August 15, 2008 was a great day for track & field. 85,000 plus fans filled the National Stadium in Beijing and were treated to some great events and superb finals. Christian Cantwell took the silver in the shot and Shalane Flanagan finished the 10,000 meters with a bronze and an American record! The first rounds of the men's 100 meters are building towards the climactic final on Saturday!
100 Meters, Men, Round 2
The running gets more intense as the rounds go on. The best development for the athletes is the weather. The rain has cut the humidity down to tolerable and the smog and fog have gone away! The sky was a magnifiscent blue today. The evening weather was much the same, with the moon in full view.
The world is competing in track & field. And the fans are here. Unlike the half full venues in other sports, track & field on day one was near capacity. The 91,000 seat National Stadium was near capacity for both the morning and evening sessions. The fans loved seeing Chinese athletes, but were appreciative, as are Olympic crowds, of other performances.
One of the most anticipated races of the year, the men's 100 meters will be on both Friday and Saturday. Here is how round two has played out:
Martine Churandy is one of the real threats in this event. Churandy ran 9.99 to take the first heat, with Michael Frater of Jamaica in secon in 10.09. Churandy's time was a national record as well ! In third and the final qualifier for this round was Naoki Tsukahara of Japan, who needed a seasonal best of 10.23 to move to the semi finals.
Richard Thompson of Trinidad is one of the players in these Beijing Games. His second heat win in 9.99 over a relaxed Tyson Gay of the US, moved Thompson up in the food chain. Tyson Gay took second, continuing his relaxed running through the rounds, with his fine 10.09. Martial Mbandjcok of France took third in 10.15 for the final position in the second heat. The key for Thompson is how he reacts to the next two rounds, with the ante going higher in the semi and obviously, the final.
Tyson Gay commented after the second round, " I felt good and relaxed. I just wanted to make it through."
Marc Burns of Trinidad continued his fine running, winning here in 10.05. Kim Collins, the 2003 gold medalist from St. Denis, ran a seasonal best here in 10.07 for second. Tyrone Edgar of Great Britain continued his exceptional display, running 10.10 for third and the final qualifier, by time is Samuel Francis of Qatar, who ran 10.11.
Usain Bolt, he of the recent world record, is on fire. Bolt blasted out for fifty meters, totally in control, before he began his patented jog, hitting 9.92 for the fastest time of the Games. In second, Darvis Patton ran 10.04. Francis Obikwelu of Portugal ran 10.09 for the final qualifier from heat four. Great Britain's Craig Pickering was fifth in this heat and did not go on.
Darvis Patton noted on round two, " Just advance, all about advance..Anybody is the guy to beat here..False starts are part of the game ( commenting on the plethora of false starts in this round). "
In my mind, Usain Bolt is still not my pick for the gold. He is trying way too hard to impress. His talent is there, his ability to handle four rounds in the 100 meters and same in the 200 meters will wait to be seen. Truly a tremendous talent, Bolt has what it takes to win the double in the future.
Bolt noted, " I just ran the first fifty meters, then I looked around to make sure I was safe and I shut it off..Actually I have no secrets, just run...Yes, I am ready for my best, I came here to run to see what I can do.
Asafa Powell, of Jamaica, a man who has set the world record for 100 meters four times, won here in a subdued 10.02. Walter Dix of the US, a real unknown, ran 10.08 to move to the semi finals. Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas, my pick for silver here, is not impressing, but he did move on, in 10.14.
My picks for the medals are as follows: Tyson Gay, Usain Bolt, Walter Dix. I still base it on the level of running needed, the importance of experience and the pressure of the Olympic Games.
Semi finals on Saturday night at 8:05 PM Beijing time, finals at 10:30 PM Beijing time. This should bring the house down!
400 Meter hurdles, Men, round one
The 400 meter hurdles is one of the toughest events in our sport. Combining long sprinting with hurdling, it requires speed, endurance and the timing judgement of a true hurdler. Watch the final stretch to see how spent the athletes are. While the humidity is down, it still pretty hot in the National Stadium.
Bershawn Jackson of the US ran 49.20 to take this heat, with Pieter de Villiers of South Africa in second in 49.24, and Mahau Suguimati of Brazil in third in 49.45 and Jonathan Williams in fourth in 49.61. Jackson noted, " This is the hardest round, so I have to conserve energy."
2000 Olympic gold medalist Angelo Taylor won the second heat in 48.67, with Danny McFarlane of Jamaica, all of 35, taking second in 48.86. Alwyn MyBurgh of South Africa ran a seasonal best in third in 48.92 and Bayano Kamani of Panama ran 49.05, also a seasonal best, to advance. Taylor had this to say after his race, " It was a good race. The goal was to run through the eight hurdles and just relax. I came out at th eighth and saw no body. "
Markino Buckley of Jamaica won this heat, with a personal best of 48.65. In second LJ. Van Zyl of South Africa took second in 48.86. Marek Plawgo of Poland ran 49.17 for third, and Javier Culson of Paraguay was fourth in 49.60 and also moved on due to his time. Yan Meng of China kept the crowd happy, and cheering, with his fifth place, seasonal best of 49.73. Meng did not advance.
Kerron Clement, the 2007 World Champion, jogged through this one, winning in 49.42. Periklis Iakovakis of Greece ran 49.50 for second and Isa Phillips of Jamaica took third in 49.55 for the final qualifying position.
Notable non qualifier was 2004 Olympic champion Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic, who ran 49.82 and has been plagued by injuries.
Kerron Clement was asked after his race if he considered Olympic racing different from other events, his response was telling: " Not really, I try to treat it as the same so I won't get nervous."
This event could be the real US sweep. Clement, Jackson, Taylor with Marek Plawgo, who always races well in the big events as a spoiler.
Women's Discus qualifying
Stephanie Brown Trafton lead the discus qualifying in Group a with her third round throw of 62.77m. Iryna Yatchenko of Belarus threw 62.26m for the second longest qualifier, in her first throw. Yarelys Barrios of Cuba threw 62.23m for her automatic qualifier. Melina Robert Michon of France took three throws to hit the auto qualifier (any mark over 61.50 meters), with a seasonal best of 62.21m. Dani Samuels of Australia threw 61.72m for the final automatic qualifier from this round. Suzy Powell-Roos, three time Olympian from the US, an the American record holder, could only read 58.02m and did not move on to the final.
Of her Olympic experience, Stephanie Brown Trafton had this to say, " Today was an awesome day. I had a rough start, I just know I need to relax and do the things my body knows best. I am just really glad I got to the final. "
Nicoleta Grasu of Romania hit 62.51m on her second throw for the leading throw in group B. Aretha Thurmond of the US, the Olympic Trials champion, hit 61.90 meters on her second throw and moved to the final. Aimin Song, to the delight of her Chinese fans, hit 61.67m to thunderous applause and moved to the final. Vera Cechlova of the Czech Republic was the fourth qualifier here, with a throw of 61.61m.
Only one other thrower was needed to fill out the field of twelve and that was Yanfeng Li of China, who threw 60.19m on her third attempt to complete the field.
Thurmond noted, " Today was an awesome day. I went out there and had a great warm up. The first throw I just missed it, but I hit the mark on the second one."
Women's steeplechase rounds
Guinara Galkina-Samitova holds the world record for the women's steeplechae at 9:01.59. Her record is now four years old, set in Heraklion, Greece on July 4, 2004. That is a fact. That Galkina-Samitova wanted to give the field a message here was unmistakable. The Russian had run an excellent 4:04 just before the Games, so she is ready and fit.
Hurdling well and taking the lead almost from the beginning, Galkina-Samitova took the fiel through 3:02.63 for the first kilometer and 6:10.62 for the second kilometer ( a 3:07), and finished the race with a 3:05 last kilometer, running 9:15.17 for the win. Ruth Bosberi Nyangau of Kenya ran 9:19.75 for second. Wioletta Frankiewicz of Poland, who with Nyangau followed Galkina Samitova round the seven and one half laps, and 29 barriers and water jumps, ran a seasonal best of 9:21.88 for third. Cristina Casandra of Romania set a national record of 9:22.38 for fourth. Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia set a national record of 9:25.50 for the fifth qualifying spot.
In sixth, Helen Clitheroe of Great Britian set a NR of 9:29.14 to move on. So did Yanmei Zhu of China, who ran 9:29.63 for a personal best. US steepler Lindsey Anderson ran 9:36.81 and did not advance.
Tatiana Petrova lead the second heat through kilometer one in 3:04.44 and kilometer two in 6:17.44, a much more modest pace, and finished on top in 9:28.85. In second, Roisin McGettigan of Ireland ran a seasonal best of 9:29.82 for second. In third, Jennifer Barringer, of the US, who set a new American record, winning at the tape over Anne Willard, ran 9:29.20, staying close the entire race and moved on. In fourth, Zulema Fuentes-Pilar of Spain ran a personal best of 9:29.40.
Ekaterina Volkova of Russia took the pack through 3:06.43 for the first kilometer, 6:13.01 for the second kilometer, with Eunice Jepkorir of Kenya, Marta Dominqez of Spain in tow.
Eunice Jepkorir of Kenya took the win in 9:21.31 for first. Marta Dominguez, the 5,000 meter medalist from St. Denis in 2003, was second in 9:22.11. Ekaterina Volkova of Russia was third in 9:23.06. Zemzem Ahmed of Ethiopia set a personal best in 9:25.63 for fourth. In fifth Elena Romagnolo of Italy ran 9:27.48 for a national record in fifth, also moving on! Anna Willard of the US, former American record holder, ran a smart race, taking the last qualifying spot for the final, in 9:28.52.
Antje Moldner of Germany set a national record of 9:29.86 and did not qualify. Rasa Troup of Lithuania, in seventh, also ran a national record of 9:30.21 and did not advance.
What is exciting about the women's steeplechase is the level of improvement and the actual level of performance in women's distance running events, which are relatively new to the sport. The Russian women are the class of the event, but the Kenyans, two US runners and the Spanish runner, Dominguez, who is a threat at whatever distance she chooses.
Understatement of the meet: " I do not have a clear goal, but I hope to get a medal." That was top finisher, and world record holder Guinara Galkina-Samitova of Russia.
This race will be run hard and the winning time will be under 9:10. The medals will be under 9:20, which makes it a six person race for silver and bronze.
Women's 10,000 meters
In the greatest and deepest women's distance race of all times, the 35-40,000 remaining fans in the National Stadium were treated to a rewriting of the record books. Olympic records, national records, personal bests, in fact, fourteen of the top fifteen either set national records, personal bests or seasonal bests.
Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands took the pace out strong, hitting 71 for the first 400 meters, and taking the pack through 3:00.46, with Elvan Abeyelgesse, Tirunesh Dibaba, LInet Masai of Kenya, Kara Goucher, Shalane Flanagan, both of the US, and Maria Konovalova.
Kiplagat was relentless, taking the pack through the 1,600 meters in 4:48, and the 2,000 meters in 6:00.15, or a pace for a thirty minute 10,000 meters! Kiplagat kept pushing the pace, hoping against hope that she could burn off most of the field, and get into medal contention.
But, the quality of world performance is so high that, leading a race like this is nearly being the sacrificial lamb. Kiplagat hit the third kilometer in 9:03.83, with Dibaba, the world record holder at 5,000 meters, Elvan Abeyelgesse of Turkey, Masai of Kenya, Knonvalova of Russia, Abitova of Russia and Goucher and Flanagan together. Kim Smith was right behind Goucher.
Watching Tirunesh Dibaba floating along is watching the most dominant women in global distance running. Dibaba has to make a HUGE mistake to win, and even then, my guess is that the field would stop and allow her to catch up. She is the Tiger Woods of global distance running. Did I get across my point that she is that dominant?
As Kiplagat moved on, the three Ethiopians ( Dibaba sisters, Mestawet Tufa), Kenyans Masai and Wangui, two Russians and two Ameicans, the pace averaged 3:03 a kilometer as they hit four kilometers in 12:06.60,
and five kllometers in 15:09.98. Still Kiplagat kept her pace, running hard, but relaxed as runner after runner fell off the back, running in their own personal aerobic purgatory. The pack of six to ten in the front was stretching out as Kiplagat's pace continued to hurt many of the runners.
In a distance race such as this, running one's own race shows alot of maturity, and also takes alot of self control.
One such runner listening to her inner voice was Shalane Flanagan of the U.S. Flanagan had started the week out violently ill, from food poisoning. Her coach, John Cook had noted that she had recovered and had suggested that she relax and see how far she could go. Perhaps that talk from Coach Cook did it, but Flanagan was in perfect pace, staying out of trouble and continuing to race.
As Kiplagat took the field through six kilometers in 18:12.85, the first pack had dropped to six runners and that was actually two groups: Kiplagat, Abeylegesse and Tirunesh Dibaba. In the second pack, LInet Chepkwemoi Masai of Kenya, Maria Konovalova of Russia, Inga Abitova of Russia Lucy Kabuu Wangai with Shalane Flanagan running along very relaxed.
Osaka bronze medalist Kara Goucher had been up with the first pack for eight or nine laps and began falling back, reaching mid pack. Kim Smith, of New Zealand, the fourth placer from Osaka, took off after the front pack, by herself in mid race. Kara told the media later that she made a mistake in the race and the heat had affected her, she just was not the factor in this race as she was in Osaka.
About seven kilometers, the race, after three kilometers of 3:03, dropped to a 3:02, when Turkey's Elvan Abeyleggesse took the lead. This was her tactic, run for home, break the rest of the field and perhaps, perhaps break Tirunesh Dibaba.
Perhaps it was a combination of the heat, the pace of the long race, but the race for first and second became quite apparent as the relentless one--Abeyleggesse, a distance metronome, kept the hard pace, running a 3:05 for the ninth kilometer. Tirunesh Dibaba looked relaxed, in herself and at her game. The rest of the field fell back, as the lead went from several meters to over seventy meters. Eight kilometers was hit in 24:09.40.
Abeyleggesse and Dibaba began to lap many in the field as the Turkish runner picked up the pace, running 2:57, her fastest kilometer of the race in the ninth kilometer.
By the start of the last two and one half laps, it was clear who would take silver and gold. Running a 2:49 for the last kilometer, Elvan Abeylegesse could not hold off Tirunesh Dibaba, who took over the lead with three hundrd meters to go, running a stunning 60.29 for the last lap, hitting the finish line in an Olympic and Area record of 29:54. 66!
Elvan Abeylegesse of Turkey was rewarded for her tough running with an Asian record of 29:56.34 and the first time in Olympic competition that two women have broken thirty minutes!
Two laps before, as 35,000 track fans were involved watching Dibaba and Abeylegesse duke it out, Shalane Flanagan continued her dream run. Flanagan had started on Goucher's shoulder and when Goucher faltered, Shalane continued to run a perfect race. She stayed out of trouble, in sixth or seventh, and then began to pass her competitors.
With 800 meters to go, Flanagan passed Masai and did not stop. Running faster and faster, Shalane Flanagan hit the line in 30:22.22, a new American record! Flanagan did not believe she had taken third, asking out loud, " Am I third? " at the finish!
Linet Chepkwemoi Masai was fourth in 30:26.50, a World Junior Record and Kenyan National record! In fifth, Maria Konovalova of Russia ran her personal best of 30:35.84. In sixth place, Inga Abitova of Russia ran her seasonal best of 30:37.33. In seventh place, Lucy Kabuu Wangui of Kenya ran her personal best of 30:39.96.
Running in eighth place, Lornah Kiplagat, who had lead from start through six kilometers ran 30:40.27, her seasonal best. Kim Smith of New Zealand, who had run so bravely, coming from mid pack to grab a top ten posiition ran a fine 30:51.00. In tenth place, Kara Goucher, the 2007 bronze medalist ran a personal best of 30:55.16, in a race she noted afterwards, " I made some mistakes."
In eleventh pace, Kayako Fukishi of Japan ran 31:01.14 for her seasonal best. In twelfth, Jo Pavey of Great Britain, ran a personal best of 31:12.30. In thirteenth, Sabrina Mockenhaupt of Germany set her personal best with a time of 31:14.21. Ejegayehu Dibaba of Ethiopia, the sister of Tirunesh, took fifteenth in 31:22.18.
The third US runner, Amy Yoder Begley, ran 32:38.28 for twenty fifth place.
How would one describe this race? Historic. It is clear, in my mind, that Tirunesh Dibaba is the Yelena Isinbayeva of women's distance running-her dominance, at both the world record level and especially in
championship racing is quite clear. I for one, can not wait until the womens' 5,000 meters.
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