Indoor Track and Field's Big Weekend

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Indoor Track and Field's Big Weekend

Two major athletic championships...in the same sport...on the same weekend?

What would seem at first glance like a scheduling nightmare is actually a double-barreled "shotgun start" to Track and Field's much-anticipated outdoor season.

It also happens to be the conclusion of the collegiate and professional indoor seasons.

The 2010 NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships begin this Friday in Fayettville, Arkansas at Randal Tyson Track Center.

The same day, half a world away in Doha, Qatar, professional athletes will convene in the Aspire Dome to contest the IAAF World Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Due to the geographic span between the two events, overlaps in coverage should be minimal, providing Track and Field nuts with almost non-stop results all weekend.

In what could have been a real train wreck, the scheduling gnomes may have actually performed a stroke of scheduling genius.

Let's take a closer look:

                              NCAA Division I Indoor Championships

Men:

In the latest Division I rankings, the top contenders would appear to be Florida, Oregon and Texas A&M. Oregon is the defending champion.

The Florida Gators have qualified for 11 spots, including national leaders Jeff Demps (60m), Calvin Smith (200m) and Christian Taylor (triple jump). Taylor is also entered in the long jump and Florida's 4x400 relay team is a gimme to tally some points.

If everything comes together for the Oregon Ducks, they have a great chance to defend their 2009 title even without the graduated Galen Rupp, who accounted for 30 points last season. Oregon will compete in nine events, including top seeds Andrew Wheating (800m) and Ashton Eaton (heptathlon). The Ducks are deep in the mid-distance and distance events with Elija Greer, Mac Fleet, A.J. Acosta, and Luke Puskedra. Relay teams in both 4x400 and distance medley should provide precious extra points.

2009 outdoor champion Texas A&M brings ten men to Fayetville. Names like Tabarie Henry (400m), Demetrius Pinder (400m), and Curtis Mitchell (200m) guarantee huge points. Add a deep jumps squad with the legendary 4x400m relay team and A&M will definitely be in the trophy mix.

Women:

On paper, the contenders will be Oregon, Texas A&M, LSU, and Florida. Defending champion Tennessee is a dark horse.

The Oregon women have filled 16 slots. Three athletes will double: Amber Purvis in the 60m and 200m, Nicole Blood in the 3k and 5k, and freshman sensation Jordan Hasay in the mile and 3k. No. 2 seed Brianne Theisen (2009 outdoor champion in the heptathlon) should provide good points. Seven more lady Ducks are all capable of adding to Oregon's total. And did I mention the top time in the nation by the distance medly relay team?

Like the men's squad, Texas A&M's women's team is loaded with familiar names: Jessica Beard (400m), Porscha Lucas (200m), Gabby Mayo (60m, 60mh), Vashti Thomas (60mh, LJ, TJ), and another powerful 4x400 team. Also like their male counterparts, the A&M women are the current outdoor champions.

LSU - Eleven entries in seven events, led by LaTavia Thomas (800m), 2008 champion, who is making her third appearance. Thomas is reinforced by Samantha Henry (60m, 200m), Rachel Laurent (PV), and Takeia Pinckney (60m).

To have any hope, the Florida Gators will have to make the most of their seven spots. National leaders Charlotte Browning (mile) and Mariam Kevkhishvili (shot) along with dual SEC champion Shara Proctor (LJ,TJ) must all over-achieve.

ESPN360.com will have live streaming video at 9pm ET Friday and 7:10pm ET Saturday. A 90-minute show will air on ESPN2 at 1:30pm ET on Wednesday, March 17.

  Randal Tyson Sports Center, Fayettville, Arkansas

 

                             IAAF World Indoor Championships

Some of the world's elite stars did not compete indoors this season and will not be present at the Worlds. That does not mean the competition will be any less intense. It does set up the possibility of an upset or two early in the outdoor season as the indoor athletes will have a slight competitive edge.

Even without Usain Bolt, Sanya Richards, or Dwight Phillips et al, the championships will feature many elite athletes and track fans will not be disappointed.

Her are just a few of the interesting matchups to watch for:

Men:

400 meters - American indoor champion Bershawn "Batman" Jackson and Ireland's David Gillick, based on their season's best times, should provide a quality race. Gillick is accustomed to running the tight turns of the indoor track and is fresh off an Ireland record-equalling time of 45.52. Although Aussie Sean Wroe brings a 45.40 outdoor clocking into the meet, the indoor 400 is a whole different animal.

800 meters - Americans will be pulling for the feisty Nick Symmonds whose best time this year is 1:47.59. However, four other entries have posted times at least a second faster. Symmonds is a racer though, and time becomes secondary in a competitive race. Sudan's Abubaker Kaki and Ismail Ismail along with Millrose winner Boaz Lalang of Kenya should provide that competitive atmosphere.

1500 meters - This race is interesting in that the favorite, Deresse Mekonnen of Ethiopia has produced a time only two seconds off the world record. If Kenya's Gideon Gathimba and Haron Keitany can push Mekonnen, Doha may be in for a rare treat.

60 meter hurdles - This event is loaded with talent. Olympic type talent. In fact, the finals may boil down to a redemption of sorts for the disappointment we all felt in Beijing, 2008. China's Liu Xiang, Cuba's Dayron Robles, and Americans Terrence Trammell and David Oliver just might give us a race which would go a long ways toward soothing our broken hearts.

Pole Vault - With Australian Steve Hooker coming under cover for the first time this year, things might get interesting in the vault. But then, probably not; he's just too dominant.

Shot Put - One gets the feeling American Christian Cantwell is just about to unleash "The Monster". Short of that, a personal duel with Poland's Tomasz Majewski is always good for drama.

Women:

60 meters - It would appear two forces are on a collision course: Virgin Island's Laverne Jones-Ferrette and American Carmelita Jeter. Jones-Ferrette has a blistering 6.97 (WR is 6.92) under her belt this year and Jeter (7.02) is still on a roll from her record outdoor season in 2009. A classic, mouth-watering sprint duel.

400 meters - A nice "Cold War" field with Russians Tatyana Firova(51.22) and Natalya Nazarova (51.39) facing down Americans Debbie Dunn (50.86) and Deedee Trotter (51.23). The experience of the Russians may pay dividends on the tight turns.

High Jump - Every time Croatia's Blanka Vlasic approaches the apron, a world record winces in anticipation of it's own demise. Even without her closest rival, Germany's Ariane Friedrich (out with injury), Vlasic seems focused on the record, both indoor and outdoor. In these championships, it will be Blanka Vlasic vs World Record.

Pole Vault - Yelena Isinbayeva (bless her heart for coming) is so dominant, it seems one day her chief rival may be boredom. For now though, she has the surging rival from Brazil, Fabiana Murer to push her to new heights. We can probably count on another world record in Doha.

Shot Put - Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus has been dominating the women's shot much like Christian Cantwell has dominated the men's. Valerie Vili, of New Zealand will bring her outdoor expertise to Aspire Dome in an attempt to show the world she belongs at the top.

Pentathlon - In the Combined events, fortune depends on a lot of things coming together in each event. Therefore, a lot of women may realistically be in the running for gold: Russia's Tatyana Chernova, Ukraine's Natalia Dobrynska, or even USA's Hyleas Fountain. But the sentimental favorite will be Great Britain's tiny fireball, Jessica Ennis. For though she's the prohibitive favorite as well, she carries that underdog aura which causes us to instinctively pull for her. Just watching her events alone is worth the price of admission.

Coverage will begin at 7:30am ET on Friday, March 12 on universalsports.com

Aspire Dome, Doha, Qatar

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