Osaka Notes, Day 5, by Mary Nicole Nazzaro

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In today's column, Nicole comments on the the 110 meter hurdles, the race that pits the best of the U.S., the best of France, the best of China...

Osaka Notes
By Mary Nicole Nazzaro
Day 5: Wednesday, August 29, 2007

In, in, and in – same result, three different ways. That's how America's top 110-meter hurdlers began the competition that, one year from now, will be the most anticipated event not only at the Bird's Nest, but in the entirety of the Beijing city limits. Sure, there will be diving and gymnastics and, oh yes, ping pong a year from now at the 2008 Olympics.

But the men's 110-meter hurdles final will be the hottest ticket in town.

That makes Terrence Trammell, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and a likely participant in that final race, just a little bit excited. Everyone knows that Liu Xiang can't walk down the street in Beijing without being recognized. But Trammell lives a comparatively anonymous life in Atlanta. Next year, though, Trammell will be a household name in China – just like four-time world champion Allen Johnson has been for years.

"I just hope the Chinese don't think of me as the enemy!" Trammell joked at a Tuesday afternoon interview at his team hotel.

This morning in Osaka all three U.S. men got through their qualifying rounds without too much trouble – though it wasn't the three we anticipated seeing here. Dominique Arnold pulled out of the competition on Monday with an Achilles tendon injury, and that sent U.S. alternate David Payne packing – literally – for a quick trip to Japan. He arrived Tuesday night and ran in the fifth and final heat this morning, popping a smooth second place (13.27) to get through.

Trammell won heat 1 easily in 13.40 seconds. And David Oliver appeared to have the worst of times, grabbing his right hamstring right after his heat, which he finished in 13.66 for 5th place. The first three finishers in each heat, plus the next nine fastest men overall, get a ticket to the semis. Oliver got lucky – he was the last athlete in the entire competition to qualify on time for the next round.

Now, guess which was the only other country to qualify all three men for the high hurdles semifinals? If you guessed next year's Olympic host country, you're correct. Not only that, but it wasn't world record holder Liu Xiang who posted the fastest time overall in the first round. That honor went to Shi Dongpeng, China's number-two hurdler, who's so roundly unknown in the West that he sat on a couch in the hotel suite on Sunday where Liu Xiang was conducting press interviews, looking on but saying nothing. He clocked 13.22 Their third-place hurdler, Xing Yanan, was fourth in the first heat (13.56) and qualified on time. (Note that Chinese names are written here using the Chinese convention, with the family name listed first. The IAAF lists the family name last for all athletes, regardless of country.)

Liu, for his part, appeared tired after his heat. He lingered on the track for a few moments, bent over, hands on knees, and then made his way to a trackside interview with Chinese national sports network CCTV-5 before disappearing into the mixed zone area.

Two other men have something to prove here: France's Ladji Doucoure, the 2005 world champion, and Cuba's Dayron Robles, the wunderkind who defeated Liu in Paris earlier this season. Robles and Doucoure went 1-2 in the fourth heat, with Robles looking spectacular and smooth in clearing each hurdle. Doucoure looked decidedly less comfortable – understandable for a man coming back from a nearly yearlong bout with injuries.

No matter what happens here in Osaka, there's a feeling in the air that this is just a dress rehearsal. One year from now, wow. In Beijing, this race is going to be a stunner.


--
M. Nicole Nazzaro
The China Sports Blog: http://chinasports.wokpopcorn.com

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