London Olympic Preview for Friday’s Running Events

Men’s 3000 Steeple

One thing I sort of like about the Olympics is the stereotypes that usually hold true. If I ask you what country is the best at basketball, you immediately think of our US of A. Cuba’s going to do pretty well in boxing, the 9 year old Chinese girls will rock when it comes to gymnastics, and the Russians will dominate wrestling.
My guy Adam Carolla, although occasionally crass (okay, often crass), always makes the point that stereotypes don’t work if they aren’t true. If I started talking about how Asians are tall, cab drivers are the best drivers, and black guys just can’t jump like white guys, you’d look at me like I had a third eyeball.
One stereotype that has been true for many years is that Africans, specifically Kenyans and Ethiopians, are really good at long distance running. Since 1980, Kenyans have won about 40% of Olympic medals, World Championships medals, and World Cross Country Championships honors at distances from 800 meters to the marathon. What’s even crazier is that almost all of those medals are from a small(ish) tribe called the Kalenjin which consists of about 1.6 million people located in the Rift Valley.

This all leads into a discussion about the steeplechase. The Kenyans have dominated the steeplechase winning seven consecutive golds from 1984 along with five silver medals and three bronze medals totaling 15 of a possible 24 medals (62%).

The Kenyans are so good, in fact, that the runner with the fastest time in the world this year (7:54) – Paul Koech – didn’t even make the team. Koech, who doesn’t live at altitude unlike most Kenyans, struggled in the Olympic Trials race which was run at altitude and was left off the team. In running circles, it was quite controversial that this race was run at altitude. Unlike the US trials which was held in Eugene, Orgeon, the Kenyan trials were held all over the place (the 10k, for example, was held in Eugene, as well). Instead, Kenya will be repped by 2008 gold medalist Brimin Kipruto, 2004 Olympic gold medalist and 2009/2011 World Champion Ezekiel Kemboi, and Abel Mutai, who at 23 has run 8:01. As a note, Kemboi may have a little more trouble running away from the law than he does running away from the field following an alleged stabbing incident for which he’s being tried in September. The Olympic record is 8:05.51 by Kenya Julius Kariuki from 1988.

How will the American’s fare?
The trio of Evan Jager, Donald Cabral, and Kyle Alcorn will represent America as first time Olympians. Alcorn went to Oregon before transferring to Arizona State where he won the 2008 NCAA championship in the steeplechase. As a note to locals, Alcorn competed at the 2007 Roy Griak cross country invite where he finished fifth behind fellow Olympian Lopez Lomong. Cabral was an 8-time All-American at Princeton capping off an undefeated 2012 track season with an NCAA championship. After being rumored to transfer to Colorado for a last season of cross country eligibility this upcoming year, he showed up for the Olympic Trial final wearing a Nike singlet having signed a pro contract in between the semifinal and final. In 2007-08, Evan Jager competed as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin under coach Jerry Schumacher. Following his freshman year, Schumacher packed up his belongings and moved his professional training group to Portland and accepting a job with Nike. Jager forfeited his remaining college eligibility and moved along with Schumacher to Portland signing a pro contract with Nike. In 2009, he finished 3rd in the US Nationals 5000 meter behind current teammates (and former Badgers) Matt Tegenkamp and Chris Solinsky. In the spring of this year, Jager switched to the steeplechase running well under the Olympic Trials standard qualifying in his first race. Last week, he broke the American record running an 8:06. His opening heat will be only the seventh steeplechase he’s ever run competitively. My gut – expect at least one American to be in the final, but a medal seems unlikely (although not completely unbelievable). Since Brian Diemer won the bronze medal in 1984, no American has won a medal and only 6 have reached the final.

Men’s 1500 heats
Based on my educated guess, almost all of the world’s records (or at the very least, Olympic records) on the men’s side from 100-800 have a chance at going down at this year’s Olympics have a chance at going down this year. From 1500 on up? Just ain’t going to happen. World records are typically set in races with two rabbits (one to lead the first ~800 meters and another until ~1200 meters. The pace goes out hard and the pack gets quite strung out. Championship races, however, typically will run an incredibly slow first two laps. In fact, I’ve seen men’s races that have went out slower through two laps than the corresponding women’s final. Typically, with anywhere from 400-800 meters to go, someone will inevitably try to push the pace making for an incredibly fast last lap.

It’s no indication of the quality of the film. The field is actually quite incredible. The Kenyan trio of runners have the top 3 times of the year (all sub 3:30 which converts to about a 3:45 mile). 44 runners in all have run under 3:35 in 2012. Only 5 in the field will have run under 3:32, however, which suggest that competition spots in the heats will be highly contested, but someone is going to need to run out of their mind to take down the favorites. Mind you, it was only four years ago that Nick Willis came somewhat out of nowhere and shocked the running world by winning the silver.

How will the American’s fare?
The US will be repped by Leo Manzano, Andrew Wheating, and Matthew Centrowitz. The diminutive Manzano represented the US in Beijing and ran quite well in the opening round nearing his personal best to advanced to the semifinal. In the semifinal, he finished dead last. Manzano has managed to medal at every USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships since 2006. Wheating was also a 2008 Olympian in the 800 meters while still a collegiate athlete attending Oregon. At 6’5″, he stands a full foot taller than US Olympic Trials champion Leo Manzano. Matthew Centrowitz is the son of two-time Olympian Matt Centrowitz (who broke Steve Prefontaine’s University of Oregon 1500m school record while attending Oregon in the late 70s). At only 22, he’s already managed to place 3rd in the 2011 World Championships turned professional last November. He’s coming back from injury and hasn’t run particularly well in 2012, but if healthy, he represents USA’s best chance at a 1500 medal.
Unfortunately for the US, though, of the 44 runners that have run sub-3:35 this year, only three of them are Americans. Two (Galen Rupp & Bernard Lagat) are running the 5000 and the other (Russell Brown) didn’t make the team. In order to make the final, the Americans will have to put on quite a performance.

Women’s 10000 final

26 year old Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba has quite simply been the cream of the crop over the past few years. As a 16 year old back in 2002, she ran a 14:49 5k. In 2004, she won the bronze medal in 5k at the age of 19. In 2008 Olympics, she doubled with the rare 5k/10k. After Beijing, she had some injuries and was out of competition for almost a year and a half. She’s come back with a vengeance running the fastest 10k time in the year this past year. She won’t be defending the 5k title as she didn’t qualify for the Ethiopian Olympic team in that event, however. She is one of 5 female runners to ever break the 30-minute mark in the history of the 10,000 meters. The top Kenyan contender is Vivian Cheruiyot who’s made the step up from the 5,000 meters. Last year, she won the 10,000 meters at the World Championships and with a PR of 30:48.

This may be the most obvious comment I’ve ever made, but look for the other Ethiopian and Kenyan women (including former 9-time NCAA champion at Texas Tech Sally Kipyego) to be in contention, as well.

How will the American’s fare?
Unlike a lot of the distance events, American’s have fairly competitive times in comparison to the field. Coming into the final, Amy Hastings has the 7th fastest time of 2012 of any of the runners in the field. After finishing a gut-wrenching 4th at the US Marathon Trials, Hastings bounced back to win the Olympic Trials 10k. Also running will be former Iowa State NCAA champ (2008) Lisa Uhl (local note – she’s run four times locally at the Roy Griak invite). Her 2012 PR of 31:35 is only 16 seconds back of Hasting’s US leading time. Last, but certainly not least is 33-year old Janet Cherobon-Bawcom who made a return to the track after seven years of strictly road racing to qualify for her first Olympic team despite finishing 7th at the Olymipc trials. She was only the third women with the Olympic A standard (both Kara Goucher & Shalene Flanagan are opting to do the marathon and Deena Kastor was injured).

Women’s 400 heats
Leading the way in the women’s 400 are three Russians (who, mark my word, are all doping). Seriously, I’ll bet anyone who’ll take it that at least one of the three will be banned for failing a drug test within the next two years. Any takers?

The Americans who qualified are three of the fastest five runners in the entire field. Even when you consider that the fastest American 400 meter runner (Allyson Felix) is running the 100/200 instead, you can bet Sanya Richards-Ross, Deedee Trotter, and Francena McCorory will all be in medal contention for this event. At the very least, they should all qualify out of today’s open round heats.

Sanya Richards-Ross has been lighting the world up lately. In 2008 in Beijing, she won the bronze medal, and she’s been improving every year since. She met her husband Aaron Ross, former NY Giant and current Jacksonville Jaguars, in 2003 and they were married in 2010. Deedee Trotter is a three-time Olympian who may be best known for starting the anti-doping charity “Test Me I’m Clean.” Francena McCorory barely made the Olympic team just edging Debbie Dunn after tying up quite badly towards the finish line. It was almost irrelevant as Dunn wound up testing positive for banned substances shortly after the trials meaning McCorory would’ve wound up going anyway. While she’s yet to break 50 seconds for a 400, she’s progressively improved her best 400 time in each of the past five years.

The local favorite will be defending gold medalist Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britian

Women’s 100 heats

Much like the Men’s 100 meters, this race may very well come down to the Americans vs. the Jamaicans (with Kelly-Ann Baptiste from Trinidad & Tobago thrown in for good measure).

The favorite has to be Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce who is the defending Olympic trials champ and has run the fastest time of the year in 2012. Right behind her would be American Carmelita Jeter, the defending world champion, has the second fastest time in the world and dominated the US Trials. Jamaican Veronica Campbell Brown is a five time Olympic medalist who currently has the third fastest time in 2012 and has to be considered a threat. Also in the mix will be Jamaican Kerron Stewart and the American duo of Tianna Madison and Allyson Felix.

Much like the US Trials, the story of this event might be controversy. Unlike the US Trials which had one of the craziest race finishes you’ll ever see, the controversy here might be, as it has been in many 100m Olympic Finals before them, steroids. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce was banned for taking banned substances in 2010. Carmelita Jeter is running 100m over 0.75 seconds faster as a 31/32 year old than she was from 25-27 and her former manager, Mark Block, has ties to Victor Conte and has been banned from the sport, along with his wife, for the next 10 years which didn’t prevent him from coming to the 2012 US Olympic Trials.