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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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Gall_GeenaFL-OlyT12.jpgGeena Gall, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, 800 meters
Photo by PhotoRun.net

 

 

Another Rowland Thoroughbred Breaks Through


With 250 meters to go in the women's 800 meter Olympic Trials final Monday evening, Geena Gall found herself in 6th place behind a tangle of America's top middle distance runners, all pushing furiously to capture one of the top three spots and gain a ticket to the London Games. Gall kept her cool. "I knew what to expect going into the finals. I have raced against these girls multiple times and I know how they race. I just play to my own thing. I have a great kick which I had executed during the first two rounds. Before the last 200, when Brenda Martinez passed me, I knew it was 'go' time and I needed to shift into another gear. So I swung really wide on the curve. When I hit the last 100 meters coming off the Bowerman curve, I just put my head down and gave it all that I've got. I could hear the crowd cheering super loud. I picked off the girls one by one as I was closing on Alysia [Montano]. As I crossed the finish line, I threw my hands up in the air and I knew I was on the Olympic team and that I had made it," exclaimed Gall. "It was the best feeling in the world."


 

Jeter-MadisonR-OlyT12.JPGWomen's 100 meter, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials
Photo by PhotoRun.net
 

 

Answers Will Emerge When Trials Resume


As the Olympic Trials goes on break for two days of rest, it is the perfect time to consider ten key questions which will be answered as the Trials resume on Thursday.

 

 

Trotter_DeeDeeSF-OlyTr12.jpgDee Dee Trotter, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

Photo by PhotoRun.net

 


 

Olympic Team Berth Would Complete Comeback


As we sit in Hayward Field and marvel at the outstanding and seemingly-effortless performances of these spectacular track and field athletes, it is easy to be unmindful of the individual obstacles that many have had to overcome just to arrive at this gateway to Olympic participation. The athletes run, jump, and throw and we applaud their accomplishments - all while we are largely oblivious to their unobservable personal struggles.

Dee Dee Trotter is one of the most gifted and accomplished 400 meter runners on the planet. Early in her career, success came quickly and easily. In 2003, as a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, Trotter made her first World Championship team and went on to win a gold medal as a member of the United States' winning 4 x 400 relay team. The following year she captured Olympic gold, running the leadoff leg in the final on USA's victorious 4 x 400 relay foursome. More gold followed in 2007 when Trotter, coming off her 49.64 PR win in the 400 meter outdoor national championship race, ran on the country's winning 4 x 400 relay squad in the World Championships in Berlin.

 

Cabral_Donn-Oxy12.JPGDonn Cabral, Oxy High Performance Meet, 2012

Photo by PhotoRun.net

 

 

Is There More Magic Left In Cabral's Special Season?

Hollywood would likely reject a proposed movie script based upon the 2012 track and field accomplishments of Donn Cabral. Too fantastic, not credible. But as dream-like as Cabral's outdoor ride has been this spring, this much is true: it really did all happen that way.

Hard-core track and field fans know about Cabral. Prior to this outdoor season, the book on the Princeton distance ace pegged him as a very good - but not an overly-spectacular - talent: multi-time All-American; two-time NCAA runner-up in the steeplechase; and a leading East Coast collegiate distance runner.

But you can throw that book away. Cabral's magical spring has changed all that. In April, Cabral led his Princeton distance corps back to the Penn Relay Carnival where his scintillating anchor legs allowed the Tigers to win the distance medley relay and to successfully defend its 4 x mile crown - the first time such dual distance wins had been accomplished at Penn by a single school in 51 years ago. Add Cabral's Penn steeple win as a sophomore to those three relay titles and you realize that Cabral has four Penn Relays watches. He has never lost at the Penn Relays. Ivy League runners aren't supposed to be able to do that.

As the spring rolled on, Cabral successfully defended his Heps titles in the 10,000 and the steeplechase - his specialty. But his big breakthrough came shortly thereafter at the Oxy High Performance Meet in California. Running as the only collegian in a stacked steeplechase field of post-collegiate professionals eager to notch the "A" standard [8:23.1], Cabral displayed a race poise that belied his novice status. Laying off the early jostling and running his own race, Cabral hung back, moved hard over the final three laps, and then uncorked a powerful kick over the final 200 meters to upset Dan Huling and Evan Jager. Cabral's winning "A" standard time of 8:19.14 took down the 28-year old American collegiate record and still stands as this year's leading American mark. But there's more: several weeks ago, Cabral capped off an exceptional college career by capturing the NCAA Div I steeplechase crown.

It has been a frenetic 2½ months for Cabral as he has gone through a whirlwind transformation from good collegiate distance runner into a leading contender to make the United States Olympic Team in the steeplechase.

Cabral is quick to acknowledge that his successes this spring are due, in large measure, to the careful guidance and training provided by Tiger distance coach Steve Dolan. "Coach Dolan is a really great coach. He has helped me to make the moves that will help me to be there at the end; to keep things in focus and in perspective; and to be sure I get the work in for the build-up that I need," says Cabral. "He [Dolan] wants me to enjoy this chance while not having to face anything that would distract me before the Olympic Trials."
As the steeplechase rounds approach, the real question isn't whether or not Cabral has the demonstrated skills to make the Olympic team. It is whether or not he has any gas left in the tank. Cabral makes it clear that this happy turn of events was a possibility that was contemplated when he and Dolan constructed a training/racing plan 9 months ago. "Last fall, Coach Dolan set up the training plans that allowed for a possible later season than usual. The plan included a lot miles in the fall and in the winter. A lot of the sharper stuff that we normally do late winter or early spring we pushed back into April," says Cabral. "We started to chart a new path to reach a whole new level; which required a really hard block - a couple weeks of hard training - during the spring. It has been a series of incredible phases I have gone through."

Cabral believes he has side-stepped the common downfall that plagues many collegiate distance aspirants at this time of year - the inevitable staleness that accompanies an extenuated racing season. The fact is that Dolan's scheduling has had Cabral racing selectively and sparingly during the winter and early spring, which likely explains Cabral's observation that his legs "feel fresh."

And so Cabral moves into uncharted waters. If, as expected, he can move on to Thursday's final, Cabral is ready for any pacing eventuality the final might bring. "I have a lot of confidence in my fitness right now; if it [the steeple final] did go out at 8:15 pace the whole time, I would be happy to give it a ride," says Cabral. "It [the pace] would kind of spread out the field - and maybe not everyone would be on their game. So really all the pretenders won't be there if it is a really fast ride."

And so the journey for the recent Princeton graduate continues later today with the first round of the steeplechase. It is then we will learn if more magic remains to propel Cabral's storybook season.

 

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Bridget Franek, 2011 U.S. Outdoor, Photo by PhotoRun.net

Steepler Bridget Franek Glides Over Barriers - On and Off The Track


When you first meet Bridget Franek, what strikes you is her poise. For a young athlete - Franek is 24 - she exhibits the type of calm demeanor that is not commonly found among newly-minted college graduates working to find their way in the country's "new reality." This is likely learned behavior for Franek whose pathway to the present has taught her to be a flexible, quick study. Don't be mistaken, this up-and-coming steeplechaser has not had the type of ghastly childhood that nearly overwhelmed, say, Lolo Jones - far from it. But Franek's solid Midwestern upbringing - with occasional new directions and all-in commitments - has given her the quiet confidence to understand that she is able to meet and effectively address the challenges she willingly undertakes for herself.

In the coming days, Bridget Franek will take another step in that direction as she runs in the first round of the Women's 3000 meter steeplechase. Taking one race at a time, the Penn State graduate is aiming for a qualifying performance that will put her in the steeplechase final which will be run on Friday in the twilight. While the races, of course, have to be run, the stars and planets are in proper alignment for her. "I am healthy and probably have the best fitness I have ever had," notes Franek. And she has the all-important Olympic "A" standard, having run sub-9:43 several times earlier this spring. No stranger to international competition, Franek ran the steeplechase on U.S. teams in Berlin in 2009 and in Daegu in 2011. Citing her impressive PR of 9:32.35, Track & Field News projects her as a top three finisher in the Trials steeplechase which would send her to her first Olympic games. Ah, if it was just that simple...

An enormous athletic talent, Franek has developed the ability to roll with change and undertake new challenges. As a youngster, Franek first shied away from running - both her parents are accomplished runners - as she focused her attention on soccer. But then she saw clearly that a change should be made. "From my junior year of high school, I decided that running was probably going to be where I would get the best opportunity," says Franek. "So I decided to do cross country so that I could send some of my times out to the college coaches who would be looking for athletes."
It was the right move. Slightly more that 18 months after her shift to running, Franek concluded her high school career by winning the 800, the 1600, the 3200, and anchoring Crestwood High School's winning 4 x 800 relay in the Ohio state high school track and field championships.

In college, as a member of Beth Alford Sullivan's accomplished program at Penn State, Franek made a quick and solid transition and performed well enough to be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year. But patience and flexibility were nonetheless required as she and her coaches methodically worked to find her best event. Franek, who had never run a steeplechase or even cleared a steeple barrier before entering college, was willing to give the odd, new event a try. Once again. her open-mindedness was rewarded. Two years later she made the U.S. World Championship team and competed in the steeplechase in Berlin. Patience and consistent focus allowed Franek to steadily improve - she topped off her successful collegiate career by winning the steeplechase title at the 2010 NCAA Championships.

With college behind her, Franek once again found herself facing options and choices. She went all in. Willing to make a commitment to explore her full potential as a track and field athlete, Franek moved from her comfortable Midwest surroundings to Eugene - where the action is. Joining the Oregon Track Club, Franek soon found herself training daily with the likes of Lauren Fleshman, Sally Kipyego; and Geena Gaul. "I love to train with people who are better than I am. That is why I moved to Oregon. Being around greatness definitely helps me to improve. The girls here are at such a high level. It [the elite training] allows me to assess the level where I am currently."

The change of residence also brought a change in coaching philosophy. Franek is now guided by Mark Rowland, an '88 Olympic steeplechase medalist whose no-nonsense approach to training is calculated to promote athlete independence. No worries - the flexible Franek embraced Rowland's new perspective. "Coach Rowland is night and day different from my college coach. He is an extremely professional guy." notes Franek. "I love how he coaches because it really empowers the athletes. His goal is to get us to the starting line and to train us so that we don't need him anymore. We are trained to be completely independent and capable of reaching our potential by ourselves. We trust him with our training. He has a bigger perspective and knows that he can't be there at every one of our competitions. He knows we have to do it by ourselves."

Franek will need to bring that empowered and independent approach to Hayward Field as she seeks a top three finish in the steeplechase - a placing that would guarantee her a position on her first U.S. Olympic team. While Franek and Colorado's Emma Coburn - the defending national steeplechase champion who red-shirted this past year to focus on an Olympic bid - are viewed as the class of the field, the women's steeplechase is a relatively new and underdeveloped event where unanticipated break-through performances by discounted competitors are distinctly possible. Not surprisingly, Franek views this coming challenge with her customary measured approach.
"While I am planning on being in the final, I am taking one race at a time. I just want to be in the top three. It doesn't even matter how it happens. As long as I am in the top three, that's the ideal race for me."

Given Franek's unflappable approach to the challenges she encounters and her prior track record of success, the upcoming Olympic Trials steeplechase races, while formidable, appear to be hurdles she can clear.





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Kibwe Johnson, 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials, Photo by PhotoRun.net

 

 

"Hammer Time" Rousing Success

It is difficult to imagine a better beginning. Yesterday afternoon, under sun-drenched skies, the highly-anticipated 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track & Field began on a regal and enthusiastic note. An over-capacity crowd of joyful track and field fans gathered on Ronaldo Field, adjacent to the Tiger Woods Center on the Nike world campus, to revel in "Hammer Time" - the Olympic Trials for the Men's and Women's Hammer Throw. The throng - which by some estimates numbered over 2500 - filled the bleachers and ringed the sector to exhort on the hammer warriors as they battled for the Olympic berths.

 

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2012 Nike Prefontaine Classic, photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Nothing Compares to Hayward Field

As soon as you walk into Hayward Field, you know you are on holy ground. The pristine track, the unmistakable roofline, the manicured yellow chrysanthemums surrounding the steeplechase water jump, the statue of Bill Bowerman clutching his stopwatch next to what has come to be known as the Bowerman curve - all serve notice that this is a special place. Even the wood-chipped trail leading from the adjacent warm-up facility to the main track and field area is a reminder that this athletic venue is like no other. Don't be misled by the state-of-the-art multicolored electronic scoreboard; Hayward Field is old school all the way. Just as Wimbledon is to tennis or Augusta National is to golf, Hayward Field is the quintessential home of track and field.

Will U.S. Marathoners Shine At Olympics’ Storied Venue? 

On a clear and bracing Saturday morning in January, six American athletes – three men and three women - prevailed on the streets of Houston, captured the top three places in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, and became the first members of the 2012 United States Olympic Team. And while the jubilant, flag-draped Olympians hugged each other, engaged in TV interviews, and posed on the podium for photographs, each knew – deep down - that their Trials accomplishment, while significant, was only yet another in a series of critical steps. Now the real test lies before them: the Olympic marathon…in August…in London.

In the weeks leading up to the XXX Olympiad, there will be much speculation about the marathon races. And if a review of London’s Olympic history – it hosted the Games in 1908 and 1948 - can provide any clues, those races are likely to feature rigorous competition, a few surprises, and perhaps some late-race drama.

The Brits can be fussy lot about many things – and the Olympics are no exception. London wasn’t even originally selected to host the Games in 1908. That honor was bestowed upon Rome. But when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 1906 and disrupted the original plans, the International Olympic Committee tapped London to step up and host 1908 Games. Amid the flurry to prepare for the Summer Games, the British Olympic Association mapped out a point –to-point course from Windsor Castle to the Olympic Stadium in London. Since marathon courses in the early 20th century lacked a uniform distance, the BOA had some discretion not only in constructing the marathon course but also in setting the distance. After much course tweaking to address complaints about tram lines and cobblestones, the course distance stood at 26 miles. But a further course accommodation was still required. To afford Queen Alexandra the best view of the final meters of the race, the course was altered yet again – to its final length of 26 miles 385 yards - by providing an unorthodox clockwise circuit of the stadium track and a finish in front of Her Majesty’s Royal Box. On marathon race day, the Queen witnessed a dramatic finish. The marathon leader, a diminutive Italian named Dorando Pietri, entered the stadium exhausted and confused. After beginning to run around the track counterclockwise – the customary, but, in this case, the wrong way - and then falling several times, Pietri was assisted by officials who helped him across the finish line. Pietri – who committed no race violations himself - was promptly disqualified for the unauthorized acts of the assisting officials. The win – somewhat tainted - and the gold medal were awarded to bewildered American Johnny Hayes – the second runner to cross the finish line. Proclaimed by many in attendance as “the greatest race of the century”, the dramatic 1908 Olympic marathon is believed to have been instrumental in influencing the International Amateur Athletic Federation to act in 1921 to set the official marathon distance at 26 miles 385 yards.

The Summer Games returned to London in 1948. As was the case with the ’08 Olympics, London wasn’t originally scheduled to host the ’48 Games. London had been provisionally selected to host the 1944 Olympiad. But when World War II prompted a 12 year Olympic hiatus, London was named to host the Games of the XIV Olympiad in the summer of 1948. While the headlines were dominated by the athletic exploits of Dutch sprinter Fanny Blankers-Koen – “The Flying Housewife” – and teenage decathlete Bob Mathias, the Olympic marathon dished up yet another dramatic London finish. The lead runner, a Belgian named Etienne Gailly, entered Wembley Stadium completely spent. On the final circuit of the track, the wobbly-legged Belgian was passed by Argentinean Delfo Cabrera - who went on to the win – and England’s Tom Richards - who captured the silver medal. Gailly struggled in for the bronze.

Having served as the host city for two of the most exciting marathon finishes in Olympic history, can London once again produce compelling drama on race day? The London organizers have left nothing to chance. The Olympic marathon course is an athlete-friendly, loop course which is generally considered capable of producing fast times. The race start time and the attendant weather – always a major concern in an event like the Olympics where television rules all – appear to be favorable. With both the Men’s and Women’s races starting at 11:00 a.m. local time and prevailing weather conditions suggesting cooler temperatures in the upper 50’s / lower 60’s, the conditions should be far superior to the subpar air quality and steam bath conditions that tortured Olympic marathoners in Beijing.

Handicapping the U.S. Olympic marathoners is never an easy task – and this Olympiad is no exception. While it is not inconceivable that the U.S. could produce a medal-winning performance in one or both of the races, it is also not unlikely that all six marathoners could run personal bests – and not even make it onto the podium.

The American Women

• Desiree Davila. A second place finisher to Shalane Flanagan in the Trials race, Davila has a P.R. of 2:22:38 which is the fastest of the three American women. An efficient runner with a relentless turnover, Davila backs down from no one. Who can forget her punishing pace from Cleveland Circle to the Boston finish line on Patriots Day last year – an aggressive drive which nearly captured her the victory? She is not afraid to assert herself in critical late-race situations. Such bold running sealed her doom as a more novice runner in the 2008 Trials. But as a stronger, more mature runner now, that tactic is one of her bona fide weapons. She is likely to be a lead pack factor in London.

• Shalane Flanagan. Approaching the zenith of her career, Flanagan has assembled an impeccable running resume: bronze medalist in the 2008 Olympic 10,000; American record holder in the 10,000 [30:22.22]; 14 national titles. She has vast international experience which will aid her in London. Her serene and composed façade belies the competitive fire that burns within. After pushing hard during the last few miles to insure her victory at the Trials in a P.R. time of 2:25:28, the Cold Executioner acknowledged in a post-race interview, “My primary goal was to make the team.” But then, with a slight smile, she admitted “But, I love to win.”

• Kara Goucher. Like Flanagan, Goucher is another seasoned veteran with the demonstrated ability to get onto the medal stand in international competition. She was the bronze medalist in the 10,000 at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. Goucher came in to the Trials admittedly undertrained, but still was able to P.R. – 2:26:06 – and to summon the will and the energy to shake off fourth place finisher Amy Hastings over the final 10 kilometers. With a few more months of focused training under the tutelage of her new coach Jerry Schumacher and some quality training with her new running buddy Flanagan, a more fully-prepared Goucher could surprise many in London.

Their Competition

The Women’s Marathon looks to be one of the most highly-competitive and exciting races of the Olympic Games. Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova, on the strength of her 2:18:20 win in Chicago, was ranked #1 on the world last year. But Kenya’s Mary Keitany bested Shobukhova by a significant margin in the London Marathon last spring. A good number of other African women have the credentials to compete for a medal. All three American women have the P.R’s and the battle-tested experience in big races that establish them as legitimate medal threats. And don’t overlook England’s Paula Radcliffe – the sentimental favorite. The long-standing world record holder is easing into the later stages of her career, but with her P.R. minutes superior to the rest of the field and with her countrymen sure to be exhorting her onward, could London’s propensity for Olympic Marathon drama strike again?

The American Men

• Abdi Abdirahman. Abdi is an experienced runner who knows how to prepare for big races. Only recently injury-free, Abdi bypassed marathon paydays last fall to be sure he could bring his “A” game to the Trials. He did. A solid 10,000 meter runner – 2005 national champion – Abdi has 13 overall national titles. Recently inducted into the Road Runners Club Of America Hall Of Fame, Abdi is now on his fourth U.S. Olympic team. While Abdi has a 2:08 marathon P.R., an ambitious early pace in the Olympic marathon might be tough for him to handle. But if the race becomes tactical, Abdi would not likely be afraid to make a push from far out.

• Ryan Hall. With a P.R. of 2:04:58 - albeit on Boston’s so-called “aided” course – and with a fearless running style, Hall is likely the best U.S. men’s hope to break the Kenyan juggernaut. When Hall jettisoned his coach, created his owning training schedules, and further energized his faith commitment, it appeared to liberate him – endowing him with a renewed joy and appetite for running and the type of daring racing style that he’ll need to display on London’s world stage. Recently named 2011 Runner Of The Year by Road Runners Club Of America, Hall has solid international experience and has won several overall national titles. Look for him to be a dominant participant in the lead pack on race day. Those who discount his finishing speed have forgotten that Hall’s 13:16.03 in the 5000 in the 2005 Outdoor Nationals placed him on the U.S. team for the World Championships in Helsinki.

• Meb Keflezighi. The Comeback Kid. Serious pelvic issues caused many to presume – prematurely – that Meb’s best running days were far behind him. His P.R. performance in the 2011 New York City Marathon and – 69 days later – his glorious victory in the Trials affirmed his durability, his longevity – and his determination. While Meb has a half dozen sub-2:10 performances, he has never cracked 2:09. Will the Olympic race be too fast for him? Maybe. But those who might be inclined to discount his chances should remember that Meb has proven such views to have been wrong before.

Their Competition

It is hard to be optimistic about American medal chances when last year 27 of the top 30 performers in the marathon were Kenyans. When Ryan Hall can run 2:04:58 and not even be given a world ranking in the Top Ten, it is the best evidence that elite men’s marathoning is undergoing a stunning transformation. Kenya’s Geoffrey Mutai, coming off last year’s convincing wins at Boston and New York in course record times, has to be considered the odds-on favorite. Any number of other Kenyans – take your pick – could join him on the medal stand. While Kenya looks to dominate the race, you can’t concede all of the medal spots to them. That’s why they run the race. 

 


 

Revered Coach Cultivates Hammer Incubator in Ashland, Ohio

Ashland, Ohio is a fine, upstanding small town nestled right in the middle of Ohio. Ashland is well known throughout the state for its "welcome sign" that announces the city to be "The World Headquarters of Nice People." While it is unclear if Ashland's exclamation is a distinction the city has actually been awarded or is merely a self-proclamation, there doesn't appear to be any vocal faction that disputes its legitimacy.

But aside from its clean streets, absence of crime, and its courteous citizenry, there is another admirable aspect of Ashland that is not widely known. Ashland, Ohio is the cradle of top-flight hammer throw development and the home of some the country's top performers in this high-specialized - and often under-appreciated - field event.

At the foundation of all of this is Jud Logan. Logan, long-standing track and field coach at Ashland University, is a four-time Olympian in the hammer - making his fourth Olympic team in his 40's - and was the gold medalist in that event in the 1987 Pan American Games. His passion for the sport and his longevity as an athlete were unquestionably established when he set the M50 World Record in the hammer just three years ago.

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Cabral's Break-Out Spring Highlights
Princeton's Drive For National Recognition


Friday night at the USATF Oxy High Performance Meet in Los Angeles, Princeton senior Donn Cabral turned in a stunning performance by winning the 3000 meter steeplechase over a star-studded field. The sole collegian in the fast section of the steeple, Cabral displayed a poised and tactical racing approach that saw him patiently running his own race in the middle of the pack for most of the race. Moving up over the last three laps and kicking hard over the final furlong, Cabral overtook Dan Huling and Evan Jager - who took an unplanned dip after clearing the final water jump - to capture the win in a record time.

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