Tag Archives: track and field

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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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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*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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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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A look back through the archives – five one-day moments to remember

Geb loses two WRs in one night

A third world 10,000m title and world records over 5000m and 10,000m in the build-up to the World Championships meant 1997 marked arguably Gebrselassie’s best season to date although the Kenyans, no doubt tired of trailing the great Ethiopian whenever they stepped foot on the track, launched a coup d’etat in the penultimate big meeting of the summer in Brussels that year.

Thirteen days prior to the penultimate ‘Golden 4’ meeting (as it was known then), Daniel Komen couldn’t offer any resistance to Gebrselassie’s penetrating sprint finish in Zurich and the Ethiopian, who only contested the 10,000m at the World Championships, decisively defeated the world 5000m champion on the last lap and improved his WR down to 12:41.86.

Gebrselassie was absent from Brussels though, and Komen stole the limelight by becoming the first man to break 12:40 for 5000m with 12:39.74. Salt was added to the wound about an hour later as Paul Tergat broke through the 26:30-barrier with a 26:27.85 world 10,000m record.

These world records didn’t last a year though as Gebrselassie wrestled them back from the Kenyans’ grasp in 1998 and they remained untouched until Kenenisa Bekele took the mantle of the world’s greatest distance runner from Gebrselassie in 2004.

Kipketer breaks Coe’s WR

The 1997 World Championships aren’t remembered as a particularly vintage edition but the post-champs Grand Prix circuit played host to a spree of record breaking performances, including Wilson Kipketer in the 800m. The most impressive aspect of the record was his speed on the first lap as he passed through the bell in about 48.5 – more than a second faster than when Seb Coe set the world record of 1:41.73 in 1981!

Kipketer, who equalled Coe’s world record earlier in the season, claimed it outright with a 1:41.24 performance in Zurich, which he then improved to 1:41.11 eleven days later in Cologne.

Ashford’s world 100m record

The US and Eastern Bloc boycotts of successive Olympics didn’t achieve much beyond watering down most events in Moscow and Los Angeles but thankfully, we weren’t completely deprived of the US vs. Eastern Europe clashes as most of the world’s top athletes descended on Zurich and Brussels for clashes largely viewed as the de facto Olympic finals. 

One of the best clashes was over 100m in Zurich which pitted together Evelyn Ashford and Marlies Gohr. The clash was all the more mouthwatering because not only was Gohr absent from Los Angeles, Ashford pulled up in the world final a year earlier and, of course, missed Moscow because of the US boycott.

Gohr bolted from the blocks but Ashford’s second half was the stronger and, as she was sometimes guilty of, Gohr lost her form when Ashford pulled even and the American came through to improve her world record down to 10.76 to Gohr’s 10.84.

Blake demonstrates 200m potential

Yohan Blake was never considered a slouch before his 19.26 performance in Brussels over 200m but the consensus was, if he was going to beat Usain Bolt, this was more likely to happen in the 100m. This assumption was altered after the world 100m champion moved to second on the world all-time rankings and within one-tenth of Bolt’s world record with an astonishing run at the Ivo Van Damme Memorial to which Bolt said, somewhat in jest, he would never give advice to Blake on how to run a race again!

Blake’s turn wasn’t particularly special and he came off the bend even with Walter Dix but the Jamaican blasted clear of the American in the straight.

Decker outduels Puica

The Decker-Budd narrative of the 3000m from the 1984 Olympic Games obscures the fact the race was a wholly anti-climactic affair although the leading protagonists from the LA final had a series of gripping (although largely forgotten) races in the 1985 season, including the mile in Zurich.

This was the first time Mary Decker and Maricica Puica had met since the Olympic final and the American came out on top ahead of a battling Puica with Zola Budd third. The first two were under the previous world record (held by Puica, incidentally) and the race added further speculation Decker would have won the Olympic final had she stayed on her feet.

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The conundrum of Commonwealth Games qualifying

The Commonwealth Games have historically been used as a championships to blood up-and-coming athletes. A 17-year-old Steve Cram, for example, made his major championships debut for England in 1978 but elitism, as was also the case with the European Indoor Championships, will be the over-riding impression of the team judging from the mind-boggling qualifying standards set by England Athletics. While I’m not against tough qualifying standards in theory, it does seem rather ludicrous in this environment as medals could potentially be lost as some of the standards are actually in excess of recent gold medal winning marks! This is contradictory to the selection brief as the very first line states how “EA will nominate a team with the intention of achieving the highest possible number of top-8 places.” But why then, for example, is the women’s A standard 20cm in excess of the winning mark from the 2010 Games in Delhi?

Hopefully they will be used as nothing more than a guide and the selectors will use their discretion if necessary in order to ensure the strongest possible team because, as outlined below, the qualifying standards in the vast majority of events are very misguided.

Men’s 100m – 10.15, 200m – 20.30

Why is the A standard more than two-tenths faster than the corresponding mark for the World Championships when the selection criteria for both championships is a team capable of a top-eight finish in the final? In what sort of world is 20.52 deemed sufficient to make a World Championships final yet anyone running slower than 20.30 won’t make the top-eight in the Commonwealth Games?!

10.17 and 10.20 were good enough for medals in the last two 100m finals while 20.47 and 20.45 were the winning times in the last two 200m finals. The leading Caribbeans normally give the Commonwealths a wide berth so medals will no doubt be won in slower times than the A standard.

400m – 45.00

Only three times has the gold medallist broken the 45-second in the Commonwealth final. 45.44 would have sufficed for the title in 2010 and 45.09 would have taken silver in 2002 and 2006.

1500m – 3:36.0

2002 champion Mike East probably wouldn’t have made the English team had these standards been implemented in the lead-up to the last home championships. His pre-Games PB was 3:38.94.

5000m – 13:03.00

Money and resources have been heavily pumped into the British endurance programme but the long-distance team will have sparse representation in Glasgow if the selectors adhere to this mark as only two British athletes have ever bettered this mark. Rob Denmark was the last British winner in 1994 but he wouldn’t have even made the England team if the same standards applied back then as he didn’t break 13:20 leading up to the Games.

10,000m – 27:50.00

While not as intimidating as the 5000m standard, this mark is still unnecessarily steep. The Kenyans never send their best runners and anyone running inside 28-minutes will be competitive next year.

400m hurdles – 49.10

Chris Rawlinson won in 2002 in a slower time.

3000m steeplechase – 8:25.00

A standard is one-second faster than the World Championships ‘A’ standard.

Pole-vault – 5.60m

Steve Hooker cleared 5.60m to win the Commonwealth title in 2010. Only twice has the gold medal been won with a higher vault.

Long jump – 8.10m

While the balance of power in world long jumping is largely with Commonwealth athletes, 8.10m will easily suffice for a top-eight finish.

Shot put – 19.80m

The gold medal has only been won in a distance in excess of the A standard four times in Commonwealth Games history.

Discus throw – 63.00m, hammer – 72.50m, javelin – 80.00m

59m would have sufficed for a discus medal in 2002, 68m would have won a hammer medal in 2002 and Nick Nieland’s winning mark in 2006 was only 10cm in excess of the javelin A standard.

Women’s 100m – 11.25

2010 was admittedly a poor championships for the 100m but 11.39 would have won bronze in 2006. The A standard is also faster than the World Championships standard of 11.28.

200m – 22.90

The A standard is 0.15 faster than the corresponding mark for Moscow. 22.90 would have won a medal in the highly competitive 2006 final including the top Jamaicans and Cydonie Mothersill.

800m – 1:59.90

A rather arbitrary mark. Why not 2:00.00?!

1500m – 4:06.50

A fairly reasonable mark given the standard among Commonwealth athletes but similarly to Mike East, 2006 champion Lisa Dobriskey wouldn’t have made the England team for Melbourne if 4:06.50 the qualifying standard.

100m hurdles – 12.96

Anything around the 13-second mark puts you in medal contention. Bronze was won in 13.25 last time round, for example.

3000m steeplechase – 9:42.00

Marginally tougher than the ‘A’ standard for the World Championships, strangely.

High jump – 1.90m

Not reflective of the standards among Commonwealth jumpers. 1.83m and 1.88m were medal-winning heights in 2002 and 2006 respectively.

Pole-vault – 4.40m

4.25m would have sufficed for medals at the past two Games.

Long jump – 6.70m

The horizontal jumpers once more have drawn the short straw. A distance 20cm below the A standard would have won gold in Delhi while 6.49m would have sufficed for a medal in Manchester. Jo Wise, the last British-born winner of the title, won in 1998 with 6.63m.

Discus throw – 59.50m

Generally sufficient to make the rostrum against Commonwealth opposition.

Hammer – 66.50m

The ‘A’ standard would have won medals at every Games thus far and 64.04m was good enough for a medal in 2010.

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European Indoor Championships – a statistical round-up

As published by Athletics Weekly on March 6

Men

60m

*Jimmy Vicaut and James Dasaolu were awarded an identical time in the final of 6.48. The last time the top-two couldn’t be separated by hundredths was when the Scandinavium played host to the European Indoor Championships in 1984.

*Dasaolu’s silver medal extends Britain’s record of winning at least one medal in the 60m to fourteen consecutive editions.

*This year was the first time two athletes went under the 6.5-barrier in the final and Dasaolu’s time would have sufficed for the title at all but one previous edition.

*Vicaut and Dasaolu move to equal fifth on the European indoor all-time rankings. British sprinters own five of the seven fastest times ever over 60m in Europe with French athletes holding the other two.

400m

*Pavel Maslak’s winning time of 45.66 was a Swedish all-comers’ record. He also became the first athlete to simultaneously hold European indoor and outdoor 400m titles since Du’aine Ladejo in 1994.

*Britain fielded three athletes in both men’s and women’s finals for the first time ever.

800m

*Adam Kszczot became the first athlete to defend this title since Yevgeniy Arzhanov in 1971.

*Mukhtar Mohammed picked up Britain’s first medal of any description since Tom McKean won gold on home-soil in Glasgow in 1990.

1500m

*Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad’s winning time of 3:37.17 was the second fastest ever after Ivan Heshko’s 3:36.70 championship record in 2005.

*His winning margin of 0.05 from Ilham Tanui Ozbilen was the smallest in the championship’s history.

*The Spaniards failed to win a medal in the final for the first time since 1998.

3000m

*Hayle Ibrahimov provided Azerbaijan with their first gold medal in any event in the history of the European Indoor Championships.

*At 34y and 211d, Juan Carlos Higuero replaced John Mayock (34y and 130d in 2005) as the oldest ever medallist in the 3000m.

60m hurdles

*Sergey Shubenkov’s winning time of 7.49 has only been bettered three times – once by Thomas Munkelt in 1983 and twice by Colin Jackson in 1994 and 2002.

*Paolo Dal Molin set an Italian record of 7.51 to win his country’s first medal in this event since 1986.

4x400m

*Britain’s winning time of 3:05.78 was the second fastest time ever recorded at these championships.

*Nigel Levine’s split of 45.74 was the fastest on the third-leg by 0.65.

Long jump

*Michel Torneus’ 8.29m leap was the longest ever non-gold medal winning mark at these championships.

Triple jump

*Daniele Greco’s shock leap of 17.70m was the second longest winning distance ever after Teddy Tamgho improved the world indoor record to 17.92m in 2011.

*His winning margin of 40cm was the largest since 1990.

High jump

*Russia claimed two medals in the high jump for the third successive edition of the European Indoor Championships.

Pole-vault

*Renaud Lavillenie became the first vaulter to win three gold medals in succession.

*The Frenchman is the only athlete to surpass 6m at the European Indoor Championships and he’s done so twice now. He cleared 6.03m in 2011 and 6.01m this year.

*His winning margin of 25cm has only been bettered once – by himself when he won in 2011 by 27cm.

Shot put

*Gold medallist Asmir Kolasinac from Serbia and silver medallist Hamza Alic from Bosnia & Herzogovina created history by winning their country’s first ever European indoor medals.

Heptathlon

*Eelco Sintnicolaas’ winning score of 6372 was the best mark by a European in nine years.

*At 21y and 21d, Kevin Mayer became the youngest ever heptathlon medallist by six days. His score of 6297 moved him to tenth on the European indoor all-time rankings and this mark was also a European under-23 record.

Women

60m

*Just 0.01 separated the medallists making it the closest ever European indoor sprint final.

*Ivet Lalova’s time of 7.12 was the fastest ever non-medal winning mark.

*Asha Philip equalled her 7.15 PB in the final which was the second fastest time ever achieved by a Brit at these championships.

*An incredible standard saw Ezinne Okparaebo and Verena Sailer finish seventh and eighth respectively in 7.16. This would have either equalled or bettered the gold medallist’s time at three of the five most recent previous European indoor finals.

400m

*GB’s 1-2 was the first time the same nation claimed gold and silver in the 400m since 1990.

*Perri Shakes-Drayton’s winning time of 50.85 would have won gold at two of the three most recent editions of the World Indoor Championships, and silver at the other.

*In terms of 400m hurdlers, only Sabine Busch (50.01), Nicola Sanders (50.02), Vania Stambolova (50.21), Irina Privalova (50.23), Natalya Antyukh (50.37) and Ionela Tirlea (50.56) have run faster than Shakes-Drayton indoors.

*Ksenia Ustalova’s fall in the semi-final meant the final was for the first time devoid of a Russian finalist.

800m

*Nataliya Lupu became the second former European junior champion to also win this title after Ludmila Formanova in 1998.

*Maryna Arzamasava’s bronze medal adds to her family’s tally as her late mother Ravilya Agletdinova won the European outdoor 1500m title in 1986.

1500m

*Abeba Aregawi’s winning margin of 9.72 was by far the largest ever at these championships. The previous largest was 3.73 back in 1972.

3000m

*Sara Moreira became the second Portuguese to win this title after Fernanda Ribeiro in 1994 and 1996.

*Her winning time of 8:58.80 was the slowest since 1992.

60m hurdles

*Nevin Yanit and Alina Talay became the first Turkish and Belarussians to win medals in this event while Veronica Borsi won Italy’s first 60m hurdles medal since 1977.

*Only six-hundredths separated the top four finishers which was the smallest margin ever.

4x400m

*Great Britain took a relay double with gold medals in both finals. This was the first time the same nation has won both titles at the same championships.

*The quartet set a championship and national record of 3:27.56 which moved Britain from sixth to third on the European indoor all-time rankings.

Long jump

*Darya Klishina achieved the championship’s first 7m-plus jump since Heike Drechsler won her fourth title in 1994 with 7.06m.

*Klishina’s winning mark of 7.01m equalled the best mark achieved indoors by a European this millennium.

*Erica Jarder’s final round 6.71m PB sufficed for Sweden’s first medal from this event since Erica Johansson won the title in 2000.

Triple jump

*Olha Saladuha’s winning margin of 58cm was the largest in championship history.

*Her winning mark of 14.88m was the joint second longest ever and the best since Ashia Hansen’s championship record of 15.16m in 1998.

High jump

*Ruth Beitia’s winning mark of 1.99m was the lowest winning height since 1998.

*Sweden scooped up silver and bronze through Ebba Jungmark and Emma Green-Tregaro. This was the first time the same country fielded two athletes on the podium since Bulgarians took gold and silver medals in 1994.

*The ages of the finalists ranged from 19-year-old Alessia Trost to 38-year-old Venelina Veneva-Mateeva, who competed at the 1991 World Championships before Trost was even born.

Pole-vault

*Holly Bleasdale’s gold medal was the first British medal in this event from either sex in European Indoor Championships history.

*Her winning vault of 4.67m was the lowest winning height since 2000.

Shot put

*Christina Schwanitz’s gold medal meant German athletes have won five of the nine medals on offer from the last three championships in the shot put.

Pentathlon

*Ida Antoniette Nana Djimou became the second athlete to retain this title after Carolina Kluft in 2007.

*Her winning score of 4666 was the second lowest in championship history though, and would have only placed seventh in Birmingham in 2007 where Kelly Sotherton and Jessica Ennis finished second and sixth with 4927 and 4716 respectively.

*18-year-old Sofia Linde finished fifth on home-soil with a PB of 4531. This was a mere four points below Kluft’s national indoor junior record and she still has another year left in the junior ranks.

Miscellaneous

*The Russian men outperformed the women for the first time in European Indoor Championship history. They won three gold medals and eight in total while the women won one gold and six overall.

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European Indoor Championships – women’s preview

Britain won three gold medals in Paris but out of that triumvirate, only Jenny Meadows will be defending her European indoor title this weekend. The 800m runner is among the team’s leading aspirants for medals along with Asha Philip, Perri Shakes-Drayton, Holly Bleasdale and Shara Proctor in Gothenburg. 

Women’s sprints

Gothenburg has twice hosted these championships and on both occasions, British athletes have come away with medals in the 60m through Andrea Lynch in 1974 and Bev Kinch in 1984. Surely this is a good omen for Asha Philip, who is ranked second in Europe this year with a 7.15 PB?

Unlike some events, most of Europe’s best are giving the 60m their due regard and this should ensure a high-quality final. Mariya Ryemyen is the fastest with a 7.12 PB and the Ukrainian will be looking to upgrade her silver medal from 2011 in the absence of team-mate Olesya Povh. Fellow sub-7.2 performers Verena Sailer, Ivet Lalova and British-based Norwegian Ezinne Okparaebo, who is gunning for a hat-trick of European indoor medals, will also be in title contention.

Perri Shakes-Drayton and Eilidh Child started the season with scant indoor experience but the 400m hurdlers have both enjoyed fruitful campaigns on the boards which should climax with medals over 400m. They ran 51.37 and 51.50 respectively in Birmingham which ranks them a close second and third in Europe to Ksenia Ustalova’s 51.31. Ustalova is the sole Russian representative in the individual with no doubt most of her team-mates choosing to keep their powder dry with the World Championships in Moscow on the horizon.

The Russians have named a strong relay-pool but Christine Ohuruogu’s inclusion in the British team might give our quartet a marginal edge.

Two-time European outdoor champion Nevin Yanit concluded her preparations with a 7.98 Turkish 60m hurdles record to win the Balkan Championships. A quartet of athletes led by Yuliya Kondakova’s 7.93 have run slightly faster but Yanit is a championship specialist as illustrated by her fifth-place at the Olympics.

Women’s middle-distances

Team captain Jenny Meadows made an auspicious comeback after eighteen months out and a 2:02.86 performance a fortnight ago in Birmingham convinced her to defend the title she was retroactively handed after Evgeniya Zinurova’s disqualification due to a doping violation.

Russian athletes hold the ten fastest times in Europe but their selectors have adopted an approach of prioritising quality rather than quantity. Despite an embarrassment of riches to choose from, Yelena Kotulskaya (nee Kofanova) is their sole representative and she’ll be the Brit’s greatest danger as her outdoor PB of 1:57.77 is marginally faster than Meadows’ 1:57.93.

Many events lack a resounding favourite but the home-crowd will be pleased this is not the case over 1500m as Abeba Aregawi arrives in fearless form. The 1500m in Stockholm last week was her first race for her adopted nation and the 22-year-old made an emphatic statement with a 3:58.40 national record. Her time was just 0.12 shy of Yelena Soboleva’s world indoor record and even though Soboleva’s in the Russian team, don’t expect her to be a threat as she hasn’t broken the 4:10-barrier in 2013.

The 3000m is much more difficult to call though. Yelena Korobkina’s 8:50.42 leads the way but sole British representative Lauren Howarth, who ran 8:52.00 in Birmingham, could cap her breakthrough campaign with a major title. European cross-country champion Fionnuala Britton from Ireland, fourth-placer Almensch Belete from Belgium and former silver medallist Sara Moreira from Portugal are also among the dangers.

Women’s field

Holly Bleasdale has a great chance of claiming her first major title as she is the holder of the two best vaults in Europe with 4.75m and 4.77m. She had a minor setback in Stockholm finishing fourth with 4.45m but she tweeted afterwards the run-up was her best ever which hopefully bodes well for Gothenburg.

She will need to rediscover her 4.70m-plus form in order to fend off the Russian threat of Anastasiya Savchenko, who has improved markedly since crashing out in Olympic qualifying last year. Savchenko has upped her PB from 4.60m to 4.71m and what’s more, she’s also beaten Bleasdale in their last two encounters in Bydgoszcz and Stockholm.

Shara Proctor produced a season’s best of 6.78m to win in Birmingham and the UK record-holder now comes up against a field including some of her likely rivals at the World Championships this summer. Two of Russia’s finest in reigning champion Darya Klishina and world outdoor silver medallist Olga Kucherenko, who holds the world-leading mark at 7.00m, are set to start along with European outdoor champion Eloyse Lesueur from France.

Two-time European outdoor triple jump champion Olha Saladuha makes her first appearance at these championships and the Ukrainian starts as the comprehensive favourite. An operation in the off-season accounts for Yamile Aldama’s slow start to the winter but a 13.91m season’s best in Birmingham indicates she’s rounding into competitive form.

Yevgeniya Kolodko is one of the few Russian A-listers making the trip but the Olympic silver medallist might play second-fiddle to Germany’s Christina Schwanitz, the holder of the three best puts in 2013 including a world-leading 19.79m.

Alessia Trost is unbeaten in the high jump this year and the Italian starts as the favourite ahead of former Olympic champion Tia Hellebaut and Spanish veteran Ruth Beitia. 

Pentathlon

The pentathlon lacks some lustre with Jessica Ennis, Tatyana Chernova and Nataliya Dobrynska all absent but the competition should be intriguing nonetheless. Antoniette Nana Djimou Ida will defend her title against a line-up including world-leader Yekaterina Bolshova, who will be looking to convert her best form to the major events this year.

The field also contains up-and-comers such as Kristina Savitskaya and Laura Ikauniece, who were eighth and ninth aged 21 and 20 respectively at the Olympics, and 18-year-old Nafissatou Thiam from Belgium, who recently broke Carolina Kluft’s world junior record.

Published in Athletics Weekly on February 28

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