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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

USATF wants your opinion on its TV broadcasts.  Possibly inspired by writing in this space, our national governing body put together a survey inquiring as to the preferences of the fans.  Fill it out.  It is you solemn duty.

The USA has two new World and Olympic medal threats.  And they're just where we need them the most, the field events.

Team USA may or may not have bombed at the 2008 Olympic Games, but one place where we unquestionably came up short was in the field events.  We won medals in just three events out of sixteen (counting men's and women's separately) and in the majority of them we didn't even have a finalist.  Given the massive amount of goings-on at the Olympics, domestic television will do little to cover events in which Americans are not in contention.  Thus it benefits all levels of domestic track and field that our national team be competitive in a wide variety of events, because more attention on the biggest stage directly translates to more corporate sponsorship everywhere.

In Friday's competition at the Tyson Invitational, Marshevet Myers made a return to the long jump.  She was the 2006 NCAA indoor champion and the outdoor runner-up to Tianna Madison, herself a onetime Worlds champion.  But she hadn't jumped since college, and her PR was only 6.71 meters (22' 1/4").  Come Saturday, though, she jumped out to 6.83 (22' 5"), which puts her #2 on the current world list, and beat 2010 World Indoor champ Brittney Reese.  The ultimate insider (the official working the board) had this to say:
Myers 6.83 in 5th Round was a Meet Record. She barely caught the back edge of the board...was about 6.98 (traversed) jump. Her pass in 6th round, when leading Reese 6.83 to 6.56, almost backfired. Reese jumping last improved to 6.64 in 5th round, Myers passed.. Reese's popped as last chance 4 cm foul, quietly and unofficially (but accurately) laser measured at 7.08..(7.04 net).
Reese's PR is 7.10. One would presume with more competition under her belt, Myers could get close to that. These days any 7-meter jumper is immediately a legitimate medal contender at a Worlds or Olympics.

The next day, the invitational division of the men's high jump brought together the unquestioned top three in the NCAA: Erik Kynard, Ricky Robertson and Derek Drouin. Kynard easily bested the field in a tremendous display of jumping. He took nine jumps and made eight, his only miss coming at 2.24 (7' 4 1/4"). After making 2.33 (7' 7 3/4") he called it a day.

How high is 2.33? It's third on the all-time collegiate indoor list. It's currently #3 in the world. The jump was "clean", meaning he didn't brush the bar. Former world record holder and '84 Olympic champ Dietmar Mogenburg thinks the American Record of 2.40 (7' 10 1/2") is a possibility.

Kynard turned 20 years old just nine days before this. He's very close to the best ever for jumpers his age. Of the other 16 jumpers who have cleared 2.33 at age 20 or younger, seven went on to either break a world record or win a Worlds or Olympics (and an eighth, Ivan Ukhov, is still working on it). Kynard appears to have more than this 2.33 in him, which would put him up close to names like Sjöberg and Sotomayor.

Guelph wants to be Canada's Track Town. Where? And why?

Guelph is a mid-sized city with a metro-area population of 125,000 situated about 60 miles west of Toronto, easily accessible from southeast Canada and the northeastern US. Guelph University has been a powerhouse in CIS (the Canadian version of the NCAA), winning national cross-country and track titles. The Athletics Canada cross country championships have been held in Guelph. And it's become a place for a lot of top-level runners to come and train together, much like Eugene.

Right now the city has a good indoor track and cross-country course but lacks an important item for being a "track town": a top-level outdoor track. The plans are in the works, however, and are moving along. Land has been set aside and fund-raising is on the horizon.

Guelph doesn't aim to get rich off the plan. That's good, because they won't. What they are planning is a typically Canadian approach. The facility would be there for everyone to use, with the plan of using it as well as the city's existing running facilities to get the whole city running. Local coach Dave Scott-Thomas said "It could be a community centre, not just a world-class place for Olympians. The track becomes our pub, the place where everyone has a good time, where we meet up and share stories."

This is exactly how Eugene became Track Town USA. Bill Bowerman's genius was in how he used his sport to unite the university, the townies, and the blue-collar lumber workers. His legacy, the Oregon Track Club, puts on some truly amazing professional meets, but the heart of the club is participatory like any other local road runners club. If you want your town to be a Track Town, you've got to figure out how to get all your disparate groups working together towards a common goal.

Kim Smith is ready for a big marathon breakthrough. This morning Smith, a Kiwi and former NCAA champ for Providence, broke the US all-comers record in the half marathon with 1:07:36. The old record was 1:07:44 by Meseret Defar last fall in Philadelphia. Smith said she was "feeling slightly tired" from hard training and that her coach "didn’t want me to push it too hard". After a 14:59 road 5k in January, she appears ready to attack the Boston Marathon in April and possibly be a contender.

Track and Field News has finally gotten with the times.  After a slow start, the Mountain View gang now understands that modern publication business is done on the internet.  They do lots of short freebee articles and inteviews and even a few videos.  And finally they've started publishing online, allowing subscribers to get their magazine instantaneously.  It's nice, but it's about f'in time.  Athletics Weekly beat them to it by three years, and I can't think of a magazine (sports or otherwise) whose business model is based on timely dissemination of news that hasn't already gone this way.

Florida's men's team has a secret weapon.  Maybe not so secret now.  The Gators have very good sprinters, led by defending NCAA champ Jeff Demps.  And they're loaded in the jumps, with two good long jumpers and looking to go 1-2-3 at the NCAA Championships in the triple jump.  In all the pro and semi-pro distance hoopla at the Husky Classic this weekend, though, one name slipped through the cracks: Dumisane Hlaselo.  The Florida junior, originally from South Africa, ran 3:56.84 and is now #4 on the NCAA list.  Mile races at the NCAA are notoriously unpredictable, so anything can happen, but the Gators have a contender.  If he can finish near the front in that race, then the Gators will be the team everyone else is trying to catch.

Christin Wurth-Thomas has upped her game.  The former Razorback's breakout year was 2008, when she first made a national team by finishing third at the Olympic Trials.  She prefaced that great summer with a dominant indoor season, setting PRs still-standing indoor PRs at 1500, the mile, and 3000.

Until Saturday, when she broke that 3000 PR by eleven seconds.  What this means in a larger context is hard to say.  On Saturday she ran against collegians and was essentially alone once the pacemaker dropped off, whereas two years ago she ran her best race in a professional race in Boston and had company until the end.  It's probably the best indoor race she's ever run.  On the other hand, her two best outdoor seasons of 2009 and 2010 came after relatively low-key indoor campaigns.

Going back to the first hand, though, this was probably a "training" race (no competition, no payday, stayed close to home) rather than a "racing" race.  If she'd wanted the latter she'd have gone to Seattle and faced off against halfway-decent competition, or gone to Boston last week or any of several meets overseas in February.  If she really was training through the race and still managed to run 8:43, then she's in a very good place right now.

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