Couch Potato

My thoughts on TV, Sport, News, Politics and Film

Month: March, 2017

The Future of Athletics: Women’s 100m

The women’s 100m final was almost like a changing of the guard in women’s sprinting as one Queen gave way for another but even if for a brief moment you ignore Fraser Pryce the 2008 and 2012 champion and Thompson the 2016 champion. Looking down the result of that final it shows that in terms of talent and competition the event is about to enter a faster, more explosive and perhaps closer era depending on how the respective athletes’ careers progress. However before we look to the future we must explore the past.

Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce – Double Olympic Gold Medalist, 7x World Gold Medalist, World Indoor Gold Medalist and Commonwealth Gold Medalist. When it comes to women’s 100m sprinting over the past decade, Fraser-Pryce has been the undisputed queen. From her shock win in Beijing 21 yr old to her world title in the same city 7 years later. In the last 8 years Fraser-Pryce has lost just 2 major 100m finals, Daegu 2011 to Carmelita Jeter and Rio. In addition she has dominated the circuit most seasons, consistently finishing as World No 1 most seasons and her blistering Jamaican Record of 10.70 puts her 4th on the all time list. In terms of rivals, they were many that challenged over the years (Torri Edwards, Kerron Stewart, Carmelita Jeter, English Gardner, Torie Bowie, Daphne Schippers) both in terms of running fast times or the odd defeat on the circuit but none that truly called into question Fraser-Pryce’s position as undisputed no 1. It is testament to Fraser-Pryce’s dominance that out of those aforementioned women there isn’t really one great rival no Frazier to her Ali, or Evert to her Navratilova.

Stephen Francis, coach of both Fraser-Pryce and Thompson decided that Fraser should focus solely on the 100m that season meaning there would be a new world 200m champion (more on that later). While Fraser-Pryce was still clearly world no 1 with 10.74 world lead in Paris, Dutch former heptathlete Dafne Schippers was also blazing a trail on the circuit, running national record after national record and showing her credentials as a world class sprinter. While Schippers was no doubt impressive what was also becoming apparent in female sprinting was that the ladies were getting closer. The pool of women that could run sub 10.9 was increasingly widening and many commentators started to honestly question whether Fraser-Pryce with her maturing years (somewhat harsh considering she was only 28) could really take another title against this new breed of sprinters. In the final Fraser-Pryce once again rose to the occasion with her trademark rocket boost start and then held off the fast finishing Schippers to take yet another world 100m title.

While the future of the event was evidenced in that final particularly through Schippers and the multi-talented Bowie. It is Fraser-Pryce’s training partner that we now turn our attentions to. One Elaine Thompson. Thompson was not a name familiar to me at the beginning of the 2015 season, and I imagine it would be the same for most outside of Jamaica. I first saw her run live at the London Anniversary Games in the 200m where she ran a new pb of 22.10 beating Torie Bowie and I recognised that she was a talent over the longer sprint. Like with Fraser-Pryce Francis only entered Thompson for the 200m saying she wasn’t “ready for the double”. It can be argued that Francis’s decision was the right one as Fraser-Pryce defended her title in the shorter sprint and Thompson won a first major medal in the longer sprint. My assessment is that Francis was being far more calculated, from his point of view he wanted to have both his sprinters have success so entering them in each of their favoured events effectively guarantees this. Fraser-Pryce was reigning champ in the 200m and Thompson had run a 10.84 PB and had consistently ran sub-11 in the early season it is not unreasonable to say they would’ve been rivals.

Thompson did not win the 200m title in Beijing, that went to Schippers by 3 hundredths, but the performance Thompson produced demonstrated to the world that she was not just a good sprinter, it showed that she was one of the very greatest of all time. Period. Why? Because the Women’s 200m Final was the race of the championships and one of the most mind-blowing races in recent memory. Thompson led coming off the curve before tying up with 30m to go as Schippers overtook her to take the gold. Then eyes turned to the clock. Schippers crossed in 21.63, the fastest time for 17 years. Thompson crossed in 21.66, a personal best, 2 hundredths of the Jamaican record and a time that put her 5th on the all time list behind Flo-Jo, Marion Jones, Schippers and Merlene Ottey. Being amongst that company showed her incredible pedigree, but she had not taken the gold and it was the perceived wisdom of some in the athletics world that it would be Schippers not Thompson that would go on to tear up Rio the following year.

Focusing back on the 100m, in the 2016 season the contenders for the 100m Olympic title emerged as Torie Bowie of the US, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce, Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson. Bowie the World bronze medalist ran a swift 10.80 in the opening Diamond League in Doha, and a new PB of 10.78 at the American Olympic trials (all be it finishing 3rd), laying down her credentials. Fraser, struggled with a toe injury for much of the season and had no major wins going into the Olympics, however considering her Championship pedigree and unerring dominance in the event over the preceding 8 years, it’d be a fool to doubt her. Schippers did not blaze a trail through the 2016 season either in the 100m, it is her weaker event but despite this she won the Monaco Diamond League 100m, defended her European 100m title and went into the Olympics with a world class season’s best of 10.83 from Doha (2nd to Bowie), someone with that 200m strength and the mentality of a champion will always be a contender. Finally Thompson, Thompson was the form athlete going into the Games with wins in the Rabat and Rome Diamond League 100ms, she also won the Jamaican title against none other than double Olympic champ Fraser equalling Fraser’s national record of 10.70. It was clear that Thompson’s 2015 performances were no fluke but could she go one better and take the gold this time out.

As always at a major champs the semi-finals were fascinating in assessing who was in the shape to take the title. Bowie won semi-final 1 in 10.90, Fraser edged out Schippers in semi-final 2 in 10.88, and Thompson won semi-final 3 also in 10.88. The stage was set.

It was a fairly even start, but then Thompson took the race over pulling away from one of the greatest sprinters of all time and speeding to the line in a blisteringly quick 10.71, just 1 hundredth of her shared national record. The silver went to Bowie who was left in the blocks a bit and came back strong in the final strength, and bronze went to the imperious Fraser, not at her best, she just did not have the next gear need to go with the new champion but despite the injury issues, she still medalled. Pedigree. It was a changing of the guard in a number of ways, but more so it is the dawn of a new era. Thompson went on to take the 200m gold too, she’s destined to have an incredible career. But look down the final, every athlete is young, quick and a number know how to perform in majors. I think Thompson can dominate a la Bolt but what’s more exciting is that the calibre of her rivals is such that the event could go to places we’ve not seen in a generation. I’m talking 10.6s maybe even 10.5s and whisper it but I think Thompson with that 200m PB, in the right race with the likes of Schippers in top form, could even threaten that world record from Flo-Jo time will tell, remember she’s only 24 years old.

The Future of the 100m

  • Elaine Thompson JAM (24) – Olympic 100 and 200 champion, World 200m silver medalist, Jamaican 100m national record holder. 5th on 200m all time list. Joint 4th on 100m all time list. PB: 10.70 NR
  • Tori Bowie USA (26) – Olympic 100m silver medalist,  Olympic 200m bronze medallist, World 100m bronze medalist, PB: 10.78
  • Marie Josee Ta Lou CIV (28) – African 200m gold medalist, African 100m bronze medallist, 4th in Rio 100 and 200, PB: 10.86
  • Dafne Schipers NED (24) – World 200m Champion, Olympic 200m silver medallist, World 200m silver medallist, European 100m Champion, 3rd on the 200m all time list, European 200m record holder, PB: 10.81 NR
  • English Gardner USA (25) – Olympic and World 100m finalist, American Champion, joint 7th on the 100m all time list, PB: 10.74
  • Dina Asher-Smith GBR (21) – European 200m Champion, British 100 and 200m record holder, PB 10.99 NR
  • Candace Hill USA (18) – World Junior 100m Champion, World Junior Record holder, PB 10.98 WJR

Laura Muir: The New Paula?

 

xfvslm4mIf you’re a Paula Radcliffe fan, you won’t like this article. If you’re a Laura Muir fan, you won’t like this article. Now we’ve got the caveats out the way let’s crack on.

Tuesday 16th August 2016. Laura Muir starts the Olympic 1500m final as world no 2. Like most middle distance finals the pace was slow. Until around 600m to go World record holder Dibaba made a surge, followed by World no 1 Kenyan Faith Kipyegon and Muir. Result -Kipyegon won gold, Dibaba silver, Muir? 7th. She couldn’t handle the pace of Dibaba and Kipyegon. She overcooked it and she paid for it in the last 200. More sensible athletes such as Jenny Simpson who sat back were rewarded. Afterwards British commentators praised Muir for her bravery. No. She flopped. She ran like an imbecile. She went in with the 2nd fastest time in the world which is great but it was set with a pacemaker. Yes she’s only 23 but she’s been to multiple championships. She should have developed a racing brain that tells her. She can run fast times (a couple of weeks later she set a world lead in Paris). So she should either run hard from the off, which I wouldn’t recommend. Or rely on her strength and wind it up rather than ‘kicking’ which she doesn’t possess the ability to do. In Rio she did neither she believed herself to be in Dibaba’s league because she’d run a fast time and tried to take her on at her own game. Idiocy. Fast forward to 2017. Muir is now double European indoor champion. Congratulations. But it doesn’t answer my glaring question of her. Can she beat world class runners when it truly matters. Allow me to explain.

Many pundits are likening Laura to Dame Kelly Holmes due to her record breaking exploits and her event. Kelly herself rates her very highly. However Kelly was never an athlete that ran around the circuit aiming to break records. Kelly was all about the medals. And while for most of her career she missed out on the G she consistently picked up silverware at every level, till finally in Athens she produced two of the greatest performances in the history of British athletics to become our first double gold medallist for donkeys years. Kelly is a legend and notably a championship performer. Right now, Muir reminds me much more of Paula Radcliffe.

Paula like Muir was a supremely talented athlete in terms of pace. She has a litany of records and is one of Britain’s 3 reigning world record holders  (Women’s marathon). However Paula never really did on the big stage. Her track career she became known as a perennial loser. She like Laura was a committed front-runner who suffered from the lack of pace makers at championships. Paula unlike Laura in Rio aimed to take out the pace herself but although she was fast on the circuit she would always fine she’d lack the strength in the major finals to maintain it or she came up against opponents that could run as hard as her and still have the little bit extra (which is why I wouldn’t recommend Laura to run like that). It’s the extra that makes a great. Paula didn’t have the extra, and I don’t Laura has either, they’re bottlers.

2004 Olympics Paula was the marathon world record holder and outstanding favourite for the marathon gold. She ended up dropping out and crying on the kerb. To her credit she did end her career with a global title but I do not think Muir will ever get there. Yes, Muir has now won some silverware but it was against nobody. Whether people admit it or not in terms of the hierarchy of championships, the European Indoors languish pretty low. Yes she’s fast but she doesn’t run fast in championships with other world class runners. It’s almost  like the combo of quality runners plus the pressure of a championships turns her into a different athlete. And maybe it does. It’s common for talented athletes to choke on the big stage. Asafa Powell, Leroy Burrell and countless others. This is why I can’t buy into the hype that she will become a Kelly or a Mo because you can’t teach championship mentality and you can’t really develop it. Championship mentality doesn’t mean winning gold. It means producing your best on the big stage. Some athletes are good enough to win golds without their best. But Laura isn’t in that bracket and frankly even if she did run a pb in a championship final the Dibabas, Kipyegons and Hassans would probably still best her. But she’d earn my respect.

It’s about time the British press stopped giving plaudits for so called bravery and guts when someone clearly underperforms as Laura does time and time again and started giving the plaudits to athletes that may not have the glamour of being record holders but that produce their very best when it really matters. The Asha Phillips and the Greg Rutherfords. I for one will not remember Laura Muir’s British record in the Paris Diamond League but I’ll always remember Greg’s leap on Super Saturday, Ohurougu’s dip in Moscow and Kelly’s shock in Athens.  Let’s give them the true champions their dues rather than bigging up the running version of a prize fighter.