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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

...with apologies to Peter King...

What have we learned this week?

Christian Olsson is back. Maybe not to his previous level, but he's stamped himself as a contender for the World Indoor title. The six-time major championship gold medalist triple jumper lost most or all of the last three seasons to injury, but beat back the best field of the young year to win in Birmingham yesterday with the season's leading mark.

Something is wrong with Kenenisa Bekele. First he got his butt whupped in Edinburgh, then he pulled out of a much-publisized race in Birmingham. The first is far more meaningful than the second, but chinks in the armor may be showing. Yeah, Beks was talking world record, but athletes always talk that way. This could be concern over nothing--he was a double world champ last year--but you can't stay on top forever.

Fabiana Murer is the best of the mortal pole vaulters. Isinbayeva is a god, an Olympian of the ancient meaning; Murer is the best of the rest. She beat a deep field in Birmingham for her second South American record of the year, and has a winning record versus everyone (except Isi, of course.) The IAAF's news service saw this coming three weeks ago (note: only Brazilian women wouldn't take offense at a headline including the phrase "growing behind"), but now it's obvious even to numbskulls like me.

We have a rivalry. Carmelita Jeter was soundly beaten by Lavern Jones-Ferrette in Dusseldorf a week ago. This time Jeter came out ahead, but in a photo-finish. Note that Jone-Ferrette was last out of the blocks yesterday and still nearly won the race. The worlds looks to be the decider in this best-of-three match.

Some people really know how to play "joy whack-a-mole". Joy pops up, they beat it down. (Joke stolen from Maria Bamford.) This news item is a bit more than a week old, but it merits mention. A new privately-funded state-of-the-art track facility just opened in Geneva, Ohio. Not only is it truly one of the best in the world, but its extra lanes cut down the often-agonizing length of indoor meets. Garry Hill's lone response was to bitch about it being 300 meters instead of the standard 200 meters because it makes record-keeping more complicated.

Gregg Easterbrook is an idiot. He writes ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column and often goes off topic into science and economics, subjects he's consulted for his expertise in his day job at think tanks. Problem: he doesn't understand football, he really doesn't understand science and he doesn't understand the mathematical or logical underpinnings of either one. Fortunately for him, his job title is pundit, one of two occupations where rank incompetence will never get you fired. The other is school board.

If you're a talented and well-prepared runner, you can run any distance. Well, some people already knew this, but not enough of them. As Tim Noakes said, if you can't beat someone at the mile you're not going to beat them at the marathon either.

There are always new Kenyans. Nourredine Morceli's famous quote was just proven again yesterday. The Kenyan men's trials race for the World Cross Country Championships just might be the toughest race in the world. Yesterday another new Kenyan came to the fore, Paul Tanui, and he beat the living crap out of the field. He won by thirty seconds, which is like winning the Super Bowl by fifty points. Two years ago he didn't know how to run in shoes and now he's a medal favorite for the Worlds. This is why Athletics Kenya can abuse their athletes: there's an endless supply of up-and-coming world beaters ready to take their place.

The hammer throwers really will get their own series. When the new Diamond League was announced last year, the hammer was conspicuously absent from their plans, as it's an event that doesn't easily fit in many venues. Martin Bingisser sees more bad than good in the current setup, but I see the hammer fitting into long-term plan for every event to get a minimum amount of exposure--and the hammer is an event that could have slipped far off the radar.

Rachel Maddow is not asking the right questions. On multiple recent installments of The Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC's openly-leftist news host berated the IOC for not including women's ski jumping at this year's Olympics. She included some unfortunate quotes by Gian-Franco Kasper, head of the International Ski Federation, as to why they were excluded. But what he wants or thinks isn't really the issue here: the IOC is a political and bureaucratic organization, and has rules and policies and procedures a-plenty. The real questions to ask: 1) Are there guidelines for adding new sports to the Olympic Games? 2) Were these guidelines followed in this instance? 3) Have these guidelines generally been followed in other recent instances? I know the answer to 1) is yes, but I don't know what the guidelines are, and I don't know the answers to 2) and 3). It is the job of a reporter to ask these questions and find out the answers, and only then can we make judgments about institutional sexism. Maddow rarely fails to do her homework, but in this case she has.

American women shot putters are making their mark. Last year Michelle Carter became only the fifth American woman to make T&FN's world rankings in the shot put. Right now there are four Americans in the world's top 25. None are likely to medal at the Worlds or come home from the Diamond League final with wads of cash, but the movement is definitely up.

Blanka Vlasic is really, really popular in Croatia. 11,000 people came out to see her jump in Split. That's all there was, just a women's high jump competition. It was the only event on the schedule.

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