Track and Field's Surprising 'Off Year'

Red ShannonFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2010

OK, I've finally conceded.

Even God took a day off after a six-day creation extravaganza.

And doesn't the farmer occasionally let his field go fallow?

So I guess I can forgive a few elite Track and Field athletes for dialing down in this so-called "off season".

But I'm taking names - and will be expecting great things next season from a list of 2010 no-shows which reads like a page from "Who's Who in World-Class Athletics":

Kenenisa Bekele - All-World distance runner from Ethiopia; injured.

Yelena Isinbayeva - All-World pole vaulter from Russia; injured ego.

Sanya Richards-Ross - American 400-meter World Champion; injured.

Paula Radcliffe - All-World British marathoner; seven months pregnant.

Liu Xiang - All-World hurdler from China; lingering injury.

LaShawn Merritt - American 400-meter World Champion; two-year drug ban.

Add to this list names like Dayron Robles, Terrence Trammell, German Fernandez, Jenny Barringer, Kerron Stewart, Muna Lee, Nelson Evora, Pamela Jelimo, to name a few world-classers who either fought nagging injuries or succumbed to the self-preservation instinct in the absence of a global championships.

Even sprint icons Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay have approached the season casually, robbing fans of at least a couple huge showdowns.

Apparently there are at least two ways of viewing the quadrennial down-year: it's a time to heal and rest, saving oneself for the World Championships/Olympics, or a time to make hay, while the storm clouds of real crunch-time competition are in the distance.

Thankfully, some have used this season to dig deep and give us a surprising display of achievement which would put a proud blush on even an Olympic year.

There have been *six world records set so far, indoor and outdoor. We saw the emergence of future stars like Lisa Koll, Ashton Eaton, Andrew Wheating and Chante Lowe. The British multi-events dynamo, Jessica Ennis has hewn a niche for herself as the Darling of London, 2012.

Shot putter Christian Cantwell, high jumper Blanka Vlasic, hurdler David Oliver and 800m specialist David Rudisha are flirting with major world records.

No less than twenty runners ran sub-4:00 miles in two races - in one track meet! (Prefontaine Classic)

Ironically, the one athlete who gnashed the most fervently at the starting gate in 2010 (Caster Semenya), was not allowed to run until mid July. Now, curious fans are feverishly waiting for her next race.

And the season is just approaching the climax stage.

Still to come this year: several head-to-head clashes among world leaders in the remaining Diamond League series (including some sprint relays), the World Youth Olympics in Singapore (Aug.17), the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India (Oct.6) and the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China (Nov.12).

Pretty good for a sport struggling with its image, wallowing in the low point of its four-year cycle.

The depth and quality of the sport's talent has filled the void this year as many of the established elite have watched from the sidelines. Since the young colts are now out of the barn, so to speak, how much more can we expect in the near future as the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics become the focal point?

Rest well, you All-World no-shows. I've taken names and I'll be watching.


*2010 world records

Teddy Tamgho, France - Indoor Triple Jump
Ashton Eaton, USA - Men's Heptathlon
Zersenay Tadese, Eritrea - 20k & Half-Marathon
Anita Wlodarczyk, Poland - Women's Hammer
Mary Keitaney, Kenya - 25k
Russia - Women's 4x800 Relay (indoor)

photo: Joe Hermitt, The Patriot-News

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