As expected, speed was on display this weekend at the Jamaica Invitational – over and over and over again. The usual suspects – Bolt, Jeter, Blake – did their thing, but there were also a couple of surprises.
First the expected, and a touch of surprise as Carmelita Jeter (USA) powered her way to a WL 10.81 (1.0) in the 100 meters – running the event’s first sub 11 of the year. It wasn’t surprising that she took over the world lead in her first 100 of the year, it was surprising that she had to run that fast, as Kelly Ann Baptiste (TRI) got out ahead from the gun and stayed there for half the race! Jeter shifted gears and took over in the second 50, but Baptiste was rewarded with a 10.86 of her own, only .02 off her PR – and THAT’s what the rest of the world faces against Jeter – the need to PR just to have a shot!
It’s the same prospect facing most of the world’s men when lining up against Usain Bolt, as he proved in his season opener. Like Jeter his start was a tad shaky, but there was nothing shaky about his mid race surge as he simply ran away from this field without challenge in a WL 9.82. When you consider that only five other men in history have run faster, only two with any regularity, this race was a reminder that unless you step up your game big time this year only a select few have a shot at gold in London. In Kingston no one else ran under 10.00. Technically it was Bolt’s fastest ever opener, though he’s run faster this time of year, so it bodes well for his season. We still need to see a few others – Powell, Gay, Gatlin, Carter – but the 100 field is already getting narrow.
One of those hoping to challenge Bolt is teammate Yohan Blake who ran the deuce in this meet. The previous leader in the 100 (9.90) Blake used his speed to lead off the turn – a rarity for Blake – but only slightly as he was challenged hard by Nickel Ashmeade (JAM). Blake prevailed with a WL 19.91 over Ashmeade’s 20.09, but lacked the "zip" we’ve seen in many of his past 200 meter stretch runs. Previous leader Wallace Spearmon (USA, 19.95) looked a tad easier in his run, and we get to see what Walter Dix looks like in this event this week in Doha. But this is going to be one of the more fun events to handicap this year – and could be the year’s most exciting sprint event.
Speaking of trying to get a handicap an event, the women’s 400 could be more difficult than some may have thought – especially after Kingston. Sanya Richards Ross was starting to look dominant this year as no one had been able to challenge her so far. That changed yesterday as veteran Novlene Williams Mills (JAM) over powered Richards Ross in the stretch to take the WL with a stunning 49.99 win. Not that Sanya ran poorly as she clocked a season’s best 50.11, but she reverted to old habits going out harder than she could finish and Williams Mills reeled her in in the stretch. Then again, I alsoI have to say that Novlene looked more fit than I’ve seen, perhaps ever, and if that’s true may have just made the run for gold tougher for everyone.
Another woman that tossed her hat into the medal ring yesterday was hurdler Bridgette Foster Hylton (JAM) as her sizzling 12.51 win is second only to Sally Pearson’s 12.47 WL. The time was only .06 off her PR 12.45 and after a down 2011 she jumps immediately into the medal hunt in London. The question now is can she PR this year and if so can she get close to Pearson, as this is one heck of an early season run. Also promising was the12.64 by Priscilla Lopes Schliep (CAN), who opened last week at 12.95 then popped this time in Kingston. Impressive as she is coming back from maternity leave last year. Given her competitive history and PR 12.49, she too vaults into the medal hunt. As does Tiffany Porter who ran 12.65 in third as this was easily the fastest hurdle race of the year to date.
These were the best events in Kingston, but there were others of quality including a 48.73 hurdle win for Bershawn Jackson a he continues to be the top long hurdler in the early session. A 13.19 (1.0) for Hansle Parchment (JAM) who suddenly jumps onto the radar as he upset American Ronnie Ash (13.20). And a 3:35.92 1500 for Aman Wote (ETH) – yes they ran events longer than one lap in this meet! All in all competition-wise a very good meet, though there were several technical issues that made it hard to follow, but I’ll discuss those in another post.
While the Jamaica Invitational was the top meet of the weekend, there were several other big performances. The best of which came at the Arkansas Twilight as Aries Merritt (USA) ran 12.99 (2.9) in his heat of the 110 hurdles, then came back to win in a WL 13.03 (1.0)! A huge PR as he dropped from 13.09, and after his improvement and upset win at Worlds indoors he may now have to be considered as a potential medal threat for London – in what is shaping up as one of the most exciting events of the year. Note that Jeremy Wariner ran another 200 in this meet taking 4th in 20.76 (1.3). Somehow something doesn’t seem to be quite clicking for Wariner.
It was clicking for Stephanie Brown Trafton (USA) in Hawaii as she set a new American Record of 67.74m/222′ 3" in the discus. After down seasons in ’10/’11 Trafton is back to the form that saw her win gold in Beijing. A needed boost for US field event hopes.
There were also some promising performances at the Oxy Invitational in Southern California. One was the seasonal debut of Ryan Bailey (USA) in the 100 as he ran away from the field in 10.01 (0.7) as the runner up was well back at 10.28. The mark was easily his best ever opener and says that the move to John Smith is working. It bodes well for a run at a London berth on Eugene.
Brenda Martinez (USA) dropped down and ran the 800 here winning in 2:01.63 – defeating Olympic hopeful Alice Schmidt. Like Aries Merritt, Martinez had a breakthrough season indoors and is looking to break into the top group of 1500 runners at the Trials. Her kick was her strength indoors, so this race shows her speed is sharp. I think she’s going to be a factor in Eugene.
Speaking of Eugene, there was another meet there last night with Andrew Wheating making his seasonal debut in the 1500 at 3:44.97. Not earth shattering, but he is healthy and that is a good sign as he had the potential to be our top middle distance runner. Ashton Eaton was also there and won the hurdles in 13.57. He’s definitely on point this year in the track events, if he gets the field together he could be devastating. The decathlon will be a featured event in London.
So another outstanding weekend is in the books and with the Diamond League starting this week in Doha things are only going to heat up!