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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

USA Track and Field Champs 2008

Results and a new "Fastest Man in the World?"

This past weekend saw the start of the USA Track and Field Olympic Trials, as well as the USA Swimming Olympic Trials. It is a lot to cover, so we will try to focus rather on one at a time in more "digestible" chunks for you. In short, however, the action in both sports has been pretty hot with records falling in the pool and heroic stories on the track. Let's get started with a quick wrap of the action on the track. . .

For much of the meeting it was business as usual as many favorites advanced thru rounds and qualified for the Olympic team. In the women's 10,000 m it was favorites Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher who eased across the line for first and second, but Amy Yoder-Begley stole the show as she pushed the pace in the second half of the race, chasing an Olympic "A" qualifying standard which she lacked prior to the race. It was her chance qualify for Beijing, and she ran outside of herself by setting a 16 s PB to qualify.

Sticking with the women, in the 100 m it was Muna Lee beating Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams. Marshavet Hooker was a heavy favorite going into the race, and Edwards is haunted by a positive drug test back in 2003. But it was Lee who beat them all in 10.85, although Hooker ran the fifth fastest time ever (wind-aided or legal) by a woman when she won her qualifying heat. She did not have it for the final, though, and finished 0.03 s behind Williams to miss the last qualifying spot.

Tyson Gay sends a message to Bolt and Powell (and all comers)

On the men's side, the 100 m quarterfinals were the scene for a new American Record when Tyson Gay ran 9.77 s to break Maurice Green's 9.79 s from 1999. Hot on his heels was high-schooler Jeff Demps with a 10.01. He also broke some records, namely the American junior record and the national high school record. His 10.01 also ties him for the world junior record of Darrel Brown (Trinidad and Tobago).

But Gay was just finding his form, and in the final on Sunday night he opened it up for a very fast, albeit wind-aided, 9.68 s. Walter Dix (9.80) and Darvis Patton (9.84) qualified in second and third, respectively, but Gay was running away from them with is 9.68, which definitely sends a message to Olympic favorites Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell. They qualified for Jamaica over the weekend, but Bolt's winning time would have placed him only 4th at the US trials, and Powell's time 6th. So this might give Gay some confidence heading to Beijing, but it will be difficult to maintain this form for six or more weeks, and one can definitely argue either way who has the upper hand at this point!

Men's distance events

Most of the favorites cruised thru the 5000 m qualifying heats, with guys like Matt Tegenkamp, Adam Goucher, and Galen Rupp all qualifying. The hot favorite, of course, is Bernard Lagat, who is competing in his first USA Olympic Trials. A full seven men in the final had the "A" qualifying standard, but Adam Goucher was not one of them. Finding himself in a similar situation as Amy Yoder-Begley, Goucher would have to run hard to meet that "A" standard of 13:21.50 to even have a chance of qualifying.

It was a relatively slow start with a 4:22 opening mile. The favorites were playing it cool in the pack while the laps were whittled away. With four to go Goucher took the lead, needing a sub-4 final mile to get the standard. He left himself too much work to do, and likely was never serious about the race. Regardless, he put his head down and pushed it from the front for one lap. Then with two to go it was fireworks---Chris Solinksy throttled it and strung out the group, in fact forcing Goucher to bag the race. He knew his chances were gone at that point, and had made a pre-race deicision to pull out and focus rather on qualifying for the 10000 m.

Was anyone surprised, then, when Lagat simply moved into the lead with 150 m to go? It was elementary. . .and his pedigree showed in this race. He sat in and made the decisive move at just the right time, winning easily by 10+ m in a time of 13:27.47. Behind him Matt Tegenkamp held on for second and Ian Dobson wrapping up the team in third.

Men's 800 m - Symmonds wins with confidence from the back

This race unfolded as per a normal 800 m final, but ended with a strong showing by Oregon star Nick Symmonds. Khadevis Robinson took the lead and ran hard from the front. This left Symmonds and his Oregon teammates boxed in towards the back and looking like they had give away the race. With about 150 m to go Symmonds was second or third to last and the race appeared to be getting away from him. Then on the turn he fired the afterburners, and blazed past the field to win convincingly in 1:44.10. Drama followed behind him as Christian Smith and Khadevis Robinson dove for the line in an attempt to grab third place! In the end Smith edged Robinson and got the slot (and probably some road rash to boot from his diving finish).

For now the athletes take a break, but the action gets going again on Thursday when 1500 m quarterfinals and 400 m finals, followed by the women's 5000 m and men's 10000 m finals on Friday. We will try to take a look at the swimming trials later this week. And let's not forget that Le Tour de France kicks off this Saturday, so we will have a look at the pre-race favorites as well!