Welcome to the Science of Sport, where we bring you the second, third, and fourth level of analysis you will not find anywhere else.

Be it doping in sport, hot topics like Caster Semenya or Oscar Pistorius, or the dehydration myth, we try to translate the science behind sports and sports performance.

Consider a donation if you like what you see here!

Did you know?
We published The Runner's Body in May 2009. With an average 4.4/5 stars on Amazon.com, it has been receiving positive reviews from runners and non-runners alike.

Available for the Kindle and also in the traditional paper back. It will make a great gift for the runners you know, and helps support our work here on The Science of Sport.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Night of surprises in Berlin...and a few predictable results

Shock and surprise in Berlin: Women's 800m, pole vault, and 100m

...and according to script for Bekele in the Men's 10,000m

It was another great night of athletics in Berlin - no Usain Bolt, but a host of great middle- and long-distance running, finals and heats, and they produced some drama, shocks and surprises. None was greater than Elena Isinbaeva's failure to win pole vault gold (really, I'm not even making that up...!)

Then we had the women's 100m, and a milder surprise, and of course, providing the stability for the evening was Kenenisa Bekele, who duly delivered on his pre-race status and wrapped up title number 4 (but that's a topic for tomorrow, in more detail...for now, women's event recaps below).

Women's 800m semi-final: Surprises

The women's 800m event has, in recent times, been the most tumultuous in the sport. Consider that in 2007, we heralded the arrival of Janeth Jepkosgei of Kenya. She won the world title with her front-running tactics and looked set for an era of dominance.

Then in 2008, Pamelo Jelimo showed up. From nowhere, Jepkosgei was relegated to pack runner, losing by 3 or 4 seconds to Jelimo. Jelimo ran 1:55 to 1:56 with regularity, swept all before her, bagged a million dollars in the Golden League, and a gold medal in Beijing. The event was hers to dominate for years.

Jump to 2009. Pamelo Jelimo, beaten by 6 seconds in her first race, when he she ran 10 seconds slower than her typical time in 2008. That was back at the start of the season, we've now arrived at Worlds, and she's still a shadow of her 2008 form. She failed to qualify for the final, not even finishing her semi-final, having never featured at all. It is, to be blunt, the most spectacular fall from glory I've seen in the sport (in an admittedly short time). Quite how a woman who beat everyone by 2 to 3 seconds is now run out the back of mediocre races beats me. I guess it shows that even the elite cannot survive on talent alone. But for Jelimo...back to the drawing board.

But, if you thought we were done with surprise debut seasons, meet Caster Semenya, of South Africa. She announced herself to the world when she was involved in a trip with Jepkosgei, having to vault the world champion to remain in the race. She still won the heat, and won her semi-final today, looking, well...very comfortable and untroubled. Add to that the fact the Jepkosgei only made the final as a fastest loser, and Semenya is very much the favourite for the final.

There will be the usual host of Russians, a Spaniard, a Brit, and a few others who will attempt to challenge, but Semenya, based on her semi-final, and that 1:56 from a few weeks ago, looks to be the one to beat. She is this year's revelation, the Jelimo of 2009, and barring nerves or disaster, will assume the mantle of number 1.

One woman who won't challenge her is Maggie Vessey, the second fastest in the world this year, and a multiple winner in Europe. She never featured either, starting slowly, running at the back and never coming through. It was a disappointing way to bow out, for while a podium was always going to be tough (but certainly possible), she would have expected to feature more strongly in the semi-final.

Women's pole vault - shock as Isinbayeva is beaten

The strongest favourite in a women's event this entire week was Elena Isinbaeva. Sure, she'd been beaten a few weeks ago, a first loss in many years, but surely the Russian, who has just about owned pole vault for five or six years, would pull it together for the big event of the year?

It was not to be, however, and she didn't clear a single height. As is normal, she only entered the competition late, at a height of 4.70m, when other jumpers had taken four or five jumps. She failed at that height, and then the clearance of 4.75m by Poland's Anna Rogowska forced her to attempt 4.80m instead. Two failures at that height, and she finished last, giving the Pole her first world title.

For Isinbaeva, I guess it was inevitable, for one can only dominate for so long. What is of concern, however, is that it's not as though other women have closed the gap, but rather that she has come back to them. It might be expected that with Isinbaeva regularly clearing 4.90m, and setting the standard at 5.05m, at least a few women would start to edge nearer. They haven't, but Isinbayeva has returned to their level. Changes to technique, perhaps?

I'm not qualified to give an opinion on pole vaulting, so I won't, but it is at least refreshing to witness a pole vault competition where the outcome is undecided. The event had become pretty boring with the only suspense whether Isinbaeva would bank another big cheque for improving her record by 1cm each time...

Women's 100m - it's Beijing all over again

Shelly-Ann Fraser pulled something of a surprise in Beijing last year. It would be a little harsh to say that winning a world title to go with that Olympic gold would be a surprise, but the favourite on form in the European circuit would have been Kerron Stewart, also of Jamaica.

However, from the gun, it was Fraser, who really did leave Stewart behind. She must have gained 2m in the first 20m (the analysis from the IAAF research will be very interesting for this race), and then held it for 40m, and then held off a rapidly finishing Stewart over the final 40m.

Stewart was closing at an amazing rate in the last 30m. She will kick herself for losing quite that much time at the start. It's difficult to fault Stewart, for she did run a PB and that's about all one can ask in a major championship. However, I suspect that the IAAF research will show that Stewart had a top speed well in excess of anyone else in this race, and that will certainly give Stewart some reason to be disappointed with silver, for she had the race in hand had she started better. The reaction times alone tell a story - Stewart reacted to the gun in 0.170sec, while Fraser was timed at 0.146sec - that's 0.024 seconds already, combined with Fraser's power over the first 30m, and the race was decided

So it's a repeat of Beijing, on both the men's and women's side. One year ago, to the day, it was a Bolt world record, and a Shelly-Ann Fraser gold. Jump ahead to Berlin, and the times are faster, but the outcome the same, as Jamaica continue their dominance of the 100m event.

Men's 10,000m - it's Bekele again

The men's 10,000m will be the subject of a post tomorrow - it's one of the big events for us (we are partial to distance running after all). Kenenisa Bekele provided the stability on the day, doing what just about everyone had expected, and winning his 4th title. More discussion to follow...

Join us then!


P.S. There was one other surprise from Berlin - Galkina was run right out of the medals in the women's 3000m. She led the whole way, but never did any damage to anyone and as they approached the bell, about 4 women swept past her. It got worse with 200m to go, when even more swallowed her up. She fought back bravely, but never featured, and was eventually run into 4th place. The winner was Spain's Marta Dominguez, who outsprinted Yuliya Zarudneva off the final hurdle. Not a great night for Russian women - two gold medals they would have banked on, and they came away with nothing...


Anonymous said...

Boy did Fraser get out of those blocks. She does it like she stole something and then playing catch me if you can. In Beijing no one came close.But in Berlin, Stewart was almost there. Now the relay is looking to be fantastic.

I would like to see the analysis of the first 20m, cause that's where Fraser kills everyone like you said. Her acceleration is mind boggling.

With the strength of the Jamaican field in the women's 100m, I see a sub 42sec in the relay, that's if they can make clean exchanges.

Frans Rutten said...

The women's event has recently been the most tumultuous in the sport. You can say that again. I never watched such a weird event as the semifinales tonight. That Pamelo Jelimo could get in trouble was clear to me after looking at some figures beforehand. Now she seemed to me just as fragile in this fierce competition as others.

Beijing 2008
1:54.87 > 55,42+59,45(28,61+30,84)
Zürich 2008
1:54.01 > 55,94+58,07(29,18+28,89)
Berlin 2009
2:03.50 > 64,31+59,19(30,91+28,28)
Not all splits are dead correct.

In the race itself it became apparent after 500m that Jelimo would fail and in her slipstream Vessey.

Not Eugene but all the consequent races proved that she has lost it all and IMO it has nothing to do with form or even preparation.

Seeing Semanya for the first time on tv (I missed the heats) and watching her almost jogging à la Bolt to the finish in only her 2nd sub 2 minutes run, while she not so long ago had a level, which would be attainable by thousands of athletes in past and present, made me realize, that I was looking at something weird.

Isibaeva's defeat was more or less in the line of Rise and Fall of top athletes, although it probably will be temporarily in this case. You could it see coming. The problem with superior athletes is I think that once they are sincerely threatened in their domain, might it through internal or external causes, they can't adjust anymore.

Shelly-Ann Fraser, a so-called SENKRECHTSTARTER in good German, last year, did it again, as I more or less expected this. I watched her before the race and it was apparant how sweet she behaves, à la Bolt in terms of not worrying about anything. It's the final, so what. But on the other hand my rather suspicious nature says, but does someone who has the only ace that matters in the play, not look rather the same? There is at least one thing which she has in common with the late Griffith-Joyner. Up to now they both only performed their utmost at two occasions. I mention this because this is part of my mindset. It doesn't automatically mean, that I have to or even can draw conclusions from that. BTW Fraser looked a lot like Nelli Cooman, a short, muscular Dutch woman, but originated from the Caribeans (Suriname), who from 1984-1995 won 6 European 60m Indoor titles and 2 World Indoor titles and had a PB of 7,00s. She managed in her sporting life only one good 100m race: European title in 11,08s in 1986. But Fraser does "survive" better.

Anonymous said...

Isinbaeva's fall in Berlin was most definitely accelerated by her previous loss to borgowska. When you have been unbeatable for so long your psychological vigor in fighting off setbacks is highly weakened. For someone not to have experienced defeat for 5 yrs is just outstanding.

But now that it has happened I think we would begin to see her back at her dominant level. She needed this experience to keep her motivated. I can only imagine how she handles practices considering that she already knew she was going to win. now she will be a lot more fierce, but then again I might be wrong. Not everyone is good at making comebacks from such falls from grace.

On Semenya. When I first saw her, I was like. Who is this dude. only to find out that it was the line-up for the women's 800m. She looked so comfortable for a first time at the world stage. Lets just hope she can maintain her recent surge to the top.

On Shelly-Ann Fraser, I would not say she has only performed on two occasions, because she has been strong since her Beijing victory. When I think of it. It seems that victory was the confidence booster she needed.

She has been as strong as Stewart through out the season. Winning the Jamaican championship and loosing only once to Stewart. So I can't call that performing on only two occasions. Nevertheless time will tell if she lasts longer than two good yrs. Which is about how long Flo Jo lasted at the top.

Anonymous said...

Liked everything about Semenya except her actions at the finish line--brushing "make believe dust" off her left shoulder like brushing away her opponents in the 800.
Perhaps the only downside to Mr. Bolt's world record work is the spread of his antics "mocking" his opponents. It happened at Bejing but, to his credit, he did not mock anyone at Berlin.

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

HI All

Thanks for the comments!

Interesting perspectives on all the action.

Frans, I admire your skepticism! I too wonder what is going on, with the women's 800m, the 100m and the like.

On the women's 800m, I'm seriously weighing up doing a post on it, but it's so controversial that I don't want to propogate false stories even more. There is very little that is as controversial as gender verification in sport, so I think it's important for facts to emerge first, and then comment, rather than vice versa.

To the last poster, I didn't notice Semenya's action of brushing her shoulder. That is an arrogant act, and I wish people wouldn't do it. Celebrations are good, I would even say that Bolt's celebration in Beijing was not disrespectful. But Semenya's, if that's true, is quite contemptuous, and I wish they wouldn't do it. There's no reason why one can't celebrate without affirming your perception of superiority!

Anyway, enjoy tonights action!


BridgeportJoe said...

Re: 10,000m

It's really fun to watch Bekele. I cannot wait until he moves up to the marathon. Watching him and Wanjiru go at it would be breathtaking.

Also, what the heck is going on with the Americans? Two in the top 8 in the 10000, possibly a similar result in the 5000, top 5 in the women's steeple, and a good chance for a women's marathon medal. It's starting to look like we might be competitive with the Africans, huh?

DrTim said...

Hi Ross,

Not sure why only the Australian papers are reporting it but there is some doubt over the gender of Caster Semenya ...



Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Tim

They're not, there is a lot of speculation over here as well.

However, being in SA, you can appreciate that it's a little more complex than simply throwing an opinion out there! I have looked into it, but it's shrouded in secrecy.

You can be 100% certain that at some stage, I will do a post on it, but for now, it's better to be prudent, because it's all just rumour. We need facts, because this is enormously sensitive and it affects Semenya's whole life. This is way more volatile than accusing someone of doping, so again, facts are needed.

But it's certainly not isolated to Australia - do a Google search for Caster Semenya hermaphrodite and you will see what I mean

Watch this space...


Frans Rutten said...

Tonight appeared the first 20m-section analysis of the women's final on the Track & Field News forum. No source though, probably leaked from the Scientific Project of taken from video footage.
Fraser did 3,03s for 20m, 4,98 for 40m, 6,88 for 60m, 8,77s for 80m and 10,73s for 100m. Stuart 3,11s, 5,07s, 6,96s, 8,82s and 10,75s.

Anonymous said...

In the video I have looked at, Semenya raises a rather beefy right index finger in an "I'm #1" gesture, but does not "dust" her/his/its shoulders in any sort of diss. If you have video showing otherwise, please link it.

For an interview with her, check YouTube. She has the voice of an adolescent boy.

What I find puzzling is how she could be "unaware" that she is a highly-masculinized female and not know the implications of that.

First Pistorius, now this. What's going on in SA that the rest of the world has to put up with this nonsense?

Oliver said...

The last poster said:

"First Pistorius, now this. What's going on in SA that the rest of the world has to put up with this nonsense?"

How do you equate the two?

Pistorius himself took his case to the IAAF who were the ones that okayed him.

This is quite different. If the SA Aths had her gender verified, as I believe all females have to undergo at that level, then they are in the clear...nothing to do with SA.
But if they haven't and she isn't...or worse if they have and she isn't...then you can point a finger at SA.

For now, we don't know.


Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi to the last anonymous poster

Regarding Semenya, I don't think she knows. Honestly, this is so complex, that there is every chance that she has spent 18 years of her life as a female and is only now facing these accusations. In fact, that's not entirely true, she has been accused since high school, but still, the blame cannot lie with her - it needs to fall at the feet of the coaches and management of the local athletics body.

They were responsible for responding to local allegations and it would seem that they have let her down very badly indeed. I have a lot to say on this topic, but I do not want to do so until it is know for certain what the IAAF found, because this is so sensitive. I will definitely be posting on it in due course.

Then to Oliver, I can kind of see where the poster is coming from in equating Pistorius to Semenya. The issue is eligibility to compete, and what is really a grey area. This gender issue is very grey indeed, and I suspect that if the IAAF do ban her, there will be legal ramifications (personally, I'd be looking at taking Athletcs SA to task, because they tested and "cleared" her using the wrong tests, if reports are accurate).

However, the similarity is that both athletes will no doubt claim no advantage, and the IAAF will have to sort through the loopholes and grey areas and figure it out. I can see the similarity.

One other thing - Pistorius didn't take his case to the IAAF. The IAAF had to intervene when he started running. And then the IAAF didn't OK him, they banned him and the CAS were the ones that forced the IAAF to accept him. I think we may well see the same journey here... it's all very sad for Semenya, actually.