Tag Archives: Felix Sanchez

The Legend of Felix Sánchez

When I was writing my London 2012 event previews, I had a strong gut feeling that Felix Sanchez would do something monumental. His career has undergone a renaissance the past few months, as he placed fourth in the Daegu World Championships final. Despite having a season’s best of just 48.56s coming into the Games, Sanchez had taken the scalp of 2011 World Champion Dai Greene in Rabat back in April.

In the initial version of my 400m Hurdles preview, Sanchez and Angelo Taylor were my choices for gold and silver! After all, it was anybody’s ballgame considering the fact that the tantalizingly fast times have not really come the past few years. I changed my forecasts at the last minute. Even if I knew deep down that they had an outside chance against the two favorites, Javier Culson and Greene, I had to consider what the statistics say.

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

And Sanchez did shock the world.

He breezed through the heats and sent out a strong message in the semifinals, stopping the clock at 47.76s – his fastest time since winning Olympic gold in Athens. All of a sudden, the grand old man of intermediate hurdling has regained the spring in his legs. People started to notice that the two-time World Champion could achieve what months ago would be deemed improbable.

Sanchez still had to contend with the world leader Culson, the hometown boy Greene, and Angelo Taylor – the Olympic champion from Sydney and Beijing.

As the 400m hurdles finalists walked into the stadium, that steely Sanchez determination was noticeable underneath his dark shades and his jacket’s hood. The person who had so valiantly attempted to defend his World title in 2005 despite an injury, who four years ago crashed out of the heats in Beijing, was back in contention.

Coming into the final bend, the Puerto Rican felled a hurdle, losing momentum. Sanchez kept on going strong towards the finish, ahead of everyone else in this quality field. The Dominican stopped the clock at 47.63s, the same time he had registered when he won in Athens eight years ago. The American champion Michael Tinsley (47.91s) ran the final meters like a monster, snatching silver ahead of Culson (48.10s) and the fast-finishing Greene (48.24s). Taylor (48.25s) finished in fifth place.

It was a touching sight, seeing Felix Sanchez take out the photo of his deceased grandmother which he kept inside his race bib. He fell to the track on his knees and kissed the photo of his late grandma, to whom he promised another Olympic gold.

Read: “Tears for the Second Coming of Sanchez”

Culson, the nearly-man, assumed the same position as Sanchez, this time in unpleasant disbelief. He had been undefeated this season after numerous close calls in winning the gold. A major championship title has remained elusive. Dai Greene sat on the track, shell-shocked at the enormity of the moment.

Sanchez cried tears of joy as the Dominican Republic’s national anthem played in the medal ceremony. It was a genuine display of emotion from someone who had been written off as over-the-hill.

When I was starting out in the sport back in 2003, I looked up to Liu Xiang and Felix Sanchez as my hurdling heroes. Liu had just won a groundbreaking bronze at the 2003 World Championships in Paris, while Sanchez had added a second World title to the one he won in Edmonton. My respect grew a hundred-fold when Felix valiantly attempted to defend his World title in Helsinki, despite a painful injury.

Culson and Greene are still young compared to the 35-year old Sanchez. They will have their time under the sun.

For now, the moment belongs to Felix Sanchez.

Additional Links:

Results – 400m Hurdles Final

Results – 400m Hurdles Semis/Heats

Felix Sanchez’ IAAF Profile

IAAF article on Felix’s victory

Advertisements

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

London Olympics Preview: The 400m Hurdles

Photo from Nigel Chadwick

The 400m hurdles is one of the most grueling track & field events. The [wo]man-killer event tests the limits of one’s speed endurance. Intermediate hurdlers are known for digging deep.

Women’s 400m Hurdles

A couple of Russian women are perched on top of the 2012 rankings. The 2011 World Championships silver medalist, Natalya Antyukh Наталь Антюх, ran a world-leading time of 53.40s at the Russian Championships in Chekosbary in early July. Her younger compatriot, the newly minted European Champion Irina Davydova, is second with 53.77s.

 

Demus (L) and Walker (R). (Photos from André Zehetbauer and Erik van Leeuwen)

The reigning World Champion, Lashinda Demus (53.98s), trails Davydova in the 2012 tally. Vania Stambolova Ваня Стамболова (54.04s), Denisa Rosolová (54.24s), Georgeanne Moline (54.33s), and Hanna Yaroshchuk Ганна Ярощук (54.35s) round up the next four. The defending champion from Beijing, Melaine Walker, has a season’s best of just 54.62s – a far cry from her personal best of 52.42s personal best from the 2009 World Championships.

On paper, the Russian duo hold the edge over the rest of the field. However, the list of protoganists in the 400m hurdles is a classy bunch, with three sub-53 second athletes. Jamaica’s Walker (52.42s) is the second fastest of all-time. Demus (52.47s), the American record holder, is third thanks to her gutsy run at the Daegu World Championships. Antyukh, a multiple World and Olympic medalist, has a lifetime’s best of 52.92s from the 2010 Barcelona European Championships.

 

Antyukh (L) and Davydova (R). (Photos from Chell Hill and Erik van Leeuwen)

Depending on the conditions, perhaps a mid-52 second clocking is needed to secure Olympic gold in London.

It could go both ways, between Demus and Walker. As reigning World and Olympic Champions, respectively, these two are the obvious favorites. Demus  might just have the psychological momentum, due to the recency of her feat.

The battle for third will be fought primarily between Antyukh and Davydova, with the quartet of Stambolova, Rosolova, Moline, and Yaroshchuk lurking to play spoil sport.

The dark horse could be Rosolova. She specialized in the 400m dash for a couple of years prior to her shift to the intermediate hurdlers. She won the 2011 European Indoor title and has an outdoor personal best of 50.84s. Rosolova is the greenest among the lineup, however, with only six or seven outings in the 400m hurdles.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Lashinda Demus

Silver: Melaine Walker

Bronze: Natalya Antyukh/Irina Davydova

Men’s 400m Hurdles

The United States has won 17 out of the past 24 Olympic Games, making a full sweep of the medals five times. The most recent sweep was in Beijing, where Angelo Taylor, Bershawn Jackson and Kerron Clement lorded it over the competition. Since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the U.S. have fallen short of the gold only once – in Athens, to a certain American-born Dominican named Felix Sanchez.

 

Sanchez (L) and Taylor (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Kerstin Winterkamp)

The 2012 event has a more multinational flavor, with Puerto Rican Javier Culson (47.78s) and Briton David Greene (47.84s) occupying the top two spots in the season top list. Bershawn Jackson is third fastest with 48.20s. The Batman, however, will not compete in his best event in London since he only placed fourth at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Michael Tinsley and Takayuki Kishimoto 岸本 鷹幸, both making their respective Olympic debuts, trail Jackson. The resurgent Sanchez has a season’s best of 48.56s, set in the same Paris Diamond League race where Culson ran his world lead. Angelo Taylor, the Olympic Champion from 2000 and 2008, is one-hundredth of a second behind Sanchez.

  

Culson (L) and Greene (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen and Chell Hill)

Last season was not exactly a banner year for the intermediate hurdles. Despite L.J. Van Zyl’s spectacular mid-47 clockings in South Africa, Greene needed just 48.26s to wrest the World title in Daegu. With just two athletes below 48 seconds this season, the prospect of faster times does not seem any brighter.

But then again, one could not discount the lure of the Olympic Games. As they say, the Olympics bring out the best in athletes.

The Olympic final could feature the champions from Sydney (Taylor), Athens (Sanchez) and Beijing (Taylor, again), going head-to-head with the World Champions from Berlin (Clement) and Daegu (Greene). Clement (47.24s, 2005), Taylor (47.25s, 2008), and Sanchez (47.25s, 2003) are one of the fastest hurdlers in history.

Culson is the top bet, thanks to his above-par performances in 2012. Greene, despite undergoing a knee surgery last December, seems to be back in tip-top shape after setting a lifetime best behind Culson in Paris early this July.

I’ve always been a big fan of Sanchez. The way he fought through the pain of injury to defend his World title at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships embodied the resolve needed to win such a grueling event. I’d love to see the respected Dominican win another Olympic medal. Taylor, despite his seeming inability to excel in the World Championships, is a proven Olympic performer.

Greene and Culson might be the statistical favorites for Olympic Gold, but one cannot discount the huge experience of the event’s elder statesmen (Taylor only had a season’s best of 48.42s coming into the Beijing Olympics, but he still ran 47.25s in the final!).

The so-called old guys might spring a surprise.

Top Three Predictions:

Gold: Javier Culson

Silver: David Greene

Bronze: Felix Sanchez

Sources:

Beijing Olympics Results

Daegu World Championships Results

2012 Top List – Women’s 400m Hurdles

2012 Top List – Men’s 400m Hurdles

All-time List – Women’s 400m Hurdles

All-time List – Men’s 400m Hurdles

Felix Sanchez Breaks 400m Hurdles Indoor Record – Again!

And Felix Sanchez does it again!

The 2004 Athens Olympic Champion rewrote his 400m indoor hurdles record in France yesterday. The evergreen Sanchez ran an impressive 48.78s to better his previous mark of 49.25s.

Read the IAAF article here

He demolished the field as he streaked to an early lead. The American-born hurdler was the first to cut to the inner lane, as his shell-shocked opponents trailed a few meters behind.

Read more about the 400m hurdles indoor here

To those of you thinking that I’ve made a typographical error in saying “400m indoor hurdles,” think again. Sanchez is the most prestigious name in the rarely run discipline. With his impeccable hurdling pedigree and fearlessness, Sanchez is tailor-made for the event.

Athletics is a physically taxing event. Despite sustaining injuries in the past few years, it’s good to see the 34-year old Sanchez running faster. To the young guns of the intermediate hurdles, watch out for Felix Sanchez come Olympics time.

Vamos, Felix!

Dai Tamesue’s 為末大 Double Bronze

East Asians aren’t known for their prowess in athletics. Hence, the handful of medals that our Japanese neighbors had won in the years past hold much value. I admire Japanese track & field athletes the most because of the raw emotion that they exude. This exemplifies the very essence of sport.

Dai Tamesue 為末大 is one such athlete. As a talented 22-year old, Tamesue crashed out of the heats in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. He clipped the penultimate hurdle in the grueling 400m low hurdles. Nevertheless, he managed to finish the race in 1:01.81, much slower than his then personal best of 48.47s.

Tamesue bounced back in sterling fashion the next year at the 2001 Edmonton World Championships. He ran a gutsy race, storming to the lead early on. As the hurdlers came into the final bend, the diminutive Japanese man was the surprise leader. However the American-born Dominican Felix Sanchez and the Italian Fabrizio Mori overtook Tamesue in the final 80m.

After the disappointment in Sydney, Tamesue shed tears of joy at his bronze medal. The Japanese shaved off more than half-a-second from his erstwhile personal best, stopping the clock at 47.89s.

In the next couple of years, Tamesue failed to replicate his winning form. He didn’t go beyond the semi-finals of the 2003 Paris World Championships and the 2004 Athens Olympics. At the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, the then 28-year old Tamesue (48.10s) again struck bronze with much drama. As he shook off the effects of lactic acid after his characteristically gutsy all-out racing style, he overtook the rapidly decelerating Kerron Clement (48.18s).

Four long years after his Edmonton triumph, Tamesue once again reached the podium of a major championship.

By the time the Japan hosted its own edition of the World Championships in 2007, Tamesue was but a shadow of his old self. Approaching 30-years old, the veteran could only manage to place 6th (49.67s) in his heat.

A bronze medal in the World Championships might not count for much in terms of relative athletics greatness. But can greatness be holistically defined by medals alone? Derek Redmond became immortalized as he dramatically limped to the finish line assisted by his dad. Tamesue, albeit in a far lesser dramatic scale, is worthy of his own Celebrate Humanity moment.

Some athletes grumble at winning less than gold. If some people say that you don’t win silver, you lose the gold, what more can you say for a bronze medal? But for Tamesue, his two bronze medals exemplify the hopes of an entire nation. Tamesue, by the way he sunk to the ground in disbelief and raised his arms in triumph afterwards, is every inch the winner.

The 400m hurdles – Indoor!

I was about to sleep at the wee hours of Sunday morning, when I read tweets from the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham. I read about 2004 Athens Olympic champion Felix Sanchez winning a 400m hurdles race – INDOORS! Other tweets mentioned something about the athletes being allowed to cut to the first lane after lap one. This, naturally, piqued my interest.

A Google search led me to several informative articles. It turned out that such a race originated in France. The innovative 400m indoor races are held in various races in continental Europe. The Birmingham meet was the first time such a race was held in British soil.

To date, the event hasn’t been added to the major indoor meets. I can understand the reticence. The cardinal rule for hurdling is to stay in your own lane. Although one tends to hit an opponent with one’s arms in the high’s, or in more drastic situations veer into another’s designated lane, lane invasion is a major no-no.

For a more detailed description of the event, click this link

I found a one-year clip of a race in France featuring Sanchez. El Superman, as former world champion and Olympic champion, is the biggest name who has competed in the indoor intermediates. It was an exciting race to say the least! Hurdlers chasing down other hurdlers without segregated lanes is a refreshing sight for spectators – a scary spectacle for sprint hurdlers like myself!

In an interview prior to last night’s Aviva Grand Prix, the Superman said: “You get the hurdles, now you get to deal with other athletes in your lane. It’s exciting but we’re professionals, don’t try this at home.”

The Basics

Here’s a rundown of the event setup and some basic rules. Four hurdles are set on the 200m indoor track. There are hurdles at the start and end of each straightaway, with a distance of 30m separating each barrier. The hurdles, if I’m not mistaken, are set at  intermediate height (of course, I’m not mistaken! Clearing 0.99m high barriers for 400m is.. is.. beyond belief!). According to a tweet by Sanchez himself, cutting to the inner lane “depends on the track… but the break is the same as in the 400 indoors, just after the 2nd bend.”

In the outdoor 400m hurdle race, hurdlers typically follow a 15 step pattern in between barriers (13 for the elite, 17 for non-elite). Since fatigue is a major factor, most intermediate hurdlers shift lead legs in the course of the race; hence, taking 14 or 16 steps in some phases. In the indoor race, it takes 10-11 steps in between the barriers. After which, the athlete runs immediately on the curve, which takes about 25-26 steps.

The finish line greets the hurdler shortly after the 8th and final barrier.

The fundamental tenets of hurdling remain – athletes cannot touch or go under the hurdle. But since the second lap entails an inner lane free-for-all, hurdlers observe some basic ground rules. For instance, when two athletes are running head-to-head (with but half a step separating both), the leader clears the barrier on lane 1, whilst the trailing athlete clears the hurdle in lane 2 and so on.

The Birmingham Race: Sanchez Prevails

Wacthing the clip of the landmark Aviva race, I couldn’t help but gasp at the pure excitement of it all. Sanchez sped to the lead early on, easily making up for the stagger. The 2003 Paris World Champion overtook Britain’s Richard Yates by the 120m mark. The exuberant Yates, matched Sanchez stride-per-stride. Yates swerved to the inner lane the earliest, grabbing the lead in the process.

Read the IAAF article here

Read the Athletics Weekly post here

In the final 100m, Yates, Sanchez and Reuben McCoy were engaged in a mad dash to the tape. Sanchez ran like a man possessed, as if it was an Olympic final, not wanting to yield to Yates. The US-born Dominican hit the last two hurdles and literally stumbled to the finish line.

Being the true showman that he is, Sanchez bowed to audience as soon as he recovered his bearing.

The Athens Olympic champion stopped the clock in 49.76s (three hundredths of a second off Sanchez’ world best). McCoy was second in 49.78s whilst Yates clung on for a 50.21s UK record.

Video credit:

%d bloggers like this: