Now’s the time when we either watch athletes start to reach their peak or begin to falter a bit. Either way, we’re starting to get a clue at where the best battles may be when the first events begin at the World Championships. Judging from what I saw in Lausanne and Paris there’s going to be some great action in Moscow.
A lot of this season’s top action has been turned in by the women. This weekend the men showed that they too are headed for some exciting things in the next few weeks.
For example, I see the table being set for one of those rare sprint showdowns where the two top sprinters are truly in top form. Personally I’m still frustrated that we can’t get them on the track together before Moscow, but Tyson in Lausanne and Usain in Paris gave us some indication of what might be in store.
Tyson gave us another hot 100 running the season’s #2 time at 9.79. His start was mediocre at best, but the acceleration was classic Gay. He’s back to running 9.7x at will, which means he’s dangerous. There’s only one man out there that can hold off Gay’s finish and that’s Bolt. So that start needs work if he wants to reach the very top of the podium, because Bolt showed that he too is healthy and fit with a WL 19.73 deuce that removed Tyson from the top of the yearly list by .01. I dare say however, that Bolt still has a bit of work to do as well, because this race wasn’t as easy for Bolt as past races. He won with room to spare but really looked like he was “working” for this one. Usain has his “grown man’s” body now and is a bit thicker/heavier and not quite as lithe as when he still had his “young man’s” body. Those of us that have gone through that know there are some adjustments to be made – and Bolt seems to be going through that IMHO. There are a few weeks left and I’m sure that both men will be doing what needs to be done to be ready when the time comes. For us that means a potential battle a la Carl/Ben in Seoul – times two!
Suddenly we could also be headed for that type of showdown in the men’s high hurdles. About ten days ago the event was looking a bit lackluster – then the 4th of July came and David Oliver popped off his own fireworks with a sizzling WL 13.03 victory over Aries Merritt, Jason Richardson and others. He looked like the dominant hurdler from 2010, and for 48 hours he looked like the man to beat. Then they headed over to Paris and Merritt responded as champions and record holder do – by finally putting his race together and winning in a SB 13.09. Merritt appeared to be over his injury issues at nationals, but clearly wasn’t sharp. Paris was the first sign of sharpness from the WR holder. If he and Oliver are both truly hitting their stride, we could get one of this hot hurdle races that the World Championships is known for.
One event that I guarantee is going to be HOT in Moscow is the men’s high jump. Barshim Mutaz has looked like a potential record breaker all season long as he’s consistently jumped high. In Lausanne however it was Bohdan Bondarenko who was taking attempts over 8 feet! The Ukrainian’s 2.41m/7’10.75″ leap put him.01m ahead of Mutaz on both the yearly and all time lists – and we could be headed for something historical in Moscow with at least a pair of jumpers going for gold near eight feet. I say at least a pair because Erik Kynard continues to improve as well, leaping 2.37m/7’9.25″ behind Bondarenko – a jump that would have won most meets throughout history. This event has sizzled all season and shows no signs of cooling off.
Also hot all season has been the forgotten sprint – the 400. Everybody loves the 100, and its biggest stars always get the headlines – this year it’s Bolt and Gay. But if you want the blueprint on how to make this sport great, watch what’s happening with Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt in the 400. They’re running often enough that we don’t go to long without seeing one or the other compete. They’re running very fast when they do compete. And they’re competing head to head just enough. It’s that competing head to head that’s the key. It’s not every week like the hurdles – bless them – but just enough that we get excited about seeing them take to the track again. For the most part they’ve been going back and forth with wins and each race gets better! Paris was sterling as Kirani learned from their previous head to head (won by Merritt) and took control of the race by the 200 mark. Coming off the bend it was James in front and Merritt trying to get past unsuccessfully – James (43.96) crossing the line ahead of Merritt (44.09). This pair is competing at a level that few quartermilers have ever touched. I’ve heard many people say that if star athletes compete head to head during the season it diminishes the Olympics or World Championships. I’m sorry, but is there anyone out there that’s NOT looking forward to these two battling it out in Moscow?
It wasn’t all about the men this weekend mind you, as the women continue to make their statements. Topping my list is Zuzana Hejnova who looks like 400 hurdle gold every time she steps on the track. In Paris she once again a) dominated the race – especially late, and b) set another personal best with her 53.23 win. It marks the seventh season in the last eight that she’s set a NR – and she was close last year when she didn’t. She keeps getting better and looks ready to break the 53 second barrier. The young American crew looks very formidable, but my gut says you guys go through Hejnova this year to get gold.
I also think you have to go through Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce to get 100 gold, in part because Carmelita Jeter is still trying to find her way back from injury. But a serious third party has emerged this year in my opinion – Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare. Look no further than Paris where Okagbare and SAFP went head to head and down to the wire! When the smoke cleared SAFP had the win, but only by .01, 10.92 to 10.93 – and I’d love to see the thousandths breakdown in that one! Okagbare had been a long jump threat for a while winning bronze in Beijing and getting the win in Lausanne in 6.98m/22’10.75″. Lately however her 100 skills have been getting sharper – and she looked real sharp in Paris. She’s tall, strong, and her technique is getting better. SAFP, Jeter and the other sprinters better watch out least she sneak in and steal this one in Moscow. Remember she ran a barely windy 10.75 (2.2) at Pre and got nipped at the tape by SAFP. She won’t get nipped at the tape forever!
Another good weekend and more outstanding performances. We get an almost two week break before the next Diamond League event. I expect Monaco to give us a final taste before the big dance.