Part Two-Quick And Dirty Water Cooler Cheat Sheet For The London Olympics

Let’s dive right into part two of my London Olympic 2012 track preview.

This go round were looking at the 400 meters, 400 meter hurdles, 1500 and the sprint relays.
400 meters Men
Where have all the great Jamaican quarter-milers gone? It has been a very long time (by my account, Bert Cameron in the 1980’s) since Jamaica has had a 400 meter world beater. Unfortunately I don’t see that changing this year.
Lashawn Merritt of the USA is the favorite going into the Olympics. He has the fastest time in the world this year and has been running consistently well all season. Tony McQuay of the USA, the impressive youngster Luquelin Santos of the Dominican Republic and Kirani James of Grenada are also medal contenders. James won the World Championships last year in a great finish beating Merritt at the line.
If anyone can defeat Lashawn Merritt, James is the guy. Barring injury however, I don’t see it happening; Merritt should get the gold medal, James silver and McQuay bronze.
400 meter Women
This race is sure to be interesting for several reasons. Jamaican born American star Sanya Richards-Ross is the presumptive favorite. She has been simultaneously the best and the must uneven 400 runner for the last six years. She has never won an individual 400 meter Olympic gold, but was on both the 2004 and 2008 4 x 400 relay teams. She has finished first overall in the Golden League circuit three times, and won the World Indoor and Outdoor 400 meter titles.
Richards-Ross will be hard pressed by a pair of Russians, Antonina Krivoshapka and Yulia Gushchina as well as Amantle Montsho of Botswana who is the defending World champion from 2011.
Richards-Ross is a great runner, but seemed to have worn down in the 2008 Olympics and the 2011 Worlds. She will have a battle on her hands with the two Russians, Montsho and Jamaica’s Novolene Williams-Mills.
Sanya is overdue for an Olympic title, and I think she gets it in London.
400 Meter Hurdles Women
This is a wide open race with several legitimate contenders. Lashinda Demus of the USA, Kaliese Spencer and Melaine Walker of Jamaica, Perri Shakes-Drayton of the UK, Natalya Antyukh of Russia, Vania Stambolova of Bulgaria all can be considered serious contenders for the gold. Demus is a veteran and the World champion from last year. Melaine is the 2008 Olympic champion and Antyukh has the fastest time in the world this year.
 
If you want a long shot for this event, I would say T’erra Brown of the US could sneak onto the podium.
As a footnote, I believe that unlike the quarter-milers, Jamaica’s future in this event is very bright. Jenieve Russell, who just won the World Junior Championships for Jamaica in this event and Ristianana Tracy are on a trajectory of greatness and come 2016 they will be major factors. T’erra Brown and Queen Harrison  should likewise be carrying the torch high for the US in the near future.
400 Meter Hurdles Men
Javier Culson of Puerto Rico is the prohibitive favorite. His all out, run from the front style seems to lack tactical substance, but no one has caught him yet. David Greene of Great Britain is his closest competition and if Culson wears down running the rounds of this grueling event Greene could win gold for the home team.

 

I think Culson is ripe for an upset here.  Greene is my pick to win gold for the hometown folks.
1500 meters men
This event should probably be renamed ‘the Kenyan Invitational’ to reflect their dominance.  Asbel Kiprop, Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Kiplimo Chepseba between them have the five fastest times of the year.
I think Kiplagat wins this, but one thing’s for sure: a Kenyan will be taking home the gold medal and he wont be alone on the podium.
1500 women
Mariem Alaoui Selsouli of Morocco, Abeba Arigawe of Ethiopia and Asli Çakir Alptekin of Turkey are all contenders, but I think Arigawe and Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia will be battling for the gold.
Sprint relays – 4X100 men and women
In the men’s relay, this is a Jamaica versus USA duel. The US has a troubling recent history of failing to pass the baton all the way around, but if they do, they have enough great runners to make this a very tight race. Trinidad should also be in the mix for a medal.
Unless there is a miscue, It should finish Jamaica, USA, Trinidad in that order.
In the womens race, the USA teams have had the same issues in recent years that plague the men.  They should also take it down to the line with Jamaica if they can pass the stick, but that has proven to be a big if.
Bahamas, Germany, Trinidad and Russia should also be competitive, but barring any mishaps, I think the USA wins this in a close race over Jamaica.
4X400 men
The USA has a stranglehold on this event.  The 1988, 1992, 1996, 2004 and 2008 teams all won gold medals. The 2000 USA team also won, but that medal was stripped because more than half the team (Jerome Young, Alvin & Calvin Harrison and Antonio Pettigrew) used performance enhancing drugs.
Jamaica has reached the podium on a few occasions during that 22 year stretch, and so has Great Britain. In 2012, No one is challenging the USA domination of this event. That teams wins in a walk, with Jamaica, Belgium, Trinidad, Bahamas and Great Britain fighting for silver and bronze.
If-and it’s a big if-the USA stumbles, I think Belgium, led by the Borlee brothers, will win gold.
4X400 women
This will be a lot more competitive than the men’s race, at least until they get to the anchor legs. The USA has a team that should win, but they will be challenged by a few strong contingents; Great Britain, Jamaica, France and Ukraine all have more than a punchers chance to win the gold.
I think it comes down to this: If the USA is trailing going into the anchor leg by more than a couple of meters, they will lose. If Sanya Richards-Ross running the anchor leg gets the baton in first place, it will be a laugher for the USA.
Bonus: 
One of the most entertaining races will be the women’s 5000 meters. Meseret Defar of Ethiopia and Vivian Cheruyiot of Kenya have competed against each other several times this year in both the 3000 and the 5000 meters and each race has been a thrilling down to the wire affair.
Defar is the most decorated distance runner of the last decade, an amazing athlete who has won medals and set records at every major international meet, indoor and outdoor. She has lowered her own world record on three occasions between 2005 and 2008, and still owns the indoor world records in the 3000 and 5000 meters.
Cheruyiot is the younger of the two and over the last couple of years, the more consistent.
In what is most likely Defar’s last hurrah, she will want to go out with another gold medal, but Cheruyiot may want to start her reign at the top now rather than later

This is too close to call, but it should be great to watch.
Let the Games begin!
 

Quick And Dirty Water Cooler Cheat Sheet For The London Olympics.

With a month to go before the 2012 London Olympics, all eyes, bets and conversation will be centered on the many track events that will be hotly contested and as of right now, wide open.

With all due respect to the American press and media, the100 meter finals is, was and will continue to be The blue riband event of the entire Olympics. Swimming is popular, so is gymnastics and boxing, but no high-ranking government officials worldwide are involved in scalping ticketsfor those events.
At every Olympics, track and field reigns and the sprints are the crown jewel.
This year, the competition for events ranging from the 100 to the 10,000 meters will be hotly contested. Conventional wisdom has been turned on its head, with many familiar names coming up short and newcomers shouldering their way to the fore.
That being said, I’m going to give you the first part of my official “Quick And Dirty Water Cooler Cheat Sheet For The London Olympics.”

General disclaimer time: This is my outlook and preview on the events, not an inducement to wager money or services. But if you do wager and my selections are successful-which I fully expect them to be-I anticipate a small stipend as a token of gratitude.

So without further ado, here we go:
Part one, the 100, 200 110/100 hurdles and 800.
100 meters, Men
The biggest name in track, Usain Bolt, has not looked sharp all season; some cynics have chalked it up to his enjoying his ‘global icon’ status. Others attribute it to other runners studying and stepping up to challenge Bolt, shrinking the gap he created in the historic 2008 Olympics.
Yohan Blake has the pedigree to be the best sprinter in the world. He has been the ‘next big thing’ since his high school days at St. Jago and his desire is unquestioned.
The only real contenders for this title are as follows:

Usain Bolt-Defending champ and as of right now, quite possibly the most motivated runner in the world.
Yohan Blake-Peaking at the right time and definitely the one to beat.
Justin Gatlin-He beat Asafa early in the year and hasn’t stopped chirping since. He’s running for bronze but if anyone slips up Gatlin could surprise.
Asafa Powell-Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “Asafa is running better than he ever has, but…” Powell has the talent to win but not the intestinal fortitude. He’s a medal contender but not really a challenger for the gold.
Tyson Gay-Broke down a year ago trying to catch up and keep up with Bolt. He’s running well but sparingly. Can he hold up through the grueling rounds to really challenge in London? I don’t see him getting on the podium.
Prediction: Blake first, Bolt second, Gatlin third.
100 meters women
This is a three woman race. Set aside the US Olympic Trials Felix/Tarmoh mess for a second, as neither woman should factor in this race in London. This event will come down to Carmelita Jeter of the US, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce.
Not every athlete can succeed in a world championship setting like the Olympics. Some runners, on any given day running one race, can be worl
d beaters. In the Olympics you have to bring it, bring it and bring it again, often in the same day, consecutive days or several days in a short period. Many runners have been Diamond/Golden League superstars and wither by the time they get to the Olympic finals.
Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce is not one of those. She shows up best when it counts the most, and if she gets a lead on the field the race is usually over.
Alyson Felix, Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast, Kelly Ann Baptiste of Trinidad and Kerron Stewart of Jamaica all have the closing speed to crash that party, but I think this will end up as follows:
Fraser-Pryce first, Jeter second, VCB third.

200 meters men
This will have mostly the same cast of characters as the 100, except for Gay and Gatlin. The main challenge to Bolt and Blake will be American Wallace Spearmon, but he’s running for bronze. There could be a Jamaican sweep, but like Gay in the 100 meters, I am not sure how Warren Weir of Jamaica in his first major international championships will hold up through the heats, semis and final.
Bolt first, Blake second and Spearmon third.
200 meters women
This is one of the most competitive races in the entire slate of events. The top five female sprinters of the last decade will be in this one; Sanya Richards-Ross, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Alyson Felix, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, Carmelita Jeter.

Every single one of these women has at least one Olympic or World Championship gold medal on their resume. They are the cream of the crop in women’s sprinting and every one of them has a legitimate shot to win the gold. I think this will be best race of the entire Olympics.
VCB has had a very uneven season so far, but like Shelly Ann, she tends to raise her effort when it’s all on the line.
I think Veronica Campbell-Brown defends her 2008 Olympic gold medal, Alyson Felix second and Jeter third.
110 Hurdles, Men
This is another highly competitive race with a distinguished field. The biggest surprise going in is that David Oliver, the World Champion from 2008, did not make the US team. Personally, I could not see him getting on the podium with this field anyway, but rest assured, this race will be cracking.
Xiang Liu of China, Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson of the US, World Record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba, Hansle Parchment and the NCAA champion, Andrew Riley both of Jamaica are all medal contenders here.  I see this as a real fight between Robles and Xiang Liu, the two hurdlers involved in an infraction last year. (To those thatdidn’t see it, Robles was leading, Liu passed him, and Robles grabbed Liu’shand and slowed him down to a third place finish. Robles was disqualified and Richardson of the US awarded the gold and Liu the silver.)
00
This time around, Liu will leave no doubt. I think Liu wins this going away, with Robles, Merritt, Parchment and Richardson vying for second and third. Don’t be surprised if Robles’ world record of 12.87 falls in this race.
100 Hurdles, Women
As competitive as the men’s race will be, this will be just as anti-climatic. Sally Pearson of Australia was the silver medalist in 2008, the race notorious for Lolo Jones’ stumble on the last hurdle.
Pearson has dominated the event since Beijing, putting yards of daylight between her and everyone else. She has 3 of the 5 fastest times of the year going into this Olympics and has been more dominant than Jones was going into 2008. If healthy, she should win easily.  Brigitte Foster-Hylton of Jamaica, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells of the US, Lolo Jones and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Canada are running for second and third.
Pearson first, Harper second, Foster-Hylton third and it’s not even close.
800 meters, Men
David Rudisha is the name to know in this event. He has the three fastest times this year and is a full 2 seconds faster than everyone else. He has talked about taking the world record into the 1:30’s and he is quite capable of it. Rudisha owns the world record of 1:41.01 and this is another record that could fall in London.
Rudisha first, Abubaker Kaki of Sudan second and Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia third.
800 meters, Women
This is going to be another interesting and highly competitive race.  Pamela Jelimo is the favorite here. She is coming into this Olympics as the defending champion, and she has been consistently under 2:00.00 in all of her 2012 races.
Kenia Sinclair is the wild card. Quite possibly Jamaica’s best ever distance runner, Sinclair was in position for a medal in Beijing and faded down the stretch to 6th place. She has run sparingly this season, but won the Jamaica Trials and could be a serious medal contender next month.
Caster Semenya of South Africa, Fantu Magiso of Ethiopia and Irina Maracheva of Russia are all in the mix for a medal but Jelimo is the class of the field and should get the gold medal.
Jelimo first, Semenya second and Sinclair third.

Next week i’ll give you part two, and yes, there will be more surprises!
 

Indecision 2012 track style


Last week at the US Olympic trials, Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh tied for third in the 100meter finals. The top three spots are guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team competing in the 100, with the fourth joining the pool for the relay team.

Felix and Tarmoh are training partners, and while Felix is the most decorated and easily the best all-around US sprinter of the last decade, having competed successfully at the 100, 200 and 400 meters as well as every successful US relay team. Tarmoh is trying to secure her first Olympic berth having made her first US team last year at the World Championships.

My issue is not with the runners. They did their part. The only farce here is with the USATF who did not have a procedure in place to deal with this. In the wake of what I will call ‘Indecision 2012’ they attempted to cobble together a procedure.
This procedure starts with the suggestion that one of the two runners should decline a spot on the team. I will not even comment further on the absurdity of that.
It goes on to say that the runners will be given the ‘option’ of a run-off or a coin toss. To which I ask why? They are runners. World class competitors. Trying to make their national team for the Olympics.
Why would there be any other option than running again,
 winner proceeds and loser is out?
To make this even more of a joke, the former head of USA Track and Field on NBC’s coverage of the trials stated  ‘that in the hundred years plus of the World Championship and Olympic teams, this has never happened, ‘ as an explanation as to why there was no procedure in place.
Maybe it’s because I have spent so many years dealing with insurance, risk, litigation, policy interpretations and contracts that I look at some things the way I do. After so much time spent working in the “wonderful world of ‘What If’ “ It is ingrained in me to always make what is one of the most basic of conclusions, to wit: Just because it has never happened before does not mean it cannot happen.
To think that in a century of organization, and the most advanced technology available, they never considered this particular ‘what if’ is ridiculous. The indecisive nature of the proposed solution is also a joke.


So now we have an issue that won’t be decided until at least a w
eek later, and is nothing short of a complete embarrassment for the USA Track and Field.
I hope the Jamaican Olympic trial organizers take note and get their ducks in a row. The world is watching this and while the media fallout has not been as loud as I think it should be, do not for a second think that if mistakes are made in Kingston, it wont be noticed and ridiculed.
Make notes, make adjustments, be professional and be prepared.
Look for my Olympic track and field preview coming up next week after the Jamaican Olympic trials. I got some surprises for you, and if you’re the gambling type, some long shots you might want to put a quid on.
 

Zuma And Lenin And The Art Of Politics

The worlds of art and politics collided again recently when the South African President (and head of the ANC) Jacob Zuma was portrayed in a painting with his Presidential privates on display.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Brett Murray, a South African artist, did a painting of the country’s leader which was displayed in the Goodman Gallery. The painting was a skewered take on the old iconic Lenin poster (below) with a prominent distinction.

The ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s ruling political party, immediately denounced the artist and his work and called for its removal, saying it was, and I am quoting the ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu: “…an abuse of freedom of expression.”
The President himself claimed that it “perpetuates a shocking new culture by sections of the artistic world, of using vulgar methods of communicating about leading figures in the country, particularly the President.”

Now bear in mind that the ANC has been the ruling party in South Africa uninterrupted since 1994. Their leadership and membership is predominantly black, and their record is somewhat uneven.

Zuma is the definition of a political lifer; a man who walked the walk in support of freedom during the 70’s and 80’s of white minority rule. He was incarcerated on Robbins Island with Mandela and was instrumental in coalescing the ANC’s power with that of the powerful Zulu tribe, of which he is a member.

He ascended to the Presidency and continued the ANC’s hold on power over the last 15+ years. Zuma has also been involved in an obscene number of political scandals, questionable decisions and comments that could be considered at best ill-advised.

In brief, over the last decade Mr. Zuma has been:
1. Part of a corruption investigation regarding a government arms deal
2. Investigated regarding misappropriation of millions in government funds
3. A defendant in a rape trial involving a HIV positive woman (which led to his comments that he “took a shower after sex to protect him from HIV infection,”)
4. Got married to two women and
5. Fathered a child with the daughter of one of his long time colleagues, his alleged twentieth (20th) child.
Mr. Zuma has also vociferously opposed homosexuality saying that same-sex marriage was “a disgrace to the nation and to God,” and said that the solution to high numbers of teen pregnancy is to “confiscate their babies and have the mothers taken to colleges and forced to obtain degrees.”

Against this backdrop, Zuma was depicted by the artist with his privates on display. Naturally, the majority of South Africans were upset at the caricature. The government threatened to censure art in this vein, demanded its removal from the public view, and filed defamation charges in court papers against the gallery. A supporter of Zuma subsequently went to the gallery and defaced the painting by covering certain parts with paint (L.) 

This is a completely hypocritical stance by a party that suffered for decades under some of the worst government sanctioned discrimination ever, but the party that won the minds of the local people and the world at large under Mandela is clearly not the party that now governs under Zuma.

Now while I do think that the painting was in poor taste, and the obvious disrespect for the sitting head of state is curious at best and at worst inspired by some latent racist motives by Mr. Murray, who is white. I also believe however the truth lies somewhere in between.

In his defense, Murray has said: “In the apartheid years, I created satirical images which attacked abuses of power. For many years I have used, and continue to use symbols with sexual connotations representative of political power and patriarchy,”

He furthered stated: “It is an attempt at humorous satire of political power and patriarchy within the context of other artworks in the exhibition and within the broader context of South African discourse. I never intended the artwork to cause any hurt or to harm the dignity of any person.”

I believe Mr. Murray and support his right to free expression, but I do not believe for a second that last part about not intending to harm the dignity of President Zuma. His point is obvious, no pun intended.

Jacob Zuma is the elected head of the country and as such demands a certain amount of respect and gravitas. This respect and gravitas does come with significant responsibilities, and Zuma has not shown a willingness to shoulder the burden of moving the country forward, preferring instead to rely on the old divide and conquer tactics.

As such he has shown his office considerably more disrespect than any work of art could portray. He is a shining example of power corrupting the corruptible and he continues to pursue his personal agenda with impunity towards any opposition.

The ultimate irony of this latest debacle swirling around Zuma is how far he is from Lenin, whose political life and struggles served as a roadmap of sorts for Zuma.

Lenin has been described as one of the most influential people of the 20th century, his rhetoric has been used in relation to every regime change in Russia since his death. Lenin has inspired revolutionaries worldwide, including Castro, Mao Zedong, and Ho Chi Minh.

It is doubtful if there are any positive attributes to be taken from the life and times of Jacob Zuma. 

Or as Lenin himself said:

“There are no morals in politics; there is only expedience. A scoundrel may be of use to us just because he is a scoundrel.”

 

Of Slights; Perceived And Otherwise

Heading into the 2012 London Olympics, fans of track and field are gearing up for some amazing contests across the spectrum. From the sprints to the middle distances, hurdles to the jumps, the competition has never been tighter and more unpredictable.

It is fitting that on the 50th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, the country is poised to continue its domination of the sprints that had previously reached a zenith in Beijing four years ago.

I watched a replay of the recent Penn Relays where an interview was conducted with the great Carl Lewis. As a young runner and fan of the sport back in the 80’s I was a huge fan of Carl Lewis. After the Ben Johnson scandal that rocked the entire sport, I supported his vocal opposition to cheating in track and field, particularly his pointed remarks about (among others) Florence Griffith-Joyner alleged use of performance enhancing drugs (PED’S.) As the greatest American runner since Jesse Owens, I felt he was sorely under-appreciated in this, his homeland.

When looked at in that context, I can understand it to some degree but I still have been more than slightly turned off by his continued bitterness towards every great runner to come along since he retired. He has been quite vocal in his skepticism about Jamaican sprinters and what he has said is their ‘sudden emergence’ on the scene. He stayed true to form at the Penn Relays interview, making another comment about the Jamaicans ‘coming out of nowhere’ before trying to backpedal and discuss ‘the long history of Jamaican runners.’

Now I could make the obvious statement about the multitude of American runners caught up in the BALCO scandal, and how the American sprinters have disappeared from the medal podiums since that saga came to light.  I could also point at Lewis’ admitted failing a test for PED’s; an act that makes his comments seems more than a little hypocritical. 

I won’t go to any lengths about that, rather I will merely highlight some facts that might shed light on the ‘sudden emergence’ Mr. Lewis referred to:

Since the middle of the 20th century we have been consistently well represented in the sprints, first our men and within the last thirty years, both our men and women. In a sport that had struggled with PED use for decades, we have been consistent winners with very few cheaters in our ranks.

Even before independence, starting with the 1948 London Olympics and through to the 1950’s, there was the golden generation of George Rhoden, Arthur Wint and Herb “Herb Mac” McKinley, the men who first showed the world the talent in our little island in the sun.

During the 60’s and 70’s Lennox Miller and Don Quarrie won medals on the world’s biggest stage.

The 1980’s and 1990’s ushered the women onto the podium next to the men; Juliet Cuthbert, Merlene Ottey (shown with her arm around Cuthbert) and Grace Jackson  joined the great hurdler Winthrop Graham in winning medals wearing the green and gold.

In addition, the number of sprinters Jamaican born and of Jamaican descent furthered highlighted our status as world beaters; Donovan Bailey won gold for his adopted homeland of Canada, Linford Christie did the same for Great Britain and Inger Miller, daughter of Lennox, won several medals running for the USA.

That dubious part of Jamaica’s tradition continues today with Sanya Richards-Ross and Debbie Dunn representing the Stars and Stripes over their ancestral homeland.

It’s hard to make the argument that Jamaican runners have suddenly emerged when looking at that lineage.

Many will say Jamaicans have overachieved as a nation, stepping up on the world stage in a manner that a tiny country the size of Rhode Island and with less people than Brooklyn has no business doing. When you have been as consistently great as Jamaican athletes have been however, it is difficult to consider it overachieving. It’s most likely a case of being right where we should be.

With this current plethora of talent, what I will call the Greatest Generation of sprinters in our history, we are poised to stamp our pedigree once again. The Beijing Olympics of 2008 was a stunning introduction to the casual fan of what we can do. This time around there is no surprises, but 2012-our 50th year of independence-it will be an affirmation of who we are: World Beaters. And as we continue to rise, people like Lewis continue to shrink in stature.

To Mr. Lewis and those who question it as he has, I say this; Recognize greatness, Mr. Lewis. It’s always been there, maybe you just were too busy looking at yourself to notice.

And oh yeah, congrats to my favorite club, Chelsea FC of London for winning their first Champions League title.
Didier Drogba and Robert DeMatteo need to be re-signed ASAP so this team in its prime can defend and repeat this success.
 

Last weekend of April; Recap of Penn Relays

“No place in America brings together the track and field community like the Penn Relays at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, run every year on the last weekend in April. Some 15,000 athletes compete, beginning early in the week with high school relays and culminating on Saturday afternoon when Olympians such as Usain Bolt and Allyson Felix race in the old stadium for crowds that regularly exceed 50,000. It is part athletic event and part family reunion, where a sport’s passion is annually reborn.”

Tim Layden
Oh, The Places You Can Go
A DOZEN WELL-TRAVELED SPORTS ILLUSTRATED WRITERS NAME THE NO. 1 FAN EXPERIENCES IN THE SPORTS THEY KNOW BEST
Sports Illustrated April 9th 2012.

The last weekend in April. Spring is in full bloom and the Northeast USA begins the annual reawakening from the winter doldrums. This year though, was a little different. The winter season, unusually warm and strangely devoid of snow, raced along, giving everyone in the region hope for an early Spring and great Summer.

Alas, the last weekend of April comes along and it resembles what the last weekend of February should have been. Rainy. Cold. Less track weather and more NFL on the television weather.

Against this backdrop, teams of boys and girls, men and women of all levels of competition and abilities congregated at Franklin Field for the 2012 Penn Relay Festival. The overall vibe was different. The London Olympics are a scant few months away, so while several countries trying to reach qualifying times sent teams to Philadelphia, other countries and their stars stayed away, preferring to focus on the upcoming Diamond League races and getting ready for London.

So on a rainy, chilly April Saturday, the caravans of track and field fans-most of them Jamaican-from near and far entered the stadium on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania for the penultimate day of the meet. Many of the fans were there to support their alma maters or support friends. Some came to support family members, running for schools in their new homeland, building new legacies. Others simply came to Franklin Field to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the food and mingle with one of the greatest crowds you will ever come across at a sporting event anywhere.

On this Saturday, with the temperatures approximately 40 degrees less than the Jamaican student-athletes were used to, it surprised no one that the times were slow and the results disappointing.

Both of the USA versus the World 4×100 relays (L) were won by the USA over watered down Jamaican teams. Not even the presence of the Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller could brighten the fortunes at that point.

After the US victories, the large crowd awash in green and yellow was subdued and in need of reason to cheer. They got it in the first College men’s 4×100 relay as UWI won in a time of 39.94. Despite the weather, the buzz was coming back. That race was followed by UTech (39.46) running a creditable second to Auburn University (39.34.)

That set the stage for the High School 4×100 relays.

Wolmers Boys and Jamaica College (R) ran first and second in their race, putting the crowd-estimated to be the fourth biggest Saturday crowd all time-into a nice buzz.

That was extinguished quickly however, as Junipero Serra High from California took down both St. Jago and Calabar in their 4×100. Kingston College had the fastest times pre-meet in the 4×100, but in their final with an unbeatable lead, they dropped the baton on the last exchange.

The USA versus the World 4×400 further served to quiet the crowd, as Jermaine Gonzales basically jogged the second leg and the USA again won going away. Ditto the women’s race, with Sanya Richards-Ross running better than she has in a couple of years now anchoring the US to a convincing victory.

So it was left to UTech to try and get the crowd back into it, and they did, easily defeating Texas A&M in the College Men’s 4×200 relay, even as their third leg runner appeared to suffer a cramp before the handoff.

Quite possibly the best race of the day was the High School Boys 4×800 relays, and again the Jamaican schoolboys came up short, as KC, St Jago and Holmwood all fell to the number one US team, Westfield from Virginia. The anchor leg runners of KC and Westfield ran a stirring final 150 meters that had the entire stadium on there feet down the stretch.

What is usually the crown jewel event of track, the 4×400 relay, was the last stand for the Jamaican high schoolers. With the sun peeking out (just barely on what I can attest was the coldest day in recent memory) Munro College took it home, winning ahead of Kingston College, Lodge HS of Barbados, Manchester High, Calabar and STETHS. Delano Williams of Munro, who provided a stellar performance in the 100 and 200 at the recent Boy and Girls Championship, sprinted the anchor leg as if it were a 100 meter race to finish in an astonishing 45.8 split. He will be a force to reckon with in the future.

Despite the cold and the bleak weather conditions the Penn Relays did not disappoint, and as the season progresses and culminates at the Olympics, fans will be watching the stars of today on the world stage. And the next generation of young men and women who make track special and the purest form of competition known to man will be getting ready. People like Edward Cheserek, Delano Williams, Danniel Thomas and Mary Cain.

Ready for the next run, the next race, the next season and on the last weekend of April, their moment in the sun.

Who knows, maybe next year we’ll see these guys out on the track trying to get in on the fun…

Thanks to Sportingeventsfotos.com for the great shots!

 
 
 

Prepping for Penn Relays 2012

2012 is a big year for track and field participants and enthusiasts. The London Olympics are naturally the biggest event on the calendar, but there are a multitude of other events that should make this a very interesting season.

Already in 2012 we have had the World Indoor Championships, which featured a great couple of races for Sanya Richards-Ross, (400 meters and anchoring the silver medal 4×400 team) and a triumphant Justin Gatlin winning his first championship since his drug suspension, taking the 60 meter in a season best 6.46 seconds.

We also had the Boys and Girls Championships in Jamaica, where Calabar High School won the boys title with a great team effort. The girls title was won by Edwin Allen HS (R) breaking the nearly decade long stranglehold of Holmwood on first place.

And now, on the last weekend of April, comes the Penn Relays. This year Penn will be missing some of the biggest names. No Usain Bolt,  Yohan Blake or Asafa Powell  for Jamaica, but that doesn’t mean the stars wont be present.

Sanya Richards-Ross, Allyson Felix, the aforementioned Gatlin, Nesta Carter, Walter Dix and Kirani James are all named as participants in what should be a great weekend of races. I don’t see any real challenges to the American teams in the USA versus the World events, as while they have loaded teams competing in Philly this year, the other countries don’t seem to have the depth this year to beat them. As history has shown however, upsets at Franklin Field do happen.

Watch the Great Britain team competing in the Women’s 4×400 relay in particular; they could spring a major surprise.

 

The high school relays are of particular interest to Jamaicans living in the US. Coming into this week, the top schools by time and event are as follows:

 

High school boys 4×100:
Kingston College                                   40.17            
Wolmers’ Boys School                           40.21            
Munro College                                       40.41            
St. Elizabeth Technical High                 40.44              
Herbert Morrison Tech.                       40.55  
Jamaica College (under 16 team)         40.75
DeSoto HS (Texas)                 40.59

High School Boys 4×400:
Calabar HS(R) 3:10.19
DeSoto, Tx         3:14.88
Kingston College         3:12.64
Laurel HS (Maryland) 3:15:65
Boys & Girls, Brooklyn, NY     3:15.12
Jamaica College 3:13.64
Long Beach Poly         3:18:55

High School Girls 4×100:
Edwin Allen 45.28
Herbert Morrison 45.61
Boyd Anderson HS (Florida) 45.66
Long Beach Poly 46.04
Vere Technical 46.00
St. Jago HS 46.60
St. Andrews HS 46.93

High School Girls 4×400:
Vere Technical High                             3:38.91          
American Heritage HS (Florida) 3:43:15
St. Thomas Aquinas (Florida)         3:44:50
Holmwood Technical                               3:44.04          
Edwin Allen High                                 3:44.51          
St. Andrew High                                   3:45.07          

There should also be some great college races, with UWI, UTech and GC Foster competing with the traditional US college relay powerhouses; Florida, Texas A&M, LSU and Arkansas, who have all run under 39.70 this season.

One thing is for sure, this meet is not going to disappoint fans of track and field, and should give us a early look at some of the names we will see in London and also, maybe Brazil 2016.

 
 

Messi will never be Pele. He may not even be Ronaldo

The modern footballer is a wealthy, globally recognizable star. The top players on the big teams, elite guys like Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney are icons, and the players who are not on that level or playing for non-traditional powers are still well known and major attractions for advertisers and headlines. With that being said, I also say this: Lionel Messi, as great as he is, is not Pele. He’s not even Maradona. And he may never be.

Messi is so good that the mythical title of world’s greatest player has not been in dispute the last two years. Actually Messi and Ronaldo, the clear second best player have separated themselves so much from the rest of the pack the only comparisons for them that can be made are with the all time greats. And therein lies the biggest knock on Messi.

As great a player as Messi has been, his achievements have been almost exclusively on the club level. Barcelona has used their considerable resources to surround Messi with some of the most talented players in the world. They, along with Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City have created a chasm between themselves and the other teams domestically by throwing millions of dollars at player after player to win every year. George Steinbrenner would be proud of the zeal in which these team owners collect stars and assemble teams.

More than half of the World Cup winning team from Spain wears the red and blue of Barcelona and that incredible collection of talent and cohesiveness is breath taking to watch and almost impossible to defeat. Champions League, La Liga and World Club titles have all been won by Barcelona in the last three years, prompting talk of them being the best club team of all time.

Messi has not been able to even come close to matching those accomplishments with his Argentine national team. And when you want to be named among the greatest of all time, the measuring stick is World Cup titles. Pele won his first at seventeen in 1958 and his 3rd in 1970. Maradona went to two finals, winning in 1986 and finishing second in 1990.

While the Brazil teams of Pele and Maradona’s Argentina teams were comprised of some of the best talent in their eras, the Argentina team that played in the 2010 World Cup also had very good not great players and a plethora of world class strikers. But led by Messi and coached by Maradona they couldn’t even make the semi-finals.  Its worth noting that the only international title Messi has won is the 2008 Olympics gold medal.

One of the true marks of greatness is elevating the play of others around you. While the current crop of Argentine players may not be as good as some of years past, they are still one of the top 10 national teams, and that doesn’t figure to change before the next World Cup.

Having the transcendent best player of this generation should make them the prohibitive favorite for the next trophy in 2014, but if Messi doesn’t raise his game even higher when he puts on the Albiceleste jersey, his place in the pantheon of greats will reside below the likes of Pele, Maradona, Ronaldo (Brazil) and Zidane.

I’ve been closely following this crazy NBA season, and the more I see him, the more I think Derrick Rose’s playing style is the closest I have seen to Allen Iverson (minus the cornrows.) Like Iverson, I don’t see him having a long NBA career, because at the rate he’s getting dinged up, he will quickly lose his speed and once he does, he’s an average PG.

The baseball season starts this week, and my NY Yankees are reloaded for another pennant run. The AL is going to be stacked this year, with Texas, Detroit, Anaheim, Boston and Tampa Bay all legitimate contenders for a World Series spot.

In the National League, I don’t think any team can beat the Phillies, but I do think the Washington Nationals will be a contender this year. They are putting together a good young team in DC, and they will make the NL East interesting this year. Pitching is the major factor in a 162 game season, and the Nationals have some good arms on their team. They will be fun to watch.

Congrats to Calabar High School and Edwin Allen High School for winning the 2012 Boys and Girls Champs respectively. Penn Relays is coming up, and should be quite competitive. Some of the best individual performers at Champs; Shauna Helps, Delano Williams, Tiffany James and Shericka Jackson look like they will have very bright futures in track.

Check out the times below for the fastest US high school 4×400 times in all of 2012:
3:14.88 DeSoto, Tx
3:15.12 Boys & Girls, Brooklyn, NY (indoor.)
3:15.16 Timberview, Mansfield, Tx

Below are the times for the top three boys finishers at Champs 2012:
3:10.19 Calabar HS
3:12.64 Kingston College
3:13.64 Jamaica College

The Girls 4×400 breaks down like this:
3:43.01 Wakefield, Raleigh (indoor)
3:45.16 Lancaster, Tx
3:47.49 Garden City, NY ( indoor)
3:47.56 Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale
3:47.70 DeSoto, Tx
3:48.86 American Heritage, Plantation, Fl
3:49.25 Medgar Evers, Brooklyn (indoor)

The top three HS girls finishers at Champs 2012:
3:38.91 Vere Tech
3:44.04 Holmwood
3:44.51 Edwin Allen

Here’s to a great, competitive track season coming up in 2012!

 

The Ides of March

First things first, my original NCAA tournament Final Four teams are as follows:
 
UNC, Michigan State, Kentucky and the now departed Florida State. With the benefit of knowing prior to posting that FSU is out, I believe the winner of OSU v Cincy will advance to the Final Four. The matchup between Jared Sullinger and Yancy Gates (L) will probably decide that game.
 
The Champions League and the English Premier League battles are heating up. The matchups for the Champions League include AC Milan, leaders of the Italian Serie A, versus Barcelona, the defending champions of Europe. In all there are two teams from Spain, one from Germany, France and England, as well as a Cypriot team and the legendary Benfica of Portugal, a shadow of the team that set UCL standards over a generation ago.
 
What does it say though about the state of English football that they have only have one team-Chelsea, who have been playing middling football all season-in all European competitions?
 
I think its an aberration not a sign of a decline as some others have stated. The English game is still flush with money and talent, they just had a bad year. I still have Madrid winning the Champions League title this year, as well as La Liga. Chelsea, after ditching their first year coach Andres Villas-Boa, seemed to have more urgency in their recent games, and even Fernando Torres (R) is scoring again. They may yet prove a formidable foe in Europe this season.
 
Speaking of the English Premier League, thoughts and well wishes go out to Fabrice Muamba of Bolton. He collapsed from an apparent heart attack during an FA Cup game against Tottenham and had to be revived on the field. Let’s hope this 23 year old pulls through this.
 
NBA season is in full gear, and while my Knicks struggled early under Mike Antoni (no ‘D’!)I stand by my preseason thinking that this team-the deepest in the East-can compete with the other two top tier teams, Miami and Chicago.
 
Every radio and television announcer prefaced commentary about D’Antoni with ‘He’s a really nice guy, but…”
 
He was a nice guy who was incredibly stubborn in thinking his no defense, run and gun philosophy could win in the NBA, even though it never has. He fought against any changes to his style and failed to mesh the talent he never had his first two seasons over the last season and a half.
 
To most the kiss of death for him was when he would not change his style for Knicks star player, Carmelo Anthony.  To me the kiss of death was his interview last season where he defended his shoot in 7 seconds or less style and said coming within a game of going to the Finals is proof that it can be successful.
 
Nice guy or not, this team has tremendous talent which you need to win in the NBA, and with a coach that requires team defense, they are playing better already. I see them doing well in the playoffs.
 
On a more serious note, 17 year old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed while walking home from a convenience store on the evening of February 26th. His murderer has still not been arrested or charged with a crime.
 
Criminals are criminals and deserve to be dealt with appropriately by the law, but a 17 year old with no history of any violence or criminal activity who was doing nothing besides walking home should not be shot, harassed, intimidated or killed by some trigger happy wanna be cop. And I say this whether the victim is black, white, Asian, Hispanic or any other ethnic group. 
 
There is only one criminal in this tragedy. That criminal is his murderer, some dirtbag named George Zimmerman. He should be arrested, charged, convicted and sent to jail where he belongs. 
 

 The petition from MoveOn.org is here. Please sign and pass on.

 

Recap of the World Indoor Championships

Kudos to Istanbul for a successful meet, and in an Olympic year, the indoor championships gave a glimpse of what to expect over the next few months.
 
Meserat Defar can be beaten, as she was at this meet-a shocking defeat to Hellen Onsando Obiri who timed her final kick perfectly and won going away in the 3000 meters. Defar, who is one of the greatest female distance runners ever, will certainly change her strategy in preparing for the Olympics, but Obiri will be a major obstacle to the gold in London.
 
Sanya Richards Ross ran an inspired but unsuccessful final leg for the US 4 x 400 relay team. This Great Britain team is going to be a problem in the Olympics; they have an Olympic gold medalist (Oghuru) and some good young talent (Shana Cox and Nicola Sanders) to challenge the American women.
 
Speaking of an all time great, Bernard Lagat (R) is the turning back the clock and looking to cap off a brilliant career with an Olympic gold medal in London. He won the Men’s 3000 meters with a vintage Lagat kick on the last lap. After losing in the 5000 at last year’s World Championship, Lagat seems to have sharpened his focus this year and is ready to challenge the Kenyans.
 

 

Veronica Campbell Brown, the most successful female (and quite possibly the greatest female or male) runner ever from Jamaica, won the60 meter title. Congrats to her on her 21st international competitive medal. I look forward to seeing her battle Carmelita Jeter in the Olympics.
 
I may be in the minority, but I’m glad to see Justin Gatlin (below, R) running well and competing again. I believe in second chances; Redemption is a beautiful thing. 
 
NCAA Tournament time. I’m filling out my brackets….this years tournament is by far one of the hardest to select. A lot of mediocre teams, no real great ones and probably very few upset potential.
 
London Olympics is right around the corner…