|Kiprop defends his 1500m title in dominating fashion|
What: 2013 IAAF World Championships, day nine
Where: Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, Russia
When: 18 August 2013
As a men’s track athlete, the most interesting events to me at this year’s World Championships were, unsurprisingly, the men’s track events. As a fan of sport, most of the finals were good races. But as a fan of sporting drama, this year’s Worlds was one of the weakest in recent memory.
Consider this: In the eight flat men’s races (100, 200, 400, 800, 1500, 5000, 10000 and marathon), seven were won by a past World or Olympic champion. The only race in which we had a new champion was the 800, and that was because the overwhelming favorite, 2012 Olympic and 2011 World champion David Rudisha, was not in Moscow due to injury.
If you add in the hurdle races and relays, it becomes slightly more dramatic. David Oliver and Jehue Gordon were new titlists in the 110 and 400 hurdles, respectively, with Gordon’s .01 second victory over Michael Tinsley making the 400 hurdles one of the most exciting races of the championships. But Ezekiel Kemboi expectedly won a fourth straight global steeplechase title, Jamaica won its fifth straight 4x100 title and the US won the 4x400, again. Though they were upset by the Bahamas at the Olympics last year, the United States has now won seven of the last eight 4x400 global titles and were the heavy favorites in Moscow.
I appreciate greatness as much as the next guy, but in some races – particularly the men’s long distance races, where the outcome was clear as soon as the pace started to dawdle – the results were pretty anticlimactic. I looked back at every World Championships/Olympics starting with Sydney 2000 (that’s 11 total) and looked for how many first-time gold medalists (meaning that the winner of the event had never won a previous Olympic or World outdoor title) there were each time in the men’s running events. There are 11 running events, and in 2013, there were only 3 new gold medalists. The average over that period? 5.91. So there were almost half as many new gold medalists as usual. When you add in that there were only 3 new gold medalists at London 2012 and that 7 of the 11 winners on the women’s side were also former champions, two things become clear. First, we have some real all-time greats competing on the track at the moment. Second, and consequently, the outcomes over the past couple years have been more anticlimactic than usual.
Here are two more of my post-Worlds thoughts:
1. Usain Bolt just completed one of the most dominating six-year stretches in history for any athlete, in any sport
That’s what Usain Bolt has accomplished in the 14 global track finals he’s finished since 2008. 14 races, 14 golds. His only blemish was a DQ in the 100m final at Worlds in 2011, and video evidence suggests that he may not have been the one to trigger that false start. He’s also set 8 world records in that timespan across the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.
But it’s not just that Bolt has been dominant, or even that he’s been the best of all time in the sprints. It is the manner in which he has done it. Bolt hasn’t set an individual record since 2009, but that’s only because the records he set at 100 and 200 meters were completely mind-blowing, much faster than anyone conceived possible. Before Bolt’s first world record, a 9.72 second clocking in the 100m in May 2008, the world record was Asafa Powell’s 9.74 from 2007. If you want the world record for someone who hasn’t since failed a drug test (and Bolt hasn’t), it was Maurice Greene’s 9.79 from 1999. Within 15 months, the 100 record would be down to 9.58 seconds. Before the 2008 Olympics, many considered Michael Johnson’s 200 world record of 19.32 from 1996 one of the most unbreakable marks on the board. Tyson Gay’s 19.62 in 2007 was the closest anyone had come to touching that time, and if you know sprints, you know that .30 seconds is not close. Bolt ran 19.30 at the Olympics; at next year’s worlds, he ran 19.19 into a headwind. Bolt didn’t just break world records; he made us completely reconsider what was possible in athletics, the same way Babe Ruth did in baseball in the 1920s.
I’m not going to try and make cross-sport comparisons because those can be argued many different ways. Michael Phelps was incredibly dominant from 2003 to 2008. Ditto Roger Federer in the same timeframe. Or Michael Jordan from 1988 to 1993. Just know that any argument about the greatest athlete of all time has to include Bolt now. And if he can keep this up for a few more years, I will be able to make a very compelling case that he’s better than all of them.
2. The United States’ middle-distance runners are better now than at any time in recent memory
I don’t have enough knowledge of the history of the sport to argue that the US middle-distance squad of the past few years is the best in the nation’s history, but it’s certainly the strongest it’s been since the Africans became major players on the world scene in the ’70s.
The US medaled in all four middle-distance races (men’s and women’s 800 and 1500). Kenya medaled in three. No other nation medaled in more than one. Kenya is still the country to beat (it had two golds and a bronze to the US’s three silvers and a bronze, and two of its 800 medalists from London were out injured), but the US is firmly ensconced in the second spot.
It’s something that’s been building for a while now. Leonel Manzano won the US’s only mid-d medal at last year’s Olympics in the men’s 1500, but Americans just missed out on medals in the men’s 800 (4th and 5th), men’s 1500 (4th) and women’s 800 (5th). 2011 was just as successful, with Jenny Simpson’s gold and Matt Centrowitz’s bronze in the 1500 accompanied by a 4th in the women’s 800 by Alysia Montano and a 5th in the men’s 800 by Nick Symmonds. Check out the list below of which nations have the most medals over the last three global championships (Moscow 2013, London 2012, Daegu 2011), as well as the American mid-d medals from 2013.
Most medals, men’s and women’s middle distance events, 2011-2013
Kenya, 9 (5 gold, 1 silver, 3 bronze)
United States, 7 (1 gold, 4 silver, 2 bronze)
Russia, 5 (2 gold, 1 silver, 2 bronze)
South Africa, 3 (2 silver, 1 bronze)
Turkey, 2 (1 gold, 1 silver)
10 other nations, 1
US mid-d medals at 2013 World Championships
Men’s 800: Nick Symmonds, silver
Men’s 1500: Matt Centrowitz, silver
Women’s 800: Brenda Martinez, bronze
Women’s 1500: Jenny Simpson, silver
That’s a very successful haul for the United States.