I will say an outstanding win in the pole vault for Jenn Suhr (USA). Primarily because Yelena Isinbayeva was in the field and finished with the bronze. A great win for Jenn who upgraded from silver in Beijing, but more so the signal of change in the event, as “Isi’s” best days are clearly behind her. Remember a couple of weeks ago I said this was going to be a transition Olympics, and that is what seems to be happening.
Same story in the men’s 400 meters. That was a big win for Kirani James (GRN). Not so much because he won, but he did so BIG and broke the 44 second barrier running 43.94. He’s the first new sub-44 man since Merritt broke the mark in 2007 with his 43.96 silver in Osaka – he finished behind Wariner’s PR 43.45! Merritt’s first time under 44 signaled change and I think James’ does as well, as lots of new faces were in the race.
Finally, there’s a line in the movie “The Matrix” that says “some things change, and some things never do”. I find that appropriate for the men’s 400H as two men have taken turns leap frogging each other to win the gold medal for the last 12 years. Angelo Taylor (USA) won gold in 2000 and 2008. In between Felix Sanchez (DOM) took the 2004 title. Well Felix was back in London, and after not really being on the radar for most of the season, ran a great set of marks culminating in winning his second gold medal in 47.63 – the exact same time he ran to win in 2004! I said earlier in the week that he had moved into the favorite’s position and that the smartest runner would win, and that is what happened as , along with Sanchez, Michael Tinsley (USA) ran a well paced race to steal silver from a faltering Javier Culson (PUR), the pre meet favorite; and a faltering Angelo Taylor (USA) – who just seemed to have the race plan of running as hard as he could and trying to hang on. The 35 year old Sanchez became the oldest ever winner of the event and joined Taylor and Edwin Moses as athletes winning titles 8 years apart.
That was my catching up. Now on to today’s action, because it was HOT and there were more transitions. Let’s start with some morning qualifying. In the men’s 110 hurdles I believe we witnessed the beginning of this event’s transition as Liu Xiang (CHN) went down with an Achilles injury. It could be the end of his career and if it is, it has truly been a great career. The heir apparent could be Aries Merritt (USA) who just runs fast these days – this time scoring a 13.07 heat! World champion Jason Richardson (USA) and defending Olympic champion Dayron Robles (CUB) both ran 13.33’s to move along easily. But I’m going to say it right now Merritt is going to be hard to beat and it may take 12.8x to win this race!
Another big round of qualifying was in the men’s 200 meters as Usain Bolt (JAM) and Yohan Blake (JAM) cruised their way into the semi finals. In contrast, Wallace Speamon (USA) ran hard from an inside lane, and will find himself facing a hot semifinal of himself, Blake, Christophe Lemaitre, and Saidy Ndure with 2 automatic qualifiers and 2 to make the final on time. I’m a big Spearmon fan, but it’s time to get serious and run the turn. The one time he ran a turn he ran 19.65 in Daegu in ‘06. He’s going to need that kind of effort or he’ll be watching from a vantage point slightly better than mine.
Actually there was a lot of qualifying going on today with only four finals. In other qualifying both Christian Taylor (USA) and Will Claye (USA) moved on in the triple jump. With Teddy Tamgho (FRA) already out due to injury, Phillips Idowu (GBR) became the next big name casualty as he failed to make the final. Ukrainian Sheryf El Sheryf also failed to make the final and suddenly there is the possibility of a Taylor/Claye 1-2. We’ll see how that turns out, but clearly the triple jump is making a transition as the Cubans and Eastern European athletes are beginning to fade and a young pair of American’s have brought us back in this event.
In the men’s 800 meters, David Rudisha continues to rule things as he cruised his way into the final. But in an event that is clearly in flux a group of very young Africans, a Brit and two Americans (Duane Solomon & Nick Symmonds) follow him into the final – and nearly any combination of medalists can emerge! Finally in the women’s 200 the principles all moved through the semis – Allyson Felix (USA), Carmelita Jeter (USA), Sanya Richards Ross (USA), Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM), and Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce (JAM) – to set up another epic sprint final. She who runs the turn best will be in the medal hunt – but hard to see Felix not taking this unless VCB or Fraser has a HUGE turn and leaves too much ground to make up. But Felix’ speed seems to be at it’s best as is her turn, so grab your popcorn and stay tuned for this final tomorrow!
Today, however, there were four finals that were all worth the money. In the men’s discus we got a come from behind win from German Robert Harting. Harting has spent the last several years dominating this event but found himself in bronze medal position for most of the day. Then in the 5th round he finally found his form and boomed a big 68.27m/223’12” throw to nail down gold! Similarly we watched as defending Olympic champion Jesse Williams (USA) went out at 2.29m/7’6”” to finish in 9th place – mark he has cleared several times this season. While eight men cleared that mark, only two would clear 2.33m/7’7.75 – eventual champion Ivan Ukhov (RUS) and new silver medalist Erik Kynard (USA). Ukhov would clear 2.36m/7’9” and 2.38m/7’9.75” before missing at 2.40m/7’10.5”. Kynard would take a jump at each height attempting to make up being behind on misses in an attempt to win the gold. A big medal win for the Kynard who is another youngster moving up in his event!
Finally there were two EXCITING finals on the track. The first being the expected crowing of Sally Pearson (AUS) as Olympic champion. She further upped the expectations with a sizzling 12.39 semifinal. But defending champion Dawn Harper (USA) gave notice that she was not going quietly into the night as she blitzed a PR 12.46 in her semi – and suddenly Sally looked to have some competition. Well competition she had aplenty as with rain beginning to to fall, Sally burst from the blocks in the final only to find Dawn Harper closing hard at the tape. It was close enough that Sally had to wait and watch the Jumbotron to see if she had indeed won the race. The verdict: Pearson 12.35, Harper 12.37! It was an Olympic Record for Pearson, and moved Harper to =#2 all time American behind only Gail Devers and equal to Joanna Hayes! Awesome race.
But THE race of the day was the men’s 1500. Because as I’ve pointed out several times, big races are made in the second half as they are seldom “time trials”, but become highly tactical. So judging them based on PR’s is almost useless, with the key being able to run smart and put yourself in the position to attack and hold it when the time comes. We saw that in abundance today as three Kenyans and an Ethiopian were joined by a pair of Americans, a Norwegian, a Turk, an Algerian, a New Zealander, a Moroccan, and a Burundian. The pace dawdled, there was still a pack with a lap to go – and then the race started! There was much going on throughout the final lap, with much changing of place – which made the race ultra exciting. But in the end as they came off the turn Taoufik Makhloufi (ALG) broke into the lead and refused to let go winning in 3:34.08. The finish behind him was fierce, but none was running harder in the stretch than Leo Manzano (USA) who grabbed the silver medal at 3:34.79. Right behind him was a fierce battle for the bronze with Abdalaati Iquider (MAR, 3:35.13) just edging Matthew Centrowitz (USA, 3:35.17)! The first silver since Jim Ryun in 1968 and the first 2-4 finish since Berlin 1936! A race that sent most American’s into hysterics! But if anyone had been paying attention, US distance runners have improved preatly over the past few seasons and they have developed the ability to kick. We still have trouble in races that go faster than 3:32, but in the mid 3:30’s we’re right there. So another transition move in the distance events for the US to go with the finish in the 10,000 – and there are still a few more events left. And yes, I did predict a medal for the US and was ridiculed – just as I was for the 10,000.
There is still lots left to go. Tomorrow finals in the women’s deuce and men’s 110 hurdles Another late night and very early morning – but I’m almost getting used to it.