DIAMOND LEAGUE, BIRMINGHAM

It’s an interesting time on the Samsung Diamond League track & field circuit these days as the ninth in the fourteen-meet tour was staged in rainy Birmingham, England today before a sell-out crowd of 12,700 in refurbished Alexander Stadium.  With Brits taking four wins – Dai Green in men’s 400m hurdles (48.20), Jenny Meadows in women’s 800 meters (2:02.06), Philip Idowu in the men’s triple jump (17.54 meters), and Mo Farah in the men’s 5000 meters (13:06.15) – the crowd certainly went home with a sunny disposition. But with the World Championships looming in South Korea at the end of August, everything must be judged through a Daegu filter.  So what to take from today’s results?

Mo Farah lands 5000 Win

Mo Farah backed up his British 10,000 meter record in Eugene of a month ago (26:46.55) with a tactically perfect final lap (53.8) to win the 5000 meters.   He’s proving himself a real threat for Daegu, responding in resplendent leaps to the guiding hand of Alberto Salazar in Oregon.  And when his American training partner Galen Rupp passed Ethiopia’s Diamond League 5K points leader Imane Merga for second place in a PB 13:06.86 to Mo’s 13:06.15, well, visions of medal ceremonies for the Oregon-based duo could easily be expected to slip into some dreams tonight.

That said, there wasn’t a single Kenyan in the field, much less the likes of Eliud Kipchoge, Vincent Chepkok, or Edwin Soi, men who would likely have kept the pace hard after rabbit David Krummenacker fell away and supposed second pacer Alistair Cragg – who never seemed to have gotten the memo –  lagged behind when it became his turn to tow (a reader informs us that Cragg was, in fact, not a pacer, rather mistakenly identified as one by TV commentators).

Yet Mo is for real, and Alberto Salazar has his confidence flying.  He’s shown himself to be strong enough to ride any pace, savvy enough to put himself in position at the end, then fast enough to take advantage of that positioning.  He’ll take some beating in Daegu.  There’s no doubt he and Rupp have flourished in one another’s company. Neither man seems afraid of East Africa at present.

800m winner Jenny Meadows.  As mentioned, there were three other British wins in Birmingham.  That’s good meet directing by Ian Stewart, he of the 1972 Olympic 5000m bronze.  Stewart knows the home crowd needs its red meat, and he was happy to play the butcher. So he cut the muscle out of the women’s 800, and set it up for Jenny Meadows, who didn’t disappoint.  The un-paced 61.27 opening lap put the win right in the engine room of Meadows’ kick.    Sweeping to the lead at the top of the stretch, she held true to best Slovakia’s Lucia Klocova in a modest 2:02.06.  “A championship style race,” we were reminded by Tim Hutchings and Stuart Storey on TV.  True enough, but in Daegu one must assume that even the inscrutable Castor Semenya, the South African caught up in last year’s gender testing controversy, will finally go full out – which she seems to have avoided so far in 2011.  2:02 won’t make the final much less earn precious medal in a month’s time.                         On the other hand, Dai Green’s win the men’s 400 hurdles and Philip Idowu’s victory in the triple jump  were well earned and fully complete against top fields.  Green, especially, showed a willful strength, massing a first-half advantage then fending off the final drive by America’s Bershawn “Batman” Jackson, whose cape hasn’t fully extended to date in 2011.  Perhaps he’ll step into costume come Daegu?  The men’s 400 hurdles will most certainly be super in Korea.

The women’s 200 was another of the make-do fields.  No Olympic champion Veronica Campbell Brown of Jamaica or World Champion Allyson Felix of the USA, as schedules, again, have ceded nothing to full Diamond League participation in 2011.  A couple of ex-Texas Longhorns, Bianca Knight and Marshevet Myers, hooked up with 100-meter thunder Carmelita Jeter in a three-way storm.  Knight, the tiny Texan, staved off both Myers and Jeter, one on either side, as 22.59 picked up the flower bouquet.

Bianca Knight edges Myers (r) & Jeter

But when top athletes and natural rivals like VCB and Felix consistently refuse to perform on a regular basis on the leading tour in their sport, you can be sure tour promoters haven’t found the right balance just yet. There remain competing agendas and incentives which have worked against the promise of the world tour.   Yes, it works in certain events, like the men’s shot put (loaded almost every time with Canada’s Dylan Armstrong taking top honors today), the men’s triple jump (Idowu versus the mercurial Teddy Tamgho of France), and both the women’s and men’s hurdles.  But with every athlete working as an  independent contractor, and every meet still in charge of its own recruiting, there remain too many moving parts to synchronize.  You don’t pay people to win, you pay them to risk losing, and track & field has yet to make that connection in full.

Thus with the American women’s World Cup Soccer team grabbing the bulk of today’s headlines with their miracle win over Brazil in the quarter-finals in Dresden, Germany, track’s marquee circuit still can’t edge onto the mainstream shows for even one, thirty-second highlight to be part of the conversation.

Perhaps, as anticipated, we will see a boost for British athletics with next year’s London Olympics. But I caution my British friends to recall America’s expectation of a post-Olympic boost both in 1984 and again in 1996.  On neither occasion did said boost kick in.  A sport cannot live on one World Championships peak every two years and one Olympics every four. There must eventually be seasonal consistency.

UCENY CONTINUES TO NOTCH WINS

Mammoth Track Club’s Morgan Uceny has placed herself into the medal picture in Daegu with her second straight (Lausanne) Diamond League win over 1500 meters to go along with her USATF title.  Her time might not be fast, 4:05.64, but if anything fits into the World Champs model, a tactical 1500 would be it. She looked well in command, moving into position then striking confidently down the home stretch to easily beat 2010 World Indoor champion Kalkidan Gezehenge of Ethiopia and two-time World outdoor champion Maryam Jamal now of Bahrain.

Asafa Powell dominated the 100 meters with a controlled burn 9.91. This is his tendency when Usain Bolt isn’t around.  Multiple false starts like in NYC peeled two men off the start line, while American Michael Rodgers removed himself from lane one with a balky right hamstring. Botswana’s Amantle Monsho’s power propelled her to another convincing win in the women’s 400 meters in 50.20 as Sanya Richards-Ross still hasn’t found the spark of old, and lagged in fourth in a lackluster 51.11.

Sally Pearson vs Danielle Carruthers

Australia’s `08 Olympic silver medalist Sally Pearson was an achilles tendon length ahead of American Danielle Carruthers at the first of ten hurdles in the 100m women’s sprint-hurdles.  She maintained the margin throughout, setting an Oceania record at 12.48. Carruthers held on to her Diamond League event lead with 11 points and a 12.52 PB in second place. Both showed verve, snap and an unwavering foundation for sprint hurdling, one of the most technically demanding of all events.

Norway’s two-time Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen threw another shut-out in the men’s javelin. Any one of his top four throws would have won, with his winning toss of 88.30 meters stretching out nearly five meters on Germany’s Matthias De Zordo.  And Abubaker Kaki of Sudan stole away with pacer Matt Scherer in the men’s 800 meters, passing unchallenged over the line in 1:44.54. But with no world record holder David Rudisha in the field, once again it was a less-than-sumptuous gathering.

Still, for track fans plenty to wet the appetite for Monaco, next stop on the Diamond League tour.

END

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One thought on “DIAMOND LEAGUE, BIRMINGHAM

  1. Good article. One tiny correction to make though- Alistair Cragg was not a pacemaker in the 5k. That was a mistake made by the commentators which they corrected when going over the results

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