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Monday, July 26, 2010

World Juniors: USA Performance Review

A few days ago on Twitter, I was asked about Team USA's performance.  I thought I'd wait until the meet was over to make an analysis.

The big picture: medal count.  There are a lot of ways to analyze a national team's performance at a championship meet, but first and foremost is the medals.  Team USA won six gold medals and fifteen overall, placing second (barely) to Kenya in the standings.

How does this compare with previous years?  Ignoring 2000, when we hardly sent anyone to the meet, Team USA has averaged 7.5 golds and 15.5 medals from 1996 to 2008.  So it's a bit below the average, but not by much.  But our medal output has been highly correlated to the timing of the meet, in that we win more when the meet is held in midsummer and fewer when it's held in late summer.  This makes sense, given the structure of the US high school and collegiate seasons.  For the other three recent WJC meets held entirely in July, we have averaged eleven golds and nineteen medals-- five and four more, respectively, than this year.  So 2010 wasn't so good for us.

What was expected?  Expectations are hard to define.  Mostly all we have to go on are qualifying marks, but those aren't always the best predictors of what will actually happen.  On the other hand, a bad predictor is better than no predictor at all.  Here's how I figure what we expected and what we got...
100-200-400: expected three silvers, won gold, two silver and bronze
Hurdles: expected just one bronze, won a bronze
800 and up: expected silver and bronze, and got them
Relays: expected four golds, and got them
Jumps: expected nothing, won a silver and a bronze
Throws: expected two silvers and a bronze, won one gold and one silver
Overall expectations: four gold, thirteen medalsOverall achievement: six gold, fifteen medals
The analysis shows a relatively weak team that competed beyond expectations.

Individuals.  Track teams are pretty much the sum of their parts and no more.  So how did the parts do?

Most disappointing: qualifying.  Not at the WJC, but qualifying for the US team.  Two medal favorites didn't finish in the top two at the USATF Juniors and didn't make the team.  High jumper Erik Kynard had just finished his freshman season at Kansas State, one that begin in December, and was well past his peak when late June came around.  Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year Sam Crouser finished third at the USATF Juniors in his specialty, the javelin, and also didn't make the team.  These two are prime examples of the biggest reason why the USA doesn't do all that well at World Junior Championships: it's not a priority.  And I don't think it should be for our athletes.  Kynard was much more focused on Big 12 and NCAA championship meets; Crouser was doing three events every week to carry his team.  Neither started their season with the WJC as a big priority, if a priority at all.

To a lesser extent, Ashton Purvis and Nick Vena were underachievers at the WJC. 

Most relief at doing as well as we hoped: middle distance.  Cas Loxom and Robbie Andrews had the two fastest qualifying marks, but the Kenyans lurked and the freshmen had just finished the longest and hardest seasons of their lives.  They still won silver and bronze.  Jordan Hasay had a similar season and took fourth in the 1500.  These bode well for the future.

Biggest successes: technical field events.  We knew Conor McCullough was a medal favorite in the hammer, but he won with striking ease and set a new meet record.  Northwest Ohio native Emily Pendleton was a bit of a surprise to win silver in the women's discus, as was Omar Craddock in the triple jump.  Technical field events are probably the USA's weakest link on the senior level, so these unexpected successes are doubly encouraging.

Overal assessment: On its own merits, disappointing.  In a larger context, encouraging.

Other summaries and reflections are available at The View From The Finish Line and the Block Head Blog.

What's on today
The Giro Podistico Internazionale di Castelbuono road race takes place in Sicily.  It's an elites-only affair that does ten laps of a difficult twisting 1130 meter loop with the challenges you might expect in an old European town, such as narrow alleyways and cobblestones. Theoretically, it shouls be a great race as it pits marathon star Sammy Wanjiru against half-marathon star Zersenesay Tadesse.

Other links
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines.
PreRace Jitters asks Jeneba Tarmoh 13 questions...and gets 13 answers
The USOC and BMW just inked a sponsorship deal that sends a lot of cash to USATF
Morocco may bid for the 2017 World Championships
The 1948 Olympic Archive of video, photos and other tidbits is now online
Brianna Glenn's funny travelogue chronicling the uneasiness of a Cologne spa
Track and Field News examines the Diamond League event races
Samyr Laine examines the shell game
If you're going to be in England, you can win tickets to the upcoming London Diamond League meet

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