No matter how you look at the results from today’s Weltklasse Diamond League meet in Zurich — to me it seemed a little down after the highs of Rio — this much is unassailable: the Americans are there, in the hunt, fighting for the top places. Not just in the sprints, hurdles, jumps and throws, but increasingly in the middle and long distance events as well.
They might not get always get there, as with Evan Jager in the 5000 (3rd in 13:16). But he wasn’t afraid to go with the pacer, open a big margin, and at least force Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet (and fellow Yank Paul Chelimo) to run him down in the final lap.
And how about Shannon Rowbury in the 1500 (1st, 3:57.78), closing hard and feisty on the inside against Laura Muir (and let’s not forget the Brits in this, either). And Jenny Simpson collapsing to secure a close fourth in 3:58, leaving Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon of Kenya faltering to seventh (4:01) which denied her the Diamond race season title.
Boston, Ma. – The 17thNew Balance Indoor Grand Prix goes off tomorrow evening in Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center, showcasing some of track and field’s top talent before a sold-out, often frenzied audience. Six world records and 28 national marks have been set in this meet, and more will be in jeopardy tomorrow night.
Among the athletes returning to The Reggie is Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, aka “the Baby Face Destroyer”, who rose to world-class status at the tender age of 17, has eight world championship gold medals in her collection, and came into full flower with her double Olympic gold in Beijing 2008 in the 5000 & 10,000 meters. But since that career peak, it’s been a rough road for the 25 year-old Dibaba. After marrying Olympic 10,000-meter silver medalist Sileshi Sihine in October 2008, Tirunesh has been sidelined with a recurring bout of shin splints. In that time she’s missed two World Championships, Berlin `09 and Daegu `11, and now, as she enters the all-important Olympic year, she is taking her return to competition very slowly.
Tomorrow night in Boston, rather than butt heads with countrywoman and rival Meseret Defar, American 1500m World Champion Jenny Simpson, and 2009 World Championship 1500m bronze medalist Shannon Rowbury, herself returning from an injury-plagued 2011 campaign, Tirunesh will run the two-mile against a decidedly less glittering field.
“I have only had a few months training now,” said Tirunesh through translator Elias Kebede. “My goal is to run a very good time, and also be competitive.”
When I asked Shannon Rowbury why she decided to contest the tougher 3000m rather than the JV two-mile, since she, too, is coming back from a down year, she said, “the best way to know where you stand, especially early in the year, is to jump in against the best. That way you know exactly where you are and what you need to work on.”
While Tirunesh did get the better of fellow Ethiopian Gelete Burka at a 10K in Madrid January 4th in 31 minutes and 30 seconds, an athlete of her stature, freighted with the weight of expectations, lingers in a more defensive posture when revisiting the oval after a long absence. (more…)
I was in Helsinki in 1983 when Mary Decker took on the Soviet machine in the inaugural IAAF World Track & Field Championships over 1500 and 3000 meters. Due to the two Olympic boycotts that preceeded and the one in L.A. that followed it, Helsinki was the most rewarding track meet many observers had ever, or will ever see. The entire world of track was in attendance in that lovely Scandanavian capital, and nobody cared what insignia an athlete was wearing on his or her vest. The sport was just happy to once again have true competition at the highest level staged before a knowledgable, appreciative crowd.
Decker’s meet-defining double earned her both the Sullivan Award as the nation’s premier amateur athlete that year, and the Sports Illustrated designation as Sports Person of the Year. Imagine a track athlete even getting an SI cover these days?
13 World Championships later, we celebrate our second American gold medalist in the women’s 1500 meters, the delightful Jenny Barringer Simpson out of Colorado Springs, coached by a good friend and my some-time broadcast partner Juli Speights Benson. But truth be told, these were exactly the kind of 1500 meter races Morgan Uceny had feasted on throughout the Samsung Diamond League tour this summer, and at home at the USATF National Championships: slow, tactical affairs with incendiary final sprints. She must have been licking her chops.
The combination of Daegu, South Korea heat and championship rounds all but guaranteed a dawdling pace in today’s final. Even the favorites, such as they were, no longer intimidated the Cornell grad who won in Lausanne and Birmingham while racking up five top three finishes this summer against the best in the world. Morgan was even playful in the pre-race lineup, that’s how confident she was.
So as the women’s 1500 played out as if she scripted it herself – 400m in 68.78, 800m in 2:13.94 – visions of a glittering medal must have danced before her eyes. This is too easy, she must’ve been thinking. That thirty seconds later she found herself tumbling ingloriously to the mondo track in a heap, downed by a tripped-herself Hellen Obiri, the lone Kenyan in the field.
And there it was, proof again that the racing gods have a hand in such matters. This was Morgan Uceny’s race to win, but she just wasn’t meant to. All we can do is hope it spurs her to London 2012.
Not a bad consolation, though for the USA, for in Simpson we have a worthy champion who has left a string of friends and admirers along her path to glory. And next year the U.S. will have two, maybe more, medal favorites in London. Wonder who the racing gods will favor then?