The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Prefontaine – Post Meet Thoughts

Jun 2nd, 2013
11:18 am PDT

Lashawn MerrittOk 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.

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4 Responses to “Prefontaine – Post Meet Thoughts”

  1. Waynebo says:

    This year’s broadcast of Pre emphasizes the point I made on your last post – the broadcasts aren’t helping the sport. Maybe I’m being petty, but they need to get rid of Tom Hammond. He clearly isn’t a track guy. He doesn’t even want to use the vocabulary of the sport, insisting on saying “pacemakers” or even “so-called rabbits”. It took them long enough to get him to stop announcing 9.84 as “nine and eighty-four one-hundreths” instead of “nine eighty-four”. Drives me crazy… I can’t recall their names, but the british guys we heard a lot during the olympics and on some diamond league meets (Merritt’s WR comes to mind) are MUCH better and clearly have passion for the sport. They should be NBC’s “A-Team”. I do think the analysts (Boldon, Stones, etc.) do a good job most of the time, but I am not a big fan of post-race interviews. The interviews we see on flo-track after they’ve had a few minutes to gather themselves are much better. And while I’m on the topic, at the New York GP meet, the camera man kept letting the race leaders run off of the screen. Seriously?! It would help the sport of NBC steps their game up a bit.
    Ok. Enough of that. Let me calm down and catch my breath… :-)

    It was good to see Merritt beat James – and run 3 tenths faster than in Shanghai – but I must say that I think he won due to a tactical error on James part and not superior strength. That still counts (as we learned watching Sanya), but I don’t think James is gonna goof that up too many more times. It’s good for the rivalry though.

    Dix needs to take a page out of Gatlin’s playbook and drop that weight. Gatlin dropped 15 lbs. and it got him all the way down from 9.9x to 9.79 and the olympic podium. Dix is probably gonna need to improve his 19.53 PR to get on the podium in Moscow. (Gay is back, Weir will be more confident) Walt better peep game ASAP because the competition is tighter than ever.

    The women’s 800 is looking really good this year. Mary Cain, my hat is off to you. [Wait! I stopped wearing hats when I started shaving my head so I'll just join Mr. Hill and bow :-)]
    Seriously, a high school girl breaking 2-minutes in the 800 is just ridiculous! With that mental barrier out of the way, I expect her to go faster – this year. I hope she runs another one soon.
    Having 3 americans under 2:00 at this point is a good sign for the U.S.

    • CHill says:

      Let’s see .. I think the big missing element is passion … I’ve watched lots of track on the internet and listened to folk from different countries … Ours tend to treat it like a “broadcast” while others year it like their talking to you about the meet – if that makes any sense … I’ve met lots of people at meets who ask me if I’m going to be at the next meet they’re going to be at .. The reason ?? They say they learn a lot and I make the meet fun !! Not trying to brag, but that’s what’s missing .. Knowledge is important, but delivery is even more important .. If commentators would just have an on air conversation about the meet, people would learn what they know and gain a better understanding of the meet .. Just my opinion ..

      Merritt v James .. Yes James let him get away, but Merritt is his peer .. I think Merritt learned something is Shanghai and James something yesterday .. Also note that yesterday was Merritt’s second 400 – he ran a few deuces first .. My point is that while everyone got excited about James’ 44.02, Merritt had been there to – just not that race … This is going to be a great matchup add long as both stay healthy ..

      I don’t know what Dix weighs, but he “looks” heavy to me .. Everyone has a point where size/power peaks and then becomes a liability .. 19.5 shouldn’t medal .. Not with Bolt, Blake, and Gay all healthy .. Then you have Lemaitre, Weir, Young, Spearmon, Martina who are in that 19.7/8 zone .. Assume Dix at least 19.5/6 and this could be the event of the year – but it won’t be run enough ..

      I’m as excited as anyone about Cain .. I just want to see her run !! It would be nice to see us get a pair under 1:58 .. I’d be happy with that .. We have several that have run 1:58 including milers like Uceny, Pierce (is she Willard again), and now Martinez .. We should have more sub 1:58 than we have .. Odd as it may sound I hope some of these women find inspiration in Cain ..

  2. Waynebo says:

    On another note, I have a question. Watching Gatlin walk down Rodgers in the last 15m of the 100m twice in a row got me to thinking. Why is it that guys who are really good starters rarely seem to improve their strength and also become strong finishers. SAFP seems to be doing just that on the women’s side. but I think of guys like Asafa Powell and even Ben Johnson – who took steroids to solve the problem of getting walked down in the final meters.

    My question is: Is building that strength really THAT hard or are these cats just unwilling to put in the work? If I were Rodgers, I would get tired of the same guy coming from behind to beat me and I would work like hell to bring that crap to a halt. I would make sure that once I got out i front of you, I stayed there. Imagine what Asafa could have done if he had improved his finish…

    • CHill says:

      Finish is more about relaxation than strength .. You need strength to be able to continue to repeat the movements and not break down .. But you need the relaxation to keep you from decelerating ..

      You reach peak speed around 60 meters .. The faster starters get there sooner than the slower starters … They also tend to have “tighter” movements .. Harder for them to relax .. Anyone that’s known me for any length of time will tell you I nearly always bet my money on the finishers !!

      Now Been used drugs to just keep powering down the track .. But Been was a freak even without the drugs because nothing about his running style was normal – from his start, to lack of drive, to finish .. He’s not one to emulate ..

      SAFP is a little stronger, but women don’t have a lot of synth in general do any extra strength shows – go back and look at FloJo ..
      Power had become more important on the men’s side, but more so in mid race where separation occurs in transition .. Watch the last 20 that’s where you will see the difference in relaxation for all but Tyson .. Another freak ..

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