This is the review that Jeff Benjamin did on the first part of the TV coverage of the Toyota USATF Outdoor champs, July 25-28, 2019, in Des Moines, Iowa.
The NBC Sports commentating Crew did not disappoint once again, as their goal to call the races and events in a way to satusfy both the longtime and novice viewers continued to resonate in a way that, one hopes, could raise the profile of the Sport, especially as it goes all gears into the World Championships and the 2020 Olympic Year.
To begin NBC’s Free network coverage of the USATF Championships Leigh Diffey headlined the way, setting the stage for tonight’s showcased athletes notably Allyson Felix, Shotputter Ryan Crouser and the Men’s 100 Meter Matchup between Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman.
First up we’re the 100 meter semis as Ato Boldon And Diffey discussed the matchup of veteran Michael Rodgers and Ronnie Baker who hasn’t raced in a year due to injury. Boldon Opened up with the comment – “well he’s certainly rested!”
But after Baker’s surprising 10.28 into an 8 mile per hour headwind, Boldon surprisingly said, “Did you see him back off…There’s a lot of left in the tank”
Rodgers moved on as well.
Lewis Johnson Then briefly previewed the upcoming schedule for both the world championships in Doha which will also lead into the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Diffey and Boldon were then joined in the booth by Sonya Richards Ross for a preview of the women’s 100 Meter with Boldon Pointing out that English Gardner looked the best in her qualifying races and that Justin Gatlin wants to finish his career with the gold medal in Tokyo.
Ross then discussed the returning Allyson Felix who after a 13 month break wants to build up through this year “but really she’s eyeing 2020 in Tokyo as well.”
In the second 100 semi race, Boldon showcased the start between Gatlin and Coleman labeling Coleman as “the best starter ever”. Diffey then mentioned how Gatlin is a childhood hero of Coleman’s and how Coleman followed his idol to compete at the same college at Tennessee.
Coleman ran 9.97 -“How great he is at the start!” Boldon exclaimed and then predicted that “If you’re going to win the national title you’ll have to go through Christian Coleman!”
As for a Coleman he told Lewis Johnson his goal was to “get through the finish line and get a good lane for the final.”
NBC field announcer Paul Swangard then previewed shot-putter Ryan Crouser And also mentioned how triple jumper Christian Taylor was already guaranteed a spot due to his world championship gold in 2017.
At the beginning of the women’s 800 m semi final, Craig Masback discussed how the event has grown since 2015 when American distance runners only garnered one medal In those world championships but accumulated a total of 15 metals combined in the 2016 Olympic games and the 2017 world championships. Masback then praised the rise of Ajee’ Wilson and Olympic Gold Medalist Matthew Centrowitz Who previously qualified for the men’s 1500 final on Sunday.
Masback then discussed the rise of Hanna Green a 2:04 800 Runner who had a breakthrough sub two minute performance at the Prefontaine meet last month. breakthrough race at Pre. “She’s now getting invitations to the world’s best races,” said Masback. Also previewed was 17 year old phenom Athing Mu who ran the 600 Indoors Masback said, “In a time that we haven’t seen!”
With Wilson first (2:01.02) followed by Green and Mu Masback proclaimed that “You saw the Present and the future in this one race.”
A break between 800s allowed the viewer to watch Hammer Thrower Conor McCollough launch the 8th best throw by an American to secure the win. In the second semi The focus was on Raevyn Rogers. The former Oregon Stahr made a decision to move across the country to Philadelphia last year. “She trains with Derrick Thompson the coach of Ajee’ Wilson & trains with her as well,” said Masback.
The big surprise so far was the appearance of Ce’Aira Brown. As Masback explained Brown suffered a stress fracture in her foot and could not run for five weeks but was basically doing swimming and cycling and literally put on her spikes for the first time in the opening heat of the 800 qualifying to run in this semi as well.
As Rodgers took the lead in the race Masback emphasized her background is a 400 m runner at Oregon who ran on very successful relays and have her move to Philadelphia has also open up doors for her for her other passion which is art. As Rogers would finish in 2:00.90 both Diffey And Masback marveled at the strength of Brown coming off the turn but then as the viewers saw her fade to watch Rebecca Mehra (2:02.86) and Nia Akins (2:02.90) secure the qualifying spots.
Masback in the opinion of this writer probably spoke for most TV viewers when he said , “I gave her (Brown) that spot a little too cavalierly” as she crossed in 2:03.26.
The cameras then returned to Lewis Johnson, who interviewed Christian Taylor, who is already qualified for the world championships but had to appear and walk through his jump begging the question from Johnson – “How do you prepare for a walk through?”
You stay locked in stay focused keep and the crowd in it.” Johnson then jokingly discussed with Taylor the so-called trash talking between the triple jumpers to which Taylor replied, “Trash talking is good for the event…I’m going to keep pushing him and keep challenging him!”
In the first semi of the men’s 800 it was clear of the announcers were easily picking Clayton Murphy To advance easily while Diffey discussed Isaiah Harris, who had been injured and, according to Diffey, “had to refocus on his life.”
As Eric Sowinski lead through 600 Murphy was surprisingly far back but then surprised the crowd and the announcers as he moved smooth and fast over the last 150 to win the heat (1:45.24). Brannon Kidder (1:45.42) and then Harris (1:46.05) finished as I d and third.
In the second 800 semi Semi 2 Donovan Brazier was profiled with Masback saying “he can win the world championships… he has that blazing speed any new kind of strength!” But Masback gave even more praise to Bryce Hoppel. “I love this guy!,” said Masback of the collegian who has won 21 races in a row. but according to Masback he received advice from the great Jim Ryun recently. ” Your goal Is to make a USA team, not win the race!”
After a slow 50 Second first lap the group was very tight with Fraser in the middle which led Masback to call it a “coaches nightmare” for fear of somebody tripping and/or falling. But with 250 to go Brazier accelerated far from the pack easily winning the semi in 1:47.26 over Hoppel (1:47.84). “I think he was sending a message to Hoppel –“so Much for that streak of yours”, said Masback. In the subsequent replay masback discussed what he called “800 racing 101” which emphasizes running that 3rd 200 and not slowing down, citing how David Rudisha utilized the same tactic in winning the 2012 London Olympic 800 in a world record.
Next up for the NBC Crew what is a brief summary of the men’s decathlon highlighted by the injury of Zach Ziemek
In the High jump. This writer was unaware that the injured Ziemek could petition his way to still be on the US team in Doha. Nevertheless there was some suspense as the men’s 1500 took off. As Masback explained that 8200 points was the World Standard needed to qualify for Doha it was heartbreaking to see Harrison Williams fall just 12 points short (8188) behind champion Devon Williams (8295) and Solomon Simmons (8227).
Kendell Ellis, photo by PhotoRun.net
In the first race of the women’s 400 semi Ross boldly proclaimed that Jessica Beard could win since, “The 400 is so wide open this year this might be her chance to be National Champion” But Kendall Ellis didn’t agree as she led off the final turn but couldn’t hold it as Wadelin Jonathas came in just ahead at the line for the win as both were timed in 50.81 with Beard 51.89 in third. But Boldon then chimed in saying “You hope they didn’t run their final today!”, as the viewer saw Jonathas, who was exhausted get helped off the track.
The men’s triple jump Was spotlighted quick on Chris Bernard who was in fourth place and tried to break into the top three but fouled. Swangard stayed he’d have one more chance later on.
There was electricity both in the stadium and from the announcers as Allyson Felix appeared on the line in the second heat of the 400 semi. Boldon explained, “You can hear the fans waiting to erupt” for America’s greatest female Olympic/World Champ multi-medalist, Who battled through a difficult pregnancy and childbirth and has not competed in over a year. Ross also warned that with Felix in lane 2, “If she doesn’t get out hard they can get away from her”
Running a steady race and then coming off the final turn Felix was able to secure the third spot (51.45), behind Shakima Wimbley (50.20) and Cortney Okolo (50.94) before a roaring crowd, leading
Boldon to exclaim, “She did better today than yesterday!”
Showing a replay of the race Ross stressed how Felix showed discipline and pacing in the early stages. But coming into the final turn Ross said,
“What really gave her a push was when lane 1 came on her and she said no!” Boldon reinforced that thought, stating, “She dug real deep to get into that final”
With Lewis Johnson after the race Philly School gave great thanks to her family and fans. “I’m just so appreciative,” Said Felix who then gave special praise to her daughter. “My motivation is different and she makes me keep going”
As for how long term Olympic Tokyo goal, “This is a stepping stone thing to make my way back”
After a quick salute to 10K winners, Lopez Lomong and Molly Huddle, Swangard wrapped up the men’s Triple Jump as 4th placer Chris Bernard fouled once again, leaving Donald Scott (58-2 1/2), Will Clay (58-1) and Omar Craddock (57.7) securing podium spots.
Donald Scott, photo by PhotoRun.net
It was then on to the Men’s 400 semis where in the first heat defending champion Kamari Montgomery lines up against Blake Leeper who competed with prosthetic legs. “He’s the fastest Paralympian ever!” Said Boldon before the gun fired. Leeper, who has a slow start, then ran a new Para World record of 44.38 seconds, coming from behind in winning the heat, with Montgomery eliminated in 7th place. “He had so much left in the tank!”, said Boldon.
Nathan Leeper, photo by PhotoRun.net
In the post interview with Johnson Leeper said in his win that “I want to show that anything is possible for anybody so please keep fighting!”
In the second 400 Heat the focus was on Michael Norman, who Boldon said was “Thinking about a 200-400 next year in Tokyo” Ross then said she spoke with Norman who said he ways this year to just focus on the 40″ and winning the World Championships.
By the final turn it looked like Norman was running a “textbook semi” according to Ross bug Fred Kerley wasn’t through yet and he came upon Norman off that turn. “He wants to remind Michael Norman that he was there first!,” said Ross, as Norman(44.04) held off Kerley (44.09).
Postrace With Johnson Norman said, “I knew the field was loaded I set myself up for a good position for the final.” Kerley was more hyped up, saying, “Tomorrow is go time..time to have fun!”
Diffey then announced to the TV audience that Justin Gatlin told him he would not be running the 100 final. “By virtue of being the reigning world champion he gets a bye into the world championships.”
The shotput was then focused upon. In the third round Joe Kovacs three to the lead in 73 feet, 2 1/2 inches.
The surprise in the men’s 400 hurdles semi what is the subpar performance of the Olympic champion Kerron Clermont, who struggled into 4th place, barely making it into the finals. As Diffey asked “What happened to Kerron?,” Ross discussed the grimacing on his face and
Boldon mentioned his stutter steps over the last few hurdles. But Boldon also stated that you cannot count him out. “Can’t overlook him…he has too many medals and championships.”
But one cannot count out Rai Benjamin either. “This is the guy who may break the World Record!” Said Boldon.
Benjamin’s race was nothing short of amazing as he shut down and still ran a quick time of 48.30, which Boldon and Ross reinforced. “Man he was in cruise control from 150 out!” said Boldon, with Ross staying, “he’s so relaxed and in complete control.”
But according to Benjamin he tried to keep it respectful. “I got through the rounds and that’s what’s important,” he told Johnson.
It was then back to the man shop put where in the fifth round Ryan Crouser saved his best in this remarkable throw of 74 2 1/2 to take the lead.
The first final of the night was the women’s 100 m with Boldon Stating that while English Gardiner was the favorite, ” I expect lots of parity with Teahna Daniels Who was disappointed with her NCAA performance and I think is hungry to try to do something.” Also mention was last year’s champion Eliyah Hall.
But just before the gun went off the last round of the shotput concluded with Kovacs and Hill failing to unseat Crouser for the win.
As Diffey then said, ” Switching Gears To the Women’s 100!” With Bolden emphasizing that, “Gardner has to hold off a host of youngsters”
As the race progressed Gardner certainly did hold off a host of youngsters but not all of them as Daniels ran a time of 11.20 into a 3 mph headwind for the victory. Gardner would finish second (11.25) with Morolake Akinsoun third (11.28). “Losing the NCAA title was a blessing in disguise,” said Boldon. Teen Sha’Carri Richardson last place finish allowed Boldon to state, “The collegians are tired and only Daniels was able to save her season”. Daniels told Johnson, “I really got my head together and got it done.”
In the final race of the evening, the men’s 100 m championship, Diffey stated accurately and amazingly that Christian Coleman has never won a national outdoor championship. Golden set of Ronnie Baker, “don’t think he cannot be a threat to Coleman both of our great starters and great accelerators,” despite the fact that Baker has not run any races this year due to injury. Boldon and also predicted that Isaiah Young could make the world championships team as well.
“I’m going to sit back and watch 2 of the world’s greatest starters Coleman and Baker!,” said Boldon.
But it was no contest as Coleman according to Boldon, ” Blew Ronnie Bakers’ doors off at the start,” and ran sub-10 (9.99) to win, with Michael Rodgers And Christopher Belcher both clocking 10.12. “That was just about flawless!,” declared Boldon of Coleman’s performance.
In his interview with Johnson, Coleman said, “this is what you work so hard for to run for team USA.”
Diffey then marveled about the 34-year-old Rodgers who told him that on like the younger Runners he gets up with a new kind of pain every day!
“When I started to feel that I retired!,” said Boldon. “So kudos to Mike Rodgers!”
The Michelob Ultra Moment of the meet was Allyson Felix’s performance and few could argue with that!
Allyson Felix, photo by PhotoRun.net
TV Production Snafu of the night – In an interview conducted by Lewis Johnson with Toyota’s VP of Olympic Marketing Steven Curtis it was mentioned that Michael Norman was part of the Toyota Sponsor team. The camera then went to spotlight a stretching Donovan Brazier who was labeled as Michael Norman on the screen – C’mon Guys!