Tag Archives: IAAF

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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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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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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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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