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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn during NCAA/World Indoor Championship week?

Lolo Jones in the most entertainingly inconsistent athlete in the world today. Two years ago, she had Olympic gold in the bag and then famously tripped. Yesterday she barely made the final, and then came out and won with the best performance of the whole meet, a stunning 7.72 meet record and #3 on the all-time list (#2 if you discount the notorious Ludmila Enquist).

The USA is loaded in the decathlon. One-two at the World indoor heptathlon by the defending Olympic and World champions. Then, on the same day, a World Record by Ashton Eaton, a score that would have run circles around the Worlds medalists. No pushing in line to sign with Wheaties, please.

IAAF Radio is worth a try. For no particularly good reason, on Saturday morning I decided not to watch's webcast and tried IAAF Radio instead. I was pleasantly surprised. I got a three-person British team doing live coverage and it was much better than I expected. I also figured out why modern sports TV announcers are so bad, track and otherwise: few if any of them cut their teeth on radio or even grew up listening to radio broadcasts. The ambient sounds of the Aspire Dome came through, and gave me the same sense of "being there" that WJR's broadcasts from Tiger Stadium did way back when. To stretch a metaphor, we in track need to fire Joe Morgan and replace him with Vin Scully.

Who is Ruddy Zang Milama? She was fourth at the Worlds in the women's 60 meters. She is a 23-year-old Gabonese who took 0.19 seconds off her 60m PR this year. Until this weekend, I'd never heard of her and I know pretty much every decent sprinter in the world. She's a big-time rising star.

Yelena Isinbayeva has lost her invincibility. Last year she no-heighted at the World Championships. OK, maybe that's a one-off occurrence. Today she passed through to 4.60m, which she made on her first try, and then passed again through to 4.75m. Three straight misses, finished fourth and out of the medals, and now everyone looks at her as if she's an ordinary human being like the rest of us.

The men's high hurdles is the best race on the planet. I don't mean just now, I mean at any given moment in time. Today's final was a fantastic race, a highly anticipated showdown between Dayron Robles and Terrence Trammell that lived up to its hype, but only one of many great races we'll get this year.

American women are making big progress in the 400. Collegian Francina McCorory broke the American Record at the NCAA with 50.54, which would have easily won the World Indoors. That race was won by American Debbie Dunn. And then the Worlds ended with the USA holding off Russia in the women's 4x400, the first time ever Russia/USSR didn't win the gold in that event. All that while Athlete of the Year Sanya Richards is still on her honeymoon.

Phil Knight is a happy, happy man. Oregon, aka Nike U, took two trophies at the NCAA Championships: a first (women) and a second (men). Not only that, but they did it with some big-time recognizable stars: Eaton, Wheating, Hasay, Purvis, etc. And great white hope Galen Rupp took 6th at the Worlds 3k, a distance and racing style for which his talents are not best suited. Nike will continue to have the biggest US stars wearing their kit for all of the foreseeable future.

The USA's "Project 30" goal might be attainable. The goal is an unheard-of 30 medals at the 2012 Olympics. When the task force was put together a year and a half ago, I thought it was worthwhile. There were, and in many cases still are, endemic problems in USATF's management and coaching. But some of the problems in performance at the Beijing Olympics were simply a cosmic accident of bad luck. This weekend's World and NCAA championships indicate that an unusually large number of unusually good athletes are either hitting their peak or only a few years off it. The USA brought home 17 medals. That was without being able to enter a third athlete in any event; without some traditionally strong events on the slate (200, 400 hurdles, 4x100); without our best 100 or 400 runners and another dozen or so stars who all skipped the indoor season. New sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers and pole vaulters are on the rise in the collegiate ranks. Even the once-unthinkable, winning a medal in the long distances, is looking within the realm of possibility in a year or two.

And check out this nice collection of blogs put together by Martin Bingisser.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

Any idea who the commentators were for the Universal Sports TV broadcasts? They were particularly horrible, especially the male "voice".