Saturday, August 25, 2007

Not so Live from the World Track Championships

Even though the only other sport I've really spoken about on here is Tennis, I'm a massive sports fan. I'm just a passing fan of the major North American "big" team sports except for Hockey; I'm much more into Amateur and/or less popular sports. Purely just by accident.

Anyway, that was my prelude to my future random tirades about what's going on in the World Track Championships. Most people in Canada are probably not huge track and field championships, so they're missing out.

The champs started today/yesterday in Osaka, Japan. I say today/yesterday because the time difference with Osaka causes the daytime events to start in the late evening here and continue into the next day.

Either way, let's talk about the events. The marquee event is no doubt the men's 100m. It's usually the marquee event of what I think is the whole Olympics, and it's no different in this World Track Championships. It has a few dynamics: The current world record holder, Asafa Powell versus this year's world leader Tyson Gay. It has arguably the top two sprinting nations in the world facing off: Jamaica (Powell) vs. USA (Gay). Not to be outdone, it has Nike (Powell) versus Adidas (Gay).

While the last one isn't that significant, everthing about this meeting is. Powell and Gay haven't faced off at all this year. Gay has been running up a storm while Powell has been slightly injured this year, but he now seems to be back on form. I think most people are secretly picking Gay to win, but I'm not so sure. Powell has been the best sprinter over the last four years, but all he has to show for it is breaking the world record and equalling it twice. I'm not joking when I say that. Powell has hat big meet disappointments in the Olympics (poor performance) and the World Championships (injury). This year, though, he seems to have learned from it. Save one night out enjoying Osaka's nocturnal pleasures. He's looked good through the heats and the quarterfinals, running 10.34 and a very capable 10.01 respectively. The 10.01 in the quarterfinals was quite impressive because he eased up and was watching himself on the big screen; this means he has a lot more in his tank. 10.01, ladies and gentlemen is a wicked time. Only three people left in the competition have run faster this year, just to put it in perspective, and Powell did it without breathing heavily.

As for Gay, he's quite impressive. He ran a wind aided 9.76 which is faster than the world record, but the time doesn't qualify because it had too much of a helping win (above 2.0 meters per second I think). He's quite the 200m runner as well, second only to the legend Michael Johnson at that distance. Still, his emergence is a bit peculiar. His coach is in jail so he gets his workouts sent to him from his coach in jail. He also came up really quickly this year: last year he was an impressive 200m runner and a capable 100m runner, but now he's this 100m phenom.

It's just crazy how the US keeps on popping out these amazing 100m sprinters. After the very able Maurice Green passed his peak, former world record holder Tim Montgomery came out of nowhere. His career then died due to doping complications. Then after Montgomery's demise, 2004 Olympic Champion Justin Gatlin had a meteoric rise. He equalled Powell's current world record, but now he's fighting doping charges. Now we have Tyson Gay. Let's see what happens.

Let's move on to my favourite event, the women's 100m. The early rounds if this even starts August 26th. It's my favourite because two of my favourite atheletes are competing: Veronica Campbell and Merlene Ottey.

Campbell the silver medallist from the last world championships and the bronze medallist from the last Olympics at this event is looking for the medal that has eluded her (and Ottey) in this event. She's the only woman to have run sub 11 seconds in each of the last 4 seasons, and she too has a little bit to prove after being outshadowed last year by her Jamaican teammate Sheron Simpson. Last year Campbell was injured, and this year Simpson is injured and missing the world champs. While everyone is talking about Tyson Gay completing the men's sprint double (100m and 200m gold), Veronica Campell is just as serious. She's been a top 3 sprinter in the 100 over the last 4 seasons, and the only person who's run a faster 200m than her 2004 gold medal win since 1999 is Simpson. Like I said, Simpson is not competiting due to injury.

Who is competing this year, though, is the bionic woman, Merlen Ottey. Think about this: a woman who will be the qualifying age for the Senior PGA tour in less than 3 years is competing with athletes half her age, and she's performing very ably. While Ottey won't get a medal at these championships, she does have a shot at making the quarter or semi finals. That's pretty damn good for a 47 year old. To put her career in perspective, the first track and field world championships were held in 1983. Guess what? Ottey was there and she medalled. That's before I was even born. Here is she is 24 years later still proving she has it. To sum up Merlene Ottey's presence in the 100m competition, she has run below the world elite 11 second barrier more than 67 times in competition. I would bet good money that this mark is more than all of her other competitors' combined total of dipping below that barrier as only 8 other women in the field have accomplished that feat at least once. Merlene Ottey is the Spirit of Sport.

Now let's talk about the Canadians. I'm not CBC's Canadian trail, so I'm not gonna mention each Canadian and congratulate them for just showing up, but I will mention the ones to watch. My two for this weekend are Adam Kunkel and Diane Cummins. Kunkel is an up and comer in the 400m hurdles, and he's been lowering the Canadian record over the last couple of years. I expect him to make the finals in that event where if he does, he should be an outside shot for a medal. I wouldn't be surprised if he broke the Canadian record at these champs and follows Perdita Felicien and Tyler Christopher (whom I'm sure I'll mention later in these champs) as surprise achievers in the world champs.

As for Cummins, she's past her peak, but she's still world class. She's dipped below the magical 2 minute barrier this year in her event, the 800m. Unfortunately, the quality to medal will likely be above what Cummins can produce, but she has a half decent shot at making the finals. Cummins deserves even further credit as being a very consistent performe on the Canadian team. I remember in 2001 when Edmonton hosted the world champs, she was the only one who made Canada proud. This Victoria based athlete has represented her adopted home very well, and we should continue to support her.

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