Aysia Montano is one of my favorite runners. She has guts and gives her event honor every time she runs. Jon Gugala wrote this piece about one of our hottest 800 meter runners, Alysia Montano. We hope that you enjoy it.
Shock and Awe
by Jon Gugala
August 9, 2012
LONDON – In the BBC broadcast of the initial rounds of the women’s 800-meter there was a curious quote from the commentator after the first heat: “There’s an example right there of how not to run an 800-meter.”
Now, commentators are quick to jump on someone when their decision, made in a split second while under incredible duress, backfires. But what was interesting in the announcer’s choice of targets was that, for that target, nothing had gone wrong: This gem was offered to Aylsia MontaÃ±o, who had just won her heat in 2 minutes and .47 seconds.
MontaÃ±o was criticized for going out in 55 seconds for 400 meters, which, the announcer said, was so fast that it may not even happen in the final (though it probably will, since it did last year at the world championships (55.86), where she was fourth). Thanks to college, my basic math skills tell me that her second 400m was somewhere in the neighborhood of 65 seconds. The commentator’s argument was based on the ideal dissection of the 800m, which is a positive split (faster first 400m than the second) in the neighborhood of two to three seconds. MontaÃ±o’s was 10.
MontaÃ±o’s plan seemed reminiscent of the U.S. military strategy of Shock and Awe: an opening so fast that the seven other women in her heat would be too demoralized to follow. Even with slowing considerably in her last 100m, MontaÃ±o’s win was, if not a landslide, at least definitive over South Africa’s Caster Semenya and Morocco’s Halima Hachlaf in 2:00.71 and 2:00.99, respectively.
But what the British announcer doesn’t know was that for MontaÃ±o, that’s just how she races.
From what we’ve seen of MontaÃ±o in 2012, after her opening 800m at the Prefontaine Classic with a near-PR of 1:57.37 (still the fastest time for an American this year), she’s settling into the habit of blowing the doors off heats. At the 2012 Olympic team trials prelim, she ran the first 400m in 57.69 seconds for her win. In the semis she ran 55.65, and in the final, 55.88. And her competitors knew this: Each round they’d watch her disappear into the rain. The battle became for places two and three.
“I was at Daegu [South Korea, host of the 2011 IAAF World Championships] last year and rounds aren’t slow, so my strategy is just to feel it out, do it how you do it, and then just shut down over the last 200,” MontaÃ±o said after the semis of the trials. “That’s exactly what I did.
“I never am going for a time. I just run. It’s almost like ‘hit play.'”
That’s what MontaÃ±o did at the trials, and that’s what she appears to be doing in the 2012 London Olympics, with the goal of the final and an Olympic medal.
But front running takes guts, which is another way of saying that it’s stupid, and no one embodies American guts and stupidity more than Steve Prefontaine. Since we’ve been talking about the 2012 trials and Eugene, any night of those 10 days you could walk into the Wild Duck CafÃ© near the track, buy a beer, and before it was drained you’d be watching the 1972 Olympic 5,000m final on the TV. There’s Pre, the Red, White, and Blue Sisyphus eternally sentenced to surge to the front of the pack in the back straight of the bell lap and then watch as his medal chances slip past one at a time. “Tuck in, damn you!” you yell, but it’s too late; you think maybe this time, just this once, he’ll hold on. He never does.
Nothing’s worse than a track and field journalist invoking the Ghost of Pre in his story about another runner, but Pre was both gutsy and stupid as hell, and everybody loved him for it–and still does. So why not, British commentator? Yes, Pre settled for fourth in the Olympics and Montano goes out hard in rounds, but everyone in the U.S. thinks 1972 bronze medalist Ian Stewart is a dick and I can’t even remember who took third in last year’s world champs 800-meter final.
(OK, my editor made me look it up, and it was Kenya’s Janeth Jepkosgei Busienei, who, it should be noted, also is in the semis after winning heat 6).
Yes, Montano takes it out hard. But who knows? Maybe this year she’ll hang on. Until then, I’ll keep my comments to myself.