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

Rio Opening Weekend – 43.03 WR!

Aug 15th, 2016
1:22 pm PST

Track SectionFinally, we got Olympic track and field! And despite all the negatives coming in, the athletes didn’t disappoint. Proving my constant point – there’s NOTHING that needs to be changed about track and field other than getting the best athletes on the track (and field). THAT is the challenge of the sport’s leaders – not trying to reinvent meets!

With only three days in the books we’ve already seen two World Records and a plethora of national records. It started in the first final of the opening morning of competition in the women’s 10000 as Almaz Ayana blew away the field and the WR in a stunning 29:17.45! The next twelve women set personal bests – four of them national records including Molly Huddle’s 30:13.17 American Record in sixth.

Now THAT is how you get the Olympics started. Especially for the US team as day one ended with a come from behind victory in the women’s shot put my Michelle Carter in an American Record 67′ 8"! Day two saw another come from behind victory, this time in the men’s long jump as Jeff Henderson’s 27′ 6" leap stole the gold! The first gold in this event since ’04 in an event we’ve traditionally dominated. Ironically Jarrion Lawson nearly stole the gold from Henderson on his final jump, but he dragged his hand in the sand upon landing losing a certain win. Still a solid performance as the US squad showed up to compete.

Galen Rupp’s seasons best was good for fifth in the men’s 10000, while the women’s marathoners were lead by the seasons best 2:25.26 in sixth by Shalane Flanagan who lead a 6, 7, 9 finish. It’s early in the meet, but so far the US team has proven to be competitive – boding well for a great overall medal showing by meets end.

No where was it more evident than the three Marquee finals of the weekend – the two 100 meter finals and the men’s 400 final.

The women’s 100 was loaded. It included defending champion Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, teammate Elaine Thompson, and World medalists Dafne Schippers, and Tori Bowie. The rounds saw all the principles advance to the final including US champion English Gardner. The rounds exposed the weakness of many of these women however, especially Bowie and Schippers, as a poor first 30 meters found most of these women trailing early in their races – only the Jamaicans comfortably engaged thru the first half of the race.

This proved to be the deciding factor in the final as Fraser Pryce and Thompson destroyed the field thru 50 meters. Only the final rush of Tori Bowie (great closing speed) was able to break up the Jamaican duo as Thompson (10.71) ran clear to victory ahead of Bowie (10.83) who continued the American medal haul with silver. Fraser Pryce (10.86) just held off the finish of Michelle Ayhe (10.86) to secure bronze as 7 of the 8 women finished under 11.00. Frazer Pryce was unable to complete the hat trick, but gold remained with Jamaica. If someone wants to stop Jamaica’s run in this event, improvement in the first 30 meters is a MUST!

As exciting as this race was, it was merely the opening act for the evening. I’ve said for months that the men’s 400 could be THE event of the meet. With 3 of history’s 7 fastest ever in the event, the last 2 Olympic champions, and the reigning World champion entered, the potential for something special was imminent. The rounds proved uneventful as the principles – Wayde van Niekerk, LaShawn Merritt, and Kirani James -seemed intent on "keeping their powder dry" for the final. The most significant occurrence being van Niekerk shutting down before the line in his semi and getting second – affecting his lane draw.

That lane draw in the final, found Merritt in 5, just inside James, with van Niekerk outside in lane 8 – a race that already promised to be fast, became faster with van Niekerk poised to be rabbit! And rabbit he did! While Merritt came up on James around the bend, van Niekerk was heading off like a shot around the bend (10.7)and down the backstretch passing 200 in 20.5. We haven’t seen a first 200 like that since Fred Newhouse at the 1972 US Trials!

Except where Newhouse faded, van Niekerk kept his foot on the gas. Coming off the bend, Merritt and James found themselves a couple meters down as van Niekerk (31.0) was still flying! His lead continuing to grow in the stretch as he crossed the line in 43.03 smashing the WR! James (43.76) and Merritt (43.83) battled down the stretch for the remaining medals but were never in the photo as three men ran under 44 for the first time in an Olympic final. Easily the race of the meet – and just about any other meet ever held on the planet.

How do you follow that? Well it’s the Olympics, and the follow up was the rematch between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Both men made easy work of the competition in the rounds. Gatlin controlling his races with superb starts. Bolt dominating by easily coming from behind. Bolt had the faster semi with his 9.83, but was still shy of Gatlin’s world’s leading 9.80. So the stage was set for the rematch.

And the race went to form as Gatlin burst from the blocks and forged a lead even larger than last year’s World Championships. There was no photo finish this time however, as Gatlin was clearly looking for Bolt to arrive. By 50 meters Gatlin’s stride changed, he began overstriding and Mr Bolt ran right past! Game over and Bolt had won his third consecutive gold medal in the 100 meters.

Now before I continue, let me say that as quiet as it’s kept, Gatlin has the second best record ever in the Olympic 100 meters, with a full compliment of medals – a gold, a silver, and a bronze – to his credit. No one in history has medals in three Olympics 100’s – except Bolt. Making Gatlin the #2 100 sprinter in Olympic history!

That said, it just demonstrates the enormity of Bolt’s three golds – two of them against Gatlin. Only Ralph Metcalf, Lennox Miller, Valery Borzov and Maurice Greene have two medals – Borzov and Greene a gold and a bronze, Metcalf two silvers, Miller a silver and bronze. Carl Lewis has two golds, but one was awarded after the disqualification of Ben Johnson. An asterisk for me as he didn’t actually win the race – sorry Carl.

Competing at the intense level of the Olympics is difficult in one Olympiad, let alone multiple. Three gold in the same event is an extraordinary feat. There are a handful of athletes that have done it in four – including Carl Lewis in the long jump. But they were all in field events where you get multiple attempts – and all needed those attempts to win! On the track, you get one shot, and one shot only. No best two out of three; oops let me try again; wait I have one more attempt. And while many have done it twice on the track, none has done it three times. Though I will throw out there that if not for the boycott in 1980 Edwin Moses would have accomplished a three peat. I think that’s safe to say given he was undefeated for a decade with over 100 finals victories in a row!

To mention Bolt in that vein says it all!

So, quite a first few days. There’s so much more to come. Allyson Felix in the 400. The men’s high jump competition. Rudisha defending in the 800. Christian Taylor and the Triple Jump. The women’s 200. Relays. Men and women’s 1500s. It’s the Olympics, it’s ALL good. And the US Team looks to be in prime position to win many more medals. Back in a couple of days.

How Will London’s Defending Champions Fare?

Aug 2nd, 2016
6:49 pm PST

Heading into Rio will be several individuals that closed the deal and won gold in London. It's been four long years since the national anthem played for these individuals. They will come to Rio 26th dreams of repeating that success. Who will be able to close the deal again four years later? Here's my guess at how these London champions will do in Rio Read More...

Let The Games Begin!

Jul 27th, 2016
7:49 pm PST

The Trials were just over, yet here we are with the Games literally days to count down! These Games already feel different. Maybe it's the fact that venues are STILL under construction. Maybe it's the Zika virus that has so many afraid to go. Perhaps even the status of injured athletes like Christian Taylor, Allyson Felix, and Usain Bolt - what level will they be ready for in a few short weeks? Whatever it is, somehow CHANGE seems to be in the air! Expect the unexpected Read More...

Olympic Trials Part 2 – Tough on Vets 

Jul 14th, 2016
2:27 pm PST

This was one tough meet! Youngsters had a great time - perhaps too young to realize they should be nervous or afraid. Here it was veterans and favorites that fell prey to injury, nerves, bad luck, and age. I knew going in that this was going to be a transition meet - a changing of the guard. But some of those that fell were certainly unexpected Read More...

Olympic Trials Part 1 – Upsets & Speed

Jul 5th, 2016
2:57 pm PST

We've finally arrived to that part of the season that really matters - Olympic team qualifying! That means EVERYONE had to show up. That means some of the best competition of the year. That means watching track and field the way it is supposed to be watched - in a stadium; with ALL of the events represented! And guess what? No one leaves early Read More...

Pre Trials Status Check

Jun 22nd, 2016
9:52 pm PST

With the Olympic Trials less than two weeks away, I thought I would take a quick look at where we're at. First a word on doping which once again seems to lead the discussion. Doping This sport just CAN'T seem to get away from the issue of doping! Ben Johnson (1988) opened the door to sub 9.80 in the 100, and to an open conversation on doping! It took until 2002 and BALCO before that conversation became loud - though many wanted to pretend it was an American problem - despite all evidence to the contrary Read More...

NCAA Championships – WOW

Jun 12th, 2016
2:45 pm PST

The track season just went into overdrive. It's Championship time - NCAA's with the Trials in a few weeks! The only thing more exciting is the Olympics. If this weekend's NCAA's was any indication, the summer of 2016 is going to be HOT and memorable. Personally I'm not a fan of the current NCAA format - I said that last year Read More...

Prefontaine & NCAA Regionals – WOW

May 30th, 2016
5:27 pm PST

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 Read More...

A Month From the Trials

May 23rd, 2016
7:03 am PST

We're about a month away from the Trials and the crystal ball is still pretty murky! Usually I have a pretty good idea how the Trials are going to go by now, but so many elites have been quiet - especially the distance crowd. This may be one of the most surprising Trials in awhile. The colleges have yet to have their Regionals and Nationals - those will take place in the next two weeks Read More...

Conference Weekend 2016

May 19th, 2016
6:20 am PST

Conference weekend is always busy as every major collegiate conference decides it's champions. Add to the mix the Diamond League's Shanghai stop, and the Cayman Invitational with the seasonal debut of Usain Bolt, and you had one exciting weekend of track and field! With the NCAA Championships, Olympic Trials, and multiple national Trials around the corner, did we learn anything of significance? I think so Read More...