Category Archives: 2008 Beijing Olympics

“Freaks of Nature: Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson” by Joboy Quintos

In the sprints, an athlete aims to reach the finish line as fast as possible. Hence, he/she limits the time amount of time on the ground by being explosive. From the track literature I’ve read throughout the years, I’ve learned that stride frequency is genetic, while stride length can be improved through hard work. A sprinter can do as much explosive drills, plyometrics and Olympic lifts as humanly possible, but one’s stride frequency and explosiveness is limited by nature’s genetic endowment of fast-twitch muscle fibers.

Stride length and stride frequency are the major pillars of sprinting. A sprinter strives to achieve a balance between the two. To perfect the sprinting form, an athlete goes through a cacophony of running drills to master each facet of the deceptively simple picture-perfect sprinting form:

  1. Back erect
  2. Shoulders relaxed
  3. Jaw relaxed
  4. Arms pumping below eye level
  5. Hands relaxed, not tensed
  6. Knees pumping high like pistons
  7. The heel not going beyond one’s butt
  8. Toes dorsi-flexed

Among the elite sprinters, I like respective forms of 9-time Olympic Gold medalist Carl Lewis, 2007 Osaka 100m/200m World Champion Tyson Gay and 4-time Olympic Silver medalist Frankie Fredericks the best.

Among all the sprinters of the orthodox school, Usain Bolt epitomizes the synergy of stride frequency and stride length the best. At 6’5 (1.95m), Bolt is the tallest elite sprinter to date (Although the retired German 400m specialist Ingo Schultz is taller at 2.05m, his major achievement pale in comparison to Bolt!).  Naturally, Bolt has longer legs and longer strides than most other sprinters at the world level. His height does not prove a hindrance, however, as he seems to possess a degree of explosiveness more than sufficient to outclass his shorter competitors.

Bolt seems to have ample endowments of BOTH stride length and stride frequency, despite the apparent instability of his upper body relative to other sprinters – a minor aberration to this purveyor of speed!

At 1.85m (6’1), Michael Johnson is not as physically impressive as Bolt. Pound per pound, however, Johnson is more impressive than Bolt with the former’s erstwhile 200m world record of 19.32s and current 400m WR of 43.18s. His arched back, low knee lift and short strides defies textbook sprinting form.

Johnson relies on sheer explosiveness, leg power alone and out-of-this-world speed endurance, in light of his relatively shorter strides.

Usain Bolt may be the current toast of the athletics world (despite his recent loss to Gay). Bolt has single-handedly lifted the sport on his Zeus-like back. He is every inch the sport’s premiere icon, with his stellar 100m and 200m world records. But then again, there will come a time when someone just as tall and fast as Bolt, would emulate his feats.

The chances of another maverick who epitomizes Johnson’s sprinting style is even more remote.

Simply put, if there’s a index which rates one’s ranking in the freak of nature scale, Johnson ranks higher than Bolt in my book. But on the showmanship index? Bolt is up there along with likes of Shaq!

P.S.

Check out MJ’s reaction to Usain’s world record! This is priceless.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Photo credits:

ABC

Portrait Silke Spiegelburg

Check out this documentary on German Olympic hopeful Silke Spiegelburg.

Silke has a personal best 4.82m, set in Monaco this year. She has won two European Indoor silver medals the past few years. Spiegelburg finished second at the Barcelona European Championships two years ago. Spiegelburg has been a finalist in two World Championships, this year’s World Indoors and the Beijing Olympics.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The Pole Vault”

Go Silke! You deserve a medal!

Sources:

Silke’s IAAF profile

Wikipedia

Kim Collins’ Second Wind

The come-backing Kim Collins is on fire!

He  retired at the end of the 2009 Berlin World Championships, but returned to high-level competition early this year. In several indoor meets in Germany, the sprinter from the small island country of Saint Kitts and Nevis, rewrote the 2011 top lists twice. He stopped the clock at 6.52s in Dusseldorf. A few days later, he bettered this mark by two-hundredths of second in Karlsruhe. Unfortunately, a thigh injury prevented Collins from replicating his razor sharp form in the final.

The 34-year old had won his fair share of accolades. Collins was crowned world champion in the 100m dash in 2003. Aside from this, he had won a bronze in the same event in Helsinki 2005 and a 200m bronze at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships.

In Paris, Collins outclassed a star-studded (some, steroid-laced) field which included the likes of disgraced former world record holder Tim Montgomery and Briton Dwain Chambers. From Lane 1, Collins had a blistering start. He clung on first place (10.07s) in a blanket finish with 100m world junior record holder Darrel Brown (10.08s) from Trinidad and Tobago and Britain’s Darren Campbell (10.08s).

It was the slowest winning time in Championship history, tying Carl Lewis’ 10.07s time at the inaugural edition in Helsinki back in 1983.  Nevertheless, a world champion is still a world champion. Not many elite athletes can call themselves that.

To be honest, I only appreciated the significance of Collins’ feat whilst writing this entry. Compared to his competitors, the Caribbean sprinter was minuscule in terms of both height and heft. He was far from the stereotype of a burly speedster. There were no brash displays of arrogance when he won; Collins did not showboat. He just smiled as he proudly waved his island country’s flag, basking under the warmth of his first major crown.

Collins last dipped below the 10-second barrier in 2003, where he ran 9.99s in Zurich. He has a personal best of 9.98s from way back in 2002 and 2003 (he ran this four times) – modest by today’s standards. He has qualified for the Olympic 100m dash final twice, in Sydney and in Athens. In Beijing, the affable Collins placed 6th in the 200m final.

It’s good to see old hands such as Collins achieve stellar marks. He has claimed the scalp of fiery upstarts like Mike Rodgers and the under-performing Christophe Lemaitre. Rodgers is 9-years younger than Collins, whilst Lemaitre is around 14-years Collins’  junior. At the rate Collins is going, he might just surprise everyone (but himself!) in Daegu come August!

A Palestinian’s Olympic Dream

I’ve always griped about the difficulties of chasing my athletics dream here in the Philippines, about how track athletes face an uphill climb in light of the dearth of athletics infrastructure, government support and total disinterest in the sport.

The fine BBC article on Nader El Masri made me thankful for the relative peace in our archipelago. For Nader, who lives and trains at the strife-torn Gaza Strip, peace is but a far-flung luxury. Nader practically lives next door to hostile Israeli soldiers. Travel to and from Gaza is restricted. With the age old conflict in the Holy Land, the existence of world-class athletics facilities naturally takes a back seat.

Read the BBC’s article on El Masri

Nevertheless, the 30-year old Nader’s best time of 14:24 in the 5,000m run is respectable, considering his woeful circumstances (The Philippine record in the same event is 13:58, set by Eduardo Buenavista).

When I was younger and utterly ignorant of sport, I used to look down upon Olympic last placers. The fact that it takes superhuman effort just to qualify for the quadrennial games eluded my prepubescent self. Nader embodies the Olympic creed espoused by Baron Pierre de Coubertin:

“The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part; the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.”

I wish the best for Nader, for him to endure the hurdles of the next two years.

Trammell talks about A.J.

I like the following interview of Terrence Trammell. Trammell, a three-time Olympic silver medalist, shares his thoughts on Allen Johnson.

Trammell and Johnson were former training partners until 2002. For a time, the duo constituted the one-two punch of U.S. hurdling, continuing the fine tradition of the Americans in the event.

Read “Thank you, Allen”

Read “Terrence Trammell and the Elusive Gold Medal”

For Trammell A.J. is, without a doubt, the greatest hurdler of all-time.

I couldn’t agree more.

Video credit:

head1384

Terrence Trammell and the Elusive Gold Medal

People say that one doesn’t win the silver, he/she loses the gold. The Celebrate Humanity ad featuring Robin Williams debunks the aforesaid statement with a weightlifter jumping wild with joy at winning an Olympic silver medal. For mortals like myself who can only dream of competing in the Olympics, a silver medal in the quadrennial games is a pipe dream.

But when one is among the elite of sports, would multiple silver medals be more of a curse?

Terrence Trammell is an athlete with an extensive collection of silverware. As a 22-year old collegiate champion, he won the first of his Olympic sprint hurdling  silvers in 2000, behind the Cuban Anier Garcia. 4 years later in Athens, Trammell again fell short of the gold, this time against Liu Xiang 刘翔. In Trammell’s third Olympic Games in Beijing, the veteran failed to advance to the final because of a hamstring injury.

The University of South Carolina graduate replicated his streak of silver medals in the three editions of the IAAF World Championships as well, finishing 1st-runner up in 2003, 2007 and 2009.  Trammell was edged out by a fast-finishing Liu Xiang in Osaka 2007 by two-hundredths of a second. Despite stopping the clock at 12.99s, the top spot remained elusive.

2009 should have been Trammell’s year to win that elusive major outdoor crown, with Liu Xiang and  Dayron Robles out with injuries. But Ryan Brathwaithe of the Bahamas played the role of spoilsport.
Trammell had won a total of six silver medals in three Olympic Games and three World Outdoor Championships.

Being a near-10 seconds flat 100m sprinter, Trammell has had more success in the shorter 60m hurdle indoor race. During the 2006 Moscow World Indoor Championships, the American notched a unique Gold-Bronze combination in the 60m hurdles and the 60m dash, respectively, winning his 2nd indoor hurdling title. Aside from Harrison Dillard and  Gail Devers, no other track athlete had as much success as Trammell in both the hurdles and the sprints.

Read “Harrison Dillard: The Man Who Won the Wrong Event”

According to the legendary Renaldo Nehemiah, having too much speed in the sprint hurdles causes “crowding out.” Without lightning fast reflexes that can cope with near 10-second speeds, a sprint hurdler’s sprinting prowess becomes a curse. Trammell’s inability to land an outdoor crown can be attributed to his prolific sprinting talent. Despite leading in the first few hurdles, Trammell almost always seem to fade at the latter parts – especially when pitted against excellent finishers like Liu Xiang.

Although not in the same caliber as Liu and Colin Jackson, the American has a  fine hurdling technique reminiscent of his former training partner, Allen Johnson. The former NCAA champion Trammell, with his (1) aggressive style, (2) slightly elevated lead arm carriage, and (3) slightly flailing trail arm, tends to hit hurdles. When pitted against accomplished hurdling technicians like Liu, these little things spell the difference between victory and defeat.

With the emergence of David Oliver as the pre-eminent American hurdler and Liu’s and Dayron Robles’ recovery from injury, 2011 seems like another exciting year for the sprint hurdles.

Do not count out the 33-year veteran just yet. Trammell, with his monstrous flat out speed, might just surprise the top dogs.

Liu Xiang (刘翔) vs. Colin Jackson

Who’s the better sprint hurdler, Liu Xiang or Colin Jackson?

I’ll be attempting to answer this question by comparing the two hurdling greats in terms of major championship performances, times, technique and more. Unlike my previous Susanna Kallur vs. Lolo Jones and Liu Xiang vs. Dayron Robles posts, determining the victor of this track & field dream match is difficult beyond comprehension.

Major Championship Performances

Without a doubt, the Olympics is the most prestigious athletics competition there is. In my opinion, an Olympic gold trumps a World Championship gold, much less top plums from regional games like the European Championships and the Asian Games. If we go by the list of accolades alone, Liu’s Olympic gold medal definitely has more weight than Jackson’s Olympic silver. Both athletes won their respective medals in similar fashion. As a 21-year old, Liu tied Jackson’s world record in devastating fashion. A 22-year old Jackson, finished behind Roger Kingdom at the 1988 Seoul Olympics – the former’s only Olympic medal. The Welshman could have achieved more in the modern Olympic Games, had it not been for an unfortunate spate of injuries. Liu is facing a similar predicament, in light of his shocking withdrawal during the 2008 Games.

Colin Jackson’s 1988 Seoul Olympic Silver

Since winning his first major championship title at the 1986 Commonwealth Games to his retirement after the 2003 World Indoor Championships, Jackson’s long career is a testament to his durability. In a physically taxing event like the 110m high hurdles, elite athletes who manage to compete well into their 30’s are but a handful. Hence, it is not surprising that Jackson had collected a myriad of titles from all major competitions. Throughout his career, the Briton had won two Commonwealth Games titles, three European Indoor golds, one World Indoor Championship gold and three World Championship titles. According to Wikipedia, Jackson went undefeated from 1993 to 1995 (44 races all-in-all). Perhaps the most impressive of all his streaks is his 12-year reign as the European Champion (then held as a quadrennial event). Colin’s 60m hurdles indoor record of 7.30s (Sindelfingen, 1994) still stands up to now.

Colin Jackson’s 12-year reign as European Champion

Liu was en route in matching Jacskon’s dominance, if not for a tragic Achilles injury which slowed him down. Since his withdrawal from the 2008 Olympics, Liu has been but a shadow of his old self, finishing far from the medals at the 2010 Doha World Indoor Championships. Nevertheless, the former world record holder’s curriculum vitae remains impressive. In 2002, Liu broke the legendary Renaldo Nehemiah’s World Junior Record, stopping the clock at 13.12s in Lausanne. A year later, he barged into the top three of the Paris World Championships. By 2008, Liu Xiang is the world record holder and the reigning Asian, World Indoor, World and Olympic Champion.

Read: Sidekicks

Read: Liu Xiang and the Asian Games

Read: Liu Xiang’s Comeback

Liu Xiang’s 2004 Athens Olympic Gold

Times

In the IAAF’s all-time top list for the 110m high hurdles, the ageless Jackson’s had 27 performances to Liu’s 16. Both athletes have had five Sub-13 clockings each. In this category, however, Liu is the better hurdler pound-per-pound, in light of the shorter span of time it took him to achieve the aforesaid hurdling milestone.  Both are former world record holders. However, Jackson had more success competing indoors than Liu.  Liu’s  60m hurdles PB of 7.42s is a far cry from Jackson’s world record. This is unsurprising considering Liu’s penchant for come-from-behind victories. Liu almost always isn’t the fastest starter in the field  – but he does get the job done come the finish line. In a sense, Colin Jackson’s faster indoor time is a testament to his better flat-out speed.

Colin Jackson’s 12.91s world record (Stuttgart, 1993)

Liu Xiang’s 12.88s world record (Lausanne, 2006)

But then again, the two athletes lived in two vastly different eras. Each athlete have different circumstances, that a mere objective look into best times doesn’t merit a judicious verdict!

Technique

Being one of the fastest sprint hurdlers of all-time quite necessarily merits an efficient hurdling technique. Liu and Jackson are the epitome of the ideal sprint hurdler. Looking closely at clips of their races, one is hard-pressed to find any flaws at all. Both observe a short-long-short stride pattern.  They both time their leans perfectly before each hurdle clearance. Liu and Jackson both lead with their respective knees. Their lead leg action isn’t too high or excessive, as their lead legs skim at just about the right height above the 1.067m high barriers. Both Liu and Jackson square their lead legs in the proper angle, with the trail foot parallel with the hurdle crossbar. Moreover, none of the exhibit flailing lead arms or trail arms.

Furthermore, the respective flat out speed of both athletes aren’t too fast for the sprint hurdles (Liu probably runs the 100m dash in 10.3. Jackson’s PB is 10.29s). As Nehemiah puts it, a 10-flat sprinter has a relatively harder time negotiating the three-stride rhythm in between. A fast sprinter’s speed becomes an unwitting curse in the sprint hurdles, as one tends to crowd out in between the barriers, requiring flawless hurdling technique.

Indeed, Colin Jackson and Liu Xiang embody the perfect sprint hurdler!

Jackson takes it further

I grew up watching Liu Xiang; hence, it is unavoidable to become biased to my idol! In the past week, however, I’ve been watching quite a lot of Colin Jackson’s old hurdle races. I was awestruck at how fast Jackson cleared hurdles. Comparing Jackson to Liu, Jackson’s snap of the lead leg was a tad quicker.

There and then, I remembered one particular training journal I borrowed from Coach Ed Sediego. The article (written by the great Renaldo Nehemiah himself!) discussed the finer points of hurdling technique. Jackson lead foot exhibits a picture perfect bowed lead foot – where the foot is rotated 45 degrees outward. This specific action prevents the lead leg from going too high above the hurdle; hence, contributing to less time on the air. Also, Jackson’s head action is more refined than Liu’s. Jackson tucks his chin a little lower and angles his head to side whilst clearing hurdles, giving Jackson’s center of gravity a more stable path of travel.

Photos from thelondonseason.com and davidoliverhurdles.blogspot.com

I’m not saying that Liu Xiang’s technique is flawed. It is perfect. It’s just that Colin Jackson takes the concept of hurdling technique further by mastering these finer points.

Off-track talents

Liu Xiang can pack quite a mean karaoke tune. Like Manny Pacquiao, singing is one of Liu’s talents!

Liu even recorded an actual music video with Se7en:

Not to be outdone, Colin Jackson had performed with distinction in the show Strictly Come Dancing:

I’m a Liu Xiang fan to the core, but the competitive nature of Jacskon’s show weighs a little heavier on my book than appearing in a music video. And in light of the aforesaid categories, Jackson holds the upper hand. Sorry Liu, I’d have to give this one to Colin!

P.S.

I’ll write another Liu Xiang vs. Colin Jackson when the former retires from the sport. I believe that Liu has so much more left in his gas tank. Three cheers to your full recovery Liu Xiang! You’ll get ’em in London.

Additional links:

Colin Jackson wiki

Liu Xiang wiki

Video credits:

leeds212

copteruk

ARRISIPPY

ntujavelin

LoveForChinaForava

LetsRunFaster

“The Borlées: En Route to Olympic History” by Joboy Quintos

When the words “siblings” and “athletics” come together, the first name that pop  into my head are the Kallur twins. Susanna Kallur, in recent years, had distinguished herself in the women’s sprint hurdles, breaking the 60m hurdles world record and topping the 2006 Goteborg European Championships. Her twin sister Jenny, older by four minutes, has been a fixture in the athletics circuits, but hasn’t reached the same level of success as Sanna.

Read: Track Beauties of the Week: Susanna and Jenny Kallur

The Harrison twins used to be the finest example of sibling excellence, winning the 4x400m relay gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games – teaming up with Michael Johnson and the late Antonio Pettigrew. Alvin and Calvin were the first ever siblings – identical twins at that! – to ever win an Olympic track & field gold whilst part of the same relay team.

   

Kevin, Olivia, and Jonathan. (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen)

Belgium’s Borlee sibings threaten to usurp the aforesaid families. Trained by their father, Jacques, the Borlees are the most illustrious athletics family actively competing to today. Elder sister Olivia, a 200m specialist, already has an Olympic 4x100m relay silver to her name. The Belgian team finished 0.23s behind Russia in Beijing 2008.

Identical twins Kevin and Jonathan are en route to becoming fine quarter milers, with both brothers qualifying for the 2010 Euro Championships 400m final. In the 4x400m relay, the Borlee twins comprised half of the formidable Belgian team that won silver at the 2010 Doha World Indoor Champs and bronze at the Barcelona Euro Championships.

The future for Kevin (PB 44.88s) and Jonathan (PB 44.718s) looks promising. If the brothers can shed precious hundredths of a second off their respective bests, they could mount a decent challenge to the American hegemony in the 400m dash. If Olivia and the other female Belgian sprinters somehow reprise their fabulous bridesmaid finish at the London Olympics, with Kim Gevaert long since retired, the prospects for a three sibling Olympic romp becomes ever so bright.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in my constant readings of Olympic (as well as World Championships) track & field history, three siblings each coming home with a medal is an unheard of fact.

Article by Joboy Quintos

Additional Links:

Video: 2010 World Indoor Championships 4x400m Relay

Video: 2008 Beijing Olympics 4x100m Relay

American 4x400m Relay Dominance

The Men’s 4x400m has always been the playground of the United States. Since the start of the modern Olympic Games, the Americans had in all but five editions of the quadrennial event (1980, 1972, 1952, 1936 and 1920). In the IAAF World Championships, the dominant Americans lost only in 1983, 1991, 1997 and 2003.

Click here for in-depth, historical athletics results

More often than the not, the only ways to beat the Americans in the 4x400m relay are when they get disqualified for doping offenses (like in the 1997 World Championships and the 2000 Olympic Games). Since the 4x400m relay is longer and slower than its shorter counterpart, the 4x100m relay, there’s much room for error in baton exchanges. Unless the Americans suffer outright disqualification by going beyond the passing lanes or deliberately impeding another athlete’s right of way, the American quartet is a sure cinch for gold.

In recent years, the U.S. stranglehold over the event has been, I must admit, quite boring. With dominant quarter milers like Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt, other nations are hard-pressed to keep up. In the finals of the big meets, the other relay teams seem to The Men’s 4x400m has always been the playground of the United States. Since the start of the modern Olympic Games, the Americans had in all but five editions of the quadrennial event (1980, 1972, 1952, 1936 and 1920). In the IAAF World Championships, the dominant Americans lost only in 1983, 1991, 1997 and 2003.

More often than the not, the only ways to beat the Americans in the 4x400m relay are when they get disqualified for doping offenses (like in the 1997 World Championships and the 2000 Olympic Games). Since the 4x400m relay is longer and slower than its shorter counterpart, the 4x100m relay, there’s much room for error in baton exchanges. Unless the Americans suffer outright disqualification by going beyond the passing lanes or deliberately impeding another athlete’s right of way, the American quartet is a sure cinch for gold.

In recent years, the U.S. stranglehold over the event has been, I must admit, quite boring. With dominant quarter milers like Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt, other nations are hard-pressed to keep up. In the finals of the big meets, the other relay teams seem to battle for second place – not first place.

The British Golden Days

The most exciting clips of the event I’ve seen so far are from the heydays of British 400m sprinting in the 1990’s. These were the times when the likes of 1996 Atlanta 400m silver medalist Roger Black and 1996 Atlanta 4x400m silver medalist Iwan Thomas comprised a lean and mean 400m lineup for Britain. In the 1991 Tokyo World Championships, the quartet of Black, Derek Redmond of Celebrate Humanity fame, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi edged out an American team, 2:57.53 to 2:57:57, setting a new Area Record in the process.

The race itself was intense, with then British record holder Black sprinting a monstrous 1st leg effort. Akabusi, a 400m hurdler, ran a superb tactical fourth leg, lurking behind then World Champion Antonio Pettigrew. In the last 50m or so, Akabusi powered his way to the tape, gifting Britain with the gold medal.

In the 1997 World Championships in Athens, the British team of Black, Thomas, indoor specialist Jamie Baulch and Mark Richardson lost out on a gold medal by 0.18s. I particularly enjoyed watching the gutsy Baulch storm to the lead during the third leg.

In 2008, however, a member of the victorious U.S. team, the late Antonio Pettigrew, admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs in the same period as the 1997 World Championships. Pettigrew returned his medals. The British sprinters were awarded their much-delayed gold medals on January 2010, thirteen long years after the Americans’ tainted romp to first place.

Read the BBC article on the 1997 World Championships 4x400m team

The Contenders

The most viable contenders would have to be the Bahamas, Russia, Belgium and Britain. The Bahamians, paced by Chris Brown (not the rapper!), won silver behind the United States at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The Russians won the bronze in the same event, despite not having having any representative to the 400m final (the young Vladimir Kraznov is a potential gem, having competed with distinction at the 2010 European Championships). Moreover, a resurgent British team lead by Black and Thomas’ heir apparent, Martyn Rooney, is within striking distance. If Belgium’s Borlee twins can reach sub-44  or low-44 second territory, the Belgians can be a legitimate contender as well.

Don’t count out Jamaica too. A certain Usain Bolt running in the low-43’s or high-42’s and a decent enough supporting cast could break the American stranglehold!

Kawasaki Super Meet: Lemaitre rules 100m dash

Christophe Lemaitre outclassed Wallace Spearmon at the Kawasaki Super Meet in Japan, the traditional finale for the outdoor season. A 1.6 m/s head wind denied the speedsters of low-10 or sub-10 second performances in the 100m dash. The Frenchman overtook the fast-starting Naoki Tsukahara, who dropped down to fourth place, as Spearmon and Ramil Guliyev finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively.

The French record holder stopped the clock at 10.26s against the American’s 10.47s. Guliyev of Azerbaijan (who edged out Lemaitre at the 200m dash in the 2009 European Junior Championships) finished in third (10.50s).

Spearmon is the most illustrious sprinter Lemaitre had beaten. Even if the American specializes in the 200m dash (19.65s PB), Spearmon’s 100m PB is one-hundredths of a second faster than European record holder. Aside from Spearmon’s World Championship bronzes, the American finished third place at the Beijing Olympics, only to get disqualified for stepping out of his lane.

Even if the victory came at the tail-end of the outdoor season, a win is still a win.

Additional links

IAAF article

Yomiuri article

Full results

Photo credits:

msn.com

Video credits:

20pregreatrun16

takarajimajp

Track Beauty of the Week: Shannon Rowbury

Shannon Rowbury is this week’s track beauty!

I’m not really fond of distance running. Events higher than 400m evoke a certain, unpleasant kind of pain alien to this sprint hurdler. Hence, aside from established distance running legends, I’m not familiar with the dramatis personae of the endurance events as much as, say, the 110m high hurdles! However, Rowbury exudes a breath of fresh air. I like her laid-back demeanor, as seen in her Universal Sports video logs. It’s a departure from the apparently stoic, no-non sense approach of the African runners who dominate the endurance events.

Photo from Gary Rowbury

Rowbury is at the forefront of the resurgent American distance running scene. With a personal best of 4:00.33 in the metric mile, Rowbury ranks among the world’s elite. The 24-year old placed third in the 1500m during the 2008 U.S. Olympic Trials. She went on to finish 7th at the Olympic final, the only American to qualify. A year later, Rowbury won her first ever major championship medal – a 1500m bronze at the 2009 Berlin World Championships.

Rowbury graduated Magna Cum Laude from Duke University, taking up Film and Women’s Studies. Interestingly, Rowbury was a former Irish step dancer as a child!

Additional links:

Shannon’s website

USATF profile

Wiki

Track Beauty of the Week: Fabiana Murer

Fabiana Murer is this week’s track beauty!

The Brazilian pole vaulter’s first major championship medal came at the 2008 World Indoor Championships in Valencia, Spain. The gymnast-turned-pole vaulter cleared 4.70m to grab the bronze medal. Despite leaps of 4.80m and 4.82m in 2008 and 2009, respectively, Murer failed to reprise her stellar form at the Beijing Olympics and Berlin World Championships, finishing 10th and 5th, respectively.

Photos from rankopedia.com, lazeresportes.com, esportesite.com.br and bloglog.globo.com

The South American record-holder’s breakout meet came at the 2010 World Indoor Championships, where an exhausted Yelena Isinbayeva (Murer’s occasional training partner) failed to make the podium. Murer outclassed the more experienced Svetlana Feofanova and an in-form Anna Rogowska, clearing 4.80m.

With personal bests of 4.85m outdoors and 4.82m indoors, Murer is definitely at the forefront of the pole vault elite. How the 29-year old Brazilian fares against a (hopefully) rejuvenated Isinbayeva come 2011 remains to be seen.

Additional links:

Wiki

IAAF article

The 4x100m relay: Where Underdogs Thrive

Track & field is an individual sport. There is some measure of teamwork in the distance events, where packs of runners can stay together throughout the entire race (like Flying Finns of the olden days) or follow a designated pace maker for particular stretches. But in the end, an athlete’s result for a particular event is credited only to the effort of one. The team aspect of the relays sets it aside from the other disciplines. Passing the baton from one sprinter to the other makes for an exciting spectacle. The speed involved makes little room for error, where the slightest mistake in timing and release could spell the difference between triumph and defeat.

Perhaps that is why the relays are traditionally held at the latter parts of an athletics competition. It is a fitting finale to the showcase of speed, strength and endurance that is track & field.

It is in the explosive 4x100m relay where an underrated quartet can overcome a faster set of opponents through slick passing. Unlike its longer counterpart, the 4x400m relay, the underdog squad can overcome glaring differences in aggregate speed at the shorter race. Whereas in the longer relay, the most dominant force in the quarter-mile, the Americans, almost always reign supreme.

2008 Beijing Olympics

My favorite relay race of all is the 2008 Beijing Olympics 4x100m relay, where the indefatigable Nobuharo Asahara anchored the Japanese team to an unprecedented bronze (38.15s).

Japan has always been a consistent qualifier to the 400m relay finals (4th – 2004, 6th – 2000, 6th – 1992, 5th – 1932); it was about time the Japanese won something big on the Olympic athletics stage. This proves that Asians, with the proper combination of fortunate circumstances and great teamwork, can distinguish themselves in the elite sprinting ranks.

And yeah, need I say more about the Usain Bolt-led Jamaican relay world record?

2002 Busan Asian Games

Thailand’s 2002 Busan Asian Games 4x100m victory is another favorite. The smooth-passing of the Thais (38.82s) overcame the advantage of the Japanese team (38.90s) in terms of aggregate speed. It’s important to note that Thailand’s fastest sprinter at that time was Reeanchai “Ultraman” Seeharwong at 10.23s. The other members weren’t as impressive:

The Japanese, in contrast, had near 10-flat sprinters in Asahara (10.02) and Shingo Suetsugo (10.05s in 2002, 10.03s lifetime best). The other two members have faster personal bests than the Thais:

On paper, the Japanese squad was the favorite. However, an underrated Thai team overcame the stark differences in aggregate speed with their flawless baton exchanges.

2004 Athens Olympics

The formidable American quartet of Shawn Crawford (9.88 – 2004), Justin Gatlin (9.85s – 2004), Coby Miller (9.98s – 2002) and Maurice Greene (9.79s – 1999) lost to the British by a hair’s breadth, thanks to the former’s faulty baton passing – a fixture in American relay races. On paper, the Brits were a lot slower than the Americans.

With a generous splattering of Olympic gold medalists and former/current/future century dash record holders in the American lineup, the gold medal was theirs to lose. And they lost it by the infinitesimal of margins, with Lewis-Francis edging out the fast-finishing Greene, 38.07s to 38.08s.

Among the aforesaid underdog feats, the most impressive (Asian bias aside!) in terms of performance, glamor and glitter would have to be the Great Britain’s 2004 upset win. Whereas the 2008 Japanese relay quartet won bronze with both the American and British teams disqualified prior to the final, the 2004 British quartet overcame a loaded U.S. squad composed of 3 Olympic gold medalists and marquee names in sprinting.

A decent enough aggregate speed and slick baton passing is imperative for a world-beating relay team. Although the traditional sprinting powerhouse, the United States, is well-endowed with prolific sprinters, baton passing has been an eternal thorn since American sprinters are a diverse group of athletes, spread among a vast country. As Shawn Crawford said during an interview, practicing baton exchanges becomes a difficult in light of the varying schedules and locales.

A much smaller country like Britain, Japan and Thailand could muster more frequent training sessions. From what I’ve heard, the Thailand team practically lived together as a team. The Japanese team, similarly, are a tightly bonded lot, as exhibited by the emotional farewell they gave to their long-time ace sprinter, Asahara.

The current Philippine national record stands at 40.55s, set during the 2005 Manila Southeast Asian Games where Philippine 100m/200m dash record holder Ralph Soguilon (10.45s), Albert Salcedo, Long Jump record holder Henry Dagmil and decathlete Arnold Villarube won silver. If the Philippines can assemble a formidable array of mid- to low-10 second sprinters and perfect the baton exchange, surely, a sub-40 clocking is a possibility.

The 400m hurdles/400m Dash Combo

Natalya Antyukh’s victory in the 400m hurdles in Barcelona reminded me of an interesting fact I picked up from my favorite track & field book, A World History of Track & Field Athletics 1864-1964.

Back in the 30’s up to the 50’s, before the advent of professional sports and specialization in track events, hardly anyone specialized in the 400m low hurdles. Prior to the Olympics, 400m flat sprinters usually trained over the barriers a few times and ran a few races, never adopting the man-killer discipline entirely.

This highlights an important point that in the intermediate hurdles, one’s sprinting ability matters more than one’s hurdling prowess. Whereas a sprint hurdler takes approximately 37 strides throughout the entire 110m race, an intermediate hurdler naturally sprints longer. In light of the increased distance in between hurdles in the lows, it is imperative that the elite intermediate hurdler should possess a consistent stride pattern, a fearless demeanor and a fairly decent ability to sprint the quarter mile.

In recent track history, Angelo Taylor is arguably the best example of a 400m sprinter – 400m hurdler combination. The Sydney and Beijing Olympic 400m low hurdles Champion, despite several off-track controversies, had won major championship medals in the flat, the relays and the lows.

The newly crowned European low hurdles champion, Antyukh (also the 1998 World Youth Champion over the lows and the 2004 Olympic 400m dash bronze medallist) is the most recent top-level exemplar of the hurdler/sprinter.

Track Beauty of the Week: Jessica Ennis

Jessica Ennis is this week’s track beauty!

I first noticed Ennis back in the 2006 Goteborg European Champs. Kelly Sotherton was Britain’s top heptathlete at that time. Ennis was a young, 20-year old upstart. Because of stress fractures on her foot, she missed her shot at glory back in 2008. Ennis gradually crawled out of Sotherton’s shadow, winning gold at the 2009 Berlin World Championships – her first major international crown.

Photos from thesun.co.uk, bbc.co.uk and Wikipedia

Ennis, despite her small stature, is one mean competitor. Her personal bests in the 60m hurdles (7.95s) and the high jump (1.95m) are British National records. She recently scored a superb 6,823 points at the 2010 Barcelona European Athletics Championships, erasing the legendary Carolina Kluft‘s championship record. Fresh from her dramatic victory over Beijing Champion Natalia Dobrynska, it’s only fitting that we honor the newly-minted European Champion as the Track Beauty of the Week.

The multi-event specialist is, without a doubt, the poster girl of the 2012 London Olympics.

Additional links:

Wiki

Photo credits:

The Sun

BBC

Video credits:

EuroChampionships10

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