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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.


 


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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.

 

 
Rollins_BriannaAR-USAout13.jpg
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.

Drake.jpg

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.

 

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Shalane Flanagan lead the whole way, 

photo by PhotoRun.net

 

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Rupp, Derrick, Ritzenhein, after the break, three laps to go, 

photo by PhotoRun.net

 

Flanagan And Rupp Capture 10,000 Titles

 

As the shadows lengthened and dusk descended upon the Midwest, distance stars Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp closed an exciting opening day of the 2013 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships by doing what they were expected to do: ringing up impressive wins in the 10,000 meter runs.


Flanagan was all business. Undaunted by the 84 degree start temperature and on pace from the starting gun, the American 10,000 meter record holder made it clear there would be no dawdling warm-up laps this evening. After an opening circuit in 71 seconds, only fellow Olympian and training partner Kara Goucher and newly-minted Nike pro Jordan Hasay dared book passage on the Shalane Train. Amy Hastings, a 10,000 finalist in London, headed up a tidy chase pack. By the 3600 meter mark, Flanagan had dispatched all competitors. Her race rhythm - just a smidgen over 5:00 per mile pace - had gapped Goucher who was sliding backwards toward Hastings' chase pack which included Hasay and Tara Erdmann. The chase pack trio gobbled up a fading Goucher with just over two miles remaining. With 4 laps remaining, Hastings - unable to hold on - slid off the chase pack as Hasay and Erdmann - running efficiently and working together by switching leads - pressed on. While Flanagan - nearly 200 meters ahead - race unchallenged for the victory in a stadium-record 31:43.20, Hasay - employing the same ill-fated move that failed her in the NCAA Championships - surged ahead of Erdmann just before the final lap. But this time Hasay's tactic worked. Powering over the final circuit, a smiling Hasay [32.17.34] put nearly 7 seconds on Erdmann [32:24.16] over the last 400 as the pair finished 2-3. Hastings - possessor of the all-important "A" standard while Hasay and Erdmann currently lack any qualifying times - finished 4th in 32:31.28. Alberto Salazar - their coach - was unfazed as he calmly laid out the task ahead. Discussing the race that will be set up to allow Hasay and Erdmann to "chase" the requisite standards needed to get them to Moscow, Salazar added, "We need one girl to run 31:44 [making the A standard] and the other girl to run 32:04 [making the B standard] and they'll both get to go."


In the men's 10,000, the sultry racing conditions combined with respect for Olympic silver medalist and 4-time defending 10K titlist Galen Rupp combined to produce a most pedestrian race pace. Jake Riley found himself in the early lead and grudgingly obliged to undertake the pace chores while the ensuing mob strode gingerly along. As the laps unfolded, the mob remained as the major players - Dathan Ritzenhein, Chris Derrick, Ben True, and ultimately the defending champion - positioned themselves in the front seats of the lumbering pack. With six laps remaining, Ritzenhein - a 10,000 finalist in London - could wait no more. Moving to the front, Ritz took the field to Dathan's House Of Pain as he began a long punishing drive to the finish. One by one, the pack broke up as spent competitors - unable to hold on - littered the track in Ritz's wake. Ultimately, Rupp - working hard but with more to give - surged into the lead and locked up his 5th consecutive 10,000 meter national title. Rupp completed the sweltering chess match in 28:47.32, while Dathan - the cruel protagonist - finished second [28:49.66] and an exhausted Chris Derrick [28:52.25] held on for third.


Day One's other finals - all field events - produced no large surprises. Brittany Borman copped the javelin crown and achieved a "B" standard mark when her final throw sailed 60.91m / 199'10". Kansas' Andrea Geubelle - disappointed with her two 2nd place finishes in the NCAA horizontal jumps - claimed the long jump title with a 4th round leap of 14.03 / 46'½". Omar Craddock's "B" standard leap of 17.15m / 56'3" was good enough to turn back veteran triple jumper Will Claye [17.04m / 55'10¾"] and capture the triple jump crown. A life-time best first day by Sharon Day [1106] will allow her to carry a 115 point lead over nemesis Bettie Wade [991] into the final day of the heptathlon.


The day offered qualifying heats which generally followed the form chart. But there were a few surprises. In the women's steeple, Olympian Emma Coburn was earlier forced to withdraw from the meet when a flare up of a lingering lower back injury - manageable during her NCAA win - caused her to withdraw.


In the men's 400, some mighty oaks were felled as revered members of the old order were first round casualties. Jeremy Wariner and Angelo Taylor - both of whom have several Olympic and World Championship gold medals - finished last in their heats. And NCAA champion Bryshon Nellum - nursing a recently-tweaked hammy - couldn't advance.


In the women's 100, first round casualties included former Olympian Marshevet Hooker and college sprint star and Bowerman Award winner Kimberlyn Duncan.


The mixed zone - a frenzied gathering of elated qualifiers, vanquished entrants, and harried journalists - offered a variety of great encounters and quotations:


Mary Cain - who ran like a wily veteran to advance easily in the 1500 - on being in the national meet: "It is amazing, you know. I hope to be doing a lot of these down the road. The better I am and the more familiar I am with heats and finals, the more comfortable I'll get."


More Cain on her cautious early positioning: "That was the plan. With two laps to go, move up."


Cain teammate and training partner Treniere Moser on the Cain/Moser Rupp/Farah comparison: "Yeah, we are reminded about it every day. We all go practice together and Galen and Mo are out there. It's hard to ignore. And sometimes Alberto will throw us in with them. He'll say 'you go with the guys." And we're like, 'But they're not normal guys.' But they take us to another level and I think that helps. It is more of a positive influence that they have on us."


More Cain on training with Alberto's professional troupe in Park City, Utah: "I guess I'm not technically on the club. But I'm feeling the love from all of them."


More Moser on the training match-up with Cain: "We used to see each other every couple of months. I've been in Park City Utah for two months, But now I have Cain coming in with me [at Park City, Utah]. Alberto really prepared us both. I'm better in the longer stuff and she [Cain] is really quick. So it's going to go complementary."


More Moser on Cain's development: "Oh my gosh, it's amazing. Just being a fan of track & field, I am just happy to be a part of this journey. She is doing something that no one has ever done and probably no one else will ever do. I am just happy to be along as an insider."


More Cain on choosing the event to run here: "I would never have attempted a double here. I wouldn't do that. That's too much. The 800 is kinda freaky. For all I know, the 800 may be my event. I have no idea."


400 warrior Natasha Hastings on her good showing in round one: "It felt pretty good. It was real windy on the home stretch. My plan is get through tomorrow and do my job comfortably. It felt great out there. Besides the wind, the temperature was great."


Defending 400 champion and Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross on her recovery from big toe surgery: "Today was good. I am really happy at least to be able to block out the pain of my toe and run a full race today. It was a little tough. The first one's always tough. So hopefully I will be ice-packed and freshened up for tomorrow."


More SRR on managing the pain: "It is different pain that I have had in the past. Now I can actually feel the bones. It's a little excruciating. But time is not waiting for me, so I just have to go. Today the pain was manageable, but I can still feel it. And so I am really trying to stay in my head and not focus too much on the toe and focus on execution and try to get it done this weekend."


SRR reading the tea leaves: "I want to predict that I'm going to make the team. I think Francena [McCrory] will run well and so will Natasha [Hastings] and [Ashley] Spencer - the college girl. So we'll see. I want to be in that top three. I don't really feel nervous about it. A bit little anxious, but I feel good out there. I have great confidence as the Olympic champion. But I am anxious to see how it is going to end."


400 gladiator Monteo Mitchell on qualifying from lane 8: "Going into the race, I was in lane 8. I was out on an island, man. I threw all my strategy out the window and I turned to a "No Butt Cheeks" clause which meant that if I saw no butt cheeks for the first 350, I'd get in the top three. I know it sounds crazy, but that's what I went out there and did. I ran smart. I ran smooth. And I'm not really that tired. The wind was a little tough in the home stretch with the headwind. I felt pretty good. I'll go back to the hotel and recover and get ready for tomorrow."


More Mitchell on legendary stars not advancing: "It's kind of sad when see legends go down in the first round, but you know that's just life some time. Bad things happen and you have to be able to bounce back from them."


Bryshon Nellum, non-qualifier in the 400: "I've had a long season. I tweaked my hamstring last week in practice. And I've done a lot of rehabing and therapy thinking I was going to be healthy by the time I came here. Unfortunately, I needed a couple more days. And I didn't get it. I had a great season. I came back to college to win a [collegiate] national championship. And I accomplished that goal. When I get back healthy, look out. Because I am going to be ready."


Kara Goucher on the possibility of being named to the national World Championship team: "I really would like to go. It's a dream to never miss a team as long as I am competing, so I really want to go. But I don't feel like I deserve to. So I feel very confused."


More Kara on attempting to match Flanagan's ambitious pace: "Oh God. I was too cocky for sure!"


Amy Hastings - 10,000 4th place finisher and possessor of an "A" standard time, on the A/B system: "They have this system and it won't change how I race at all. I am going to out there and I am going race as hard as I can. We're just racers at this level and we all want to run as hard as we can and place as high as we can."


Jordan Hasay on this race as redemption after NCAA loss and her new status as a professional: "This is not so much redemption. This is really great giving me a fresh start as a professional. It was an opportunity for me to get on a really good streak. This is not college any more. This is professional. I am trying to be serious, but I still feel like a little kid out there."


Tara Erdmann on chasing the requisite standard needed to get to Moscow: "We're going to rest. And we'll have something set up to chase the standard. And we'll go after it, for sure. Probably in Portland."


Shalane Flanagan on the 10,000 pacing: "Kara and I wanted to establish a presence and just let people know we weren't messing around. I didn't know what pace to expect given the conditions. So I just let my body gravitate to whatever pace that was per lap. I found a good rhythm at 77 seconds per lap."


More Flanagan on the importance of national titles: "It is important to me. Winning national titles are important because it is the step toward the next level. It is important to win national titles, to inspire, to motivate people. I love the competition, the atmosphere, and it is important to be a part of it."


Ben True, 4th place finisher in the 10,000, about enduring Ritz's brutal long grind to the finish: "Three laps to go, I was cooked. I was just trying to stay on my feet and get fourth. I was able to do that. At least I'm the alternate."


Dathan Ritzenhein on his closing strategy: "Alberto told me he didn't want me to go until a mile to go. He told me, 'You can run under 3:56 right now.' It's nice going in knowing that I have that kind of speed. It's hard. It's a hard way to break people. You have to break them one by one. And that's what I was trying to do. It was as much pain as I could make it. And I was just trying to keep the hammer down. I was trying to get everyone - Galen too. But he really closes hard over the last lap."


Galen Rupp on the race: "The pace was slow as expected. I was just trying to sit back and try to conserve as much energy as possible." On winning 5 10K titles in a row: "It's great. I want to keep it rolling as long as I can. It's fun winning national championships. It's of very high importance."

 

 

Improbable Relay Outcome Forces Gator/Aggie Tie


Just when you think you have seen everything in track & field, you witness something that is hard to fathom.

As the 2013 NCAA outdoor track & field championships were winding down and only the men's 4 x 400 relay remained, Texas A&M - sitting on a nearly-insurmountable 9 point lead over Florida - appeared to have a stranglehold on the men's first place team trophy. After all, the Aggies' impressive quartet lined up for the final with the fastest semi-final qualifying time and needed only to finish no lower than 7th to clinch the crown.

Out strong as expected, A&M leadoff runner Ricky Babineaux was preparing to hand off to teammate Aldrich Bailey when disaster struck. The Aggie baton - flicked by flailing limbs - was soon on the track surface. Bye, bye Miss American Pie. The Aggies got up to dance, but they never got the chance...

The A&M squad - unbelieving and hopelessly mired to last place - fought back gamely with no real hope to avoid a last place finish. But wait! Disaster could still be avoided if the Florida foursome would finish anywhere other than first. But, alas, the perfect storm could not be avoided. The Gators weren't about to allow this Texas A&M gift to slip through their fingers. Florida frosh Arman Hall ran a superb anchor leg to ensure the Florida relay win - and team title tie with the Aggies at 53 points - as he stopped the clock at 3:01.34. The Gator's winning time set a new collegiate leading mark, unseating - you guessed it - Texas A&M. Stunned in the mixed zone, Texas A&M anchor Deon Lendore was at a loss to explain what happened. "Coming into the final event, we had the lead in points. All we had to do was to finish anything but last and we'd have gotten the title," Lendore explained. "I don't know what happened to my teammate. It seems like he wasn't looking where he was going and wasn't looking what he was doing. He maybe got mixed up. And when it was time to hand-off, he dropped the stick."

In the women's team race, the Oregon Lady Ducks - down 15 points to Kansas as the day began - would require few errors and a heaping serving of Hayward Magic if the unprecedented Triple Crown was going to happen. It was not to be. In the day's opening 4 x 100 relay, the Lady Ducks got off to a fabulous start, but a bobbled third exchange destroyed all race momentum, ruled out an upset win, and relegated the Oregon quartet to 4th place. That disappointment - followed by no points in the 1500 - sealed Oregon's doom. The Jayhawks - with points from all corners - breezed to the team title with a 16 point winning margin.

In the women's 100H, Clemson's Brianna Rollins showed she is ready for the big time. Coming off her collegiate-leading performance in the semi, the junior rocketed out of the blocks and never let up. Snapping over the hurdles, she captured a most convincing win in the world-leading wind-legal time of 12.39. Gail Dever's American record of 12.33 is the only faster time ever run on American soil. In the men's 110H, Texas A&M junior Wayne posted a windy winning time of 13.14 to nip pre-race favorite Eddie Lovett of Florida.

Lawi Lalang - a cool performer unfazed by the warmer temperatures - took it to the field in the 5000. It was a successful strategy. The Arizona junior dished out a steady diet of punishing laps - beginning in the mid-60's and chipped it down from there - as he defied his foes to keep pace. They couldn't. Unthreatened over the final 3 laps, Lalang glided over the line in 13:35.19 to complete his 10,000/5,000 double. Afterwards, the upbeat champion offered insight on his pre-race strategy. "Just yesterday I was talking to my coach and he said, 'take this race out hard so you can kill hope fast,'" explained Lalang. "I wasn't worried about going into a kick-ass race. I just wanted it to be a perfect pace."

Mac Fleet uncorked a scintillating final lap of 52.2 seconds to capture the men's 1500 title - in 3:50.25. The Duck's impressive kick might have rendered unnecessary a dose of Hayward Magic - but he got it anyway. Exhorted on by the Hayward faithful, Fleet was fleet as his unmatched surge up the final straight could not be matched by such notables as sub-4:00 milers Robby Creese [6th in 3:51.21] and defending champion Andrew Bayer [8th in 3:51.39]. A traffic jam coming off the Bowerman curve produced two casualties. An apparent heel clip by Patrick McGregor of Texas took him down - as well as Oklahoma's Riley Masters. At the finish line, officials interceded to prevent a possible post-race throw-down as the two - highly animated and pointing fingers - were quickly escorted off the track.

The Oregon women knew their vanishing hopes to capture the unprecedented triple crown hinged upon multiple scorers in the 1500. It didn't happen. Becca Friday - quickly out of contention - and Anne Kesselring - mysteriously felled 15 meters from the finish line - finished 11th and 12th for zero points. Oklahoma State's Natalja Piliusina [4:13.25] overpowered Florida's Cory McGee [4:13.94] over the final 200 for the title.

It was another day at the office for Olympian Emma Coburn as she easily captured another NCAA title in the 3000 meter steeplechase. Out front early and hurdling cleanly, Coburn turned in a workmanlike performance [9:35.38] to easily better FSU's Colleen Quigley [9:38.23] and Weber State's Amber Henry [9:43.39].

Kimberlyn Duncan rebounded from her defeat in the 100 to capture the 200 in a wind-aided 22.04 - making her the fastest all-time collegian under all conditions over the furlong. Aggie sophomore Kamaria Brown was second in 22.21. On the men's side, A&M's Ameer Webb also vindicated a short dash setback by winning the longer sprint in 20.10. Mississippi's Isiah Young got up for second in 20.17.

In the women's 4 x 100 relay, prohibitive favorite Texas A&M did what they have done all season - win impressively. The Aggie's first place time of 42.68 was nearly a half second ahead of USF [43.36]. In the men's 4 x 1, a perfectly-timed lean by Florida's Dedric Dukes allowed the Gators [38.53] to nip Alabama by .01 seconds.

The final day produced no upset winners in the field events as the Aggies' Sam Humphreys [77.95m / 255'9"] won the javelin, Gator Omar Craddock [16.92m 55'6 1/4"] captured the triple jump, and Oklahoma's Tia Brooks [18.91m / 62' 1/2"] snagged the shot put crown by over three feet.

In the final field event of the meet - the women's high jump - Brigetta Barrett [1.95m / 6'4 3/4"] easily captured the title. Later in the mixed zone, the Olympic silver medalist was in a relaxed and fun-loving mood. When asked if the competition or her Friday pre-meet performance of the National Anthem made her more nervous, the Arizona senior didn't hesitate. "Oh, the National Anthem," smiled Barrett who has sung before the Millrose Games and other sporting events. "I don't know why. But the song is very hard to sing." Asked whether she would go out later with the media to sing Karaoke, she unhesitatingly retorted, "Yeah! I'm down. You down?" But a hearty laugh was followed by a serious moment. When asked about her future goals, Barrett - measuring her words carefully - said, "The goal is to become the best high jumper the world has ever seen." Big dreams can't come true unless you first have big dreams. Brigetta Barrett has them.

 

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Brigette Barrett, photo by Pretty Sporty Photos

 

 

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Abbey D'Agostino, 
photo by Pretty Sporty Photos, Cheryl Treworgy


 

 
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Jordan Hasay, 
photo by Pretty Sporty Photos, Cheryl Treworgy
 

 


 

The day began under sunny skies as the capacity crowd at Hayward Field was treated to a gold-medal rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by Brigetta Barrett - the defending NCAA champion, the current collegiate leader [6'6¼" / 1.96m], the collegiate record holder, and the reigning Olympic silver medalist in the high jump. It's good to have a broad array of versatile skills...

Almost as a hint of what was to come throughout the day, Stanford's Kori Carter set the tone for the superior performances that would follow. The junior - the pre-race favorite in the women's 400H - surprised all with a speedy, convincing, wire-to-wire victory. Her record-shattering time of 53.21 set a new collegiate and meet record - supplanting UCLA's Sheena Johnson's 2004 mark of 53.54. In the men's 400H, USC's Reggie White was nearly as impressive. The long-striding Trojan led from the gun and was never headed as his winning time of 48.58 lowered his own collegiate leading time of 49.17.

Kansas welcomed the points earned for them by Heptathlete Lindsay Vollmer. The Jayhawk multi star clinched her win in the 800 where her 7-second PR gave her 6086 points and the title. But it was her monster javelin heave of 151'6" [46.18m] - yet another lifetime best - that not only ensured 10 points for Kansas but also may have punctured the Triple Crown title hopes for the Lady Ducks.

The apprehension was palpable as the finalists loaded into the blocks for the women's 100. Vollmer's heptathlon win loomed even larger as the status of Oregon's English Gardner - suddenly a wounded Duck with a uncooperative right ankle - was most uncertain. Gardner quickly quashed all concerns. With a lightning start, the Oregon junior snatched a quick lead she never relinquished and powered to victory - and 10 big points for the Oregon women. Her 10.96 clocking - 3rd fastest collegiate mark of all time - vanquished an impressive field that included Octavius Freeman [2nd in 11.00] and Kimberlyn Duncan [3rd in 11.08]. Past the finish line, Gardner - on her knees and pounding the track in celebration - signaled that her successful defense of her 100 title had put the Ducks back in the game.

In the men's 100, a tricky zephyr slightly over the allowable limit was the only tarnish on Charles Silmon's sparkling winning time of 9.89w. His collegiate leading time equaled the wind-legal collegiate and meet record of Florida State's Ngonie Makusha - set in the rain in Des Moines in 2011. FSU's Dentarius Locke [2nd in 9.91] and Ole Miss' Isiah Young [3rd in 9.96] also dipped under 10 seconds.

It was all business in the women's 800 final. LSU junior Natolya Goule - the collegiate leader at 2:00.76 - rushed to the front from the opening gun to open up a sizeable lead on an impressive field. Taking the bell in 57.98, Goule pressed on as Oregon junior Laura Roesler moved into position for a furious final furlong. Goule - her face showing the effort - held form to stop the clock for the victory and a lifetime best of 2:00.06 while Roesler - who soaked up that Hayward Magic generously offered by the capacity crowd - also PR'd in 2:01.67 for second.

But there was more Hayward Magic to come. And this time Oregon's Elijah Greer - the collegiate leader at 1:46.20 - was the magician. Shunning the often ill-fated tendency to lay back, Greer stayed close to early pacesetter Leoman Momoh of Arkansas who was intent to keep the pace honest. The Duck senior made a decisive move just before the 600 meter mark to gain a critical 4 meter advantage. Penn State senior Casimir Loxsom - his last chance to capture an NCAA individual title - made a valiant bid down the final straightaway. But Greer - steeled by the roar of the Hayward faithful - would not crack. Greer [1:46.58] edged the Nittany Lion [1:46.88] for the win while Brannon Kidder [1:47.51] - Loxsom's frosh teammate - surprised for third.

The women's 400 provided a special glimpse into the next generation of 400 meter royalty. The race lived up to its pre-race billing as a showdown between the collegiate co-leaders at 50.88: Illinois' phenomenal long sprinter Ashley Spencer and Georgia's Bahamian star Shaunae Miller. As the race unfolded, Spencer - who has never lost a collegiate outdoor 400 - pushed hard down the backstretch. Coming off the Bowerman curve, Spencer embraced a two meter lead that Miller - try as she might - couldn't dent. Spencer - undefeated still! - finished in 50.28 to lower the collegiate leader and claim the #4 spot of the collegiate all-time list. Both Miller [2nd in 50.70] and Oregon's Phyllis Francis [3rd in 50.86] bettered the old collegiate leading mark.

Sometimes that ethereal Hayward Magic confers its mystical powers upon worthy performers beyond the circle of Oregon athletes. You might ask Bryshon Nellum. The USC star's career appeared to have been tragically eclipsed when Nellum was the victim of an improbable drive-by shooting several years ago. You wouldn't have suspected he had endured such a horrible occurrence by watching his stunning, storybook performance in the men's 400 final. Nellum - the collegiate leader - displayed a special toughness down the final straightaway to hold off Texas A&M's Deon Lendore - 44.73 to 44.94. Rejoicing his comeback all the way back, Nellum - effusive in the press tent - summed it up well. "It's a miracle," the new champion exclaimed.

The final track event of the day was the much-anticipated women's 5000 - an event with many story lines. Iowa State's Betsy Saina was seeking to take the 5000 crown as a bookend to her 10,000 win. Dartmouth's Abbey D'Agostino - the collegiate leader at 15:11.35 - was looking to successfully defend her 5000 title. And Oregon's Jordan Hasay was seeking to capture that elusive outdoor title in her final collegiate race in front of her adoring Hayward Field fans. After some early pacing work by Kentucky's Chelsea Oswald, Saina went to the front of the race with less than 6 laps remaining to pick up the pace and control the race tempo. The race was on. With less than 4 laps to go, the defending champion took over the lead and the pace quickened even more. It was Hasay and D'Agostino locked in combat at the bell. When Hasay spurted to the lead, the Oregon faithful roared. But the cool Ivy Leaguer stay poised and proceeded to unleash the decisive move with 300 remaining. It was over immediately. D'Agostino powered home in 15:43.68 and Saina [15:50.26] - awakened from her slumber over the final 200 - rallied to catch a fading Hasay [15:50.78] in the final meters. "I've been working on my speed and I feel strong," the victor noted. "I felt I had a good chance." Saina was reflective and gracious in defeat. "I was fighting and fighting. But I couldn't hold the pace. I kicked over the final 200. I'm happy to be here and finish in second place." A poised Hasay added, "It was bittersweet. I wouldn't change anything about my career here. I am grateful for all who have supported me. I look forward to focusing on the 10,000. My running career is just getting started."

Excitement swirled around the men's high jump - a showdown between Olympic silver medalist Erik Kynard and the Olympic bronze medalist Derek Drouin. It was the first such NCAA showdown since Olympic medalists Lee Evans and Larry James squared off in the 400 way back in 1969. Drouin - who lost to Kynard at Hayward the prior weekend at the Pre Classic - had the upper hand today. With a strategic pass at 2.31m [7'6¾"] after an initial, Drouin moved to the next height of 2.34m [7'8"]. When Kynard - jumping clean through 2.31m - was unsuccessful at three attempts at this height, Drouin's third-attempt clearance at 2.34 gave him his fifth NCAA title. "It's only the second time I've ever done that [passed to the next height after a miss]," noted the winner. "And it's the first time it's worked." Kynard was a realist in the wake of his loss. "He's a great jumper," acknowledge Kynard about his foe. I won last week. He beat meet this week. He had make 2.34 to beat me and he made it. It happens."

In other field events, UCLA junior and Olympian Julian Wruck captured the discus title with a mark of 213'1" [64.94m]. San Diego State's Shanieka Thomas took the triple jump with an impressive leap of 46'4¾" [14,14m] - once again relegating Kansas' Andrea Guebelle [44'8¾" / 13.63m] to the runner-up position. The pole vault title was won by Bethany Buell of South Dakota with a 14'7¼" [4.45m] clearance.

And so the stage is set. The Kansas women will take a 15 point lead over the Lady Ducks heading into the final day of competition. On the men's side, Texas and USC will start the Saturday events tied for the lead. And that means track & field fans will fill Hayward Field to see the final chapter of these battles for the NCAA team crown.

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TAFWA Award

Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

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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