncan? The cagey Jamaican veteran Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce? Or perhaps someone else? If you are truly curious about how that much-anticipated race will turn out, you might want to ask Ato Boldon. He'll let you know.
 

 

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Men's 800 meters, June 23, 2013, USA outdoors, 

photo by PhotoRun.net

 

At the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials, Johnny Gray's front-running race tactics produced a fast and furious 800 meter final. The American record-holder's torrid pacing resulted in Gray [1:42.80] leading Mark Everett [1:43.67] and Jose Parrilla [1:43.97] not only to Olympic team spots, but also to 3 sub-1:44 same-race American clockings for only the second time ever. It was an occasion of celebration - a hopeful moment - as there was reason to believe that this event might be the signal of a renaissance of American middle distance racing. It was not to be. The trio's feat would not be replicated for over two decades.


But - finally - that elusive sub-1:44 hat trick was once again repeated just last month in Des Moines. In the USATF Outdoor 800 final, Olympic 4th place finisher Duane Solomon - now coached by Gray - channeled his inner-Johnny Gray as he charged to a wire-to-wire victory. Solomon's winning time of 1:43.27 was good enough to better Nick Symmonds [1:43.70] - snapping his 5-championship win streak - and third place finisher Brandon Johnson [1:43.97]. All three will run in Moscow in the world championships this August. "This was the deepest field I've ever faced in a US championship," proclaimed Symmonds - whose second place clocking was faster than every one of his 5 consecutive national championship winning times. "We are sending three really good guys to Moscow and we really have an honest opportunity of putting three guys in the final which would really be a huge accomplishment for America."


Once again it may be time for cautious optimism about the US's fortunes in the men's 800. The source for this hopeful outlook is not limited to the sterling performances rung up by the trio who will represent the U.S. in the this summer's world championships. Four other Americans have posted "A" standard 800 marks [sub 1:45.30] this year. Here are a few of the up-and-coming young guns who are worthy of watching:


Tyler Mulder, 26, has improved steadily since his '09 graduation from Northern Iowa. Coming in with a '12 PR of 1:44.75, Mulder placed 5th in the USATF outdoor 800 final with an "A" standard mark of 1:45.13. Mulder was philosophical as his looked back on his performance in the Des Moines 800 final. "Physically, I needed to be more relaxed so I could have more over that last 100 - spread my energy out around the track. I think I just used too much energy early on."


With the exception of Mary Cain, no one has had a more gratifyingly unexpected break-through year than 23 year-old Erik Sowinski. Lifted this winter by his stunning American indoor record in the 600 - beating Solomon and Symmonds at Millrose - and by capturing the indoor U.S. 800 title in Albuquerque, Sowinski has carried that momentum over into the outdoor season. In Des Moines, Sowinski posted two "A" standard PR's capped by his 6th place finish in the 800 final in 1:45.21. "I knew it was going to be fast. It was going to take 1:43 or 1:44 to make the team," a reflective Sowinski explained in the mixed zone. "I am definitely disappointed. But at the same time, it has been a long year. I've made a lot of progress. And I've PR'd two days in a row. Some things you take with a grain of salt and keep pushing on. This is sort of a journey and I'm looking forward to it. I am going to race in Europe and re-evaluate after that." Sowinski is relieved to be a Nike athlete - ending his year-long search for corporate support. "I am just extremely grateful to have such a supportive sponsor - just meeting all the needs of an athlete. They are a bunch of great people there. I've met a lot of them out here. I am extremely thankful and extremely humbled that they see in me an athlete that merits that kind of sponsorship."


Talented Elijah Greer also rang up a PR - 1:45.04 - in just missing the WC team by finishing 4th in the Des Moines 800 final. "I thought it would take breaking 1:45 to get on the team. But it took breaking 1:44 to make the team. Certainly, it was a very talented field. This year, I was not ready for it. Next year, there will be no team to get on. But two years from now, I'll be gunning for the next team. It's all behind me now. Today was this day. I just wanted to give it my best. I ran a PR. I would have like to have broken 1:45. Hopefully I can go to Europe this summer and finally crack 1:45." The new professional offered a detail insighted into the subtle elements of 800 meter racing. "I wasn't in a good position. I was too far back. I felt Sowinski on my outside and I still had more juice. I gave that last push and I caught Mulder and held Sowinski off for 4th. My mistake was my first 400. I spent too much time on the outside. I was too far back and I was wasting energy to get into one position - and I didn't get that position." Like Sowinski, Elijah Greer, 22, is another newly-minted professional who displays gratitude for his recently-acquired professional support. A new University of Oregon graduate, Greer will maintain his Pacific northwest presence. "I am going to train with my coach Mark Rowland of OTC. I feel it will be a really great transition from U of O. And it is a really great transition to the professional scene. I am glad to be a part of this program," Greer explained in Des Moines. "I am glad I could wear the uniform today," offered Greer as he tugged on his new green and black OTC singlet. "And tomorrow I look forward to training with the guys." Asked when he turned professional, Greer smiled and said, "This morning."


Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon - last year's American finalists in the Olympic 800 - remain at the pinnacle of their game and aren't inclined to abdicate the dominant position they share in this event.


Symmonds - who was gracious in the wake of his second-place finish which ended his impressive 5 year reign as national 800 meter champion - offered his take on the final as it unfolded. "It was about what I expected. After watching Alysia [Montano in the w800] going out hard, I knew Duane was going to do the same thing. I wanted windy conditions and we didn't get that. And that makes running the way Duane ran very, very smart," Symmonds explained. "He [Solomon] ran an incredible race and my hat goes off to him. I think he came through [600 meters] in 1:15. And if you want to beat a 'sit-and-kicker' you got to run away from him. And he did a helluva job doing that."


The Olympic 800 finalist offered insight on the last 500 meters of the Des Moines final. "I would have liked to have moved up a little bit on the homestretch - Sowinski was on my shoulder - but I would have had to pump the brakes and go to the outside to go around him. I would love to know what I could have done if I could have gone when I wanted to. That being said, that's the risk you run doing the 'sit and kick.' Sometimes you can't get around bodies." All in all, Symmonds was upbeat about his performance in the final. "I feel that I made some really big tactical errors and I still ran 1:43.7 in only my second 800 final of the year, so I am pretty happy with where I'm at. Typically you would want to run 5, 6, maybe 7 800's going into this race. We took a risk doing this with the express purpose of peaking in August."


The reigning patriarch of the 800 was able to view the end of his championship streak as an emerging opportunity. "There is a lot of relief that comes with the streak being over. As long as I was winning 800 titles, I was going to keep doing it. I would have kept running the 8 until 2020 if I had the streak alive. And I've said multiple times, I want to go for the 8 and the 15 in 2016. And if I am going to make a realistic shot at that, I need to run the 1500 in a championship race. And I think next year, and possibly in 2015, I really need to jump in the 1500 to learn what it takes to get through those rounds as well.


Symmonds has a positive outlook on his 1500 potential. "I've run 3:36 off 800 training. I think I could run a helluva 15 if do the training that I need, up my mileage by about 10 percent, lose 5 pounds, and make the transition from explosiveness to more endurance-type training. The 8-to-15 jump is huge - maybe one of the biggest jumps in track & field - since you go from running positive splits to running negative splits. I think we're going to find out in the next couple years if I can really run the 15."


800 champion Duane Solomon was quick to explain his successful racing strategy in the 800 final. "I went in with a plan that we're going to take it out. Before the race, my coach [Johnny Gray] came up and talked to me and said, 'you know you have to go for it.' We wanted to go no slower than 1:16 [at 600]. That was the plan. I was feeling really good coming in today, so I knew I could do it," explained the victor. "In order to make the team, I have to be on my 'A' game. If came with anything less, I wouldn't make the team." And with a smile he added, "I had to take them into the Johnny Gray zone. That's what I did today."


Returning to a serious moment, Solomon closed with this observation. "I think we have a really good chance of medaling [in the m800] in Moscow. The resurgence of distance running in the United States is just great to have. People don't doubt us anymore. We can go into championships knowing that people are not going to count us out anymore."


So what has prompted this re-birth of top-flight American performances in the men's 800? Some say it has been sparked by young and promising post-collegiate middle distance talent suddenly stepping up to challenge the a couple of established 800 specialists. Others suggest it has been driven by Solomon and Symmonds - two experienced and superior veterans who won't rest until a major podium performance crowns their careers. A third view suggests it is the fortuitous convergence of both of these forces. Whatever the true genesis, this rejuvenation in American men's middle distance racing is a development we all can celebrate and enjoy.


 


RuppLedsLagat-USAout13.jpg

Galen Rupp leading Bernard Lagat, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

 

 

 

Behind The Scenes In The "Mixed Zone"

The higher echelon track & field meets generally offer a designated post-competition area where the media can interact with athletes after they have completed their event. This sector - the so-called "Mixed Zone" - is a usually a gauntlet of varying emotions. There you can find exuberant competitors enthusiastically reflecting upon a top-flight performance. You can also witness grim-faced, crestfallen performers - backpack slung over their shoulders - who avoid eye contact and step briskly through the fenced area to escape away for time alone. At the recently-completed USATF championship meet - where national titles and berths to Moscow's world championships were on the line - that shared interview area was a frenetic kaleidoscope of activity and expression. Whether it was wisdom, smack, anger, bravado, drama, hope, regret, tears, or joy - during those four days of tense competition you could find it in the Mixed Zone. Here's just some of what went down:

Brianna Rollins - ecstatic 100H champion after her American record 12.24: "I completely just zoned myself out. I was just so overwhelmed. It was so amazing. I just thank God." Her PR at the beginning of the year? "I think it was like 12.70. But training and being dedicated to the sport has definitely helped a lot. I never think about times. I just come out here and do what I have to do."

Matthew Centrowitz - 1500 champion, '11 WC bronze medalist in the 1500, and poker-faced race tactician: "This year, everything is great. I'm stronger. I'm thinking to myself, 'you don't have anything to be nervous about.' I'm in great shape. I definitely want to make a statement at the Worlds. I'm definitely looking forward to improving." On the 1500 final: "Coming into the race, we knew it was going to be slow. We didn't have a set plan coming into it. I just waited for everything to unfold, and once I got up to the front there, I just didn't let anyone by me and that's how it ended I had a few strategies going into this one." Where he is now: "I'm the strongest I've ever been. I'm the fastest I've ever been. Knock wood, I stay healthy as we go to Moscow. I've always been able to push hard in practice - killer workouts. I just want to come out and show all the hard work that I've been putting in. I just want to be rewarded."

Amanda Bingson - hammer throw champion and impromptu back-flip queen: "I've been working on a couple of new entries, getting the rhythm back, getting back to fundamentals, just relying on strength, and going back to technique. I'm just happy that it all came together." Before the competition: "I was a little nervous.," she laughs. "I went over to my coach and I told him that I was really freaking out. I was shaking a lot. He told me to breathe, relax, and get into that ring and just let everything go and trust your body to do what you can do. And I did it. Consistency is the biggest thing I can work on right now. And it definitely has been biggest thing carrying me through. It is great to have that one throw, but if you can consistently hit those marks, it's even better. Every one of my throws was "A" standard. It definitely was the best series of my life." What will it take to medal in Moscow? "It will take consistency - probably around 74 or 75 meters. As we all know, anything can happen on that day - whoever's on, whoever's off. So really it's just about consistency."

Ashton Eaton - WR holder and Oly decathlon champ who played it safe during three-peat deca win: About his win: "I feel pretty good about that. I have quite a bit of confidence. Obviously the high jump was very subpar, as were the hurdles and the pole vault. I think a lot of that stuff was very much safety. So I think if I can score 8200+ with those marks, I think at a 100%, I'd be OK."

Evan Jager - steeple winner: "It is very natural to me. As I have progressed through the steeple, hurdling and water jumping is just natural for me. I feel like I am a pretty good hurdler so it just kind of happens."

Jason Richardson - defending WC 110 champion, WC wild card entrant and reflective 4th place finisher in Des Moines: "There are still lots of pieces of my race that I am putting together, acknowledging that I have about a month and a half to get it right. With hurdling, it's about catching rhythm and it's downhill from there. I didn't catch my real rhythm until Stockholm which was about three weeks ago."

Galen Rupp - putting the dawdling m5000 race in prospective: "That last mile was pretty quick. When I think of championship style races, it is almost to be expected, a little bit. Maybe not to that extreme." Slowest since 1952? "It is fine with me. Everybody thinks they have a great kick in this race now. We are well prepared for it - so it doesn't faze us whether it is fast or slow. So if they want to run slow, that's fine with me." Did 10,000 take something out of you in the last 200? "Maybe a tad, but not too much though. I can tell I had plenty of time to recover from the 10K. The heat made it hot. I was able to get hydrated and rested. I just need to keep working on my speed. I am really happy where I'm at and how I ran today." Any shame in losing to Lagat? "Not at all. He is obviously a legend in track & field. He is always going to be there. I told myself and my coaches before this race that I wanted to challenge myself and wait. I got a little antsy and I wish I would have waited a little later. I'm not sure that would have made a difference. It was a great chance to just work on closing hard in fast races which is what it is going to be like a lot of the summer. It was good practice."

Aries Merritt - 110H WR holder and Oly champ on his 3rd place finish: "The main objective was to qualify and I punched my ticket. So I now have about two months to get ready for Moscow. So I am really excited that I was able to come out and make the team with literally two hurdle sessions before the national championships." The race: "I think my start was OK. I lost my rhythm over four. But I had to fight because I knew I had to make the team. At that point, I probably lost all form and I was just 'Get on down the track' trying to get on the team. I'm not race sharp. And it showed. I ran 13.09 in the semi-final and then I came back with 13.23. So I don't have the endurance that I had last year at this point. But I still have up until the world championship to get my rhythm. I am going to take some time and train a little bit and then hit the circuit. But I do need to get races because I'm not race sharp. My body feels OK. It is not perfect. And I still have some kinks I need to work out with my hamstrings. Obviously, it is taped. It needs support. But I am happy with my performance today."

Ryan Wilson - 110H champion: "It feels good. We all step to the line with the intention to win. Today was my day. I executed, I think, the best of everybody." His start? "My first two rounds were awful. My reaction time in the semifinal was .24. That's got to be a personal record for slowness. But I knew my rhythm was there because I was able to pick everybody up through the rounds fairly easily. So I knew the rhythm was good. And I knew that if I just executed my start in the final, I was good to go. I felt ready."

Andrew Bumbalough - reflecting on the 5000 final where he finished 5th in 14:57.12, but covered his final 1600 in 3:57.73: "This was the slowest 5000 I've ever run, but - at the same time - it was one of the fastest miles I've ever run."

Bernard Lagat - ageless wonder and jubilant 5000 winner: "When I was evaluating the strategies with my coach, we knew it was going to be slow. But nobody was even willing to take it slow today. So I was willing to step up and go slow as well - maybe 80 [second 400's] or something like that. As long as I was moving and out of trouble - that was the most important thing. If somebody wants to come, I was waiting for 6 or 4 laps to go. Then Ben True came over and took it really hard and I was thinking 'this is exactly the beginning of the race.' And that is what I was waiting for." The fast last mile in 3:54? "I ran 3:54 at the Penn Relays. I have had the faster training times with my coach, so that time was not surprising." His body? "I am feeling so strong. No injuries. I am feeling strong because I have had good, good training in altitude in Tucson. I came here prepared. I didn't know it, but I was really ready for this race today." His future plans? "I want to work on my speed so I am going to run the 1500 in Paris and then I want to crack another PB in the 5000 meters in Monaco." His sustained finishing speed: "It is still there. It is not going anywhere. That actually in itself is a confidence booster. Last year I was having problems with my hip. And that is all clear. I have no problems. So that is why I am able to use both legs really strong. Last year, I was basically favoring my right hip because that's where the trouble was. And so I didn't quite have that turnover. So it is a confidence booster to know I can kick in 26 or even 51 if we have to. No problem." Today's race? "You never really feel like you have it until you just give one more gear. At 80 to go, I just realized: OK, I can go. And nothing stopped me from there. My coach told me 'you always make a mistake of going at 200.' I was feeling comfortable and was almost tempted to go at 200 and I thought, 'What did he tell me today? Just chill. 80 meters to go; then you go.' Because I always mess up by going to early." His motivation? "The love of the sport. I really love my sport. It is a family sport. It is the sport that everyone enjoys. There is nothing else I look forward to more. Having my kids going everywhere with me and cheering me is another motivation."

Kate Grace - Ivy League upstart and 4th place finisher in the 800: "I planned to get out like Brenda since we have similar running styles. I got a little bit jumbled mentally for a lap when she came around me and the gap widened too much. I plan to be back here next year and go for it." The last 150 - "I was struggling on the curve, trying to go to another gear. Maybe they were going to another gear or I didn't have it, I don't know. It's going to be a lot of fun working on it for the next time. At that point, I don't know what was going through my mind. I have to be happy for this year versus last year. But I wanted more. I had my whole fan club out there and I was dreaming of being able to run to them victorious. We still have more years ahead of us."

Jesse Williams - defending WC HJ champion and WC wild card entrant, reflecting on his 9th place finish ""I am just taking it really slow right now, trying to get healthy. And as soon as I get healthy, I'll start jumping high again. It's my jumping foot. Right now I'm not really further injuring it. I am just kind of getting used to jumping again. I was jumping at 2.25m - a 7'4 1/2" - I am just experiencing getting jumps at that height. I should be able to just go on up the ladder." On the wild card. "There is no pressure on me. It is a really good feeling knowing that if I can get through it - as long as I can stay healthy - then I'm making progress. I know that the mark that is next to my name is not the typical Jesse Williams type of mark, but I'll get there. I'm not worried about anything right now."

Laura Roesler - 5th place finisher in the 800: "I was just trying to run off instincts, feel it out. I was on the inside, running easy - I just couldn't get out of that box to give myself a chance. That was my fault, running a little scared. If I would have run around, I would have had a chance. But another PR, a berth in the US final - I can't complain. I gave up a little bit, but at least I gave myself a chance. I just didn't have it. This is where I wanted to end up at the end of my season - but not 5th place. I can only go up from here. It will keep me hungry. And I getting closer to 2:00. So not a half bad day. I think I have it in me this season. I just have to race a couple more times to dip under [2:00]. And that would be a good end to the season.

Jenn Suhr - anticipating the upcoming world championships: "She [Isinbayeva] is coming to jump. A German is coming to jump. A Cuban is coming to jump. Everyone is coming out to jump. So there is a whole field of girls who are good. First up is the qualifying round - always. I am looking forward to going to Moscow - I've never been there before. I am healthy. I am going to Birmingham and then I'll probably do another tune-up meet somewhere. I've already jumped 4.91m this year. So I'm definitely healthy. I want to take a shot at the world record. I was hoping possibly here, but it was really to qualify here."

Brenda Martinez - 800 runner-up on how her race unfolded: " I tried to gauge how far Alysia would get out. And I gauged it pretty well, so I am happy with that. I didn't want to get out too hard. I wanted to get out comfortably. With 300 to go, I wanted to start gradually accelerating." Did you think you would catch Montano? "It was a possibility. She is very tough. So I am glad she didn't make it easy on me." Future racing: "I am going to build up for about three weeks and then head over to Europe. I am going to try to get a 1500 and an 800 in before Moscow."

Ajee Wilson: 3rd place finisher on the w800 final: "Coming into the final lap I was maybe 4th or 5th. With 300 to go, I just tried to get into good position. I just felt good so I just tucked in." Coming up the last straight with Kate Grace charging; did you feel it? "I didn't. But I heard the crowd going crazy and I thought, 'I hope that's not for me!'"

Alysia Montano - beflowered 800 winner: "That [taking it out hard] was definitely the plan. I didn't want to be here at national championships peaking. I wanted to use it as practice. Where I want to peak is at the world championships. I am looking to be on the podium. I am going to race a little bit overseas. I think I am going to Paris and run a couple of 400's. This is my 6th year as a professional. Sometimes it gets lonelier and lonelier as it moves on. And when you get to the point like this - when you win a championship - it makes it all worth it. And you recognize all the people that have been with you along the way - even though sometimes it feels like you're by yourself." Will you stay with your front-running tactic as the competition becomes more keen: "I am going to be the hippie that I am and I'm just going to feel it out with my body. I don't care what everybody else is doing. The only person I can worry about is myself. "

Erik Kynard - happy for the win, but not satisfied with his clearance: "I am looking to keep working hard and keep jumping well. Today I was just a little close. 2.31m is a bar that I make all the time so I was a little disappointed. But a win is a win. I'm just looking to keep training well, stay healthy, and going to Moscow. I am not a guy who gets hurt. I always stay healthy. I've been doing a lot of things right." On his new status as a Nike athlete and the absence of his customary flashy competition attire: "Hey, I'm a company man now, so I can't do what I want anymore. I got follow all of the rules, you know?"

Beth Alford-Sullivan - U.S. women's head coach comparing the WC women's team to last year's Olympic squad: "I think it is going to be a really motivated team. I think it is a good combination of young and old. But they're very motivated. Everybody who has come through processing has been really excited to get over to Europe and really make a stance for the US again. And I think there is a lot of momentum coming off of London and they want to back it up."

Mike Holloway - U.S. men's head coach evaluating the WC men's team with last year's Olympic squad: "For me, I think we are stronger in some areas because we are very healthy this year. I think we have some big, young kids that really stepped up to the plate. I think we are going to be fine."

 

 

 

AR's For Bingson, Carter, And Rollins

 

As the Day Three battles raged on for the coveted spots on the team that will represent the US at the World Championships in Moscow, the only thing hotter than Drake's broiling big blue oval might have been the sizzling performances of the athletes themselves. Outstanding marks were posted throughout the day, but the pinnacle achievements during Day Three of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships were the three - no, make that four - American record-shattering performances by women in the 100 hurdles, the shot put, and the hammer throw.

The day's competition concluded with the women's 100 hurdles. Just before the final, hurdle veteran Dawn Harper - '08 Olympic gold medalist and '12 Olympic silver medalist - withdrew. As last year's DL champion, Harper nonetheless gains automatic entry into the world championships. Plenty of fire power remained for the final as Brianna Rollins [12.30w] and Lolo Jones [12.44w] ran superb times in their respective semi-finals. The throng at Drake Stadium anticipated a possible American record as the annoying wind which had swirled throughout the day lightened. Rocketing out of the blocks, Rollins snapped over the hurdles with precision to notch a convincing victory over Queen Harrison [12.42] and Nia Ali [12.48]. Jones finished 5th. Rollins' winning time of 12.26 established a new stadium and American record and is tantalizingly close to '88 world record of 12.21 set by Bulgaria's Yordanka Donkova. Later, Rollins explained how she did it. "I completely just zoned myself out. I was just so overwhelmed," admitted the new American record holder. "It was so amazing. I just thank God." Asked about her PR coming into 2013, Rollins smiled, "I think it was like 12.70. But training and being dedicated to the sport has definitely helped a lot. I never think about times. I just come out here and do what I have to do."

Earlier in the day, veteran shot putter Michelle Carter initiated the record parade when she dropped a 5th round bomb of 20.42m [66'5"] - a heave not only good enough to win the competition by nearly 5 feet, but also far enough to take down Ramona Pagel's American record. Pagel's old standard - which would have celebrated its 25th anniversary on June 25th - was 20.18m [66'2½"]. NCAA champion Tia Brooks [18.83m / 61'9½"] and Alyssa Hasslen [18.10m / 59'4¾"] finished 2-3.

In the women's hammer, all of Amanda Bingson's legal throws exceeded the "A" standard of 72 meters. But she'll likely never forget the two most important ones. Bingson's second round hurl of 74.92m [245'9½"] bettered the American record of 74.19m [243'4¾"] set just over a year ago by fellow competitor Jessica Cosby. But Bingson was not done. Moments later - on her third round attempt - Bingson uncorked yet another American record-setting throw - a prodigious heave of 75.73m [ 248'5"]. Afterward, the upbeat champion reflected upon her record- setting performance. "I was a little nervous.," laughed Bingson. "I went over to my coach and I told him that I was really freaking out. I was shaking a lot. He told me to breathe, relax, and get into that ring and just let everything go and trust your body to do what you can do. And I did it." Can she earn a place on the Moscow podium? "It will take consistency - probably around 74 or 75 meters," forecasts Bingson. "As we all know, anything can happen on that day - whoever's on, whoever's off. So really it's just about consistency." Joining Bingson on the plane to Moscow will be Jeneva McCall [74.00m / 242'9"] and Amber Campbell [73.03m / 239'7"]. Jessica Cosby Toruga - who witnessed her American record mark exceeded twice - finished 4th.

Adhering to his pre-meet game plan of being cautious with the slight tendonitis in his left leg and playing it safe, world record holder Ashton Eaton put up 8291 points to cruise to a 93 point win over runner-up Gunnar Nixon. Beginning the final day behind Nixon, Eaton grabbed the lead after the 7th event - the discus - and never looked back. "I feel pretty good about that. I have quite a bit of confidence," Eaton explained. "Obviously the high jump was very subpar, as were the hurdles and the pole vault. I think a lot of that stuff was very much safety. So I think if I can score 8200+ with those marks, I think at a 100%, I'd be OK." Nonetheless qualified to compete in the world championship, the second-place Nixon tallied 8198 points - just 2 points shy of an "A" standard mark. "Officials advised me that they will be reviewing the meet video and other data to determine if more precise timing might produce a few more points for my total," stated Nixon. Jeremy Taiwo - who threw up an "A" standard mark in his NCAA deca win - finished 3rd with 7925 points to edge Gray Horn by 7 points and round out the multi trio for Moscow.

A new era could be dawning in the women's 400 as Natasha Hastings [49.94], Francena McCorory [50.01], and Ashley Spencer [50.58] went 1-2-3 to earn spots on the US team. Olympic champion Sanya Richards Ross - running the final in her training flats to accommodate her still-painful surgically-repaired right big toe - struggled home 6th in 51.92. Gracious despite her obvious disappointment, SRR - who cited Spencer as "the future of the 400" - plans to continue racing as the 2013 season unfolds.

As expected, LaShawn Merritt captured the crown in the men's 400. His sterling winning time of 44.21 is #2 on the WL list [Kirani James, 44.2]. Tony McQuay [44.74] and Florida frosh sensation Arman Hall [45.01] - who came up big for third - fill out the US men's one-lap entrants for Moscow.

Respect and apprehension - or was it fear? - for both the suffocating weather and the top flight competition converged to produce a truly turgid pace at the start of the women's 1500. With start time temperatures in the low 90's, a field of anxious world championship aspirants nervously eyed one another as they completed the first circuit in 84 seconds. The warm-up jog continued until 600 meters remained, the pace quickened, and the players positioned for what all knew would be a furious final lap. At the bell, Mary Cain - "I was feeling good and decided to go for it" - swept into the lead. In full flight down the backstretch, Cain was trailed by training partner Treniere Moser. Moser's superior leg speed helped her chip away at the high schooler's lead. Cain began to show the strain down the homestretch as Moser eased by her in the final 15 meters for the win. Moser [4:28.62] - capturing her 4th outdoor 1500 crown and her first in 6 years - covered the final lap in under 58 seconds. Cain [4:28.76] did so as well as the duo threw down a closing salvo that none of the others could match. Florida's Cory McGee [4:29.70] - heat trained in Gainesville's tropical steam bath - also closed well to gain a surprise third-place finish. Shannon Rowbury - 4th with an earlier-achieved "A" standard - will go to Moscow unless currently standard-less McGee can ring up a "B" standard mark [4:09.00] by July 20th. How tactical was the final? The winning time in the junior women's 1500 was quicker than Moser's winning mark

The men's 1500 final was another sit-and-kick affair. With the weather's misery index still high, the middle distance hopefuls - with no one willing to make the first move - strode around the track. A short-lived lead by Andrew Wheating provoked little response until the mob reached the final 600. Matthew Centrowitz - the master of race space management - who studiously had stayed out of harm's way - rushed to the front just before the bell to take control. For those caught back in the mob, the final circuit was a mad and jostled experience. But Centro, with a clear track before him, threw down a sub-53 second final 400 which was strong enough to turn back Leo Manzano's expected final straightaway burst and stop the clock at 3:45.17 for the victory.

Track & field can be a cruel and unforgiving sport, and the final of the men's 400H showed why. Johnny Dutch - who started the day as the event's world leader - picked the wrong time to have a bad day of the office. Michael Tinsley ran a brilliant race to capture the title in a new world-leading time of 47.96. Kerron Clement - the '07 and '09 world champion - took second in 48.06. That left Dutch and Bershawn "Batman" Jackson - 4th coming off the final turn - to battle for the final World berth. Jackson got the bat-signal - a recollection of the pain he felt missing last year's Oly squad - and dug deep to close hard on the run in. Batman's effort paid off as he just grabbed the third spot to squeeze Dutch off the podium - and off the Worlds team.

Nicole Bush [9:44.53], Ashley Higginson [9:46.25], and Shalaya Kipp [9:46.83] were little refreshed by the briefest of dips through the water jump, but nonetheless survived a 3000 meter steam bath to capture the top three spots in the steeplechase. Olympic finalist Bridget Franek - gamely near the front throughout - had a painful meltdown over the final 600 to finish 12th. 4th place finisher Jamie Cheever - with an "A" - will take the final World spot unless Kipp can achieve the "A" standard [9:43.00] by July 20th.

"Wild card" automatic entries into the world championships are wonderful to have, but are pretty much essential if you end up fouling your first three attempts in the long jump. That's what happened to Oly champ and two-time defending world champion Brittney Reese. She nonethess will be able to go for the three-peat in Moscow. Jenay Deloach Soukup - who confided she was able to make the wind adjustment in warm-ups - stepped up for the victory with a leap of 6.89m [22'7¼"]; Tori Polk and Funmi Jimoh grab 2-3.

As the day was winding down, high jumper Brigetta Barrett was taking the bar higher on her way to an easy high jump title. Jumping clean through 2.00m [6'6¾ "] and with her second national title assured, Barrett had the bar raised to 2.04 [6'8¼"] - a PR height. After a first attempt miss, Barrett cleared on her second try. After a passionate pit dance, Barrett shunned the imploring fans urging her to go higher. Instead, she obeyed the instructions of her coach who congratulated her on her lifetime best and directed her to call it a day. She likely made a wise choice.

 

 
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Brianna Rollins, 
photo by PhotoRun.net
Gaitlin-Gay1-USAout13.jpg
Tyson Gay runs 9.75 for 100 meters, 
photo by PhotoRun.net

 

A pesky and often erratic zephyr - which forced that dreaded little "w" to be placed on a few otherwise-brilliant sprint marks - was the only unwelcomed element on an otherwise-exhilarating Day Two of the 2013 USA Track & Field Championships.


The evening closed with the much-anticipated 100 finals - with fields packed with peaking sprinters who had posted startling marks in the semis. To turn the prevailing breeze from a headwind to a tailwind, the officials flipped the starting line - and the resulting performances were stunning. How excellent were the semi marks? 7 of the 8 finalists in the women's 100 - led by Barbara Pierre's wind-legal 10.85 - PR'd in the semi. Former world 100 champion Lauryn Williams ran a sizzling 11.00 and - with a 5th place finish - did not advance to the final. It was the fastest 100 meter non-qualifying mark ever. On the men's side, Trell Kimmons ran his semi in 10.02 - and just barely grabbed the last lane in the final. Tyson Gay - displaying none of the health challenges that hampered his 2012 campaign - posted an impressive 9.75w to lead a star-studded field into the final.


In the women's 100 final, who would have imagined that this race - with none of the American Olympians from just one year ago - would hold such promise? As the women loaded into the blocks, the crowded fell silent. Even Mother Nature cooperated as the breeze tapered below the allowable limit. Aided by a solid start, new professional English Gardner gained an early lead she would never relinquish as she powered her way to a most impressive win. Gardner's winning time of 10.85 matched Pierre's earlier world-leading mark and Drake Stadium record. Octavious Freeman [10.87] and Alexandria Anderson [10.91] completed the trio for Moscow. Barabra Pierre - never in it - was unable to replicate her semi performance and was relegated to fifth. Afterward, an ebullient Gardner could hardly contain herself. "I am just elated. I am so happy that I seized this opportunity," the new champion exclaimed. "God has blessed me so much this year. I have gone through so much," explained Gardner referring to her balky ankle that troubled her in the NCAA meet just two weeks earlier. "And through all the obstacles I have had to go through these past two or three weeks, I really came out and performed well." Holding back a flood of emotions, the visibly moved world leader added, "I am just happy, glad, and blessed." All in all, it was a gaudy day for USA's women sprinters as four different women threw down 7 different marks superior to the 2013 100 time of Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce - the world leader when the day began.


The men's 100 final was no less stunning. Tyson Gay - healthy at long last - exorcised some lingering demons as he exploded for perhaps his most impressive performance since the 2008 Trials. Trailing Justin Gatlin out of the blocks, Gay didn't panic. He raced. Catching the Olympic bronze medalist before the 50 meter mark, Gay exhibited superior leg speed as he pressed on to win by a comfortable margin. Gay's winning time of 9.75 - a world leader and a new Drake Stadium record - matched his semi mark [9.75w] but was not tainted by any illegal wind. Gatlin [9.89] held on for second while NCAA champion Charles Silmon [9.98] nipped Mike Rodgers by .002 seconds to grab the final Moscow ticket. In the glow of his first national championship in 5 years, the often-serious Gay allowed himself a brief moment of evident joy. "I feel pretty good with the victory." And the understated champion added, "It's always good to get a win. When you're healthy, it's a more even playing field."


Day Two's other individual finals - all field events - didn't reflect much deviation from the pre-meet form charts. Multiple-time Olympian A.G. Kruger captured his 5th national title in the hammer on the wings of his winning heave of 75.52m [247'9"]. Defending champion Kibwe Johnson - mustering only one fair throw - finished 5th. American outdoor record holder Brad Walker needed only three vaults to win his 4th national outdoor victory by clearing 5.65m [18'6½]. 2012 Trials champion Lance Brooks successfully defended his national title spinning the platter out 62.29m [204'4"] to take the discus crown.


In the multi's, Sharon Day - lifted by 5 lifetime bests - overwhelmed the heptathlon field as she rang up a winning two-day score of 6550. Betty Wade's cumulative total of 6018 secured her the runner-up position. "6500 points could earn a medal in Moscow," noted former Olympic decathlon gold medalist Dan O'Brien.


Day Two also featured the first day of the decathlon with an talented field that included Jeremy Taiwo, Gunnar Nixon, Gray Horn, and the Olympic champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton. Defending world champion Trey Hardee - with a wild card entry for Moscow - was also on hand. Hardee dabbled during the day - getting some work in, skipping the high jump. Relaxed in the mixed zone, Hardee lamented the challenges of staying focused when you're not truly a deca combatant. "This is hard to do because you're not doing it for real, for points," the Daegu champ confessed. "You can't have like a casual decathlon. It's like a tune-up marathon. No one runs a tune-up marathon," Hardee laughed.


Eaton wasn't laughing as the decathlon unfolded and he found himself in an unfamiliar position - second place. Defying Hardee's proclamation about the impossibility of a "casual decathlon," Eaton's first day efforts were noticeably guarded as frisky colt Gunnar Nixon [4449] held a 44 point lead over Eaton [4405] at the end of the day. After finishing the first five events, the world record holder cited "a little tendonitis" in his left leg - his jumping leg - which necessitated a cautionary approach. "I was trying to take it easy in the high jump," offered Eaton in citing his sub-par HJ clearance of 1.90m [6'2¾"]. "High jumping is the only thing [that promotes irritation] because it is awkward motion. So I was trying to play it safe rather than increase the irritation." While thrilled by his deca shot put PR [15.00m / 49'2½"], Eaton admitted that "playing it safe" is this weekend's theme as he confides his goal is not a possible national title three-peat - it is August's world championship decathlon crown.


Day Two qualifying events suggest some colossal final battles are brewing. In the women's 100H, hometown honey Lolo Jones rode the crowd's energy to a first round win in a wind-legal 12.50 - a Drake Stadium record. Minutes later, only an ill-timed gust prevented new Nike athlete Brianna Rollins from taking down Jones' new record as she snapped over the barriers in 12.33w. Only two American 110H marks [Gail Devers: 12.33 and 12.29w] are superior. With Rollins, Jones, and Dawn Harper - the top three world leaders - in the final, a big-time hurdle throw down is assured. If Mother Nature provides legal wind for Saturday's final, Dever's American record of 12.33 could be toast.


Woes continue for hard luck Mike Berry. Initially advancing to the 400 final, Berry was subsequently advised of a lane violation which now sends him to the stands. He should soon receive a thank-you note from Manteo Mitchell - the incidental beneficiary of Berry's gaffe - who now finds himself in the ultimate round. The final may be a mere formality: LaShawn Merrit looks bulletproof. His semi winning time of 44.36 supplanted the old Drake Stadium record - a mark of 44.41 set by some guy named Michael Johnson.


A cat fight is anticipated in women's 400 final. One-lap queen Sanya Richards-Ross [51.53] will have to amp up her game if she hopes to deny Francena MCorory [50.53], Natasha Hastings [50.67] or Illinois upstart Ashley Spencer [50.67] an August trip to Moscow.


The men's 400H evidences no dominating talent. Bershawn "Batman" Jackson [48.76 - with an eye-popping third 100] and Michael Tinsley [48.84] won the semis, but world leader Johnny "Double" Dutch [48.98] is lurking.


In the women's 400H, the 11th hour meet withdrawal of long-reigning hurdle legend Lashinda Demus creates a wide-open final. Any number of finalists - including Tiffany Williams Georganne Moline, and new pro Kori Carter - could capture the crown. USATF promptly granted Demus a medical waiver allowing her to use her IAAF-issued defending champion bye to assure her entrance into the world championships


The women's 800 final should showcase a contrasting racing styles. Alysia Montano will doubtless lay down a blistering opening pace. But Brenda Martinez - #2 on the WL list - and others will not likely allow the beflowered Olympian to get too far ahead, hoping her self-imposed weakness over the final 100 will be her downfall. Look for a final round bumper crop of sub-2:00 "A" standard times.


After a scintillating semi-final round, the men's 800 final could be one for the ages. In the semis, 7 world championship aspirants ran under the "A" standard of 1:45.30. If semifinalists didn't run better than 1:45.43, they can see the Day Four final - but they'll have to buy a ticket. With medal-less veterans Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon tangling with a new guard of middle distance specialists, those final 100 meters in the championship race should be a war.

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Drake Stadium,  
courtesy of Drake Relays
 

 

There is no shortage of opinions here in Des Moines as the curtain is about to go up for 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Our fans - an analytical bunch - exhibit little hesitation in speaking out about virtually any aspect of our sport. Whether you're relaxing in the stands, enjoying barbecue at Jethro's, sampling exquisite micro-brew at the Raccoon River Brewing Co., or hoisting a glass boot of lager at the Hessan Haus, this week in Des Moines you will be sure to bump into any number of the sport's faithful who will gladly speak out about a variety of track & field topics. Here is some of the chatter:


WC Wild Card Qualifiers. Even before this week's competition begins here in Iowa, the USA has 14 individuals who are automatically qualified to compete in this August's World Championships in Moscow. Most of those qualifiers - as has recently been the case - gained special entry based upon their status as defending world champions. But - new this year - last year's Diamond League champions also are in. The IAAF has added a proviso: when a country has both a defending champion and the Diamond League champ in the same event - as does the US in the 110H with defending champ Jason Richardson and reigning DL king Aries Merritt - the country must choose between them. Richardson was selected, leaving Merritt needing to qualify here later this week. Many believe the better approach in the rare instances where two different athletes from the same country are the reigning WC winner and the DL champion would be to extend automatic entry to both athletes. While the situation will arise only infrequently, it makes no sense to withhold an otherwise-automatic entry to one unfortunate athlete simply because one of his or her accomplished countrymen holds the other title. You want to ensure that both pinnacle athletes compete in the World Championships.


WC Wild Card Qualifying Participation. While the privilege of assured WC entry is generally viewed as an appropriate honor to be accorded to a reigning world or DL champion, you can easily evoke animated discussion among track aficionados about what should be the appropriate level of participation by these champion WC entrants at their nation's qualifying meet. For such US champs, the USATF currently requires only that such athletes compete in the Nationals - which can be fulfilled by a first round appearance only and even in another event! It begs several questions. Are champion athletes truly encumbered or disadvantaged in any meaningful way by having to compete earnestly in their championship event six weeks prior to the WC meet? And do we lift up or burden our sport when - as was the case in 2009 - we enable a beloved, effervescent, and visible track & field ambassador like Bernard Lagat - then the reigning WC champion in the 1500 and the 5000 - to run a single round in the USATF 800, slide out of town, and leave a capacity crowd at Hayward Field - and a significantly-larger broadcast audience - hungry for more? Make no mistake, the athlete in this privileged position who takes the easier road offered cannot be fairly blamed here. And while there are varying views on this, many believe the current requirement should be amended to ensure these champions - the stars of our sport who are already assured entry into the world championships regardless of their performance in their country's qualifying meet - perform in earnest in these well-attended and widely-broadcast championships.


Qualifying Standards. You won't find many who quarrel with the use of qualifying standards - they serve a useful purpose in ensuring top flight competitions among the most accomplished athletes. But you'll find many more who favor a simplification of the current "A" / "B" system which regrettably injects an inexplicable facet of complexity into the sport. Under the current intricate system, when a great upset occurs - the inevitable moment we as fans savor - the sport is often robbed of the joy of spontaneous celebration as a scurried search ensues to determine if a lower-finishing "A" qualifier - already defeated in the race that supposedly determines championship participation - might truly unseat the giant-killing "B" qualifier who prevailed when it was supposed to count the most. Or - nearly as unsettling - might that prevailing - and overachieving - "B" performer be given the opportunity to "chase" an "A" standard mark - leaving most in the sport to wonder about the finality of qualifying championship races. Some have offered this as a better approach: don't eliminate standards, but "soften" selected "A" standards to promote a greater proliferation of athletes who possess the superior qualifying mark. To do so would promote more pure racing in the national championship / qualifying races. It would help constrain drama-less competitions where a cadre of "A" standard qualifiers purposefully promote a dawdling race tempo to ensure the competition falls below "A" quality standards - thus diminishing - or even eliminating - the importance that an upset win at a national championship should mean. With a proliferation of "A" standard competitors and less competitors shunted to second class status, it would go a long way toward eliminating the "A" / "B" quandary and actually restore the national qualifying meets with meaningful and exciting competitions. And wouldn't that be good for the sport?


The False Start Rule. It doesn't take much to strike up a conversation about the false start rule. You'll have a tough time finding someone who has no opinion about the current version which sends any athlete who jumps the gun to the sidelines on the first infraction. The discussions generally focus upon: (i) the wisdom of the one-and-done rule; and (ii) the apparent lack of consistency in the rule's application. Proponents of the current rule cite how it enhances meet and broadcast continuity and eliminates false start games playing. Defenders of the current rule also point to how NCAA athletes - who have performed under this same rule for many years - have adjusted to its application. Critics note the rule's emerging - and frankly disturbing - often-uneven application - with kindly officials, flashing green cards, benevolently waiving off clear violations (e.g. Henry Lelei's clear false start in this year's NCAA steeple final). There are legions of passionate track followers on both sides of this issue which - in the final analysis - may be a debate that never ends.


Discussions on these issues - and others - are taking place here at every turn. The spirited exchange of viewpoints and ideas is an important element of the overall fan experience while taking in a long weekend of championship competition. And the spice of these impassioned dialogues is the differing slants offered. To water down an old maxim, opinions are like asses: everybody's got one. And - like asses - not everyone's is the same. But amid all the conflicting points of view - and especially during this weekend, to be sure - there is a singular, observable characteristic that nonetheless unites all who follow our sport. It is a shared, omnipresent passion for track & field.

RunBlogRun Some photographs on this site have been reproduced with permission from runblogrun.com.