Tag Archives: 2008 Beijing Olympics

Track Beauty of the Week: Yelena Soboleva (Елена Владимировна Соболева)

Yelena Soboleva (Елена Владимировна Соболева) is this week’s track beauty!

The disgraced Russian 1500m specialist once won silver medals at the 2006 World Indoor Championships and the 2007 World Championships. In 2008, the talented middle distance runner set world indoor records in the 1500m run twice, as well as Russian records in the indoor mile and the 800m.

Photos from thesun.co.uk, blas-atletismoyalgoms.blogspot.com, iaaf.org, xinhuanet.com

However, her sterling list achievements was blighted by a doping controversy before the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Soboleva, as well as 6 other Russians, were charged with substituting their urine samples ahead of drug tests. Soboleva was meted out a 2-year ban for this infraction, with her performances since April 2007 erased from the record books.

It’s quite unfortunate how doping shrouds the performances of the sports’ elite with clouds of doubt. Indeed, such harsh moves are necessary to protect the image of athletics.

Video credit:

sportsnetwork

Track Beauty of the Week: Olivia Borlée

Olivia Borlée is this week’s track beauty!

The 24-year old Belgian is a 200m specialist, with a personal best of 22.89s in the half lap. Her best time in the century dash is a respectable 11.39s. The eldest of the Borlée siblings has two major championship 4x100m relay medals to her name – a bronze in the 2007 Osaka World Championships and a silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Read: “The Borlees: En Route to Olympic History”

(Photo from Erik van Leeuwen)

At the Barcelona European Championships, Borlée failed to go beyond the semis, finishing sixth in her heat.

Olivia and her twin brothers are trained by their father, Jacques. Off the track, Borlée is working towards a degree in fashion design, while aiming to represent Belgium at the 2012 London Games.

Watch the BBC feature on Olivia Borlée and her London 2012 goal

Additional links:

Wiki

The Borlees

Olivia Borlée

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.

%d bloggers like this: