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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Beijing Summary

I missed this one in the flurry around the start of school and XC. Tim Layden has his parting shots on track in Beijing.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This Week's "Separated At Birth"

Hammer Thrower Koji Murofushi:

Pro wrestling manager Mr. Fuji:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Weltklasse Zurich Preview

I also have preview up at The Final Sprint. The nitty-gritty: ESPN Classic, 4-6 p.m. tommorrow. Here's who the top competitors are. I know there's a lot, but it's the Weltklasse for cryin' out loud. I have no idea why my HTML coding is giving such a gap to the table below.

TimeEventKey Competitors
12:40 PMWomen’s Pole Vault#1 Yelena Isinbayeva, #2 Jenn Stuczynski, #3 Svetlana Feofanova, #4 Monica Pyrek, #5 Yulia Golubchikova, #6 Fabiana Murer, #7 Silke Spiegelburg, #10 Carolin Hingst
1:40 PMMen’s Javelin#1 Andreas Thorkildsen, #2 Tero Pitkämäki, #3 Tero Järvenpää, #6 Eriks Rags, #8 Ilya Korotkov, #9 Sergey Makarov, #10 Magnus Arvidsson, #11 Vadim Vasilevskis
1:45 PMWomen’s High Jump#1 Blanka Vlašic, #2 Anna Chicerova, #3 Yelena Slesarenko, #4 Tia Hellebaut, #6 Chaunte Howard, #7 Vita Palamar, #8 Ruth Beitia
1:45 PMMen’s 100m (race “C”)
1:50 PMMen’s 100m (race “B”)
2:00 PMMen’s Long Jump#3 Hussein Taher Al-Sabee, #4 Mohamed Salman Al Khuwalidi
2:05 PMMen’s 1500 meters#2 Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, #4 Shedrack Korir, #5 Asbel Kiprop, #6 Abdalaati Iguider, #9 Rashid Ramzi, #10 Juan Carlos Higuera, #12 Mehdi Baala
2:15 PMWomen’s 400 meters#1 Sanya Richards, #4 Shericka Williams, #7 Novlene Williams, #8 Amantle Montsho, #9 Mary Wineberg, #10 Tayana Firova
2:25 PMMen’s Steeplechase#2 Richard Kipkemboi Mateelong, #3 Michael Kipyego, #4 Paul Kipsiele Koech, #4 Mehiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, #5 Ezekiel Kemboi, #7 Wesley Kiprotich, #9 Tareq Mubarak Taher
2:40 PMMen’s 110m Hurdles#1 Dayron Robles, #2 David Oliver, #5 Joel Brown, #6 Anwar Moore, #8 Aries Merritt
2:45 PMWomen’s 800 meters#1 Pamela Jelimo, #2 Janeth Jepkosgei, #3 Maria Mutola, #4 Kenia Sinclair, #5 Yuliya Krevsun, #11 Elisa Cusma, #12 Marilyn Okoro
2:55 PMMen’s 100 meters#1 Usain Bolt, #3 Walter Dix, #5 Richard Thompson, #7 Marc Burns, #8 Michael Frater, #10 Churandy Martina, #11 Darvis Patton
3:05 PMMen’s 400m Hurdles#1 Kerron Clement, #2 Bershawn Jackson, #3 Danny McFarlane, #4 Angelo Taylor, #5 L.J. van Zyl, #6 Marek Plawgo, #8 Isa Phillips, #11 Markino Buckley
3:15 PMWomen’s 200 meters#3 Allyson Felix, #9 Marshavet Hooker, #12 Debbie Ferguson
3:20 PMMen’s 400 meters#1 Jeremy Wariner, #2 LaShawn Merritt, #3 Chris Brown, #4 David Neville, #9 Johan Wissman
3:30 PMWomen’s 100m Hurdles#1 Lolo Jones, #2 Brigitte Foster, #3 Sally McLellan, #4 Delloreen Ennis-London, #5 Dawn Harper, #6 Joesphine Onyia, #8 Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, #11 Susanna Kallur
3:35 PMMen’s 5000 meters#1 Kenenisa Bekele, #2 Moses Ndiema Masai, #4 Micah Kogo, #6 Joseph Ebuya, #7 Mark Kosgei Kiptoo, #12 Leonard Patrick Komon
3:55 PMMen’s 4x100 metersJamaica, USA, Trinidad

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stuczynski / Suhr controversy

I was blissfully unaware of a recent controversy surrounding a post-competition interview in Beijing with Jen Stuczysnki and her coach Rick Suhr. I missed it because 1) I mostly didn't watch US coverage and 2) talking heads bore me to death.

Thankfully, ESPN's Luke Cyphers breaks it down for us:
After Stuczynski missed her final attempt at 4.90 meters, the camera followed her to Suhr's spot in the stands. NBC captured the following remarks from a surly sounding Suhr, who was talking to her while text-messaging:

"(It's) the same old same old. You're losing take-off at the big heights. What are you gonna do. You gotta learn to keep take-off. You got9you got caught at that meat grinder. I did not—and I told 10 people—I did not want to be caught in a meat grinder between 65 and 80. You had to, though.

You weren't on, you know, your warm-up didn't go well, you were 55, you got caught up in that meat grinder. What are you gonna do. What are you gonna do. You didn't have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it's a silver medal.Not bad for someone who's been pole vaulting for four years."

As Stuczynski turned around, she had a hollow, downcast look, as if she'd been upbraided.

Back in America, people watched. People cringed. And then people sent angry, sometimes ugly e-mails to Suhr's web site. Or they chimed in on Internet message boards, urging Stuczynski to fire "that jerk of a coach." A lot of people. But Stuczynski says people got it all wrong. Terribly wrong.

What they didn't see, she said, was what prompted Suhr's monologue. "I went over and I asked, What did I do wrong?" Stuczynski said. "And he said what he said, and it's the truth. And I didn't have a mike, and they didn't hear it and they didn't play it."

Moreover, she says, Suhr was texting his 13-year-old son in the States to inform him of the silver medal.
I haven't heard any nasty stuff about Rick Suhr before this, but on the other hand I don't keep my ear to the ground for that kind of thing as it amounts to little more than gossip. So whether there's any there there is beyond me, and I'm ready to take these people's word at face value. Mostly, though, I just don't care.

But I do find the public's response to this interesting. Stuczynski is a grown woman, a professional athlete who in an instant could have another dozen coaches knocking on her door. Such a person, if mistreated, wouldn't take it for very long. I'm certain the public response would have been different if the athlete in question had been Christian Cantwell, or Wallace Spearmon, or Allen Iverson.

I think this dustup reveals much about a paternalism the mainstream public directs towards women (particularly white women), seeing them all as young girls unable to protect themselves regardless of their age or power. As for black women? Tell me, how often did you see Bobby Kersee be at least as rough on his own wife, with little if any PR fallout?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 9 & 10: What Happened


Women's High Jump: This was a very big surprise. Blanka Vlasic had not been beaten in well over a year and had been regularly jumping as high as anyone else's PR. She did not make her first attempt at 2.05 meters, and when Tia Hellebaut made it on her first attempt (tieing her PR in the process) it was basically over. She's also this week's "Separated at Birth":

Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!

Men's Javelin Throw: Thorkildsen with a world leader and new Olympic Record, then the three Finns in expected order. For an event with a reputation as unpredictable, this one came out unusually to form.

Men's 800 meters: Wilfred Bungei has been so good for so long and never won a championship that you'd figure he wasn't going to be the one this time either. But he was finally in the right place at the right time and won.

Women's 1500 meters: Everyone assumed this was going to be Maryam Jamal's race. But in the last 200 meters it didn't turn out that way. Nancy Lagat was a surprise winner, Iryna Lischysnka had another great championship race, and Jamal faded to fifth. Rowbury was never a factor.

Men's 5000 meters: At last year's Worlds, the pace went very slow until the end, and Bernard Lagat and Matt Tegenkamp sprinted to the USA's second-best ever international 5k finish. Four years ago, Kenenisa Bekele essentially handed the gold to Hicham El Guerrouj under similar circumstances. That's the way the race normally develops without a pacemaker. Beks instead made it an honest 3k race, which meant no one else had a chance, and the American runners who were primed for a mostly-slow-then-very-fast race were not factors at all.

Women's 4x400 relay: Thank you, Allyson Felix. And if Richards has run as smart in the individual 400 as she did here, she'd have two gold medals. This was the fastest relay time since shortly after the demise of the East European doping machines ('93).

Men's 4x400 relay: As always, the contest was USA versus the clock. The clock won.

Men's Marathon: Apparently, the heat and humidity weren't as bad as was thought, else the pace would have crushed all who attempted it. Since eight tried, and five were still there well past 25k, the athletes themselves must have sensed it was nothing like Athens '04, where only the early-race conservative runners medaled. Ritz and Hall, paying too much attention to data and not enough to their inner clock, gave away sure shots at top-eight finishes by dropping back so far in the middle of the race.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Day 9 & 10: What's On

Schedule/Start Lists
IAAF Preview
SI's "What To Watch"

NBC TV schedule: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. - midnite (live marathon, taped track)
CBC TV schedule: 6 p.m. Friday - noon Saturday, 6 p.m Saturday - 4:30 a.m. Sunday (all live)

The USA has strong contenders in each of the last five events, and could put a nice ending to an otherwise weak Olympics.

Day 8: What Happened

IAAF Recap

Men's 50k Snoozefest: My Italian mother-in-law, a letter carrier for the USPS, will be happy to hear an Italian won a walking contest. But she'll say "Walk for less than four hours? He's so lazy!" Note: to absolutely no one's surprise, the Russian world-record holder failed to live up to his pre-Games dominance.

4x400 Relay
semis: No drops, no surprises. In the men's competition, 3:00.74 was the last qualifier, and the USA might actually get a race tomorrow.

Women's Long Jump: Maurren Higa Maggi led through the final round, when Tatyana Lebedeva got off a very good jump. Tense moments while they measured; the Russian came up one centimeter short. Blessing Okagbare was advanced to the final only because Blonska's heptathlon drug sample came up positive, and she got bronze out of it. Brittney Reese took fifth, and while it's hardly a disaster it was also a significantly inferior performance to her q-round.

Men's Pole Vault: An upset, as Aussie Steve Hooker dealt Evgeniy Lukyanenko his first defeat of the year. Derek Miles was fourth on the countback, leaving the USA's jumping medal count at 1-for-21.

Women's 5k: This was supposed to be a dogfight between Dibaba and Defar, but ridiculously slow running until the last few laps made it less than a true test of 5k ability. Dibaba ran her last lap in under 60 seconds, and Abeylegesse took her second silver of the games.

Decathlon Day 2 (100H, DT, PV, JT, 1500): An American star not only won as expected but totally dominated the field. Bryan Clay now belongs in the annals of Olympic history with Bruce Jenner, Rafer Johnson, and Dan O'Brien--but NBC never once hyped him in the run-up to the event. Idiots. For once, winning the 1500 actually meant something, as the silver medal came down to the final strides at the finish line. Young Cuban Leonel Suarez might have blown it there, but he is the future in this event. Call up a British bookie and put your money on him in London '12 right now.

Women's 4x100: The Jamaicans thought the US dropping the baton was so great they decide to try it too. Well, they probably didn't want to do it, but the faster the runners the more precarious the exchanges. Russia ended up gold, and the Belgians took silver. Kim Gevaert, among the most popular of all athletes in Belgium, announced just three days before the opening ceremony that she will retire at the end of the season. She anchored them home for her first and only Olympic medal. She could not stop crying.

Men's 4x100: Jamaica, another World Record: 37.10. The last half of their relay is fantastically fast, and so is the track, so anything else would have been a surprise. Can you believe Trinidad's silver is their first Olympic medal in this event?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympic Anti-Doping News

Missed this one: Blonska gets popped for doping (methyltestosterone). She wins the Globe and Mail's Excellence in Doping Award. If confirmed (and why wouldn't it be?) she'll be out for life. Kelly Sotherton was right on the money, but basically she was saying there's an elephant in the room. I would be shocked if no one else in the heptathlon was on something, and likely at least one of the three ahead of Sotherton.

Day 8: What's On

Timetable/Start Lists
IAAF Preview
SI's "What to Watch"

As you're following the decathlon, this site does a forecast of how things will work out in the end.
Also, be aware of the following numbers: 37.40 and 41.37. Those are the 4x100 world records (the latter, set by a doped-to-the-gills East German squad, is likely unreachable; 41.47 is probably the real record).

NBC TV schedule: 2 - 8 a.m Friday on USA (men's 50k Walk), 8 - 10 p.m. Friday (everything else)
CBC TV schedule: 6 p.m. Thursday - noon Friday


Day 7: What Happened

How tightly is NBC controlling their rights? The video link on Sports Illustrated's Olympic page takes you to YouTube.

IAAF Recap
Tim Layden's recap of the carnage

Women's 20k Walk: Monsoon, Russian wins.

Women's 1500m semis: Of the Americans, only Rowbury qualified to the finals, and she had to run a hell of a race to do it. Gelete Burka was eliminated, but her most recent race indicated that was likely. Sarah Jamieson and Viola Kibiwott were casualties as well; the runners who looked the best-peaked are Lyschynska and Jamal.

Women's Javelin: If there are two things you should have learned about this event by now, they are 1) never, ever bet against Spotakova in a major championship and 2) never, ever bet on Obergfoll in a major championship. The Czech responded to Mariya Abumakova's new European record by pegging one a good two feet further on her final throw of the competition (on the 40th anniversary of the Soviet invasion, no less), while Obergfoll's best effort didn't even beat what she did in qualifying.

Women's 200 meters: I didn't have a good feeling about this from the get-go. Felix did poorly in her last race before the games with what appeared to be a bum hip. Here she had the same issue and still ran the best second-place time ever. But she go her ass whupped by Cambell-Brown, who successfully defended her Olympic title.

Men's 800 meters semis: Nick Symmonds has adopted Yuriy Borzakovskiy's strategy of hanging back and making a late move. I thought it was going to be trouble when they were both in the same semi (along with Bungei, Lopez and Laalou). Their strategy works beautifully when the pace goes out fast and it means they run even splits...but if it doesn't, they can't stay in lane one while picking off runners around the last turn and they're screwed. Sure enough, the first-lap split was a high-school-like 54.32, and Symmonds was nearly in lane 3 coming around the last turn. Neither he nor Borza made it to the finals. In heat 3, Gary Reed showed them how it is done.

Men's 4x100 semis: USA drops baton, "coaching" staff needs to learn system from the Redeem Team.

Women's 4x100 semis: Ditto.

Men's Triple Jump
: Évora beats Idowu in a mild upset.

Men's 400 meters: Prior to this year, I had never seen Wariner make dumb mistakes in a race (at least not bad enough that he paid for them). Ths year, each of the three times he lost to Merritt it wasn't because he was the inferior runner. What he did here we might name "pulling a Sanya": throw away the homestretch before you get on the backstretch. Hello, Coach Hart? I'm sorry. David Neville did what we might name a "Christian Smith": throwing yourself headfirst across the line in a desperate and successful attempt for third and thus sealing the 1-2-3 sweep.

Men's 110m Hurdles: All Robles. Oliver is not healthy yet, else he might have been close. David Payne won silver; he now makes a total of eleven Olympic hurdling medals for Ohio high school alumni, by far our best event area.

Decathlon Day 1 (100m, LJ, SP, HJ, 400m): Bryan Clay is just about the only American star NBC was banking on who wasn't had something go horribly wrong. Gay, Felix, Wariner, Richards, Kastor, Lagat, the sprint relays: all bombs (at least from the suits' viewpoint). He leads, but his last two events weren't what he was hoping for. Still, he is doing so well he has a shot at the Olympic record, and the man believed most likely to give him a push, Roman Sebrle, has an ailing hamstring and doesn't appear to have much of a chance.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who's the US Athlete of the Year?

Over at the T&FN message board, I posted the following question: Who is your current choice for U.S. Athlete of the Year? So far, it's been an ugly Games for U.S. stars, so that's a tough question.

There are obviously a lot of things that go into that choice, but to keep it simple let's identify Olympic Trials champs who medaled in Beijing and neither seriously underachieved while doing so nor lost to another American while winning said medal.

200m - Dix only got bronze due to a couple of DQs and lost to Crawford, too. Nope.
400m - Merritt runs tomorrow morning. I say whoever wins this is probably your AOY.
800m - If Symmonds wins a medal you'll hear the scream in Buffalo, but he's no Athlete of the Year.
5k - If Lagat wins gold, he may have the inside track.
Marathon - If Hall wins a medal, ditto for him. If he wins gold, maybe more so.
110H - If Oliver does the impossible and beats Robles then he's your top guy hands down. He might be anyway if he breaks the AR or comes reasonably close.
400H - None of the three medalists have had flawless seasons.
Decathlon - If Clay wins, and he's favored, it's down to him and the 400 guys. If he breaks any kind of record (American, Olympic, or World), he's it without a second thought.

200m - Felix runs tomorrow and I don't have a good feeling about this. But if she wins and then stars on the relays it would be difficult to pick anyone else.
400m - Richards bombed.
1500m - If Rowbury pulls a mild upset and wins, I say she deserves it.
5k/10k - Does a bronze medalist deserve the Athlete of the Year honors? Shalane Flanagan has already redefined what is possible for US distance runners, but I still can't see running a clear second fiddle to others as AOY material.
PV - Stuczynski, as of now, is probably my choice. She's set records and lost to no one except the current leading choice for World Athlete of the Year.
LJ - If Reese wins gold, she's got to be considered.
Heptathlon - Fountain's Olympic competition was a bit of a downer. Nope.

There you go -- a decathlete, 400 runners, a hurdler, and maybe a distance runner or two on the men's side; a pole vaulter and maybe a sprinter or jumper or miler on the women's.

Day 7: What's On

Timetable/Start Lists
IAAF Preview
SI's "What To Watch"

NBC TV schedule: Midnite - 2 a.m. Thursday on CNBC (women's 20k walk), 11 a.m. - 1 p.m Thursday (decathlon), 8 p.m. - midnite Thursday (decathlon, men's 110 hurdles, 400, triple jump, women's 200)
CBC TV Schedule: 6 p.m. Wednesday - 3 a.m. Thursday, 6 a.m. - noon Thursday


Day 6: What Happened

IAAF recap

What happened? The impossible.

Men's 800 heats: Symmonds wins his heat, Reed only came through on time. All the other favorites--Kaki Khamis, Bungei, Borzakovskiy, Mulaudzi, Lopez, Yego, Laalou--qualified on place.

Men's 5k heats: Buster Mottram got suckered into a slow pace for the final heat, and when they finally started running at the bell he didn't have the wheels to stay in the top four and has been eliminated. A very good sign for an otherwise dismal U.S. team performance was the Yanks winning two out of the three heats. Both Lagat and Tegenkamp outsprinted their competitors and this bodes very well for Saturday's final.

Men's Pole Vault q-round: Another bomb for the USA, as national record holder Brad Walker apparently went brain-dead and no-heighted. I feared he might--his only losses this year were in the most important meets--but I didn't figure it would be this early. He was not alone in his troubles, as Hartwig, Mazuryk and Lobinger also didn't make it.

Women's Hammer Throw: Aksana Miankova took the lead from the first round and never let go. Eventual bronze medalist Zhang Wenxiu gave the crowd a momentary thrill when she came close in the second round, but that was it.

Mens' 110m Hurdles semis: The final is set up as expected, a Robles versus Oliver showdown. Robles has appeared nigh on invincible all season and today was no different.

Women's 200 meters semis
: NBC's "Show Americans Stars Winning" strategy is crumbling all around them in track & field, and they're probably doing everything short of a rain dance hoping for Allyson Felix to pull out the first successful U.S. defense of an '07 World Championship. Since June began she has not shown her dominant form of a year ago, and while she won her semi without too much trouble she still appears quite vulnerable to Veronica Campbell-Brown, who won hers in more convincing fashion.

Main Event...
Men's 200 meter final: There is nothing for me to write except 19.30. Bolt: "I knew the track was a fast track but I didn't think this was possible." Note: Spearmon and Martina were DQ'd for running out of their lanes.

Don't head for the exits yet...
Women's 400m Hurdles final: You really had to feel for these women. How do you follow an act like that? Sheena Tosta went for it and ran a good race, but Melaine Walker was in a different class once they turned onto the homestretch. The time was an Olympic Record and #4 all-time.

The question will naturally arise after the medals are counted: In the sprints and hurdles, what is Jamaica doing right and America doing wrong? It may not be the whole story, but it would be foolish to ignore the fact that Jamaica has no out-of-competition dope-testing program.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Can Bolt Break Johnson's WR?

The question is questioned by Tim Layden, Phil Hersh, The Guardian, and every two-bit internet hack like the one you're reading right now.

No. Not a chance in hell. He is fast, very fast, but that's not how Johnson got the record. He was not a great 100 man (he never ran it with any seriousness at all) but his speed endurance was the best of anyone who has ever lived. Until Bolt can run sub-44.5 and hit the 100 all the way to the finish, don't even think about it.

So just watch the freakshow and don't get all worked up about the time.

Best Olympic Chuckle

...or loud guffaw, Check out this post from "Less Than Our Best".

Just amusing is this post on Gerd Kanter from the NY Times Oly blog.

Day 6: What's On

A late post here--I closed on my old house sale today and then had to go to a math department party (the social event of the season, let me tell you).

Timetable/Start lists
IAAF Preview
SI's "What To Watch"

NBC TV Schedule (late Wed / early Thu:) 8 p.m. - midnite (men's 200, women's 400 hurdles) and 12:30 - 2 a.m. (women's hammer)
CBC TV Schedule: 6 p.m. Tuesday - 3 a.m. Wednesday, 6 a.m. - noon Wednesday

  • Women's Hammer Throw finals
  • Men's 110m Hurdles semis
  • Women's 200 meters semis
  • Men's 200 meters final
  • Women's 400m Hurdles final

Day 5: What Happened

IAAF report

SI recap

Love that live Canadian coverage. Eat it, west-coasters!

Women's 400 meters: Sanya Richards has shown a history in the biggest meets of hitting the gas too early and running out of fuel down the homestretch. When I saw her make up the stagger on Montsho before she was out of the turn I thought it might be trouble. It was, and Ohuruogu won her second straight championship. With Russians taking places 4-5-6, that relay is going to need every bit of Allyson Felix they can get.

Women's 100m Hurdles: This track has been so fast that it's given the horizontal jumpers trouble staying behind the foul line. Men's hurdlers, used to chopping steps, don't tend to get fouled up by extra speed but the women can have real trouble sometimes. And Lolo Jones was kicking everyone's butt until it happened to her. Had it been the final hurdle, she could have done a 1992-Devers-style fall to the finish, but it was the ninth hurdle that got her and she went from first to seventh in the blink of an eye. Dawn Harper was the beneficiary and came away with a PR and another testament to coach Bob Kersee's ability to have his athletes in the right place at the right time.

One of the nice things about watching this on foreign TV is the appreciation of what seems like minor success in the USA. Priscilla Lopes-Schliep was third, which is Canada's first Olympic T&F medal since Donovan Bailey & co. beat the US 4x100 in Atlanta. She and silver medalist Sally McLellan had to wait to see if they won anything, and when they saw their names on the board they held hands and danced around the track. That's the stuff I watch for!

Mens' 1500 meters: With a Worlds gold in '05 and a silver in '07, you can't really say Ramzi's win was unexpected. Choge's choke was, however, leaving only Kiprop to carry the banner for Kenya. I can honestly say it was a great pleasure to see Big Ten alum Nick Willis get another 1500 medal for the All-Blacks, and better yet to keep Baala off the stand.

Men's High Jump: Andrey Silnov was originally left off the Russian Olympic team, but after a few weeks they decided he was far too good to leave behind. Everyone was out before he even had a miss. Stefan Holm made a strategic pass late in the competition that gave him a shot at gold but ultimately cost him a medal.

Men's Discus Throw: The era of Virgilius Alekna appears over, as he was third to defending World Champ Gerd Kanter's gold.

Women's Long Jump q-round: Save the women's pole vault, US jumpers as a whole have really stunk up the joint so far. Not today: three finalists, and Brittney Reese has a very good chance to win--especially since heavy favorite Naide Gomes had foul trouble and didn't make the final. Kotova and Montaner are out as well.

In other event qualifying rounds, nothing surprising happened.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Day 5: What's On

IAAF Preview
Timetable/Start lists
Sports Illustrated preview

NBC TV (Tuesday & early Wednesday): 11:30 a.m. - noon (q-rounds), 8 p.m. - midnite (women's 400 and 100 hurdles, men's 1500), 12:30 - 5 a.m. (men's high jump and discus, women's 5k heats)
CBC TV: 6 p.m - 3 a.m. Monday, 6 a.m. - noon Tuesday


Day 4: What Happened

IAAF recap

A number of shockers today...
1) Liu Xiang came up injured in the 110m hurdles heats and is out of the competition. The most anticipated moment of the whole Olympic Games is sadly no longer. Terrence Trammell was also a DNF.

2) The USA won a women's throwing event, namely the discus. Stephanie Brown-Trafton pulled off the single biggest upset of the Olympic track & field competition, maybe the whole Olympics. This is only the third American women's throwing gold in any Worlds or Olympics, and the first since the Hoover administration; it's the fourth medal of any kind since WWII (ignoring the '84 games).

3) The 400 meter heats eliminated World Indoor champ Tyler Christopher. Not really a shocker if you knew he was still suffering the lingering aftereffects of illness.

4) Susanna Kallur, short on racing due to a hamstring injury, crashed out of the 100m hurdles semis. She knocked Vonette Dixon off stride and she won't be in the final either.

5) The men's triple jump q-round eliminated six of the year's top ten. But heavy favorite Phillips Idowu looked by far the best. There will be no Americans in this final, making it 0 for 9 so far in the horizontal jumps.

Officially not shockers:
1) Yelena Isinbayeva won the pole vault with a new world record. You cannot have expected anything else.

2) Pamela Jelimo won the 800 and broke her own World Junior Record, with Janeth Jepkosgei in tow for silver.

3) The USA swept the 400m hurdles medals. It was a bit of a surprise that Angelo Taylor won, but not if you read the semis correctly.

4) A Kenyan won the steeplechase. But they didn't sweep; France's Mahledine Mekhissi-Benabbad actually made it a fight and took silver.

5) Irving Saladino won the long jump. He was probably the surest winner in the entire men's side of the indibvidual competition. The places behind him went pretty much to form as well.

6) Usain Bolt did little more than jog the first two rounds of the 200 meters. All the major players will be in the semis.

7) The women's 400m hurdles semis didn't eliminate anyone of note besides Nickiesha Wilson.

8) Your top women's hammer throwers will all be in the final, and none of them are American.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Anti-Doping News

Phil Hersh write a good piece at the L.A. Times blog:
I have suspicions every time someone does something remarkable in track and field, but I do not mention it every time, out of what may be a wrongheaded occasional devotion to the idea of innocent until proved guilty.

I brought up the subject in print after Bolt set a world record of 9.72 at a May 31 meet in New York. It seemed hard to believe that someone who had run the 100 meters only five times at that point could already have been so fast.

I did not include it in my story after Bolt lowered the world record in Saturday's final to 9.69, a time that might have been ridiculously faster had the Jamaican 21-year-old not hammed it up in the final 20 meters of a race he won with ease.

Too much ease to run that fast, many would say, especially in a sport where three of the last six Olympic 100 champions have tested positive at some time in their careers, and a fourth has been implicated in doping by a witness in the Trevor Graham trial.
That old saw about "if it's to good to be true" has great meaning here. I can recall the only other time I've been so slack-jawed at a 100 meter result, and two days after that happened Ben Johnson fled Seoul. I'm not making a direct accusation here; Johnson was so obviously doped to the eyeballs that anyone who said otherwise was an idiot. Bolt looks like a human being.

Hersh is unflinching in his criticism of writers who cover other sports, like baseball's "hyperbolic, see-no-evil coverage" of the '98 home run record chase, or football on any day of the week where "any rational person would wonder how its behemoths built their bodies."

And so he asks, why not question Michael Phelps (not to mention the Dara Torres freakshow)? I suppose the facetious answer would be because NBC would send a couple of goons out to your house, or maybe more seriously because your editor would make sure it never saw the light of day. But the real answer is that it shatters your mythical worldview, which is what sports is all about. The wide-eyed wonder of youth is why we watch. Track and field has the balls to actually try to control the corruption, and U.S. sportswriters (a pollyanna bunch if there ever was one--only Jim Grey ever had the guts to give Pete Rose the business) don't want to be reminded about the ugly truth that exists everywhere. So they pay no attention to track.

Is it any wonder that SI regularly covers our sport while ESPN ignores it completely? The former employs actual journalists, while the latter is little more than a 60-minute highlight version of Tiger Beat.

Day 4: What's On

IAAF Preview:
"Another big day, with six finals but it is on the qualification round of one event that 1 billion Chinese will be concentrating, and that’s because of the presence of Liu Xiang."
That NBC is not all over his story means they are still in the thrall of 2003-Iraq-War thinking, where flag-waving jingoism rivaling that of the Nazis is a must and any foreigner is immediately waved off as unimportant at best but most likely planning to murder us all. And if you think that way, why exactly have you paid such a princely sum to cover the most international event the world has yet created? Or merely have you no balls at all?
SI daily preview
Timetable/Start Lists

NBC TV schedule: Monday, 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. (heats), 8 p.m. - midnite (pole vault, long jump, 400H, steeple), 12:30 - 2 a.m. (800 and discus)
CBC TV schedule: 6 p.m. - 3 a.m. Sunday, 6 a.m. - noon Monday


Day 3: What Happened

IAAF recap

SI's David Epstein calls it a night to forget for US athletes. I think it's the day we realized this will be our worst Olympic track showing since Paris '24, or maybe ever. The USOC will keep up the reorganization pressure this fall and winter and it will succeed based only on this.

Women's Marathon: I still can't decide whether the field let Tomescu-Dita sucker them, or if she would have won even if challenged. The others sure looked like they'd had enough when they finished, but they closed in a huge way in the last mile. No matter; strategy is part of the sport.

Men's Hammer Throw: Primoz Kozmus was tremendously consistent and went one better than last year's Worlds silver. Canada now has the undeniable #1 hammer-thrower in North America, for what that's worth.

Women's 400 meters semis: Trimmed from the field were Mary Wineberg and Novlene Williams, two outside shots at medals. Sanya Richards looks unbeatable.

Women's Steeplechase: Heavy favorite Gulnara Galkina-Samitova won big in a new World Record, and only Kenyan Eunice Jepkorir broke up the Russian progression. The Barringer/Willard war went to the Buffalo, with a new American Record back in 9th place. (The usually-reliable CBC totally skipped this one, and NBC probably won't show it for what feels like weeks, so I'm going on press reports here.)

Women's Triple Jump: Cameroon's Françoise Mbango Etone won in sort of an upset and sort of not one. She dominated the field, with the #2 mark of all time (and arguably the real World Record). She was the defending Olympic champ. But she had been just one of many top triple jumpers this year and not as consistent as Savigne nor as feared as Lebedeva. However, she took two years off of competing to have a baby and only started back up again at the African Championships in May, so in that light it's no upset at all.

Men's 1500 meters semis: I had high hopes for the US runners as a group, and they just flat-out sucked today. Lomong was dead last in semi #1, Manzano was dead last in semi #2, and Lagat failed to make the final. Semi winners Kiprop and Ramzi might be your best bets for gold. (Note: Some people I am very close to have had direct dealings with Mehdi Baala in the past, and I'll just say that there's no one in the field I suspect of EPO doping more than he. The gendarmes will no be kind if he is busted. And I wll be bitter if he wins a medal.)

Women's 100 meters semis and finals: Jamaica rules. Big surprise in who won, though; Shelly-Ann Fraser was no one's pick even to medal. No surprise, actually, if you watch the semis. The fastest semifinalist almost always wins the final.

Men's 10,000 meters: The race came down to three Ethiopians, three Kenyans, and an Eritrean, and Bekele and Sihine outkicked the rest. In other breaking news, the sun will come up tomorrow. Galen Rupp ran a nice race in 13th, but this stuff about "it will help him in four years" will be true only if he realizes he has no chance at a track medal, period, and moves up to the marathon. If you can't outkick Josh McDougal in a slow start/fast finish 10k, you haven't got a prayer against these kinds of runners.

In other event qualifying, the only surprises were in the men's high jump: Linus Thornblad won't be in the final, and neither will any Americans. Underscores the suckiness of the day, doesn't it?

Olympic Anti-Doping News

Remember when Fani Halkia came out of nowhere to win the Athens Olympic 400-meter hurdles gold? Those cynics among us found it a bit suspicious. Well, now we're proven right:
Greece's defending Olympic women's 400 meters hurdles champion Fani Halkia has failed a drugs test and could face immediate sanction from the IOC.

"Halkia tested positive for drugs," one official told Reuters on Sunday on condition of anonymity.
The IOC said on Sunday it could take action against Halkia even before her B sample was tested.
The Greek hurdler saw her A sample test positive for methyltrienolone, better known as M3, a banned steroid, and said she was shocked by the news, denying any wrongdoing.
Of course she denies it. U.S. Rep. William Jefferson said he was innocent, too.

In other news, Daniela Yordanova got busted back in June and won't be in Beijing.

Here's a thought that's been running around my mind. Usually, the host nation of an Olympics or Worlds gets a boost in the T&F medal standings. You can chalk it up to familiar surroundings, lack of jet lag, etc. But when an expected also-ran comes up for a medal, it's got to be something else.

Is it possible that the international bigwigs are less than aggressive in enforcing anti-doping measures against the home team? (Or maybe I should say were, because things appear a little different in the era of Rogge, Diack and especially WADA.) Why would they do this? I can easily see a purely business argument being made that if the host nation exceeds expectations and gets a win or two, it would increase the fan base for all of track & field there.

We know that at Rome's 1987 Worlds, they just flat-out cheated to get a long jump medal, and Vyv Simpson suggests the order came from none other than Primo Nebiolo.

There's one major exception to the home-country boost: Canada did not win a single gold in Montreal '76, Calgary '88, or Edmonton '01. Canadians, being a weak sister both in the Commonwealth and to neighbors USA & Russia, have developed a strong sense of fair play not through inherently superior ethics but through nearly-always inferior might. (Remember, they were the only country that agressively investigated its own doped athletes until BALCO came along.) Of all major nations, they're the least likely to take advantage of a free pass.

Let me say that this is only idle speculation, and the Thanou/Kenteris episode in Athens indicates that if it ever was the case it is no longer. But it's something to think about.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Day 3: What's On

IAAF Preview
Timetable/Start Lists

NBC TV coverage: 7:30-midnite Saturday (live women's marathon), 2-5 p.m. Sunday (men's 10k), 7 p.m.-midnite Sunday (women's 100m)
CBC TV coverage: 6 p.m. Saturday through noon Sunday

  • Women's marathon
  • Women's 100 meters semis and finals
  • Men's hammer throw finals
  • Women's triple jump finals
  • Women's 400 meters semis
  • Men's 1500 meters semis
  • Women's steeplechase finals
  • Men's 10k finals

Day 2: What Happened

IAAF report

Men's 20km Walk: Like you care, right? A likely doped Russian won and Jefferson Perez was runner-up.

Women's 800m semis: Jelimo still is the favorite but Jepkosgei showed she won't be a complete pushover. Maria Mutola made her fifth consecutive Olympic final.

Men's 100 semis: I said Gay didn't look good, and he didn't make the final. He's healthy but short on conditioning and racing. Look for him to beat all but Bolt and maybe Powell at the World Athletics Final. Bolt is on another planet, and Dix has sharpened to where he has a shot at bronze. And what if Powell chokes again...

Women's 100m heats & quarters: As I called it in my preview, this is USA v. Jamaica and everyone else are also-rans. The Jamaicans look better right now, but tomorrow's another day.

Men's 400 Hurdle semis: All the favorites made the final, and a US medal sweep is quite possible. Angelo Taylor ran his best race in years.

Women's shot put
: Vili took the Belarussians again, but this time she did it on the first throw instead of the last, with a new national record to boot.

Heptathlon Day 2 (LJ, JT and 800m): Like I said yesterday, the long jump was the make-or-break event. Fountain fouled on her first two attempts, leaving her no choice but to play it safe on her third and got a poor (by her standards) result. Blonska did the same but big-time thrower Dobrynska got a big one off, and then increased her lead in the javelin. The only real contest in the 800 was whether or not Fountain could hold off Chernova for bronze (she did).

Men's 100m final: Oh yeah, there was this little sprint race. Too bad nobody hyped it. ;) Bolt huge WR! Powell choked again, Dix gets bronze because he still can't beat Richard Thompson. You can read the hyperbole, oh, everywhere. SI's Tim Layden has the article (and the mag has the photo) that defines the moment.

In other event qualifying:
  • Men's discus saw two of the three medal favorites--Ehsan Hadadi and Virgilius Alekna--not make it through. The final is wide-open now.
  • Men's steeple heats had every real contender make it through, and American Famiglietti set a PR after boldly taking a 40-meter lead in the last few laps.
  • Men's long jump: no Americans made it through and Saudi Mohamed Salman Al Khuwalidi also missed the cut.
  • Women's 400m heats, women's pole vault: no surprises

Friday, August 15, 2008

What's On: Day 2

IAAF Preview
Timetable/Start Lists

NBC TV on Saturday: USA from 2-10:30 a.m. (20k walk), NBC from 4-6 p.m. (q-rounds) and 7:30-10 p.m. (men's 100 final and live women's marathon)
CBC TV on Friday/Saturday: nonstop from 6 p.m. Friday to noon Saturday, everything live


Day 1: What Happened

IAAF report

If you're looking at the internet before watching the action on TV, you're obviously not worried about me (or anyone else) spoiling the fun. My thoughts on the first day of Olympic track & field...

TV coverage
As I've mentioned before, I'm getting everything live (or close to it) from north of the border via CBC. The Canadians are just centered on their own athletes as NBC is, but it's a little different. They try to show every Canadian athlete competing in a major sport, and sometimes this makes their coverage not quite as good as NBC's.

Case in point: this morning, they covered Canada v. USA women's soccer live and in its entirety. Unfortunately, their plans went awry because torrential rain and lightning caused a delay in the match. After all that, it went into overtime. So just as soon as that was over, they cut live to the last six attempts in the men's shot put final. Normally, they'd backtrack and give us the big picture and how the drama unfolded, but in this situation it was important to get the story as it happened. Why? Because our northern neighbors thought it was a very big deal that a Canadian almost won a bronze medal.

Shot Put
As the coverage went to the shot and they said Dylan Armstrong was in bronze position with Tomas Majewski leading. I thought, what the hell happened? Adam Nelson fouled out, Reese Hoffa threw like crap, and the distances were not particularly good. Well, go back to that torrential rain I mentioned. Gliders (Majewski and Mikhnevich) ended up gold and bronze, and the least-aggressive spinner (Cantwell) took silver, and then only on his final throw when things had dried out a bit. Armstrong is an agressive spinner, but as a converted hammer thrower he's developed very good balance while rotating. Weather was a big factor here.
EDIT: Apparently, there was no rain in Beijing so it could not have affected the outcome. Still, for whatever reason, the aggressive spinners as a group (save Armstrong) had a bad day.

Women's 800 heats
CBC showed us the heat with Pamela Jelimo in it. She underscored her status as the surest gold medal bet on the track.

Men's 100 heats & quarters
Bolt looks unbeatable, and both Gay and Dix look exactly like what you'd expect from guys who haven't raced in well over a month. Reading too much into the quarterfinals is making a premature judgement, but unless the Americans sharpen up considerably the bronze might come down to Churandy Martina and NCAA champ Richard Thompson. SI's Tim Layden has more.

Men's 1500 heats
Rashid Ramzi looked the best of the three heats CBC showed (they concentrated on the Canadians). All three Americans got through. It looked to me like Lagat was trying to expend the least amount of energy possible. Manzano is a smart guy and positioned himself well, but it appeared that he was a bit surprised by the wrestling match these kinds of races can become. I didn't get to see Lomong; Nathan Brannen looked like a very good bet for the finals, and while Kevin Sullivan is over the hill he's still the smartest racer on the planet.
EDIT: I saw Lomong's heat on NBC. Conditioning and speed are fine, but as big as he is he shouldn't get pushed around. He should make others move out of his way.

Heptathlon Day 1 (100H, HJ, SP, 200)
Hyleas Fountain leads. The three remaining events are one in which she's very good (LJ), very bad (JT), and one where she's never had to bust a huge effort (800). Those expected to make a big move forward on Day 2 are Blonska (currently fifth), Chernova (tenth), and Lilli Schwarzkopf (fourteenth), while Bogdanova (fourth) is likely to drop off the table tomorrow. The long jump might be the make-or-break event for Fountain as she's capable of a big jump but totally screwed if she doesn't get it.

Women's 10k
CBC is usually very good about showing events in their entirety, but it was like watching US television for this one. First four laps, commercial, middle two laps, commercial, final kilometer. So I have no idea where, when or how the break was made, but I do want to make a rant.

Shalane Flanagan won the bronze medal and broke her own American Record in an event she didn't even think about running here until three months ago, and I'll bet she's really glad she changed her mind. (If not for a bout of food poisoning, she might have been Dibaba's foil over the final lap instead of Abeylgesse.) I think the absolute biggest mistake Americans make is running events too short for their abilities. In the US high school / collegiate system, it is seen as a waste to take fast athletes and run them in longer events because it compromises their ability to run multiple races in one meet. We also have a point of pride about being able to run shorter races.

Compare this with the Kenyan shark pool, where if you're barely a sub-4:00 miler, moving up to the track 10k still leaves you without enough speed. The US has a similar result in the hurdles and the 400; our tremendous depth in the sprints gives us even better depth in sprint-related events because if you can't run 10.8 when you're 16 you'll find something else to do if you want to be the best. Or in Ethiopia, where the 10k and marathon are the glamour events and the best athletes in the whole country want to run them.

If Lagat has come through the US system, would he be a miler? Doubtful. How about Geb? He probably would have been a miler instead of a 5k/10k specialist, and he would have been very good but not quite Olympic-medal quality. The one period of time the US was fairly good at distance running--the 70s and early 80s--was when the Boston Marathon was one of the major sporting events of the spring and road 10ks were all the rage, inspiring good athletes to take up longer races. Fast track runners like Shorter and Salazer had no qualms about racing marathons, either. Go long, young man!

In other event qualifying rounds, nothing interesting happened.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What's On: Day 1

The track competition gets underway tomorrow evening. While you're messing around with your picks for the Track & Field News prediction contests, I'll be off at Kelleys Island for my last-day-of-summer blowout. (If you've never been to the Lake Erie Islands, they are the Great Lakes' answer to the Florida Keys, with Kelleys taking the place of Big Pine.) So I'm putting up my daily preview now.

Note that NBC will tape-delay everything save the marathons. So if you want it live, your options are the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. if you're lucky enough to live close to the border (as I do), or online viewing via their website or Eurovision's (it you're not blocked). The IAAF will also have a live blog.

NBC coverage: 11 a.m.-noon (men's 100 heats/quarters), 8 p.m.-midnite (mens shot put), and 12:30-2 a.m. (women's 10k).

Highlights (with links to start lists):
SI's Tim Layden has a new article on 100 underdog Asafa Powell.

Olympic Schedules & Competitors

Wondering what's going on when in Beijing? Jimmie Markham has a well-organized daily schedule (China time) up on his blog, and Trackshark's schedule goes down to each individual heat (Eastern time).

Also, start lists are up for Day 1 (Friday Aug 15) as well as entry lists for the rest of the Games.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Track Drinking Game

My good friends over at Less Than Our Best came up with an Opening Ceremonies Drinking Game. Not to be outdone, I've got one of my own. (It's a drinking game in that it's a game you play and you can drink while you do it.)

"What if Chris Berman Hosted A Track & Field Highlights Show?"

Take an athlete's name. Give him a Boomer-style nickname. Object: get your friends to laugh so hard that they shoot beer out of their noses.

Just from the Olympic Trials alone, we've got such items as...

Paul Terek "and the Dominoes"
Wallace "Wrigley's" Spearmon "Gum"
Michael "Mister" Rogers
Derrick "Strange" Brew
Galen Rupp "Arena"
Tim "Blake" Nelson (for all of us O Brother Where Art Thou fans)
Tyson Gay "...not that there's anything wrong with that"
David Oliver "Wendell Holmes"
Kerron "Saint" Clement
Bershawn "Action" Jackson
Steve Slattery "will get you nowhere"
Billy Nelson "Mandela"
Andra Manson "Family"
Tora "Torah Torah" Harris
Tim Mack "and Cheese"
Tommy "Gilligan, The" Skipper "Too"
Rafeeq "Lemon" Curry
Christian Cantwell "...maybe he can"
Reese "Jimmy" Hoffa
Russ Winger "and a Prayer"
Ian Waltz"ing Matilda"
Jarred Rome "Wasn't Built in a Day"
Travis Nutter "Butter"
Bryan "Feet of" Clay
Mustafa Abdur-Rahim "Schlemeel, schlemazel, hasenfeffer incorporated, We’re gonna do it!"
Tom Pappas "Meer" (gotta say that one out loud)

and I'll let you come up with your own for Walter Dix.

Olympic Preview: Marathons

The Schedule: Sunday, Aug 24 (live on NBC, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT)
The Americans: Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein, Brian Sell
The Contenders: Sammy Wanjiru (KEN), Martin Lel (KEN), Robert Cheruyiot (KEN), Mubarak Shami (QAT), Abderrahim Goumri (MAR), Jaouad Gharib (MAR), Tsegaye Kebede (ETH), Tsuyoshi Ogata (JPN)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Wanjiru, Lel, Goumri; SI - Lel, Goumri, Kebede
The Story: If you look at the World Marathon Majors leader board, you would expect the race to come down to Lel, Cheruyiot and Goumri, or new half-marathon World Record holder Wanjiru. But that's predicting the future based solely on what has happened in the past, and that's an iffy proposition for the marathon.

First off, athletes compete so rarely that we just don't have enough information to tell who will be at their best and who will not. This is even more true in Olympic marathons, where athletes may have spent their whole lives preparing for this one single race in preference over all others. So you are interested in an athlete who is ascendant rather than dominant...someone like, say, Ryan Hall. Or someone else we're much less aware of.

Tsegaye Kebede answers that call. He won his first marathon, in course record time in Addis Ababa (2:15), then ran 2:08 and 2:06, plus a sub-60:00 half and a couple of 10k road wins, all in the last 13 months.

But the other confounding factor in this race will be the heat and humidity. The always-well-peaked Japanese are no strangers to these conditions. The U.S. runners have their own not-so-secret weapon they used to great advantage in Athens.

Predictions? I'm not making any. Just sit back, watch, and enjoy it.

The Schedule: Sunday, Aug 17 (live on NBC, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EDT)
The Americans: Deena Kastor, Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Blake Russell
The Contenders: Zhou Chunxiu (CHN), Catherine Ndereba (KEN), Gete Wami (ETH), Paula Radcliffe (GBR), Zhu Xiaolin (CHN), Reiko Tosa (JPN)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Zhou, Ndereba, Wami; SI - Zhou, Wami, Ndereba
The Story: Big recent news: Defending champ Noguchi is not running. Less big, less recent: Paula Radcliffe is in.

The universal favorite is China's own Zhou Chunxiu, and personally I don't see anyone else jumping out at me as someone else to pick. On the other hand, Ndereba beat her at last year's Worlds where both had to deal with the same kind of heat and humidity nearly guaranteed in this year's race. And her recent win in the NYC Half Marathon can either be viewed as proof of top condition or an energy-sapping effort too close to the big race. I just don't know what to think.

How about Radcliffe? Under normal circumstances, I'd say no way. Throughout her career, she has shown an inability to allow any runner to be ahead of her at any time, and in hot conditions with dozens of great runners (some talented but highly inexperienced) such impatience is not rewarded. But her professed worries about her injury and conditioning might actually turn the "I can't be behind" switch in her brain to the off position, giving her a chance to medal if not win. But if she goes right to the front it's over.

Kastor is the only American with any kind of chance, and I don't think she has much of one.

Olympic Preview: Women's Long Distance

The second-to-last of my Olympic previews examines the longest track events for women.

The Schedule: heats, Friday Aug 15; finals, Sunday Aug 17
The Americans: #4 Anna Willard, #8 Jenny Barringer, #14 Lindsay Anderson
The Contenders: #1 Gulnara Samitova-Galkina (RUS), #2 Ruth Bisibori Nyangau (KEN), #3 Eunice Jepkorir (KEN), #13 Yekaterina Volkova (RUS), #15 Tatiana Petrova (RUS)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Samitova-Galkina, Volkova, Jepkorir; SI - Volkova, Samitova-Galkina, Jepkorir
The Story: This is the first-ever Olympic steeplechase for women. With a very short history in major international championships, the medals are expected to be fought for by Russians and Kenyans.

Volkova gets attention as she is the defending World champion. She was pre-selected for Russia's Olympic team and did not have to compete at their national championships; in fact, she has run the steeple only once this year, getting beaten fairly handily by teammate Samitova-Galkina, the World Record holder and actually the athlete to beat. She ran the third-fastest time ever at the Russian Championships, is undefeated in the steeple, and set PRs at the flat 3k and 5k this year. Petrova, the '07 Worlds silver medalist, ran the year's third-best time at the Russian Championships and should be a factor as well.

Kenyans Jepkorir and Bisibori were third and fourth at last year's Worlds, and second and first at the Kenyan Olympic Trials. Jepkorir is second on the '08 World List with a time run at a fairly small meet in Huelva, Spain.

Americans Willard and Barringer have traded the national record this summer, but it would take a major step up for either to run in medal contention.

Olympic Preview: Men's Sprints

The thirteenth in my series of Olympic previews looks at the shortest running events for men.

100 Meters
The Schedule: heats and quarterfinals, Friday Aug 15; semifinals and finals, Saturday Aug 16
The Americans: #5 Tyson Gay, #9 Walter Dix, #11 Darvis Patton
The Contenders: #1 Usain Bolt (JAM), #2 Asafa Powell (JAM), #4 Derrick Atkins (BAH), #7 Jaysuma Saidy Ndure (NOR), #8 Michael Frater (JAM)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Bolt, Powell, Gay; SI - Gay, Bolt, Dix
The Story: This is among the most anticipated events in the entire Olympic Games, pitting the current World Record holder against the previous one and the defending World champion.

Only two issues leave any doubt as to whether Usain Bolt can win gold: he has never run a four-round championship in the 100, and Powell narrowly beat him in Stockholm just a few weeks ago. The theoretical way to beat Bolt is to get out of the blocks ahead of him and apply pressure throughout the race, and Powell did exactly that.

Powell, however, has shown a consistent inability to run his best in championship meets, or even when similarly running from behind. Most observers don't figure him to be the winner, but the 100 can be a real crapshoot sometimes.

The wildcard in all of this is Gay. After his injury suffered at the US Olympic Trials, no one knows for sure what he's capable of. After a recent workout, he proclaimed himself at about 85 to 90% of his immediate pre-trials fitness level. At 100%, it would be a toss-up between himself and Bolt, but a lack of racing may result in a loss of sharpness. Still, there are three rounds to work with before the final, and he might be closer to 100% and not want anyone to know it; as my hall-of-fame high school coach always said, if you think you can win it pays to keep it a secret for as long as possible.

The attention has been almost exclusively on these three, but if you're looking for a dark horse it's Walter Dix. Rumors have circulated that he suffered an injury while winning the Trials 200, but he sure didn't look like it. His season has been short, as he suffered an injury much more severe than Gay's in April. A year ago he was good enough to challenge for a medal at the Worlds but stayed home to concentrate on schoolwork. The potential is there, but few besides the true fan know about it.

200 Meters
The Schedule: heats and quarterfinals, Monday Aug 18; semifinals, Tuesday Aug 19; finals, Wednesday Aug 20
The Americans: #3 Wallace Spearmon, #4 Walter Dix, #14 Shawn Crawford
The Contenders: #1 Usain Bolt (JAM), #6 Brian Dzingai (ZIM), #8 Brendan Christian (ANT), #11 Richard Thompson (TRI), #12 Marlon Devonish (GBR)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Bolt, Dix, Crawford; SI - Bolt, Dix, Crawford
The Story: Bolt is getting attention for his 100 record, but this is almost assuredly his best event. With Tyson Gay failing to make the US team due to injury, this is expected to be little more than a coronation.

Spearmon and Dix, however, has PRs that indicate they may be able to challenge the Jamaican. Considering that Bolt will have to run eight rounds in six days, and his commitment to hard training has at times been questioned, the upset is possible. Spearmon will only run the 200 which gives him an advantage there. If Bolt loses, however, I see Walter Dix as the man to do him in. While Dix also has double-duty on his plate, he is a bull-strong runner who never wears down as much as his opponents. Just fourth in the NCAA 100, he came back to win the 200 later in the meet, and similarly won the Trials 200 after a heavy week of racing. He is a smart runner who manages his efforts well and has that rarest of qualities in sprinters: belief in delayed gratification.

If you can find a casino sports book offering odds on the Olympics, take Dix to win. A quick check of online betting odds has him anywhere from 9:1 to 11:1, but the reality is more like 3:1 or less. You heard it here first.

Olympic Preview: Men's Long Distance

The twelfth in my series of Olympic previews examines the longest track events for men.

3000m Steeplechase
The Schedule: Heats, Saturday Aug 16; finals, Monday Aug 18
The Americans: #12 Anthony Famiglietti, #15 Billy Nelson, Josh McAdams
The Contenders: #2 Richard Mateelong (KEN), #4 Brimin Kipruto (KEN), #6 Ezekiel Kemboi (KEN), #8 Tareq Mubarak Taher (BRN)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Kemboi, Matelong, Kipruto; SI - Kemboi, Kipruto, Matelong
The Story: Kenya so totally dominates this event that it is assumed the only other athlete who could muscle his way onto the medal podium is Kenyan-expatriate Taher, and then only if one of them is snagged by a barrier. So a question more to the point is 'which order'?

Kemboi has run the steeple only three times this year, with two firsts and a second. One of those wins was in the world's deepest steeple race, the Kenyan Olympic Trials. Add this to his '04 Olympic gold and three Worlds silvers and he's the favorite.

Kipruto's 2008 season hasn't been as good as Kemboi's, but he won gold at last year's Worlds to Kemboi's silver. Mateelong was third at the Kenyan Trials but won four of his other five races this year.

American Famiglietti should be a finalist, and it wouldn't be a huge surprise for one of our other two to make it.

5000 Meters
The Schedule: heats, Wednesday Aug 20; finals, Saturday, Aug 23
The Americans: #5 Bernard Lagat, Matt Tegenkamp, Ian Dobson
The Contenders: #1 Edwin Cheruyuiot Soi (KEN), #2 Tariku Bekele (ETH), #4 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH), #11 Craig Mottram (AUS), #13 Eliud Kipchoge (KEN), #14 Abraham Cherkos Feleke (ETH)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - K Bekele, Lagat, Kipchoge; SI - Soi, T Bekele, Kipchoge
The Story: Who wins and who medals will depend very much on how the race plays out. A slow pace favors Lagat, who has far and away the best finishing speed, but it's unlikely that all the other finalists will want to hand the race to him like they did last year in Osaka. A hard pace from the gun reverses that advantage/disadvantage situation but is even less likely. More expected is gamesmanship, surging, and a real race taking shape in the last eight or so laps.

Thus it is useful to look at who has fared the best in similarly unrabbited 5k affairs rather than the World Tour's races which are often little more than high-speed time trials. However, those kind of paced 3k races tell us a bit as well.

So long as it does not come down to a kick of one lap or less, and he's not worn out from the 10k, the clear favorite is Kenenisa Bekele, as those are the only circumstances under which he's been beatable. Tariku Bekele is perceived to have poor finishing speed but won the World Indoor title at 3k this year. Third Ethiopian Feleke is very young and inexperienced.

Kenyan trials champ Soi has shown some good form, but compatriot Kipchoge has come through consistently in big championship races. At last year's Worlds he was just edged out by Lagat; he was third in Athens behind El Guerrouja and Bekele, and outsprinted the Morroccan world-record holder the year before for the Worlds gold.

Besides Lagat, the only other athlete figuring into this Kenya-Ethiopia war is "Buster" Mottram. Seemingly perfectly made for 3000 meters, if the pace turns hot with six or seven laps to go he'll be in good shape.

10,000 Meters
The Schedule: Sunday, Aug 17 (live on NBC)
The Americans: #12 Abdi Abdirahman, #18 Galen Rupp, Jorge Torres
The Contenders: #1 Kenenisa Bekele (ETH), #3 Moses Ndiema Masai (KEN), #10 Sileshi Sihine (ETH), #18 Haile Gebrselassie (ETH), #19 Micah Kogo (KEN), #22 Martin Mathathi (KEN)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Bekele, Sihine, Mathathi; SI - Bekele, Sihine, Masai
The Story: This event is dominated by Kenya and Ethiopia, and the latter has been recently taking the best of the former. The Ethiopians have entered their three greatest runners of the last two decades: "The Emperor" Gebrselassie, his heir Bekele, and Sihine, who in five tries has never lost to anyone but these two in a championship 10k. A sweep would be surprising only in that Geb seems to have lost a little bit of the edge necessary for track racing.

The Kenyans answer with a young track runner (Masai, their Trials 10k champ), a cross-country specialist (Mathathi, bronze at last year's Worlds 10k), and a road racer (Kogo). None are exactly chopped liver, but neither do they have the credentials of their Ethiopian counterparts.

The only other runner likely to have a shot at the medal stand is American Abdirahman, who is having the best year of his career. He set a big PR (27:14) at the Prefontaine Classic and handily won the US Trials.