The Pre Classic is the best meet on US soil annually – if not one of the best period outside of a major championship. This year was no different as we saw two American records, among outstanding performance after outstanding performance.
And while the Regionals lacked the depth and excitement of a big meet, there was much to learn on the way to Rio. For example, in each Regional one of the college scenes top female 200 sprinters failure to advance – Hannah Cunliffe (Ore) and Kyra Jefferson (Fla)! I watched the Western Regional online and Cunliffe seemed to be done in by a bad lane draw in her heat. That and somehow the West Regional only ran one round of each event! Day one got rained out, but I would’ve thought they would have split day two in half and run both rounds. Didn’t happen – They simply kept the Day Two schedule and reduced everything to one round. A heat, quarters, semis, finals format in a real meet would remedy the Cunliffe situation – and give all the athletes the experience that they had actually prepared for – instead of these hybrid Regional meets that serve to "advance" athletes to semis at Nationals.
Either way, two of the NCAA’s most exciting female sprinters will not be running the deuce at Nationals – and that is a shame in my opinion. We’ll find out just how ready the collegians are when they gather in Eugene in little over a weeks’ time. While the "kids" were trying to advance, the "big boys (& girls)" were going at it for global supremacy – or at least psychological advance as they focus on Rio. As the final few meets begin to define just who might represent in August.
Pre was ripe with head to head match ups that, once again demonstrates the key to building track and field in the US and globally. Quite simply, it’s not about turning New York or any other city into street races. Or cutting meets in half – because ostensibly they’re too long. Real simple it’s about putting the best on the track; creating great match ups; and letting the athletes compete and entertain. Always has been and always will be. Be it high school, college or elite – and Pre was as entertaining as ever! In a meet full of exciting competition, my favorites and my take:
Men’s Triple Jump – Everyone talks about Usain Bolt and how competitive he is – and he is competitive – but Christian Taylor may be the most competitive athlete out there for my money. He too has won Olympic and World titles. Often coming from behind and laying down outstanding marks in the process. At Pre he once again was engaged in a back and forth dual with American teammate Will Claye. And just as Claye thought he’d put it away with a nice 57’7.25" leap, Taylor stepped on the runway and flew out to 58’3.25" world leader! Taylor is a beast. And while Bolt v Gatlin could be a headliner, Taylor v Claye, Tamgho, and Pichardo could be even better. And for extra measure, Taylor could be, perhaps should be, chasing 60 feet – a major barrier only achieved once in history!
Men’s 110 Hurdles – Omar McLeod is the 110 hurdles so far this year. Once again he won easily in a very nice 13.05, and so far this year has been unchallenged! Running in a class all by himself. Watching the race however, I was encouraged by WR holder Aries Merritt and his 13.51 in fourth. Why? Because his previous race was a 13.24 win in Beijing and watching him run, it’s just a matter of timing at this point, because it seems that only his rhythm is off right now. He’s got a month to get that down and make the Olympic team – and I think he can do it. It would make for an awesome feel good story – and we need someone to seriously challenge McLeod..
Women’s 100 Hurdles – While Merritt hit nearly every hurdle, Kendra (Keni) Harrison skimmed over every hurdle in what looked like a near perfect race. Her reward was a blazing 12.24 – an American Record and the second fastest race in history! Suddenly she’s.03 away from a WR that was set way back in 1988, and the US could send a pair of 12.20s – Brianna Rollins was the previous AR holder at 12.26 – to Rio. Stay tuned.
Women’s 200 – For best drama race in Eugene look no further where the hottest match-up was the rematch of World gold and silver medalists Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson in the 200. World 100 leader Tori Bowie didn’t get that memo, as she totally upset things with a solid turn followed by a hard changing straight. Bowie went by Thompson in the stretch and held off Schippers who was closing strongly in an attempt to steal the race. Bowie’s reward was a PR 21.99 to take the world lead in the deuce and become =#23 all time. More importantly, she added to what could be the hottest women’s race in Rio! Olympic teams have yet to be decided, but Bowie, Schippers, Thompson, Felix, Campbell Brown could be legendary! On the flip side, I was disappointed in the performances of Prandini, Whitney, Duncan and McGrone. Prandini was fourth, but 22.61 isn’t where she needs to be. McGrone is light years away from last year. And Kimberlyn Duncan is not the athlete that a few years ago looked ready to dominate this event. Just shows how volatile sprinting is, and how difficult it is to stay on top!
Men’s 400 – Speaking of legendary, and staying on top, the men’s 400 could also attain that status – especially if Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt have anything to say about it. They went head to head once again – with a couple of others with 43 second PR’s in the field. The result James 44.22, Merritt 44.39. These two make 44-low look routine at this point – meaning 43.xx once again come Rio. The only question is, who joins them and how fast. Several ran sub44 last year, but only James, Merritt and van Niekerk seem to be able to on demand!
The 100’s, both men and women’s were very telling. On the women’s side English Gardner proved that Eugene is her home as she won in 10.82 – just off the world lead. With the Trials also being here, advantage to Gardner in gaining a spot on the team. The real story was in the final two finishers in the race – Carmelita Jeter (11.16) and Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce (11.18) with both looking like shells of their former dominant selves. Fraser Pryce in her seasonal debut, Jeter the second race in a row. 2016 is shaping up as a changing of the guard for the women with several young women stepping up. More on this in another post.
The same can’t be said just yet for the men. In the men’s race Gatlin once again ran a dominant race – technically solid from start, to drive phase, to transition, to finish. Once again it’s looking like he and Bolt in the big meet showdown. Behind him, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay never challenged Gatlin, but were better than the rest. Michael Rodgers just doesn’t have that "IT" factor in spite of owning a 9,85 PR, and Andre Degrasse is not looking like last year’s sprinter. Probably because he changed coaches and it often takes a year to make that transition – not the best move in an Olympic year.
Finally a comment on the women’s 400 which started the Sanya Richards Ross farewell tour. Judging from this race, that tour won’t end in Rio. Ross was never in this race, and her finish was not up to his high school standards let alone enough to contend at this level Hopefully she can pull it together in time for Trials. But based on this race, it may be too much to pull together.
Oh, shout out to Emma Coburn and her American record 9:10.78 in the 3000 Steeplechase! She ran a very solid race and looks like she could actually challenge for a medal in a championship type race. Next up the Rome leg of the Diamond League and the NCAA Championships. Let’s see who else emerges.