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Thursday, January 03, 2008

2008 Preview Part II

Preview of the Olympic track events: Some classic clashes in 2008

Yesterday, we ran through some of the highlights of the upcoming sporting year, including the Olympic Marathons in Beijing, cycling's Tour de France, and some of the other big city marathons in 2008. Today, we continue with some predictions for the Olympic Games track events, and one or two random sporting events that grab my fancy.

The Olympic Track events

There are so many fascinating races and match-ups on the cards for Beijing that it's difficult to know where to begin. I think that closer to the time, we'll have to devote entire posts to each event, but for today, we'll just throw out some of those match-ups, pick our winner (according to our unique Crystal ball) and touch on some of the interesting stories behind the "result". So here we go, men first:

Men's 100m: Tyson Gay vs. Asafa Powell. A familiar story here - Powell will be majestic the whole way through. He'll ease off the throttle in his second round and semi-final race, but still run comfortably under 10 seconds despite coasting the final 20m. But come the final, Tyson Gay will step into the spotlight and Powell will be found wanting. It won't be as easy as Osaka, but Gay will win. His time? 9.82 seconds, to Powell's 9.85 seconds, and Gay bags Olympic Gold. Powell will have to wait until 2009 for his first major title.

Men's 800m: Kenyans vs. Borzakovskiy vs. Mulaudzi. The crystal ball nearly broke when we looked at this event - the strain was just too great. Osaka showed just how unpredictable the event can be, with the big favourites all being upstaged by Alfred Kirwa Yego. Don't expect the same in Beijing. Instead, it's Yuri Borzakovskiy who shows up after a couple of 'anonymous' years to put his finishing kick on the event and defend his title. It should be a worrying sign for the other athletes when a runner with such credentials spends a whole year out of the limelight, because his focus is clearly on Beijing, just as it was before Athens. So back a slow first lap, with a fast finishing Russian to relegate the Kenyans to the minor medals. Quite which Kenyans that will be is anyone's guess (for that matter, they may be running in non-Kenyan vests, with middle Eastern names)

Men's 10000m: Kenenisa Bekele vs. Zersenay Tadese. OK, there are some Kenyans and an Ethiopian (Sileshi Sihine) who will have their say in this race, but I'm really looking forward to this battle. Tadese of Eritrea came of age in 2007 - World Cross Country and Half Marathon champion, and he's shown his credentials on the big stage. No one would question Bekele's credentials, he's a great athlete. But 2007 was a somewhat patchy year for him. Yes, he won the World 10000m title in Osaka (in what I believe was a shaky defence), and he ran some good personal bests in the shorter distances, but he didn't look the part to me. In addition to Mombasa, there were some less than convincing performances, though with nothing at stake in some of them, difficult to say.

And perhaps 2007 was an indication that Bekele has devoted his year to sharpening up his speed (which would be a great move), but if it's more than that, and he comes out in 2008 with anything less than his best form, Tadese will challenge him in Beijing. Tadese, for his part, had a disappointing time in Osaka, but he'll go to Beijing having fixed those problems. And the race between the two will be awesome - Tadese will force the pace early, relying on his Cross country and 21 km strengths, while Bekele will sit and wait for the final 400m. So quite how it will unfold is the most mouth-watering prospect of all. I'm going to go out on a limb here and predict Tadese to surprise and win, but that's more for the sake of controversy, and because I hope it happens! (I'm a big Tadese fan). Deep down, I'm sure Bekele will fix up whatever affected his patchy 2007 year. If he doesn't, money on Tadese will be rewarded!

Men's 5000m: Bekele vs Lagat. OK, so the the fact that we even have Bekele running the 5000m is probably a sign our crystal ball is not infallible. But I'm assuming that Bekele has a 2008 year along the same lines of his 2007, and the focus and strength is seen in the shorter events. Some PB's over 1500m and 3000m will encourage him to try the shorter event. That, and the fact that he won't win the 10000m (work with me on this one!), will see him line up in the 5000m final and beat Lagat in a last lap sprint, but the damage will have been done between 3600 and 4400m, where Bekele will run 58-something laps to break the speed of the 1500m runner. Or at least, that's how he'd need to do it!

Women's 200m: Allyson Felix vs everyone else. No contest here, Felix by a length. She won in Osaka by the biggest margin in Championship history and while the gap should narrow, it's difficult to see anyone bridging it. Felix is the most majestic, elegant runner around at the moment - a sprinter who looks almost fragile but is so smooth and rhythmical. She'll win comfortably. For Felix, though, it's the next event that holds the most interest...

Women's 400m: Sanya Richards vs Christine Ohuruogu vs Allyson Felix. OK, so I'm HOPING AGAINST HOPE that Felix will run the 400m event, ala Marie-Jose Perece in Atlanta and do the double. If she runs, I'm backing her, simply because her 200m speed, combined with her elegance and rhythm equals a fearsome 400m runner. Richards SHOULD be in Beijing - she missed Osaka after a blip in the US trials, but don't expect that to happen again. The world champ, Ohuruogu, has been cleared to run after a little doping scare, but the Olympic gold against the Americans will be too much to ask.

Women's 5000m: Meseret Defar vs. Turinesh Dibaba. Again, we're guessing blind here because there's no guarantee that Dibaba will run the 5000m event. She'll win the 10000m race, with another 60-second final lap, and hopefully (I'm holding my thumbs already), she'll recover enough to take on Defar in the 5000m race too. It's the race everyone wants to see, a race we missed out on in 2007, but remember back to the most epic clashes in track from 2006. So let's hope that both are in form, that both run this race, and that we see the race of the Olympics when they clash. Defar was magnificent in 2007, world records, world titles and untouchable performances. Dibaba can challenge her, but our prediction is that Defar edges it, and that's only because Dibaba has a 10 000m race in her legs (and a gold medal around her neck!)

Other sports: Some random musings from the crystal ball

We tend to neglect the other sports here, not because we're not interested in them, but more because the link between those sports and science is sometimes tenuous at best. However, here are some sports that offer interesting matchups and possibilities for analysis in 2008:

Tennis: Can Federer topple Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros?

The best months of the year for tennis fans are May through to July, when the world focuses first on the red clay of France, and then grass of Wimbledon for the two most interesting Grand Slam tournaments. In 2007, it was Nadal in France, Federer at Wimbledon, in the two most epic matches of the year. Federer is chasing the only Slam to avoid him, but must beat Nadal first. I don't think that 2008 will be the year for it, unless Nadal is injured...

From a sports science point of view, I think that tennis offers some fascinating opportunities for "Game analysis", because in 2007, we saw Federer come out and try to out-hit Nadal on the clay. It was a tactic that was doomed from the start, but Federer seemed determined to beat Nadal at his own game. I think the fascinating research will be to use game analysis to work out how best to construct a point to beat Nadal. It definitely wasn't what Federer tried last year, the clash between the elegant Federer and the brutal Nadal turning into a mismatch as Federer played the game Nadal must have wanted him to. For Federer, the challenge is to figure out what game Nadal DOESN'T want him to play and that's why this clash interests us.

Rubgy - a year of All Black dominance

Now that the World Cup is out the way, things will be back to normal and the All Blacks will dominate...Well, OK, that's a little tongue-in-cheek, but I do expect that the All Blacks will be the team to beat in 2008. Mostly, it's the rule changes that will feed their strengths, and South Africa's game of winning without the ball (subdue and penetrate) will be more difficult to implement successfully. That, and the fact that South Africa will have a new coach and have some internal politics to deal with, will mean the expected building from their RWC triumph will be nulllified. But mostly, from the science point of view, it will be fascinating to see how the rule changes affect the game - we'll hope for more running, more phases and less kicking, which will only be good for the game.


OK, so that is that from the crystal ball. As I said yesterday, I reserve the right to "forget" everything I've written in these last two posts! Just kidding, I do of course predict based on what I believe will happen, but hey, sport is unpredictable and there's no harm in going out on a limb and making wild predictions. The obvious disclaimer at this point is that most of these predictions are likely to be wrong! But it's an interesting means to introduce some of the more interesting stories of 2008 - stories we'll certainly be covering, analysing and dissecting. So do join us before, during and after these events, and we'll do our best to bring the HOW? and WHY? to the WHO? and WHAT?

Next up, incidentally, we'll start on our series-concept again. We're not entirely sure what series that will be. We've definitely lined up series on altitude, lactate and exercise in the cold, so they're on the horizon...



Anonymous said...

you missed rudisha for the 800m! and mottram for the 5km.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hey Anonymous

Touche! Especially on Rudisha! In my defence, I will say that I did "cover myself" by suggesting that the Kenyans would feature in the race!!!! I'm not even sure who they will pick for their team though - the Kenyan system for selecting athletes is notoriously fickle, as I'm sure you're aware. He'll have to win through in the Kenyan trials to make it. And the problem for Rudisha is that he's still so young, and his age and inexperience may count against him just to qualify! I hope he makes it, because he's a fabulous runner, very exciting and if he gets it right, he'll be a challenger for sure. But I think the big occasion, and his tender age means he's more likely to be the man come London 2012. But we shall see...there's no better time to come of age than the Olympics, and age is but a number, right?

As for Mottram, I'm not as convinced of his Gold medal prospects. He was very good in early 2006, and looked like the man to challenge the East Africans. I even remember writing a feature post on this blog leading up to Osaka talking up his chances. As you know, that didn't go according to plan, so the jury is still out on his ability in a race against many of them - one on one, in the European meets, his strength and courage help him out, but I am not convinced he has the firepower to hit the front and hold of six or seven East Africans, which is what he'd have to do to win. I'd back him for a minor medal, but not the gold. Especially if Bekele runs...

But hey, that's the beauty of sport - by July, we'll have a clearer picture, and for all we know, Mottram might be dusting all the East Africans in final lap sprints thanks to some winter training! And in that case, I'll have no hesitation picking him as a man to watch too...!

Thanks for the comments though, let's hope for the challenges to come from all over!


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't normally admit to this but, i'll be looking forward to the gymnastics. Being British i have a sneaky suspicion that Beth Tweddle will leave with gold (one of NOT many for team GB).

I've got hopes for Bradley Wiggins in the men's cycling road time trial also.

Other than that, there is still a fair bit of qualifying to do so the water is a little murky.

Francois said...

I did not know where to post this article but it contains pretty amazing historical facts. Please feel free to move it elsewhere if you feel it proper.

One thing that I ignored was that on May 25, 1935, Jesse Owens set five world records (220 yards, 200 meters, 220 yard hurdles, 200 meters hurdles, long jump) and tied another(100 yards) in 45 minutes!

The Top 50 Olympic athletes

As we enter the Olympic year, David Powell, the world-renowned athletics journalist selects the greatest performers in the history of the Games

David Powell

From Times Online


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hey Francois

Thanks for the link, certainly won't be removed any time soon. We may even use it down the line for a news type article or an interest story closer to the Beijing Games.

Thanks a lot!