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Archive for the ‘track’ Category

 Birmingham’s first Diamond League Event

Yesterday the global athletics phenomenon that is the Diamond League, rolled into the UK, and more specifically, into Birmingham.

 

One of my “sporting bucket list” items has always been to attend a European Golden League or Grand Prix meeting. A couple of years ago, these meetings were all bundled up into one big tightly-knit and wonderfully packaged, combined series called the Diamond League.

Great format, great locations, great athletes.

 

So the big opportunity arrived yesterday. Less than ten miles from my front door. I’d have to be an idiot to miss this… (…zippit).

 Bec and the girls were obviously keen to come along as well. Bec is as much of an athletics fan as me (almost) and for the girls this was the chance to see sporting royalty after all. (In Abby’s case, it was also an opportunity to bid for ice-cream from start to finish). The athletes’ names are household names (in our house at least).  Naturally my training buddies, Niceguy Eddie, or as we soon might have to start calling him, Hundredmile Eddie (and his wonderful wife Stephanie) and Gracie were all super keen as well. So we stacked out a tidy 7 or 8 seats in a row. We were three rows from trackside, almost in line with the 100m start line.

 

The atmosphere was spine tingling. We seemed to have some real track fans in our area, so for once I didn’t embarrass the family by screaming and shouting my support. Don’t get me wrong, I screamed and I shouted, but the thing was, so did everybody else, hence the lack of “standing out like a sore thumb”.

 

It’s hard to pick highlights, because every event was incredible. The 100m, heats AND final, the women’s 1500, men’s 800, women’s 200 and 400. I missed the men’s 400 hurdles as I was out queuing for burgers (don’t judge me), although I heard it and it sounded like a stonker.

 

But I guess if you pushed me for a highlight, and I can sense the virtual pushing going on right now, I’d say without too much hesitation, the men’s 5000m. An obvious choice, based on our distance running tendencies. But having an on-fire Mo Farah in the field was all the crowd needed to get up and cheering. He really is on top of his game at the moment. Unbeaten in 2011 I believe.

The 5k was stacked. No less than Imane Merga (out for revenge after Mo’s 10k triumph in the Pre Classis Diamond League meeting in Oregon, USA). Throw in Yenew Alamirew (this year’s new sensation), a coming-back-to-form Craig Mottram, my old Blairgowrie mate, Alistair Cragg, US hope Galen Rupp, Aussie star Collis Birmingham, Spanish big-kicking guy Jesus Espana, and UK cross country guy Andy Vernon (maybe a little out of his depth but probably looking to bridge some gaps). Look, it was a good field.

The race got underway, paced by David Krummenacker. They were single file sharpish, which usually indicates a good pace. The pace was quick, but not quite top level for these guys. It became clear pretty early on that, although they were motoring, this would be about places and not about time. Being at the meeting we didn’t get the splits we’d be getting on telly, so I can’t be sure of too much, but I did note the 2k time of 5:17 and 3k was a shade over 8 minutes. So not PB territory for the big guns.

Mo worked his way from the back of the pack, towards the front as the race progressed. His usual modus operandi. Alistair took over for a few laps around the 3 to 4k mark. It was getting quicker now as they geared up for the final km. Into the final km and the business got underway. With 600 to go Mottram (who had been up front for a few laps already) was joined by Collis Birmingham and it was an Aussie one-two coming down the back straight towards the bell lap.

The bell, which has become like a red rag to Mo and his long-kick, did exactly that. They took the hell off. Merga was giving him nothing! Stuck right on his heels through 300 to go, 200 to go. Then it was like the Pre 10k all over again, Mo’s continual increasing pace just had the beating of Merga and he started losing ground. Into the home straight and Mo was clear for the win.

Galen Rupp, timed his kick to perfection and came storming through to close the gap right up to Mo, edging Merga in the process. A great scalp for Rupp and a fantastic finish.

Alberto Salazar, who we had spotted when he walked right past us onto the track outfield, must have been pleased with his training group’s 1-2 finish.

The entire grandstand had gotten to its feet for the final lap, the noise was incredible. I jumped up shouting as usual and pretty much ruined any potential footage I was getting with my handycam. It was an awesome experience seeing the boys so close up and in the flesh. They represent the absolute pinnacle of distance running.

The final event of the evening was the men’s 100. After two abortive false starts, a fair bit of complaining from the red-carded athlete, a pulled hamstring from another contender (Michael Rodgers), Asafa duly got the job done in 9.91 seconds. On a wet track, after have to reset himself three times, that is not a bad performance! He must surely be a medal threat in Korea. And with Usain-in-the-membrane still not firing on all cylinders, the colour of that medal should safely be filed as TBC. Stranger things have happened.

So with a cracking 100m bringing the curtain down on the meeting, we made our way towards the exits and out of the stadium.

 

While waiting for the crowds to disperse in the car park, we saw Craig Mottram and Alistair Cragg out jogging on the their cool-down. I managed to say hi to Alistair which was cool. Whether he remembers me or not is up for grabs. Still cool though.

 

My trusty handycam had this to say on the evening’s shenanigans…

 

 

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2011

Cast your minds back… way back. Further than that. I’m talking almost a full year here people.

I’m talking back when we initiated what is sure to become a long-standing and well-supported tradition within our humble running group.

The Rowheath Beermile.

On Wednesday we added chapter two to the growing legacy…

Our running numbers had increased by 50%, meaning there were now three of us competing. Whoop whoop. (There had been promise of greater numbers, but due to various circumstances which can be summarised as “I’m soft”; three had to pull out at the 11th hour… I won’t name Rob, Martin or Tim. I mean, what would that achieve?)

So defending champion Gracie, debutant Harry, and myself all lined up on a lovely summer’s evening sometime between 8 and 9pm.

Harry chose an understated single-colour t-shirt for his race attire, Gracie opted for a red vest with “Gracie” written across the front in big black letters. Hey, it can be tricky to remember names when you’re three pints to the good and running in treacle. I was sporting the colours of the Mighty Golden Lions, bringing a bit of Joburg to the Birmingham summer night, and tipping my hat to the twin cities (fact).

What happened next? Who the hell knows. That’s why this footage is here. Enjoy our pain at your leisure.

 

Official results can be viewed at the official Beermile site here.

 

 

 

 

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I was prompted to write this by an article titled Mokoka aura of invincibility to be tested in Cape Town on the Supersport website.

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First off, this should be a cracking 5000m race.

It is worth mentioning this because there should be a lot more high profile distance races in South Africa than there are. The talent pool is deep and vast in South Africa. With some structure in place, meetings held in the right locations at the right time of the year should be producing fantastic races and fast times – when at sea-level.

I can’t believe Shadrack Hoff is still motoring on after all these years. I have no idea of the form he is in but am very much looking forward to finding out!

Just seeing his name on the start list is a trip down memory lane. In the mid-90’s there was a great rivalry between Shadrack and former Witsie club-mate Hendrick Ramaala. (As an aside I think Hendrick will be the first to admit that his best running was done when mingling with the Wits Track sessions on Thursday afternoons, and on the inter-university championships on road, track and cross-country).

Anyway Hendrick and Shadrack had some good battles, on track and road, back in those days.

Fast forward fifteen years and Hendrick is still operating at an elite level, having “progressed” through the distances. He has enjoyed a world class and I do mean WORLD CLASS career on the roads, most notably in the half marathon (two-time World Silver medallist, sub-60 runner before the millennium – an extremely rare feat back then) and marathon (NYC win and runner-up, multiple London top tens). Unquestionably our most successful distance runner ever, on the international stage.

So it is fantastic, and surprising, to see Hoff is still at it as well. And he is still hitting the 5k track races “showing the youngsters how to do it” etc etc. Outstanding work.

I guess it is no coincidence that the two who excelled the most are the two who would appear to have loved it the most, by virtue of the fact that both are still out there testing themselves, long after many of their contemporaries are putting their feet up and talking about how good they used to be.

But to conclude with some realism. There’s scant place for sentiment when it comes to elite distance running. For the 5k tomorrow I fully expect Stephen Mokoka to show Shadrack Hoff that his time has passed and that it’s all about the youngsters.

Stephen, who finished one second behind Mo Farah in 46:26 in the 2009 Great South Run (10 Miles), and a creditable 8th in the World Half Marathon Championships in Birmingham in 2009, could well – with the right career direction – become the heir apparent to the Ramaala throne.

But that’s for another time.

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Mo Farah! The double European track gold medallist. Take a bow slim.

 

It is all about the 10k just at the moment. (Some 5k thoughts – on what was a far more exciting race – will appear down the line, time-permitting)

Once upon a time there was a runner named Mo. He got down to some training, got some good results and promptly had the expectations of the UK running community placed on his shoulders as reward.

Thank heavens Chris Thompson, with his own triumph-to-tragedy-to-triumph story, has joined the party this year and made sure Mo is not the only Brit under 28 minutes in 2009/2010. Which is a ridiculous situation to be in, but there you go.

So with Chris T in tow, and lets not forget, more than just in tow really, looming large on the 10k in particular: less than two seconds separated their season’s bests when they hit the European champs. It may have provided Mo with just what he needed, consciously or subconsciously, to produce his best. Having someone sneak up behind in may have spurred him on as the season unfolded, or it may just have been the camaraderie of having someone else as a medal contender when they faced Europe’s finest in Barcelona.

Either way the 10k on the opening evening of the champs was a fairytale race that developed (almost) exactly according to the script. As the top two in Europe this year, Mo and Chris were always going to have big parts in setting up the race shape. They have two very different strengths however and therein lay the catalyst for a good race. If Mo had his way, a final lap burn-up would have suited him fine (this is the 10k mind, we’ll get to the 5 another time, where perhaps his kick is not the showstopper it is at this distance). For Chris, burn-ups were not the ticket. He would have wanted a good, (“honest” is the word sometimes used to describe this, nobody likes a dishonest race after all, whatever that is) hard race, at a tempo that would get rid of any pretenders hoping for a super-slow-big-kick race to be on the menu.

So with the pesky first half of the race out of the way, Chris made his move. Stretching the pack with around 10 laps to go. It sparked Mo into action and he got right into the flow, settling in amongst the top few as the pack thinned. Then with about 8 laps to go the script looked to be wobbling before going downright awry, with Mo no longer able to resist the urge to get the hell out of dodge and power on, and off he went. Once he got to the front he had no option really, but to pick it up. He wanted to go and his superior conditioning/ability meant that it was a fairly brutal move for the rest of the pack to try and cover. Obviously they did try and cover it. There was no way they could let the pre-race favourite disappear without a fight. So in this covering response from the chase pack, it became clear that Chris was actually pretty close to his limit and was exposed ever so slightly by not responding immediately and strongly. So Mo and his Spanish shoulder buddy, Ayad Lamdassam, pulled away strongly, leaving Chris to head up the chase pack looking for the final medal. This was worrying in that Chris was not on his own and could be swallowed by the bunch forming quietly on his shoulder when the bell went and the bronze was there for the taking.

Two things were happening up front whilst (while?) this was going on. Firstly, Mo was not able to shake Lamdassam, and secondly he was aware that his move had put Chris into some difficulty. So, attempting to kill two birds with one stone, namely he needed to get the pesky Spaniard off his shoulder and out in front of him where he could keep an eye on him and time his unleashing of “mo’s monster” (when it came to final lap time) perfectly, and he also needed to try and slow the pace down enough for Chris to get back into the race. For this to come off, Lamdassan had to take the bait (and the lead) when Mo slowed and stepped into lane two. Surely not? An experienced international campaigner would call this desperate bluff for what it was and tell Mo to get the hell on with it? But amazingly Lamdassam bought it hook line and sinker. So as he scuttled unwillingly past Mo, into the lead, Mo looked back and gestured to Chris to come up and join them at the fast kids party. Obviously Chris didn’t have the legs for this; if he did he would have covered the move in the first place. Still, it may have given him encouragement to see his team mate pulling for him midrace.

Chivalry done, Mo then got down to the business of sitting and kicking. The unlucky Spaniard really had no chance, stuck out to dry in the lead, waiting for the inevitable. And when it was delivered it was with the finality and confident drive of a runner who knows he will not only avoid being passed again this race, but was about to put some serious daylight between himself and the second placer in the space of just a lap. Oh to be a kicker. Ask Geb if he found it a useful tool on the track. Or indeed pose the same question to the legend Paul Tergat. His impressive CV would be ratcheted up a few notches, had he even half the kick of his perennial rival Geb.

So Mo stretched seemingly effortlessly away to the gold, Chris got down to the business of holding off his own pesky cling-on, the Italian Daniele Meucci for the bronze medal. As they pushed each other harder and faster around the bell lap, the Mo-broken Lamdassam came into view. Could they catch him? Suddenly the race for bronze was a race for silver. Chris snatched it by the smallest of margins; he and Meucci were given exactly the same time. It was inches.

 

So a British one-two in an event that has never previously had a British champion. What a race. And it got good exposure on the national news reports, turning distance running (albeit momentarily), into coffee machine and water fountain conversation usually reserved for ball-based sporting endeavours. “Wasn’t that Mo Farah splendid?” “He was toying with the field“ etc etc. There was even some talk of Olympic glory come 2012.

Hush now, let’s enjoy the medals he has won. Wining hardware in a global championship is a LOT harder. The cream if Europe he certainly is, but there are probably a dozen Kenyans and a dozen Ethiopians (and at least one Eritrean) who could take care of business, and Mo along the way, over 10k.

Let’s see Mo consolidate this outstanding championship performance with some world class performances in what remains of this year’s Diamond League meetings. A Sub-13 this season or next would go an awfully long way in turning him into a global contender. A 12-something guy, with proven championship BMT and a big kick to boot (sub-55 only need apply). Now there’s a tasty battle to take to the big boys in 2012.

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It was such a lovely summer evening I couldn’t resist getting down to the track to watch a bit of the inter-uni track and field match between birmingham (UK), cornell (US) and penn state (US) teams. with a few invited guests in each event.

herewith the full 3k  from one location (sorry).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhkU-3E9TOA

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The absolute legend that is Kenenisa Bekele.

Something I’ve been thinking about with mild melancholy for some time: Are we in the throes of a changing of the guard within the very top echelon of distance running? Will we look back on this time as the phase when he became beatable again?

It seems to me he may be vulnerable at the moment. Not in any sense other than that he may not be the absolute belter he was three, four or five years ago. Look, let’s keep some perspective, he could show up at just about any race the world over and win. But things have changed there’s no denying it.

His record at the world cross country champs will never be beaten. I can make that unequivocal statement because the short race has now been removed from the program, and for someone to match his 11 individual gold medals would require too much longevity at the top, a minimum of 11 years in fact. So I’ll throw that out there (it’s not a bold statement at all when you consider it). But since his DNF at the 2007 world champs where Zersenay Tadese stomped all over him in the blistering Nairobi heat, he hasn’t had the same dominating success. Caveat: He did win it the following year in Edinburgh, in amazing fashion after his shoe came off and he stopped to retie it and still came back to win! But last year he didn’t run and Gebremariam stepped in to ensure the individual title stayed in Ethiopia. This year it’s looking unlikely that he will run. He is refusing to commit one way or the other at this stage, and why should he? But if he does compete I’m not sure he will come away victorious.

2010 has not been kind to KB as yet. It began as it has for the past few years, with him competing in Edinburgh at the World Cross Challenge meeting held around the foothills of Arthur’s seat, Holyrood Park. A nasty place to run, hilly and twisty, but with good memories for the king, having won his most recent World XC title there. But this year it was different. A cold snowy January had resulted in a lot of snow still sitting on the course. “White mud” as Hayley Yelling called it. KB was beaten, and well-beaten at that, by a trio of Kenyans. The enormity of their achievement, whilst not lost on the runners themselves, was largely underplayed by the commentary and the resulting media. In fact, it was huge. When had KB ever been beaten as a senior in a cross country race?? Aside from his DNF at Worlds 2007… um…never. And this wasn’t losing out in a mad-sprint finish either, this was a relentless pounding that broke him with almost half of the race remaining. He seemed untroubled in the interview immediately afterwards but I get the feeling that as more time passed, it sunk in a bit and it shook him up, being beaten like that; and as a result he has lost some confidence and the aura of invincibility (even if only in his head).

The 2008 World Champs in Berlin seems a long time ago all of a sudden. He was pushed in the 5k by Bernard Lagat and came up trumps in a cracking final few laps and final sprint; and again knocked over his 10k rival Zersenay Tadese in the 10k. So no chinks in the armour then…

I had been eagerly anticipating his indoor performances this year, especially his hyped world record attempt over 3k in our own NIA in Birmingham. He pulled out of the event the night before, citing a calf injury. Disappointing but oh well. He had to have been pretty close to competing otherwise he wouldn’t have left the announcement so late, would he?

A couple of weeks later and another much publicised attack on the 3k mark, this time in Liévin. Again he withdrew at the last minute, citing the same injury. Surely if this injury had troubled him enough to pull out of Birmingham and troubled him enough to pull out of Lievre two weeks later on the day before the event again, he’d have known in between that he couldn’t make the Liévin meet? I read all about the “only in spikes” reasoning etc, but I’m just saying.

Conspiracy theory: Whilst I think he does have some sort of calf niggle, it’s not that that is stopping him from competing. I suspect he is trying to get himself into shape and hit the splits in particular workouts he has that will tell him he is in the right form to have a crack at the world record. After the years of dominance you can be sure he has a pretty concrete package of workouts he can run through and that he knows will get him into world-smashing shape. Am I talking shit? Probably.

Still, it’s nothing more than the musings of a fan, and he could disprove everything by delivering a world crushing performance in Poland. That would set him up for a great European summer on the track and make all this speculation look even more foolish than it already does.

If, however, he does continue to struggle with his calf injury and is unable to race World XC, or set any more records on the track, it will be the drawing to a close of the most magnificent distance-event track athlete we have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. And the dusk on his track career may well prove to be the dawn of his road running career, and by road running career I mean one thing, the Marathon. Another chapter in his running life and may it be just as successful as his track career has been, even with the bar set in the cirrus, as it is.

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