The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Morning Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Texas A&M is the best relay squad in the country.  At the Texas Relays this weekend, the Aggies won a meet-record six relay events. The only relays the Aggie men didn't win were the 4x1500 and distance medley, and the 4x200—in which they dropped the baton and still finished fourth. The Aggie women won two relays (4x100 and 4x400) and in the 4x200 they were second behind LSU's meet record.

Most impressive to me is how A&M capped the weekend, with a meet-record 3:00.45 in the men's 4x400. It's not the fastest a college team has ever run in April, but under the circumstances I'd argue it's the best a team has ever run this early. Austin's usual windy conditions on Saturday were less than ideal conditions for fast 400 running. These guys weren't fresh either, as all ran two or three races in two days.

Why did the Aggie men rack up so many more wins than the women? They have two highly unusual and versatile weapons in Michael Preble and Joey Roberts. Both sport 800 meter PRs of 1:47. Preble has run a 45.2 split for a 400m relay leg on multiple occasions, while Roberts has split 46.5. Guys that fast are quarter-mile stars on any other squad, whereas at A&M they're B-team material.

Roberts is a junior and Preble a sophomore, and their 800 improvement curves have been eye-popping. Roberts went from 1:49.46 last year (his first in the event) to 1:47.54 this winter; Preble from 1:51.92 to 1:47.27 in the same time frame. Transfer those to an outdoor track, give them another two months to improve, and 1:46 this year seems likely. If they both manage to do something big at the NCAA Championships—and the 800 is always an unpredictable race—the Aggies could be in the championship hunt.

Preble was a quarter-miler in high school, and while Roberts ran the 800 as a prep it was definitely not his area of emphasis. I don't know who convinced them to move up to the 800, but it has worked out very well for them. They should be an example to other young quarter-milers.

The USA has always produced vast quantities of top 400 runners, yet the ranks of our top 800 runners have always been rather thin. It's always been a mystery as to why some of the former don't become the latter. I think it's because our obsession with relays makes top 400 guys valuable, plus reluctance of both coaches and athletes to try something new.

The NCAA Championships men's 5000 meters is going to be an amazing race.  The indoor championships 5k was off-the-charts fast and deep, with four runners under 13:30 and nine under 13:40. For comparison, the meet record was 13:28.93; the first three runners all beat that.

Sitting out the indoor season, and somewhat unnoticed for doing so, was Florida State senior Ciaran O'Lionaird. The transfer from Michigan was a three-time age-group Irish cross country champion, but in Ann Arbor he struggled with injuries and illness. Apparently having time to do nothing but train during the winter sat well with him.

He is noticed now. Two weeks ago he was the top collegian in the 10,000 meters at the Stanford Invitational with 28:32.30, which is second on the '11 college list. On Friday he won the 1500 meters at the low-key Seminole Invitational in 3:41.02, which leads the '11 college outdoor list.

That kind of versatility in races so different from each other does not happen very often, in college or anywhere else. Good 10k + good 1500 = kickass 5k.

O'Lionaird will run the 10k at the NCAA Championships, I'm sure. Florida State is in a good position for a top team finish there and will want to get all the points they can. But he won't win the 10k because no one is going to beat Chelanga.

By the way, Track and Field News' initial formcharts for the NCAA Championships predicts a final score of 68 points for Florida to Florida State's 56. But they don't have O'Lionaird down for any points at all.  Given that, the NCAA team championship competition may be a tight one.

O'Lionaird will run the 5k, which will be the second-to-last men's event in the meet, and he is the only one expected to be in the race whose team will desperately need his points. But you need only look at the indoor championships to know that he'll be facing probably the deepest championship field ever assembled. It will be a wild ride.

If there's a formula for successful television track broadcasts, it was displayed on Saturday. Comcast Sportsnet Northwest did a live two-and-a-half hour HD broadcast of Oregon's four-team Pepsi Invitational. It was also available online (for a fee) at the Ducks' website, which is how I got to see it. It was good.

One thing that always rankles me about the VISA Championship Series coverage is the format. The cycle is talking heads, a race, a breathless and incoherent post-race interview, a dissection of said race, and then commercials. Repeat this ten or twelve times and that's the show. That's less action per minute than you get in baseball, a remarkable achievement.

CSN, however, showed several races back-to-back before cutting to commercial. Post-race interviews were not obligatory, but took place only when something unexpected happened, like an upset. Team scores were constantly updated. The announcers were not brain-dead.

If there's a criticism to be leveled, it's (as always) about coverage of the field events. Admittedly, it's not an easy task, with sixteen events (eight each for men and women) taking place in a short period of time. Merely making the production staff aware of what's going on in all of them is a very hard thing, let alone transmitting that knowledge to the viewers.

But in this instance it was an important thing. The men's competition was expected to be close between Nebraska and Oregon; I thought the Huskers had the upper hand. Their strength is in the field events. Oregon neutralized that advantage just enough to come away with a narrow victory. Even if a camera can't be spared to rove around the field events, a person can be, and they can send info about an impending upset or down-the-line heroics to the booth to be announced.

CSN did very well with what they were given, but meet management deserves at least as much credit for what they gave CSN. This was a made-for-TV event. The scheduling was tight. Each school was represented in every race. It was team competition, and not a blowout either. In an era of ever-increasing amounts of cable sports TV, it's what college track needs to have all the time.

That word doesn't mean what you think it means.  This weekend, Georgia hosted the Spec Towns National Team Invitational. Does the word "team" indicate to you that "teams" would be an important part of the competition? I guess not. It was the usual split-squad crap with no "team" scores. I guess by "team", meet management meant "this is not a spectator event, nothing to see here folks, move along". Sigh...

No comments: