The Latest on Your Favourite Stars

By Eric.

You want to know what the stars are up to, so sit back this week-end, catch up on the latest news about the movers and shakers in the athletics world, and check back for the New Year's special on Monday night.

The latest on many of your favourite athletes in the sport of track and field:

  • Abebe Dinkesa ran what was described as "a mind-boggling" 41.45 11,5km race on 29-November to win the $50,000 first prize money and also set a new course record in the 4th Obudu International Mountain Race - a steep and hilly course which has never yielded a defending male champion in the meet's history.

  • Alan Webb, the American-record holder in the mile who failed to advance past the US Olympic Trials in the 1.500m, was signing red t-shirts and providing his support on 27-December at the Friends of Indoor Track Invitational at Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, MD, where nearly 1,300 supporters signed a petition to be forwarded to members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to save indoor track from the chopping blocks for local high school students. At issue is whether or not indoor track is necessary as Fairfax County Public Schools faces a $170 million shortfall in its 2010 budget, though track costs only $50/student according to Dan Woolley, FIT president.

  • Allyson Felix has been quiet this off-season, with planned time-off giving her much-needed rest from the Olympic preparations she and Bob Kersee put in last year. Felix, who travelled to Jamaica on holiday during the off-season, hosted her family for Christmas last week. Felix, the defending 200m world champion, is in a long-repetition training phase she gears up for the 2009 World Championships.

  • Andréas Thorkildsen, the two-time Olympic javelin champion, was awarded the gold medal for the ‘Performance of the Year' by Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten at a ceremony organised by the Norwegian Ministry of Culture in November. The sports Journalist Association of Norway also presented a statuette to Thorkildsen for becoming the Performer of the Year in Norwegian sport.

  • Andrew Hinds, heir apparent to Obadele Thompson: "My plan for next year is to make an impact at the World Championships and I am looking forward to the European circuit, but my goal next year is to break the sub-ten barrier. I think I have got in me to run 9.9.

    "I am doing some serious hard training right now. My work-outs are now more intense as the aim is to get stronger. I am doing more weight-training and will be better prepared .

    "I would like to clock under ten seconds before the World Championships and hopefully repeat it in Germany," said Hinds, who is back home on vacation.

  • Anna Chicherova was spotted with other high-profile athletes and dignitaries at a Real Madrid match on 18-December, but not the famed Spanish team of the football variety. Russian basketball team CSKA were playing the Spanish basketball team in Moscow in an epic showdown which Real Madrid won in front of the Russian hosts in stunning play. Chicherova is confirmed for competitions to be held in two Czech cities, Trinec (21 Jan) and Hustopece on (24 Jan) in what is known as the Moravia High Jump Tour.

  • Asafa Powell, the greatest Grand Prix sprinter to never win an individual global title, has not yet responded to Michael Johnson's public statements and assertions that Powell does not know how to handle his nerves and focus - two keys to Powell's inability to win the big ones (World Championships and Olympics). Johnson, who believes he can help Powell, has stated that the biggest mistake an athlete can make is deluding him/herself into thinking that there is no pressure. Dwain Chambers backs Powell to win a medal before the end of his career.

    Glen Mills, the coach of Jamaica’s triple Olympic champion and sprint double world record holder Usain Bolt, is also hopeful that Asafa Powell can shake off his major championships disappointments and win some accolades before his career is over, but warned that with Bolt around, Powell's time is running short.

  • Augustine Choge will kick-start his cross country campaign on 10-January at the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country meeting in Scotland. Choge, who finished 12th at last year's World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, has not raced since finishing 10th in the 1.500m final in Beijing.

  • Berhane Adere, who faltered in the Beijing Olympic marathon, is scheduled to defend her Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon title next month, one year after setting a course record (2.22.42) and collecting $250,000 in the process. Adere, who is in a class by herself, should only face challenges from Bezenushe Bekele and Askale Tafa Magarsa.

  • Bernard Lagat will attempt to tie the Wanamaker Mile win-record of seven owned by legendary Irish great Eamonn Coghlan when he competes 30-January at the 102nd Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Lagat will then turn his focus to Europe, where he will be targeting his fourth win at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham on 21-February, where he will run the 1.500m.

  • Bershawn Jackson has spent part of his off-season visiting children and providing advice to work hard, stay in school and never lose sight of their dreams - words of wisdom he provided kids at Hillcrest Elementary School in Somerset. "You have to face adversity and overcome it," he told the students. "Champions don't give up, and I consider myself a champion. I made history because I worked hard and I trained hard."

  • Blanka Vlasic is rested and ready for the 2009 season following a disappointing Olympic silver medal and her second-consecutive Golden League season jackpot miss. Vlasic will have another shot at the $1M jackpot as the IAAF announced the women's high jump will be part of the 2009 campaign. Vlasic was recognised last week in Zagreb with a Croatian Olympic Committee award, a distinction she was not expecting, but one upon which she promised to deliver in the future. Vlasic will have an opportunity to jump against Ariane Friedrich at the BW Bank Meeting in Karlsruhe on 16-February and avenge for the one loss the German had against Vlasic in 2008, causing her to lose her share ($500.000) of the Golden League Jackpot.

  • Carolina Klüft travelled to Addidas Ababa Ethiopia late last month to be part of the Great Ethiopian Run - a race which UNICEF is a partner to help raise awareness and funds to fight HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia. Klüft, a UNICEF ambassador, lended her support to the fundraising project, one which helps orphans and vulnerable children through the "Dream Campaign" by raising about $11.000 for four charity homes. Klüft was there on a similar visit in the winter of 2006. Trackside, Klüft, who followed her one-week visit to Ethiopia with a training camp in Potchestrom, has again opted to skip the heptathlon, which means that the 2009 IAAF World Championships - as were the Beijing Olympics - will be contested without the second-best ever in the event. Klüft will tackle the long jump event, one which she sees as a challenge.

    Svenska Dagbladet stated on 27-December that Klüft was the smartest and bravest athlete in Sweden in 2008. Moreover, Klüft was picked by the Swedish public as being the number one favourite athlete in 2008 ahead of Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    Said Klüft:

    I think I would have answered both "Sanna" and "Zlatan". Peter Forsborg seems to also be very sympathetic. But it isn't easy, and one is influenced, naturally, if one has a personal relationship with other athletes. Anja Pärson is also an athlete whom I like, and I met the handball girls during the Olympics in Beijing. There are so many great athletes with different conditions, that it is difficult to compare.

  • Chris Brown, after finishing in the unbearable fourth place position at the last three major championships, is hoping for some good fortunes at next year’s IAAF World Championships in Berlin, Germany. He is taking things a day at a time in search for an elusive medal and a podium spot.

    "My main goal is to make the podium in Berlin at the World Championships," Brown said. "Already on three occasions I have had the bronze taken from me.

    "I guess the Lord has something bigger in store for me so I am taking it one day at a time," he added.

  • Christian Malcolm was denied a true opportunity to earn a medal in the 200m according to Linford Christie, Malcolm's coach who is banned from any Olympic team contact for a positive drugs test late in his career. Christie claimed last week that UK Athletics and the BOA didn’t give Malcolm the chance to prepare as best as he possibly could. Nevertheless, UK Athletics paid Christie to coach the world and Olympic finalist in the run-up to Beijing despite the fact that Christie was prevented from accompanying the Olympic squad to either the athletes' holding camp in Macau or the Games themselves.

  • Christine Ohuruogu's stock continues to rise, with Lord Sebastian Coe this week naming Ohuruogu, the Olympic 400m champion and defending IAAF world champion, his sporting hero of 2008. On a side note, Ohuruogu recently donated a pair of her trainers to an art work which will be a representation of the shoes which people who perished at Nazi concentration camps were made to remove before they died.

  • Doping: ProCon.org, a nonpartisan 501c3 nonprofit research organization, created a new website, http://sports.procon.org, to explore the question "Should performance enhancing drugs (such as steroids) be accepted in sports?"

    The online project contains nearly 30 questions about drugs in sports with over 250 sourced responses from more than 200 sports experts. Those experts include professional athletes (from Lance Armstrong to Gene Upshaw), doping authorities (from Dr. Don Catlin to Dr. Gary Wadler), sports writers, academics, physicians, league commissioners, politicians, and many other knowledgeable sports fans.

    Some subjects of discussion include whether or not:

    * Tiger Woods' alleged LASIK surgery to improve his vision to 20/15 is ethically different than an athlete taking a banned substance

    * there is a correlation between the 5% (approximate) of middle schoolers who take anabolic steroids and the use of such substances by their athlete role models

    * the testing labs, such as the one that found cyclist Floyd Landis guilty of using banned drugs, are credible and reliable

    * the teammates of sprinter Marion Jones should return their Olympic gold medals. None of them tested positive for banned drugs although Jones confessed to having used them.

  • Dorcus Inzikuru, the former world steeplechase champion, refused to testify last week in a personal assault case where she was a principle witness and plaintiff against her husband and brother-in-law. Both defendants were attributed to have stated two days before their arrests that they would kill Inzikuru, with Inzikuru's husband charged with physically assaulting and harming her. The case was dismissed.

  • Jenn Stuczynski, the Olympic silver medalist in the pole vault, has become a Christmas ornament - a silver bulb in her local area with a picture of Stuczynski participating in the pole vault. The decorative pieces sold out before Christmas, and more were on the way.

    On the track, Stuczynski was yesterday confirmed for participation in the upcoming Millrose Games.

  • Jeremy Wariner is training and looking ahead to London 2012 according to today's Star-Telegram. "It’s a good way for me to relieve a lot of stress," he says about running. "When I’m on the track, I forget about everything else that’s going on. So it’s a good place for me to get away from things and just be me and enjoy myself."

  • Johan Wissman is currently training 11 times a week in order to gain more strength needed to reach the goals he has for the 400m. Wissman is scheduled to contest the GE Galan here in Stockholm 18-February - the second-best indoor meet in the world (Stuttgart). Wissman returned to Helsingborg yesterday following three weeks of winter training at his "home away from home" in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

  • Kara Goucher will visit the City of Duluth (MN) Wellness Committee program on Tuesday, 30-December, to honour city exercisers. Goucher, home in Minnesota for the holiday season, is preparing for the Boston Marathon following a successful debut in New York.

  • Kelly Sotherton is currently training to take part in all three of the major UK Athletics indoor events in 2009, starting with the Aviva International Match at Glasgow on 31-January. Sotherton will then compete at the Aviva European Trials on 14-15 February in Sheffield, before taking on Olympic Champion Natalia Dobrynska in Birmingham in the 60m hurdles, long jump and 400m.

  • Kim Collins is preparing for the upcoming Aviva Internternational Match in Scotland, where the ex-world 100m champion will contest the 60m and 200m events at Glasgow's Kelvin Hall on 31-January.

  • Kim Gevaert, though now retired from athletics, was recently named along with Justine Henin as goodwill ambassadors for the Belgium and Netherlands bid to co-host the 2018 World Cup.

  • Lisa Dobriskey trained twice on Christmas Day - a Thursday - as she always does, and is more than determined to make up for the bitter disappointment she felt when she placed out of medal contention in Beijing. Despite heading into the Olympics full of optimism, Dobriskey finished fourth in the Beijing 1.500m final.

  • Liu Xiang's recovery from achiles surgery is going well, as he has now been able to walk without crutches - though he is still required to wear a special shoe. He'll be able to walk in the pool in two weeks according to his coach, Sun Haiping, accompanying Liu during his U.S. rehabilitation. Yao Ming has requested Liu receive space and time to heal.

  • Lolo Jones was named Visa Humanitarian Athlete of the Year earlier this month for her help in assisting flood victims in her home state of Iowa.

  • Nick Willis will compete in a Wellington (NZ) street race on 10-March before competing in a mile race at an international track and field competition three days later in Christchurch.

  • Richard Thompson, the Beijing silver medallist (9,89) in the 100m behind Usain Bolt's world-record (9,69), earned $750,000 cash and $250,000 in units from Unit Trust Corporation in Trinidad last week as a reward for his accomplishments in the 100m and 4x100m relay, which set a national record (38,06). Thompson, the NCAA indoor 60m champion and outdoor 100m winner, resumed training 3-November, and stated to Trinidad's Newsday that the 4x100m relay team will race together several times next season.

  • Stefan Holm has ended his career in grand fashion - at least nationally. Holm, the fourth-place finisher at the Beijing Olympics, was last week selected Sweden's best track and field athlete for the first time in his career.

  • Steph Twell, the three-time European Junior Cross Country champion, will be racing in the Antrim International Cross Country - the third meeting in this winter’s UK Cross Challenge series - on 3-January.

  • Susanna Kallur, who finished second in balloting to Stefan Holm for Sweden's best track and field athlete, has split with coach Karin Torneklint. Torneklint, who coached Sanna and her sister, Jenny from 14-15 years old and joined forces again with them in 2004, left the training solely to Torbjörn Eriksson, who had different training philosophies than did Torneklint.

  • Usain Bolt is in almost every news story of note at the moment as the doors prepare to close on 2008 and the year which produced a record season which likely will never be repeated. Bolt took delivery of a BMW M3 (reported here earlier this week) just before Christmas, and was recently selected Track & Field News Athlete of the Year.

  • Victor Conte is in the news this week because he stated he supplied "the cream" and "the clear" to somebody, somewhere... one has lost count to the claims Conte has made.


Usain Bolt's Three Gifts Kept on Giving

By Eric.

Christmas eve has drawn nigh, and one wonders what has been left under Usain Bolt's tree.

He has captured nearly every imaginable and conceivable award and adulation for his accomplishments in 2008, and has been handsomely rewarded with name and brand recognition which stretches around the globe.

What gift will Bolt unwrap this year which can top those he received at this time some 52 weeks ago? Is there any solitary imaginable one which could rival the six-fold one he received with his Olympic ticket, namely three gold medals and three world records to match?

If he needs a ticket to fame, he needn't look any further than a click of the mouse: Usain Bolt's name is splashed on every news feed of note, even to this day, as 2008 winds down and the fairytale season is remembered on top-10 lists in a newspaper near you.

Bolt drew the ire of International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge for showboating during the men's 100-meter dash on the biggest stage of world sport, but drew the adoration of hundreds of millions of fans for his childlike demonstration of sheer excitement for winning a race against competitors far more experienced than he.

What about just giving the man a car and some alone time following an off-season which appeared to be more hectic than his in-season travel and commitments? On second thought, hold off on that one. BMW and Puma have already teamed up and done just that. Mr. Bolt took custody of a black BMW M3 which Puma had shipped to him just before Christmas.

Perhaps a suitable gift for Bolt would be Sports Illustrated unveiling their Sportsman of the Year award, a single-copy edition which could serve as motivation for 2009—a world championship year which will be filled with higher expectations than Bolt could possibly have dreamed of when he took up the challenge of dropping down in distance this year, and tackling a man who had won his island nation's heart, captured the citizens' imaginations, but had not won any global title of note.

Sports Illustrated missed a beat when it had Michael Phelps lean ahead of Bolt to win Sportsman of the Year Award. The IAAF, Track & Field News and L'Equipe, didn't, however, each awarding the lanky Jamaican sensation its top honours, respectively.

We as fans received an extra gift this year, as the Olympic Games were held during a leap year and were kicked off on a very sacred and superstitious day for the Chinese, namely the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of this century.

Eights may have been wild for the 21 percent of the world population located in the host country, but there is only a single integer which will remain in the history annals for all-time, whether or not the times, themselves, are lowered by Usain Bolt—and that is the number "one".

Try these on for size:

  • Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the number one sprinter in the 100m.
  • Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the number one sprinter in the 200m.
  • Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the world record-holder in the 100m.
  • Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as the world record-holder in the 200m.
  • Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as history's quickest from 0-100m.
  • Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season as history's quickest from 0-10 under 10,00.
  • Usain Bolt ended the 2008 season with the greatest cumulative average for his top-10.
  • Usain Bolt also ended the 2008 season with one loss, bringing full-circle the true value of that number.

Taking a closer look, Bolt ended the 2008 season with the best average time for his top-10 races in a season, though Asafa Powell ran the season of his life as well:

  • 1. Usain Bolt, JAM, 2008 -- 9.820 (9.69, 9.72, 9.76, 9.77, 9.83, 9.85, 9.85, 9.89, 9.92, 9.92)
  • 2. Asafa Powell, JAM, 2008 -- 9.837 (9.72, 9.77, 9.82, 9.82, 9.83, 9.87, 9.87, 9.88, 9.89, 9.90)
  • 3. Asafa Powell, JAM, 2006 -- 9.867 (9.77, 9.77, 9.85, 9.85, 9.86, 9.86, 9.89, 9.91, 9.95, 9.96)

Powell needed to run 9.81 and 9.80 in his final two races in order to drop 9.90 and 9.91 from his top-10 and finishes, .01 ahead of Bolt's top-10 season average—no easy feat, despite one's willpower; the season had already been long enough, the Olympics had come and gone, and the chances at redemption were slimming down.

Powell failed in those attempts at the World Athletics Final (9.87) and at Pedro's Cup (9.89), however, he did conclude his season by running exceptionally well, stopping the clock under 9.90 in seven consecutive races. Moreover, Powell was able to legally stop the clock under 10.00 on 15 occasions in 2008—seven more than he did in 2007, and three more than in 2006 when he twice ran world-record times of 9.77 seconds.

In keeping with the integer "one", here's one more: Only one other man in history has been able to run faster without stopping than the sum (19.41) of Bolt's top-two 100m times, a man whom Bolt removed from atop the totem pole in the men's 200m dash and carved his name with the immortal ones who have defied belief.

358 days ago, the New Year's bells were clanging, many fans were set out for their festivities and the favourite to win the Olympic 100m and 200m titles—as well as the 4x100m title, was prepping for his spring campaign, one which would see him run excellent 4x100m relay legs in order to race into shape without laying down the hammer ahead of the strenuous rounds he'd have to endure at the USA Olympic Trials, and again in Beijing if everything went well.

It didn't matter that his name was Tyson Gay, and he was fresh off of winning three gold medals at the IAAF World Championships in Osaka, Japan—two individual ones and a team gold in the short relay—he still had to put in the work, perfect his timings and hope that he'd have it all on the days which mattered.

Another man was attempting to find a magic formula to enable his own successes, despite the fact that he was entering the season as the 100m world-record holder (9.74, Rieti). Asafa Powell put on excellent displays of speed at stadiums around the globe, but he'd never managed to win the big one when it counted. He was hoping 2008 would provide that break-through, rather than relegating him to just a great Grand Prix racer.

Then there was Bolt, a young man who was entering the new year 138 days past his 21st birthday, setting his sights on a 400m workout to start his season, then working his way down to the 100m, a distance his coach promised he could attempt in a season which turned out to be the finest in the history of athletics for male sprinting.

Usain Bolt upped the ante early, running a 46.94 400m on an ugly day in the Jamaican capital on Jan. 26. Bolt won the 10th heat with the fastest time of the day—running 1.66 off his lifetime best set on the exact same day a year earlier. He also defeated Powell (48.76) as he had the year before.

Powell's finish behind Bolt wasn't yet an omen of things to come, as he had managed to outclass his younger competitor in the overall rankings at the end of the 2007 season, but it was the start of something Powell would become quite accustomed to seeing the rest of the 2008 season, namely Bolt's back.

Powell didn't see Bolt's back at the Melbourne Grand Prix in February, winning his signature event, the 100m, in a modest 10.04 seconds. He'd shaken off the dust from the previous year and competed very well despite a nagging injury he carried during training down in Australia. Powell would wait an additional four months to the date before he'd next step on the track for a 100m race, though he would team up with two of the eventual three teammates he'd share 4x100m glory with in Beijing for an early 39.22 clocking in Kingston on March 22.

Expectations for Bolt, meanwhile, were beginning to rise as the world junior 200m record-holder had accepted an invitation to compete in his first-ever senior 100m dash, with Spanish Town serving as host to what would be Bolt's launch into immortality—er, the record books. American Michael Johnson's half-lap record was once thought untouchable. Bolt finished first in the 100m dash that day—March 8—speeding to a very respectable 10.03 seconds.

Gay, the hands-down favourite to win the coveted title of "world's fastest man," meanwhile, played anchor to three four-by-one relay teams, helping the United States win the Texas Relays in 38.63 seconds, an adidas all-star team capture the Mt. Sac Relays (38.51), and bringing home another national team to a fourth-place finish at the Penn Relays (39.38).

Seven weeks of training and focus—coupled with an apetite to push his tall frame under the 10-second barrier in front of his home crowd—led Bolt to the starting line at the Jamaica Invitational on May 3. Many of the world's major players were at the meet, with Wallace Spearmon—Bolt's 200m nemesis—as well as Darvis Patton, Kim Collins, and Mike Rodgers in Bolt's heat, and Gay opting for the 200m dash.

That Bolt would win the premiere event of the day against the Americans was fathomable—he entered with the fastest time of the year in the field. That Bolt would scream through the 10.00 barrier, under 9.90, and well under 9.80 in his second professional race is another "first" for the history books. Bolt stopped the finish-line clock at 9.76 seconds—only 0.02 seconds off of Powell's world record, and the second-fastest clocking in history. No man had ever chopped so much time off his personal best whilst crossing the magical 10-flat barrier, and no man's margin of victory—0.32 seconds—had been larger.

Bolt was suddenly thrust into contention for the heavyweight title of track and field, the coveted 100m title. Gay took exactly 20 seconds to go from 0-200m without stopping, but the attention had clearly shifted to Bolt, who would agree to a man-to-man 100m sprint to be contested against Gay and others in New York exactly four weeks later.

Bolt had another appearance to make ahead of that scheduled stop, however, and he didn't fail to deliver, winning the Hampton Games in Trinidad on May 14 in a blistering 9.92—his second-consecutive race under 10.00 and a time which was still faster than any man had run up to that point in the season. Gay would respond with a 10.05-20.08 double victory at the adidas classic in Carson, Calif., the following day, with the 200m run into a negative 1.7 wind.

Road to Beijing: Christmas Present Number One

Countdown: T-minus 13 days to the clash of the world champion against the man who had a faster personal best, but who lost to that deserving champion over double the distance the previous year.

Bolt smashed Gay's pride, stole his thunder and erased Powell from the record books in one fell swoop on the 31st day (+1) of May in New York, crossing the line first at 9.72 seconds—a 0.04 improvement over his previous best; his third consecutive race under 10.00; more than 1/10th of a second ahead of Gay's best (9.84); and the fastest ever legally run on American soil.

Gay, who won the 2007 edition in a windy 9.76 (+2.2 m/s), finished with a superb 9.85 clocking, but was left to concern himself with the upcoming USA Olympic Trials. The night in New York belonged to Bolt, the man who was attempting to become the world's fastest.

You know the rest of the drill for Gay: he reigned supreme in the USA Olympic Trials, the timing system in Eugene, Ore., came under heavy suspicion from pundits, Gay was carted off the track during his 200m qualifying, and he disappeared until such time that the Oympics were to commence—where eights were straight, ones were wild and Usain Bolt wasn't playing by conventional rules.

OK, Gay did a bit more than run wild at his national championships, he broke through with monstrous performances in the quarters, semi-final and final, where he ran a personal best 9.77 (qf), followed up with a 9.85w in his semi, and recorded history's fastest under all conditions, a 9.68 (+4,1 m/s)—removing Marion Jones' husband, Obadele Thompson, as the title holder.

Bolt opened his Olympic experience with a 10.20 and 9.95 during his first two races, and followed those up with a 9.85 semi-final run—his third race in 24 hours with the final coming a few hours later. That he would not only blow logic out of the window during the final with his 9.69 after easing during the latter half of the race, but would run nearly as fast as had Gay had with a hurricane wind behind him and equal the second-fastest under any conditions, was unreal, unbelievable, and ultimately un-human.

Somewhere in the middle of it all was Asafa Powell, who, again, failed to win the big one despite the incredible in-season CV (9.88 victory over Bolt here in Stockholm and a 9.82 final tune-up in Monaco) he brought to the final.

Christmas Present Number Two For Bolt

Bolt, who has a penchant for speed and a need to demonstrate it—he was able to test his new M3 at the BMW Vehicle Test Facility in Aschheim, near Münich following the Olympics—didn't disappoint in the 200m, either, despite the media frenzy and circus which followed his coronation as world's fastest man.

One day before his 22nd birthday, Bolt, contesting his fifth 200m final of the season—the previous four were all victories, and each under 20.00 (three under 19.90, two under 19.80 and one under 19.70), flew off the curve on a mission to the finish line, driving, pumping and leaning with all of his might as the clock read 19.30, a new world record.

Michael Johnson, once accused of having his braids twirled too tightly during some trash-talking with Maurice Greene back during their heated rivalry, meet Usain Bolt, who had been accused of show-boating and not respecting his competitors. Mr. Bolt has just taken over your record, one which many a fan stated would last their lifetimes.

Christmas Present Number Three

Finally, as the season of giving is upon us, and was so at this time last year, let's think about the third and final gift Usain Bolt left the sport in Beijing, namely the best demonstration of speed, willpower, teamwork and hand-offs to ever circle once around a track. Ever.

Puma threw Bolt a great birthday bash during the heart of the Olympic Games. Their man delivered on the grandest stage of them all, and the company was not at all reluctant to reward their superstar with a grand bash which included Asafa Powell and others. Following Bolt's birthday, however, it was back to business for one final event on the track: the 4x100m relay.

Jamaica, which made it through the semi-final unscathed as they watched the Americans fail to finish due to botched hand-offs, fielded a team of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Usain Bolt, and Asafa Powell. As previously mentioned, Powell, Carter, and Frater had contested this event on two previous occasions, with Bolt, the Olympic champion, being the replacement guy on the team.

The initial stages of the race are a blur—something which Youtube has enabled me to recollect for later use. That's of least consequence here, however, as the third leg—which Usain Bolt ran to hand off to Asafa Powell—must have been the fastest curve ever run by anyone under any conditions, stick or sans. Bolt, passing off the baton to Powell, came up on his countryman and friend with a fury, full of run, up to his neck in foot speed and with a mouth full of encouragement for his teammate unrated for general viewing here. He appeared to be running with Powell for several metres as Powell began the descent home, and may have held off the remaining competition had he taken the stick and run a full 200m, instead of handing it to Powell.

Powell dug deeper than I have ever seen him do before, struggled to keep his form as he neared the finish line, with the collective crowd at the Bird's Nest roaring in delight as he leaned and stopped the clock 37.10 seconds after it began ticking on command from the firing pistol.

Bolt was part of his third world record in as many races, and his name and fame have not died down since, nor did his speed as he ended his season on high notes of 9.83-19.63-9.77 in the subsequent three meets following the Olympic Games.

I last wrote to you that I've finally taken the foot off the gas and have had an opportunity to reflect on the greatest sprint season which ever was—only to discover that 2009 is fast approaching with all of its suprises—both good and bad.

As Usain Bolt sits by an open fire and celebrates Christmas with his relatives and friends, I can only imagine what Bolt has wished for himself for the 2009 season. All of his wishes last season came true, and his gifts keep giving even as we speak and write. Scientists hope that Bolt can run completely through the finish line once at full speed, because they have predicted he can run 100m in 9.5 seconds.

Only Bolt knows what it feels like to drive that M3, loaded with 414 horse power, at full speed. Here's to hoping he will demonstrate the equivalent on the track as well.

Usain Bolt's 2008 season over 100m:

  • 10.03 (+1.8) Classics Spanish Town 8 Mar
  • 9.76 (+1.8) Jamaica Inv Kingston 3 May
  • 9.92 (+0.6) HamptonG Port-of-Spain 17 May
  • 9.72 WR (+1.7) Reebok New York NY 31 May
  • 10.19 (+1.0) National Champs Kingston 27 Jun
  • 9.85 (-0.1) National Champs Kingston 28 Jun
  • 10.40 (-2,0) National Champs Kingston 28 Jun
  • 9.89 (+0.4) DNG Stockholm 22 Jul
  • 10.20 (-0.2) Olympics Beijing 15 Aug
  • 9.92 (+0.1) Olympics Beijing 15 Aug
  • 9.85 (-0.1) Olympics G Beijing 16 Aug
  • 9.69 WR (+/- 0.0) Olympics Beijing 16 Aug
  • 9.83 (-0.5) Weltklasse Zürich 29 Aug
  • 9.77 (-1.3) Van Damme Bruxelles 5 Sep


Is It Already Track Season? 2008 in Review

By Eric.

I don’t know about you, but I’m quite pleased the Olympics only occur once every fourth year. Any other years like the one which is winding down and has long since ended in terms of competition, and I’m not sure how much emotion, turmoil, ups and downs I’d have left in the tank to offer the sport as a fan. The summer season seemed to just conclude, and already, we’re looking at Bernard Lagat attempting to win a seventh Wannamaker Mile competition in New York in about a month.

Has it already been four years since Hicham El Guerrouj flashed two fingers up at the camera in complete disbelief that he’d won not only his first, but snuck by Kenenisa Bekele to win his second-ever Olympic gold medals in the same championships?

Was that the same Bekele who smashed the socks off his competitors in the 10.000m, and, following an additional 12,5 laps of qualifying, smashed his sly Kenyan rivals to smithereens with shifty pacing and a furious kick? Were those the same Kenyans who had to endure an indescribable hell to even reach the Olympics?

Watching Bekele come through in the 5.000m was breath-taking, but nothing took hold of my attention and belief than did the performances Usain Bolt put up individually in the short sprints and collectively with Asafa Powell and compatriots in the short relay. Four months later and quickly approaching a new year, I’ve finally let off the gas and have attempted to make sense­ – any – of times, marks and efforts which defied belief.

There are only so many times in a two-week time frame one has been able to listen the Russian national anthem or watch a gob-smacking number of Jamaican fans wave their hands in the air and shed tears for a boy who turned into a man by breaking two individual world records and helping his hapless team mate turn the tables on his own bitter-sweet championship record.

The Jamaican women didn’t fare too shabbily, either, one can say.

I don’t have a desire to re-hash all the happenings from this past year, but a few stand out to my liking and recollection, though others will be higher on your own personal priority lists and lodged deeper in your memory banks.

The anticipation surrounding the medal chase is so exhausting from a distance that I can only imagine what athletes must face from the indoor kick-offs to the final dash to the finish lines at a track stadium near you as they put their years of training to the test to determine if it would net them a medal in front of the world’s biggest audience. When the roof caves in and the rain falls on your parade in front of your own home fans, as it did for former 110m hurdle world-record holder Liu Xiang, the personal tragedy can be greater than one can ever imagine – even with the wildest of thoughts.

Closer up, however, that anticipation of winning was also so great, that it has caused many an athlete to turn to the darker side of sport, namely, doping, and attempt to squeeze on by through the corridors between right and wrong straight for the medal stand, lofty pay-outs and extreme adornment despite the methods by which they were to have been achieved – mark that, stolen.

Seven Russian women went down that path of destruction this season, caught in one of the largest doping conspiracies to hit the sport in the past 20 years – a time which also happened to be an Olympic year, and a location which also happened to be held in an Asian city. Ben Johnson has long since been removed from this sport, with his steroid-enabled times replaced by legal ones which raised the hair on the arms and laid the foundation for any number of clichés, questions and superlatives to be used.

Whilst on the topic of doping, let it be known that Marion Jones, who won honour and privilege by method of fraud eight years ago in Sydney, was confined to a prison unit many worlds away from the glittering flashes capturing images of greatness by athletes competing at the Bird’s Nest. She was released about two weeks following the extinguishing of the flame – a fitting image as her career can finally be extinguished and put to rest following years of denials about her involvement in performance-enhancing drugs. Six months of thinking time didn’t make Marion Jones smarter, however, it made her deny on national television in the United States in front of Oprah Winfrey that Marion Jones can and will take full and complete responsibility for her illegal actions rather than blaming someone else.

Lyudmyla Blonska, the outcast Ukrainian heptathlon competitor who was banned following a positive test in Beijing, has made it a case to blame someone else – in this case, that someone being her husband. She’s facing a lifetime ban from the sport if she is unable to clear this case with CAS. Carolina Klüft, our Swedish star who won every major heptathlon title available and decided to concentrate on the long and triple jumps this season, has been vocal about Blonska’s inclusion back in the sport following her first ban.

I didn’t get stung by the whole Marion Jones saga, but I got hit in the head and knocked over by Yelena Soboleva, instead. I picked Soboleva as my Indoor Athlete-of-the-Year on my blog following her incredulous runs at the World Indoor Championships in March, and believed with all honesty that she was competing clean. She tested clean, but with someone else’s urine. Yep, one star athlete’s chances went right down the toilet...literally.

I was anticipating a Soboleva match-up with Pamela Jelimo, the Kenyan teenager whom I can not truly describe with any adjective which correctly sums up her ability, year and mark left on this sport. Those match-ups never occurred, with Soboleva, who ran a world-leading 1.54,85 in Kazan in June, getting temporarily banned prior to the Olympics and unable to compete in the IAAF Golden League series.

That didn’t stop Jelimo, who broke on to the scene with death-defying times and eventually went on to win the Olympics, set a World Junior Record, a Kenyan National record and record one of the top-five times ever recorded for a female over two laps. Jelimo wasn’t simply precocious. She wasn’t fast in terms of having great wheels, either. She was more than dynamic, and she was more than dominant. She went from rags to riches – one million dollars richer – in one simple season which saw her line up for 15 races (including heats, rounds and finals), and win every single competition in which she entered over the 800m distance, running under 1.57,00 on nine of those occasions.

On the topic of Russian match-ups, I had two other ones to which I was greatly looking forward this season, namely those of Yuriy Borzakovskiy and Abubaker Kaki and Yelena Isinbayeva and Jenn Stuczynski in the pole vault.

Kaki, who concluded 2007 by running a solo 1.43, gained my uttermost attention this past winter season, running a world junior record in the 1.000m 10 minutes down the street at the GE Galan at Globen and then going on to win the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Spain in March. He kicked off outdoors on a high note, running a 1.42,69 at the Oslo Golden League meeting, setting up what was to be a very high expectation for great things to come on the men’s two-lap circuit.

Borzakovskiy, who anchored Russia to a national indoor record in the 4x800m this past winter, also notched a blistering time over the two-lap distance outdoors, running 1.42,79 three weeks ahead of the Beijing Olympics, and one week after setting a national record over 1.000m here in Stockholm at the DN Galan (2.15,50).

Sadly, neither athlete was anywhere near the medal stand following Wilfred Bungei’s surprise victory. I haven’t heard from Kaki since our two meetings this summer, and Borzakovskiy has vowed to return for more at the London 2012 Olympics, though by then there will be other Kaki-type athletes who will have cropped up by then, and Kaki, if he’s healthy and not burned out by then, will be the Wilson Kipketer of this generation.

First up for either athlete, will be the opportunity afforded Jelimo in 2008, namely a stab at a portion of (or all the proceeds outright of) the $1,000,0000 prize money for winning each of the Golden League competitions.

Isinbayeva, on the other hand, was one of two Russian athletes who came through for poor, selfish me this season. I’m a fan, dammit, and wanted a world record from the queen of the vault. Wow, did I get the best of two worlds this season: Isinbayeva got great competition from a gutsy challenger in Stuczynski, and Isinbayeva was able to set one world indoor record and establish three outdoor ones, culminating with an in-your-face 5.05m clearance in Beijing – some 25cm up on the American.

Olympic steeplechase champion Gulnara Galkina, was the other Russian who shone brightly in Beijing, capturing the event with history's first sub-nine clocking - a world record.

And these Olympic Games, ladies and gentlemen, were following the Olympic-size performances prep star German Fernandez put up in June in at the California State Meet and the Nike Outdoor Nationals, where, on successive occasions, he not only outclassed the best in the Class of 2008, he obliterated national federation (8.41,10) and national records (8.36,3) in the 3.200m and 2-mile, respectively. The 3.200m time was achieved following a 1.600m race which saw the lanky kid, who now attends Oklahoma State University and has already established a line of credibility on the NCAA scene, average just over 60 seconds per segment without stopping.

Prep athletes Jordan Hasay (USA Junior Record 4.14,50 in the 1.500m) and Jeffery Demps shone outstanding at the USA Olympic Trials, with Demps setting a new world junior record (the third in the group of five juniors listed here!) in the 100m at 10,01 seconds. Hasay won the girl’s 3.200m run (9.52,13) at the state meet minutes before Fernandez set chase to Dathan Ritzenhein’s Federation record, running the second-fastest time ever by a high school girl. After enduring a long season, which brought Hasay from the West Coast of the United States to the World Junior Championships in Poland, Hasay won every cross country race she entered this autumn, capping off a season of excellence by winning her second Footlocker Cross Country championship two weeks ago – three years after earning her first victory.

Usain Bolt stole (earned) the show(boating) in Beijing, becoming an instantaneous favourite the world round. The Olympics have a way of measuring your ability to succeed on exactly the right queue, and Bolt delivered. So did André Silnov, the Russian high jumper who was not initially selected for his team, delivered a world-leading 2.38m in London a month before the Games, was then selected to compete in Beijing and brought Russia joy in winning the event.

Stefan Holm, the 2004 Olympic high jump champion, won’t have any more opportunities to push his small frame through the air and take down the giants in his path – athletes like Jaroslav Rybakov, a perennial rival. Rybakov, who won a silver in Beijing to Holm’s fourth-place finish, is still very much on the scene, alive and well, and will be for some time coming. Holm, on the other hand, announced that this would be his final season, and he gave it everything he had.

Maria Mutola, the evergreen of the 800m crop, did, as well.

Christian Olsson, our triple jump specialist and 2004 gold medal winner, is also at a cross-road in his career, one which has been terrorised by injury since his winning jump in Athens four years ago. Olsson, like Holm, may have taken his final jumps on the field.

There were also a lot of disappointing moments in 2008, with Blanka Vlasic holding top spot in that category. Vlasic, who had a 20-plus win-streak going heading into Beijing, lost her bid to add an Olympic crown to her world title, as Tia Hellebaut, who is now retired and expecting a baby, earned the coveted crown in a magnificent fashion – and at a personal best height (2.05m). Vlasic eventually lost out on the Golden League jackpot as well, one which Jelimo was able to keep completely to herself as she headed back to Kenya following the season finale in Germany.

Susanna Kallur and LoLo Jones, two of the year’s best 100m hurdlers – with Kallur the world indoor record-holder and Jones, the fastest outdoors, both running into troubles over the hurdles in Beijing and being knocked from their four-year goals of making it to the medal stand. The semi-final was a bitter moment for Kallur, as she had to again endure a defeat at the hands of circumstance rather than the competition; Kallur also had an injury during the world indoor championships in March and missed the final, which Jones won.

There were a thousand small wonders in the world of athletics which made the 2008 season special, unique and a memorable one, for sure.

Did it honestly take me this long to mention LaShawn Merritt’s accomplishments in the 400m? Undisputed heavyweight champion at 400m over the previous Olympic champion, Jeremy Wariner. Or Dayron Robles in the men’s 110m hurdles? Rachid Ramzi’s perfection when it counted in Beijing, despite his show-boat semi-final?

Turning the attention back to the women, has it taken this long to speak of Veronica Campbell over Allyson Felix, with the former running a 21,74 in the Olympic 200m final? Christine Ohuruogu in the women’s 400m after falters at the shorter sprints appeared to have derailed her plans? Last, and not least, the efforts two other Ethiopians, Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar, put up in the 5.000m and/or 10.000m this summer? When will they feed off one another instead of ducking? Will the 14-minute barrier be breached if they worked collaboratively?

What will 2009 hold which can surpass this past season in overall greatness and provide an even greater degree of amazement? Is it fair to put this expectation on the sport, the athletes and the meeting arrangers?

Will more athletes like Craig Mottram, who broke off a working relationship with his coach, follow suit as Jeremy Wariner did earlier in the year? Will Alan Webb, the world's fastest miler in 2007 who did not advance to the Olympic Games, finally split with a coach who has mentored him since high school? As American distance runners continue migrating west to Eugene, will any superstars here in Europe join forces? Then again, we don't have many superstars left, so we're waiting on the Africans to trek here for spring cleaning.

I got my world record(s) from Isinbayeva, and Bolt single-handedly brought back life, spunk and a punkishness to the sport which it desperately needed in terms of a face-lift from the past. Can he run faster than 9,69 and/or 19,30 this season, and, if he does, how much faster? Would it be a failure if he doesn’t achieve those marks, but still wins the IAAF World Championships?

Time will tell in more ways than one.


2008 Season-Leaders (Final):


100m. 9,69 WR Usain Bolt JAM
200m. 19,30 WR Usain Bolt JAM
400m. 43,75 LaShawn Merritt USA
800m. 1.42,69 Abubaker Kaki SUD
1500m. 3.31,49 Daniel Kipchirchir Komen KEN
Mile. 3.49,38 Andy Baddeley GBR
3.000m. 7.31,83 Edwin Soi KEN
5.000m. 12.50,18 Kenenisa Bekele ETH
10.000m. 26.25,97 Kenenisa Bekele ETH
Mar. 2.03.59 WR Haile Gebrselassie ETH
3.000SC. 8.00,57 Paul Kipsiele Koech KEN
110mH. 12,87 WR Dayron Robles CUB
400mH. 47,25 Angelo Taylor USA
HJ. 2,38 Andrey Silnov RUS
PV. 6,04 Brad Walker USA
LJ. 8,73 Irving Saladino PAN
TJ. 17,67 Nelson Évora POR
SP. 22,12 Adam Nelson USA
DT. 71,88 Gerd Kanter EST
HT. 84,51 Ivan Tikhon BLR
JT. 90,57 Andreas Thorkildsen NOR
Dec. 8832 Bryan Clay USA
20KM W. 1.16.43 Sergey Morozov RUS
50KM W. 3.34.14 WR Denis Nizhegorodov RUS
4x100m. 37,10 WR JAM
4x400m. 2.55,39 USA


100m. 10,78 Shelly-Ann Fraser JAM, Torri Edwards USA
200m. 21,74 Veronica Campbell-Brown JAM
400m. 49,62 Christine Ohuruogu GBR
800m. 1.54,01 Pamela Jelimo KEN
1.500m. 3.56,59 Yelena Soboleva RUS
Mile. 4.18,23 Gelete Burka ETH
3.000m. 8.33,66 Vivian Cheruiyot KEN
5.000m. 14.11,15 WR Tirunesh Dibaba ETH
10.000m. 29.54,66 Tirunesh Dibaba ETH
Mar. 2.19.19 Irina Mikitenko GER
3.000mSC. 8.58,81 WR Gulnara Galkina RUS
100mH. 12,43 Lolo Jones USA
400mH. 52,64 Melaine Walker JAM
HJ. 2,06 Blanka Vlašic CRO
PV. 5,05 WR Yelena Isinbayeva RUS
LJ. 7,12 Naide Gomes POR
TJ. 15,39 Françoise Mbango CMR
SP. 20,98 Nadzeya Ostapchuk BLR
DT. 67,89 Iryna Yatchenko BLR
HT. 77,32 Aksana Menkova BLR
JT. 72,28 WR Barbora Špotáková CZE
Hep. 6733 Nataliya Dobrynska UKR
10KM W. 42.29 Tatyana Kalmykova RUS
20KM W. 1.25.11 Olga Kaniskina RUS
4x100m. 42,24 JAM
4x400m. 3.18,54 USA