Good riddance 2006.
Marion Jones bugs me. Trevor Graham annoys me. BALCO won't go away despite how long people try keeping their heads in the sand. Drugs and performance-related issues about drugs have filled up the headlines for the greater half of the year, that I wish that one could put a lid on the media and go one about his life.
But then the skurks would get away with it, having fallen from grace, and slipped from the spotlight to live in obscurity.
My Christmas wish for this year involves opening next year (wow, check that, can it really be only 13 days away?) with a clean slate across the boards. No "Made Marion" filling up my RSS feed, no more conspiracy theories from Trevor Graham, and please, no more athletes who didn't have a clue about their sleeping medications/nasal sprays/Ben Gay/etc. They've ruined the honesty of the sport, and have forced fans to lock the doors behind them at night.
Considering dreams and wishes are only gossamer mind fiction, and this thing I really want is at one moment right at my finger tips, and the next minute, it's gone, here's my top-five wish list for 2007:
- Clean sport. We're far from it, but seem to be closer to it all the while. If any athlete decides he wants to get caught for performance-enhancing drugs in 2007, please sign up by the grace period ending 31-December. A special cocktail party will be held in your honour, and you won't have to worry about where you got spiked. Great alibi for the WADA/USADA folks, and IAAF may decide this special circumstance actually works in your favour. You'll be able to hold one-on-ones with news reporters, and you can leave with a clear conscious - instead of amnesia and a later recollection of murky waters that Jesus, Himself, would have trouble turning into wine. Exiting quietly away will be unnecessary press conferences by bewildered athletes who want to get to the bottom of their inadvertant positives, and athletes having troublee keeping dibs on their whereabouts can relax as well.
- This is a long stretch, but I do certainly hope that Alan Webb stays injury-free in 2007. I feel for the kid. Make that man. He's tough. He's got iron lungs and a powerful will. He doesn't compete for "also ran"/"also competed" showings. He's there to lay it all down on the line from start to finish, over two laps to 25 laps. Key for this young lad will be to stay away from the long stuff just yet. He proved in 2006 that he is capable of running 6x1.600m and change without stopping at a very good clip. His workout at Stanford early in the year netted him a 27.34,72 ahead of his old high school nemesis, Dathan Ritzenhein, who set his own PB with a 27.35,65. Webb got his revenge over his long-time battle buddy in 2005 with his AR 2-mile run at the Pre Classic. He needs to keep things tightened under the belt for a bit longer, and keep focussed on the 800m/1.500m/mile distance a good two more years before spreading his talents over the longer distances. I'd like to see Alan Webb, the high-priced NIKE miler, put out some great efforts next summer in the mile (or 1.500m) - right where he left off before the great experiment which was 2006. Let him live and learn from this season and focus back on getting race-smart, developing late-inning stretch wheels, and knocking placers off their goals in Osaka come World Championships time.
- I am very excited that Stefan Holm has decided to stay with the sport through Beijing in defense of his Olympic title. The man will hit the 100 marker for 2,30m or higher jumps this indoor season. Stefan Holm has a fighting chance of being the superstar of 2008 if he can get over his injury-woes from 2006, translate his strength (he had never felt stronger in any season as he did in 2006) from the training track in Karlstad to a field near you in 2007, and find that little extra which he has commanded this century to stay in the high jump mix. The high jump is a terrific event which is regaining its world-wide popularity. Russia always has an oiled machine awaiting Holm at every juncture, and a André Silnov-Jaraslov Ribakov/Holm-Linus Thörnblad team battle could challenge for the highlight reel of any meet. Stefan Holm has once jumped 2,40m - at the 2005 European Indoor Championships. He has international competition knocking at the door in the aforementioned Rybakov and Silnov, who have taken attempts at some very high, respectable marks, and who both have beaten Holm in 2006 on good occasion. His backyard competition has sprouted up like a bad weed in Thörnblad - a kid who refuses to give up or lose no matter how much one tries to keep him out of the medal hunt. I'd like to see Holm loaded from his self-studies, away from the media pressure which often portrays him wrongly here in Sweden, and injury-free in 2007.
- The world won't see Kenenisa Bekele run in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships, but that doesn't stop one from hoping he wins a double/double at the IAAF T&F World Champs. This kid has commanded my total respect for disabling competitors, yanking their chains, and playing catch with fire upon demand since his initial double-double IAAF Cross Country World Championships victories in 2001. He had a tougher time in a altered focus 2006, running miles and 1.500m events indoors and out to work on his basic speed. He fared poorly in his professional debut - an over-four-minute loss to Bernard Lagat in New York, and he took lumps along with a victory on the European Circuit during the summer. I love watching this kid surge 60-second lap splits during the middle of his races, churning lap after lap in a pre-meditated, first-degree assault on his competitors' will and drive to keep stride. He has been rewarded with two of the top-five fastest outdoor 5.000m times ever, including his 12.37,35 world record from 2004, and, in 2006, he became the first man to ever record six sub-13.00 times in one season. Bekele lacks some discipline in his races, however, having twice allowed faster sprinters to stay within striking distance over 5.000m during the past two championships. Bekele kept Eliud Kipchoge in striking distance in 2003, and Hicham El Guerrouj, the most decorated miler in history - as well as the WR-holder and 2nd-fastest 3.000m runner in world history - in the mix at the 2004 Olympics. He skipped the event two seasons ago in Helsinki in favour of winning his 2nd-straight 10.000m title (27.08,33). I'd love to see Bekele develop a kicker's kick to twice sting, hurt, bug, trample and trifle his opponents at the IAAF World Outdoor Championships.
- The final golden moment of 2007 would be Kajsa Bergqvist jumping over 2.09m either indoors or out. I grappled a bit with the thought of including two Swedes on my top-five list, as so many other athletes come to mind whom I would pay a great many a kronor to watch any one time during 2007. However, Bergqvist gets my hope button alive with talk of improving her world record. She made it clear in no uncertain terms last winter that she was going to make an assault on the 16-year-old world record of 2.07m held by Heike Henkel. She eclipsed that mark with Henkel in attendance, jumping 2.08m in Arnstadt on 2006-February-4, and then made a pact to give a go at seriously attempting to take down Stefka Kostadinova's 2.09m from Rome set 19 years earlier. That perfect-day, best-ever jump was not to unfold outdoors in 2006, leaving Bergqvist even more loaded and focused from having missed nearly a year-and-a-half following her ruptured achilles injury suffered in the spring of 2004. Bergqvist jumped 2,00m and higher eight times in 2006, with her top-two marks, 2.05m and 2.04m respectively, leading the world. Her competition has also duly risen to the challenge, with Tia Hellebaut the latest to make a breakthrough (2.03m in Göteborg at the 2006 European Championships) and elevate the status of the event on par with the men's. My goal for 2007 is to see Bergqvist, Blanka Vlašic, Hellebaut, Chante Howard, Anna Chicherova and Yelena Slesarenko all on their "A" game at the World Championships, with 2.04m yielding only a bronze to the third-best of the group.
I may get an early wish granted, as the IAAF announced today that Hellebaut will take on an all-star cast of athletes indoors at the Golden High Jump Gala in the Belgian capital on 27 January 2007. Five 2,00m jumpers will participate: the European silver medallist Venelina Veneva, 32, of Bulgaria, Vlašic, 23, who was fourth in Göteborg, and has bests of 2.05m indoors/2.03m outdoors; Spanish and Hungarian recordholders Ruth Beitia and Dora Gyorffy, who both hold personal bests of 2.00m outdoors, respectively; and Chicherova, the reigning indoor European Champion who has twice jumped 2.04m indoors (=7 all-time), and has a 2.00m outdoor PB.
In case I am in a sportsworld coma in 378 days- shocked over the fact that drugs found their way into 2007 mainstream discussion groups, have my digital television programme recorder set for 21.40 Japanese time on Monday, 2007-August-27, when the first finalist of the above five events should start his medal chase.