jueves, 17 de enero de 2013

2009-12 REVIEW. Women 400m, 4x400m


Sanya Richards-Ross anchors the USA 4x400m team to win gold
at the 2012 London Olympic Games
Michael Steele/ Getty Images Europe
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         If we can name the event the United States has dominated the most in one century of Olympic history, it is arguably the male 400m. However, in the last four years, the biggest track and field powerhouse has failed to keep its traditional stranglehold at the distance, succesfully challenged by a number of talented quartermilers, mainly coming from several countries of the Caribbean area. We have assisted to the rise and fall of LaShawn Merrit, eventually overcome as number one in the distance for teen prodigy Kirani James, and also to the historical defeat of the US 4x400m squad in London Olympic Games, well beaten by the Bahamas. As a result, the 400m is not anymore a one nation affair but instead has become an open one in which it is even possible the victory in global championships of athletes coming from such exotic countries as Grenada or Botswana. And indeed the acclaimed victories of Kirani James and Amantle Montsho were the first ones in any sport for their remote homelands at a major competition of Olympic or World level. On the other hand, in female category the nations with the greatest depth for many years have been Russia, United States and Jamaica but often global champions have come from other disparate countries as it is the case of Amy Mbacké Thiam (Senegal), Ana Guevara (Mexico), Tonique Williams-Darling (Bahamas) and Christine Ohuruogu (Great Britain), before Amantle Montsho and Botswana’s biggest day in Daegu. Besides, it was equally notorious in these years the struggle of the most talented quarter miler of the last decade, USA’s Sanya Richards-Ross to triumph at last in a global championship, which she eventually accomplished at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and then repeated at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. 

          The women’s 400m event has become lately an almost exclusive three-nations club, yet with two special guests as Christine Ohuruogu and Amantle Montsho. In the last three major championships, Berlin and Daegu Worlds and London Olympics, all finalists came from either United States (Sanya Richards, Debbie Dunn, Allyson Felix, Francena McCorory and Dee Dee Trotter), Russia (Antonina Krivoshapka and Anastasiya Kapachinskaya) and Jamaica (Novlene Williams, Shericka Williams and Rosemarie Whyte), with only the Briton and Botswanan quartermilers daring to mix up in the party. Also if we check our 2009-2012’s top-20 ranking there are no less than 7 athletes from Russia, 5 from the United States and 4 from Jamaica. Interestingly Russia was as usual the country which scored more points in the event but the United States was clearly this time the one which accomplished more number of victories (2) and medallists (4) in global major championships to only two Russian bronze medals. Besides, the United States also won both World indoor championships held in this Olympic cycle: Debbie Dunn in Doha and Sanya Richards-Ross in Istanbul. North American quality faced to Eastern European quantity resulted in an almost draw in the final global score (558 to 542 for Russia), which meant a big improvement for the United States, which had lost to their archrivals 527 to 388 for the period 2005-2008. In both occasions, Jamaica ended up a distant third.  COMPARE NATIONS RANKING  in  2005-2008  and  2009-2012.
          This capacity of the current North American stars to perform big when it matters most explains also their superiority at the 4x400m global competitions. The United States team gapped Russia and Jamaica in nearly four seconds in Berlin and London Olympics. Only in Daegu, with Richards-Ross not at her best and a tired Allyson Felix, Jamaica and Russia were able to challenged them and run the distance in less than 3:20.00 in the process, the only time in four years they accomplished so. In the other occasions Russia and Jamaica were content fighting for the silver medal which the former nation achieved in London and the latter in Berlin and Daegu (here in a national record). Russia, had been really close of a victory at the 4x400m relay at the Olympic Games in Beijing and had upset the North Americans to win gold at the 2006 and 2008 World indoors. This time around, the United States also beat their archrivals at the 2010 World indoor championships, being the next edition in the contest in Istanbul, the only one they lost an important race between 2009 and 2012, when the Great Britain quartet of Shana Cox, Nicola Sanders, Christine Ohuruogu and Perri Shakes-Drayton produced a shocking victory. Russia even lined up only two quartermilers at the single event in Daegu and London Olympic, reserving the others for the 4x400 relay battle. This decision did not pay off; they were defeated the same. The matter of the fact is the Eastearn European powerhouse has not found a world beater quartermiler since Olga Wladykina-Bryzgina (incidentally an Ukrainian but running for the USSR) retired.   
  
Antonina Krivoshapka on the way to win the 400m final at
the 2009 European indoor Champs in Torino
Michael Steele/ Getty Images

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   By 2009, the most intriguing quartermiler was without a doubt Sanya-Richard-Ross. A Jamaican emigrant, US naturalised in 2002, Sanya had been the most accomplished quartermiler since 2005 and also IAAF athlete of the year in 2006, when she had remained unbeaten at the 400m distance during the whole season, and had also broken in stellar fashion the 18-year-old national record of Olympic glory Valerie Brisco-Hooks at the Continental Cup in Athens to set it in 48.70. When everybody else was struggling to break the 50 seconds barrier, Sanya was the only runner in activity with a PB under 49.00. Indeed in 2009 at the Golden Gala she had overcome world record holder Marita Koch as the athlete who had run more times the distance in less than 50 seconds, for a total which now reaches 46 races. Notwithstandind, Sanya Richards-Ross had never won a gold medal at the World Championships or at the Olympics. She had been unable to hold the pressure or she just had been out of the blocks too fast as it happened in Beijing Olympics. On the other hand, the winner of that last race Christine Ohuruogu had showed how to run the distance cleverly, in a controlled effort to finish in the strongest fashion, as she had done in Osaka and Beijing to win two superb gold medals. Yet the 2009-2012 Olympic cycle was not to be ideal for the British quartermiler stars, as Christine Ohuruogu struggled for several seasons with injuries to recover her best, while her compatriot the silver medallist in Osaka Nicola Sanders succumbed to them, never getting back to her past shape.

          For the World Championships in Berlin, Richards-Ross was again the favourite and this time she would enjoy her chance, running a much more measured race than she used to, to cover the distance in a 49.00 flat, something out of reach for any of her rivals, in spite of the effort of Shericka Williams, who snatched her second straight global silver medal, after the one achieved in Beijing, in a more than remarkable time of 49.32. A pity Shericka would stagnate afterwards. In bronze position ended up the revelation of the year, Russian Antonina Krivoshapka, who had won at the European indoors and then had run the distance in 49.29, the best mark in Russia since 1988. The young Krivoshapka left out of the podium the second Jamaican Novlene Williams-Mills and the Olympic champion Ohuruogu. Finally it was a dream coming true for Sanya Richards-Ross who also led the USA to gold at the 4x400m relay. Notwithstanding, injuries would slow the new champion, who would be fighting all over 2010 and 2011 to be back to her best physically speaking and besides to recover her always fragile confidence.

       With Sanya Richards-Ross struggling, the main actresses in the following campaigns would be Amantle Montsho and Allyson Felix. Montsho was the natural succession in African stardom to the shocking World Champion in 2001 Amy Mbacké Thiam, winner in Edmonton in a final with no less than four African quartermilers. Nigerians like Mary Onyali, Falilat Ogunkoya and Chioma Ajunwa had opened the door with their Olympic successes to female sprinters and long jumpers in the continent but now the centre of the stage was Senegal. The IAAF had created its first High Performance Centre in Dakar in 1997 to help African youngsters develop a track and field career. One of the 12 athletes chosen to launch the HPC was precisely Mbacké Thiam, who would go from there to stardom. Some years later it was the turn for a young Amantle Montsho to make the trip in order to train in Dakar. Montsho’s homeland Botswana had produced many reputed male quartermilers as California Molefe and Isaac Makwala but eventually it was going to be a woman who would bring glory to the country.

Amantle Montsho and Allyson Felix battle to the line the 400m gold medal
at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu
Andy Lyons/ Getty Images Europe
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  Montsho’s breakthrough came in 2007, when she won at the All Africa Games in Alger, beating Amy Mbacké Thiam. After a second continental title the following year she made the Olympic final, where she finished 8th and last, the same placement she would get in Berlin. Yet it was clear she could get much more and in 2010 she took a big step to stardom, winning everything in sight, from African Championships to Continental Cup and Commonwealth Games, besides several Diamond League meetings and even reached the 4x400m Commonwealth final with Botswana. She was now ready to face the best at the upcoming Daegu World Champs and London Olympics. Only one athlete had done better during the year: three times 200m World Champion Allyson Felix, who had defeated Montsho four times at the 2010 Diamond League. No less than a black beast to her, Felix was dominating Montsho 12-0 in their head-to-head matches at the end of the 2010 campaign. Allyson did not lose any 400m race all through the year, accomplishing an awesome overall double victory (200m-400m) at the inaugural Diamond League. This success and her outstanding performances with the US 4x400m relay, made Felix take the ambitious decision of trying in Daegu the unusual 200m-400m double. 

                  Elsewhere the surprising Indian 4x400m team achieved a groundbreaking victory at the Commonwealth Games held at home, thanks mainly to their new national star Ashwini Akkunji, who had started the third leg more than 20 metres behind, but managed to catch Nigeria’s Bukola Abogunloko, to deliver to Mandeep Kaur, who held 400m hurdler Olympic finalist Joke Odumosu and the anchors of the strong English, Canadian and Australian teams, the latter with an extenuated Sally Pearson, who had to be helped off the track. India repeated success with about the same scenario one month later at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, against the best teams in the continent, Kazakhstan, China and Japan. Sadly, the next year, when they were training to win a medal at the Olympic Games at their training camp in Patiala, IAAF officials uncovered no less than seven doping positives among Indian quartermilers, including all their foremost stars. Good luck for the comeback to competition.  http://moti-athletics-4x4-w.blogspot.fr/2011/03/after-commonwealth-and-asian-games-breakthrough-indian-athletes-aim-for-olympic-medals.html
     
            Meanwhile, Russian quartermilers were proving they had no match at continental level. Although Krivoshapka was not at the same impressive shape of the past year, she could still managed a bronze medal position at the European Championships in Barcelona, in a race won by her experienced compatriot Tatyana Firova in 49.89, just holding that year revelation Kseniya Ustalova. The closest challenge to the Russians was Italian Libania Grenot. As expected, the Russian 4x400m squad finished a world ahead of the other medallists Germany and Great Britain. However, Russian invincible quartermilers were upset in following area contests: Czech Denisa Rosolova, a former long jumper and heptathlete (and future hurdler), produced a flawless race at the 2011 European indoors to defeat former World indoor gold medallist Olesya Krasnomovets and former European champion Vania Stambolova of Bulgaria. Still more shocking and marvellous indeed for the future of athletics was the victory at the 2012 European outdoors in Helsinki of up-and-coming athlete Moa Hjelmer, over favourite Kseniya Zadorina, smashing her PB and setting a new Swedish record of 51.13 in the process. In Helsinki, with most Russian stars absents, the Ukrainian quartermilers made amends for the mistake of their more fancied 4x100m compatriots, winning the gold medal with Olisevska, Zemlyak, Pyhyda and Lohvinenko. This new generation of Ukrainian 400m runners, along with their hurdler mates Yaroshchuk and Titimets are called to do great things in the future. Helsinki’s 4x400m final marked the changed of guard in the continent with France winning the silver medal with also young standouts as Guei, Gayot and Guion Firmin and the Czech Republic, in bronze medal position,with its hurdlers Hejnova, Rosolova and Bergrova, who had already accomplished another bronze the past year at the World indoors. On the other hand, Belarus, who had challenged the best during the previous Olympic cycle, was not anymore a factor, once the Usovich sisters had past their prime, and neither was Poland. Romania, still on the way, is also expected to recover its past glory in a near future with the coming of age of Mirela Lavric and Bianca Razor and a fitted Morosanu.      

      The Daegu World Championship final really fullfilled the expectations of the most demanding fan, it was a battle for the ages. Amantle Montsho and Allyson Felix entered the homestretch well in advance of the rest, with the Bostwanan one stride ahead. Running side by side for a long time, Felix pushed to overcome Montsho but the latter managed to hold until the finish line to win narrowly 49.56 to 49.59, both times huge PBs. Allyson was visibly dissapointed: she had done her best, she had run to her limits and still had been defeated. On the other hand, Amantle was understandably in extasy, after her first global victory which was also the first for her country. Well behind, the 200m World champion back in 2003, Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, won the fight for the minor of the medals for Russia, ahead of Francena McCorory and Krivoshapka. The defending champion Richards could only manage a seventh place, splitting Jamaicans Shericka and Novlene Williams. It was an excellent result, which confirmed her progression for McCorory, the woman who had set an area record (50.54) to win the NCAA indoor final the year before. On the other hand, other collegiate champions at the distance were more unlucky: Jessica Beard, who won the prestigious Bowerman award to the best female athlete of that year, after having run the best split ever in an NCAA 4x400m race to give Texas A&M the overall title, did not go further than the semi-finals for the second World Championship in a row. Natasha Hastings and Joanna Atkins, former NCAA stars, did not even reach the target of qualifying for Daegu.      

Ashley Spencer gets an emphatic victory at the 2012 World junior championships in Barcelona, while
defending champion Shaunae Miller finishes out of the medals
David Ramos/ Getty Images Europe
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          Prior to the Olympic Games, we lived a high exciting opener at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona. Bahamian hope Shaunae Miller had won the World junior gold medal in 2010 in Moncton, aged 16, that was one year younger than the male champion at the distance Kirani James. She had completed the distance in 52.52. Then, one year later at the World Youth Championships in Lille, where Miller triumphed as well, no less than three U-18 athletes had run faster than the winning time in Moncton and two others had been inside 52 seconds as well. Yet, in 2012 in Barcelona, the great Shaunae Miller could only handle a fourth place, despite running near her best (51.78). It is a good indication of the huge level of the contest, which was won by that year’s NCAA champion Ashley Spencer in 50.50! ahead of Kadecia Baird of Guyana (51.04) and the second USA representative Erika Rucker (51.10), all three well inside the London A standard, although for different reasons they did not go to the Games. With such outstanding talent and depth in youth and junior categories, we can expect a true revolution in some years time in the 400m event, when these youngsters will take over.   

                  Teenage sensation Ashley Spencer declined to try her chance at the US Olympic trials, stating she would rather go step by step and Allyson Felix decided to focus in shorter sprints for London.  Sanya Richards-Ross proved she was back to her best, winning that competition in 49.28. After some lacklustre years, former Olympic and World finalist Dee Dee Trotter made also a remarkable comeback, booking her ticket to London in an excellent 50.02, while McCorory got the third spot for the Games. However, the answer to Richards-Ross world lead came from Russian national championships, where Antonina Krivoshapka won the title in 49.16! beating Yuliya Gushchina (49.28) and Tatyana Firova (49.72). Nazarova, Kapachinskaya, Vdovina and Livinova also ran the final in less than 51.00. In Jamaica, the results where not as impressive. Novlene Williams won the trials in 50.60, ahead of Rosemarie Whyte and Christine Day, who left Shericka Williams out of the 400m Olympic team. On the other hand, Montsho improved her PB to 49.54, when winning the African championships in Porto Novo. 

           All three US quartermilers, Jamaicans Williams-Mills and Whyte, Krivoshapka of Russia, World champion Amantle Montsho and defending Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu qualified for the final. Krivoshapka, the fastest in the semi-finals decided to go for the gold medal, running as someone explained as if it was a 200m race. She just committed the same tactical mistake than Sanya Richards in Beijing. The Russian champion entered the homestretch ahead of the field but soon her legs ran out of lactic acid and she faded to sixth, being overcome first by Dee Dee Trotter, then by Richards-Ross, who went straight to win the elusive Olympic title in 49.55, just 28 years after Valerie Brisco-Hooks, the only other USA athlete who had climbed to the top of a 400m podium. Christine Ohuruogu ran her usual smart race, progressing to an excellent silver medal in 49.70, while Dee Dee Trotter grabbed the bronze in 49.72. On the other hand, a dissapointing Amantle Montsho had a day off and ended up out of the medals. At the 4x400m, Sanya Richards-Ross won a second gold medal, with her mates Trotter, McCorory and Allyson Felix, who ran 47.8! in her leg, although the USA squad was not as lucky as the 4x100m team, for their winning time (3.16.87) was one second off the old world record of the USSR. Russia won silver and Jamaica bronze and the best of the rest was Ukraine, who finished ahead of Great Britain, France and Czech Republic. Nigeria was also in the final, but Belarus, Germany and the Pan American champion Cuba, among others, failed to qualify.


Women400mWomen4x400m
1
Sanya Richards-Ross
USA
1
United States
USA
2
Amantle Montsho
BOT
2
Russia
RUS
3
Allyson Felix
USA
3
Jamaica
JAM
4
Antonina Krivoshapka
RUS
4
Great Britain
GBR
5
Christine Ohuruogu
GBR
5
Ukraine
UKR
6
Novlene Williams-Mills
JAM
6
Germany
GER
7
Anastasiya Kapachinskaya
RUS
7
France
FRA
8
Francena McCorory
USA
8
Czech Republic
CZE
9
Shericka Williams
JAM
9
Nigeria
NGR
10
Dee  Dee Trotter
USA
10
Belarus
BLR
11
Tatyana Firova
RUS
11
Cuba
CUB
12
Rosemary Whyte
JAM
12
Italy
ITA
13
Yuliya Gushchina
RUS
13
Brazil
BRA
14
Amy Hastings
USA
14
Canada
CAN
15
Kseniya Ustalova
RUS
15
Ireland
IRL
16
Libania Grenot
ITA
16
Romania
ROU
17
Nataliya Nazarova
RUS
17
Poland
POL
18
Lyudmila Litvinova
RUS
18
Australia
AUS
19
Vania Stambolova
BUL
19
China
CHN
20
Kaliese Spencer
JAM
20
Turkey
TUR

                 Women400m                                               Women4x400m

Check out the whole TOP-50 RANKINGS and complete STATISTICS for every event above/*

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