Bob Ramsak is the roving troubadour of athletics, writing for the IAAF.com, IAAF communications department, and Track Profile.com, among other things. In this article, Ramsak speaks of the Magic five who bring streaks into 2008.
The sport of athletics is so competitive, so global that a streak is pretty amazing, in any event. The athletes here are the best of the best. Consider how long their streaks will go in 2008! (LE)
SHAHEEN, ISINBAYEVA TO BRING LONGEST WIN STREAKS TO 2008
by Bob Ramsak
(c) 2007 TRACK PROFILE Report, all rights reserved
When they begin their 2008 campaigns with Beijing glory as their focus, five top international athletes will also put win streaks of at least 15 competitions on the line. Topping the list is two-time world steeplechase champion Saif Saaeed Shaheen and pole vault star Yelena Isinbayeva.
Sidelined by injury in 2007, Shaheen, now 25, watched the season unfold sitting on a 24 race win streak in his specialty, still the longest in the sport. The Qatari’s last loss came at the 2002 African Championships where he finished third.
Second overall and topping the women’s win streak tables is Russia’s Isinbayeva, the world, Olympic and European champion who was yet again without peer in the pole vault. Including her five indoor competitions, she was 18-for-18 in 2007, her first undefeated season, to extend her unbeaten streak to 22. Besides adding another world title to her collection, the 24-year-old also took home half of the US$1 million IAAF Golden League Jackpot.
KLUFT UNBEATEN IN HEPTATHLON FOR SIX YEARS
But considering the limited number of combined event competitions at which it is either physically or realistically possible to compete in each year, the record of world and Olympic champion Carolina Klüft is undeniably the most impressive among the currently undefeated. The Swede, still only 24, extended her win streak in the heptathlon to 19 this year after yet another perfect two-for-two season with victories in Gotzis and the World Championships. Her streak began on 22 July 2001 when she captured the European Junior title.
While notching 20 straight wins or more is becoming increasingly rare, a trio of athletes, besides Kluft, could threaten that mark in 2008.
Including his lone indoor appearance, Panamian Irving Saladino had a perfect nine-for-nine season in the long jump in 2007, extending his unbeaten streak to 17. The 24-year-old hasn't lost since finishing second at the Gaz de France Golden League fixture in July 2006. He perfectly illustrated his competitive ferocity in the dramatic Osaka competition when he leapt to gold on his final jump.
Also virtually without peer in 2007 was Croatia’s world high jump champion Blanka Vlasic. The 24-year-old collected 15 straight victories after her runner-up finish at the Golden League opener in Oslo, a defeat which in hindsight cost her a $333,333 slice of the Golden League Jackpot. It was her only loss of the season outdoors this year in 19 starts. In a phenomenal season, Vlasic cleared two meters or more in 17 of those, produced the year’s six highest jumps, and bettered 2.03 seven times.
While her 5000m exploits received considerable attention in 2007, IAAF World Athlete of the Year Meseret Defar continued to add to her strong resume at 3000m as well. Indoors and outdoors, The Ethiopian, also 24, has now won 14 consecutive races over the distance, a streak that began in Doha in May of 2005. Undefeated this year in five 5000m races, her streak in that event was extended to six, although notably, she didn't face rival Tirunesh Dibaba over the distance this year. Incidentally, Dibaba, the two-time world 10,000m champion, has a five race streak in the 5000, and three in the 10,000m.
Kenenisa Bekele, who won his third straight 10,000m world title in Osaka, extended his unbeaten streak in the track’s longest event to nine. He also displayed yet again why many believe he is the finest all-around distance runner in the world today: the 25-year-old Ethiopian won 10 consecutive contests indoors and outdoors, over distances ranging from 1500 to 10,000m, before finishing second in his last appearance, the 1500m in Shanghai.
END OF THE LINE
Of the streaks that reached an end in 2007, the most notable was that of discus throw giant Virgilijus Alekna. Lithuania’s two-time world and two-time Olympic champion, now 35, extended his streak to 37 before it came to an end at the World Championships. Slowed by injury in his Osaka build-up, he finished fourth.
Also reaching the end of the line was 2006 IAAF World Athlete of the Year Sanya Richards. The American, 22, extended her unbeaten streak in the 400m outdoors to 18 before finishing a disappointing fourth at the U.S. Championships, thus missing her ticket to Osaka in the individual event. She did win her last five outings over the distance and as a consolation, took home the other half of the IAAF Golden League Jackpot.
Olympic hammer throw champion Koji Murofushi of Japan saw his streak end at 17 when he finished a distant sixth in Osaka. Michelle Perry built a 14 race win streak in the 100m Hurdles before it came to an end at the U.S. Championships in late June where she finished second. But she soon rebounded and successfully defended her world title.
Like Murofushi, Russian Tatyana Lebedeva’s streak of 13 in the triple jump came to an end in Osaka where she was forced to settle for silver.
Hitting double figures was New Zealand’s Valerie Vili who won 10 straight shot put competitions, including the world crown, before her runner-up finish at the World Athletics Final.
APPROACHING DOUBLE FIGURES
When they kick off their Olympic seasons, five reigning World champions will be approaching double figures.
Ending 2007 with seven straight victories were world 800m champion Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya and Lebedeva in the long jump. American Allyson Felix, Maryam Yusef Jamal of Bahrain and Cuba’s Yargelis Savigne, the world champions in the 200m, 1500m and triple jump, respectively, will begin 2008 with six consecutive wins in their specialties.
While his competitive schedule has been limited to U.S. collegiate competition, notable too is the 12 race streak in the 200m by American Walter Dix. The 21-year-old made waves in May when he sped to a 19.69 victory at the NCAA East Regional Championship, the year's second fastest performance and one catapulting him firmly into the No. 6 spot in the event all-time.
Current leading win streaks (5-Dec-2007):
1. Saif Saeed Shaheen, 3000m steeplechase, 24
2. Yelena Isinbayeva, pole vault, 22
3. Carolina Kluft, heptathlon, 19
4. Irving Saladino, long jump, 17
5. Blanka Vlasic, high jump, 15
6. Meseret Defar, 3000m, 14
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