At the World Athletic Championships in Daegu, South Korea, the last big track & field meet before next year's Olympics, Team USA gave some breakthrough performances (Jenny Simpson, Jesse Williams), but also saw a handful of disappointments (men's 4x100 meter relay). Nonetheless, the U.S. led the medal count, winning 25 medals over the ten-day competition, and athletes know exactly how to prepare leading up to London.
At this point, it's a given that at least one U.S. relay team will either drop a baton or run out of a zone at a world championship or Olympic Games. However, in their defense, this one wasn't really their fault. The men's 4x100 meter relay quartet had a tough assignment against Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans, but after two good legs from Trell Kimmons and Justin Gatlin, the team's third leg, Darvis Patton collided with Britain's Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, spilling Patton and knocking both teams out of the race before Walter Dix could get the stick. Patton also separated his left shoulder in the fall. The Jamaicans won the race, establishing the only world record of the meet, in 37.04 seconds.
Felix the tired cat:
Give U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix credit for trying a mean double of the 200 and 400 meter events. Granted she didn't win either, but Felix still came away from competition with four medals, including a pair in the relays and now has ten career world medals, the most of any U.S. athlete and one more than Carl Lewis. The question for Felix is whether to scale back on her ambitions during the Olympic year and pick one individual race in order to reduce the wear on her legs during the competition.
Britain's Mo Farah may have emerged as one of Britain's faces to watch for at the Olympics. In Daegu, Farah won gold in the 5,000 meters and took second in the 10,000. Farah was born in Somalia where his parents were vacationing, grew up in Djibouti and was brought to Britain when he was eight. He won the European 5,000 and 10,000-meter titles last year and took the NYC Half-Marathon in New York earlier this year. He has taken a smart training approach by moving to Oregon to train under Alberto Salazar and get away from the home-country glare. However, it will be interesting to see how much he dodges the pre-Olympic spotlight, when a financial windfall waits.
Kenya top this?:
Kenyan women upstaged the men in Daegu, as the female distance runners won eight of the nine medals available in the 5,000-meter, 10,000-meter and marathon events. Only Ethiopian veteran Meseret Defar managed to sneak in for a bronze in the 5,000-meters and prevent an unprecedented triple distance sweep. Vivian Cheruiyot won the five and ten, while Edna Kiplagat finished first in the marathon.
Four U.S. Breakthroughs:
Granted there was an asterisk, when Jason Richardson won the 110-meter hurdles in 13.16 seconds. Richardson was headed for third When Cuba's Dayron Robles impeded China's Liu Xiang ahead of him, slowing Liu down and resulting in Robles' disqualification. It's a huge step forward for Richardson, who enjoyed a fine collegiate career at South Carolina, but suffered an injured hamstring at the Olympic trials in 2008.
Jesse Williams took the gold in the men's high jump, dusting the field with a jump of 2.35 meters. Williams cleared the height, his fifth of the meet, without any misses. Both he and Aleksey Dmitrik of Russia missed three times at 2.37, but Dmitrik already had one miss each at the three previous heights. Williams likes to say that he was just the white guy on the Oregon campus who would shock everyone by touching his forehead to the rim during pickup basketball games.
Jenny Simpson pulled off the stunner of the meet, rallying to win gold in the 1,500-meters. Simpson had finished second at the USA Championships earlier this year behind Morgan Uceny, who tripped and fell during the final in Daegu. With Natalia Rodriguez of Spain leading for a good portion of the race, Simpson swung wide to the outside to pass half a dozen runners over the final lap. Simpson is equally accomplished in other events, having made the U.S. Olympic team in the 3,000-meter steeplechase three years ago. She also won the mile and 3000-meters at the U.S. indoor track & field championship earlier this year.
Christian Taylor stunned reigning world champ Phillips Idowu of Britain to win the triple jump in Daegu. Before attending the University of Florida, Taylor had been a standout high school athlete in Georgia, where he set state prep records in the long jump, triple jump and 400 meters. Ironically, Taylor originally wanted to play football and soccer, and took up track & field as a joke; looks like the joke's on him, now.
The British have set themselves up for great success on home waters at the 2012 Olympics with a superb showing at the World Rowing Championships in Bled, Slovenia. The British won a whopping five golds and 12 medals, including a medal in every sweep event they entered. Oceania also had a stellar worlds, as New Zealand placed second with nine medals followed by Australia (and Italy) with eight.
The U.S. team struggled throughout much of the competition, winning just four medals, all from the women, and failing to qualify for the final in the men's eights, an event in which it has a sparkling history. The team finished second in the B final, failing to earn a berth at the Olympics next year.
The women's coxless sweep four, rowed by Sarah Zelenka, Kara Kohler, Emily Regan and Sara Hendershot, won gold, topping Australia by less than a second. The U.S. women's eight, rowed by Esther Lofgren, Susan Francia, Meghan Musnicki, Taylor Ritzel, Jamie Redman, Amanda Polk, Caroline Lind and Eleanor Logan, coxed by Mary Whipple, confirmed their supremacy dating back to the Beijing Olympics, by taking gold by a second ahead of Canada. Susan Francia, Caroline Lind and Mary Whipple were returnees from the 2008 Olympics, and have a good chance of rowing again in 2012. The women's sculling quad, rowed by Stesha Carle, Natalie Dell, Adrienne Martelli and Megan Kalmoe, took second behind the German boat in a tight contest to the end. The women's lightweight four, consisting of Hillary Saeger, Nicole Dinion, Lindsey Hochman and Katherine Robinson, won a bronze, behind Britain and China.
Aside from the U.S., Australian-born, New Zealand-raised Mahe Drysdale continued his amazing run since converting to the single sculls after the 2004 Olympics, by winning his fifth world title in the single sculls for the Kiwis. He won his first world title in 2005, several months after breaking two vertebrae in a water skiing accident. At the Beijing Games in 2008, Drysdale nearly passed out, suffering from a gastrointestinal infection, but he still finished third and was subsequently carried by life raft onto the dock after the race.
On the women's side, Mirka Knapkova of the Czech Republic overcame a history of races in which she finished just off the podium to take the single sculls ahead of the favorite, Ekaterina Karsten of Belarus. Knapkova has a fourth a fifth and a sixth to show for her Olympic career. Her father, Miroslav, finished fifth and sixth at the 1976 and 1980 Olympics while representing Czechoslovakia. Karsten, still going at age 39, has won five medals, including four in the single sculls, at five Olympics.