Saturday, August 11, 2012

Women's Olympic 1500

Women's 2012 Olympic 1500m final Source

Oh boy, here we go again. I hate to be the person who rants all the time, but those of you who know me know that I love watching mid-distance just as much as I love watching distance. Can't run MD for crap, but watching it is fun. You don't have as much time to get into it the way you do a distance race, but they have all the tactics and strategy that distance races have, and they can take on different personalities the same was as distance races. A 100m dash is always fast. That's not to say it's any less exciting, but you know it's going to be fast. A mid-distance race, like a distance race, can involve a furious pace from the gun (a la the men's 2012 Olympic 800 that we just saw, courtesy of David Rudisha), or it can start slow and tactical and end with the kind of dead sprint to the finish that every kicker hopes for (a la the women's 2012 Olympic 1500...more on that later). Plus male mid-distance runners are beautiful and female mid-distance runners have the body I wish I had, but I digress. So, needless to say, I was watching the women's 1500. For those of you who missed it, the 1500 opened in a pedestrian (for them) 75 second jog. The race itself didn't start until the bell lap...which is when Morgan Uceny fell. At the end of the race, former doper Asli Çakır Alptekin emerged as the winner. Fail. Fail fail fail.

First of all, my heart breaks for Morgan Uceny. Uceny spent the race out in lane 2. It looked as if after falling at World Championships in Daegu, she was deliberately trying to stay out of trouble. Yet after such a slow start, you know there's going to be chaos once the pace picks up, and unfortunately for Uceny, she found herself a casualty of that chaos. Here's the slow motion video. Looks like there's a bit of chaos behind Uceny, and Uceny's foot collided with Abebe Aregawi's thigh, which resulted in Uceny's foot taking out her other calf and sending her faceplanting into the track.

It seems that Uceny's fall has gotten more media attention than anything else that I've seen on the track this Olympics (including the incredible runs by Galen Rupp and Leo Manzano, as well as the record breaking 800 on the men's side), which I don't entirely understand. Maybe America loves to watch heartbreak more than victory, who knows. But seeing as I'm pretty much adding to the attention Uceny's fall got, that's not what I'm posting to talk about.

One of the more upsetting things I've read is that Morgan Uceny fell on purpose, a la Suzy Favor-Hamilton in 2000. WTF?! Watch the video, people! I think it's pretty obvious that she did not just decide to fall over because she didn't think she could win. You can argue whether or not Uceny had any fault in the fall (personally, I'm going with no, since she was all the way out in lane 2 and the chaos started behind her, and it was just wrong place at the wrong time out of her control), but it's clear she did not deliberately fall on her face.

The second ridiculous thing I read was that Uceny was being a crybaby for not getting up and finishing. After all, Manteo Mitchell finished his race on a broken leg, and all Uceny did was lay there punching the track and crying. Quitter should have finished the race, right? Here's a question for you guys. How many of you have been playing a video game, and after dying without saving for a while, threw your controller and turned off the console? Probably a lot of you, right? Now how many of you have been dreaming about that video game your entire life, devoted pretty much your entire life to beating it, and now that you died, you won't get another chance to play it for four years? Um...I'm going to assume none of you, unless you're a professional gamer, in which case, that's cool, those guys are pretty hardcore. Anyway, my point is that we've all gotten frustrated and, in the heat of the moment and in the throes of our despair, quit something much more trivial than the Olympics. Not one person here, including myself, has any idea what was going through Morgan Uceny's head, other than knowing that her shot at achieving her dream was gone and her heart was broken. For those of you who think she was a wuss not to have brushed herself off and soldiered on, well, I sincerely hope you didn't cry, were capable of completely rational thought, and functioned completely normally the last time you were broken up with (a relationship that I bet you put less into than Uceny put into her running, just sayin'). Sure, she could have gotten up and just finished, but "just finishing" wasn't the goal. Maybe she'll regret not finishing and maybe she won't, but that's not for us to judge, and I don't blame her at all for what she did.

Finally, I heard a lot about how Morgan Uceny and Shannon Rowbury should have known they weren't going to win in a kick, and should have taken control of the race from the start. Yep, because when people try to lead the whole race, they usually win. That's exactly it. Dude, if that technique worked, they would have done it.

Morgan Uceny! Source

Morgan Uceny, your time will come. I'm sure that crap is of little comfort to her now, but Uceny was ranked #1 1500m runner in the world by Track and Field News last year, and this year she won the US Olympic Trials 1500, and she remains one of the world's top middle distance runners. One of these days, things are going to fall into place for her on the big stage.

Alright, enough about Uceny. The other fail of the day was that the women's 1500 was won by Asli Çakır Alptekin, who served a two-year doping ban back in 2004. It's very possible she's clean now...she's passing the drug tests, so I'm going to assume she's clean rather than being one of the cynics who assume she's just better at doping than WADA is at testing. But we have no idea what kind of advantage she has from her past doping. Back in 2004, she was training harder than clean athletes were able to train due to the drugs, and I think all of you know how much a base and fitness cultivated in the past helps you today. It's possible she has no advantage now that she's clean, but it's also very possible that she's only better than the other women in this race because she was previously a cheater. And if the latter is the case, what's stopping athletes from just doping, serving their ban, then coming back stronger than ever? You know, other than a conscience and sportsmanship? Laaame. In my mind, the podium is tainted.


  1. I agree that Morgan has taken a lot of unfair criticism, but carefully watch the video of the fall (which you posted). Pause it too. I think you will see that her left foot took out her right leg. Nobody ran into her or bumped her. To her credit, she has blamed no one (although she hasn't said it was her fault either). Not that it really matters, but I wanted to point out that it appears she tripped herself.

  2. Right, her left foot hit her right calf. But watch what happens leading up to that moment. First, Kareiva (red and green, behind Uceny and Aregawi) stumbles into Aregawi. You can see her getting up from stumbling forward as soon as the video cuts to the side view. Aregawi flails around a little to save herself (you can see it mainly in her arms in the video), and her thigh hits the outside of Uceny's left foot, which then collides with her opposite calf. It all happens super fast (even in the slow motion video), but you can see it if you watch closely enough.

  3. Yeah, I noticed it after watching again just after posting my original comment. It's subtle -not really much of a bump from Aregawi. So it wasn't simply that Uceny tripped herself. However, it seems to me that she has some balance issues. That bump should not have caused her to completely lose control and fall, IMO. She should have been able to steady herself and continue. She's had these problems in the past as we know. I think she could benefit from balance training. She needs to work on this and not simply ignore it and chalk it up to bad luck (or someone else's fault which she hasn't done to her credit). Thanks.

  4. Yeah, it's super subtle. The fact that it's happened twice now says that yeah, maybe she could be better at catching herself. Though to be honest, with the weird way her foot hooked her calf, I don't think I would have been able to save myself either, at least not this time (especially not at race pace, even with a slow start). I don't think I saw the video from last time to see what exactly happened there...I know she was bumped, but that's it.

    Thanks for your observations!

  5. Of course there is carry-over benefit from any past doping. On the other hand, the only ones getting caught are the reckless ones - poor, desperate, and/or aging athletes. Did you see Victor Conte's tweet a couple of weeks ago? It is ridiculously easy to succeed via doping and get away with it, especially if one has (paraphrasing Fam's tweet) $250K and a team of full-time scientists and doctors.

    Uceny must be snake-bitten. Is it a case of repeatedly running into trouble that she was unable to anticipate? If she wants to succeed at that level, she may need to gain the experience to foresee and navigate well situations within the pack in middle distance races. Relative to his competition, Leo Manzano is smaller and yet he has learned how to deal with the contact in the 1500m. Of course, he seemingly tends to stay well behind the pack for most of the race.


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