The London leg of the Diamond League loomed as the most significant of the year for me. In part because it is the only DL meet to have all of the various events – so somewhat of a full preview before the Games – but also because London is where the Games are being held. We didn’t get a peak at the Olympic stadium, but otherwise the same conditions that will prevail at the Games. So it had the potential to be as close to a pre-Olympic meeting as one could put together.
So, what were the results after two days of competition (somehow it still takes us two days to run a one day event)? Personally I came away more confused and conflicted than ever about what’s going to happen at the Games!
First injuries. Off course Bolt dominated most of last week as the specter of a sub par Bolt looms for the Games – a potentially huge marketing disaster for a sport that only knows how to hitch it’s wagon to a single horse. But London (DL) revealed more injuries. Bolt compatriot Asafa Powell pulled from the meet to protect a bad groin. Hurdle favorite Liu Xiang pulled from the meet to protect a sore back. Hurdler Tiffany Porter left the track in pain and tears following her hurdle heat. Triple jumper Phillips Idowu pulled from the meet because of hip tightness. And during the course of the weekend word came that high jumper Blanka Vlasic is withdrawing from the Games due to injury. Talk about shaking up my pre Games score sheet! I may have to start over.
Then there was the weather. Rain. Cold. Not the weather you want for any meet, let alone the Games. That’s why London wasn’t on my personal short list of potential Olympic venues. I know they have no control over the weather – that’s exactly why I wasn’t in favor. I just like the idea of having the Games in places that we know will have great, or at least decent, weather. A great spectacle deserves a great environment IMHO. I want the athletes to determine the results, not the conditions. Yes I know the conditions are the same for everyone, but do you really want a slip, or fall, skidding pole or puddle on the ring to be the deciding factor in anything? I’m just saying. Fans should be buying big hats and sun glasses, not umbrellas and rain slickers. I’ll leave it at that.
Then to go with the weather and injuries, we got upsets. That friendly reminder that on any given day anything can happen. And it doesn’t get any bigger these days than a Sally Pearson loss. The last time she lost she actually fell down and didn’t finish – last year in Brussels – so technically a DNF. In London Kelli Wells did what was beginning to seem impossible as she edged Pearson 12.57 to 12.59 – small margin, huge win! Major confidence boost for Wells and an eye opener for the others. Of course it went to the lean here, so Pearson was beaten, but barely. Everybody better come stronger next time because, weather permitting, we still know Sally can go sub12.40.
Sally losing is front page news, but an even bigger upset may be Blessing Oksgbare’s win in the 100 over World champ Carmelita Jeter and defending Olympic champ Shelly Ann Fraser – the 2nd and 4th fastest women in history. Without repeating the race blow by blow, Okagbare had the better start and refused to let it go. Fraser faltered badly throughout the race while Jeter tried to overtake Blessing but couldn’t. Suddenly Okagbare adds another dimension to what was already a complex event. VCB stands in everybody’s way. Madison is getting better. And if Okagbare can steal a race, what happens if Felix gets ahead early?
I’m going to classify the results of the men’s 800 as an upset of sorts. Because the man that has been expected to pressure David Rudisha in this event, Abubaker Kaki, got beat and beat badly. Indoor sensation Adam Kszczot did what he does and finished better than everyone else in the race to win in a modest 1:44.49. But well back in 4th in 1:46.05 was Kaki – and I’m ready to call him as off the podium at the Games. Aside from Kszczot, no one else should really have challenged Kaki in this modest field, so I consider this a major blow to his Olympic bid. With Rudisha running whatever he wants at will and youngsters like Nijel Amos, Abraham Rotich and Mohammed Aman on the rise, there is little room for error in this event. Personally I wonder if Kaki may be best off in the future in the 1500.
Enough about the “bad” news coming out of London. There were lots of great performances. With some athletes starting to solidify “spots” in the Games. Take the men’s 100 where Tyson Gay continues to confirm that his passing gear is intact, and that if close at the midway mark he is always a threat to win/medal. Here he came from behind once more to win in 10.03 into a headwind (-1.3mps) and the cold. I have to say, however, that I’m not sure the Games will be won from behind, so while Tyson’s top end is golden, his start could put him off the podium (gotta be real). So hopefully he cleans that up between now and the Games. The pleasant surprise in the race was runner up Ryan Bailey, who went with Tyson mid race and ran by everyone else on his way to 2nd place. It confirms his placing at the Trials and puts him in position to be a finalist in a couple of weeks. Contrastingly Trinidad’s Keston Bledman didn’t make it out of the heats here – not good with the Games around the corner.
In the men’s 200, we got one of the best races of the meet in my opinion, as Christophe Lemaitre out dueled Churandy Martina 19.91 to 19.94 in the stretch. Both men move into medal contention with several of the world’s best either missing for London (Gay & Dix) or in question (Bolt). They join Yohan Blake and Wallace Spearmon at the top of the current 200 short list.
But the biggest move among the men on the track may have been made by hurdler Aries Merritt. With Liu Xiang removing himself from the final to nurse his back after a 13.27 heat win, he got to watch as Merritt screamed another 12.93 to win ahead of Jason Richardson’s 13.06! Suddenly Merritt is fast AND consistent, and the favorite heading into London. I mean twice now he’s gone 12.93; Liu says his back hurts; and Dayron has been MIA due to some sort of injury. What at the start of the year looked a race among the “Big Three” for gold and the WR, has turned into the New Players’ Ball with Merritt and Richardson leading the way and Jeff Porter waiting to pounce! This event has gotten interesting.
So has the women’s 1500 meters. Twelve women have broken 4:00 this year – a dozen. That’s speed. But still, I have to think that in an Olympic setting, racing tactics will prevail. Yesterday we got to see that in action, but not quite the outcome that I expected. Maryam Jamal and Morgan Uceny pretty much controlled the majority of the race. And at the bell Uceny was right near the front of the pack ready to do what she does. Except the turnover wasn’t quite there rounding the final bend. Jamal had no trouble with turnover, however, as she simply ran away from everyone – in a much easier fashion than should have been possible! A second behind her, Jenny Simpson got it done once again while for the first time Uceny appeared frustrated to me and fell to 5th behind Anna Pierce and Laura Weightman, with Shannon Rowbury another spot back. I’m hoping that was the bad race that everyone is allowed for both Uceny and Rowbury, and that both will be back on point in London. But after watching Jamal, as well as most of the top 1500 races this year, Maryam has hedged her way to my favorite’s position just ahead of the Games – that kick was just devastatingly easy for her.
Also appearing just too easy for the competition was triple jumper Christian Taylor. In much less than ideal conditions he cranked out few 17 meter jumps where no one else could hit the mark once – winning in 17.41m/57’ 1” into a slight headwind. With Idowu possibly on the shelf and Teddy Tamgho long ago out of the Games, only teammate Will Claye seems to be Taylor’s equal. Similarly Javier Culson seems to just be a step ahead of the competition this year in the long hurdles again running an =WL 47.78 to defeat World champ David Greene and defending Olympic champ Angelo Taylor. Meanwhile Bershawn Jackson was DQ’d at the start – I HATE this rule – continuing what is certainly the season from Hell for Batman.
And I would be remiss if I talked about this meet without ending with Christine Ohuruogu taking the scalp of Amantle Montsho in the 400. Just as Montsho was looking like a potential medalist – and she still is in my book – she gets taken down in the stretch by Ohuruogu, who may be the scariest quartermiler on the planet on the women’s side. She doesn’t run fast. You won’t find a long list of sub50’s on her resume – only two – to win in Osaka and to win in Beijing! She WILL have an impact at the Games. She CAN win in spite of the times being turned in by R-Ross, Krivoshapka and others. And she’s beginning to typify what I think the Games may look like – on any given day!
I had hoped to put my medal list out tomorrow, but I’m going to sit back and look at a little more tape a few more results before I do that.