Olympics: World Track and Field Championships

Last week's dress rehearsal for the London stage, otherwise known as the world track and field championships the year before the Olympics, augured well for a U.S. team whose ability to dominate was being questioned.

The medal haul is one measure, and the U.S. did top the charts with 25, including 12 golds. But the real uptick within those numbers is the performance of first-time world medalists who will go into 2012 with the confidence that they can win at that level.

On one memorable day -- in fact, within a mere half hour -- the U.S. pulled off a golden hat trick when Jennifer Barringer Simpson became the first American winner of the 1,500-meter event in 28 years, Jesse Williams broke a high-jump drought that stretched back to 1991 and Lashinda Demus set a U.S. record en route to winning the 400-meter hurdles.

[+] EnlargeBarringer Simpson
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty ImagesJennifer Barringer Simpson became the first U.S. runner to win the 1,500 meters since Mary Decker-Slaney did it in 1983.
Demus was a two-time world silver medalist, but the other two are still building their résumés. Williams has burned to redeem himself since he won the 2008 Olympic trials, then didn't advance out of qualifying rounds in Beijing. Simpson, who specializes in the steeplechase, surprised no one more than herself, and her stunned, joyous expression afterward should be an avatar for all athletes struggling with self-esteem.

Others riding the new wave included University of Florida teammates Christian Taylor and William Claye, who went gold-bronze in the triple jump; Matt Centrowitz, the son of an Olympian, who became a bronze medalist in the 1,500 two months shy of his 22nd birthday; and shot putter Jillian Camarena-Williams, whose perseverance over a decade finally paid off in the form of the first-ever podium appearance for an American woman in the event.

The most significant individual breakthrough of the championships was Carmelita Jeter's gold in the glamorous 100, which she followed up with a silver in the 200 and a winning anchor leg in the 4x100 relay. Her journey to what would be a debut Olympics will depend on the tricky proposition of maintaining her improved times of the past three seasons as she rounds the curve into athletic middle age. (She'll turn 32 later this year.) It will be interesting to see how she handles the weight of expectation after years of being tagged an underachiever at big events.

This isn't to slight the repeat champions, headlined by long jumpers Dwight Phillips and Brittney Reese. Phillips overcame recent injuries to win his fourth consecutive world title and is looking to bookend his career with an Olympic gold to match the one he captured in 2004, while Reese took her second championship. Trey Hardee defended his title in the decathlon (and 23-year-old U.S. teammate Ashton Eaton finished second).

Disappointments are harder to come by in parsing the results. Kellie Wells' tumble in the 100-meter hurdles was certainly one of them. The U.S. men were shut out of the shot put medals. Walter Dix, facing the peerless Usain Bolt in both sprints, couldn't profit from Bolt's false-start absence in the 100, finishing second to Jamaican Yohan Blake and taking another silver behind Bolt in the 200, but did anyone truly expect Dix to derail the Jamaican juggernaut?

(Meanwhile, will international track authorities change their public position and reconsider the ill-conceived one-and-out false-start rule? Stay tuned, literally, because television is likely to have a say.)

As stated in a previous blog, Allyson Felix's 200/400 double attempt should be seen for what it was: a foray into the unknown that netted a silver and a bronze. Felix flew home with her eighth world championship gold medal since 2005 -- 10th overall -- and a lot to think about. Versatility in events is a blessing and a burden when those events are so closely spaced.

Felix also was a key part of the U.S. women's sweep of the relays -- the only athlete who ran both the 4x100 and 4x400.

But as the U.S. team learned to its sorrow, relay success at this level is no longer a given. Darvis Patton's heart-cracking, shoulder-separating fall was an unfortunate coda to a generally great meet for the U.S. team.

How can U.S. men close gap on Jamaica?

September, 6, 2011
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Jamaica has a smaller land mass than Connecticut and fewer people than the San Diego greater metropolitan area. Prior to 2004, it had won a total of five gold medals in the Olympics, only once at a distance shorter than 400 meters. Until then, if you mentioned Jamaica and the Olympics to most Americans, they would think of the Jamaican bobsled team and the John Candy movie based on it.

[+] EnlargeJamaica Relay
Stu Forster/Getty ImagesThe Jamaican men's 4x100 relay team won gold in 37.04 seconds, breaking its world record.
Not anymore. Jamaica won six gold medals and set world records at the 2008 Olympics, and added more of both at the 2009 world championships and the just completed 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea. The country boasts the world's fastest man and track's biggest name, Usain Bolt. And, it does not require a Hollywood comedy about the track team starring Jonah Hill as the funny, fat coach for people to recognize its athletic prominence.

U.S. versus Jamaica may not have the political heat of the old U.S.-Soviet Bloc Olympic rivalry -- I don't recall Soviet athletes celebrating quite like Bolt -- but it certainly adds compelling drama for London next summer, with or without a cold war.

Recovering from their disappointing finish in the 2008 Olympics, America's women sprinters showed they were on the right track in Daegu by winning gold in the 100 and both relays, along with silver in the 200 and 400. The men, however, still have some ways to go. Walter Dix took silver in the 200 and 100, Lashawn Merritt took silver in the 400 and the 4x400 relay team won gold, as usual. But the American men also spent some time looking at the back of Jamaica sprinters.

How can the American men close the gap on the Jamaicans in the sprints they once dominated?

1. Stay healthy: Tyson Gay holds the American record in the 100 meters, which is also the second fastest time on record. He also beat Bolt last year (when the Jamaican wasn't quite up to form). But he injured his hamstring at the 2008 Olympic trials (keeping him out of the 200) and might not have been sufficiently healed in Beijing when he failed to medal in the 100. He injured his hip this June and did not compete at all in Daegu. It's difficult enough to beat Bolt when healthy, impossible when you're hurt.

We also need athletes to avoid wearing wet socks into cryogenic chambers, as 2004 Olympic champ Justin Gatlin did before the Daegu championships and wound up with frostbitten feet. It's never a good sign when your sprinters show up with frostbite.

2. Improve the exchange rate: The U.S. wasn't going to beat Jamaica in Sunday's 4x100 relay, but it didn't even finish the race after Darvis Patton either bumped against or was impeded by Britain's Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and fell before he could hand the baton to Dix for the anchor leg. Whoever was at fault, it was America's third consecutive botched exchange in that event at a world championship level, following similar disasters in Beijing and the 2009 worlds. You can't beat the Jamaicans if you don't even finish the race.

3. Hope Bolt false starts again. And again. And again. And maybe hope Yohan Blake does, as well.

Sprinter Allyson Felix said she decided to go for unprecedented double gold in the 200- and 400-meter events at the track and field world championships partly because she wanted to do something out of her comfort zone.

Aiming for growth rather than repetition is a laudable goal for an athlete who has accomplished so much by 25 years old. Felix had held the 200 world title since 2005, winning all three times she raced it at that level, but has twice finished second in the Olympics. She was open about her concern that the 400 would drain her legs and jeopardize her success in the event she calls her "baby."

[+] EnlargeAllyson Felix
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAllyson Felix finished second in the 400 meters and third in the 200 at the world championships.

Felix emerged from the experiment with silver (400) and bronze (200) medals and an interesting set of decisions to make over the next year. She asked for discomfort and she got it. She and her coach, Bobby Kersee, also wanted information that would be useful in deciding how to approach the road to London, and they got that, too.

Felix closed beautifully in a personal best time of 49.59 seconds in the 400, but lost to Botswana's Amantle Montsho in a heartbreaking photo finish. If the finish line had been a half-stride further away, Felix would be a world champion in an event in which she never dreamed she'd excel.

After two days of icing her legs, Felix took on the 200 heats and finished second in both. With typical candor, she told reporters she felt "sluggish" after the second round, and who wouldn't have after the physical and emotional wringer of the 400? Felix's slight build (5-foot-6, 125 pounds) gave her little margin for error in the six-day sprint marathon she had just completed.

When the camera panned to Felix in Lane 3 at Friday's 200 start, her long, streaming ponytail was bound into a tight bun and her eyes were as wide and intense as they get. A little more than 22 seconds after the starting gun echoed, she crossed the line in third place behind her Olympic nemesis, two-time gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, and newly crowned 100-meter champion Carmelita Jeter, who has to be more than content with her own sprint double.

Felix told reporters she was "disappointed and tired," but had no regrets about her bid to make history. "I thought I ran with a lot of heart tonight because that's all I had left," she said.

From the little bit I learned about her character in reporting this profile, I know Felix is utterly dissatisfied by anything but victory. Whatever she said publicly, she expected and envisioned two wins and will go to bed unhappy Friday night.

There's more than one way to slice what happened in Daegu, South Korea, and serve it up for London. Should Felix shift her focus to the 400, or give it up and put all her poker chips on that elusive gold in the 200? Or could she take what she learned at worlds and try to improve her performance in both events at the Olympics? Felix is fiercely competitive, but she is also a deliberate, contemplative person off the track, and I predict she'll give this a good deal of thought.

Felix still has two relays to run in South Korea and many more years to compete at the elite level. What she tried was brave in that she created a problem for herself -- a good problem to have, but a thorny one nonetheless.

American Jeter is golden in women's 100

August, 29, 2011
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DAEGU, South Korea -- Carmelita Jeter of the United States beat Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica to win the women's 100 meters at the world championships on Monday.

Kelly-Ann Baptiste of Trinidad and Tobago took bronze.

Defending champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce had the best start but Jeter swept past her with about 40 meters to go and finished in 10.90 seconds. Campbell-Brown ran in the outside lane and finished in 10.97 seconds. Baptiste had a time of 10.98.

Allyson Felix falls short of gold in 400

August, 29, 2011
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DAEGU, South Korea -- American Allyson Felix was edged at the finish line by Amantle Montsho of Botswana in the women's 400-meters Monday at the world championships.

Felix, a three-time world champion in the 200, was even with Montsho as they entered the final straight but couldn't overtake her down the stretch.

Allyson Felix
Stu Forster/Getty ImagesAmantle Montsho won the women's 400 ahead of Allyson Felix with a national record time of 49.56 seconds.
"I'm so happy today to win my gold medal. I still can't believe it," said Montsho, who won in a national record time of 49.56 seconds. "I want to thank all the athletes today. They made me run faster, especially Allyson Felix."

Felix was second in 49.59 and Anastasiya Kapachinskaya of Russia was third in 50.24. Defending champion Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States finished seventh in 51.32.

The medal was the first for Botswana at the world championships.

Felix, who was trying become the first woman to win both the 200 and 400 titles at the worlds, said it was the kind of tight race she had expected.

"I didn't want Montsho to get too far away from me. I probably could have moved a little bit earlier," she said. "I knew it would be a battle down the home stretch. I felt like I gave it everything I had but came up short."

Felix said she was disappointed with second but wouldn't let it distract her from preparing to defend her title in the 200.

"The way I look at, I can't dwell on the defeat. I have more work to do," Felix said. "The 200 is my favorite event. I am excited for it. I have to go after it. I can't let this get me too down. I have to keep moving."

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Americans finish 1-2 in decathlon at worlds

August, 29, 2011
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DAEGU, South Korea -- Trey Hardee captured his second straight decathlon title at the world championships and took a back seat to a false start by Usain Bolt.

In fact, a record-setting performance by the Americans in the event Sunday was overshadowed by Bolt. Hardee and Ashton Eaton became the first teammates to finish 1-2 in the decathlon at the worlds, but the night will be forever remembered for the drama surrounding Bolt, who jumped the gun in the finals of the 100 meters and was disqualified.

At major meets, it's all about Bolt. He's the star attraction.

Not that Hardee minds.

A low-key person at heart, the 27-year-old from Austin, Texas, prefers to quietly go about his business on the track and then head home.

These days, that's usually with a medal dangling around his neck. And not just any medal, but typically gold. He doesn't need the spotlight.

"I prefer it that way," said Hardee, who edged Eaton by 102 points. "It's easier to train and be myself and go about my day. I'm not a hermit, but it's been nice. I live a really good life. I hate to see it change."

His performance hasn't gone completely unnoticed. A day after winning another title, Hardee's family members and friends back home were filling up his phone with congratulatory texts and emails.

"I can't name one of my friends who didn't stay up all night on Red Bull binges or set their alarms for 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. to watch me throw the javelin and run 1,500," Hardee said Monday. "That meant a lot. As soon as I'm done, I'm sitting down and writing them all back."

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Perhaps track would be better off by adopting football's penalty for a false start. Just back up the offending sprinter five yards and go again. In Usain Bolt's case, that might make the race even more exciting.

Heck, after watching Bolt cruise to the 2008 Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters, you would think the world's fastest human could wait around at the start of the race, linger over a light lunch and espresso while reading the paper, get up, stretch, sign a few autographs and still recover in time to win. Instead, Bolt jump-started and was quickly disqualified from the 100 final Sunday at the world track and field championships.

[+] EnlargeUsain Bolt
Olivier Morin/AFP/Getty ImagesUsain Bolt's reaction after Sunday's disqualification in the 100 meters: "Looking for tears? Not going to happen. I'm OK."

"I didn't really think they were going to kick him out," second-place finisher Walter Dix told reporters. "How can you kick Usain out of the race?"

This is probably a question asked by many fans in Daegu, South Korea, who paid good money to watch a 100 final that did not have Bolt (DQ), Asafa Powell (who withdrew due to a sore groin) or Tyson Gay (rehabbing from hip surgery).

Track's ruling body changed the false start rule last year so the first false start results in an automatic disqualification. The previous rule had a warning for the first false start and the next false start by any runner would result in a DQ. Before 2003, everyone had been allowed one false start.

The reasoning behind the change was the view that the rule essentially allowed each sprinter a free chance at jumping the gun. If they timed their start correctly, they gained an advantage over everyone else at essentially no risk because, if they false started, they just lined up and tried again. Now, they don't have that luxury.

The irony is, the new rule should make it harder to beat Bolt because sprinters are less likely to take a chance at a quick start. Instead, the biggest name of the sport was disqualified from track's marquee event, and the other runners' subsequent times were underwhelming. Jamaica's Yohan Blake won in 9.92, which was the only time of less than 10 seconds. Compare that to the 2009 world championships when Bolt won with a world-record 9.58, Gay finished second with an American-record 9.71 and only one runner finished slower than 10.00.

I understand the reasoning behind the zero-tolerance rule change, but it's never a good thing for a sport when its top athletes aren't able to compete for a championship. We can only hope Bolt waits a split-second longer in London next summer. Perhaps he should start from his trademark lightning bolt pose.

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Oscar Pistorius advances to semis in 400

August, 27, 2011
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DAEGU, South Korea -- Double-amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius qualified for the semifinals of the 400 meters Sunday, finishing third in the final heat at Daegu Stadium.

The South African qualified for Monday's semifinals in 45.39 seconds. The final is Tuesday.

Pistorius was running against able-bodies athletes at a major championships for the first time. The South African, who had his legs amputated when he was a baby, runs on carbon-fiber blades.

Pistorius is also expected to run the leadoff leg of South Africa's 4x400 relay team next weekend.

Americans take early lead in decathlon

August, 27, 2011
8/27/11
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Updated 5 p.m. ET

DAEGU, South Korea -- Running the fastest times in the 100 and 400 meters, American Ashton Eaton took the lead in the decathlon Saturday after the opening five events at the world championships.

Eaton, who won the U.S. championships in June, leads with 4,446 points. Defending world champion and teammate Trey Hardee is next with 4,393 points and Oleksiy Kasyanov of Ukraine is third with 4,310.

Hardee led after three events, but Alkesey Drozdov of Russia briefly took the top spot after having the second best performance in the high jump, clearing 2.14 meters.

Eaton, who was third after four events, blew away the field in his heat and had by far the best time in the 400, finishing in 46.99 seconds. Hardee finished fourth in the same heat, while Drozdov fell to sixth overall after finishing 25th in the fifth.

In the 100, Eaton ran 10.46 to lead the field after the opening event.

Hardee, the current world outdoor and indoor champion, said he remained upbeat despite spending the night in second place.

"I'm at the top, and that is all you can ask for," Hardee said.

The 27-year-old Hardee said he felt "a little bit fuzzy in the morning" but insisted he found his rhythm in the afternoon.

On Sunday, the athletes will compete in the 110 hurdles, discus, pole vault and javelin before concluding with the 1,500.

"I'm just excited about tomorrow. He knows how to win. I know how to win," Hardee said of the budding rivalry with Eaton. "I just have to turn the switch on a little bit sooner."

The Americans have won gold in the three of the last four world championships. Most expect it will come down to a dual between Hardee and Eaton, the world indoor record holder in the heptathlon.

Kenyans dominate opening day at worlds

August, 27, 2011
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Vivian Cheruiyot led a Kenyan sweep in the 10,000 meters at the world championships Saturday, beating Sally Kipyego and defending champion Linet Masai.

Cheruiyot finished in 30 minutes, 48.98 seconds, holding an edge of 1.06 seconds over Kipyego. Cheruiyot will be seeking a long-distance double as she also is the defending champion in the 5,000.

"We were inspired by the marathon girls and we wanted to achieve the same," Cheruiyot said.

The Kenyans were perfect twice on the opening day of the championships, sweeping the women's marathon in addition to the 10,000. They finished the day six-for-six in medals. No nation has earned a two-event sweep on opening day since the championships started 28 years ago.

Edna Kiplagat crashed on the street late in the marathon when she tangled up with teammate Sharon Cherop at one of the last water stations and suddenly was on all fours.

"I was a little shocked," Kiplagat said. "What was in my mind was I wasn't sure if I was going to pick up the pace again."

Also shocked, Cherop helped pick up her veteran teammate and off they went again as a trio heading through the 80-degree morning heat and humidity of inland South Korea.

Kiplagat won in a slow 2:28:43 to claim the first gold medal of the competition.

Hard-pressed to equal their third-place finish in the medals table from two years ago, they gave Kenya the perfect start to the competition. Kiplagat, a 31-year-old mother of two, lead Priscah Jeptoo and Cherop to the line.

The three embraced and gingerly walked away, arms interlocking to celebrate the victory. No nation had ever clinched such a triple since the championships started 28 years ago.

"I hope this result will give motivation to our Kenyan team members," Jeptoo said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Olympic champion disqualified in 400m

August, 27, 2011
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DAEGU, South Korea -- Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu of Britain has been disqualified from the women's 400 meters at the world championships after a false start.

Ohuruogu, the 400 winner in the 2007 worlds and 2008 Beijing Olympics, jumped the gun in Heat 3 and was led off the track Saturday at Daegu Stadium.

Ohuruogu has been struggling this season, and even said she thought about skipping the meet in order to concentrate on defending her Olympic title next year in London.

Three weeks ago at Crystal Palace, Ohuruogu finished last.

American teammates Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross qualified for the semifinals Sunday -- Felix with effortless grace and Richards-Ross putting in her big push in the final stretch to beat Jamaican rival Shericka Williams..

Felix, a three-time world champion in the 200, is looking to double in Daegu.

Usain Bolt's title defense starts with ease

August, 27, 2011
8/27/11
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DAEGU, South Korea -- Usain Bolt won his heat Saturday in 10.10 seconds and qualified for the semifinals in the 100 meters at the world championships.

The world-record holder from Jamaica is looking to defend his 100 and 200 titles in Daegu, South Korea. Two years ago, the Olympic champion set records in winning both events -- just as he did at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Bolt also will be looking for a third gold medal with the Jamaican 4x100 relay team.

Although Bolt said another world record in the 100 is unlikely in Sunday's final, he is expected to easily retain his title because challengers Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay are injured and not competing.

Dodson will compete

U.S. sprinter Jeremy Dodson will attend the world championships after being allowed to travel at a court hearing Friday following his recent arrest on suspicion of identity theft.

Dodson was arrested last week and released on a $10,000 bond. As a condition of his bond, he had to surrender his passport, putting his status for the 200 meters in jeopardy.

Following an advisement hearing in Colorado on Friday, Dodson's agent, Vince Ewing, told The Associated Press in an email that the sprinter had been cleared to leave the country and may arrive as soon as Saturday.

USA Track and Field confirmed he would compete.

Read more »

Reigning world champion Hooker out early

August, 27, 2011
8/27/11
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DAEGU, South Korea -- Steve Hooker's less-than-stellar warmup before the pole vault competition at the world championships turned into a lackluster performance and an early exit Saturday in the qualifying round.

Just like that, the reigning world champion from Australia was done after failing to clear a height.

"I had no confidence in what I was doing out there," said Hooker, who captured gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. "I felt kind of lost out there on the runway. It was tough to take off, tough to get jumps down when you're feeling that way."

Hooker has been working his way back from a nagging knee injury, one that's crimped his training and curtailed his competition schedule. This was only Hooker's third competition of the season.

The rust was apparent.

"It looks different when you're running in with aggression and fire in your belly," said Hooker, who won at the 2009 worlds in Berlin with a vault of 19 feet, 4 1/4 inches. "I really wasn't feeling it from the get-go out there today. My warmup was a struggle, shut that down early. I was just hoping the competition would get me up. It just wasn't there."

Hooker failed to clear a height of 18-0½.

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Here is the Team USA roster for the World Track and Field Championships, which begin Saturday in Daegu, South Korea (* -- 2009 world champion):

Men

100 meters
Walter Dix, Justin Gatlin, Trell Kimmons

200
Dix, Darvis Patton, Jeremy Dodson

400
Tony McQuay, Greg Nixon, Jamaal Torrance, LaShawn Merritt-*

800
Nicholas Symmonds, Khadevis Robinson, Charles Jock

1,500
Matthew Centrowitz, Leonel Manzano, Andrew Wheating

3,000 steeplechase
William Nelson, Daniel Huling, Benjamin Bruce

5,000
Andrew Bumbalough, Bernard Lagat, Galen Rupp

10,000
Rupp, Matt Tegenkamp, Scott Bauhs

20-km race walk
Trevor Barron

Marathon
Nicholas Arciniaga, Michael Morgan, Sergio Reyes, Jeffrey Eggleston, Mike Sayenko

110 hurdles
David Oliver, Aries Merritt, Jason Richardson

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