Track and Field 2011: A Look Ahead To World Championships, 2012 London Olympics

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2011

American Kara Patterson is rattling Europe's cage in the javelin
American Kara Patterson is rattling Europe's cage in the javelin

Like a bear awakening from its long winter nap, the 2011 Track and Field community here at Bleacher Report is stretching and yawning itself back to life.

This new year marks the half-way point in the road leading to the 2012 London Olympics.

But lest we stumble on the path - from gazing so far ahead - there is the small matter of the 13th Outdoor World Championships this year in Daegu, South Korea beginning on August 27.

Following a short indoor season (at least in the northern hemisphere), top collegian and professional athletes will soon go outdoors, training and competing with hopes of peaking in Daegu.

Make no mistake, the "Worlds" will be the focal point of every elite athlete this year.

2010 was the quadrennial "down year" in the Olympic cycle - no World Championships and no Olympics. A few top athletes chose to sit it out, to rest or recover from injury. Still, it was a notable year for Track and Field, with several world records established and the inauguration of the Diamond League series, which was designed to bring elite head-to-head match-ups to various global venues, with promises of lucrative rewards (diamonds) for the best of the best.

A Brief Look Back

Kenyan David Rudisha lowered the world record in the men's 800-meters...twice (1:41.09, 1:41.01). At only 22, Rudisha certainly has more in the tank. Imagine a 1:40  800m. That would equate to two 50-second laps!

American David Oliver dominated the 110-meter hurdles in the absence of Cuba's injured Dayron Robles and China's Liu Xiang. He flirted with Robles' world record (12.87) with an American record 12.89.

An out-of-shape Usain Bolt of Jamaica, believed by some to be invincible, was beaten by American Tyson Gay in a 100-meter showdown in Stockholm. Gay himself was recovering from a late 2009 double-groin surgery and a nagging hamstring.

Frenchman Teddy Tamgho set a new indoor world record in the triple jump (58' - 8.75"), American Jeremy Wariner stood in the gap (44.13) created by the drug banishment of Lashawn Merritt, and 16-year-old Braian Toledo of Argentina hurled the javelin (700g) 293 feet.

American 200-meter specialist Allyson Felix proved her versatility, ruling the 400-meter distance as well. It must be noted that her chief 400m rival and compatriot, Sanya Richards sat out most of the season. Still, it was the year of the cat (Felix) as Allyson even won the 100-meter in the US National Championships.

Blanka Vlasic, the Croatian bean pole, teased the world record in the women's high jump once again last year. Winning 18 of 20 meets, she left little doubt as to the future security of that record.

Brazil's Fabiana Murer exploited the void left by the perennial queen of the vault, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva. Murer consistently threatened the magical 16-foot barrier. American Jenn Suhr had one vault over 16' last year but struggled with consistent form.

British multi-event star Jessica Ennis continued to carve out her pending Olympic throne...and her image as the darling of London 2012.

Reigning world champion in the 800-meters, South African Caster Semenya made her long-awaited return from her famous gender inquisition. It was a calculated, cautious and nondescript return.

Looking Ahead

With the indoor season just underway, the early marks coming in are a positive indicator of a good season ahead. This is typical following an off-year. Athletes are eager and hungry, much like that bear crawling out of her winter cave.

At the collegiate level, the usual suspects will contend for supremacy in Division I. Florida, Texas A&M, Oregon, LSU and Arkansas are favorites once again in both men's and women's competition.

At the elite pro level, Africa will continue to dominate the distance races, however, with the likes of Chris Solinsky, Andrew Wheating and Leonel Manzano on an ascending path, the USA may interrupt some top-five world rankings.

Young sprinters arising out of France, Jamaica and USA should make Bolt, Gay and Asafa Powell at least take a quick glance back.

With Robles and Xiang coming back in the hurdles - and fellow American Terrence Trammell in the mix - Oliver may be pushed to a new world record.

The young American record-holder in the women's javelin, Kara Patterson will continue to improve, disrupting the natural order of things in Eastern Europe.

And what shall we do if Semenya, with a normal season of training behind her, goes to the front of the pack again in the 800m?

Richards, Isinbayeva and all-world Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele (5,000m -10,000m) will be back to reclaim their thrones.

Hopefully, injuries will not deprive us of the great match-ups which did not materialize in 2010.

It will be an interesting and entertaining season, with lots of drama and underlying sub-plots. Be sure to click on the T&F header above and subscribe to the Track and Field community for all the news as it unfolds.

And remember: don't feed the hungry bears. Drug testing is very stringent these days.