Lots of suspense in store at worlds
DAEGU, South Korea -- Seven reasons, among many, to make a little time for the World Track and Field Championships, which begin Saturday in this city of 2.5 million people, 145 miles southeast of Seoul.
None of that matters here. His best time for 100 meters in 2011 is 9.88 and his best 200 is 19.86. He could have lost to countryman Asafa Powell here, except that Powell usually chokes on championship pressure and now he's out with a groin injury.
"I still think he'll lose," says three-time world 100-meter champion and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Maurice Greene.
Two other Jamaicans, Yohan Blake, 21, and Michael Frater, and American Walter Dix could all pressure Bolt, who is the not the same sprinter he was in 2008 and '09, and he admitted that here this week. Maybe he's not fully recovered from the back injury that slowed him in 2010. Maybe he's just beat up from running so fast. Maybe he's not training properly. And he might win anyway. But he might not. (More on Bolt in my Saturday column).
All that considered, this double is a major reach. She's not in the top three in the world in either event and her 200-meter best this year is just 22.32, sixth in the world and half a second -- forever in track terms -- off her personal best. What's more, the 400, which begins on Saturday, could jeopardize Felix in the 200. She deserves props for trying this, but if it's a marketing tactic to position her for 2012 (when she absolutely should not double, and just go after her first Olympic gold), it's a big time roll of the dice.
This year, Suhr struggled with the effects of Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that nearly compelled her to withdraw from the U.S. nationals at Eugene, Ore., in June (in which case she wouldn't have qualified for worlds at all). Then on Tuesday, Aug. 16, three weeks after vaulting a 2011 world best of 16-1 ¼ and seemingly fully recovered, Suhr awoke at home in Rochester, N.Y., with painful cramps in her abdomen. "She's the toughest athlete I've ever known,'' says Suhr's husband-coach, Rick Suhr, "and she was crying for four days, just lying on the couch.''
Last Friday, the Suhrs flew to Orlando and Jenn underwent twice-daily massage sessions with a therapist until the pain subsided. On Monday they flew back to Rochester, where Jenn delivered one solid training session and then jumped on a plane to Korea. Neither Rick nor Jenn knows the source of the recent pain, only that's it largely gone.
"I'm in the game and I've got a chance,'' says Suhr, the world leader in an event where world record-holder and '08 Olympic gold medalist Yelena Isinbayeva has not returned to the dominant form that preceded her year off in 2010.
For Oliver, in particular, this race and next year's Summer Games in London are crucial for establishing his place in the history of the sport. He is already the fastest American sprint hurdler in history -- faster than Greg Foster, Allen Johnson, two-time Olympic gold medalist Roger Kingdom and Renaldo Nehemiah (yes, tracks are faster, too), but he is still relatively anonymous and says he revels in it.
"That's just track and field, in general, in the U.S.A.,'' says Oliver, a 6-2, 205-pound strong safety replica. "That's the good thing, though, you can have all the fun traveling around and making a good living and just live in relative obscurity. You don't have to worry about people getting all in your business.''
Deep down, Oliver knows better. An Olympic year is approaching and fame will be parceled out to a precious few. Smart, dynamic, telegenic, he can be one of them, but he's got to beat the big boys here.
But he has not run a track race since September 2009 (just after sweeping the 5K and 10K at the Berlin worlds), largely due to a calf injury. However, Bekele is here and expected to double. If he pulls it off with so little preparation, you can remove the "arguably" from in front of the "greatest distance runner in history'' in the previous paragraph.
However, she was probably the fastest woman in the field two years ago in Berlin, when she ran a panicky final and finished third (10.90). Now the pressure will be applied again by Jamaican veterans Veronica Campbell-Brown, who in addition to two world championship golds at 200 meters also has a world title (2007) and an Olympic bronze (2004) in the 100, and 2008 Olympic gold medalist Shelly Ann Fraser-Price (who has not been running fast this year).
The low in medals is probably safe, but the five golds? Not so much. In fact, and this is blasphemous, if Team USA catches some lousy breaks (Felix goes down in the 400, Jeter loses in the 100, Oliver doesn't win the hurdles... all possible), it could find itself heading into the middle of the week without a gold medal, fighting some very negative momentum.