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

Olympic Trials Part 1 – Upsets & Speed

Jul 5th, 2016
2:57 pm PDT

Sprinter4logobwWe’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. No one is worried about "attention spans". No one needs bands playing in the parking lot, or portions of the meet in the street! Why? Because when you get the best athletes available to compete, the sport in its purest form is as good as ANY sport on the planet to watch – perhaps better than most. That’s why the challenge of this sports leaders isn’t trying to figure out new ways to "present" the sport, but rather how to get the world’s best on the track to compete more often! Frankly I don’t think that’s going to be a problem soon, and I’ll explain why in a subsequent post. Today it’s all about the Trials. Primarily the US Trials, but a mention about some others.

Once again the American Trials are demonstrating any they are the second best meet on the planet every four years – second only to the Olympics themselves! It’s simple, depth of competition and drama. Depth of competition leads to drama, as the US qualifying system of, one meet, first three finishers on THAT DAY is the most cut throat on the planet! If you’re an athlete, mark your calendar. The days your events are run are the only days that matter this year – because of hits not on THEM, you have to purchase a ticket if you want to see the Games! So, how has it worked out so far? Not great if you’re a veteran.

This year is becoming one of those transformational years. A year where athletes we’ve seen in two, maybe three, Olympic cycles find their date with Father time was booked in Eugene. For some it started before the first round as Carmelita Jeter and Nick Symmonds had to give in to injury and were not unable to toe the line. Jeter is the second fastest woman in history (10.64, 100m); Symmonds the third fastest American ever (1:42.95, 800m). Sport can be unforgiving.

Sanya Richards Ross lined up for the first round of the 400, but the AR holder (48.70) found the going too tough as she had to withdraw around 200 meters! The casualties continued to mount however as a plethora of veterans and young favorites found roadblocks in their Road to Rio including: Donovan Brazier, Duane Solomon, Reece Hoffa, Lauren Roesler, Gina Gall, Maggie Vessey, and Vernon Norwood. All eliminated early. There were also youth stars giving it a shot and finding out they aren’t quite ready yet: Noah Lyles, Michael Norman, Kaylin Whitney, and Candace Hill found out how deep US sprinting is – though I suspect all will be in the mix in 2020!

So much for the tragedy. That’s part of the game in the deepest Trials on the planet! Who made the team? The field events got it going starting with the shot put. Ryan Crouser winning with a huge 72′ 7.5" toss, with Joe Kovacs at 72′ 0.25". Brittany Reece hit a monster 23′ 11.75" to blast to her long jump win. And the men put on a show as Jeff Henderson 28′ 2.25", and Jarrion Lawson 28′ 1.75" led the deepest long jump competition in history with seven men over 27 feet!

As usual, special things happen when America’s best get together to select an Olympic team. None more special than watching Allyson Felix begin get attempt at a 200/400 double, starting with the quarter. What was once thought to be a "gimme" became a struggle as Felix hurt an ankle in training earlier in the spring. She delicately worked through the first two rounds and appeared to be out of contention through 250 meters when she found another gear, and literally ran right through the field to victory in a world’s leading 49.68. The real shocker was that it wasn’t Courtney Okolo fighting her for the win, as the NCAA champion and world leader coming into the meet was relegated to a shocking 6th – another casualty of the veterans/favorites syndrome of this meet!

Surprisingly however, it was the sprints, which should be volatile, that proved to be somewhat predictable. Just as Felix came through for the win, LaShawn Merritt did the same in the men’s 400, storming to a 43.96 world’s leading time. He was led to victory by the torrid early pace of Gil Roberts who literally "held on" to take second in 44.67 – surprising most prognosticators including myself. Merritt looks prepared to go to war in what could be the most competitive event in Rio. At least half a dozen men could enter the stadium with PRs under 44.00, including last year’s World medalists – Van Niekerk, Merritt, and James.

Speaking of war, the 100 meters has become a global one on one between the US and Jamaica. Jamaica had their trials this weekend as well, with the 100 one day earlier than ours – so they got first say, so to speak. They too, however, had both triumph and tragedy. On the triumph side, Elaine Thompson ran away with the title in 10.70 – burying Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce and tying her national record (=#4 all time). The tragedy was the hamstring injury suffered by defending Olympic champion Usain Bolt. Who withdraw from the meet. Bolt says he will try to show fitness prior to the Games to have the Jamaican federation place him on the team. In his absence, Yohan Blake took the title in 9.95.

The US response was on point. On the women’s side, Tori Bowie, Jenna Prandini, and English Gardner dominated the rounds. In the final Prandini’s start failed her; Gardner and Tianna Bartloletta nailed theirs; and Bowie closed like a train. The result: Gardner (10.74), Bartoletta (10.78), Bowie (10.78) – first time in history three women were under 10.80 in the same race! Rio will be HOT.

The men showed fitness too. Specifically Justin Gatlin and Trayvon Bromell who ran 9.83 and 9.86 in their semis. Everyone else was clearly running for one spot. Including AR holder Tyson Gay who couldn’t seem to find a start to save his life. In the final, Gay’s start failed him again as Gatlin and Bromell nailed it. Gatlin (9.80 WL) and Bromell (9.84) booked easy tickets to Rio. In the fight for the third spot, Marvin Bracy (9.98) snuck in for the last golden ticket. A formidable group heads to Rio. The only question is will Bolt be there?

This weekend was as hot as it gets. World leading performances back to back to back all weekend. Key veterans like Felix, Reese, Merritt, and Gatlin will lead the youngsters into competitive battle. If the rest of the squad is anything like the members chosen the first few days, we’ll be in great shape. I’m looking forward to seeing what else transpires.

Pre Trials Status Check

Jun 22nd, 2016
9:52 pm PDT

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 PDT

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 PDT

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 PDT

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 PDT

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...

Doha and Kingston Heat Up the Season

May 10th, 2016
10:20 am PDT

Penn was the unofficial start to the outdoor season. The "USA v The World" is sort of the kick off to things. That was last weekend. This weekend sh*t got real, as the Diamond League got under way with the first stop in Doha on Friday. And to make sure that things were underway, the Jamaican International Invitational in Kingston made sure that there was plenty of hot action Read More...

Penn – And Another Relay Debacle

May 3rd, 2016
6:58 am PDT

We're within 100 days of the Olympics, which means that the Trials are around the corner. Penn, with its "USA v the World" format, and Drake with its invitational fields, tend to give us a solid preview of where our elite sprinters are in their development. The weather at Drake was horrible – it often is which is why I personally don't like it for National meets - but we did get an awesome men's 400 with Kirani James (44 Read More...

The 400 WILL Be THE Event of 2016

Apr 17th, 2016
3:17 pm PDT

We're only a few weeks into the 2016 outdoor season, and in spite of what's been crazy weather, it's clear that the men's "quarter" is going to be THE premier event of the year! Why do I say this? Look at what we've already seen. At the high school level, the recent Arcadia Invitational saw a 45 Read More...

Wow, I Agree with Carl Lewis

Mar 9th, 2016
12:11 pm PDT

It's been the rare occasion that I've been in agreement with Carl Lewis. He's been "controversial" during much of his association with the sport of track and field going back to the 1980s. But as I read this article I found myself nodding my head in agreement. While I've been trying my best to just enjoy the competition this indoor season, DOPING continues to dominate the headlines Read More...