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The Week That Was July 27 - August 2, 2009

August 3, 2009

By LetsRun.com
To read last week's LRC Week That Was, click Here.
To read any 2009
LRC Week That Was, click Here.

This week's version of The Week That Was is officially dedicated to the 800 and Maggie Vessey. We look at 800 greats past, present and possibly future. Along the way, we also give you proof as to why German Fernandez shouldn't contemplate going pro and try to avoid ignoring Lopez Lomong. We also give out free of charge the LetsRun.com Proposal To Save All Sports.

But before we recap the action, we thought we'd give you links to a few of the big events from last week as well as to the homepages for each day.

Last Week's Homepages (Most Recent On Left)
*Mon *Sun (Goucher/DN Galan) *Sat (DN Galan/1:56.72) *Fri (Schumann/Hall) *Thu *Wed (Vessey/Monaco Recap) *Tue (TWTW)

DN Galan
Allyson Felix Is Back - 
LRC's Full DN Galan Recap
Americans Jenny Barringer and Christin Wurth-Thomas took the 5,000m and 1,500m in impressive fashion while the USA men got a big boost in the high jump thanks to Jesse Williams.
*IAAF DN Galan Recap
*Tyson Gay Sends Another Message To Usain Bolt With 9.79 Hopefully we can help make the 2009 World Championships the most-watched track meet in a long time thanks to the Bolt/Gay rivalry.

Maggie Vessey Stuns Herself & The World With 1:57.84 World Leader
The woman who has entertained us all summer long did it again on Tuesday in Monaco with a breathtaking performance. Abubaker Kaki grabbed a big victory in the men's 800, as Nick Symmonds broke 1:44 for the first time. In women's action, one woman got the barrier she wanted as Christin Wurth-Thomas broke 2:00 for the first time, but Anna Willard failed to go sub-4:00 in the 1,500, where Maryam Yusuf Jamal stamped herself as the emphatic favorite for Worlds with a convincing win over Gelete Burka.

African Juniors
Teenager Caster Semenya Runs 1:56.72 World Leader In African Youth Champs
What a shock as Semenya, 18, won by almost 4 seconds in a 4-second PR. Before we get ahead of ourselves, 2nd-Placer Winny Chebet was defeated by Janeth Jepkosgei and Pamela Jelimo by 6 seconds at the Kenyan Trials.
*South African Article On Semenya

Herculis Athletics Meeting We Bet New Balance
Is Pumped They Signed Her Mid-Year

Maggie Vessey #1 In The World!!!!! (For A Few Days)
Last week was a week that belonged to the 800 runners. Where to begin?

Well, we are an American-based website, therefore we are focused only on one thing - world domination by the USA. So we'll start with Maggie Vessey's 1:57.84 stunner in Monaco on Tuesday (race video here) (the line about world domination is a joke for our foreign vistiors that are scared of the US).

Vessey has given US fans more excitement by far than anyone else in 2009 and it continued last Tuesday. The woman who was little more than a field filler at Prefontaine but somehow won that race, the woman who, after only finishing 4th at USAs, had somehow won the Golden League meet in 2:00.13, had topped even herself in terms of shock value by running a world leader and punching her ticket to the IAAF World Championships.

Vessey's performance even shocked her coach, Greg Brock, whose quote we featured as our quote of the day on Thursday, "Surprised is one word. What's that new thing they say now -- shocked and awed? This is a time that expression is very valid. Over the years, I've had some athletes make some dramatic drops [to their PRs], but usually they're in high school or college and they're peaking at the right time, not travelling around Europe under all that pressure."

Now immediately after the performances, Vessey received the ultimate compliment of a track and field athlete that is having a breakthrough year- accusations started flying all over the Internet that she must be on drugs. LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson received similar "compliments" when he went from 29:49 to 28:27 in the 10k in one race (ultimately down to 28:06), so we decided to look into it. Do we think that's the case?

Yr Maggie Vessey's 800 PR
2002 2:06.53
2003 2:05.78
2004 No Races
2005 2:03.10
2006 No Races
2007 1 Race - 2:11.57
2008 2:02.10
2009 1:57.84

Absolutely not. Vessey's performance in 2009 is surprising but not unbelievable. The fact of the matter is she's always shown herself to be a talent. It only seems like she's come out of the blue because she disappeared for a while. Look at Vessey's career progression. Very steady. Sudden jumps indicate drug use. A steady progression over a long period of time means you are clean.

Since Vessey started running the 800, here are her six seasonal-best times: 2:06.53, 2:05.78, 2:03.10, 2:11.57, 2:02.10, 1:57.84. But that doesn't tell the story, as she has zero times from 2004 and 2006 and only the 2:11 from 2007. So basically, Vessey is someone who ran 2:03 in 2005 and got 2nd at NCAAs in just her 3rd year of running the 800 in 2005. Last year, she ran 2:02 in what was basically her 4th season of running the 800 even though she basically missed all of 2003, 2006 and 2007.

So to go from 2:02 to 2:00 isn't a stretch.

"But she isn't a 2:00 minute runner," you say? To us, the easiest thing to explain is her "sudden jump" her jump from 2:00 to 1:57.8. Not difficult at all. Vessey had been running 2:00 from the back, often running out into lane three or four on the turn. Do people understand how much farther one has to run in lane two than lane one?

Let's assume Vessey's tactics of going way wide on the turn caused her to run the equivalent of just one lap in lane 2. That's an extra 7.67 meters, or 1.15 seconds at 60 second per quarter pace. Two laps in lane 2? 2.3 seconds at 60 second per 400 pace. The jump from 2:00 to 1:57.8 is only 2.2 seconds.

In Monaco, Vessey received an absolute gift. If you think the parting of the Red Sea was amazing, find Vessey as she was able to stay on the rail and move from next to last to next to 1st from 400 to 600. It was very, very lucky it opened up like that. She stayed in lane 1 the entire race which saved her a ton of ground. Plus, the 800 is almost always run fastest if the first lap is faster than the 2nd. So by going out faster the first lap and staying on the rails, it's easy to see her going from 2:00 to 1:57.8.

USA Track and Field National Championships Day 4
Will Symmonds Be Wearing
A Medal On August 23rd

Nick Symmonds Runs As Well As Vessey & Few Notice (And No One Notices Lomong)
Vessey wasn't the only American to have a good run last week in the 800. A week after we said there was no shame in Nick losing to Gary Reed in the 800 as Reed was simply a more accomplished runner, Symmonds had his first strong showing in Europe in a long while, turned the tables on Reed, and broke 1:44 for the first time, as he finished third in Monaco in 1:43.83. The only two guys ahead of Symmonds in Monaco were two of the favorites for Berlin in Abubaker Kaki and Yuriy Borzakovskiy. Kaki, who had been out after an injury in Oslo, certainly didn't look good later in the week in Stockholm. In the rounds of Berlin, Symmonds certainly could be in the hunt for a medal - particularly if he's willing to trust himself and try to come inside on the rail and go for a bronze.

1:42.60 Johnny Gray 1985
1:43.20 Mark Everett 1997
1:43.35 David Mack 1985
1:43.38 Rich Kenah 1997
1:43.5* Rick Wohlhuter 1974
1:43.62 Earl Jones 1986
1:43.68 Khadevis Robinson 2006
1:43.83 Nick Symmonds 2009
1:43.84 Alan Webb 2007
1:43.92 John Marshall 1984
1:43.92 James Robinson

1:56.40 Jearl Miles-Clark 1999
1:56.90 Mary Slaney 1985
1:56.91 Kim Gallagher 1988
1:57.04 Meredith R.-Valmon 1996
1:57.80 Delisa Walton-Floyd 1988
1:57.82 Julie Jenkins 1990
1:57.84 Joetta Clark 1998
1:57.84 Maggie Vessey 2009
1:57.9 Madeline Manning 1976
1:57.97 Nicole Teter 2002

3:29.30 Bernard Lagat 2005
3:29.77 Sydney Maree 1985
3:30.54 Alan Webb 2007
3:31.01 Jim Spivey 1988
3:31.52 Steve Holman 1997
3:31.76 Steve Scott 1985
3:31.93 David Krummenacker 2002
3:32.94 Lopez Lomong 2009
3:33.1 Jim Ryun 1967
3:33.28 Chris Lukezic 2006

Symmonds' run certainly didn't garner the attention of Vessey's, as he didn't win and it wasn't a world leader, but it's interesting to note that BOTH Symmonds and Vessey are now 8th on the list of all-time fastest US performers.

But there was another performance last week by a US mid-distance runner that also catapulted one young competitor to #8 on the all-time US list of performers as well, and it seems as if no one noticed it at all (we only realized all three were ranked #8 after seeing the list sent out by Walt Murphy in his great email digest. If you are interested in receiving it, please email Walt at: [email protected]). And again, there was a reason why no one noticed it - because in the event where he became the 8th-fastest peformer all-time in America, he was slaughtered in the race and only finished 7th.

What race are we talking about? Well, we are talking about the 3:32.94 that 2008 US flag bearer Lopez Lomong ran to get 7th in Stockholm.

But we don't want a top 10 all-time performance like that to go unnoticed and thus we are going to give Lomong's 3:32.94 a name which is:

Proof Positive As To Why German Fernandez Shouldn't Contemplate Going Pro
Recently there has been a lot of chatter on the message boards about how freshmen sensation German Fernandez should go pro since he won the NCAA 1,500 as a freshman. Lomong's performance is proof positive that he shouldn't do that. The fact of the matter is people run very, very fast in Europe and one needs realistic goals to shoot for. The NCAA provides those goals and it also provides one the opportunity to build themselves into a legend status that fans follow, which in turn leads to more sponsorship $$$. German needs to at least win an NCAA XC individual crown before he contemplates going pro. Find a way to beat Sam Chelanga this year. Then repeat in the 1,500 next spring and run super-fast in Europe next summer. Then repeat your XC individual title in 2010 and then we'll let you go pro (but we'd love you to try for the 3-peat in XC as well as the 4-peat in the 1,500). You'll also be worth A TON more money. The Olympics will only be 1.5 years away and the shoe companies will be hungry.

Speaking of Fernandez, the thread on him possibly going pro was a good one, as former US great Jim Spivey chimed in about how he survived as an elite miler on just $12,000 per year back in the 1980s. Spivey's post and the thread in general are both worth reading.


One Legend Calls It A Career And Another Is Born?
So Vessey's race was the big news of the 800, but only early in the week. Later in the week, 2000 Olympic 800-meter champ Nils Schumann called it a career (article translated from German). Schumann is the man who prevented the greatest 800m runner in history in our minds, Wilson Kipketer, from ever being an Olympic champion. Schumann was clearly in the shape of his life in 2000 as he PRed in the semis with a 1:44.22 and then won the Olympic final in stunning fashion with a 1:45.08 (look at the shock on Schumann's face on the right). Schumann also ran 1:44s in 1999, 2001 and 2002, with a lifetime PR of 1:44.16 in 2002. He didn't compete outdoors in 2003-2006 and never ran faster than 1:47 since then.

After Schumann's retirement, the Law of Averages flexed it's muscle. If one legend retires, another has to be born. And sure enough, basically out of nowhere in terms of media expectations, a new star was born in the 800.

South African 18-year-old Caster Semenya smashed her own PR as well as Maggie Vessey's world leader by running 1:56.72 to win the African junior championships. In the process, she set new South African junior and senior records.


Last year, we had an 18-year-old Olympic 800 champ who came from basically out of nowhere that was unstoppable. Will history repeat itself in 2009?

It's going to be interesting to see.

Semenya certainly is talented. Unlike Jelimo, she didn't totally come out of nowhere. Last year, in her first year of big-time competition, she ran 2:04.23 to win the Commonwealth Youth Games gold medal. If people didn't notice that, they should have noticed her eye-opening 2:00.58 run way back in March in a race that she won by 4 full seconds. 2:00 winning by 4 full seconds shows that one can break 2:00. And break 2:00 is certainly what she did last week.

Then she came back and won the 1,500 in a meet record of 4:08.01.Very impressive. After hearing of Semenya's 1:56, one's biggest concern about her chances at Worlds would be - how is the youngster's endurance? Her 4:08 shows that she's very strong. Could she possibly win in Berlin? You bet.

Oh yeah. One more thing. Apparently, she ran 1:56.72 and won by a 4.64 seconds on a very windy day. As Semenya told the IAAF, "If it was not for the strong wind on the back straight I would have run faster. My coach (Michael Seme) has always told me during training that I can match the Kenyan (World champion) Janeth Jepkosgei and (Olympic champion) Pamela Jelimo. So I will not be afraid when I compete against them in Berlin."

Semenya's double was impressive but not quite as impressive as the 1:57/3:58 double that Anna Alminova ran at the Russian champs, although Alminova will run the 1,500 at Worlds.

And, like Vessey, Semenya's "sudden rise" is creating all sorts of rumors. If Vessey thinks it's bad to be called a drug cheat, at least she's not being labelled a hermaphrodite like Semenya.

800-Meter Drug Cheat Returns And (Surprise) Runs Way Slower Without Drugs
And speaking of drug rumors, convicted drug cheat and indoor 800m world record holder and 2004 Olympic bronze medallist Jolanda Ceplak decided to come back after her two-year ban for EPO. The result in her first race back? 2:07. 1:55 indoors with drugs. 2:07 without. More: 1:55 Drug Cheat Jolanda Ceplak Returns To Competition

Track And Field: 19 Years More Advanced Than Major League Baseball
Major League Baseball In 2003 = Track & Field In 1984
And while we're talking about doping, all we can say is we are pleased that in the world of track and field, the authorities finally seem to really want to catch the drug cheats instead of look the other way or hope the problem just goes away as they are still doing in baseball. This week, it came out in Boston that several non-playing employees of the Red Sox were on steroids last year. Did the Red Sox do a big inquiry to see if they had connections to any players? Not really. They just did a perfunctory investigation and tried to sweep it under the rug.

Pretty embarrassing. It reminds us of track and field 25 years ago. A great article came out this week in the Orange County Register, where the former head of US track and field Olan Cassell admitted that in 1984, they tested athletes for drugs to give them a heads up if they'd test positive at the LA Summer Games.

Cassell told the OCR the following, "We were trying to get a handle on how big the problem was, what athletes were taking so the scientist could test for them, and what the benefit were of what they were taking. I didn't have any concerns about it. No athlete would be punished. It helped us find out how deep (the U.S. doping problem) was."

We guess history really does repeat itself, as this sounds exactly like the so-called anonymous testing done by Major League Baseball in 2003. In track then, as in baseball up until maybe this year, there seemingly was little concern at the top as to whether the best athletes were on drugs. The only fear was that they'd be caught.

But now basically it's clear that a ton of the top track stars in the 1980s were on steroids just as the baseball players are in this decade, so there is no longer any reason to try to save face.

The tide has finally changed and as a result, LetsRun.com has a Solution to Save All Sports.

LetsRun.com's Solution To Save All Sports
Starting on January 1, 2010, all records and statistics in all sports should be wiped clean. Just start over and say that drugs are no longer allowed. Period. Serious doping offenses deserve life-time bans. No more 2-year bans in track or 2-month holidays in baseball.

And what about the past? We just say forget about it. The 1980s and 1990s (and even early into the 2000s) in track were a different era, as was the case in the 1990s and 2000s in baseball. Based on how many people were using drugs, athletes were given very strong incentives to use PEDs. Seemingly everyone else was doing it and the chances of getting caught were next to zero. Nowadays, it's a lot different. The tipping point has been reached. People aren't looking the other way and you might get caught. So let's make the penalty astronomical and move on. Look ahead, not behind, and start over in 2010. It's just a shame that we couldn't have started over in the year 2000.

Speaking of ratcheted-up enforcement, one thing that is sad is that sometimes innocent people get caught up in the drug hunt. We should have mentioned this last week, but South African marathoner Gert Thys was totally exonerated and his 2.5 year + drug suspension was overturned.

Looking Ahead Two Weeks
We're sure in next week's Week That Was we'll start hyping the World Champs. So this week we wanted to hype the New York Half Marathon, which takes place the day after the World Champs start. On Sunday, August 16th, in Central Park, we already knew that American Ryan Hall would be giving us our first taste of what we can expect at the ING New York City marathon this fall, as he'll be racing the half in New York. Now we know who he'll be racing. The field is full of big names as five guys were added this week to the field. They include Tadesse Tola (60:58 PR), Patrick Makau (58:52 PR), Abdi Abdirahman (60:29), Hendrick Ramaala (59:20) and Jaoud Gharib (59:56). Read more here: Ryan Hall To Have His Hands Full At NYC Half-Marathon In Two Weeks As Tola, Makau, Abdirahman, Ramaala And Gharib Added To Field

Looking Ahead Three Weeks
The women's World Championships marathon is August 23rd and American Kara Goucher will be in it. After her heartbreaking 3rd place finish in Boston, Goucher put her desire to have a family on hold to get ready for Worlds. So let's just say there is a lot of pressure to do well.

We got our only glimpse of the type of fitness Goucher is in last weekend when Kara Goucher ran and won the Chicago Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in Chicago in 68:05. What does it mean?

Well it means that Kara is definitely in pretty good shape. The time is 21st-fastest half marathon in women's history, the 5th-fastest half of 2009, the 2nd-fastest American half marathon to Deena Kastor's 1:07:34.

Does that mean she will medal? It's hard to say. According to John Kellogg, the time only converts to a 2:25:11 marathon, although McMillan's calculator converts it to a more generous 2:23:35.

So certainly if the weather is good, Goucher at the very least has a great chance to break her PR of 2:25.53, which she ran on the very difficult New York course, particularly when one considers that Goucher supposedly was coming off two 120-mile weeks in Chicago.

Thinking positively, if Goucher is in 2:23-2:25 shape, one might surmise she could medal considering that no woman has run faster than 2:22:11 this year.

But thinking negatively, Irina Mikitenko and Paula Radcliffe are both running Berlin. Mikitenko has been the best marathoner runner in the world the last year and Radcliffe is basically unbeatable when she's on. If those two are on their game, then everyone else is running for third.

But the beauty of the World Champs and Olympics is that third is viewed as a big accomplishment by many, whereas in Boston, third left Goucher in tears. We wonder if Goucher would be happy with a medal at Worlds or only if gold will suffice.

Interesting Threads From Last Week
*Jarmila Kratochvilova 800m & 400m WRs
*Why am I able to keep up with out top guys at practice and not at races?

Recommended Reads From Last Week
Catching Up With Japanese 5k/1,500 Double Winner Yuichiro "Big Mouth" Ueno The guy who has a "long-standing reputation for talking big and blowing up even bigger" has finally come through in a big way and is headed to Berlin after pulling off the 1st 5k/1,500 double in 24 years. In the future, he wants the marathon world record.
*A Brief Chat With 3:35 1,500-Meter Runner Dorian Ulrey The guy is a stud. He found out he was going to Rome on Tuesday, got there Wednesday and PRed by 4 seconds on Friday.
*An Interview With 2:08 Retired Japanese Marathoner Takayuki Nishida The article gives great insight into the Japanese culture (work, work, work) and contrasts it to the Kenyan (it's ok to rest).
*A Look At US HS 1k Record Holder Robby Andrews & His Dad They were following the Peter-Seb Coe model.
*A Look At Maggie Vessey's Incredible Journey The UCSB Cal Poly grad is somehow now the world leader. Up until her 1:57, she thought she was just getting 'lucky.
*Even Maggie Vessey's Coach Was Stunned By Her 1:57
*OC Register: Secret USA Drug Testing Efforts In 1984 Yielded Dozens Of Track And Field Positives *LRC Message Board Thread Here
*Excellent Article On Jessica Ennis - World #1 In The Heptathlon Fountain, Kluft, Blonska and Sotherton are all out. Ennis is the only UK athlete with a top-3 performance in the world this year.
*Fascinating Article On The "Appalling" State Of UK Throwers GBR didn't send a single male thrower to the 2008 Olympics.

Remembering The Last Week With The Quotes of the Day - Day By Day:

Monday: "If I blow up at halfway, I blow up halfway. I didn't put my life on hold not to take a risk."
- Kara Goucher on her pre-race strategy for the World Championship Marathon in Berlin. On Sunday Goucher ran to a 1:08:05 win in the inaugural Rock 'N' Roll Chicago Half Marathon.

"I would call it 'Tyson Gay shocks the world.'"
- Tyson Gay earlier in the week predicting the headlines after Berlin. After his performance in Stockholm, we think he can do it.

"My coach has always told me during training that I can match the Kenyan (World champion) Janeth Jepkosgei and (Olympic champion) Pamela Jelimo. So I will not be afraid when I compete against them in Berlin."
- South African teenager Caster Semenya after breaking 2:00 in the 800m for the first time. Her final time? 1:56.72 world leader at the African youth championships.

"I was bitterly disappointed with the pace-making to be honest. To go into the race being told by various people the pace is going to be two minutes six seconds at 800m for then to go through in two minutes 17 seconds is just ridiculously off the mark and I question the nature of that race.

I think everyone was looking out for each other but I didn't want to play that game, I wanted to think about myself and my own race so I took the bull by the horns and took it on. I went with the intent to win and I always do but unfortunately I didn't hold it together."

- British teen phenom Steph Twell talking about her race last weekend in London which almost cost her a World Championships team berth. *MB Thread #1 On Pacing *MB Thread #2 On Pacing

"Surprised is one word. What's that new thing they say now -- shocked and awed? This is a time that expression is very valid. Over the years, I've had some athletes make some dramatic drops [to their PRs], but usually they're in high school or college and they're peaking at the right time, not travelling around Europe under all that pressure."
- Greg Brock, coach of world leader Maggie Vessey, on what he felt after seeing Vessey's 1:57.84 time online. In a different article, Vessey said up until her 1:57, she felt she was just 'lucky' to be winning at Pre and Rome.

"I can't believe it. This is amazing ... I raced with a determination that I never had before."
- Maggie Vessey after her magical 2009 season continued with a stunning 1:57.84 victory in Monaco on Tuesday. Not only will Vessey be going to Worlds, she may very well be going as the world leader!!!

"Unbelievable. Can you imagine a guy going straight from HS to the NBA and then saying he wasn't going to spend any of his money except he was going to build a school? Not a chance. Pamela Jelimo, the LetsRun.com hero of the week."
- quote from the LetsRun.com Week That Was on an excellent article on Kenyan 800m star Pamela Jelimo.

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