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Sunday, August 05, 2012

London 2012: Day 8 recap

London 2012 Day 8 recap: Great Great Britain, Men's 10,000m and the fastest woman in the world

Five very quick thoughts after an amazing Olympic Day...

1) Great Great Britain

What a day for the hosts. In track & field, they got three golds in an amazing hour, first with Ennis, then Rutherford in the long jump, and then Farah in the 10,000m.  That followed two gold medals in the morning's rowing and another track cycling gold medal, and Great Britain was in a frenzy by the time Farah kicked to gold.  They lost a penalty shootout to Korea in the football, but little will dampen the enthusiasm.

2) Ennis delivers under pressure, and with style

Jessican Ennis carried with her the expectations of everyone, as she was made the face of the Games in the year leading up.   She produced a spectacular performance, filled with PBs and charisma.  Her medal ceremony would have raised the roof on a closed stadium, and must be among the all-time highlights for a host nation.

3) Farah wins the 10,000m gold, with Rupp in second, for the worst African showing in decades

First of all, the gold went to a deserving champion in Mo Farah.  He may have been denied in Daegu last year, but he has been the world's premier distance runner for two years, and he duly bagged the gold that his status warranted.  He did so in a peculiar race, at least by my watching.

Going in, everyone had seen the movie before - go slow, wait to the last lap, and watch Mo Farah sprint away from you.  Kenenisa Bekele had seen it more than once, and though it was not always Farah out-kicking him, it was someone, and so he needed to avoid a re-run.  Yet that's exactly what happened.  The first 2km were painfully slow - 6 minutes.  It got better, first with Zersenay Tadese and then the Ethiopians pressing the pace into the 2:40s per km.  But in truth, all they were really doing was dangling off the front, and 5km was reached in 14:04.

After that, it was clear that Bekele and the Kenyans (well, everyone) needed a even faster pace to disrupt the 'script' that Farah would have been hoping for before the race began.  It never came.  Ethiopia tried, sort of, but again, they had men on the front, but the pace stayed firm but unspectacular.  The laps counted down and the opportunities to change the script were ticked off one by one.  By the time the bell was reached, there were still 11 men in the lead group.  I don't recall ever seeing a group that size at the bell in a championship 10km.  It was testament to the lack of punch at the front of the race.  And if it was not doing damage to ten men, then Farah, comfortable with a considerably faster pace, was certainly not going to be put into difficulty.

Farah was, of course, unmatched in the final sprint, winning it easily with a lap of 53.48s, and a final kilometer of 2:28.  Those are fast, but not eye-poppingly quick numbers.  I suspect that in the end, nothing anyone could have done would have beaten Farah - a 26:50 and he would have won, a 27:30, and he did win.  But the second half of this race was done in 13:26, so for all the "front-running", it was just a really tepid tactical effort.  Perhaps the east Africans just didn't have the weapons to change the structure of the race, because Bekele was clearly not at the kind of level to be aggressive off the 64 to 65 seconds per lap pace that was set for most of the race.

In the end, then, it was the other Bekele, Tariku, who got closest to Farah, but even that challenge faded, and in the home straight, it was Galen Rupp who came through for the USA's first medal in the event since Billy Mills in 1964.  That will no doubt inspire almost as much celebration in the USA as Farah's win for GB, and it will be interesting to see if either can grab a second medal in the 5,000m.  Farah looks a good bet in that event, and with Dibaba looking like a women's double winner, we may well have a repeat of Beijing, where two double golds are seen.  The difference is, it won't be Bekele.

4) Fraser Pryce defends

In the final track event, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce defended her 100m gold with a dominant performance of 10.75s.  She had a tailwind (1.5m/s) in cool conditions, and used her explosive start to set the race up.  Carmelita Jeter challenged, and came close, with a 10.78s good enough for silver.  Veronica Campbell-Brown took the final medal in 10.81s.  It was a fast, deep race, with six sub-11 second clockings.

The track is clearly fast, then, which augurs well for the men's race tomorrow.  There, all the big names got through, and possibly saw the addition of a 'new' name to the mix, in Ryan Bailey.  He is of course the third American, and you don't get into that team without having real aspirations on a medal, but it was a surprise to see his 9.88s PB in the heat.  Admittedly, he ran all the way through the line, whereas all the others - Bolt, Blake, Gay, Gatlin, Powell - were able to coast for at least part of the race.  Bolt seemed to barely break out of a fast stride, looking in his heat like Fraser-Pryce did in hers.  Blake also looked mighty impressive, and tomorrow's sprints should bring the times down into the 9.80s for everyone.  Whether Bailey has a "jump" will be tested.

While on the matter of times, I thought I'd throw out a predicted time for the men's final - four years ago, Bolt won in 9.69s, but he cost himself between 0.03 and 0.05s with his celebrations.  So call it a 9.65s time.  One year later, he ran 9.58s, but has since returned to the 9.7-range.  So too have other men - Blake is in the low 9.70s, Gay seems to be capable of getting there.  Back in 2008, Bolt came to Beijing off the back of a 9.72s world record.  That is slightly faster than the times we've seen this year, though the big contenders have not shown their hands just yet.

However, given the trend in sprinting in the last few years, it's difficult for me to see a sub 9.60s clocking in London - a performance jump of 0.15s (which is more or less what it will take) seems too large, given that three years haven't produced anything under 9.70s.  The fast track is making me reconsider this, but then the cool conditions in London by 21h30 mean slower times too.  So if I had to guess right now, I'd say that a time of 9.68s will win gold tomorrow night.

Then again, I may be totally wrong! I hope I am, and I hope we see a record.  What I do know is that we'll see an incredible race - like the men's 10,000m, it has so many story lines in the race.

5) Tomorrow's action - a women's marathon to kick off

It's been a good games for defending champions.  Given how rare it is to defend an Olympic title, to have seen three in the first eight events is quite something.  Bolt will be aiming to be the fourth, although Ezekiel Kemboi will be hoping to do that when he races the steeplechase just before tomorrow's programme closes with the 100m final.

Also tomorrow, the women's marathon, and what should be an incredible race.  Here's a good pre-race preview, courtesy Letsrun.  My pick, for the sake of it, would be Keitany, followed by Kiplagat, in a repeat of London this year.  Shobukhova's performance will be fascinating, but I think the racing aggression of the Kenyans wins the top medals tomorrow.