Category Archives: Sport

Hopes and thoughts for 2014

*At least a few (if not all) household names of track and field compete at the Commonwealth Games. The organisers cannot be pleased with the reluctance of Yohan Blake, Usain Bolt and Mo Farah to commit next July and one can’t help but feel the Commonwealth Games is living on borrowed time if it continues to fail to attract the world’s very best in the event’s marquee sport. Some of my formative memories of the sport are from the 2002 Commonwealth Games and an edition which matches Manchester for enthusiasm and attendance would act as a much needed shot in the arm for the Games.

*Thin entry-lists were the underlying theme of the European Championships two years ago but this won’t be the case in Zurich and many field events will be of world and Olympic standard. The men’s pole-vault, discus, women’s hammer and heptathlon will be among the highlights.

*The World Junior Champs might get a bit lost in the hubbub of the Commonwealth Games but the hallowed Hayward Field track in Eugene will no doubt host a superb edition. Top of the bill could be a clash between Mary Cain and Jessica Judd over 800m or 1500m (or why not both?!)

*Relays are sometimes thought of as a frivolous afterthought at major championships but they will take centre stage at the inaugural IAAF World Relay Championships in the Bahamas. The UK 4x100m records are within the grasp of both the men’s and women’s quartets and an appearance of full-strength British teams next March might act as a good warm-up and a chance to run out the rust before an assault on the records later this summer.

*April 13 has for a long time been penned in Mo Farah’s diary as this is the date when he steps up to the marathon. The double world and Olympic champion is accomplished at the shorter road distances but this doesn’t guarantee a successful transition. Alberto Salazar will have no doubt considered every possible ramification though, as he prepares his charge for his much-awaited debut.

*Tirunesh Dibaba has also suggested she will make her debut in London and it will be interesting to see how she fares against the archetypal marathon-specialists, most likely including Priscah Jeptoo. The reigning champion broke away from Dibaba at the Great North Run but this race did come at the end of a long track season for the Ethiopian. 

*Jessica Ennis-Hill, David Rudisha and Yohan Blake were sorely missed from their respective events in 2013. Let’s hope they will all return with aplomb in 2014.

*The hammer to be introduced into the Diamond League programme for 2015. The IAAF’s intransigence to include it is unjustifiable.

*Drug busts to be kept at a minimum. Obviously it’s great cheats are getting caught but suffice to say, the high-profile positive drug tests of Veronica Campbell-Brown, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay didn’t do much to boost the sport’s fledgling image. One can only hope the ever-increasing militancy of the IAAF to catch cheats will prove a deterrent.

*Without any global outdoor championships on the calendar, let’s hope we get plenty of bona fide rivalries on the Diamond League circuit. Who wouldn’t love to see more Aregawi-Dibaba, Rollins-Pearson, Merritt-James and Bolt-Blake contests over the course of the summer? 

*Fast times and the commercial circuit take just as much precedence this year for many athletes and after a dearth of world records on the track last year, might we see one or two during the course of the Diamond League circuit? Bohdan Bondarenko and Zuzana Hejnova are among the most likely candidates to revise the world records in their respective events. 

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Will Britton complete a three-peat in Belgrade?

Senior women

Fionnuala Britton will be targeting an unprecedented third Euro XC title. The Irishwoman missed the track season with illness and while a seventh-place finish in Leffrinckoucke marked a solid return to international racing, it also suggested her form is not as good as last year when she finished third in the same pre-champs race. Her team are playing down her chances but Britton, the first European finisher at the World XC Champs in March, is still in good enough shape to challenge for a medal.

Ana Dulce Felix from Portugal has been making steady, if somewhat frustrating progress up the finishing order having placed fifth in 2009, followed by third in 2010 and second to Britton in the last two years. Felix, like Britton, might not be in her best form but she bounced back from a DNF in the New York Marathon with a runner-up finish in Tilburg. Could she go one better this year?

The GB women had a disappointing showing last year with no finishers inside the top-10 but in-form Gemma Steel, the commanding winner of the Trials at Sefton Park, will be in contention for another podium finish after winning bronze in 2011. She’s improved markedly since then and it isn’t unrealistic to suggest she could follow Paula Radcliffe and Hayley Yelling as the third British winner of this title.

Steel is flanked by a strong team including Stephanie Twell, Lauren Howarth and Julia Bleasdale who should put the British team in contention for the overall title.

France narrowly missed out on the team title to Ireland last year and their squad will feature in the battle for individual and team titles. Their squad includes Sophie Duarte, who finished ahead of Britton in Leffrinckoucke, last year’s fifth-placer Laurane Picoche and Clemence Calvin, who took a bronze medal in the under-23 race last year.

Other contenders include Belgium’s Almensh Belete, the winner on home-soil in Roeselare, the Italian duo of Nadia Ejjafini and Elena Romagnolo, former junior winner Karolina Bjerkeli Grovdal from Norway and Meraf Bahta from Sweden.

Senior men

The only past winner among the entrants is Alemayehu Bezabeh, the gold medallist in 2009 when he outlasted an exhausted Mo Farah, who memorably collapsed after crossing the line some seventeen-seconds in arrears.

Their careers have followed polar-opposite trajectories since that race in Dublin. While Farah has gone on to win five world and Olympic and three European track titles, Bezabeh was arrested as part of ‘Operation Galgo’ on the eve of the 2010 European Cross-Country Championships and soon banned for two years for attempted blood doping.

His two-year suspension expired this year and the Spaniard has since been competitive with some of the top East Africans at cross-country, finishing only nine-seconds adrift of world XC champion Japheth Korir in Atapuerca last month.

Andrea Lalli isn’t defending but Daniele Meucci, one of the most consistent European distance-runners of recent years, could ensure the title remains in Italy although whether he will be a factor might depend on how much he’s recovered from the New York Marathon last month.

Hassan Chahdi has finished fourth and second in the last two years and while his PBs on the track, such as 3:45.45 for 1500m and 13:51.66 for 5000m are modest, the Frenchman is an archetypal cross-country specialist who should not be discounted.

On the other hand, Polat Kemboi Arikan is an accomplished track exponent who has yet to prove himself as a cross-country runner. He was ninth over 10,000m at the Olympic Games last year but could only manage two places better a few months later in Budapest. Can he do better this time?

Andy Vernon, a medallist at under-23 and under-20 level, looked good at the European Trials and the solid under-foot conditions anticipated this weekend will play to his advantage while Tom Farrell, fresh from a decent showing at the NCAA Championships, is another GB contender in a wide-open race.

Bashir Abdi, a top-10 finisher last year and the winner in Roeselare this year, should be in the fray for medals along with Belgian team-mates Jeroen D’Hoedt and Soufiane Bouchikhi, while world 5000m finalist Sindre Buraas from Norway should also show at the front end of the race.

Under-23 women

The under-23 category was introduced to facilitate the transition from the juniors but the leading contenders would not look out of place in the senior race which does query the necessity of staging this race. Sifan Hassan, for example, boasts track PBs of 4:03.73 for 1500m and 8:32.53 for 3000m and a 30-second victory over two-time runner-up Ana Dulce Felix in Tilburg illustrates she almost certainly would have been the favourite against the seniors.

One athlete probably quite pleased with an under-23 race is home favourite and last year’s junior winner Amela Terzic. The European under-23 1500m champion and national record-holder at 4:05.69 might struggle with the seniors over 8km but this 6km race should be within the miler’s repertoire.

Charlotte Purdue and Lily Partridge both finished in the top-four at Sefton Park and they will be joined by NCAA third-placer Kate Avery. The team title is within their grasp and individual medals are also there for the taking.

Other names to watch are the German pair of Corinna Harrer and Gesa-Felicitas Krause and European under-23 10,000m champion Gulshat Fazlitdinova from Russia.

Under-23 men

Henrik Ingrebrigtsen, a world and Olympic 1500m finalist, ran a well-measured race to claim top honours last year and the Norwegian returns to defend his title.

His main rivals include European under-23 1500m champion Pieter-Jan Hannes from Belgium, European under-23 steeplechase champion Abdelaziz Merzoughi from Spain and last year’s junior runner-up and 8:27 steeplechaser Mitko Tsenov from Bulgaria.

Trials runner-up and renowned fast-finisher Jonny Hay will be a threat if in contention in the closing stages while Richard Goodman will be looking to win his second individual medal after taking silver In the junior race in 2011.

Under-20 women

Emelia Gorecka has said her form is better than it was at this point last year and arrives in Belgrade fully confident of signing off her illustrious junior career with a second title.

She filled the one void on her CV by winning a European junior track title over 3000m in Rieti and the 19-year-old faces the winners of the steeplechase Oona Kettunen from Finland and the 5000m Jip Vastenburg from the Netherlands.

Last year’s third-placer Maya Rehberg from Germany and fourth-placer Marusa Mismas from Slovenia, who both won medals in Rieti, will also be among the contenders this weekend.

Under-20 men

This should be a formality for Ali Kaya, one of Turkey’s newest imports from Kenya. He won the 10,000m in Rieti by exactly one-minute, front-running to a national junior record of 28:31.16 in tough conditions, before winning the 5000m by 47-seconds.

Top honours could also head to Turkey in the team race, as their squad is backed up by Suleyman Bekmezci, the runner-up to Jake Wightman in the 1500m in Rieti, and steeplechase bronze medallist Ersin Tekal.

The Dini twins, Samuele and Lorenzo, were distant runners-up in the 5000m and 10,000m respectively in Rieti and while Kaya’s margin of ascendancy might not be as formidable at cross-country, the Italians are more likely to be in the hunt for minor medals with Isaac Kimeli from Belgium, Alexandre Saddedine from France and Viktor Bakharev from Russia.

UK Trials winner Jonathan Davies will also be in the fray for individual medals. 

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Seven things you possibly didn’t know about the Euro XC

*Jon Brown’s winning margin of 35-seconds in quagmire conditions in Charleroi in 1996 remains the largest in the history of the men’s senior race. The next biggest winning margin was Sergey Lebid’s 23-second victory in 2004 in Heringsdorf.

*The British team crossed the milestone one-century mark of medals in European XC Championships history last year in Szentendre. The team’s collective effort when every runner came away with a medal took GB’s overall tally up to an impressive 102.

*Both winners of the Olympic triathlon title last year have at some point competed at the European XC Champs. Nicola Spirig was the silver medallist in the under-20 race in 1999 and 2000, beating soon-to-be world 5000m record-holder Elvan Abeylegesse in the latter, while Alistair Brownlee competed in the under-23 race in 2009.

*It was incorrectly reported Mo Farah was suffering from a magnesium and iron deficiency when he collapsed through exhaustion after winning silver at the 2009 European XC Champs. According to his autobiography, it’s more likely fasting in the build-up to the race left him weakened on race-day.

*Lebid and Paulo Guerra, between them, have won thirteen of the nineteen individual titles on offer. The corresponding history in the women’s race reads much more differently as the only repeat winners are Paula Radcliffe (1998/2003), Hayley Yelling (2004/2009) and Fionnuala Britton (2011/12). The latter will be seeking to make history by becoming the first three-time winner of the women’s senior title.

*Lebid has been the event’s only ever-present having competed at every edition since 1994 but the Ukrainian will be giving the event a miss this year. He’s recently moved to the marathon and clocked a creditable 2:11:24 in Lisbon in October. Another regular participant Gabriele De Nard from Italy will be making his 18th appearance though, just one short of Lebid’s record number of appearances.

*One of the favourites in the women’s junior race is Marusa Mismas from Slovenia. She finished second in the steeplechase at the European Junior Championships in a national record of 9:51.15 although she came to the longer distances in a somewhat roundabout manner. She was initially a 400m hurdler and she made the Youth Olympic Games final as a 15-year-old in 2010.

Why Adams should have been named AOY

The parochialism associated with the awarding of the IAAF World Athlete of the Year prizes immediately handicapped shot-putter Valerie Adams’ prospects of winning the award in the women’s category in Monte Carlo last night. Since the award inaugurated in 1988, no female thrower has ever been awarded this accolade while the last time a male field-eventer won the award on the men’s side came back in 2000 when Jan Zelezny took the honours.

It’s hard to find a single blemish on Adams’ season in which she went unbeaten (again), won the world outdoor title (again) and the Diamond League jackpot (again). Her consistency was spectacular too, as she surpassed the 20m-barrier in every competition she lined up for. One has to wonder what more she has to do to win the accolade! And it does beg the question will a female thrower ever win this prize because surely if this trend was to be broken, Adams would be the athlete to break the glass ceiling.

Adams is atypical for a thrower. Only a handful of throwers from English-speaking nations have dominated their event and this understandably boosts her marketability and international profile and while hers might not be on par with the sport’s big hitters, her charisma and personality has made her a favourite with British crowds at the IAAF Diamond League stops in Birmingham and London, and across the globe. Her eloquent anti-doping stance surely points to a career in the IAAF or IOC hierarchy post-retirement.

Nobody would argue Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce didn’t have a superb season. She became the first athlete to win a sprint double at the World Championships since 1991 and this was complemented with success on the commercial circuit with Diamond League victories in the 100m and 200m.

It wasn’t a perfect season though. She performed when it mattered but, unlike Adams, a handful of losses still scattered her résumé, including defeats over 100m in London and over 200m in Monaco.

And should track athletes be credited for winning medals in multiple events, including relays, in deciding the destination of these awards? The inherent skill-set isn’t overtly different in contesting 100/200m and 5000/10,000m doubles while field eventers are restricted by (on the whole, at least) only specialising in singular events.

I should add it’s not just the throwers who get a raw deal. Race-walkers and road-runners rarely feature in the shake-up and while this prize is largely immaterial in defining one’s career, wouldn’t most athletics fans prefer a more sober approach and a more inclusive distribution of this accolade?

I hope Adams will be given the respect she deserves when Track & Field News, Athletics International and Athletics Weekly cast their decisions.

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How not to run the New York Marathon

New York is an atypical race on the world road-racing circuit. It is one of the few marathons, and the only one in the World Marathon Majors Series (bar the championships, of course) which doesn’t lavish the elite-runners with the luxury of pacemakers and combined with the undulating gradient of the course, the New York Marathon tends to play to the advantage of the tactically astute runner.

The pre-race favourite in the women’s division in 2011 Mary Keitany could have done with a dollop of the racing know-how of an athlete like Edna Kiplagat or Catherine Ndereba as she admitted afterwards she ‘was not thinking’ after her outrageous start almost certainly cost her the victory.

Having won the London Marathon in the spring in a sub-2:20 time, Keitany was slated as many people’s pre-race favourites. In their pre-race preview, letsrun.com stated ‘the women’s race is Keitany’s to lose’ and while over-confidence might not be readily associated with the timidly-spoken Kenyan, maybe she was guilty of this? She was unrelenting in the first-half, passing through 10km in 31:53, 20km in 1:04:21 and halfway in 1:07:56.

New York isn’t a compatible course for a time-trail, as Keitany was soon to find out, but these splits would be ambitious on any course as she was six-seconds inside Paula Radcliffe’s revered world record-pace at the halfway point.

The second group, comprised of team-mates Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba from Ethiopia, didn’t make immediate inroads into Keitany’s lead as their pre-race plan surely didn’t consist of passing through halfway in course-record pace at 1:10:13. Both were running a long way inside their respective PBs on an uncompromising course and inevitably, they also began to slow.

Further up the road though, Keitany was coming to a halt. She didn’t wilt immediately but her 5km split between 30-35km fell the wrong side of 18-minutes and her 1:19 lead rapidly evaporated. It would be wrong to say Dado and Deba were making a deliberate bid to close Keitany down as their pace was also slowing but a 5km split of 18:44 between 35-40km showed Keitany had got her race tactics horribly wrong.

To her credit, Keitany did come back to the leaders after being hauled in but her resistance was soon broken after being dropped the second time. An Ethiopian 1-2 looked a certainty and Dado narrowly prevailed ahead of New York resident Deba, 2:23:15 to 2:23:19, with Keitany third In 2:23:38.

After a contrasting 2012 season where she retained her London Marathon title before finishing out of the medals at the Olympic Games on a slightly different course a few months later, Keitany has been out of action this year through maternity leave. A third London Marathon title appears the immediate goal and the New York Marathon will surely feature in her plans in the not too distant future.

No doubt Keitany will have learnt from her experience in 2011 and will treat the course and the distance with a bit more respect next time around.

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Boom or bust debut for Burka in Frankfurt?

*Gelete Burka has ignored the age-old adage of moving up through the distances as the Ethiopian contests her first marathon this weekend in Frankfurt. The 27-year-old, who said a disappointing performance at the World Championships where she didn’t get through the 1500m heats prompted her to attempt the marathon, doesn’t lack ambition even though this will be a venture into the unknown for an athlete who has only once raced at a distance above 10km. She’s committed herself to following the pacemakers and she’s hoping for a 2:20 time. Burka has run 40km in training in preparation for her debut and a 10km PB of 30:53 shows she doesn’t lack pedigree on the roads.

A marathon, however, is a lofty step-up in distance although world-class 1500m runners have been known to run a good marathons too.

  • Qu Yunxia – 3:50.46 (1500m)/2:24:32 (marathon)
  • Wang Junxia – 3:51.92/2:24:07
  • Yin Lili – 3:53.91/2:32:42 (WYR)
  • Dong Yanmei – 3:55.07/2:28:09
  • Tetyana Pozdnyakova – 3:56.50/2:29:00
  • Zhang Linli – 3:57.46/2:24:42
  • Kutre Dulecha – 3:58.38/2:30:06
  • Gelete Burka – 3:58. 79/ ?
  • Sonia O’Sullivan – 3:58.85/2:29:01
  • Zhang Lirong – 3:59.70/2:24:52
  • Raisa Katyukova-Smekhnova – 3:59.8/2:28:40
  • Grete Waitz – 4:00.55/2:24:54
  • Liz McColgan – 4:01.38/2:26:52
  • Gete Wami – 4:01.47/2:21:34
  • Jo Pavey – 4:01.79/2:28:24
  • Meskerem Assefa – 4:02.12/2:25:17
  • Liliya Shobukhova – 4:03.78/2:18:20

Burka’s high-risk strategy will make for exciting viewing. Will she make a winning debut like her team-mate Meselech Melkamu (a late withdrawal this year) did last year or will a lack of miles in the legs prove costly in the second-half?

*The leading Ethiopians in the men’s race Dino Sefr and Feyisa Lilesa were equally bold about their ambitions in the pre-race press conference. Both of them are hoping the pacemakers will run at 2:03-pace in a ploy to attack Haile Gebrselassie’s national record of 2:03:59. Both of them have come within a minute of Haile’s record with Sefer, marginally the faster at 2:04:50, but his performances have tailed off since setting that time in Dubai in 2012 (DNF Olympics, 2:09:18 in Tokyo). Lelisa, a 2:04:52 performer, dropped out of the World Championships just two months ago but affirms he is fully recovered and arrives in Frankfurt in the shape of his life.

*Chris Thompson’s performance in the Birmingham half-marathon last weekend was another sign the marathon is where he’s likely to be headed at the 2016 Olympics. The former UK 10,000m record-holder demonstrated he has the strength required to tackle 26.2-miles as he fought off experienced US marathoner Abdi Abdirahman for the runner-up spot on a course renowned for its undulations in the latter stages. He’ll be looking to gain revenge on Uganda’s Thomas Ayeko, the winner in the West Midlands on his half-marathon debut, over 10-miles on a very different course to Birmingham at the Great South Run.

*One athlete making the transition up to the marathon this weekend is Andrea Lalli. At 26, most European runners are still content to ply their trade on the track but recent trends show the event is no longer exclusively the domain of runners in their 30s. A fast debut might not be in the offing due to the testing nature of the course in Venice but his front-running performances in cross-country races and his times at the shorter distances (61:11 half-marathon PB) suggest the marathon is where he’s most likely to flourish. 

Simpson reflects on medals, race tactics and looks forward to a fun 2014

It would not be an exaggeration to say the United States, at present, is the greatest nation in terms of strength in depth in the women’s middle-distances. No country fielded more finalists in the women’s 800m and 1500m at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow and the United States finished the season with three athletes ranked inside the world’s top-10 in the 800m and four in the 1500m.

It’s an incredible time to be a US woman racing in the middle-distances”, reflects world 1500m silver medallist Jenny Simpson who is at the forefront of this global onslaught. “Every race in the US and abroad over 1500m is likely to have a competitive and deep field. Each race is difficult and every win is meaningful and I think the domestic rivalry has elevated all of us and made our event a lot more exciting to watch.”

The impact on the middle-distances in Moscow was tangible. 17-year-old Mary Cain, who has been setting US age-group and high-school records seemingly at will, joined Simpson in the final in Moscow, thus becoming the youngest ever world finalist in the 1500m while Brenda Martinez assured the United States would for the first time leave a major championships with medals in both middle-distance races, taking bronze in the 800m.

Martinez is no slouch over the longer distance, and the 1500m at next year’s US Championships has the potential to rival the sprint events as the must-watch final. Simpson jokes this unparalleled depth does have a slight downside though: “The most practical impact is there’s never an easy win!”

Simpson’s path to stardom followed the tried-and-tested route of the collegiate system. The 27-year-old studied economics and political science at the University of Colorado where she forged a lucrative career on the NCAA circuit, predominantly in the 3000m steeplechase in which she won a hat-trick of NCAA titles.

It was over the barriers where Simpson initially made her mark internationally. The highlight was a fifth-place finish at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin in a still-standing domestic record of 9:12.50 which ranks her eleventh on the world all-time lists. However, it was a race in the build-up to Berlin which proved the seminal moment in mapping out the next four years of her career.

I entered the 1500m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene with the singular goal of trying to break the collegiate record at the time of 4:06,” remembers Simpson. She did indeed achieve this, slashing her PB from 4:08.38 to 3:59.90.

My effort at Pre was a paradigm shift for my career in several ways. It certainly changed how the sport perceived me. I was no longer just a steeplechaser. It also, more slowly, changed how I perceived myself. As the achievement of breaking four-minutes as a collegiate slowly settled on me, I began to realize I could have the opportunity to set the course of my career.

I’d thought of myself as a steeplechaser with a future in the 5000m and 10,000m but after that race, there just seemed to be less limitations and more possibilities for my future in the sport.”

It’s funny looking back because so many 1500m races are tactical and messy. It was the perfect race for someone less experienced like myself. It was single-file and fast from the gun so I didn’t have to think much, I just had to run hard and try to keep up.”

That breakthrough performance proved the seismic shift and 2011 marked her first full season over 1500m. She finished second at the US Championships to seal qualification for her third World Championships in succession and while her results were solid in the run-up to Daegu, they did not suggest she would be a threat for the medals.

I remember, again, having a single goal which was to make the final,” she recalls. “I knew it was going to take all of my focus and training to make it through two rounds and into the final. I was tested that year in a new way and I was so proud to be on the starting line the evening of the final.

Having achieved that goal, I think I was really relaxed going into the final and I remember saying to my coach, very pragmatically, on the way to the track, ‘well, 25% of us will leave tonight with a medal.’ I really didn’t think in that moment I was going to be one of that 25%, but I wasn’t counting myself out either.”

Simpson’s trademark high-powered finish was the decisive factor in an untidy final. A late charge elevated the middle-distance newcomer from fourth at the top of the home-straight to first where she became the first American winner of the 1500m since Mary Decker fended off that memorable last-gasp dive from Zamira Zaytseva at the inaugural World Championships in 1983,

This upward trajectory momentarily stalled as Simpson admits she over-trained in her bid to arrive at the Olympic Games in optimum shape. Her sprint finish, the potent hallmark of her performance at the 2011 World Championships, deserted her in the semi-finals where she finished last. “The pressure and pageantry of the Olympics in comparison to the World Champs is a different animal altogether,” Simpson says candidly.

It isn’t in Simpson’s nature to dwell and with a world title to defend, she immediately bounced back with her most consistent season to date and a solid off-season block provided the groundwork: “There were so many differences between the years preparation that I think it’s difficult to distinguish exactly what had me more prepared for this year. I can say though the 2013 formula had me extremely confident and really happy throughout the racing season.”

This confidence was palpable. A commanding win in the Monaco Diamond League in her second best career time of 4:00.48 was a clear-cut indicator the reigning champion would be a threat for the medals again in Moscow. She executed the heats and semi-finals with the nous of a seasoned veteran and while her tactical approach in the final was in stark contrast to her sit-and-kick ploy in Daegu, Simpson’s razor-sharp racing instincts bore rich dividends.

I didn’t go into the final in Moscow with the plan of leading. However, I knew that being drawn in lane one was going to be a little tricky at the start. I think being in that position was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to be very decisive early on in the race. I wanted to be in a position to get to the front before the real “kicking” started but when I found myself leading off of the first curve, I decided I was good enough to control the entire race and I felt more comfortable doing that then letting someone else take over.

I think that conviction early on set the tone for my entire effort and I think it put me in the best possible position to try to win.”

The authoritative manner of Simpson’s tactical display in Moscow was impressive, and indicative of her growing maturity at the event which she adopted in 2011.

I think my racing skills come a little naturally but are also learned. The close proximity combined with the physical edge we are racing at is a really unique experience to the 800m and 1500m and the chaos cannot be accurately described in words. There is so much less thinking involved and a lot more instinct. I think some racers naturally have good instinct when it comes to strategy but you can always get better.

I sometimes watch race footage and workout with groups of people to learn and apply tactics but simulating race scenarios is nearly impossible. You get better by doing it. A bird’s eye view from a camera or being “boxed in” by a training partner almost seems a silly substitution for the real experience of fighting for position against the best women in the world.”

Even though Simpson didn’t come away with the top prize in Moscow, the 2011 world champion still reflects on the season with just as much pride.

In 2011, I was still relatively new to middle-distance racing and having an unexpected win; there are few things more thrilling and more memorable in one’s career. 2013 was about training and racing like I was one of the best in the world.

It was a completely different tone to my preparation and a much more mature approach to planning my racing schedule. Racing as a professional and in Diamond League races was new and exciting to me in 2011 but by 2013 every single effort was about how it was going to get me to Moscow ready to medal.”

Simpson achieved this singular goal and a pragmatic racing schedule geared solely towards the championships can partially account for Simpson’s mastery at the major championships. Without any such focus next year, she is looking forward to racing frequently although her plans aren’t yet fully finalised.

It will be a fun year with the opportunity to focus on new experiences and prioritise regular season races. Having never raced World Indoors, World Relay Champs or run early Diamond League races, it will be more a matter of narrowing down my focus. I can’t do it all, but I’m always tempted to try!”

Her response for her game-plan to bridge the distance on world champion Abeba Aregawi, the perennial thorn in Simpson’s side last season, had much more clarity though.

What do I need to do to close the gap? Keep getting better at everything.”

This is a slightly extended version of the feature as published on the IAAF website here.

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Russian all-comers’ records

Men

100m – Usain Bolt, 9.77 (2013), previous – Olapade Adeniken, 10.03 (1996)

200m – Bolt, 19.66 (2013), previous – Michael Johnson, 20.10 (1994)

400m – LaShawn Merritt, 43.74 (2013), previous – Viktor Markin, 44.60 (1980)

800m – Mohammed Aman, 1:43.31 (2013), previous – Amine Laalou, 1:43.76 (2010)

1500m – Venuste Niyongabo, 3:30.64 (1996)

1 mile – Noureddine Morceli, 3:48.67 (1994)

3000m – Daniel Komen, 7:37.64 (1997)

5000m – Moses Kiptanui, 13:10.76 (1994)

10,000m – Mo Farah, 27:21.71 (2013), previous – Miruts Yifter, 27:42.69 (1980)

3000m SC – Ezekiel Kemboi, 8:06.01 (2013), previous Bronislaw Malinowski, 8:09.70 (1980)

Marathon – Stephen Kiprotich, 2:09:51 (2013), previous – Dereji Nedi, 2:10:32 (1984)

110m hurdles – David Oliver, 13.00 (2013), previous – Colin Jackson, 13.17 (1998)

400m hurdles – Jehue Gordon, 47.69 (2013), previous – Harald Schmidt, 47.85 (1985)

4x100m relay – JAM (Carterm Bailey Cole, Ashmeade, Bolt) 37.36 (2013), previous – USA (McRae, Heard, Glance, Lewis) 37.98 (1986)

4x400m relay – USA (Verburg, McQuay, Hall, Merritt) 3:58.71 (2013), previous – USA (Mills, Valmon, Pettigrew, Simon) 2:59.42 (1994)

 

Long jump – Robert Emmiyan, 8.61m (1986)

Triple jump – Teddy Tamgho, 18.04m (2013), previous – Nikolay Musiyenko, 17.78m (1986)

High jump – Bohdan Bondarenko, 2.41m (2013), previous – Javier Sotomayor, 2.40m (1994)

Pole vault – Sergey Bubka, 6.08m (1991)

Shot put – Sergey Smirnov, 22.05m (1985)

Discus – Yuriy Dumchev, 71.86m (1983)

Hammer – Yuriy Sedykh, 85.60m (1984)

Javelin – Sergey Makarov, 90.33m (2005)

Decathlon – Ashton Eaton, 8809 (2013), previous – Dan O’Brien, 8715 (1994)

 

20km walk – Sergey Morozov, 1:16:43 (2008)

50km walk – Denis Nizhegorodov, 3:34:14 (2008)

 

Women

100m – Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 10.71 (2013), previous – Irina Privalova, 10.82 (1992)

200m – Marita Koch, 22.02 (1985)

400m – Olga Bryzgina, 48.60 (1985)

800m – Nadezhda Olizarenko, 1:53.43 (1980)

1500m – Tatyana Kazankina 3:55.0 (1980)

1 mile – Natalya Artyomova 4:15.8 (1984)

3000m – Tatyana Kazankina 8:22.62 (1984)

5000m – Liliya Shobukhova 14:23.75 (2008)

10,000m – Shobukhova 30:29.36 (2009)

3000m steeplechase – Gulnara Galkina 9:08.21 (2008)

Marathon – Edna Kiplagat, 2:25:44 (2013), previous – Natalya Sokolova, 2:30:10 (2012)

100m hurdles – Yordanka Donkova 12.40 (1986)

400m hurdles – Yuliya Pechonkina 52.34 (2003)

4x100m relay – JAM (Russell, Stewart, Calvert, Fraser-Pryce) 41.29 (2013), previous – GDR (Muller, Wockel, Auerswald, Gohr) 41.60 (1980)

4x400m relay – USSR (Nazarova, Olizarenko, Pinigina, Bryzgina) 3:18.58 (1985)

 

Long jump – Galina Chistyakova, 7.52m (1988)

Triple jump – Nadezhda Alekhina, 15.14m (2009)

High jump – Anna Chicherova, 2.07m (2011)

Pole vault – Yelena Isinbayeva, 4.89m (2013), previous – Isinbayeva, 4.80m (2007)

Shot put – Natalya Lisovskaya, 22.63m (1987)

Discus – Ellina Zvereva, 71.58m (1988)

Hammer – Tatyana Lysenko, 78.80m (2013), previous – Lysenko, 78.51m (2012)

Javelin – Mariya Abakumova, 69.09m (2013), previous – Abakumova, 68.31m (2010)

Heptathlon – Jackie Joyner-Kersee, 7148 (1985)

 

20km walk – Olimpiada Ivanova, 1:24:50 (2001)

 

 

 

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Olympic encore – London Anniversary Games preview (day one)

Twelve months after the Olympic Games, London will once again be at the epicentre of world athletics as a plethora of Olympic champions including Mo Farah, Usain Bolt and hopefully Jessica Ennis-Hill return to the setting of their gold medal triumphs. Drug scandals have dominated the back-pages but off-track controversies should be put to one side as capacity crowds are expected to rekindle the feel-good factor of the Olympic Games.

6.55pm – women’s pole-vault (DL)

Jenn Suhr returns to the scene of her Olympic triumph although the mantle of pre-competition favourite lies with Yarisley Silva from Cuba, who is the holder of the four best vaults outdoors this year including the world-lead of 4.90m. The silver medallist at the Olympics also has a 2-1 head-to-head record on Suhr this year including a win over her at the Sainsbury’s Grand Prix in Birmingham. Fabiana Murer from Brazil doesn’t have such good memories of this stadium as the world champion didn’t even get through qualifying last year but the 32-year-old is in good form with a 4.73m season’s best.

7pm – men’s discus (DL)

Piotr Malachowski’s form has waned since launching the seventh longest throw of all-time of 71.84m in June although the Pole did record his second best mark of the year of 68.53m in his penultimate competition to show he is coming back to form. Olympic champion Robert Harting, whose 35 competition win-streak was ended by Malachowski last month, is absent but the field still contains the two previous Olympic champions in Gerd Kanter and Virgilijus Alekna, who are both also ranked inside the all-time top-five. UK champion Brett Morse is ranked inside the world’s top-10 in 2013 with 66.84m and the world finalist will be looking for some scalps.

7.52pm – men’s 100m B

Moscow-bound Harry Aikines-Aryeetey leads the domestic cast although he could be called up to the ‘A’ race if someone pulls out. The runner-up at the UK Championships in a 10.08 PB is joined by third and fourth-placers Andrew Robertson and Mark Lewis-Francis, European under-23 champion Adam Gemili while 10.10 performer Joel Fearon will be hoping to make an impact after false-starting in the semi-finals at the UK Championships.

8.04pm – women’s 400m hurdles (DL)

This is shaping up to be the best race of the season in this event as the five fastest are set to race. Zuzana Hejnová from Czech Republic has dominated the commercial circuit with seven wins from seven races although the Olympic bronze medallist’s unblemished record might be put under some jeopardy as she faces Kori Carter for the first time. The newcomer won’t be going to the World Championships as she missed her trials semi-final with food poisoning but the 21-year-old won the much-coveted NCAA title in a world-leading 53.21 which is two-hundredths faster than Hejnová’s PB. Meanwhile, Perri Shakes-Drayton has been a perennial top-three fixture on the Diamond League circuit and the UK champion will be looking to give the Czech another close race.

8.09pm – men’s high jump (DL)

Bohdan Bondarenko is an unrecognisable athlete this year to the one who finished an anonymous eleventh at the European Championships and seventh in the Olympic final. The Ukrainian has won all but one competition this summer and his 2.41m clearance in Lausanne translated to the world’s best jump outdoors since 1994. The Olympic final which promised much last year was a disappointingly flat affair but this contest could be a classic as Bondarenko goes head-to-head with Mutaz Essa Barshim, who improved his Asian record to 2.40m in his last high-profile competition in Eugene. Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz and US champion Erik Kynard are also in the field.

8.15pm – women’s 3000m (DL)

Mercy Cherono comes fresh from winning the 5000m at the Kenyan Trials and she steps down to the distance where she’s twice won the world junior title. The American middle-distance fraternity will be keen to see how Jordan Hasay fares on her European debut while controversial Moscow omission Stephanie Twell will no doubt be hoping to prove the selectors wrong with a strong performance.

8.31pm – women’s triple jump (DL)

World University Games champion Yekaterina Koneva is expected to prosper with Diamond League leader Caterina Ibargüen from Colombia and world champion Olha Saladuha from Ukraine both absent.

8.36pm – women’s 1500m

Mary Cain was initially entered in the 800m but the US phenomenon could take a high-profile victory in her first race on the European circuit with Genzebe Dibaba, Abeba Aregawi and the leading Kenyans all absent.

8.46pm – men’s 200m (DL)

Warren Weir’s bronze medal last year came as something of a surprise but he’s proved that performance was no fluke with a mightily consistent season including victory at the Jamaican Championships in a 19.79 PB.

8.56pm – women’s 800m (DL)

In-form Brenda Martinez pushed her 1500m PB down to 4:00.94 in Monaco but she turns her attention back to the distance she’ll compete in at the World Championships. The runner-up at the US Championships will be confident of taking her first high-profile victory of the season with world-leader Francine Niyonsaba from Burundi a late scratch.

9.08pm – women’s 4x100m relay

This races provides an invaluable chance for nations to try out new combinations and to practice exchanges in a competitive environment before the World Championships. The much-chastised British sprint relay team have qualified for Moscow after missing out on an Olympic berth and a sharp showing will no doubt act as a confidence booster. The world-lead is held by a US team including Carmelita Jeter who produced a 41.75 clocking in Monaco.

9.21pm – men’s 400m (DL)

The gold and silver medallists from the Olympic Games reconvene a year later although the outcome shouldn’t be much different as Kirani James arrives with the two fastest times in the world to his name including a 43.96 world-lead which was only two-hundredths slower than his winning time at the Olympics. On the other hand, silver medallist Luguelin Santos, who started the season promisingly by running his fourth fastest time ever of 44.74 in April, hasn’t broke 45-second since. Moscow-bound Nigel Levine has already beaten leading Europeans Pavel Maslak and the Borlee brothers this year and he’ll be hoping to replicate this form on home-soil.

9.33pm – men’s 800m

American half-milers could take a clean sweep as the fastest in the field this year are US champion Duane Solomon (1:43.27), runner-up Nick Symmonds (1:43.70) and Brandon Johnson, who recently improved to 1:43.84 in Madrid.

9.48pm – men’s 100m

Sprinting is in desperate need of some good press in light of Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay’s positive drug tests so let’s hope Usain Bolt, who returns to the setting of his three gold medals from last summer, gets inspired to produce his best run of the season. The Jamaican, who has ‘only’ clocked 9.94 for the 100m this year, will be hoping to get out of the blocks better than he has done this year otherwise he could be vulnerable to his second defeat of 2013. James Dasaolu, who rocketed up the world-rankings and UK all-time lists with a 9.91 PB in the semi-finals at the UK Championships, won’t get many better chances to defeat the world record-holder and a straight final will help the cause of the oft-injured Brit, who was forced to sit out the final in Birmingham with cramp. Nesta Carter and a rejuvenated Kim Collins, who ran his first sub-10 clocking since 2003 in Lausanne, are also in the field.

As published in Athletics Weekly on July 25

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1500m PBs of the all-time top-30 5000m runners

1. Bekele – 3:32.35

2. Gebrselassie – 3:31.76

3. Komen – 3:29.46

4. Kipchoge – 3:33.20

5. Gebremeskel – no mark

6. Sihine – no mark

7. Gebrhiwet – no mark

8. Koech – 3:38.7hA

9. Songok – 3:30.99

10. Alamirew – 3:35.09+

11. Shaheen – 3:33.51

12. Longosiwa – 3:41.0A

13.Lahlafi – no mark

14. Kipkoech – no mark

15. Mourhit – 3:36.14

16. Tergat – no mark

17. El Guerrouj – 3:26.00

18. Goumri – 3:39.80

19. Masai – 3:37.3hA

20. Kipsiro – 3:37.6

21. Hissou – 3:33.95

22. Saidi-Sief – 3:29.51

23. Ebuya – 3:43.0hA

24. Chepkok – 3:40.47

25. Kipketer – 3:40.0hA

26. Soi – 3:44.76

27. T. Bekele – 3:37.26

28. Gebremariam – no mark

29. Chebii – 3:38.5hA

30. Farah – 3:33.98