The Prefontaine Classic (2006)
Bill Long 5/29/06
Hayward Field, Eugene, OR, May 28, 2006
In blustery 60 degree temperatures, and under threatening skies that twice opened up in downpours and often dropped a steady and chilling rain, gathered more than two hundred world-class track & field athletes at the fabled Hayward Field for the 32nd annual Prefontaine classic. The boisterously blowing conditions didn't deter a sell-out crowd from enjoying the day's festivities, even if no world records were endangered throughout the day. Seeing these world-class athletes so closely under adverse conditions convinces me that this year will be a banner year for track & field, with at least four and probably six new world records being established. This essay and the next describe some of my reasons for optimism as the 2006 track season is getting underway.
The 100 Meters--It's All Justin Gatlin
For Gatlin to have run a 9.88 under adverse conditions, with wind at 1.0 mph (allowable), following on the heels of his May 12 world record-tying 9.77, means to me that he is gearing up for a solo entry in the record book. What was interesting about the race is that it was run in two "heats," with Gatlin in the first and co-world record holder Asafa Powell in the second. Gatlin won his heat by an amazing .28 seconds (over Leonard Scott) while Powell (9.93) won his by .11 seconds (over Shawn Crawford). Gatlin and the field were tightly bunched for about the first fifty yards, and then he not simply inched away from the rest but pulled loose with such incredible energy and drive that it seemed as he had one gear more than everyone else. In the 100 meters, 1/10th of a second represents about 39 inches for the runner; I wouldn't be surprised if Gatlin will "make up" that 39 inches as the summer progresses, possibly even with a 9.75.
The Women's High Jump
I have rarely been so inspired by a woman's high jump competition as I was by yesterday's, with four athletes jumping 6'4 (1.93m) or above. The field included the outstanding Russian jumper Yelena Slesarenko, who has done 2.06m (just over 6'9"), the Swede Kajsa Bergqvist, who has done 2.08 meters (just under 6'10") and the two best American jumpers, Amy Acuff and Tisha Waller, both of whom have gone about 6'6" or 6'7". I had thought, after seeing Acuff over the years, that her best days were behind her. After all, she "hit" her 6'7" in 2003 and hadn't really improved much since about 1995. At age 30, she seemed to be reaching the end of her illustrious career. But then, she cleared 1.96 (6'5") yesterday in the wind and rain, edging out her teammate as well as Bergqvist. Maybe this will be the kind of early season stimulus she needs to explore new territory this year. But most amazing to me was Slesarenko. She comfortably went over the bar at 6'6 1/4" (1.99m), and missed once at a higher height before calling it a day. I think that the world record, set by Stefka Kostadinova of Bulgaria (6'10 1/4" in 1987) is now within reach.
A Digression on Records from the 1980s
This seems to be the right time to make a note about women's track records and the 1980s. All who have followed the sport over the years know that drug testing was hit and miss in the 1980s, and there is the strong likelihood that many of the women's world records set in the 1980s, some of which are still records today, were done by women using substances which would be illegal if used today. Here is a list a of a few of the women's track & field records from the 1980s that still stand today:
100 meters 10.49-- Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988.
100 meter hurdles 12.21- Yordanka Donkova in 1988.
200 meters 21.34--Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988.
400 meters 47.60--Marita Koch in 1985.
800 meters 1.53.28--Jarmila Kratochvilova in 1983.
High Jump 2.09m (6'10 1/4") Stefka Kostadinova in 1987.
Long Jump 7.52m (24'8 1/4") Galina Chistyakova in 1988.
Shot Put 22.63 (74'3") Natalya Lisovskaya in 1987.
Discus 76.80 (252'0") Gabrele Reinsch in 1988.
Even though today's athletes have had the benefit of an additional 18 years of strength, nutrition and other training, many of the world's best athletes today cannot come close to these records. For example, a mark of 11 seconds for the 100 meters would be the best in the world this year; breaking 22 seconds in the 200 meters would be a rare event, indeed. The shot put and discus records will probably never (at least in my lifetime) be broken; it would also take a near superhuman record to break the 100 meters. Flo Jo set it in the US Olympic Trials in 1988 (before the drug testing); her race was the only one during the day where the wind equipment didn't record a wind-aided time. Her best non wind-aided time was 10.61. Thus, we see some of the realities that female track & field athletes have to face today. They are going up against records set most likely by women who were pouring performance-enhancing substances into their bodies. The men's results are not nearly as bleak, primarily because of the entry into men's track & field in the last 25 years of the African distance runners; they have obliterated every "European" mark in those events by such a degree that even if Europeans had been using performance-enhancing drugs in the 1980s, the "clean" Kenyans, Ethiopians, Algerians and others from today would still have defeated them.
Returning to Eugene
Thus, I think there are good reasons for hoping that 2006 will see world records or threatened records in the Men's 100m and the Women's high jump. The latter is most impressive because it will be one of the four remaining "enhanced" women's field events records of the 1980s to fall.
The next essay examines some other events.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long