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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

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.

5000 Meters
The Schedule: heats, Tuesday Aug 19; finals, Friday, Aug 22
The Americans: #6 Shalane Flanagan, #7 Kara Goucher, #12 Jen Rhines
The Contenders: #1 Meseret Defar (ETH), #2 Gulnara Samitova-Galkina (RUS) #3 Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH), #4 Meselech Melkamu (ETH) #5 Sylvia Jebiwott Kibet (KEN), #8 Penina Chepchumba (KEN), #22 Liliya Shobukhova (RUS)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Defar, T Dibaba, Melkamu; SI - T Dibaba, Defar, Jepleting
The Story: While everyone knows the men's 100 and high hurdles will be great showdowns, this race has been getting short shrift. Too bad, because it's going to be a great race.

Teammates Dibaba and Defar have owned the long distances for several years. They have not raced each other head-to-head this year, but did appear in separate 3k and 2-mile races in the Reebok Boston Indoor Games. Dibaba broke the 5k World Record in Oslo's Bislett Games, running 14:11.15; later in the summer, Defar ran 14:12.88 in Stockholm. Both are strong and have withering kicks. It will be a war.

Two Russian runners are big giant ciphers. Samitova-Galkina has been a holy terror in the steeplechase and ran 14:33 at the Russian Championships, but the 5k final would be her fourth race in a week. Even harder to read is Shobukhova, who broke the European Record at the Russian Championships with an amazing solo run of 14:23.75. But her best indoor time was 16:02.24, and got waxed in Boston by US non-Olympians Janelle Deatherage and Lauren Fleshman. Considering the recent doping busts of several other Russian women runners, even the most naive of us might have to raise our eyebrows.

10,000 Meters
The Schedule: Friday, Aug 15 (live on NBC)
The Americans: #5 Shalane Flanagan, #8 Kara Goucher, Amy Begley
The Contenders: #1 Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH), #2 Lucy Kabuu Wangui (KEN), #10 Grace Kwamboka Momanyi (KEN) #12 Ejegayehu Dibaba (ETH), #13 Kim Smith (NZL), #16 Linet Chepkwemoi Masai (KEN), #21 Mestawet Tufa (ETH), Elvan Abeylegesse (TUR)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - T Dibaba, E Dibaba, Abeylegesse; SI - Tufa, Jepleting, Kabuu
The Story: Six runners automatically get respect simply from their uniform: the trios from Ethiopia and Kenya. The northernmost of the two African neighbors has had significantly better results at international championships, winning five of the last nine major medals to Kenya's none.

One of those Ethiopians gets more respect than the other two combined, however: two-time World champ Dibaba, who also holds the 5k world record. High heat and humidity might wreak havoc with other athlete's abilities, but it was just as bad at last year's Worlds when she was dead last at halfway and ended up winning.

In those same awful conditions, Goucher took the USA's first-ever Worlds medal in this event, a bronze. It would surprise no one if her or teammate Flanagan could match or improve on the lone US Olympic medal (bronze) in the women's 10k.

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