Trying to put something together on this meet has been giving me fits. Once again the Pre Classic was the best non championship meet on US soil. From the distance races Friday night (streamed live thank you) to the Bowerman Mile that closed out the NBC broadcast, the fields were top notch across the board. And at the end of the day, the results show 10 world leading performances, led by the very deep Kenyan 10,000 meter Trials.
But while the results were outstanding, in many cases they were also confusing, as favorites didn’t always perform like favorites; and American athletes often didn’t look like the Trials were a scant few weeks away. For example, that 8:34.47 in the women’s 3000 was run by Mariem Selsouli (MAR) not Sally Kipyego (KEN). The 3000 is an odd distance, but Sally doesn’t get out kicked the way she did today – does that make Selsouli a new player over 5000?
Then there was the men’s hurdles where Liu Xiang (CHN) equaled the WR (12.87), but the wind (2.4) was a tad over the allowable. The confusing part, or maybe not, was how easily he handled this field, which was only missing WR holder Dayron Robles (CUB) among major contenders for London – apparently Robles is having visa problems. That may have been a blessing in disguise for Robles, as Liu led from the gun to the tape without a hitch in one of the most dominant hurdle performances I’ve ever seen. Aries Merritt was second in 12.96 and was never in the race! David Oliver’s 13.13 was almost in another zip code as the AR holder is not looking like the hurdler of 2010. We’ve been talking about a “Big Three” in the hurdles for a couple of seasons now, as Robles, Liu, and Oliver are the three fastest in history, but right now the Big Three is looking like a runaway train called Liu Xiang – and I’m not sure he can be derailed.
You want a confusing race, try the men’s 400, Kirani James (GRN) and Lashawn Merritt (US) had their first head to head of the year with Merritt outrunning James to the line in a reverse replay of their Daegu battle - Round One to Merritt. Except James won’t show in the results, and this race won’t count, because he false started out of the race, as the dumbest rule in sports once again raised it’s ugly head – this rule MUST be addressed and changed! James competed in the race by running under protest, but his result will never be known – even though he didn’t false start in the actual race, which went off without a hitch! And if you think the false start rule is bad, look down the results until you get to Jeremy Wariner – 5th even with the James DQ! At least James knows he was right there with Merritt, I’m wondering if Wariner is headed to another major at all!
Staying with the quarter, Wariner’s stable mate Sanya Richards Ross (can I just say Richards?) faced the toughest 400 field of the season, including Jamaica Invitational conqueror Novlene Williams Mills (JAM), and World champion Amantle Montsho (BOT). Sanya ran her best race of the season winning in a WL 49.39. But she had to resort to coming from behind on Montsho however, as after once again going out hard in the first half of the race, the World champ went by her with a superior second turn – the same move that won her gold in Daegu. Call me crazy, but I’m not sure how many times Sanya can afford to let Montsho get away like that, because her fast early pace often leaves her a little short in the stretch. We’ll see how this plays out as the season goes on.
Speaking of early getaways, that’s what Allyson Felix (US) got in the deuce, as she made up the stagger on Carmelita Jeter before hitting the straight and cruising home on 22.26 in her season’s debut in the event. I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but that might be deceiving however, as Jeter certainly didn’t look like a 10.8/10.7 sprinter today. Jeter looked like Bolt in Ostrava – a bit off – and we know what Bolt looked like in Rome. Don’t get me wrong, Felix looked solid and this debut was faster than she ran all of last year, but that turnover didn’t look fast enough to go by Jeter – and VCB ALWAYS burns the turn. I will feel a bit more secure about Felix when I see something under 22.00.
I’ll feel more secure about Walter Dix when I see him run again, maybe. Dix was supposed to run the double in Eugene and opened up in the 100. But a poor start left Dix behind the field early in the, and a flying Justin Gatlin (9.90) who looks like he’s starring in a T&F version of “Back to the Future” as he’s zipped back in time to 2006 to become the dominant sprinter in the US once again. Gatlin was technically “on” from gun to tape, while Dix broke down in the final 20/30 meters. With Tyson Gay still on the sidelines Gatlin is proving to be the man to beat. Meanwhile, Dix withdrew from the 200, leaving Wallace Spearmon to cruise to victory in 20.27 against a 2.1 mps headwind. Sir Walter is nothing if not a competitor, and typically performs best in championship settings. But I get nervous when athletes are pulling out of races this close to the Trials – which begs the question: where was Ryan Bailey when the 100 went off?
Adding to the confusion of the day Jamaica’s #3 all time in the 100, Nesta Carter, was trounced by teammate Nickel Ashmeade as Ashmeade’s 9.93 was well up on Carter’s 10.05. Based on their last couple of outings Ashmeade is looking like the Trials contender and Carter like he’s gone back to ’06 with Gatlin – except that wasn’t a good year for Carter.
Speaking of Back to the Future, that’s where most of our middle distance runners seen to be with just weeks ‘til the Trials. David Torrence scored a 3:52.01 PR in the mile – Asbel Kiprop literally cruising to a 3:49.40 WL in one of the easiest looking sub 3:50 miles I’ve ever seen. Alysia Montano scored a near PR 1:57.37 win in the 800 – to move to #2 on the year globally. And Alice Schmidt moved up from the half to the 1500 to score a 4:05.64 PR. But a whole slew of our best over the last couple seasons simply under performed including: Jenny Simpson, Anna Pierce, Shannon Rowbury, Lopez Lamong and Andrew Wheating – though I might cut Wheating a bit off slack as he’s coming off injury last year. But this is the group I thought would make us respectable in London this year, and right now they are well off the pace being set by the rest of the world.
All those questions aside there were still several standouts. The Kenyan men’s 10,000 Trials were everything they were built up to be. As was the Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH, 30:24.39) Florence Kiplagat (KEN, 30:24.85) battle over the same distance. Treating us to some of the best distance running ever seen in the US. The men’s 800 saw a terrific stretch run by Abubaker Kaki (SUD, 1:43.71) and Mohamed Aman (ETH). And a silky smooth mile win for Asbel Kiprop (KEN, 3:49.40) who runs the mile the way teammate David Rudisha runs the 800 – seemingly never leaving third gear!
On the US front, Christian Taylor and Will Claye continued to be the best pair of triple jumpers on the planet as Taylor continues to be clutch when the lights are on – this time with a WL 17.62m/57’ 9.75”, with Claye right behind at 17.48m/57’ 4.25” – these two are money. Galen Rupp scored a huge 5000 PR (12:58.90) in third as he "teamed" with Brit Mo Farah (1st in 12:56.98) to shake up the Africans as Rupp is starting to really blossom! Reese Hoffa boomed a 21.81m/71’ 6.5” as our shot putters continue to be one of our strengths. And we got an AR in the hammer as Jessica Cosby’s 74.19 found her in 4th against a field that included Betty Heidler (GER), Anita Wlodarczyk (POL), and Tatyana Lysenko (RUS).
But with the Trials literally around the corner, and the Games less than two months away, there’s a lot of work to be done by a lot of athletes.