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Why Mo should keep with the marathon

Mo Farah was hoping for a faster time and a better placing in London on Sunday, but he certainly did not disgrace himself in a type of race which doesn’t play to his strengths.

Eventual winner Wilson Kipsang has dismissed Farah as a threat, and while he might never run 2:03 or 2:04 for the distance, is this something which motivates Mo, who was in shape to challenge Kenenisa Bekele’s world records on the track last summer?

Winning titles is what Mo does best, and Farah showed he has the respect and the knowledge for the distance which are prerequisites at the major championships, where testing conditions reward the shrewd runners who keep their cards close to their chest.

The marathon at the next Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro will no doubt be a race of attrition where tactics – rather than time-trialing – will play a foremost part in the outcome. Atypical conditions at the major championships have also counted against the top-ranked Kenyans and Ethiopians in the past, who have struggled to acclimatise to the hot and humid conditions at sea-level.

Farah’s race-day tactic in London was high-risk, as they weighed heavily on the lead group blowing up, but the pace settled down through halfway while Farah ended up stuck in no man’s land.

He did close in on the stragglers from the lead group in the closing stages and finished within metres of Geoffrey Mutai, the world’s fastest marathon-runner, and course record-holder Emmanuel Mutai. Stephen Kiprotich, who has humbled the Kenyans and Ethiopians at two championships in a row, was much further back.

Farah has not made any plans for the rest of the year, but one thing which he made certain was this was by no means his last marathon. He might choose to defend his track titles at the Olympic Games, but the marathon in Rio de Janeiro might be the sort of race which could play to his advantage.

 

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World Championships records in chronological orders

Men

1987 (Rome) 800m Billy Konchellah (KEN) 1:43.06
1987 Shot put Werner Gunthor (SUI) 22.23m
1991 (Tokyo) Long jump Mike Powell (USA) 8.95m
1993 (Stuttgart) 110m hurdles Colin Jackson (GBR) 12.91
1993 400m hurdles Kevin Young (USA) 47.18
1993 High jump Javier Sotomayor (CUB) 2.40m
1993 4x400m USA 2:54.29
1995 (Gothenburg) Triple jump Jonathan Edwards (GBR) 18.29m
1999 (Seville) 400m Michael Johnson (USA) 43.18
1999 1500m Hicham El Guerrouj (MAR) 3:27.65
2001 (Edmonton) Pole-vault Dmitri Markov (AUS) 6.05m
2001 Javelin Jan Zelezny (CZE) 92.80m
2001 Decathlon Tomas Dvorak (CZE) 8902
2003 (Paris) 5000m Eliud Kipchoge (KEN) 12:52.79
2003 20km walk Jefferson Perez (ECU) 1:17:21
2003 50km walk Robert Korzeniowski (POL) 3:36:03
2005 (Helsinki) Discus Virgilijus Alekna (LTU) 70.17m
2005 Hammer Ivan Tikhon (BLR) 83.89m
2009 (Berlin) 100m Usain Bolt (JAM) 9.58
2009 200m Bolt 19.19
2009 10,000m Kenenisa Bekele (ETH) 26:46.31
2009 Marathon Abel Kirui (KEN) 2:06:54
2009 Steeplechase Ezekiel Kemboi (KEN) 8:00.43
2011 (Daegu) 4x100m JAM 37.04

 

Women

1983 (Helsinki) 800m Jarmila Kratochvilova (TCH) 1:54.68
1983 400m Kratochvilova 47.99
1987 (Rome) 200m Silke Gladisch (GDR) 21.74
1987 High jump Stefka Kostadinova (BUL) 2.09m
1987 Long jump Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA) 7.34m
1987 Heptathlon Joyner-Kersee 7128
1987 Shot put Natalya Lisovskaya (URS) 21.24m (=)
1987 Discus Martina Hellmann (GDR) 71.62m
1993 (Stuttgart) 4x400m USA 3:16.71
1995 (Gothenburg) Triple jump Inessa Kravets (UKR) 15.50m
1997 (Athens) 4x100m USA 41.47
1999 (Seville) 100m Marion Jones (USA) 10.70
2003 (Paris) 1500m Tatyana Tomashova (RUS) 3:58.52
2003 10,000m Berhane Adere (ETH) 30:04.18
2005 (Helsinki) 5000m Tirunesh Dibaba (ETH) 14:38.59
2005 Marathon Paula Radcliffe (GBR) 2:20:57
2005 Pole-vault Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS) 5.01m
2005 20km walk Olimpiada Ivanova (RUS) 1:25:41
2007 (Osaka) Steeplechase Yekaterina Volkova (RUS) 9:06.57
2009 (Berlin) 400m hurdles Melaine Walker (JAM) 52.42
2009 Hammer Anita Wlodarczyk (POL) 77.96m
2011 (Daegu) 100m hurdles Sally Pearson (AUS) 12.28
2011 Shot put Valerie Adams (NZL) 21.24 (=)
2011 Javelin Mariya Abakumova (RUS) 71.99m

 

*Jessica Ennis-Hill probably looked more nervous on the start-line for the 100m hurdles yesterday afternoon than she did for the start of the Olympic heptathlon last year and such apprehension was understandable as the London Anniversary Games was the acid test to see whether her nagging Achilles tendon would stand up to the strains of top-class competition. Ennis-Hill was never going to replicate her UK record form in her first hurdles race since the Olympic heptathlon twelve months ago but a 13.08 debut off the back of very little hurdles work and negligible speed work marked a sound opener and it was promising she came away unscathed after six physically taxing efforts in deteriorating conditions in the long jump.

*The most important result will be the outcome of how the Achilles tendon responds post-competition and if it reacts well, Ennis-Hill will be a contender to regain the title she first won in 2009 despite a far from ideal build-up. To put her performances into context, she was fourth in the 100m hurdles in 13.08 and only 0.13 behind 12.47 performer and Olympic bronze medallist Kellie Wells and her time was more importantly 0.24 faster than Tatyana Chernova’s hurdles PB. Her midweek javelin PB of 48.33m is also in excess of what her Russian rival has achieved this year too. Granted, a two-day heptathlon demands much more on the body and the nature of the injury might make her somewhat fallible in the high jump but let’s hope she does make the trip to Moscow as fit as she can be as the championships are already missing more than a few world stars.

*If Ennis-Hill misses the World Championships, Perri Shakes-Drayton and Christine Ohuruogu will carry the hopes of the British women next month based on the form they showed in the Olympic Stadium. Shakes-Drayton, who has been a perennial top-three fixture on the Diamond League circuit this year, took another runner-up finish to Zuzana Hejnova from Czech Republic in the 400m hurdles on Friday night and even though she lost her rhythm over the final flight of barriers after an unusually aggressive first 300m which left the door open for Hejnova to win her eighth race of the season, Shakes-Drayton was still rewarded with a PB of 53.67. A slight change in pacing for Moscow could see her rewarded with her first global outdoor medal and a time close to 53-seconds.

*Ohuruogu has been flirting with new tactics in the 400m this year and the 2008 Olympic champion struck the perfect balance between starting purposefully yet keeping enough back to attack in the home-straight. She was rewarded with her fastest ever non-championships time of 50.00 which is an ominous warning for her rivals as Ohuruogu always changes up a gear for the major championships. Amantle Montsho will be her main threat despite a defeat to Ohuruogu in Birmingham although Antonina Krivoshapka, who Ohuruogu will probably like on her outside in the world final given her propensity to blaze away, won’t get many better chances at claiming an elusive global title.

Solid return to big-time for Ennis-Hill but not sure about Worlds

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Are the Russians cleaning up their act?

Are the Russians cleaning up their act?

Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell’s positive drug tests marked an arguable nadir for the sport’s reputation in recent years but while lacking the sporting currency to make an impact on the back-pages, the Russian track and field team has been a perennial fixture at the forefront of doping controversies over the past decade.

Jenny Meadows and Lynsey Sharp have been outspoken critics of Russian athletics after being denied major 800m accolades by subsequently-busted Russians while UK javelin record-holder Goldie Sayers was the latest name to publicly question whether the country is fit to host the World Championships with a banned list nudging the wrong side of the half-century mark.

The country’s inauspicious anti-doping record in all sports has led to similar questions surrounding next year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi and scepticism about the country’s credentials to host such renowned global events have been fuelled further by Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay legislation recently coming into force.

Even though Russia swept the medals at the World University Games and what was in effect a B-team retained their European Team Championships title in Gateshead, it hasn’t been a memorable year for Russian athletics – so far, at least. Their leading athletes have not performed with the same distinction and many have kept very low-profiles. It was largely thought they were being kept under lock-and-key with the purpose of keeping their powder dry for the main events.

However, one couldn’t help but notice an alarming drop in standards across the board to last year at the Russian Championships. Granted, one or two medal contenders were pre-selected but regardless, the difference in standard was eye-catching. Eleven sub-50.5 and five sub-50 400m performances were recorded last year while the winning time in the 400m this year was a comparatively modest 50.55. The whole championships just produced a solitary sub-2:00 800m compared to eight in 2012, and twelve in 2004, while the winning time in the 200m this year was slower than the eighth-placer’s from last year.

So, what can we conclude from these results? Perhaps the Russian coaches are peaking their athletes in time for the World Championships rather than their domestic championships, as has sometimes been the case? Russian athletes do have a propensity for running fast domestically before failing to produce the same calibre of performance at the major championships.

Or are the testers starting to catch up with arguably the world’s most notoriously consistent, and persistent offenders? The biological passport system has proved a particularly effective innovation in catching out cheats while lauded medal-winners such as Svetlana Krivelyova and Tatyana Kotova (pictured) have recently been brought under disrepute with retrospective testing of samples from previous championships.

The much-maligned Russian system has been placed firmly under the spotlight and has such pressure combined with the growing militancy of anti-doping procedures acted as the much-needed push to start the clean-up of the Russian system which has sadly clouded the reputation of their athletes? Or will normal service be resumed once the focus shifts away post-Moscow and post-Sochi?

Let’s hope it’s the former and we can enjoy a controversy-free World Championships next month.

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Trost clears 2.00m in Trinec

It’s taken a while for Alessia Trost to build on the promise she first showed when winning the world youth title in 2009 but the Italian now starts as a firm medal contender at the European Indoor Championships in March.

Trost only improved her PB by three centimetres in the three seasons after triumphing on home-soil in Bressanone but a 2.00m world-lead clearance in Trinec marks a massive eight centimetre improvement on her pre-2013 PB and a world age-19 best.

She also became the third Italian to break this benchmark height after former Olympic champion Sara Simeoni and Antonietta Di Martino who won the last edition of the European Indoor Championships in 2011.

Trost, whose pre-jump routine shares many similarities to Di Martino’s, is unbeaten indoors in 2013 and with Blanka Vlasic delaying her return until the summer, Anna Chicherova unlikely to compete indoors and Di Martino injured, the European Indoor Championships looks the platform for Trost to claim her first medal in the senior ranks. 

 

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An armchair fan’s guide to the indoor season

The indoor season won’t match the fever-pitch excitement of the Olympic Games but there’s more than enough intrigue to banish away any last remnants of the Olympic-induced blues. Here are five reasons why it’s worth following the indoor season.

Sprint clash set for Glasgow?

It hasn’t been officially confirmed but it seems two-time Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will go head-to-head with world 100m champion Carmelita Jeter in a high-powered 60m clash. Jeter has confirmed her berth on the US team for the five-way international and while Fraser-Pryce hasn’t done so yet, she has told the press she is going to contest her first ever indoor season. Glasgow isn’t the fastest track on the circuit but a time close to seven-seconds might still be on the cards.

Top-class high jumping

Olympic bronze medallist Robbie Grabarz has committed himself to the British indoor events while the Moravia Tour has signed up world champion Jesse Williams and Olympic champion Ivan Ukhov for Hustopece (Jan 26) and Trinec (Jan 29). Global medallists Chaunte Lowe and Brigetta Barrett will also go head-to-head at the Millrose Games in New York on Feb 16.

Farah’s indoor appearance

The European Indoor Championships don’t feature in Mo Farah’s plans but the double Olympic champion will still have a run-out over 3000m at the British Athletics Grand Prix in Birmingham. Let’s hope the organisers – like last year’s two-miles race when Farah was beaten, albeit in a very fast time – will invite some other top-class athletes to really test his mettle.

Scandinavian showdown

The European Indoor Championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, promises to be an appetising hors d’oeuvres for the outdoor season with many top names expressing their intentions to compete. Britain finished fourth on the medal table in 2011 with eight medals and while this time next month will give us a better indicator to what we can expect from the British team, Holly Bleasdale, Shara Proctor, Yamile Aldama and Robbie Grabarz should all arrive in Gothenburg as bona fide medal contenders.

The hosts aren’t the force they were in the mid-2000s when the likes of Stefan Holm and Carolina Kluft headed their team but recent transferee Abeba Aregawi will come to the 1500m with real aspirations of marking her switch from Ethiopia with a gold medal for her adopted nation.

Top marks for NCAA students

The NCAA Indoor Championships might not grab the headlines in the UK but keep your eyes peeled for some eye-catching performances. When the world’s press was focused on the World Indoor Championships in 2010, Ashton Eaton set a world heptathlon record of 6499 and already this season, good marks have been set on the collegiate circuit. Brianna Rollins’ 7.78 60m hurdles – for example – probably won’t be matched on the European circuit this winter.

Key dates

Jan 26 – Glasgow

Confirmed athletes – Carmelita Jeter, Bernard Lagat, KCim Collins, Holly Bleasdale, Robbie Grabarz

Feb 2 – Karlsruhe

Confirmed athletes – Bernard Lagat, Yenew Alamirew, Renaud Lavillenie, Christian Reif, Ivet Lalova

Feb 2 – Boston

Confirmed athletes – Tirunesh Dibaba, Aries Merritt, Jenn Suhr, Galen Rupp, Dejen Gebremeskel

Feb 3 – Moscow

Confirmed athletes – Dwain Chambers, Yuriy Borzakovskiy, Holly Bleasdale, Anna Rogowska, Fabiana Murer

Feb 8 – Düsseldorf

Confirmed athletes – Christophe Lemaitre, Nevin Yanit, Ivet Lalova, Bjorn Otto, Timothy Kitum

Feb 9-10 – UK Indoor Championships

Feb 10 – Gent

Confirmed athletes – Tia Hellebaut, Kevin Borlee, Jonathan Borlee, Eline Berings, Svetlana Bolshakova

Feb 16 – Birmingham

Confirmed athletes – Mo Farah, Robbie Grabarz, Holly Bleasdale, Fabiana Murer, Fionnuala Britton

Feb 16 – New York

Confirmed athletes – Jason Richardson, Brittney Reese, Jenn Suhr, Bernard Lagat, Duane Solomon

Feb 21 – Stockholm

Confirmed athletes – Abeba Aregawi, Fabiana Murer

March 1-3 – European Indoor Championships

March 1-3 – US Indoor Championships

Stats and facts

Men’s world indoor records and all-time lists

Women’s world indoor records and all-time lists

European indoor records and all-time lists

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How long will Radcliffe’s record stand?

April 13 will mark a decade since Paula Radcliffe set the still-standing world marathon record. After a succession of near misses on the track where Radcliffe lacked the raw sprinting speed to stay in contention on the last lap burn-up, her victories at the World Cross Country Championships and World Half Marathon Championships demonstrated her vast potential for the 26.2-miles.

Radcliffe immediately found her niche at the 2002 London Marathon where she ran the second fastest time ever of 2:18:56, closing with 67:52 for the second half. After winning gold medals on the track at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, Radcliffe turned her attention back to the roads for the Chicago Marathon and despite the hindrance of a strong headwind in the closing stages, Radcliffe still improved Catherine Ndereba’s record from 2:18:47 to 2:17:18. This was faster than when Jim Peters broke the men’s record less than half a century earlier in 1954 when women didn’t even run 800m at the Olympics.

This record only stood for a matter of months as Radcliffe decimated her own mark at the 2003 London Marathon. The Bedford & County athlete crossed the line in 2:15:25 and the magnitude of the performance was such that no British man ran faster than Radcliffe that year! This record was recently brought under scrutiny as the IAAF retroactively demoted it to a world-best as it was judged Radcliffe received unfair assistance as her time was achieved with the aid of male pacemakers, even though they weren’t implemented at her request.

Common sense prevailed and Radcliffe’s mark was rightfully restored but a new ruling introduced by the governing body suggests an assault on the world marathon record could prove an even tougher assignment for future aspirants. What constitutes unfair assistance still remains a grey area but it appears mixed races can no longer count for record purposes and world records can only be set exclusively in women’s only races.

Not wanting to detract from the record but Radcliffe must have benefited in some capacity from having the pacemakers alongside her for most, if not at all times in Chicago and London. This is not to say the assistance should be viewed as pushing the boundaries to gain an unfair advantage as they didn’t act in the normal manner of a pacemaker in big-city marathons. They didn’t assist her at the drink stations, which can sometimes disrupt the racer’s rhythm, and they ran to the side of Radcliffe, offering very little in the way of wind-resistance which, ironically, was lavishly provided by a phalanx of pacemakers for Geoffrey Mutai’s world record attempt in Berlin last year, yet deemed perfectly legal. However, the point is the competitive element was intact from gun to tape and this can no longer be fostered under the new rules. 

Radcliffe is by no means the only female marathoner to post her best times in this sort of racing environment though, and she is still head and shoulders ahead of her contemporaries. The sub-2:20 barrier, almost a mile slower than Radcliffe’s world record, is still viewed as the landmark time in women’s marathon-running and only fourteen athletes have achieved this since Radcliffe’s first sub-2:20 clocking a decade ago. Only three of them have gone sub 2:19 too.

The most relevant aspect to draw from this statistic though is half of these times, as well as the three sub-2:19 performances, have all been achieved within the last eighteen months. This is a telling indication the depth at the highest level is beginning to improve, particularly as the Kenyan and Ethiopian women are getting to grips with the marathon en masse. Mirroring the recent trends of men’s marathon-running, the women are further revising conventional running wisdom by shunning the track and specialising at the marathon at an earlier age – no doubt inspired by the greater cash incentives on offer – and clearly with great effect too if the improvements in depth are used as a gauge.

One athlete who looks set to join this clique is two-time Olympic 10,000m champion Tirunesh Dibaba, who is due to make her marathon debut at some point this year. Her track credentials are superior to Radcliffe’s and her world 15km record, as well as her debut victory at the Great North Run over world and Olympic marathon champions Edna Kiplagat and Tiki Gelana augurs well as she transitions towards the marathon. In theory, Dibaba – more so than her contemporaries – has the ammunition to get down towards Radcliffe’s mark but even if she makes a good transition which some track runners don’t, will she share Radcliffe’s obsessive urge to chase fast times? While Radcliffe’s forte is her front-running, Dibaba’s sprinting speed is such she’s often content to settle for the win with the clock being immaterial.

Radcliffe is rapidly approaching Ingrid Kristiansen’s record for longest spell as world marathon record-holder as the Norwegian’s 2:21:06 record from 1985 lasted for thirteen years and while the depth gradually improves in the 2:18-2:19 range, these times are still about half-a-mile slower than 2:15. Similarly, Radcliffe’s world 10km and half-marathon records have gone largely unscathed which is further testament to the potential future longevity of her record. There’s no doubt the Kenyans and Ethiopians are tightening their stranglehold on the marathon but despite the greater prevalence of sub-2:20 clockings, 2:15:25 still remains a flicker on the horizon. The brilliance of Radcliffe’s record means this same question could be reignited in another decade for now.

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