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Sunday, May 09, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Worldwide long-distance running is getting deeper all the time. Today was the Prague International Marathon. Not a World Marathon Major, not one of the B-level marathons, maybe a C-level marathon and maybe not. 20-year-old Kenyan Paul Tanui ran 2:05:39, which puts him in the top 20 of all time. His only previous marathon was a 2:12 last year in Kenya. He is so obscure (or was, until today) that the IAAF writeup on the race had to be edited later to fill in that detail; little else is known about him except that he was slated to run the Vienna Marathon three weeks ago but had to pull out due to Icelandic volcanic ash-related travel problems.

And deeper. At today's BIG 25 Berlin, Sammy Kosgei and Mary Keitany both broke the 25k World Records. 25k is an odd distance, and Kosgei's time is notable but not earth-shattering. Keitany's time, however, suggests she's capable of running mid-66 for the half marathon; her PR is 1:06:36, the African record. So while the headlines scream "world record", the numbers say "ran about a PR".

US hammer throwing continues to improve. At the Heps Championships, Princeton frosh Conor McCullough broke the US Junior record for the hammer throw with 70.37 meters (230' 10"). But how would he stack up against today's stars when they were his age? At age 19, Kristian Pars (currently #1 in my world rankings) threw 73.09; Primosz Kozmus (2009 World and 2008 Olympic Champ) threw 66.28; Szymon Ziolkowski (2000 Olympic and 2001 World Champ) threw 75.42; Libor Charfrietag (2008 Olympic bronze) threw 66.82; Ivan Tsikhan (stripped of 2008 Olympic gold for doping) threw 66.84; legend Koji Murofushi threw 68.00. So you can see he's right in the middle of that group and appears to have the potential for greatness. What will determine whether he becomes a bona fide international star is if he improves over the next five years like those other guys did. And isn't that always the case with age-group aces?

Jeremy Wariner is struggling. At yesterday's Ponce Grand Prix in Puerto Rico, the Texan was beaten by David Neville, 45.44 to 45.47. Wariner hasn't lost to anyone but LaShawn Merritt in years. It may be a bit premature to say his days as a dominant quarter-miler are over. On the other hand, only one athlete has ever stayed at or near the top of the men's 400 meters for longer than five years; Wariner, who came to the fore in 2004, has used up five years. The lone exception to that rule is Michael Johnson, and since he split time with the 200 he ran about as many 400 races in ten years as most guys run in five. The event chews people up and spits them out. So don't be surprised if Wariner's struggles continue. If it happens, it's just the way of the world.

The 400m hurdles is shaping up to be a hotly contested event this year.At last year's Worlds, Kerron Clement won the 400m hurdles rather handily and Javier Culson was a bit of a surprise for silver. On Saturday in Ponce, Culson dropped his PR by 0.27 seconds, down to 47.72. That time has been beaten only twice in the last three years, once each by Clement and Angelo Taylor. The event will be part of the adidas Grand Prix, the New York stop on the Diamond League circuit, on June 12. I'm looking forward to it.

The rich may get richer. Oregon already has a first-class track team year in and year out. One place where they're not terribly deep, though, is the sprints. This might change. At Saturday's Oregon Twilight meet, eight Oregon footballers ran sprints. Three were in the 100 and five in a special football-only 60 meter race. From Doug Binder's Oregonian article on the meet: “[Head football coach] Chip [Kelly] has stated his position many times. He wants to have the fastest team in football,” [track coach Vin] Lananna said. “That’s music to our ears because we want to have the fastest track team.” The Florida Gators can claim to have the fastest team right now...and guess who beat the Ducks for the NCAA Indoor championship?

Stephanie Brown Trafton may be coming back to earth. One of the few big overachievements for the US team at the 2008 Olympics was Brown Trafton's surprising gold medal in the discus. Last year she didn't do so well at the Worlds, finishing dead last in the final, and on Saturday she was thoroughly beaten in Osaka by World Champ Dani Samuels, finishing fourth. We may be forced to accept that SBT's 2008 season was a one-off success.

Usain Bolt continues to do the impossible. No, he didn't run this week, but he is doing something that may be more impressive than his sprinting exploits. In this week's Sports Illustrated, his image filled a full-page advertisement for Gatorade's new sports drink. One of sports' giants wants to use him to sell stuff. No kidding, right? But he's not American, he's not based in America, he rarely competes in America, is in a sport not popular in America, and is almost never on American television or in American media. And they're using him to sell to Americans. No one ever tried to sell to Americans using David Beckham or Ronaldo. Heck, they barely ever tried with Wayne Gretzky. Bolt has the power to do things for track that it could not do by itself.

More where that came from? At the Jamaican Primary Schools Championships, Raheem Chambers ran 11.98 for 100 meters. He's 12 years old and ran it into a significant headwind (3.8 m/s). The standard wind adjustment indicates it was worth 11.60 in still air. Age-group aces don't necessarily become world-beaters, but it's still jaw-dropping.

Pole vaulting is not for the weak of heart...or stomach. Indiana State's Kylie Hutson already had bagged the stadium record at Indiana's Billy Hayes Invitational when she shattered a pole into five or six pieces. She calmly grabbed another pole and made the height. She went up to 4.51 meters (14' 9 1/2") and made that, which is the currently the 2010 world outdoor leader. At 4.61 meters (15 1 1/2"), she broke her pole again. This time, however, she gashed her hand, was taken to the ER, and was given stitches both inside and outside. She will see a hand surgeon on Monday. And she's still listed as "questionable" rather than "out". Pic here.

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