Tag Archives: Oscar Pistorius

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

Advertisements

The Blade Runner is Daegu-bound!

Oscar Pistorius stops the clock in 45.07s in Italy. The Blade Runner shaved off a good half second from his erstwhile best of 45.61s en route to meeting the “A” standard for the 2011 Daegu World Championships. After years of controversy and misses, the South African double amputee finally achieved the elusive qualification standard – in the nick of time!

Read: “The Blade Runner”

Read the BBC article here

The post-race celebration was especially touching. This would have to be one of my favorite moments of the 2011 season.

Congratulations, Oscar!

P.S.

Pistorius is a nice guy indeed. He sends direct messages to each and every tweeter who sent their respective congratulations!

The Paralympic Athletes

Some of the most inspiring athletes in the world are Paralympians. Despite abilities different from that of an able-bodied person, these athletes are able to compete at the highest level of sport. Case in point is the Blade Runner himself, Oscar Pistorius, who has a personal best of 45.61s (within the able-bodied Olympic “B” standard).

Read: “The Blade Runner”

Wacthing the one-legged Hou Bin (侯斌) leap over 1.92m piqued my interest in other Paralympic athletes.

A cursory Google search led me to the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) website, where I was able to view the standing world records for the various categories of competitive Paralympics:

  • Class 11-13 – Visual impairment
  • Class 20 – Intellectual disablity
  • Classes 32-38 – Cerebral palsy
  • Classes 40-46 – Ambulant athletes
  • Classes 51-58 – Wheelchair athletes

To learn more about the myriad of classifications, it is best to consult the IPC handbook itself.

View the Paralympic athletics world records here

Browsing over the world records, the most competitive performances are those by visually-impaired and ambulatory athletes. Most of the records would still be competitive in contemporary Philippine athletics competitions. For instance, Elchin Muradov’s (T12, 10.66) and Jason Smythe’s (T13, 10.62) respective world records would merit easy victories at the recently-concluded Philippine National Games, where the top 3 barely even broke 10 seconds. World record holders in Classes 43-46 would have figured in a tight photo-finish in the PNG, had they competed.

And of course, there’s the Blade Runner with his 45.61s personal best in the 400m dash. Pistorius is merely four-hundredths of second away from Isidro del Prado, the Philippines’ best ever sprinter. In the shot put, Jackie Christiansen 17.89m F44 world record is a lot better than the standing Philippine record of 15.83m.

The horizontal jumps are also as impressive, especially from a Filipino athlete’s viewpoint. Luis Felipe Gutierrez’ F13 world record of 7.64m is almost at par with the Philippine’s best male jumpers, Henry Dagmil (7.99m) and Joebert Delicano. Even the ambulant world record of 7.09m (Markus Rehm, T44) would merit a top three finish in the PNG. The F13 Triple Jump record of Gutierrez is even more astounding. At 16.23m, it is better than Delicano’s 16.12m mark.

A personal favorite, aside from Pistorious’ sub-46 400m, would have to be Jeff Skiba‘s 2.15m. Born without a fibula, Skiba’s left leg was amputated below the knee after birth.

In the Philippines, there isn’t much attention given to track & field, much less differently-abled athletes. In fact, most public facilities here are unfriendly to persons like the double-amputee Oscar Pistorius or the visually-impaired Luis Felipe Gutierrez. Hence, to see these great Paralympic athletes perform at par – or at times, better – than the best Filipino sporstmen is truly awe-inspiring.

I tip my hat off to the brave Paralympians.

The Blade Runner

I first read about Oscar Pistorius back in 2007. The decorated Paralympic athlete was targeting an unprecedented appearance in Olympic athletics competition*.

Photo from Wikipedia

The double-amputee’s carbon fiber legs attracted much attention – and speculation of an unfair competitive advantage. What ensued was a months-long legal process with Court of Arbitration for Sport. By the time Pistorius was cleared to compete, he only had a couple of months to meet the entry standards for the Beijing Games.

I found the controversy particularly unnerving. Carbon fibers aren’t cybernetic appendages for crying out loud. We’re still few generations away from science fiction becoming reality. Nevertheless, I drew much inspiration from Pistorius. His times in the sprints were particularly impressive, comparing it to Filipino standards. His 2007 PR in the 100m dash is good enough for a UAAP podium finish. His 2007 best in the 200m dash is almost as fast as Ralph Soguilon’s national record.

It is in the quarter-mile where the 24-year old South African is most deadly. Pistorius recently shaved off a big 0.4 seconds from his 400m personal best, stopping the clock in 45.61s. With this new clocking, Pistorius had bettered the Olympic “B” standard. To solidify his slot in the South African Olympic team for 2012, Pistorius would have to move heaven and earth just to meet the new Olympic “A” standard of 45.25s.

Read the Universal Sports article on Oscar’s 2012 Olympic hopes here

Pistorius had a particularly bad-ass Nike advertisement. Many a time had I turned to the video for an adrenaline boost. It’s my favorite advertisement of all-time.

In a country where sports aside from boxing, basketball – much less Paralympic events – take a back seat, it’s amazing to see a differently-abled athlete compete at a much higher level than the best Filipino athletes of today.

It is, in every sense of the word, inspiring.

*- A South African Paralympic swimmer, Natalie Du Toit, competed in the able-bodied games in 2008.

%d bloggers like this: