Category Archives: Jeremy Wariner

London Olympics Preview: The 4x400m Relay

The 4x400m relay has been the traditional finale of track & field meets. It is a long drawn struggle, showcasing both the raw speed of the athletes and their ability to dig deep at such a grueling event. Unlike in the shorter relay, where aggregate flat speed disadvantages are somehow nullified by faulty baton passing, the winning formula in the 4x400m is a lot simpler.

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

The Americans are the most dominant country in this event. The U.S. ladies have won five out the ten times the 4x400m relay has been held in the Olympics. Their last defeat came at the hands of the Unified Team in Barcelona. American women have won three World Championship titles since 2007. The disparity becomes even more glaring in the men’s competition, where the U.S. have lost only five times since the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. In World Championship competition, Americans have bagged a total of nine gold medals.

Read: “American 4x400m Relay Dominance”

However, doping violations have cast a dark shadow over some of these victories, resulting into several high profile disqualifications in both Olympic and World Championship competition.

Women’s 4x400m Relay

Russian women occupy five spots in the 400m dash top ten this year, with the U.S. having three. Antonina Krivoshapka Антонина Кривошапка (49.16 SB) is the world leader. Beijing 2008 silver medalist Sanya Richards-Ross and veteran Russian Yulia Gushchina Ю́лия Гу́щина are tied in second place, each having a season’s best of 49.28s.  Botswana’s Amantle Montsho (49.54 SB), the 2011 World Champion, is in fourth. The fastest Jamaican this year is Novlene Williams-Mills (49.78 SB).

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 400m Dash”

The versatile Allyson Felix, the 400m dash silver medallist from Daegu, will most likely reinforce Richards-Ross, Francena McCorrory, and Deedee Trotter. In fact, the same American quartet ran the fastest time in the world this year, 3:21.18, as the United States “Red” Team at the Penn Relays. Richards-Ross, McCorrory and Felix were also part of the U.S. team that won gold (3:18.09) over Jamaica (3:18.71) and Russia (3:19.36) at the Daegu World Championships last year.

The Russian women look good on paper, with the sub-50 trio of Krivoshapka, Gushchina, and Tatyana Firova Татьяна Фирова (49.72s) at the best form of their athletics careers. Similar to the core of the American pool, the Russians have been competing as a team for around half a decade.

Ukraine (Yuliya Olishevska, Olha Zemlyak, Nataliya Pyhyda, Alina Lohvynenko), France (Phara Anacharsis, Luina Guion Firmin, Marie Gayot, Floria Guei), the Czech Republic (Zuzana Hejnová, Zuzana Bergrová, Jitka Bartoničková, Denisa Rosolova) and Belarus (Hanna Tashpulatava,Yulyana Yushchanka Юльяна Юшчанка, Ilona Usovich Ілона Усовіч, Sviatlana Usovich Святлана Усовіч) are the most likely finalists in London. The Ukrainians (3:25.07) won over the French (3:25.49) and Czechs (3:26.02) at the European Championships in Helsinki last June.

In terms of the Olympic seedings, the Americans (average 3:19.63) and the Russians (average 3:20.15) are at the top. The Jamaicans are at third, with an average time of 3:20.36.

Screenshot from the IAAF

The British (Shana Cox, Nicola Sanders, Lee McConnell, Eilidh Child), however, finished outside the medals. This could change in London, in light of the increasingly strong showing of Olympic Champion Christine Ohuruogu. The sheer emotion of running in front of a home crowd might just enable athletes like McConnell and Marilyn Okoro to run the race of their lives and Nicola Sanders to rediscover the spring in her legs.

The battle for gold will be close between the Americans and the Russians, with the Jamaicans (Rosemarie Whyte, Davita Prendergast, Novlene Williams-Mills, Shericka Williams) also in contention. The U.S. ladies are the favorites, in light of their 20-year reign as Olympic Champions. The Russians, however, might just pull off a repeat of the Unified Team’s performance in the Barcelona Olympics. The trump card would have to be individual experience of Richards-Ross and Felix, both multiple World Championship titlists and Olympic medalists. This puts the U.S. on a psychological and physical pedestal against the Russian and Jamaican women.

Top Three Predictions

Gold: United States

Silver: Russia

Bronze: Jamaica/Great Britain

Men’s 4x400m Relay

When the North American powers do not get disqualified due to technicalities (1972 Munich), disgraced due to doping violations (1997 Athens, 2000 Sydney, 2003 Paris), or absent due to boycott (1980 Moscow), it is tremendously difficult to triumph over a team donning the Stars and Stripes in the 4x400m relay, particularly amongst the men. The prolific British quartet of Roger Black, Derek Redmond, John Regis and Kriss Akabusi were the last to pull it off at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. In the Olympics, the Jamaican victory over the U.S. in Helskini back in 1952 was the most recent.

The Americans had winning margins of 4 seconds and 3 seconds in Athens and Beijing, respectively. The rest of the field contended for the lesser medals, with the gold safely in the bag of the dominant U.S. quartets. The 4x400m relay final in Daegu was the most exciting in recent years. With all due respect to the quarter-mile abilities of hurdlers Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson, putting two non-400m specialists in the relay team could have been instrumental in leveling the playing field. Coming into the home straight, LaShawn Merritt was boxed in by the tactical running of South Africa’s L.J. Van Zyl and Jamaica’s Leford Green. Merritt had to do the Virginia Shuffle to storm into tape!

However, the 400m landscape in 2012 is vastly different from 2008. Four years ago, the sixteen fastest races that season were run either by Merritt or Jeremy Wariner. Taylor was the third fastest in 2008. The 2012 top list has a more international flavor, with the likes of Luguelin Santos, the Kevin and Jonathan Borlee, Kirani James, and Demetrius Pinder not far behind Merritt, the world leader at 44.12s.

Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 400m Dash”

Belgium, with the Borlee brothers in the top 10, looks good on paper. So does the Bahamas, thanks to Pinder, Ramon Miller and the experienced Chris Brown. I would love to see the South Africans reprise their sterling form in Daegu, but their season’s best of 3:04.01 pales in comparison to their bronze medal winning time of 2:59.21. The relay teams of Cuba (Noel Ruíz, Raidel Acea, Orestes Rodríguez, William Collazo), Trinidad and Tobago (Renny Quow, Lalonde Gordon, Jarrin Solomon, Deon Lendore), and Japan (Kei Takase, Yuzo Kanemaru 金丸 祐三, Yusuke Ishitsuka, Hiroyuki Nakano) have also posted competitive times this year.

In terms of the Olympic seedings, the U.S. (average 2:58.97), South Africa (average 2:59.54), Jamaica (average 2:59.61), Cuba (average 2:59.93), and Russia (average 3:00.51) comprise the top five.

Screenshot from the IAAF

Despite the smaller gap in terms of flat out 400m times, the U.S. squad is still favored to win because of its depth of talent. Tony McQuay and Bryshon Nellum are ranked 3rd and 9th in the world, respectively. The experienced Wariner, despite his recent drop in form, is still a formidable relay runner. And the U.S. could always tap its intermediate hurdlers to run in the heats to save the legs of its main guns for the final.

The rest of the contenders do not have the luxury of a deep talent pool. Barring any unforseen hitches, the U.S is still the overwhelming favorite for Olympic gold.

My sentimental favorites are South Africa and the Dominican Republic, because of Oscar Pistorius and Felix Sanchez.

Top Three Predictions

Gold: United States

Silver: Belgium

Bronze: Bahamas

Sources:

IAAF

Wikipedia

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London Olympics Preview: The 400m Dash

The one-lap sprint is one of the most nail-biting athletics events. It tests the threshold of human speed endurance. The race is a thrilling display of tactics, proper-timing, speed and heart.

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

Women’s 400m Dash

The fight for the quarter-mile gold medal would we between 2009 World Champion Sanya Richards-Ross (48.70s PB) and the 2011 World Champion Amantle Montsho (49.56s PB). The versatile Allyson Felix (49.59s PB) could make the battle three-pronged, but then again, the 100m/200m combo seems the more practical route for Felix, instead of the more grueling – and rarer – 200m/400m double.

 

Richards-Ross (L), Montsho (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Yann Caradec)

I don’t expect the defending Olympic Champion Christine Ohuruogu (49.61s PB) to contend for gold, in light of the recent drop in her form. However, the hometown crowd could push Ohuruogu all the way to a podium spot, or a good showing in the finals at the very least.

Richards-Ross had run the fastest time this season, with her 49.39s world lead at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. Montsho came second to the American in that same race, submitting a time three-tenths slower (49.69). Jamaican Novlene Williams-Mills (49.63s PB, 49.78s SB) is the only other sprinter to dip below 50-seconds.

Francena McCorory, a 4x400m relay gold medalist from Daegu, is in tip-top shape, having set a new personal best of 50.06s at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York. The Russians, as always, will be well-represented. This season, the top Russian quarter-milers are Yulia Gushchina Ю́лия Гу́щина (50.01s PB, 50.26s SB) and Kseniya Ustalova Ксения Усталова (49.92s PB, 50.48s SB). The experienced Anastasiya Kapachinskaya Анастасия Капачинская (49.35s PB, 51.17s SB), the bronze medallist from Daegu and the 2003 200m World Champion, is several rungs lower than her compatriots.

Richards-Ross has finally recovered from her an injury sustained a couple of years ago. After a disappointing campaign at the Daegu World Championships, the American sent a strong message to her rivals when she dominated Montsho in Eugene. The Botswanan (and Felix, if she decides to compete in the quarter-mile) will be hard-pressed to edge out Richards-Ross for first place.

Top Three Predictions

Gold: Sanya Richards-Ross

Silver: Amantle Montsho/Allyson Felix (if she runs the 400m)

Bronze: Francena McCorory

Men’s 400m Dash

The Americans have been the dominant force in men’s quarter-mile sprinting for the longest time. In the last three editions of the Olympics, the Americans have swept the event twice (2004 and 2008). They took the top two spots at the Sydney Olympics. The Americans are just as dominant in the World Championships, taking the World title in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2009.

Jeremy Wariner (43.45s PB, 44.96s SB)has won the 2004 Olympic Gold, an Olympic silver, 2 World titles, and a World Championship silver. LaShawn Merritt (43.75s PB, 44.19s SB), meanwhile, has the 2008 Olympic Gold, one World title, and two World Championships silver medals to his name.

 

James (L) and Merritt (R).(Photos from Erik van Leeuwen, MachoCarioca, and Yann Caradec)

Wariner’s form has dipped in the last two years, as Merritt served a suspension for failing a dope test. Several new challengers – and a new quarter-mile king – have emerged. The young Kirani James (44.36s PB, 44.72s SB) convincingly won the 2011 World Championships over Merritt, a year after claiming the World Junior title in Moncton. Another veteran from the Moncton World Juniors is the 18-year old Luguelín Santos from the Dominican Republic. The fleet-footed Santos had set a new personal best of 44.45s last May, the second-fastest time this season and the eight-quickest ever by a junior athlete.

The Borlées have run competitive times, with Kevin (44.56 PB/SB) having a quicker season’s best than Jonathan (44.71s PB, 44.88s). As a testament to the depth of American 400m talent, six Americans are in the top 10 this season: Merritt, Tony McQuay (44.58s SB/PB), Michael Berry (44.75s SB/PB), Joshua Mance (44.83s SB/PB), Gil Roberts (44.84s SB/PB), and Wariner. McQuay, Berry, Mance and Roberts are all younger than twenty-three!  Martyn Rooney (44.60s PB, 44.92s SB) and two-time Olympic 400m champion Angelo Taylor (44.05s PB, 44.97s SB) have also gone below 45-seconds this season.

Should Wariner be able to find the spring in his legs, the London Olympic final could feature a duel between generations – with Wariner and Merritt on one side, and James and Santos on the other. The other youngster, Santos, might just be too green to crack the top three. As much as I want to see Wariner add another Olympic title to his already impressive curriculum vitae, the signs are not pointing towards the right direction (sadly, Wariner failed to barge into the top 3 at the U.S. Olympic Trials).

But then again, the Olympics bring out the best in people.

I have a strong feeling that James has what it takes to do a Steve Lewis. Merritt is a grizzled veteran. The American (43.75s) also has a superior personal best than the Grenadan (44.35s). My sixth sense tells me that James’ youthful exuberance could spell the difference between silver and gold.

Top Three Predictions

Gold: Kirani James

Silver: LaShawn Merritt

Bronze: Jeremy Wariner/Either one of the Borlee brothers/Tony McQuay

Sources:

2008 Beijing Olympics Results

2011 World Championships Results

2009 World Championships Results

2007 World Championships Results

2012 World Indoor Championships Results

2010 World Indoor Championships Results

2012 Men’s 400m Dash Top List

2012 Women’s 400m Dash Top List

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!

A Good Buy

During my first and only visit to the United States back in 1993, I remember buying a USD 2 pair of sunglasses from the swap meet. Throughout our two-month long stay, I wore the pair constantly, matching the sporty wrap-around shades with my favorite jacket and black Mickey Mouse cap.

But as my eyesight worsened, it became harder for me to wear sunglasses. By the 6th grade, I was totally dependent on my eyeglasses.

Since I don’t plan on using contact lenses any time soon, my only option is to purchase shades with prescription inserts. Thanks to the advent of cheap, quality brands like Kontrol, Spyder, Optic Nerve and Dickies, I didn’t have to buy those expensive Adidas sunglasses. I went to Glorietta the other day to scour the mall for good bargains.

I was supposed to buy one of the Spyder frames, but I found the lens size too big.

I was just about to give up on the cheaper brands, opting instead to purchase high-end Oakley or Rudy Project shades in the near future. Until I saw an unexpected bargain from a brand I don’t usually patronize. The cheapest option, Dickies, ironically turned out to have the most stable and durable inserts among the three available brands. The insert has a metal frame (instead of plastic) and fits snugly around the nose portion of the sunglasses frame.

At Php 395, I bought it with nary a second thought.

The ordinary, thick lenses cost an additional Php 400. When I tried out the sunglasses and the inserts, the prescription lenses were too close to my eyes. It was an uncomfortable feeling. But then again, beggars can’t be choosers. You get what you pay for! At Php 795, I had no complaints! I just had to improvise.

After much tinkering, I figured that if I fashioned out a simple, nondescript cushion on the nose part of the sunglasses, the space between the lenses and my eyes could increase to a more comfortable distance. I had an art attack-slash-Mac Gyver moment. I took out a small piece of tissue paper, molding it into a small rectangular shape. I attached the improvised cushion to the prescription insert and voila! My cheap shades now feels much more comfortable.

I bought another pair this afternoon, this time with black lenses.

I still intend to eventually own those bad-ass Adidas frames (or a mid-market Spyder or Optic Nerve RX frame beforehand) for that Jeremy Wariner-look. Until I claw myself out of this financial rut and quarter-life Vision Quest, I just have to make do with these modified, cheapo Dickies shades!

Photo credits:

pinoyrunners.com

kontrolsports.co.uk

zimbio.com

Alberto Juantorena’s 400m/800m Golden Double

The 100m/200m double in elite track & field competitions is a significant achievement in itself. Great athletes like Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis and Usain Bolt had won the twin sprints at the Olympics. The 200m/400m combination is a much challenging pairing. In major meets, only Marie Jose Perec and the iconic Michael Johnson stand out as successful conquerors of the aforesaid sprint distances. A couple of years ago, Johnson’s heir apparent, Jeremy Wariner, attempted the double unsuccessfully. The lactic acid-filled 400m race is a much different race than the 200m dash, than the half lap is to the century dash.

But then again, the 200m/400m double is not as fearsome as the 400m/800m pairing. In the history of the Olympics (as well as all the other majors – the World Championships, the European Championships, etc.), only Alberto “El Caballo” Juantorena has achieved this unusual combination of gold medals. The Australian Tamsyn Lewis had reached some measure of success in the said distances, but certainly not at the level of Juantorena’s.

Before I did the hurdles, my first event was the quarter-mile. In my readings as high school junior, the great Cuban became one of my first larger-than-life athletics heroes. Juantorena, originally a 400m sprinter, revolutionized how the 800m was run. At the 1976 Montreal Olympics, he went out like a madman on the first lap of the 800m final, taking full advantage of his sprinter’s speed. The towering Cuban ran a 50.85s 400m split, his long strides clearly evident as he overpowered the field in a then world-record time of 1:43.50. He held on for a memorable gold medal, a world record at that. I can almost imagine the shock and awe of the orthodox middle distance runners at such a bold move. El Caballo followed this up with scorching hot 44.26s, the fastest 400m run at low altitude at that time.

Even though Juantorena never replicated his stellar form in Montreal (he finished a distant fourth in the 400m dash in Moscow 1980), the Cuban’s 400m-800m double remains unprecedented. Even in the youth and juniors divisions, one will be hard pressed to find examples of such eminent talent. Perhaps its because of the inherent difference between the two events. Whereas, the 100m, 200m and 400m are all sprinting events, the 800m is a middle distance event. A sub-10 second sprinter, for instance, possesses the necessary leg power to power his way to a low 45-second or a sub-45 second 400m dash. Tyson Gay is the epitome of the all-around sprinter, having bests of 9.69s, 19.58s and 44.89s in the three events.

The 400m and 800m are light-years apart. The former is classified as a “dash” while the latter is a “run.” The distance doubles, the time required to finish the distance more than doubles. For a quarter-miler – a sprinter who digs deep, but a sprinter nonetheless – such a change of pace can be disconcerting. Not everyone is as dauntless as El Caballo. In my readings the past half-decade, I can say that I’m astute with track & field history. But I have never encountered an elite level athlete attempting to duplicate Juantorena’s feat.

What makes Juantorena special? It has to be in his long-strides and powerfully-built body. A former basketball player, Juantorena had a 9-foot (2.75m) stride. This combination of free-flowing, rhythmic strides and a sprinter’s natural affinity for speed overwhelmed his competitors, who were mostly tactical middle distance runners. Down the homestretch, the wiry middle distance specialists had no answer to the White Lightning’s long-striding, fast-finishing ways.

Winning multiple Olympic track & field golds is not as easy as bagging multiple swimming golds. Unlike in swimming, the disciplines in athletics possesses inherently vast differences in terms of energy utilization and technical proficiency. Track & field may never see the likes of a Michael Phelps, but it has its fair share of multiple medalists in the likes of Emil Zatopek (5000m, 10,000m, Marathon), Carl Lewis (100m, 200m, Long Jump, 4x100m), Usain Bolt (100m, 200m, 4x100m), Michael Johnson (200m, 400m, 4x400m) and Alberto Juantorena, whose gold medal winning ways in Montreal 1976 are truly legendary, a feat that would take generations to emulate.

Additional links:

IOC profile (Juantorena)

Wiki

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