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Friday, August 15, 2008

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.

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