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LRC: The Week That Was July 21-27, 2008
by John Kellogg

July 29, 2008
*Last week's week in review can be found here

With no Golden League competitions taking place this week, the action was somewhat less hectic than in the previous week; nonetheless, there were many noteworthy performances on the track, in the field and on the road. We summarize the week's highlights with our "Top 10 Athletes" feature.

LRC Top 10 Athletes Of The Week

1. Meseret Defar: At the DN Galan in Stockholm, the 2004 Olympic gold medallist from Ethiopia gave a stouthearted, largely solo attempt to reclaim the 5,000m world record she had set twice in her stellar career. Defar's countrywoman and bitter rival Tirunesh Dibaba had upgraded the mark by over 5 seconds to 14:11.15 in Oslo on June 6th, prompting Defar to enlist her personal rabbit Olga Komyagina to assist in taking back the record. The reliable Komyagina masterfully clicked off five of the requisite 68-second laps with Defar locked in a stride behind, then stepped off to watch the great champion battle the stopwatch alone. Within another two laps, the solitary struggle was taking its toll and Defar had slipped 3 seconds behind record pace, laboring in the red zone but still hammering out a tempo that kept the record within sight. Defar fought valiantly but slipped further off target pace during the next few laps and by the bell was in want of a 58.6 final circuit for success. The Ethiopian superstar has closed that fast in championship races, but running unaccompanied at near-record pace, it was not to be. She clawed out a courageous 60.4 to stop the clock at 14:12.88, #2 all-time. Finishing over 250 meters behind, utterly vanquished, were world-class runners Zakia Mohamed, Jo Pavey and Kim Smith, all top-six finishers in Olympic or World Championships events.

Robles Sizzles
2. Dayron Robles: Last week, Robles earned our top spot with a surreal 12.88 obliteration of a world-class 110m hurdles field in Paris. This week in Stockholm, the world record holder lined up against undefeated American rival David Oliver, who had served the Cuban a narrow (0.01) loss in June. In Sweden, Robles struck a punishing counterblow, warp-driving from the blocks into an early lead, sailing elegantly over the hurdles to an insurmountable margin and controlling his advantage to the finish, dusting the US Champion by a comfortable 0.13 seconds and churning out another breathtaking near-WR mark of 12.91. Also among the carnage that was the main field was 2-time Olympic silver medallist Terrence Trammell. If Robles can continue to find his recent magic, only a healthy Liu Xiang could be a claim jumper to his gold prospects. Since Liu has reportedly been hampered by a hamstring injury, Robles is surely the man with the bull's-eye on his back.

3. Usain Bolt: The Jamaican meteor continued his unmitigated tyranny of the half lap with a 19.76 into a 0.4 m/s headwind in London (video of this race in the London video highlights in the middle of this article). His previous 200m stunner, a 19.67 (#5 all-time) in Athens on July 13th, was run into a 0.5 m/s wind. Given the maximum allowable tailwind, Bolt may actually threaten Michael Johnson's once-thought-unassailable mark of 19.32. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Bolt's London performance was how easily he routed 2007 World Championships bronze medallist Wallace Spearmon, who stands at #4 all-time with a 19.65 PR from 2006. After a perplexing loss to compatriot Asafa Powell in the 100m in Stockholm, in which he played catchup for 99m only to finish in a resigned fashion by neglecting to lean at the line, Bolt left no doubt who was in charge this time, powering away from Spearmon to win by a jaw-dropping margin of 0.51 seconds - even while easing up slightly during the final 20 meters.

4. Abubaker Kaki: It is frightening to realize Kaki became the World Indoor Champion at 800m and ran a world-leading 1:42.69 outdoors before his 19th birthday. The precocious Sudanese luminary seems to be addicted to winning with eye-popping times. In the uncommonly-raced 1,000m event in Stockholm, Kaki followed a ripping pace set by the rabbits, leaving behind a crack field, and ran unchallenged over the final 300m to stop the clock at 2:13.93, (video highlight in Stockholm highlights below in article) becoming the #6 all-time performer, establishing a world junior record and taking the scalps of two chief 800m rivals - Yusuf Kamel and Yuriy Borzakovskiy. Kamel, the son of World Championships 800m record holder Billy Konchellah, captured the bronze medal in the 2008 World Indoor meet that Kaki won, and boasts a lifetime best of 1:43.11. Borzakovskiy is the defending Olympic Champion and ranks 6th on the all-time list with a PR of 1:42.47. Since taking the gold medal indoors, Kaki has continued his winning ways throughout his outdoor campaign and heads to China as a marginal favorite to seize the Olympic title.

5. Andrey Silnov: The 2006 European Champion in the high jump, Silnov has finished first or second in 13 of his 15 competitions in 2008. Alas, his two lower finishes came in national championship meets and resulted in his not being named to the Russian teams, as he was 3rd indoors (with two qualifying for Worlds) and wound up 4th on the countback in the outdoor nationals in Kazan, with only three headed to Beijing. So what did Silnov do for consolation after his disappointment in Kazan? He merely uncorked a 2.38m (7'9.75") jump in London, unseating Olympic favorite Stefan Holm as the 2008 world leader and tying for 10th on the all-time outdoor performer list.

6. USA "Red" 4 x 100m (Rodney Martin, Travis Padgett, Shawn Crawford, Darvis Patton): (race highlight in video player below) The American sprint stars, all in the relay pool for the Olympic Games, teamed up for valuable meet experience and produced a scorching world leader in London. The time of 37.80 is very impressive for a unit that most likely will not be the foursome used for the Olympic final (assuming the preliminary US squads avoid a miscue in the rounds and advance to the final). Trinidad and Tobago set a national record of 38.00 in 2nd and tied Cuba as the 8th fastest nation in history. But everyone needs to watch out for Jamaica, which will field a team with the two fastest 100m men of all time and a capable, world-class supporting cast. Provided they can smoothly get the stick around the track, they have the personnel that many aficionados think could beat the USA for the gold medal and possibly set a world record. But the performance by the Americans in London with only half of their "A" team does show that if their top sprinters are all healthy, it will be difficult for even the Jamaicans to beat them.

7. Yelena Isinbayeva: Training to compete against Isinbayeva must seem like a sisyphean task for the rest of the world's pole vaulters, as the incomparable Russian continues to scale whatever height is necessary to remain just beyond the reach of her ever-improving rivals. The seemingly indomitable world record holder finally had a 2008 outdoor matchup in London with American record holder Jenn Stuczynski, who had pulled out of their planned showdown in Stockholm (where Isinbayeva took a ho-hum victory). The pole vault is a quirky event with plenty of opportunities for upsets, but the form chart gods were appeased this time, as the Olympic gold medallist soared over 4.93m to outdo Stuczynski's 2nd-place jump of 4.81m (see London video highlights below). Her final attempt at upping her world record by a centimeter to 5.04m resulted in a brush so slight that the bar teetered at the edge of the uprights for a short delay before dropping to the mat. The winning height of 4.93m has only been exceeded six times, all of them by Isinbayeva, who has not lost in a global championship since 2003 and who remains the overwhelming favorite for the gold medal in Beijing.

8. Asafa Powell: The former 100m world record holder had a good week, as he held off the current record holder (fellow Jamaican Usain Bolt) with a lean in Stockholm, then hopped over to London and won again over Trinidad and Tobago's Marc Burns. Just coming within phoning distance of Bolt has proved challenging for the world's sprinters since his 9.72 blitz in late May, but Powell found a way to rattle his towering opponent by exploding away from the starting blocks and zooming to an imposing lead in the first half of the race. Bolt roared back and reduced the gap to naught in the final two meters but in the last moment appeared to accept defeat as inevitable, while Powell dipped forward to the line to eke out a narrow triumph.

Aviva London Grand Prix
9. Shedrack Korir: Korir, the 1,500m bronze medallist from last year's World Championships, might be wishing the Olympic distance was switched to one mile. In his last three 1,500m outings, he has finished 3rd, 9th and 5th. When racing the mile, he has two wins in two starts this season, kicking things off in June with a 3:50.49 win over Nick Willis, Daniel K. Komen and Belal Mansoor Ali in the Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic. Following a couple of mid-pack finishes in 1,500m races in Rome and Paris, Korir returned to his 2008 go-to distance and lined up for the Emsley Carr Mile in London. A relatively sedate pace through 3 laps seemed to favor reigning 1,500m World Champion Bernard Lagat, but Korir found himself in front and out of trouble at the bell, while Lagat let himself get hopelessly trapped in the ensuing donnybrook. Korir led the entire last lap to take the measure of the hard-charging 2008 Dream Mile winner Andy Baddeley, Lagat and a resurgent Craig Mottram, who was coming off a win of his own at 3,000m in Stockholm.

10. Yevgeniy Lukyanenko: The Russian pole vault gold medal hopeful edged Aussie rival Steven Hooker on the countback as both cleared 5.97m in London. Both vaulters have already joined the 6-meter club this year, Lukyanenko ranking = #8 all-time with his 6.01m clearance and Hooker coming in at 6.00m even. The duo got the best of US Champion Brad Walker (4th at 5.72m) in London, but Walker has the yearly leader with an American record 6.04m, good for #4 all-time. It's often difficult to predict a winner in such a technical event, so (unlike with the women's vault) there remains no clear favorite for the Olympic title.

Video Higlights of the Week
(To Watch the Enire Meets subscribe at WCSN.com)

London Highlights

Stockholm Highlights

Honorable Mention

Jamaica's Sprint Corps: In case you haven't noticed, the island nation is a huge force on the world sprint scene this year. The United States has more sprint depth on the men's side, with six of the top ten 100m performers of 2008, but Jamaica boasts the top two short sprint performers of all time and both are raring to go for the Games. Usain Bolt set the world record of 9.72 in New York on May 31st, supplanting his countryman Asafa Powell, who is only a year removed from dashing to a world record of his own (9.74). In the 200m, the US men are ubiquitous in the yearly top 10, but no one has been able to challenge Bolt, who has bullied some of the world's best in his last two outings to record the top two times of the year. On the women's side, Jamaica has the top four performers in the world (and #6) in the 200m and Jamaicans rank #2, #4, #5, #6 and #10 in the 100m. The top 10 performers in both the 100m and 200m events are either American or Jamaican. This week, in addition to Jamaicans taking the top four spots in the 100m in Stockholm (spearheaded by the Powell vs. Bolt face-off) and Bolt winning by what seemed like an astronomical distance over Wallace Spearmon in London, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Shelly-Ann Fraser recorded 10.87 and 10.95 en route to an impressive 1-2 sweep against US Olympians Marshevet Hooker and Torri Edwards at 100m, and Sherone Simpson demoralized 2007 World Champion Allyson Felix at 200m.

Craig Mottram: The big Aussie had been off people's radar screens of late, but got a very decisive win in a tactical 3,000m at DN Galan in Stockholm, striking suddenly with 450m remaining, accelerating powerfully down the backstretch and blowing away the chasers
. Mottram even had time to celebrate in the final strides en route to a 54.6 final lap.

Andy Baddeley: Following his surprise 3:49.38 win in Olso's fabled Dream Mile in June, Baddeley personifies British middle-distance running and carries the hopes of the nation's fans on his shoulders. In the Emsley Carr Mile on home soil, Baddeley didn't quite win, but he showed he possesses formidable finishing speed in a tactical race, emerging from the tight pack and storming furiously down the homestretch to nearly cop the win from front-running Shedrack Korir. Baddeley's finish was also fast enough to keep 2007 World Champion Bernard Lagat at bay after the US star was too late in breaking out of traffic.

Tadesse Tola: Tola ran 46:01 for 10 miles as a 19-year-old in 2007. On Sunday, the now-20-year-old Ethiopian outkicked Kenyan Patrick Makau by a second to win the New York City Half Marathon in 1:00:58. The race was run in rather uncomfortable conditions (70 degrees, 90% humidity at start time), which makes the times all the more noteworthy.

Blanka Vlašic: There isn't more that needs to be said about the nonpareil Croatian high jumper than that she keeps winning. Her streak is up to 34.

Next 5 Americans
1. Dathan Ritzenhein: The US Olympic marathoner ran to an impressive 3rd place in the warm and muggy New York City Half Marathon with a strong 1:01:38. The showing has to provide Ritzenhein with optimism heading to Beijing, as he appears healthy, fit and capable of holding up well in less-than-ideal weather conditions.

2. Sanya Richards: The time was middling (50.38) for a world-class 400m race but a win is a win, and Richards got just that at DN Galan against some of her main challengers, notably Allyson Felix and Amantle Montsho (co-leaders on the world list) and Jamaican Novlene Williams. The 2006 Female Athlete of the Year seems poised to bring home her first individual gold medal in a few weeks.

3. Kerron Clement: The 400m hurdles World Champion looked out of his element in a flat 400m race in Stockholm (won by Jeremy Wariner), but returned to his specialty in London and nonchalantly manhandled the field with another elite performance of 48.36. Clement owns seven of the top 13 performances of 2008 and has notched five wins in six finals since May, including two Golden League victories.

4. Morgan Uceny: After recording some significant PRs at 1,500m, winning both her European races at the distance, the middle-distance up-and-comer showed she hasn't forgotten her 800m roots. Racing in the London Grand Prix event, Uceny lost for the first time in Europe, finishing 3rd, but recorded another whopping PR of 2:00.01 and is now entering world-class territory in her primary event. Too bad she didn't run a hundredth faster, as she would have "A" standards for next year in both the 800m and the 1,500m.

5. Phyllis Francis: The 15-year-old 800m sensation from Queens set a Junior Olympics record in the Intermediate Girls division with an eye-opening 2:04.83, winning her race by nearly 4 seconds. The mark is noteworthy as it is a national-level performance even for a collegian, and it demolished the division record of 2:06.64 set by Chanelle Price in 2006.

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