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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fantasy League Thoughts

I finished 28th out of well over 2000 who played USATF's Pick & Win game over the course of the outdoor season. I made a couple of bonehead moves that killed me; had I not picked Tyson Gay in the USATF 100, I would have been second.

EDIT: USATF's early updates were misleading. I finished 26th, and my errors only cost me about ten places.

So what wisdom can I give you? A number of things.

Never pick someone who has a Worlds bye
Who did? Tyson Gay, who dropped out of the 100 after one round. Jeremy Wariner, who ran the 200 and didn't make the final. Bernard Lagat, who opted for the 800 and didn't show up for his semifinal. Kerron Clement, who ran the flat 400. Michelle Perry, who was a no-show for the 100 hurdles finals. The only athletes who didn't take advantage of their byes were Allyson Felix, Brad Walker and Reese Hoffa. Two of those who dropped out before the final--Gay and Perry--I picked to win and it cost me second place.

I looked at Track & Field News' formcharts, saw Gay listed at #1 in the 100, and assumed it meant they thought he was going to run all the rounds. Those guys are generally plugged in and I thought they knew something. Turns out that wasn't the case, which killed me because I knew who were the next three guys in order after Gay. Which brings me to my next point...

The 100 is the easiest event to predict
Absolutely the easiest, so long as you look at the right information. The 100 is raw explosive power applied through highly skilled technique. Athletes must hone that technique through racing, and since the races are always close they can't let up before the finish. The result is that no one can hide what condition they're really in.

If you know where to look, that condition is obvious. Take their race times, use Dr. Jonas Mureika's online calculator to factor out the effects of wind and altitude, and it's pretty much right on the ball. Now, not all winds are equal; a crosswind measured with an aiding vector of 2.0 m/s is far different from a pure tailwind with the same aiding vector, and winds can be different at the start than at the finish. Humidity and temperature also play a small role in sprint times. But if you look at an athlete's three or four most recent races, these minor inconsistencies even out and you can pretty much tell how they're going to line up.

This is why I wanted nothing to do with Walter Dix. While his best single mark of the year was much superior to that of anyone in the meet (save Gay), it was way back in early April. His last outing before USATF saw him lose to Trell Kimmons and Bernard Williams in times that just didn't look very good. He was too much of an unknown quantity.

In the men's 100, if Gay was removed from the equation, the best series of times had been put up by Mike Rodgers and Darvis Patton, followed by Rae Edwards. I thought Patton was going to be hurt a little by his recent paternity-related short layoff. I was right on.

In the women's 100, I thought Carmelita Jeter was way better than everyone else, with Muna Lee next and Alexandria Anderson after her. I did not think Lauryn Williams was going to be a factor, despite her big-meet reputation. Jeter made a mistake early in the race and caught a cramp late but still managed to hold on for the win. And the wind/altitude correction exposes why Williams is such a big-meet runner: she and Lee were the only finalists who ran up to their season-best standard. Which brings me to my next point...

Do your homework
I saw that Maggie Vessey won the Prefontaine 800 and ran well at the Reebok Grand Prix, decided she was on a definite upswing, and picked her to win. But I neglected to look at how she runs, and as soon as I saw a Let's Run analysis of her semifinal I knew I was screwed.

She takes the Yuriy Borzakovskiy approach to the 800, namely stay way back on the first lap and then eat 'em up on the second. This works extremely well under certain circumstances, but not all, and when it fails it does so miserably. Borza still hasn't figured out when to moderate his tactics.

Athletes who run like this plan on even splits for the two laps. This works if the pace goes out crazy-fast and the athletes tie up. Perfect examples include the '72 and '88 men's Olympic final, and the Prefontaine Classic women's race this year went just like that. Vessey ran well back and ran pretty much even pace the whole way, and it was easy pickings to pass a strung-out field.

Today, the pace went out at 59.x and Vessey probably ran 63.x, by which time she'd already thrown away the race. No one was going to have a grizzly bear jump on their back, she was going to have to run negative splits, and go way wide to pass a crowd. So she ended up fourth.

Note that Nick Symmonds used to run this way, but has matured by realizing the situations where it doesn't work. Now he only trails if the pace is too aggressive, and today he started working his way up from the back after only 100 meters.

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