The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

The Prefontaine Classic is the best meet in the USA.  The Olympic Trials might be a better meet, and might not.    It's not merely the big marks that the meet gets.  I'm not a "mark snob"; to me, a closely competitive race or field event is much preferable.  But that so many top athletes come, and do so well, that you get the magic combination of close competition at high levels.

There's only one way for next year's Pre to top this year's, and that's for Hayward to be struck by a Lightning Bolt.

NBC actually tried to do it well, and still couldn't.  They went out of their way to keep up with field events, but still missed the two best contests of the day.  Betty Heidler and Tatyana Lysenko staged a tremendous battle in the hammer throw, but TV viewers wouldn't have known it even took place.  And probably the best competition of the day, either track or field, was completely ignored as well.  Sudden javelin star Kara Patterson took on Barbora Spotakova and Martina Ratej, rated #1 and #3 in the world by yours truly, and beat them both on her final throw.

As my brother noted, Tom Hammond appeared to be mailing it in.  But the rest of the coverage was as good as they can make it given NBC's track-coverage meme.  And it still sucked.  That meme requires post-race interviews, at least a little bit of pre-recorded up-close-and-personal fluff, the drama of self-doubt, and a complete ban on acknowledging the existence of the metric system in field events.

The first two items really eat up time.  At about 16 minutes out of each hour, US broadcasts have more commercials than just about any of the world's broadcasters, and when the meet is loaded with top-level field events those interviews and fluff just aren't worth the time.  The drama of self-doubt obscures real competition.  Whereas the NBC announcers repeatedly referred to Tyson Gay's 2008 Olympic Trials injury and whether he could get past the memory of it, CBC's opening comment of their entire telecast questioned whether a rusty Gay could beat an on-top-of-his-game Walter Dix, a question which seems prescient only if you haven't been paying attention to track for the last month.

Worst of all is the no-metrics rule.  It's not as if Glenn Beck is in the booth, ready to taser announcers who dare to mention that newfangled 18th-century Frenchy socialist plan to ruin America and make your ratchet set obsolete.  What it does is eliminate the possibility of using the graphics-heavy international feed which allows viewers to easily follow the changing fortunes of field events.  We did get a little bit of it, in the long jump, but even there Dwight Stones didn't say what those big lines spaced 39 inches apart meant.

No, the only way to fix domestic track broadcasts are to destroy them and rebuild from the ground up.

Big bureaucracy does...good!  There are always stories of unbelievably petty high school uniform DQs every year, but we seemed to have a bumper crop this year.  The NFHS, which sets the rules for track as well as all other sports, came up with a shockingly simple solution: the first violation in a meet gets the team a warning, and only subsequent violations get a DQ.

Bernard Lagat's best years are behind him.  Don't get me wrong, he's still very good, as his recent 5k American Record proved.  But as a miler, his dominance is probably over.  He hasn't run a (by his standards) good mile or 1500 since January, when he won his umpteenth Wanamaker at Millrose.

Walter Dix is a star on the rise.  He's running very well, and after beating Tyson Gay on Saturday he goes to Lausanne on Thursday to take on a coming-off-the-shelf Usain Bolt.  Even better, he's a natural in front of the camera.  Asked if beating Gay was an upset, he thought for a moment before saying yes.

This is where the money is.  Speaking of Bolt, he and Puma launched a new line of shoes and clothing.  "Puma..recently launched their 'Bolt Collection', which includes training-friendly footwear and apparel all designed by the Jamaican.  The designs are said to capture the athlete's preferences in terms of on and off track styling and all feature the now famous emblem - a silhouette of the athlete striking his 'to the world' pose, which was made famous during the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008."

This is "sportswear", sold not to people who do sports, but to those who watch them.  Gotta get me some.

David Oliver is the most unappreciated athlete in American track.  Who else could tie an American Record, held by a legend, and not get mentioned until the seventh item?  He's undefeated outdoors this year and running faster and faster and faster.  I can't wait to see him and Dayron Robles race.

Christian Cantwell is the most unbeatable man in the world.  He hasn't lost this year.  On Saturday he faced the guys I have rated as #2, #3, #5, #7, #8 and #10.  The worst of his six throws would have won by over seven inches.

US distance running fortunes continue to rise.  It says much about the current state of affairs that Chris Solinsky's seventh-place finish in 13:08 was a bit of a letdown.  Even a year ago, it would have been cause for much celebration.  There were a bunch of breakthroughs, too.  There were 3:51 and 3:53 for just-barely-ex-Ducks Andrew Wheating and AJ Acosta.  But none were bigger than the women's 800, where youngsters Phoebe Wright and Alysia Johnson ran 1:58 PRs.  They're still a step or two away from Olympic medal contention, but this is an event where the USA didn't have anyone advance out of the heats in Beijing.

Veronica Campbell-Brown is having a dream season.  She beat Allyson Felix, Shelly-Ann Fraser, and Carmelita Jeter in the space of just a few weeks, and broke a five-year-old PR on Saturday.  If I had to pick a women's Athlete of the Year right now, I think she'd win.

Nancy Lagat is the real deal.  The winner of five big mile/1500 races this year stepped down to the 800 and darn near won with a nifty 1:57.  In the process she beat Janeth Jepkosgei, the most consistent half-miler over the last few years.

The men's 400 is not having a stellar year.  The world-leading time is 44.61.  The last time the month of July began with a time this slow was 1985, when Thomas Schonlebe led with 44.62.

Stars: Who needs 'em?  No Sanya Richards, no Jeremy Wariner, no LaShawn Merritt, and only a half-assed Tyson Gay and Jen Suhr.  No Usain Bolt, no Yelena Isinbayeva, no Kenenisa Bekele.  And yet these two US Diamond League meets have been off the hook.

I'm just smart enough to castigate myself for not being smarter.  I took third in the USATF Pick N Win game, just seven points out of first.  The difference is $1900.  There are so many ways I could have made up those points by being just a little smarter that I'll wake up and brood about it for months.  But I learned some things this year that I'll put to use next year, when I'll take home the big money.

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