viernes, 26 de agosto de 2011

Sandro Damilano versus Viktor Chegin

Valeriy Borchin leads Hao Wang in Berlin World Championships
Photo. Andy Lyons/ Getty Images Europe
        You do not usually see that kind of thing in sport. Two man an a woman coming not just from the same nation, but from the same town, same sports centre and trained by the same coach, Viktor Chegin, won all possible gold medals in an athletic discipline at last World Championships in Berlin. Indeed all the main players in this eloquent victory 3-0 against the rest of the world are used to the highest place of the podium. Valeriy Borchin is the current Olympic champion, Olga Kaniskina has won every major title since 2007 and finally Sergey Kirdyapkin had had some disappointing years but was author of another outstanding triumph in the 50 kilometre race walk event at Worlds, back in 2005. (1) Russia had always been a powerhouse in the event but never in such overwhelming fashion. Especially it stands for the women: At last European Championships in Barcelona, Kaniskina led her compatriots Anisya Kirdyapkina and Vera Sokolova, to a more than remarkable clean sweep of the medals at last European championships.  But what are the reasons of such extraordinary success? Is it likely to happen again at next Worlds in Daegu?
           There are two towns in Russia, which own a high performance centre, oriented to race walking: one is Cheboksary in the republic of Chuvashia.  The other is Saransk, the capital of Mordovia.  Chegin, who every champion cited above credit as the key for his progression, comes from the last one. Once he retired from competition, the future guru of the discipline devoted himself to coaching. It did not pass too much time Viktor got his first world champion: teen Irina Stankina, who crowned herself in Goteborg, back in 1995. (2) The Mordovia government felt proud of this achievement and decided to invest in building the best performance centre in the world in their hometown of Saransk, naming Chegin head coach, with the mission of producing a dozen more Stankinas. This was the beginning of the rise of race walking in Mordovia. Currently, the annual budget is around 2 million dollars. The centre, set in an ideal environment, surrounded by a forest, dispose of the most complete equipment: weight room, sauna, swimming pool, massage room, hostel, cafeteria and restaurant.  A whole team of expert doctors, physiotherapist and coaches is engaged in granting the work reach the standards of perfection.
            At the same time, Nikolai Merkushkin, the head of the Republic of Mordovia has bestowed special interest in promoting culture and mass practice of sport in his jurisdiction, with two succesive official programs of development (3) Many sport facilities have been built (2425 by 2006), with special emphasis in the rural areas (1643 of them), so even in the most remote places of the region it is possible to access high quality sport. As a result about 20% of the population is now involved in sport, while in the rest of Russia the average is just 9%.  Boxers, tennis players, gymnasts, wrestlers, athletes, have been bound from here to Olympic glory as Alexey Mishin or Yuriy Borzakovskiy. Yet race walking stands as the most popular sport in Mordovia and their stars are highly admired by the population and recognized by the authorities. Olga Kaniskina for example has been offered an apartment and two cars for her triumphs. (4) Athletes are awarded the highest honors and Viktor Chegin, as the main responsible of success, had been named Cavalier of the order of Glory of Mordovian Republic and a statue is going to be erected to his living memory. Race walking is taught in every school and there are affiliates of the Saransk Olympic centre in every district, where talents are spotted and invited for a stage with Chegin and his assistants. Around 50 people from 12 to 35 year old gather in the hostel, living, studying and training, trying to prove their abilities. The best among them will be engaged.  
          Saransk walking school little by little increased its relevance in and out of the country.  Four years after Stankina, German Skurygin won again the World championship in Sevilla but was later disqualified because of doping.  It was the first of a serie of similar scandals, which would follow in successive years, always in the men´s side: Borchin, Voyevodin, Burayev, Morozov, Kanaykin… all had been caught in drugs and this is something which tarnish somewhat the awesome success of Mordovian walkers.  Another Saransk-born, Roman Rasskazov, was the first man in obtaining a valid victory in the contest for Chegin's team, heading a Russian swept of the 20 km walk medals at the 2001 edition in Edmonton. Also Aleksey Voyevodin would win the World Cup in 2002 and 2004 at the long 50 km discipline and Dennis Nizhegorodov would follow up with another two successive victories.  These two athletes won the firsts Olympic medals, among Chegin apprentices, at Athens 2004. The great Korzeniowski said goodbye in style and behind him Nizhegorodov won the silver, fainting after crossing the finish line, and Voyevodin the bronze. (5) Notwithstanding, by then still Chuvashian athletes like Yelena Nikolaieva or Olimpiada Ivanova were dominant among Russian walkers, and Korzeniowski, Jefferson Pérez, Paquillo Fernández or the Mexicans were often too much to handle for the upcoming Mordovians. Four years afterwards in Beijing the hard work and commitment of many people for two decades had reaped the fruits: Borchin and Kaniskina destroyed the field and became the first Saransk performance walking centre members on the top of an Olympic podium.  Interestingly, the precedent season, for Osaka Worlds, there were already seven Mordovian representatives among 11 Russian walkers. This year for Daegu the full team belongs to Saransk

Anisya Kirdyapkina, Olga Kaniskina and Vera Sokolova celebrate their medals at the European Champs
Photo: Stu Forster/ Getty Images Europe 
             Saransk school is now performing at its very best and their standards seem unattainable for the rest of the countries. However another classic powerhouse in race walking, China, has found a way out of a big crisis of results during a whole decade. After a promising couple of seasons, they have reasons to feel optimistic and feel ready to challenge the fancied Russian stars.
            The Asian nation can be proud of remarkable performances in major championships ever since they joined the athletic family in the eighties. It is true especially among the women.  China was a new country in track and field and they needed to close the gap between them and other well established powerhouses in the sport. However, race walking was a newly introduced discipline in the female category and everybody else had recently started from zero too.  Cleverly, Eastern Asian efforts were focused in these new events which offered the best chances and as a result they  topped the third World Cup, held in Bergen in 1983, with Xu Yongjiu.
            By the next edition they were already the best team in the world.  Junior Hong Yan was the winner ahead of Guan Ping. That athlete was at the time the precocious world record holder of that young 10 km event, where outstanding teens abounded. Indeed the first European championship gold medallist was sixteen-year-old Spaniard Mari Cruz Díaz.  Both Yan and Ping were representing China the first time the World Championships in athletics held a female walking race, in 1987 in Rome. Ping was famously disqualified, when she sprinted entering the stadium to win the race and Yan Hong was only bronze, but they paved the way for all the new generations to come.  Wang Yan, Gao Hongmiao, Liu Hongyu and also two men, Li Zewen and Zhao Yongsheng, would win again the World Cup title for China in the nineties. Besides, the first time the World championships were held at the 20 km distance, in 1999 in Sevilla, Liu Hongyu and Wang Yan would achieve an historic 1-2 for their country. Chinese women have also won two Olympic Games: Chen Yueling struck gold and her compatriot Li Chunxiu bronze in the female walkers debut at the Olympics in Barcelona 92, and Wang Liping would obtain the second title at the controversial race of the 2000 edition of the Games in Sidney.  Since then a long drought. Almost a decade with no significative triumph.  

Zhen Wang edges Chu Yafei at the 2011 Memorial Albisetti
Photo: Diego Sampaolo
          Nevertheless, it does not necessarily mean lack of talent.  2005 was an illustrative year to understand what was going on.  Chinese walkers were massively represented in the yearly lists: no less than 22 men reached the top-50 in the 20 km event and 21 the 50 km.  Equally 21 women achieved this feat. Among them, 8 men dipped under 1:19 at the shorter distance and 9 under 3:45 at the longer, headed for the still existing Area records of Hongjun Zhu (1:17:41) and Chaohong Yu (3:36:06); while 10 women walked the 20 km event under 1:29. It stands clearly as the best year ever in male category and for the female’s, only can be compared with the 2001 season. And what this gifted generation did at Helsinki World Championships? A fifth position by 50 km specialist Zhao Chenglian and a best placement of ninth in the other two races. Things improved plainly at the World Cup, held in La Coruña the following year: Yuchen Han won the bronze at the 20 km and He Dan, junior Liu Hong and Zhao again were among the eight best. However, every member of the team failed badly at Osaka Worlds, where the main achievement was a poor 7th place by Chao Sun at the 50 km.
Now the legend was Chinese walkers were unable to replicate their awesome performances at home in international competitions held abroad. But, as we said, in the two precedent decades it was not really like this. If you look for the individual athletes during those weak years, you can discover many cases of highly inconsistency and incapacity to maintain a long term career. Wrong management brought to general failure and many burn-out cases.  Zhu Hongjun finished sixth at Athens Olympic Games at 21 and then went on to a sensational timing of 1:17 the following season, but by 2006 he had already dropped to 1:23.  Han Yucheng clocked 1:18:31 and 3:36:20 in 2005 and had an astounding following year winning the Asian Games and medalling at the World Cup but it was the only one: he finished 40th at Athens Olympic Games, dropped in Helsinki, placed 29th in Osaka and 22d the same year at Cheboksary World Cup.  Zhao Chenglian followed up his 2005 and 2006 excellent seasons with a DQ in Osaka and a 21st place in Beijing and has been unable to conclude a race in the last two years.  Li Gaobo, who as young as 15 years old had walked to an incredible Area Junior record and World Youth best of 1:18:07, back in 2005, obtained a so-so 13th position in Osaka and had been annoyed by recurring injuries, which sidelined him for the Olympic Games and Berlin World championships. Now he is trying to make a comeback in the 50 km distance but did not qualify for Daegu.
Among the girls, He Dang clocked 2:28 in 2005 and 2006, winning the Asian Championships and finishing a creditable 4th at La Coruña World Cup, but since then has not done better than 2:31 and has not gain any other selection for the national team.  Jiang Jing started her career with a bronze medal at the 2004 World Cup, still being a junior. In following years she won almost every outing she competed in at home but performed disappointingly in every major international contest. Now still 25 she has dropped her standards to 1:39 in 2010 and 1:49 this year. On the other hand Jiang Qiuyan, who won two consecutive editions of the Universiade, had not many opportunities in the national team and anyway retired after Beijing Olympics.  
Because of the weak performance in Osaka, China’s officials dropped some of the established stars and included some new names in the roster for the Olympic Games, where they were going to be the host country.  Unheralded youngsters Chu Yafei and Wang Hao (born in 1988 and 89 respectively), were selected for the male team and Yang Mingxia (born in 1990), joined 2006 World Junior champion Liu Hong for the female’s. This risky decision paid off: the general team impression was quite better than in previous major contests and Wang Hao and Liu Hong achieved remarkable fourth places. The following year these athletes improved further. Wang won the silver in Berlin, challenging Olympic champion Borchin and Liu grabbed the bronze in another excellent performance. For the 2010 World Cup, Chinese walkers were even more impressive. Some of the Russian stars were absent in Chihuahua but it does not detract in any way their awesome collective demonstration. In a truly challenging contest, held in high altitude and under extreme heat, China won three out of five team titles (both senior medal races and 10 km junior women) and climbed also to the podium in the other two.  Individually, Wang Hao and Chu Yafei achieved an impressive 1-2 at the 20 km event.  Then it was revealed behind that quality improvement in Berlin and Chihuahua were stages at Saluzzo training centre, where they had had the opportunity to work with Sandro Damilano. The legendary Italian Coach was offered a contract to take charge of Chinese walkers which he eventually accepted.

Giorgio Rubino and Elisa Rigaudo, current Sandro Damilano's trainees
Sandro Damilano(6) has been a coach in race walking for nearly 40 years, ever since he started training younger twin Brothers Giorgio and Maurizio, who went on to win the 1980 Olympic Games title at the 20 km distance, in Moscow.  Maurizio had one of the most successful careers in the long history of Italian victories in the speciality, also winning two successive World titles, at home turf in Rome in 1987 and Tokyo in 1991.  His brother Sandro, besides being a coach for the family, had a fruitful collaboration with the Italian Athletics Federation (FIDAL) since 1981 until December of last year, when they decided to split up, following Damilano’s engagement with the Chinese federation.  During this period he was Italian race walking head coach between 1990 and 2000.  Even Chegin falls short of Sandro’s impressive curriculum:  Elisa Rigaudo won at last World Cup in Olhao the 50th historic major medal, among walkers trained by Damilano, all over four decades. Throughout his career he has been the personal coach of an outstanding list of sensational athletes, as his brothers, Arturo di Mezza, Lorenzo Civallero, Erica Alfridi, Elisabetta Perrone, Rossella Giordano and more recently Elisa Rigaudo, Giorgio Rubino and Alex Schwazer.  With the latter he obtained his second Olympic gold, this time at the longer distance, in Beijing. Precisely, the problematic relationship with his pupil Schwazer after the Olympic year, and his breaking up with him was one of the main reasons for him to accept the Chinese offer. Despite his awesome trajectory, Damilano had also known such sort of disappointments, being perhaps the most remembered when her trainee Elisabetta Perrone was disqualified at Sidney Olympics, when she was to win the gold medal.   
  Maurizio and Sandro Damilano contributed significantly to the creation of the Race Walking Training Centre of Saluzzo in 2001, close to their hometown of Scarnafigi in the Piedmont Region, in order to continue with the rich Italian walking tradition, giving an opportunity of guidance and training to the country new hopes.(7) The centre is set in an historic building, with single and double rooms, which provide accommodation for up to 12 people, and is flawlessly equipped with the necessary facilities, specially a stunning gym. The environment is perfect for walking practise, with numerous roads for training and nearby mountains.  Saluzzo’s centre is also thought to help improve the discipline, with the discussion of new methods, by sharing common experiences in frequent Congress and meetings held for this purpose. Maurizio, the director of the walking centre, organise all these technical issues in Saluzzo, while his brother Sandro carries out the coaching.
            An important difference between Saransk and Saluzzo is the Mordovian High Performance Centre is exclusively oriented to local athletes, while the Piedmont one is also open to foreign guests.  Both 2007 World champions Jefferson Pérez and Nathan Deakes prepared in Saluzzo for their race in Osaka, and this year, besides the Chinese team, Japanese and Irish walkers as Colin Griffin have disposed of the centre facilities and Sandro Damilano’s guidance. The master of coaches also points out how positive can be for national athletes this exchange among different walking schools. He believes current Italian athletes will benefit of the arrival of Chinese athletes in the same way his brother Maurizio used to do in his long stages in Mexico, in contact with local walkers. Giorgio Rubino corroborates this statement, saying his training alongside the strong Chinese team in Saluzzo was decisive for his brilliant performances in 2009. (8)  China was also recognisant with Sandro Damilano’s efficient work with his athletes and tried to stamp in an official contract, what started as a spontaneous approach. Besides, despite leading the medal ranking in their host Games, the Asian powerhouse realised no track and field golden, silver or bronze had been obtained. Having London Olympics as ultimate goal, the Chinese federations offered Damilano to go to stay in Asia to become head coach of the national team of race walking, but Sandro was also attached to his Italian pupils and the centre of Saluzzo. In the end, the Italian veteran chose something in the middle. 
    Attired by the big economical incentives and looking for new challenges he agreed to participate in the Chinese project but at the same time he wanted to keep living in the North of Italy. Accordingly, he took just six athletes, who would be trained personally by him in long stages in Saluzzo.  On the other hand, in spite of resigning with the FIDAL, he would keep Giorgio Rubino, Elisa Rigaudo and hopeful Federico Tontodonati with him, to be coached alongside the six Asian athletes. He also committed to travel to China to be with athletes and officials in key moments of the athletic season. (9) The chosen ones were mainly some young athletes, which because not totally formed are able of further improvement. Yet it happens the current best athletes in the country are quite young so the decision was easy. Berlin medallists Wang Hao and Liu Hong were picked and so was Si Tianfeng, fourth at Chihuahua World Cup, the only veteran in the group. World junior medallists Li Yanfei (2008) and Cai Zelin (2010) joined them. Finally, the most surprising pick was Wang Zhen, who was not considered in his home country much more than average but Damilano has a smart eye to spot talent and his new protégée improved so much in his first year with him, he produced a major upset beating the field at the 2010 IAAF walking challenge final, in a new world junior record clocking. On paper only six athletes have been named but the matter of the fact is a lot more have travelled to Saluzzo in the last three seasons to take advantage of Damilano lessons: Mingxia Yang, Li Li, Gao Ni or Tong Lingling, among the girls; and Chu Yafei, Xu Faguang, Yu Wei, Chen Ding or Li Tianlei, among the boys. 

Stanislav Emelyanov, the ultimate Viktor Chegin's discovery
Photo: Getty images
In Damilano opinion, Chinese athletes are excellent physically but usually lack a fine technique. This is a strong point of the Scarnafigi native and everyone of his adopted Eastern team acknowledge it is the huge improvement with Damilano in this aspect which have propelled him to his excellent results. This is also a speciality of Viktor Chegin, who is believed to be able of giving advice and correcting the technique, without even need to look at the runner as he trains (10) Amazingly, Chegin had also been contacted by the Chinese team several times but rejected the offers.  He remembers that humoristically, saying something like “no good deeds go unpunished” (11)   
Chinese athlete performances this year have been more than remarkable so far.  Wang Zhen leads the season lists with 1:18:30 and has won impressively every one of his outings at the 20 km distance, followed by Chu Yafei and revelation of the year Ding Chen. Si Tianfeng is also ranked in first position in the longer distance this year, after his stunning 3.38:48 at Taicang IAAF challenge meeting. Eventually, Asian Games double champion Liu Hong has equalled her 1:27:17 PB and has proved one of the most solid athletes in the circuit, winning in Lugano, Taicang and Dublin. An atmosphere of euphoria is perceptible now among Chinese audience and press but, wisely, Damilano remembers it is not important to improve their timings but maintaining consistency, something we have seen was not able to do the precedent generation.  For this it is necessary to work also at psychological level. (12)  
        Russian and Chinese walkers have not really faced each other since Berlin World Championship and it is hard to say if the Damilano trainees have reached a quality level enough to beat Chegin’s astounding squad.  Zhen and Chu have been unbeatable this year and they will be joined in Daegu by 2009 world silver medallist Wang Hao, injured during the season but recovered in time for the Worlds.  However, Olympic champion Borchin and new kid in town Stanislav Emelyanov are in the race and also are the returned Kanaykin and Morozov. Borchin has not shown any sign of weakness ever since he became Olympic champion and Emelyanov has had a gigantic progression in the last seasons. (13). He has won all possible titles in age categories (World Youth, World Junior and European Junior) and in his 2010 senior debut continued the same way, beating the field at Winter and Summer Russian championships and then at the overall European contest.  This year has obtained a new Area title at Olhao European Cup and has lost only to Borchin.
The 50 km event is not an exclusive Saransk-Saluzzo duel like the 20 km and it can be anybody’s race.  Diniz, Toth, García Bragado, Nymark, Nava, everyone in Polish and Australian teams, all can be in the mix for the victory. Also should be Si Tianfeng, after his stunning clocking in Taicang and world record holder and double Olympic medallist Dennis Nizhegorodov.  Kirdyapkin is an irregular performer but if he has his day should be a fearsome opponent too. Xu Faguang and Li Jianbo in the Chinese side and Bakulin and Yerokhin in the Russian’s are all of them solid runners but do not seem contenders for the gold medal.
Olga Kaniskina remains unchallenged in the 20 km event since 2007 and targets a record third World Championship victory. She has been beaten only once at the distance in the last four seasons, when she finished fourth in unknown circumstances at the Russian winter last year, in a race won by Anisya Kirdyapkina. Yet she bounced back in the summer, with an out-of-sight display of power, for Barcelona Europeans, when Russia won all three medals.  Kirdyapkina and Vera Sokolova have won in consistency but do not seem match enough for Olga.  Sokolova says she can not even follow her in training and judging by Kaniskina's two showings this season at Rio Maior and Sesto San Giovanni she seems as unbreakable as ever.
Chuvashia-born Sokolova is the one with the biggest progression of the trio. (14) An outstanding runner as a teen, Vera was left on her own as her main coach was engaged for other duties.  Then she lived some difficult years and even stopped training.  Former world and Olympic champion Elena Nikolaieva asked Viktor Chegin as personal favour to take her and it was the first time a race walker came from Chuvashia powerhouse to Saransk. From then on she started to recover her lost fitness and this year she is in impeccable form.  She improved the official world record (Olympiada Ivanova and Kaniskina have better no-homologated marks) and won the European Cup in Olhao.  In Daegu we will see how close she is now to Kaniskina.  Not to be discounted is the fourth member of the team, former world junior champion and winner this year at the European U-23, Tatyana Mineyeva, and for the future, be ready for the arrival of newly minted World junior record holder Yelena Lashmanova. Liu Hong seems the only one who has the capacity to beat the awesome Russians but if she did it would really be a major upset.  Surprisingly, Li Yanfei, fifth last year at the World Cup and runner-up at the Asiad has not been selected. I personally ignore whether she is injured. The other two places in the team will be filled by young hope Gao Ni and Shenjie Qieyang, who has clocked 1:28:04, but whose two other races of the year were really far from it.  Also Spain and Portugal will come with strong squads. The latter nation will line up Susana Feitor, who is going to the Worlds for the 11th time, a record of appearances in the championships in any event.
In the deep of his heart, Sandro Damilano would like Giorgio Rubino and Elisa Rigaudo to win. Rubino was brought by his former coach Patrizio Parcesepe to the fifth place in Osaka World Championships but was plagued by injuries in the Olympic year.  In 2009 he moved to Saluzzo with Damilano, who relaunched his career, giving him his confidence back, an improved technique and now he is working with him in the gym to make him acquire a superior strength to not fade anymore in the last stages of the races. After winning the 2009 European Cup in an extraordinary Italian clean sweep of the medals, he narrowly missed the bronze in Berlin. Maybe this time he is going to be luckier.  Elisa Rigaudo left orphan national female race walking when she took her maternity leave in 2010.  No Italian women finished the race at Barcelona Championships, something unbelievable for a country who had counted with the likes of Ileana Salvador, Elisabetta Perrone, Erica Alfridi or World and European champion Annarita Sidoti.  Antonella Palmisano, the junior race winner at Chihuahua’s World Cup is coming strong but, for the moment, Rigaudo would like to add a World Championship medal to the bronze she won in Beijing.                           

Hong Liu expects to challenge the best at the upcoming Daegu World Championships

domingo, 14 de agosto de 2011

Who is in College now

Texas A&M gets an historic victory, in both women and men categories, for the third year in a row, at the 2011 NCAA Track & Field outdoor championship, held in Des Moines, Iowa
Photo: Mike Scott                  

       I guess this article arrives more than two months late and some of the fellows I am going to talk about have already graduated and come back home with a nice diploma under their arms.  However, I missed the NCAA Track and Field championships and it took time somebody was so great to upload the races videos on the Internet.  You know I am not living in the USA and that means I am not allowed to watch Universal Sports or whatever channel offers the competitions in America.  Not even paying! As a Spanish citizen I only have the right to dispose of the poor, inadequate and expensive coverage of national channels as Canal +, which own the copyright in my country.  So no one was broadcasting NCAA, Penn Relays or Boston marathon, I missed them all.  Indeed, which is the interest of the World Wide Web if, among all the possible options I have to restraint myself to the national channels?  And, furthermore, if every company in the world is free to buy their goods and do business wherever they want, why for an individual is not so simple?  So Westerners entrepreneurs can break all economical balance investing massively in Eastern Asia but, on the other hand, I am not allowed to access the cheapest and best athletics broadcasting: This is called PIRACY!!!
            Well done! I will try to explain briefly why NCAA track and field championships are so important for a foreigner. I like watching the exploits of Bolt, Isinbayeva or Bekele, though, I am also curious about the progress of the new generations of the sport. The USA is still globally the number one country in Athletics and there is no better display of talented up-and-coming athletes in the world like you can see in American Colleges, where besides there are also young runners from many other places in the world. If you are looking for the future track and field stars, the men and women who are going to medal in Olympics and World championships in some years time, you will find some of them here. 

The NCAA championship is firstly a contest, where athletes from all over the country compete to prove their university is the best in the United States.  Along with Hakonen Ekiden in Japan and Penn Relays this is the most groundbreaking manifestation in the sport of Athletics of what collegian team spirit can do.  In the second week end of June in Des Moines, Iowa, Texas A&M representatives came in search of a historic third consecutive title and they achieved it in the very last event, the 4x400 metres relay in the most dramatic fashion.
            Tabarie Henry, an experienced senior from US Virgin islands, who had participated in Beijing and finished just out of the medals at Berlin Worlds, disappointed everybody after being unable of qualifying for the final at the single 400 metres in Des Moines. He made up for this failure, anchoring Texas A&M to victory in the race and thus in the overall competition, along with teammates Bryan Miller, Demetrius Pinder and Michael Preble. It was not without a thriller.  Texas needed maximum points to overcome leaders Florida State University, who were not in the race and, at the same time, they needed to recover five points from their neighbours Florida Gators. Henry received the stick ahead but had to overcome a fierce opposition from LSU, Mississippi State and Baylor, whose respective anchors were such accomplished quartermilers as Riker Hylton, Tavaris Tate and Marcus Boyd.  Hylton, the new Jamaican champion, seemed for a moment capable of spoiling the Aggies party but Henry could hold the lead. The Gators just finished sixth. The winning time, 3:00.62 ranks, as for now, second in the season lists, just 17 hundredths short of the mark this same squad obtained in April at the Texas relays. The race stands as the best of the year: the first, second, third and fourth placed teams in Des Moines are into the current world top-12 in the male 4x400.         
In the women’s the Aggies where tied with the Oregon Ducks, prior to the last race. All the responsibility went to Jessica Beard's shoulders. (1) (2) Beard is used to silver in individual races.  She had finished runner-up at the 2008 World Junior Championship and then in successive editions of the NCAA indoors and out, behind rivals like Joanna Atkins or Francena McCorory.  Yet, she proved decisive in the last two Aggies team victories, contributing with valuable points and helping win the relay.   Eventually she could break her bad luck as a soloist in 2011, her last University year, winning first the NCAA indoor in College Station, Texas, with an impressive 50.79, which topped the world seasonal lists, then outdoors in Des Moines, ahead Atkins and new wonder Diamond Dixon.
 Jeneba Tarmoh led the crucial relay race, passing on the baton to Blessing Mayungbe and this one to Jamaican hurdler Andrea Sutherland. Jessica received in third position, behind Auburn University, which had an advantage of more than 20 metres, and Oregon. In an impressive display, the Texas anchor caught first Duck freshman Laura Roesler, then leader Kai Selvon, a new Trinidad and Tobago rising star, who has qualified for Daegu's 200 metres. Selvon tried to hold Beard but it was in vain.  Jessica romped home to win the third title in a row for Texas A&M.  It does not mean her rivals were weak: Auburn freshman Selvon ran 50.67 for her leg and Roesler 51.45, but Jessica Beard was just sensational, achieving 49.14, the best split ever in a NCAA relay race. This feat is going to give her a huge boost of confidence for Daegu, in her second world championship. Beard is also finalist, along with Kimberlyn Duncan and Tina Sutej for the prestigious Bowerman award, a distinction for the best NCAA athlete of the year.  Among the men, Ngoni Makusha, Jeshua Anderson and Christian Taylor are the candidates.

Ngonidzashe Makusha (3) (4) (5) was arguably the man of the meeting in Des Moines, after being the only athlete in winning three gold medals. The Zimbabwean ace from the Florida State Seminoles had his breakthrough campaign in 2008, when he crowned himself NCAA champion in his freshman year and later in the summer narrowly missed the bronze medal at Beijing Olympic Games.  He went on the following year, for a second Collegian title but his progression was cut by a severe injury, which sidelined him for most of 2010. Now he is back in astounding form in his classic event and has also had a stunning success in his first serious season running the 100 metres. In his first competition in the distance in four years, he surprised everybody, breaking the 10 seconds barrier (9.97).  Two months afterwards in De Moines, after beating a solid field with a huge 8.40 in the long jump, which ranks him second in the seasonal lists, he amazed the world again winning also the 100 metres in 9.89, improving Ato Boldon’s collegiate record in the process. The third gold medal came in the short relay, but there were 200 metres champion Maurice Mitchell and especially anchor Brandon Byram, who had to make up for a more than sluggish exchange between Cayman Islands Kemar Hyman and Makusha.
Thus Ngoni became only the fourth man in striking back to back titles in 100 metres and long jump in a same championship in 80 years of NCAA history, putting his name alongside icons like Jesse Owens, DeHart Hubbard and Carl Lewis.  Among the women, another athlete of African origin, competing for Texas-El Paso, Blessing Okagbare achieved the feat as recently as last year.  For the Seminoles, Walter Dix had won for the last time the 100 metres title in 2007. They have not had to wait too much for Coach Ken Hardnen to shape another world beater.  Makusha has already been compared to Olympic champion Donovan Bailey and the same Lewis, because he is not fast out of the blocks but is able of maintaining an irresistible acceleration until the finish line, like the four times long jump Olympic champion.  Now with 6 NCAA titles in his pocket, Ngoni has decided to leave “the kindergarten” and become a professional to prepare himself the better for more demanding challenges, which requires his growing status as athlete.  Yet he is grateful to his University and do not plan to move from Tallahassee for the remaining of his career. A phenomenon in his home country, he could also take part in an awesome Zimbabwean 4x100 relay, along with Gabriel Mvumvure, Louisiana State’s anchor in their victorious performance at last Penn Relays, and Brian Dzingai, provided the latter can be back to his past fitness.  Still a newcomer in the 100 metres he has plenty of room to improve and will be a fearsome dark horse for Daegu and the Olympics.   
Zambian Gerald Phiri is another African consummate sprinter based in America.  In his senior year in Texas A&M he has lowered the national record to 10.06 and finished a solid fourth in the NCAA final.  Among the US specialists, the best among the collegians this season has been Makusha’s teammate Maurice Mitchell, an astonishing winner in the 200 metres final in Des Moines and bronze at the 100 metres, besides achieving brand new PBs this season (10.00 and 20.19).  In the national trials he was really close to book a ticket for Daegu, finishing a creditable fourth in the contest.  Jeff Demps, the 100 metres NCAA defending champion and once an unofficial world junior record holder, did not advance unbelievably to the final this year but was the only collegian in making it for the national championships.  Talented Rakieem “Mookie” Salaam also has had an erratic year of up and downs, being his best achievement the 200 metres indoor title he won for Oklahoma and his biggest deception the 6th place in the same contest outdoors, being the prohibitive favourite.  Other US sprinters as Horatio Williams, Brandon Byram and Tran Howell performed well in De Moines but did not reach the final in the national trials, held in Eugene.  However, Salaam did and so did Kentucky junior Justin Austin.  Keep an eye on Arkansas’ Marek Niit, 200 metres silver medallist this year at the NCAA and a world junior champion back in 2006, who besides has set no less than 11 national records for his country Estonia during the season.       

During the last seven years Allyson Felix and Veronica Campbell-Brown have dominated overwhelmingly the 200 metres dash event.  The American won the gold medal at the last three world championships and the Jamaican at the last two Olympics, being the other athlete runner-up in most of the occasions. Both are still a guarantee for their teams and keep the role of favourites for Daegu.  Notwithstanding other sprinters are this season in the mix and, maybe for the first time since these two track stars coming-of-age, their crown is in danger.  Carmelita Jeter is giving a go to the distance and she is being as astounding as she is in the shorter sprint event, and Bianca Knight is being as consistent all over the year.  Both have already beaten Allyson once at her favoured distance at the Diamond League this summer. Meanwhile, Shalonda Solomon won the national trials in an impressive 22.15. At the college, there are also some talented challengers. There are at least two women who are good enough to aim for next year Olympic medals: Kimberlyn Duncan and Jeneba Tarmoh.
Kimberlyn (6) (7) has been the most amazing revelation of this 2011 year.  Nothing special in her high school years, this native of Texas did not appeal the interest of the athletics powerhouses of her homeland and eventually was recruited by the Louisiana State Tigers.  She has grown as an athlete since, and now, after her exploits in her sophomore year, she is starting to believe in herself and what she is capable on. Eventually it seems Duncan finished up in the team which fits best her personality and running ways. She is the prototype Lady Tiger: shaped tall and majestic, like a beautiful leopard; the look of her eyes, the calm and confident sound of her voice, awake the power and magnetism of the lion; and feline are too her graceful and strong strides over the athletic track. Does not she look like Wilma Rudolph?
   Kimberlyn Duncan was the dominant force of the winter season, running the 200 metres at the SEC final in 22.78, the fastest time in the world indoors since the 22.40 World Junior best set by Bianca Knight in 2008, and then striking the NCAA title.  In the summer she continued in the same impressive style, recording three under 22.30 timings, the not windy-aided one (22.24), being her clocking for the gold medal at the NCAA championships outdoors.  Kimberlyn thus became only the sixth woman in winning back-to-back titles in the event both indoors and out and the first Lady Tiger since Dawn Sowell achieved it in 1989. Only Sowell and Carol Rodríguez are now ahead of her in the all-time collegiate lists and she still has two University years left.  Jeneba Tarmoh, the world junior champion in the 100 metres in 2008, made up for not qualifying for the final in that event, challenging fiercely Duncan in the homestretch, and finishing runner-up again, like last year, but more than a half a second faster (22.34) than in that occasion, when she and Porscha Lucas achieved a remarkable 1-2 for Texas A&M. Tiffany Townshend of Baylor won the bronze in 22.58, followed by Candyce McGrone, Aareon Payne, Semoy Hackett and Nivea Smith, all of them under 23 seconds. Eighteen year old Jessica Davis closed a final, which globally obtained the best results of the championships in a single event, along with the male 800 metres and long jump.  
Kimberlyn Duncan had again the better of Tarmoh in the 4x100 relay, cutting up the long winning streak of the almost invincible Texan Aggies.  Freshman Ashley Collier had replaced graduated Lucas, to join Tarmoh, Gabby Mayo and Dominique Duncan, with success, as the team won again at the Penn Relays. Yet in Des Moines, Louisiana State faced them with a more than extraordinary squad: 200 metres finalist Semoy Hackett, 100 metres finalist Kenyanna Wilson, Rebecca Alexander and Kimberlyn Duncan, who just ate up rival anchor Ashley Collier in the homestretch. Jeneba had some consolation contributing to the Aggies final victory in the last event, the 4x400.  However she would rise back strongly in the nationals, placing third and thus qualifying for Daegu, while Duncan was left out in fifth, despite running 22.35.
The talented Lady Tiger was tantalisingly close to matching Ngoni Makusha with a third gold medal, at the 100 metres, but she was beaten by another amazing newcomer to the elite, Oklahoma sophomore Candyce McGrone (10.08 to 10.09). Jessica Young from the Texas Christians obtained the bronze with a 10.14 PB, followed by Central Florida Aurieyall Scott and Kenyanna Wilson.  Oregon freshman English Gardner, who had run an awesome 10.03 Area Junior record at the Pacific 10, only could place seventh. One position ahead and equally disappointing was the woman who had dominated the 60 metres indoor season, winning the NCAA title and topping the world lists, LaKya Brookins.  She has the best outburst but it seems the last 40 metres are too long for her.  In spite of this, she was one of the three collegians in the American trials final for Daegu, along with Candyce McGrone and Jessica Young.  On the other hand, Aurieyall Scott won the national junior championship in an outstanding 10.12.  World junior medallists in Moncton Takeia Pinckney and Stormy Kendrick, the woman who beat British prodigee Jodie Williams in the 200 metres, were missed this season. 

In this video Kirani James sets a new world junior indoor best at the 2011 SEC:

Traditionally, foreign guest students live in the USA for four or more years, where they obtain a valuable education and guidance in sport, while contributing with valuable points for their colleges in regional and national contests.  We have already spoken about some of the awesome African sprinters enrolled right now in the NCAA system. American Universities are also a regular destination for Caribbean speedsters and long jumpers.  Richard Thompson, Rondel Sorrillo, Kelly-Ann Baptiste, Kerron Stewart, Simone Facey, Nickiesha Anderson, Bianca Stuart, Rhonda Watkins or Shara Proctor were among the last to leave their footprint on US NCAA tracks, before following up a successful professional career. Yet new generations keep coming.  Louisiana State, which had the pleasure of working with Kelly-Ann Baptiste, hurried to enrol Semoy Hackett, another promising speedster from Trinidad and Tobago. Her compatriot Kai Selvon is in Auburn and so is Bahamian Nivea Smith, while the other woman who is making a big contribution in rejuvenating the national sprinting scene, Sheniqua Ferguson, is engaged with Southwestern Mississippi College. Virgin Islands’ Allison Peter is in Texas, Saint Kits and Nevis’ Marecia Pemberton in Florida State, Barbados’ Kierre Beckles in South Carolina and South Plains can be proud of a colourful relay team formed by 200 metres specialist Grenadian Janelle Redhead, hurdler Janeill Belille from Trinidad and two of the best Jamaican hopefuls: Daegu-bound Jura Levy and Natoya Goule.  Among the jumpers, there are British Virgin Islands citizen Chantel Malone (Texas), Bahamas-born Ray Higgs (Arkansas) and Kimberly Williams (FSU), Damar Forbes (LSU), Tarik Batchelor (also Arkansas) and new British Julian Reid (Texas A&M) from Jamaica.
There are bets about which Universities are going to catch the new Caribbean wonders Antonique Strachan, Shaunae Miller or Michelle Lee Ahyee. Yet quite a lot area powerhouse's rough diamonds are reluctant to make the trip. Jamaica's athletic dedication and ressources at school levels are among the best in the world and we can see the results. Some young athletes have further reasons: Ristananna Tracey, who is going to be in Daegu 400 hurdles start line at nineteen, turned down invitations from American colleges, stating she might be burn out in American College, forced to run too many events in order to make points for her team.  
Not many standout speedsters, among the Caribbean men are present these days in the American College: some hurdlers as Jamaican Andrew Riley (Illinois) or Puerto Rican Jamele Mason (Texas Tech) or some quarter milers as Tabarie Henry, Demetrius Pinder or Riker Hylton.  Also a 400 metres specialist is arguably the most talented Caribbean athlete right now in the NCAA track and field: Kirani James.  

         America just said goodbye to the awesome frères Borlée but their place in the NCAA stardom in the event has been quickly covered for a man from the small island of Grenada, who has already been labelled, because of his stunning qualities as an athlete and his precocity, as the new Usain Bolt. He is also known as the new Michael Johnson.  Kirani James had already run the 400 metres distance in 45.24, being sixteen, in 2009 in Bressanone, where he completed a sensational 200/400 double World Youth title.  Yet by then, Kirani was already a veteran.  Inspired by World indoor champion Alleyne Francicque, he entered athletics and realised it was possible, despite coming from a country of just 104.000 people, to compete against such athletic powerhouses as Jamaica or the Bahamas.  James was discovered as so many great Caribbean athletes at the prestigious Carifta Games, which he won for the first time in 2007. The same year he would grab the silver medal at Ostrava World Youths, clocking 45.70, the best time ever run by a 15-year-old; and the following year the same colour of medal in Bydgoszcz, on occasion of the World junior championships, facing athletes up to 4 years older. 
In 2010, the Grenadian prodigy was recruited by Alabama University, to be coached by Harvey Glance and he has astonished everybody in America, in every race he has run since. In his freshman year Kirani was runner-up at the NCAA championship indoors, in the last 400 metres final someone was able to beat him, climbing to the top of the podium outdoors. He also won the world junior title in Moncton.  In his sophomore year he has run indoors in 44.86, a World junior best, on occasion of the SEC final. Yet he fell in the NCAA final. Outdoors, he has lowered his PB to 44.61, which is the world lead, and won back-to-back collegian titles in Des Moines in an incredible final, which delivered a blanket finish. Kirani James ran blindly in lane 8 and had to recover some valuable metres in the homestretch, against a quality field, which never gave up. James, Gil Roberts (later disqualified), Tony McQuay, Mike Berry and Demetrius Pinder all finished in 45.23 or less, and just 13 hundredths separated the winner and the fifth.
Five other athletes from University have also run under 45.30 this year: Joey Hughes, Josh Mance, Errol Nolan, Bryan Miller and Rondell Bartholomew of South Plains, who stands second in the yearly lists with 44.65, behind his compatriot Kirani James, in an amazing result for their country.  The third in the ranking is another collegian: NCAA runner-up Tony McQuay, a sophomore from Alabama Gators, who went up to upset in the national championships a weak Jeremy Wariner, clocking 44.68. The Athens Olympic gold medallist will not eventually be in Daegu, because of injury; almost good news for him, after his poor display all over the year. Also defending champion LaShawn Merritt is just back after his doping offence vacation and no other veteran has been able of clocking something better than 44.69.  Only American collegians seem to be doing what is expected from them.  Indeed, the way to Daegu’s gold medal is wide open for upcoming stars like Kirani James, McQuay or Demetrius Pinder. It would not even be regarded as an upset a first World Championship title in senior category for the 19-year-old Grenadian.  In the 4x400 relay, it will not be easy either for the United States, without a leader and well behind their standards, to beat a motivated Bahamian team, where talented youngsters Pinder and Ramon Miller will join the always excellent Chris Brown and Micheal Mathieu.                

 Another races worth seeing:

Washington State 400 metre hurdler Jeshua Anderson is one of the five NCAA champions this year, who have achieved the goal of winning the overall US title as well, two weeks afterwards.  The others are Matt Centrowitz in the metric mile, Christian Taylor in the triple jump, Brigetta Barrett in the High Jump and Emma Coburn in the steeplechase.  In this category might be included Tony McQuay and Marquise Goodwin, who were just second and fourth in their respective 400 metres and long jump events, among the collegians, but went on to beat the seniors in Eugene.  Eight other members of the US Universities booked a ticket for Daegu in the trials: Charles Jock in the 800 metres, Eric Kynard in the high jump, Will Claye in long and triple jump, among the men; and Jeneba Tarmoh, in the 200 metres, Jessica Beard in the 400 metres, Stephanie Garcia in the steeplechase, Jasmine Chaney in the 400 hurdles and Jeneva McCall in the hammer throw, among the women. It makes a remarkable figure of a total of 15 collegians qualified for the world champions, not speaking about the several other students from abroad, who will go with their respective national teams.  
Jeshua Anderson (10) (11) (12) owns also the merit, like Ngoni Makusha of having won three NCAA outdoor titles in 2008, 2009 and 2011.  In 2010 the triumph went to archrival Johnny Dutch.  The two hurdling aces have faced each other in most of the big contests they have been in.  Anderson beat runner-up Dutch for the first NCAA title in 2008 and later in the season they repeat the same order at the World Junior championship, held in Bydgoszcz. In the following year Johnny was for the second time defeated at the NCAA championships but finished second in the national trials for Berlin, while Jeshua (fifth) could not make the team. Dutch won his first collegian national title in 2010 getting the better of Anderson but turned pro and did not defend, so it was easy task for the Washington senior to collect a third NCAA crown.  Only Nigerian Amaechi Morton from Stanford University was reasonably close. Johnny Dutch has a superior PB (47.63), but Jeshua Anderson has dipped under 48 seconds at the right time, upsetting, at the national trials, great champions Angelo Taylor and Bershawn Jackson, taking a big step in his career. Anderson is also an excellent football player and could practice in his freshman and sophomore years both sports simultaneously, but decided to concentrate in track and field in his junior season.  Now he dreams becoming a 400 hurdler Olympic champion in London and then quit athletics to return to football for a professional career, as legendary hurdlers Renaldo Nehemiah and Willie Gault once did.
In the 110 meter hurdles there is not a quite solid athlete as Jeshua Anderson but the standards are always high in the USA.  The NCAA outdoor final was much of a catastrophe, when in the central lanes, first NCAA leader (13.23) Omo Osaghae from Texas Tech, then Drake Relays revelation and Big East winner, Terence Sommerville from Cincinnati stumbled heavily through the barriers.  Eventually, LSU junior Barrett Nugent, runner-up in the last editions of both indoor and out championships, defeated the man who had won in both occasions, Jamaican Andrew Riley from Illinois University. A respectable number of hurdlers from College have run this year in 13.50 or better: besides the athletes cited above, Brendan Ames, Keiron Stewart, Oscar Spurlock, Jeffrey Julmis, Ronald Brookins and Ray Stewart.  Maybe some of them will follow on the steps of past NCAA champions Jason Richardson and Ronnie Ash, now stunning professionals.  It is worth mentioning too, Riley won the Jamaican national trials and is expected to do well in Daegu.
In the women field, Nia Ali, a woman who had to overcome a family tragedy, has privileged the hurdles in her senior year in Southern California University, giving up the heptathlon for the moment, proving especially skilful in the event. An accident ruined her chances in the NCAA indoor final but in the outdoor contest she won overwhelmingly her first title in a slightly wind-aided 12.63 and then achieved a respectable fifth place at the national trials for Daegu. Ali is the American hurdler of the future and to qualify for major championships is just a question of time. A couple of steps behind, Christina Manning, Jackie Coward, Jasmin Stowers, Letecia Wright and collegian indoor champion Brianna Rollins, all made the top-50 in the world yearly lists.  Not as good in its standards, the intermediate hurdles were won by a whisker by Miami senior Ti’erra Brown over UCLA sophomore Turquoise Thompson in 55.65. Thus Brown added the school title to the overall she got last year. Amazingly, it was fourth placer Jasmine Chaney from Arizona State, who got to qualify for Daegu, after finishing third in the trials, behind Lashinda Demus and Queen Harrison.      

American Track and Field enthusiasts have reasons to feel optimistic about their future in the 800 metres. We had not seen such exciting a race in the NCAA in many years.  Long distance runners as Rupp, Solinski or Hall awoke the long slept national pride and now milers and half milers feel also ready to challenge the world, including the powerful Kenyans. A whole generation of outstanding athletes is meeting the College amateur tracks in this moment and they would not make us wait for too much before they also come to stardom in the international scene. Andrew Wheating was the first member of this generation in raising the audience eyebrows, when he qualified for the Olympic Games 1500 metres as a 20-year-old Oregon junior and two years later ran the distance in 3:30.90, the same season the Ducks swept the NCAA outdoor metric mile, with Wheating, A.J. Acosta and Matt Centrowitz.  Now in 2011, the latter of the trio has become both collegian and senior champion in two weeks, beating with an impressive final kick Northern Iowa’s Dorian Ulrey in the NCAA final and the likes of Lagat, Manzano, Wheating, Lomong and also Ulrey, in the national trials, qualifying for Daegu.  A pity German Fernandez, the young man who had raised so many expectations in high school and his freshman University season, seems lost this year.  
            The 800 metres are also in a high in the United States.  No less than ten men have achieved the Daegu A standard (1:45.40), which is one more than Kenya, among them six collegians. No wonder the NCAA final in the event was the must awaited race of the whole championships and it fully lived up to the expectations, becoming arguably the best race in the championships.  Everybody was in: First US world junior medallists in the event in the history of the championships, Casimir Loxsom (Penn State) and Robby Andrews (Virginia), NACAC champion Charles Jock (Irvine), former US junior champion Elijah Greer (Oregon), collegiate leader and Pacific 10 winner Cory Primm (UCLA), the only senior in the final, and Big West Champion Ryan Martin (Santa Barbara California).
Two charismatic men were the standouts of the race. Jock (13) (14) and Andrews (15) (16) have the talent and they also have a strong confidence in their possibilities. The UC Irvine junior believes he can destroy the pack with a killer front running and the Virginia sophomore knows he can sit in the back of the pack and trust his devastating kick. Jock pushed further than he had done before, clocking a 49.85 split at the bell, though everybody was still in contention. At the 600 metres, with the East African-born keeping on, Andrews was last, more than one second behind. The race seemed lost for him but he still unleashed a powerful final change of speed, starting to overcome rivals and eventually catching Jock in the finish line to romp home in 1:44.71, just one hundredth of a second short of mark Everett’s meeting record. Greer and Loxsom followed. All four of them set big PBs. It was the second NCAA victory for Andrews, after the one he had achieved in his freshman year, beating big favourite Andrew Wheating indoors.  These two big hopes of American track and field, who have already been compared (17), because of their tactics and awesome performances to Johnny Gray (Jock) and Olympic champion Dave Wottle (Andrews) went with the biggest ambitions to the national trials. Jock did not mind he was against a professional field and tried again a gun to tape victory.  Only two men, Olympians Nick Symmonds and Khadevis Robinson could overcome him in the end, so the main target was achieved, with another outstanding PB (1:44.67).  Andrews felt short this time and so did Loxsom and Greer, but future is on their side.   
In the other distance races in Des Moines Matt Hughes, a Canadian competing for Louisville University, won his second NCAA title in the 3000 meter steeplechase, booking also his ticket for Daegu. In the 5000 and 10.000 outings, once men like Galen Rupp or Chris Solinski graduated, there is not another US runner standout in the horizon. The Kenyan based in the country Samuel Chelanga (Liberty), Leonard Korir (Iona), Stephen Sambu and Lawi Lalang (both from Arizona) battled for the medals.  Korir won the 10.000 metres, while Chelanga did it in the 5000, in his last year in University. It was his second NCAA victory, after the one he achieved last year at the longer distance.   

Watch this one if you rather encourage Sheila Reid to win:

There is not quite the same excitement in the female 800 metres. Past champions Geena Gall, Latavia Thomas, Phoebe Wright, all have joined the professional fields. Anne Kesselring, an Oregon sophomore coming from Germany was the NCAA outdoor winner this year.  At the 3000 meter steeplechase, standards have also lowered dramatically since Jenny Barringer-Simpson and Anna Willard-Pierce graduated and then abandoned the distance, to try other events like the 1500 metres.  From Barringer’s home during her school years, the University of Colorado, comes Emma Coburn, the best American steeplechaser of the moment.  In her junior year Emma has won the NCAA championship and also the national trials for Daegu, where Stephania Garcia from Virginia and last year collegian champion Bridget Franek qualified as well. Coburn has lowered her PB to 9:37 and there is a lot of room to improve, but the general feeling is American steeplechasers have lost the train of the event elite, as it was evident in recent Diamond League meetings.  In longer distances are missed too the current professional athletes Lisa Koll, Angela Bizarri or Sally Kipyego.  The latter has qualified for Daegu for the 10.000 metres at last national trials in Nairobi, where Kenyan television made laugh American athletic fans, when they treated Sally Kipyego as “a little known long distance runner”.  Juliet Bottorff from Duke was the NCAA champion this year at the distance.
The most interesting news right now in American female distance running are about teen prodigy Jordan Hasay (18) (19) (20) recruitment by Oregon University, her first steps on the NCAA track and her duels against Canadian Sheila Reid (21) (22) (23) from Villanova. Hasay, born in Arroyo Grande in 1991, was 1500 metres World Youth runner-up in 2007 and then missed narrowly the medals in two straight World Junior championships.  Yet, what is probably more remembered about her precocious athletic career is the way she qualified for the 1500 metres Beijing Olympic trials final in Eugene setting a new high school national record, when she was just 16 year old (and she looked still younger).  The spectators cheered on her with great enthusiasm, saying that famous “come to Oregon”.  So here she is.  
Just on the other side of the United States and one year before, Sheila Reid had finally got to be admitted for an American college, after months of trying.  She chose Villanova and Coach Gina Procaccio, because another famous Canadian athlete, Carmen Douma had been there. Villanova University has a long and impressive history, as the cradle of quite a respectable number of Olympic champions in Athletics.  However, during the last decade they had known a huge crisis of results. Sheila Reid became the leader of a young team craving to bring back the College to the place it used to be and their first victory came late in 2009, at the National Cross Country. Villanova was ready to defend in Indiana but there was another ambitious young runner in another prestigious team, coached by famous Vin Lananna, who also liked running on both athletic tracks and Cross Country fields.  Jordan Hasay launched her attack and went alone with 500 metres to go but Sheila Reid and Georgetown’s Emily Infeld caught her back in the last metres. Reid won the race and led again her squad to victory, while Jordan Hasay finished in a disappointing for her third place.  They clashed again at last winter NCAA indoor championships at the distance medley relay, where they ran the anchor 1600 meter leg.  Reid won for the second time, nipping Hasay at the line. Jordan reacted the day afterwards, winning impressively her first national title at the mile, after a flawless tactic display of the Ducks, who finished first, third and fourth and thus sealed the overall victory for their College. Hasay had qualified for the 3000 metres but did not need to race again.  Yet she had to talk a word or two to her friend Sheila Reid. New-Kim-Smith Lucy Van Dalen eliminated everybody, except Oregon and Villanova leaders.  Reid kicked at the bell but immediately Hasay kicked back and hold her rivals in the homestretch.  It was almost a draw. (24)
There were high expectations to see the two middle distance stars facing each other again for the NCAA outdoor championships in Des Moines.  Hasay won the 1500 and 5000 metres at the Pacific 10 and so did Reid at the Big East. Both would try the double.  Unfortunately, there was no match, because Hasay, who had tried valiantly to break away in the last laps, faded badly in both races, finishing fourth in the 5000 and eight in the 1500. In the post race interviews she did not know she had raced too much or not had peaked properly.  Anyway, next year she has decided she will not do again all three Cross Country, indoor track and outdoor track, in order to be in the best possible form in the time of the Olympic trials.  Hasay blamed herself for her failure, which cost the team the title. However it is fair to say Oregon won the indoor contest just three months before just because of Jordan’s stunning performance; and there were other negative results, which played against the Ducks as English Gardner's seventh place in the 100 metres and the 4x100 relay not making the final.  Also Jeff Demps was made responsible in the NCAA indoor champions Florida Gators defeat, but even the same Christian Taylor, who won brilliantly in the triple jump event, only finished 10th in the long jump.
Sheila Reid, only pushed by Emily Infeld and New Zealander Lucy Van Dalen, achieved an extraordinary unprecedented double at the 1500 and 5000 metres, becoming the first woman in NCAA history in doing so. She also won the national 1500 m title, ahead of Hillary Stellingwerff and Malindi Elmore, the best milers in the country.

Réalisateur: Pierre Bourque

A remarkable number of five Canadian won at the NCAA championships this year: Sheila Reid and Matt Hughes in Des Moines; and Brianne Theisen in the pentathlon and Derek Drouin in the high jump event, in College Station. Shot putter Julie Labonté was the one winning both championships indoor and out.        
Julie Labonté (25) (26) (27) was the most outstanding thrower of the winter in the NCAA and has been even better during the spring. A French speaker from Sainte-Justine in Quebec, daughter of a former decathlete, she broke a 45 year-old shot put high school record and had some success in her teens. Then she decided to move to a US University in order to improve on her technique and find some challengers to push her further. Julie could not choose better. She had some problems in the beginning to explain herself in English but, in Arizona she found a much better weather than in the place she came from and a reputed coach, Craig Carter, who has been  the main responsible of the career of one of the best shot putter in the country and former Wildcat, Jill Camarena-Williams.  Carter thinks Labonté has the potential to become one of the best in the world: she is someone who holds well the pressure and has a lot of room to improve in her strength, because for the moment she bench press quite less than most of her teammates.   
Julie Labonté started her sophomore season with a 16.83 overall PB.  She improved during the winter until 17.60, and then in the spring broke for the first time the 18 metres barrier at the Pacific 10 final in Tucson, where the Wildcats swept the places in the podium. Finally, she set her, as for now, 18.31 PB at the NCAA outdoor championship: One metre and a half of improvement in just one year. Not bad!  She totalised five national records, three indoors and two out. Julie participated and won the national championships, thus earning the right of a place for Daegu World Championships.  Other NCAA shot putters had also a nice season: Tia Brooks from Oklahoma also reached 18.00 and Ifeatu Okafor and Annie Alexander from Trinidad and Tobago went further than 17.60
Not much happened in other throwing events, in a quite weak year in the sector.  In the hammer, Croatian Dorotea Habazin of Virginia Tech got the better of Daegu-bound Jeneva McCall of Southern Illinois.  The only throw over 70 metres of the season was made by Gwen Berry (also of Southern Illinois), but she did not score any valid attempt during the NCAA championships. Trecey Rew from Northwestern State upset favourite Anna Jelmini in the discus and Brittany Borman of Oklahoma won the javelin.
Among the men, Ryan Whiting, who was close to the 22 metres in the last edition of the NCAA outdoor championships has turned professional.  Without him, the title was won this year more than two metres below by Jordan Clarke of Arizona State. Illinois State’s sophomore Tim Glover obtained an interesting PB of 80.33 to win the collegian javelin title, while Australian World junior medallist Jim Wruck of Texas Tech University stroke gold in the discus. Finally, German Alexander Ziegler upset in the hammer event his teammate in Virginia Tech, Marcel Lomnicky of Slovakia, who had sent the implement beyond 75 metres during the season.
Like Whiting in the shot put, much was missed Ashton Eaton in the combined events. Michael Morrison of California-Berkeley won over Curtis Beach the NCAA outdoors in a competition where six men tallied more than 7900 points and Miller Moss of Clemson won the championship indoors.  Ryann Krais, a Kansas State junior, was close to 6000 points to win the female heptathlon in Des Moines, besides earning a bronze medal at the 400 meter hurdles event. Canadian Brianne Theisen of Oregon, who had finished 15th at Berlin world Championships, won in College Station but she did not compete outdoors, during the spring.  The combined events standards are also going down. The United States have four awesome specialists: Bryan Clay, Trey Hardee, Ashton Eaton and Hyleas Fountain, but no one else has been able of making the A Daegu standard in two years in the country and the US will not have a full team in Korea. Even Clay and Fountain were selected, despite not completing the trials, because no other athlete was ready to go.

Much better are things in the jumping events.  The biggest improvement is in the male horizontal jumps that were in big crisis in the past years.  In the country, only Dwight Phillips and Walter Davis seemed to be reliable enough for a major competition.  Now things are up for a change. At the NCAA outdoor championships, five men landed beyond 8.15 metres in an excellent long jump competition which topped Ngoni Makusha with 8.40.  Although the winner and runner-up (Jamaican Damar Forbes) are not eligible for the USA, the three followers (Will Claye, Marquise Goodwin and Bryce Lamb) are, and two of them have earned a spot for Daegu, despite their young age and inexperience.  University of Texas’ Marquise Goodwin flied in the national trials to a slightly wind-aided 8.33 and Will Claye was so good he qualified in both horizontal jumps. Goodwin has seen his potential and has decided to redshirt his football career to concentrate full and exclusively in doing well at the Worlds and try to go to the Olympics.  Notwithstanding all the talk right now is about Will Claye and his Teammate in Florida Christian Taylor.
     Taylor and Claye (28) (29) (30) (31) were two promising jumpers and rivals, who started University in 2009, the former in the Gators, the latter in Oklahoma. Taylor had won a gold medal in 2007 at the World Youth champs but by 2009 Claye had reached him.  The Oklahoma freshman achieved a noteworthy Area Junior record in the triple jump (17.19) and won the gold medal at the Pan American Championship junior. In their most important clashes of the year they got a draw so Taylor won the NCAA indoor and Claye outdoors. 2010 was an unfortunate season for the Oklahoma hope. He had to sit out injured and meanwhile the Gator collected two other all-University titles. Nevertheless, the great idea was, once Will Claye was recovered, to put them together. Claye made the trip to Florida and from then on the two up-and-coming athletes started to push each other, inside of what has been called the most intense and dynamic group of jumpers in school history, trained by arguably the best coach of the country in the sector ever, Dick Booth, who has won 49 NCAA titles in his long teaching career. A spontaneous and rather special atmosphere is always to be found when the Florida Gator's are practising their speciality .Claye and Taylor say they are just up for fun and seem to jump in their own bubble as forgetting there are other athletes in the competitions, going further and further towards the end of the pit. No wonder, Taylor states he chose triple jump because it is the closest thing to flying he can do.  In College Station, the jumpers scored 30 of the 52 points, which gave the Gators the NCAA team title. Claye led three Florida jumpers in the top-5 and besides finished runner-up in the long jump. However this was just a prelude of their huge breakthrough at the outdoors championship, which may be labelled as one of the most explosive duels in years in a triple jump competition.  Two teammates without any fear or inhibition, enjoying jumping and breaking their own limits in every triple fly towards the pit. Eventually, after succesive alternatives, Taylor led Claye 17.80 to 17.62, both wind-aided but they also achieved valid jumps and respective PBs of 17.40 and 17.35.  Christian and Will had proved in Des Moines they were already the best jumpers in the country and no wonder they also finished 1-2 at the national trials for Daegu, where they are going to make another big impression.  If someone still was ignorant about their chances, Christian beat the international elite at the London Diamond League meeting, establishing his provisional limits at 17.68 metres
The male vertical jumps have not been so emotive but NCAA new champion Eric Kynard, a Kansas State sophomore, has jumped 2.33 indoors and 2.31 outdoors and, most important of all, has qualified for Daegu, and Mississippi sophomore Ricky Robertson has been near.  In the winter, Canadian Derek Drouin, had won the NCAA title, with a fabulous 2.33 national record jump.  Yet, she did not compete outdoors.  In the pole vault event, collegiate champion Scott Roth from Washington University and Jack Whitt are quickly closing the gap with the best specialists in the country.  
The standards in horizontal jumps among the women are not really comparable to their counterparts. Since Brittney Reese graduated, no jumper of note is in the College fields. This year, Southern Mississippi junior Tori Bowie has won the NCAA championships, both indoors and out, but her PB stands at an average 6.64. On the other hand, triple jump lacks a tradition among female American athletes. Foreign students usually sweep the medals at the most important College outings. This time around, Jamaican Kimberly Williams has won the last two NCAA championships indoors and Clemson student Patricia Mamona the last two outdoors.  Watch out in the future for this extraordinary triple jumper, who recently improved her PB to a huge 14.40 at the national Portuguese championships. 
            Among the jumping events, pole vault has the most thrilling female field.  Kylie Hutson, who won four straight NCAA titles, has become a successful professional, winning the last national trials, ahead of Jenn Suhr. Arkansas junior Tina Sutej, has taken the relay as the dominant force in the event.  She won 13 consecutive finals, improved the collegiate record and grabbed the NCAA indoor championship. Unfortunately, her first defeat of the year came in the most important competition of all, the collegian outdoors, where, under the rain, Duck Melissa Gergel got the better of the Slovenian vaulter, in her last chance of winning a title as a student. Gergel performed well also in the national trials, where she finished fourth. Another athlete to follow is Greek Ekaterini Stefanidi, based in Stanford, who won a gold medal at the 2005 World Youths, among other prizes in age competitions.  
            In the high jump, after Amy Acuff retired, Destinee Hooker moved to volleyball and Chaunté Lowe took a rest from athletics to bear her second child, Brigetta Barrett (32) (33) (34) seems to have been left alone as the only consistent US jumper.  She started her sophomore 2011 year with a modest 1.91 PB but has been improving steadily, striking successively NCAA indoors, NCAA outdoors and national trials, where she did her best jump to date: 1.95.  Brigetta was raised in the New York Bronx but because of family issues moved to Dallas for a change, to the house of an older cousin. She enjoyed her school and new life and was moved for Art and for Athletics too. In 2010 she was recruited by the Arizona Wildcats, who had then the NCAA champion, Liz Patterson, who is still Barrett workouts’ mate. She studies Theatre Arts and likes singing, dancing or writing poetry (often in the same athletic track), and dreams to become a famous entertainer.  She believes Athletics or whatever job she does has to be fun and this is the way of doing your best in it; and also never become an obsession: a person must have a variety of passions in life, not depend for your happiness on only one thing.

Because there is not only track & field in Human Life!!!