There was a lot of activity in what was a long weekend of track and field as multiple day meets took center stage with athletes looking to qualify for the NCAA and World Championships. Clearly we are witnessing the first “peak” of the year, as many folk showed up ready to rock and roll! So many, that I’m going to tackle the highlights by areas of disciplines instead of individuals or individual events.
Jumps and Vaults
I’m going to start here, because the first real highlight of the weekend happened before the weekend got fully under way as Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS) solidified her return to the vaulting wars by a) defeating up and coming Holly Bleasdale (GBR) head to head and b) breaking her own WR in the process! As Thursday in Stockholm “Isi” cleared 5.01m (16’ 5.25”) to set a new standard and vault herself back to the top of the world’s best. Bleasdale continued to show that she has indeed arrived as one of the world’s best by clearing 4.72m (15’ 5.75”) in second, but make nor doubt about it, pole vault gold will go through Isinbayeva. The season’s other 16 foot vaulter, Jenn Suhr (USA), had an easy time as US Nationals, clearing 4.67m (15’ 3.75”) to easily outdistance the field. World Indoors could see the first of two huge vaulting battles this year.
Moving from vaults to jumps, there was much to cheer about for US jump fans this weekend. Keeping with the vertical, Chaunte Howard Lowe, also missing last year due to maternity, signaled that she is back and ready to be a high jump force again, setting a new AR of 2.02m (6’ 7.5”) to take the US title. Lowe’s mark is #2 in the world this year and puts her back on a potential medal winning trajectory after taking time off to have her second child. Looks like she had perfect timing as she’s only .03 off her outdoor PR with lots of time until Trials/London.
The horizontal jumps had their stars as well, as former college teammates Will Claye (USA) and Christian Taylor (USA) put on anther show in the triple jump. Current World outdoor champion Taylor seemed on the verge of nailing a long one all day, but had several fouls that just missed the board. Still he hit 17.21m (56’ 5.25), good for second as Claye put on a show. Claye’s series was 17.25m, 17.40m, 17.44m. and finally 17.63m (57’ 10.5”) before finally passing his final two jumps. Claye’s triple leap makes him #14 all time indoors, and #3 American. More importantly he and Taylor head to Istanbul as the #1 & #4 jumpers this season. Just a couple of years ago this event looked to be one of our worst. Now we’re coming off a season where we took gold and bronze (Claye) in Daegu and both athletes look to only get better. Shows just how quickly an event can turn around.
Middle & Long Distances
A fairly quiet weekend in this area of events. We did get a couple of sub 2;00 runs from Russians Marina Pospelova (1:59.45) and Elena Kofanova (1:59.63) at the Russian Championships – moving into the #’s 3 & 4 positions on the season. Setting up a potential run in the 1:58’s Istanbul.
While the times weren’t stupendous, due in part to the altitude, there were some interesting runs at the US Championships. Speaking of the 800, there could be another name to add to the growing stable of US 800 runners – Erica Moore. Ms. Moore merely went out and lead the 800 from start to finish – against none other than Phoebe Wright, Ms. “I lead the race”. The time was only 2:01.08, but it was a PR for Mr. Moore and she won by over two seconds!
Bernard Lagat once again showed that age is just a number as he easily burned the 3000 meter field to win in 7:47.54. Lagat bided his time throughout the race until the end when he simply shifted gears and ran away from Lopez Lamong and Galen Rupp. Lagat has the ability to go from 0 to 60 in nothing flat, and the only difference in his race is his legs are going faster – no strain, no violent pumping of arms, he just speeds up! Lagat is certainly a threat for gold in both Istanbul and London if his competitors are foolish enough to let him dictate the race.
Rupp was only third in the 3000, and came back to finish third in the 1500 as well. A very solid weekend of running, while working on his speed. He didn’t win either race, but I expect it will be beneficial when it comes time to try and kick with the big boys outdoors in the 10,000. Jenny Simpson also ran the 1500/3000 – and won both! Simpson’s exploits reminded me of just how long the season is this year as she looked like a different runner than the one that was on the track last month. She was fluid and confident and controlled both races. At her current rate it’s going to be hard to keep her off the US team for London – and the women’s 1500 is shaping up as must see TV with she and Morgan Uceny already looking fit and women like Anna Pierce, Christin Wurth Thomas, and Shannon Rowbury certain to round into form before Trials. Simpson was sharp, especially in her 4:15.04 1500 win. And I have to add that runner up Brenda Martinez (4:15.11) showed one of the best finishes I’ve ever seen by an American 1500 runner. She could crash the party outdoors if she can stay close enough to the women named above to use that kick in Eugene.
Sprints & Hurdles
There was lots of action here this weekend – due in large part to US Nationals. Since Beijing everyone has been talking up a US v Jamaica rivalry – mostly off the strength of Usain Bolt & Tyson Gay, though Gay has spent much of the time convalescing. Istanbul could see a real rivalry in the 60 meters – without either Bolt or Gay taking part. For most of the season the Jamaican contingent of Lerone Clarke (6.47), Nesta Carter (6.49) and Asafa Powell (6.50) has led the event in finishes and on the clock. Sunday Trell Kimmons (6.45) and Justin Gatlin (6.47) put themselves in position to make the Istanbul sprint one serious event! I know some will say that the altitude played a roll – maybe, maybe not. What I do know is that both sprinters finally showed some patience and execution in their races – and looked every bit like sub 6.50 sprinters. The proof will be in the pudding as they say and both, as will the Jamaicans, will have to replicate their performance if they want to see the podium. But it does expand the discussion of a rivalry, and will only enhance the conversation with the running heads outside.
The woman that’s surprised many in the sprints this year, Tianna Madison, just keeps on running fast and winning. This time she equaled her seasonal lead in the 60 with another 7.02 – in a race that was less than perfect. I’m starting to get the feeling that she will run sub 7.00 this year – a feat only six women in history have accomplished.
The other sizzling event was the men’s 60 meter hurdles. Things started out hot as Dexter Faulk screamed 7.40 in his heat to become #12 all time. Faulk couldn’t seem to get his start right in the final however, as twice he false started. Yes I said twice, because after each false start he was allowed to run under protest (which goes back to why keep the old rule but I’ll talk about that later in the week). In spite of the rash of false starts however, the final still went in 7.43 – to Aries Merritt. Merritt showed a lot of composure, maintained his cadence, ran down his lane, and got the win. Though not as quick off the blocks, Kevin Craddock finished strong to take second in 7.46. Both young men showed maturity to their races – consider that they finished ahead of two of histories best in David Oliver and Terrence Trammell, as well as Faulk. Especially Craddock who was deemed the next top hurdler coming out of high school in 2004. Since then he’s suffered through a lot of injuries, yet still got down to 13.48 in the 110 hurdles. If he’s finally got the injury bug off his back, Craddock could be ready to make a strong run for London. He and Merritt will both get to see just how good they are in Istanbul as they should get a shot at Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles.
There was also a ton of collegiate action this weekend. So much so that I will give them their own space tomorrow.