June 21, 2013
Des Moines, Iowa
A pesky and often erratic zephyr – which forced that dreaded little “w” to be placed on a few otherwise-brilliant sprint marks – was the only unwelcomed element on an otherwise-exhilarating Day Two of the 2013 USA Track & Field Championships.
The evening closed with the much-anticipated 100 finals – with fields packed with peaking sprinters who had posted startling marks in the semis. To turn the prevailing breeze from a headwind to a tailwind, the officials flipped the starting line – and the resulting performances were stunning. How excellent were the semi marks? 7 of the 8 finalists in the women’s 100 – led by Barbara Pierre’s wind-legal 10.85 – PR’d in the semi. Former world 100 champion Lauryn Williams ran a sizzling 11.00 and – with a 5th place finish – did not advance to the final. It was the fastest 100 meter non-qualifying mark ever. On the men’s side, Trell Kimmons ran his semi in 10.02 – and just barely grabbed the last lane in the final. Tyson Gay – displaying none of the health challenges that hampered his 2012 campaign – posted an impressive 9.75w to lead a star-studded field into the final.
In the women’s 100 final, who would have imagined that this race – with none of the American Olympians from just one year ago – would hold such promise? As the women loaded into the blocks, the crowded fell silent. Even Mother Nature cooperated as the breeze tapered below the allowable limit. Aided by a solid start, new professional English Gardner gained an early lead she would never relinquish as she powered her way to a most impressive win. Gardner’s winning time of 10.85 matched Pierre’s earlier world-leading mark and Drake Stadium record. Octavious Freeman [10.87] and Alexandria Anderson [10.91] completed the trio for Moscow. Barabra Pierre – never in it – was unable to replicate her semi performance and was relegated to fifth. Afterward, an ebullient Gardner could hardly contain herself. “I am just elated. I am so happy that I seized this opportunity,” the new champion exclaimed. “God has blessed me so much this year. I have gone through so much,” explained Gardner referring to her balky ankle that troubled her in the NCAA meet just two weeks earlier. “And through all the obstacles I have had to go through these past two or three weeks, I really came out and performed well.” Holding back a flood of emotions, the visibly moved world leader added, “I am just happy, glad, and blessed.” All in all, it was a gaudy day for USA’s women sprinters as four different women threw down 7 different marks superior to the 2013 100 time of Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce – the world leader when the day began.
The men’s 100 final was no less stunning. Tyson Gay – healthy at long last – exorcised some lingering demons as he exploded for perhaps his most impressive performance since the 2008 Trials. Trailing Justin Gatlin out of the blocks, Gay didn’t panic. He raced. Catching the Olympic bronze medalist before the 50 meter mark, Gay exhibited superior leg speed as he pressed on to win by a comfortable margin. Gay’s winning time of 9.75 – a world leader and a new Drake Stadium record – matched his semi mark [9.75w] but was not tainted by any illegal wind. Gatlin [9.89] held on for second while NCAA champion Charles Silmon [9.98] nipped Mike Rodgers by .002 seconds to grab the final Moscow ticket. In the glow of his first national championship in 5 years, the often-serious Gay allowed himself a brief moment of evident joy. “I feel pretty good with the victory.” And the understated champion added, “It’s always good to get a win. When you’re healthy, it’s a more even playing field.”
Day Two’s other individual finals – all field events – didn’t reflect much deviation from the pre-meet form charts. Multiple-time Olympian A.G. Kruger captured his 5th national title in the hammer on the wings of his winning heave of 75.52m [247’9″]. Defending champion Kibwe Johnson – mustering only one fair throw – finished 5th. American outdoor record holder Brad Walker needed only three vaults to win his 4th national outdoor victory by clearing 5.65m [18’6Â½]. 2012 Trials champion Lance Brooks successfully defended his national title spinning the platter out 62.29m [204’4″] to take the discus crown.
In the multi’s, Sharon Day – lifted by 5 lifetime bests – overwhelmed the heptathlon field as she rang up a winning two-day score of 6550. Betty Wade’s cumulative total of 6018 secured her the runner-up position. “6500 points could earn a medal in Moscow,” noted former Olympic decathlon gold medalist Dan O’Brien.
Day Two also featured the first day of the decathlon with an talented field that included Jeremy Taiwo, Gunnar Nixon, Gray Horn, and the Olympic champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton. Defending world champion Trey Hardee – with a wild card entry for Moscow – was also on hand. Hardee dabbled during the day – getting some work in, skipping the high jump. Relaxed in the mixed zone, Hardee lamented the challenges of staying focused when you’re not truly a deca combatant. “This is hard to do because you’re not doing it for real, for points,” the Daegu champ confessed. “You can’t have like a casual decathlon. It’s like a tune-up marathon. No one runs a tune-up marathon,” Hardee laughed.
Eaton wasn’t laughing as the decathlon unfolded and he found himself in an unfamiliar position – second place. Defying Hardee’s proclamation about the impossibility of a “casual decathlon,” Eaton’s first day efforts were noticeably guarded as frisky colt Gunnar Nixon  held a 44 point lead over Eaton  at the end of the day. After finishing the first five events, the world record holder cited “a little tendonitis” in his left leg – his jumping leg – which necessitated a cautionary approach. “I was trying to take it easy in the high jump,” offered Eaton in citing his sub-par HJ clearance of 1.90m [6’2Â¾”]. “High jumping is the only thing [that promotes irritation] because it is awkward motion. So I was trying to play it safe rather than increase the irritation.” While thrilled by his deca shot put PR [15.00m / 49’2Â½”], Eaton admitted that “playing it safe” is this weekend’s theme as he confides his goal is not a possible national title three-peat – it is August’s world championship decathlon crown.
Day Two qualifying events suggest some colossal final battles are brewing. In the women’s 100H, hometown honey Lolo Jones rode the crowd’s energy to a first round win in a wind-legal 12.50 – a Drake Stadium record. Minutes later, only an ill-timed gust prevented new Nike athlete Brianna Rollins from taking down Jones’ new record as she snapped over the barriers in 12.33w. Only two American 110H marks [Gail Devers: 12.33 and 12.29w] are superior. With Rollins, Jones, and Dawn Harper – the top three world leaders – in the final, a big-time hurdle throw down is assured. If Mother Nature provides legal wind for Saturday’s final, Dever’s American record of 12.33 could be toast.
Woes continue for hard luck Mike Berry. Initially advancing to the 400 final, Berry was subsequently advised of a lane violation which now sends him to the stands. He should soon receive a thank-you note from Manteo Mitchell – the incidental beneficiary of Berry’s gaffe – who now finds himself in the ultimate round. The final may be a mere formality: LaShawn Merrit looks bulletproof. His semi winning time of 44.36 supplanted the old Drake Stadium record – a mark of 44.41 set by some guy named Michael Johnson.
A cat fight is anticipated in women’s 400 final. One-lap queen Sanya Richards-Ross [51.53] will have to amp up her game if she hopes to deny Francena MCorory [50.53], Natasha Hastings [50.67] or Illinois upstart Ashley Spencer [50.67] an August trip to Moscow.
The men’s 400H evidences no dominating talent. Bershawn “Batman” Jackson [48.76 – with an eye-popping third 100] and Michael Tinsley [48.84] won the semis, but world leader Johnny “Double” Dutch [48.98] is lurking.
In the women’s 400H, the 11th hour meet withdrawal of long-reigning hurdle legend Lashinda Demus creates a wide-open final. Any number of finalists – including Tiffany Williams Georganne Moline, and new pro Kori Carter – could capture the crown. USATF promptly granted Demus a medical waiver allowing her to use her IAAF-issued defending champion bye to assure her entrance into the world championships
The women’s 800 final should showcase a contrasting racing styles. Alysia Montano will doubtless lay down a blistering opening pace. But Brenda Martinez – #2 on the WL list – and others will not likely allow the beflowered Olympian to get too far ahead, hoping her self-imposed weakness over the final 100 will be her downfall. Look for a final round bumper crop of sub-2:00 “A” standard times.
After a scintillating semi-final round, the men’s 800 final could be one for the ages. In the semis, 7 world championship aspirants ran under the “A” standard of 1:45.30. If semifinalists didn’t run better than 1:45.43, they can see the Day Four final – but they’ll have to buy a ticket. With medal-less veterans Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon tangling with a new guard of middle distance specialists, those final 100 meters in the championship race should be a war. Dave Hunter