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

It’s Beijing Time

Aug 14th, 2015
8:33 pm PST

Sprinter ShadowHow times flies when you’re having fun! One minute I’m watching Prefontaine, NCAA’s and US Nationals and suddenly it’s almost time for the World Championships. In between there have been a slew of meets streamed online. So many that I’ve literally had little time to just sit and absorb and comment. Youth Championships, Jr Championships, Pan Ams, European Championships (Jr & Sr). Literally a smorgasbord of track and field. For the first time I feel like the internet has truly paid homage to the sport! This is what I’ve dreamed of my whole life. It’s been a wonderful summer in that regard.

Now the general news coming out of the sport has been less pleasing, allegations of doping from one of the sports preeminent coaches – Alberto Salazar. The treatment of Justin Gatlin who has done everything the sport has asked him to do. Stories of doping on a massive scale throughout the sport and huge sanctions on dozens of individuals dating back as far as 2005! Yes, I’m aware of what’s going on, and in some respects I’ve not written anything for nearly a month in deference to not wanting to say anything negative in the lead in to Beijing. I still love this sport, and at the end of the day I would hope that the action on the track and field should trump everything else. So I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about Worlds – before and then after – before I give my two cents on all the other off the track activities – though I have much to say about a lot of things.

Ah, but first there will be Beijing. The first Worlds where we’ll be going back to an Olympic venue to stage a World Championships. A nice idea actually. The Birds Nest was a great venue that put on some great performances and I’m looking forward to what’s going to happen this time around as the sport has progressed greatly in the seven years since the Olympics – WOW it’s been seven years!

This year has in many ways been an off the chart season. We’ve seen outstanding performances across the board on the track, in the field, men and women. We head to Beijing in a week looking at what could be the most exciting World Championships ever. In spite of the negativity off the track, it’s time to enjoy the best the sport has to offer. I believe the following could highlight this edition of Worlds.

 

Justin Gatlin

Gatlin was the 100 champion in Athens in 2004. He only gained in stature in ’05/’06. Then he was forced out of the sport. 2008 saw the rise of Usain Bolt, who proceeded to take the title in ’08, ’09, ’12, ’13. Now Gatlin is back in form in both the 100 and 200 and poses the greatest challenge that Bolt has yet seen during his reign of terror on the sprint world! I’m not sure there has been a bigger prerace story in the sprints since Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson faced off in the 1987 World Championships! It’s rare that you have this kind of showdown, and we’ve never had one that could involve BOTH short sprints! I want to examine this showdown in a post of it’s own before Worlds – it’s THAT hot.

 

Andre Degrasse

Canada hasn’t had a sprint contender since Donovan Bailey back in the late 1990’s. Bailey was a World & Olympic champion and WR holder in the 100 (9.84). His 1996 win in Atlanta was scintillating! Finally, nearly 20 years later a successor has arrived in Degrasse and his NCAA double (9.75w/19.58w) was just as scintillating as Bailey back in the day. His legal times (9.95/19.88) make him a greater contender in the 200, but it’s nice to see someone other than American or Caribbean that is a legitimate threat to make the finals and be competitive. And frankly what makes him exciting to me is that he’s less about "times" and is just a competitor. He has the potential to upset things and get on the podium!

 

Men’s 400

For the first time since 1992, the annual list of the 400 has THREE men under 44.00! In ’92 they were Quincy Watts (43.50), Danny Everett (43.81) and Michael Johnson (43.98). This year Isaac Makwala (43.72), Kirani James (43.95), and Wayde van Niekerk (43.96). This year’s group is important in that it represents all of the non-Americans that have run under 44.00 and there is no American on the list – yet. With LaShawn Merritt gaining form and two others at 44.27 we’re looking at what could be the greatest 400 meter race in history in Beijing! No race has yet had more than two men under 44 – we could see at least three if not more. And the yearly list should have at least four and could have up to six. This is as big a year for the 400 as we’ve seen since the first breakage of the 44 second mark in 1968 and the resurgence of the event in 1988. Beijing will be huge.

On a side note, Makala and van Niekerk are the leaders in an African resurgence in the sprints. Two in the top twenty in the 200, another pair in the top twenty in the 100. The African nations, and South Africa in particular, appear to be poised to reenter the sprint world for the 1st time since the early ’90’s. They, along with the Canadians, look ready to make the sprints something more than an annual America v Jamaica v Caribbean festival.

 

Women’s 100

There are NINETEEN women under 11.00 – incredible! Yes, the US and Caribbean nations are there, but so is Great Britain, and the Netherlands, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, and Ecuador. The University of Oregon has three current and alumni – and is sending three sprinters to Worlds! A high school junior to be is on the list! Given the three per nation nature of the World Championships, not all will be in Beijing – which makes me wish that Worlds was structured differently. However, it could take sub 11 to get out of the quarterfinals, and should differently be required to get from the semis into the finals. That said, I can see a final with the majority, if not all, under 10.90! That’s a hot event.

 

Men’s Triple Jump

Speaking of a hot event, the triple has a pair of men over 59 feet going head to head! That’s not happened since the mid 90’s when WR holder Jonathon Edwards (18.29m) and AR holder Kenny Harrison (18.09m) went head to head. This year’s duo of Pedro Pichardo (18.08m) and Christian Taylor (18.06m) have reminded me of just how beautiful an event the triple jump is – as well as how awesome Edwards’ record is! Taylor is within a hair of the AR, but the real question is can this pair push each other towards the WR? The triple jump record may be more Beamonesque than Beamonesque long jump record was! We’re talking 60 feet here – SIXTY FEET. That long jump record lasted 23 years! The triple jump record is now in year 20. Will it survive until the Games? Will it survive to see 24 years? This will be a must watch event and I hope TV gives it justice.

On a side note, the US will be represented by 4 young men from the University of Florida! Christian Taylor who had a bye and Will Claye, Omar Craddock, and Marquis Dendy. That’s unprecedented. Congrats to the Gators!

 

Women’s 1500

I hate to bring up the "D" word, but when judging women’s events and performances drugs/doping had long been a barrier to improvement – at least when it comes to records. Nearly every existing WR for the women is WAY out there due to what most assume were the efforts of doped athletes. The 1500 WR is no exception. Those of us that were around remember "Ma’s Army" and the sudden assault on women’s distance records over a couple of seasons in the mid 90’s. An assault that left the 1500 in what seemed to be in never never land forever. Until this year. Genzebe Dibaba ran a stunning 3:54.11 on July 8th. At the time the 9th fastest time ever, and 3rd best "non-Chinese"! That would change nine days later when she scorched the track with a WR 3:50.07. And as I watched the race live online I was almost certain she was going sub 3:50! Behind her the rest of the women were running nearly as awesomely with Sifan Hassan and Shannon Rowbury becoming #’s 16 & 19 all-time both with national records – Jenny Simpson just missing Mary Slaney’s former AR by .18sec. I’m hoping that Beijing will be one of those rare championship 1500’s where the athletes just go out and RACE and not wait to see who had the best kick. Because we usually know the answer to that question anyway!

This has gotten much longer than intended! Such is the nature of the sport at present, the level of athleticism is as high as ever. Without getting too wordy a few others I must mention. The men’s steeple where for the first time since Henry Marsh an American is a true threat to challenge for the podium. Last month in Paris Evan Jager smashed the American Record and nearly broke eight minutes in spite of falling near the end of the race. Still he enters Beijing #2 on the clock – and #1 was behind him in Paris before he fell! Three men head to the starting line in the 110H with seasons bests under 13.00 – three others under 13.10. This will be a hot race! And Mutaz Barshim is once again nearing eight feet in the high jump and Renaud Lavillenie nearing twenty feet in the pole vault – the vertical jumps could upstage everything at the end of the day.

 

I could continue but I think you get the point – this is going to be one hell of a meet! I’m going to revel in the greatness of the sport for the next couple of weeks or so before looking at all the crap we’ve been presented with this season.

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