Ok people, like Christmas the Prefontaine Classic has come and gone – and just like Christmas I find myself the day after trying to figure out how it compares to meets past. It’s not a question of whether or not I liked the meet. It was track and field, of course I liked it. The question is to what degree was my appetite for the sport satiated?
Perhaps because of the discussion about the sport in general over the past week I may be a bit more "critical" than usual, but I found the meet to be "just ok" for me. Somehow the "Wow" factor was missing. You may or may not agree but consider that THE moment of the meet seemed to be the time of the fifth place finisher in the women’s 800! To me that says volumes about the "presentation" – and I’m not sure if that’s on the meet itself or the broadcast or a combination.
I’ve watched it twice already and came away with the same feeling each time. By the way I watched it with my mother the first time who’s a big track fan and she felt the same way. This from another long time fan of the sport. Still there was lots of good track and field on display and as usual I was left with several thoughts afterwards. Here are a few things that caught my attention.
Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce – SAFP’s race has become what I call "dialed in". She’s running the exact same race every time out and getting the same results – wins. Her forays into the deuce have made her stronger, and no one can afford to let her control that first 50 the way she does. Anyone wanting to win in Moscow, Beijing or Rio better figure out how to not let the race get out of hand to early. And one of THE defining sprint races in history could be her v Jeter in Moscow!
Mutaz Barshim – He IS the new Javier Sotomayor! His explosion and body position over the bar is outstanding, and after watching him over the past few weeks he’s simply the best out there. He’s young and perhaps still growing and that should scare the poo out of the competition – that and the fact that he has no fear. Consider that after missing twice at 2.39m he UPPED the bar to 2.40m/7′ 10.5" and cleared it! In an event that’s seen the recent emergence of athletes like Grabarz, Kynard, and Drouin, Barshim is beginning to look like a WR threat.
Merritt v James – While the male short sprinters continue to play Hide and Seek, the world’s best long sprinters are taking aim at each other – and we fans are thankful. After going head up in Shanghai, Olympic champion Kirani James and former Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt came to Eugene to go head to head again. James had his way in Shanghai, this one played out more as one would expect – a tight battle between two warriors won with just enough room to spare (Merritt 44.33/James 44.39). That evens the slate at 1-1, and I’m looking forward to the next race – and THAT is what makes the sport exciting, the anticipation of the next battle between titans! And that is what we need from the short sprinters.
Zuzana Hejnova – I’ve been taking about Hejnova and her potential for a couple years now. She’s been on a steady rise for years and right now it’s looking like 2013 could be the culmination of that rise. She’s won at Drake, Shanghai and now Pre in dominating, impressive fashion. More importantly she defeated the world’s best in the process. Granted it’s June and there’s still time for these women to close the gap, but that also means she has time to improve as well. She’s just as solid as any long hurdler I’ve seen at this time of year in a long time and my gut says she’s going to be a tough nut to crack in Moscow.
Men’s 110 Hurdles – What a difference a year makes! As 2012 closed I’m sure nearly every track fan on the planet expected Aries Merritt to have run near 12.90 by June. Instead I’ve watched him defer to injury twice now and the field for the hurdles has become a wide open affair. No sign of Liu Xiang. Dayron Robles on sabbatical in protest against his govt. Richardson not running great. And Oliver working on a comeback. Not quite how I expected things to be coming into Pre. Instead of a group of sub 13 performers slugging it out, we leave Pre with Parchment (13.05) setting a NR; Ortega (13.08) confirming as the next top Cuban; and Oliver (13.10) not dominant but progressing. This may be the most talented "speed" event in the sport. Top performers on the all time list go down season after season, yet the quality of the fields continues to improve. I have no idea right now who the top dog will be in Moscow, but I know it will be a premier event – whether the sport sells it that way or not.
Mary Cain – STUD! She took down Gallagher (I bow); she took down 2 minutes (I bow again); and she showed just what kind of competitor she is (bowing one mo gin)! I actually missed her race initially, because I was focused on the master class that Niyongabo was putting on on how to run the 800. Her run was a thing of beauty and made 1:56 look EASY! Going back and watching the race again however, this was no high school girl competing, because she ran like a seasoned veteran. She stuck her nose in it; ran her race, and challenged in the stretch. She is what’s NEXT and next is NOW. Best ever high schooler to put on a pair of spikes male or female period! Normally I’d say let her rest over the summer and come back and see how many records she can lower next year, but selfishly I want to see her in Europe because she’s already one of our best!
Appreciation - Now that I’ve praised Cain – and she certainly deserved it – I’m going to tell you fans that we can multi task and praise more than one athlete at a time! There was so much to appreciate in that race. Niyingabo was stellar! Brenda Martinez ran 1:58.18 and became a major middle distance player. I can hardly wait to see what she does in the 1500 now. We get so caught up in this sport with singular praise, whether it be Bolt, MJ, Lewis or whoever (now Cain) that we fail to recognize, and more importantly promote, the excellence of the sport! Personally I think we have more World Class athletes than any other sport out there. We just do a lousy job of telling that story to the public!
Walter Dix – When he’s healthy Dix is always heard from. Yesterday it was nice to see him ready to compete as he took Ashmeade to .02 of victory – and that’s looking a little rusty. He always looks a tad heavy to me – like if he’d drop 10 pounds he’d just fly around the track – but there is no discounting his competitive nature. When he’s healthy he finds the podium! Interesting fact of the day: he and Tyson Gay have not been healthy at the same time for a season during their entire professional careers! I’m not sure how fast Dix can cover 100, but he’s a beast in the deuce and certainly will pair with Tyson there to put us back in the international mix. A healthy Dix can make US sprinting fun this year. And that is good for the sport in this country as any battles with Bolt and the Jamaicans guarantees headlines.
Rome is the next stop on the Diamond League tour, but first the NCAA will be holding its championships this week. The Regional meets were nothing to write home about – how could there be when there are NO finals or championships on the line? But the NCAA Championships is one of the most exciting meets of the year, and this one is starting to look like one HOT meet! Will try to give my pre meet thoughts before things get started.