A little later than planned, but James Sullivan is back with the final installment of his A-Z of the 2011 athletics year.
PART 3 (Q-Z)
Q – Qualification standards
With the London Olympics only around the corner, the dreaded B-Standard debate is well and truly under way. The Olympic Council of Ireland has firmly stated that only athletes who achieve the A qualification standard will be considered for selection for London 2012. There are arguments for and against this decision. On one hand, it can be said that by raising the standard required for an Irish athlete to qualify for the Olympics, it will motivate athletes to reach the higher A-Standard, rather than settling for a B-Standard, resulting in a higher general standard being sent to the Games. However, on the contrary, Ireland currently has many talented up and coming athletes, with the likes of Ciara Mageean, Jessie Barr, Thomas Barr and Steven Colvert, among others possessing the talent to go a long way in the sport. Should such athletes achieve B-Standards, it would be extraordinarily silly and short-sighted to deny them the opportunity to gain Olympic experience in London, which would no doubt prove invaluable come the next Games in Rio de Janeiro.
However, possibly the greatest argument of all in favour of sending athletes on B-Standards comes in the name of Deirdre Ryan. Less than one month before the 2011 World Championships she jumped an Irish record of 1.93 metres in the high jump, which gave her the B-Standard for Daegu. In the qualification round she went better and cleared 1.95 metres, gaining her a place in her first global final. In the final itself, she cleared 1.93 metres at the first attempt and was agonisingly close to clearing 1.97 on her final attempt. She finished the competition in a tie for 6th place, the best ever performance by an Irish high jumper in the history of the world championships. Ryan’s performance is living proof that B-Standard athletes should not be overlooked. Deirdre Ryan didn’t achieve the A-Standard before the championships, and if such strict criteria was imposed for Daegu 2011, then we would never have witnessed an Irish athlete mix it with some of the all-time greats such as Blanca Vlasic and Anna Chicherova. Hopefully, this result will force a change of attitude among the powers that be ahead of the London Olympics next year. I would not count on it however!
R – Relay
The Irish women’s 4×400 metres relay team provided one of the best Irish performances of the year. At the World Championships in Daegu the quartet of Marian Heffernan, Joanne Cuddihy, Claire Bergin and Michelle Carey smashed the Irish record by almost three seconds, recording a time of 3:27.48. This placed the team 12th in the World, just 1.47 seconds off qualification for the final. And considering there was a mix-up at the start where time was lost, there is certainly more that can be taken off that national record, perhaps at the London Olympics, which Ireland are now well on their way towards qualifying for. Given the country’s size, and lack of participation numbers, Ireland don’t often qualify relay teams for major championships, so the 4×400 team finishing 12th in the world is certainly an achievement that can’t be downplayed.
S – Sogelau Tuvalu
Over the years we have seen some comical sporting moments, with Eric the Eel, Trevor the Tortoise and Eddie the Eagle being the most notable, and now Sogelau Tuvalu can proudly add his name to that illustrious list. At the World Championships in Daegu, Tuvalu took to the start line for the preliminary round of the Men’s 100 metres. Just 17 years of age, and weighing over 20 stone, Tuvalu, a shot putter from American Samoa, was entered to compete against some of the fastest men on the planet. His training regime for the championships was reported to be an intensive one month programme, and he entered the starting blocks not wearing spikes, a serious rookie mistake for a sprinter. As the gun fired, the well built Samoan was lazy out of the blocks, recording the slowest reaction time of all seven runners. As it transpired, this was of little importance, as the Samoan could have jumped the gun by a whopping four seconds and still finished at the rear of the field. The poor man was completely out of his depth and eventually, after what felt like a painful eternity, crossed the finish line in a time of 15.66 seconds, a new personal best. One has to ask the question, is there not somebody in the whole of American Samoa who can run 100 metres quicker than this?
T – Tickets
The London Olympic Games made several headlines during 2011, but too often for the wrong reason. To put it bluntly, the system employed by the London Olympic Games Organising Committee (LOCOG) with regards selling tickets was nothing short of a shambles. Ignoring the fact that the prices for almost every sport were sinfully inflated, the majority of people were cut off from obtaining tickets for their preferred sports. LOCOG received more applications than they had tickets, so admittedly the demand was greater than the supply, but the extent of this was quite remarkable, with the majority of people receiving less than 10% of the tickets that they applied for, which caused widespread dissatisfaction among the people of the UK, who through taxes, have played a significant role in funding the games. No tickets were set aside for members of sports clubs in the UK, with LOCOG preferring to go with a system which benefited the rich, those who could afford to take the gamble in applying for thousands of pounds worth of tickets in the hope of gaining a few in the controversial ballot. It later emerged that for some of the glamour sports, namely athletics, 50% of tickets were set aside for corporate fat cats. Sebastian Coe previously said that the 2012 London Olympics would be a Games for the people. All he has done is betray the people of his nation, and athletics fans worldwide.
U – Underage talent
Ireland currently possesses a wealth of up and coming talent and 2011 illustrated just how exciting the next decade could be for the sport in the Emerald Isle. Firstly, there was Ciara Mageean, who followed up her stunning silver medal over 1500 metres at the 2010 World Junior Championships with a silver in the same event at the 2011 European Junior Championships in Tallinn, Estonia. While the County Down athlete was no doubt disappointed not to have taken the title, the championships probably came too soon after her recovery from an injury which harmed her early season preparations. However, the “next Sonia O’Sullivan”, as many have perhaps unfairly tagged her, went on to lower her Irish junior record recording an Olympic B-Standard qualifier of 4:07.45 in Birmingham, UK. There is little doubt that this supremely talented junior will bag an A-Standard in time for London.
Another athlete who has a very bright future is Waterford’s Kate Veale. At the 2011 European Cup of Race Walking she claimed the bronze medal in the junior race over 10km, despite the fact she was still a youth athlete. She followed this up with gold in the World Youth Championships over the 5000m Walk, Ireland’s first ever gold medal at the championships. Further success in 2011 was achieved by Brian Gregan (silver medal over 400 metres at the European Under-23 Championships), Jessie Barr (5th place over 400 metres hurdles at the European Under-23 Championships), and her brother Thomas Barr (running the fastest ever time over 400 metres hurdles by an Irish born athlete). With the likes of Stephen Colvert, Paul Robinson, Darren McBrearty and Mark English also making waves in 2011, the future is very bright for Irish athletics.
V – Vivian and Valerie
Sally Pearson may have claimed the IAAF World Athlete of the Year award but fellow nominees Vivian Cheruiyot and Valerie Adams also enjoyed seasons of astonishing success. Cheruiyot began 2011 with victory at the World Cross-Country Championships at Punta Umbria, Spain, her first senior gold medal at the event. In July, at the Diamond League meeting in Stockholm, the Kenyan recorded a stunning 14:20.89 in the 5000 metres, the fourth fastest clocking of all time. At the Daegu World Championships, she claimed a historic double, winning gold in both the 5000 metres and 10000 metres.
Valerie Adams also achieved overwhelming dominance in 2011. The New Zealand shot putter recorded 11 of the top 15 performances and threw over 20 metres on a staggering 13 occasions, and remained unbeaten throughout the season. The highlight was no doubt at the World Championships where she claimed the gold medal, her third consecutive world title, with a world leading and national record throw of 21.24 metres, one of the longest throws in the post-communist era. Of course the world record remains forever out of reach, and the less said about that, the better!!
W – World records
2011 saw some impressive world records. At the World Championships in Daegu, the Jamaican 4×100 metres relay team, consisting of Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt, clocked a sensational time of 37.04 seconds, bettering the previous record, set by the Jamaican team at the Beijing Olympics, by 0.06 seconds. This performance was made all the more remarkable by the fact their usual anchor leg runner, Asafa Powell, missed the Championships through injury. It seems inevitable that this team will dip under 37 seconds sooner rather than later.
Another event which saw the world record lowered in 2011 was the women’s hammer throw. German Betty Heidler set a new record on the 21st May in Halle, Germany with a throw of 79.42 metres, smashing the previous mark of 78.30 metres held by Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk. Unfortunately for Heidler, she couldn’t carry this form into the World Championships and was beaten into second place by Tatyana Lysenko of Russia.
Possibly the most sensational of all world records set in 2011 however goes to Patrick Makau. At the Berlin Marathon on the 25th September, the Kenyan took 21 seconds off legendary Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie’s marathon record en route to a sensational clocking of 2:03:38, an average of 4:42.9 per mile! Makau is just one of many Kenyans who in recent years have taken the marathon to new heights and the nation currently enjoys unprecedented dominance in this event. All of the top 20 fastest runners over the iconic distance in 2011 were Kenyan, with no fewer than 11 running sub 2:06. Gebrselassie and the rest of the Ethiopian team certainly have an almighty job on their hands ahead of the London Olympics.
X – X-Country
2011 saw the coming of age of Irish long distance runner Fionnuala Britton. The 27 year old from County Wicklow claimed the gold medal in the senior race at the European Cross-Country Championships at Velenje, Slovenia in December 2011, making up for the bitter disappointment of finishing out of the medals in 4th place at the 2010 Championships. With the victory, she became the second Irish woman to take the European Cross-Country title, after Catherina McKiernan claimed gold at the inaugural championships back in 1994. 2012 has the potential to be an exciting year for Britton, as she plans to move away from the 3000 metres steeplechase, an event where she finished 11th at the 2007 World Championships, and in which she has already guaranteed qualification for the 2012 Olympic Games, in favour of the 5000 metres and 10000 metres. With the Wicklow woman in the form of her life, few would bet against her achieving the A-Standard for the longer events over the coming season.
Y – Yohan Blake
The headlines may have gone to Usain Bolt after the men’s 100 metres final in Daegu but history will forever say that his training partner and fellow countryman Yohan Blake claimed the world title in the blue ribboned event. The Jamaican took full advantage of the world record holder’s stupidity to comfortably take the gold medal in 9.92 seconds into a significant headwind. There were many afterwards who claimed that Blake merely won by default. However since his performance a couple of weeks later at the Diamond League meeting in Brussels, opinions are beginning to change. Here the newly crowned world 100 metres champion won the 200 metres in a remarkable time of 19.26 seconds, the second fastest clocking in history, and just 0.07 seconds behind Usain Bolt’s world record set at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin. What made the performance all the more remarkable was the fact that Blake’s reaction time was an astonishingly slow 0.269 seconds. With merely an average start the Jamaican would have broken a world record which was previously thought to be out of reach. This performance certainly spices things up ahead of the London Olympics and it is no longer a foregone conclusion that Usain Bolt will successfully defend his titles.
Z – Zordo
Few would argue that the letter Z is a difficult element of any A-Z to fill, and while using Matthias de Zordo may be cheating slightly, the German javelin thrower simply couldn’t be omitted from this review of 2011. At the World Championships in Daegu, the 23 year old broke the incredible stranglehold that Norwegian Andreas Thorkildsen has had on the event over the last few seasons. The Olympic Champion from Athens and Beijing has been the dominant force in javelin of late, with gold at the 2009 World Championships and 2010 European Championships to add to his two Olympic titles. However in Daegu, he was significantly under par by his usual high standards, and could only manage the silver medal with a throw of 84.78 metres, well down on his personal best of 91.59 metres, and was comfortably beaten by De Zordo who took his first major title with a season’s best of 86.27 metres. The German then followed up this performance with a personal best of 88.36 metres at the Memorial Van Damme meeting in Brussels, which secured him the Diamond League title for the event. Is this merely a minor blip in the dominance of Andreas Thorkildsen or is it the beginning of a new era in the men’s javelin? It is certainly an event to keep a keen eye on at the London Olympic Games.