David Rudisha on the eve of his U.S. debut in New York (Victah Sailer) © Copyright
Feature New York

New York press conference highlights – Samsung Diamond League

New York, USAThe mostused phrase among the athletes preparing for tomorrow’s adidas Grand Prix Samsung Diamond League fixture here is "execute." It’s usually used to avoid questions about just how fast, exactly, they might be ready to run, but the athletes are also thinking about being ready for the Olympic Games, and so "executing" - which Jeremy Wariner redefined helpfully as "hitting his marks" - is part of treating each race as a dress rehearsal for a big performance.

Past laurels mean little for Jeter, Baptiste, and Felix

Allyson Felix, who will concentrate on the 200m distance where she has two Olympic silver medals already, thinks the competition in her loaded 100m race on Saturday is just what she needs. "I thrive on competition," she told reporters on Thursday, because "it teaches you to race under pressure." In the race, however, Felix says, "The most
important thing is to focus on yourself. When you try to see what others are doing, that’s when you go down."

Execution is particularly important for Felix, who sees technical issues as her biggest areas for improvement. "I’ve had a bad start for a long time," she says, attributing it to her "all leg" build. "I’ve learned to be a patient runner, to stick with my race plan and be in the race at the end. It’s finally working out, and things are coming together."

Kelly-Ann Baptiste, part of that loaded field Felix will face on Saturday, defines competition around execution. "Every time you compete," Baptiste explains, "it’s a test to see if you can execute. Can you replicate what you’re doing in practice? Whoever does that best will win in London.

"This race is a great benchmark. If you’re not trying to win, you’re starting on the wrong foot. Obviously I want to win Olympic Gold in London."

So far this season, both Felix and Baptiste rank behind World champion Carmelita Jeter, whose 10.81 is the fastest time in the world this year. Jeter, too, says she needs to "execute" on Saturday. "Coach is on me about that," she says. For her, time is not an issue. "Coach Smith has a time in mind. He’ll tell me what it was afterward, and he’s usually pretty close. But I don’t know, and I’m not going to put a time out there. I’m still a student at what I’m doing, and I haven’t had a perfect race since 2009."

Jeter says her World Championship in 2011 made her "feel better about myself," but she also emphasizes that "you can’t live off last year right now. I can’t live off last year’s medal. I need a medal this year."

Blake - It’s about being loose

World Champion Yohan Blake says everything is going well in his training for the 100m, though he’s only run 200m races so far this season. "I don’t need a lot of races to run fast," he explained. "I’m a take-off-the-shelf sprinter."

"Anything is possible on Saturday. I don’t think about the World Record; it happens if the conditions are right. The number-one thing is to execute my race, to execute and have fun. I’m going to run my race and show you a good time."

Pressed on what it means to have fun in a race, Blake expanded: "Having fun means staying loose, with no pressure. In nine seconds I can’t think about much. I just have to keep focused, which I am."

Blake dismissed suggestions that his training partner Usain Bolt’s early-season marks would intimidate him. "I train with him, and I know what he can do. 9.6 wouldn’t be pressure, that’s just him. When we line up, something different might happen.

"Everyone wants to be number one. The World Championships was last year. I want to be Olympic champion, have an Olympic medal."

Unlike Bolt, who always wanted to be a 100m sprinter and ran the 200m until Coach Glen Mills would let him try the 100m, Blake professes to be better at the half-lap race. "I prefer the 200m. I have better speed endurance and have more time to recover from mistakes. If someone gets away I can run them down." Blake said he’s committed to doubling in both events at the Jamaican Trials even though Coach Mills has not given him the go-ahead to do so, and added that he would love to run on the 4x400m relay, "but Coach told us if we wanted to run the relay, we had to run the 400m at the Trials."

Three guys, thirty hurdles

Jason Richardson, David Oliver, and Aries Merritt figure to be three of the best five 110m Hurdlers in the world, the other two being World Record holder Dayron Robles and former World Record holder Liu Xiang. Speed, however, is not their thing. "Liu probably has the worst flat 100m time of the three of us," Merritt told reporters on Friday, "and he’s running 12.8. This is a technique event."

That may have something to do with why, unlike other top athletes, these three are racing each other regularly. "Every week is an Olympic preview," said Richardson, the 2011 World champion in the event. Oliver expanded, explaining, "We’re more or less competing against the ten hurdles we have in front of us. We’re individuals trying to do in competition what we’ve done in practice. Those ten barriers are our competition."

This collegial atmosphere also means the hurdlers are the loosest, funniest, happiest athletes to face the press before race day. Richardson, discussing his flat speed, kept a straight face while insisting that his work with John Smith, training with Jeter and Walter Dix, has made him the fastest sprinter in the world. "I’m giving Bolt a chance to get some shine," he insisted. "I just love hurdling so much."

Rudisha will be ready

World champion and World record holder David Rudisha was one of the only athletes who did not talk about "executing" his race. "I started the season with a 1:44 in Australia, ran 1:43 in Doha, and I want to do better here," he said.

"As the World champion, Kenya is expecting a good performance from me at the Olympics. The only thing to do is to train and be ready. The Olympic final might be a tactical race, it might be fast or slow. I need to be ready for whatever."

Rudisha admitted a certain amount of delight to be in New York for the first time. "As an athlete we travel around a lot, and it’s great to be in New York City."

As with other athletes who appear to have mastered their specialty events, Rudisha fielded questions about which other events he might try. "I like running 400m," he responded, "but only at the beginning of the season, to build speed. During the season I concentrate on the 800m, because that is my specialty. I don’t want to lose my rhythm in the 800m, which is important. But maybe this year if a Kenyan team made the Olympics, I would run the 4x400m Relay."

Rudisha acknowledged his principal competition for Saturday, Abubaker Kaki. "Kaki and I have come a long way. We started together at the World Junior Championships in 2006. He has been a great rival; I like him because he’s a talented athlete but he also works hard, as his performances show. When he came to Kenya to train, we had dinner at the Kerio View."

For Wariner, execution means less thinking

Jeremy Wariner’s resume of championships is lengthy, starting with the Olympic title in 2004, but his goals for Saturday are more related to running the kind of race he thinks he’s still capable of.

"My outlook has changed since 2004. Then, I was still a collegian, and the Olympics was just another big race. In 2008, I was the defending champion, ranked number one in the world, and it was a lot more stressful. This year, the stress is off. I can focus on my training.

"There are times when people have counted me out, saying Lashawn Merritt and Kirani James will take over. I use that as fuel. I opened in 44 this year, which I haven’t done since 2007, so I know this year will be great.

"We’re doing a lot of strength work now, cutting down the rest and running faster times. Coach Hart has been comparing my times to workouts I ran in 2007. Everything’s setting up well. I just need to execute my race.

"In Eugene I was 22.2 at 200m, and I should have been 21.5. I had a mental lapse on the turn, and by the time I reached the final stretch [Merritt and James] were too far ahead of me.

"I have to execute. Coach Hart always says that. The way we practice has to be the way we race. In my case, I really need to stop thinking and just go out there and run. My race time is important, but hitting every mark is more important, the marks that Coach Hart wants me to hit. I’ll find out what those are on race day. I’ll call him on the way to the track, before the race.

"It takes me a little longer to get in shape now than it used to. We start earlier now. I was going to run more races, and double more, but the chances haven’t been there.’

One of Wariner’s training group, World 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross, will be stepping down to 200m in her last race before the U.S. Olympic Trials. "Coach Hart is the best 400 coach in the world. He will prepare me physically; it’s my job to be ready mentally. I don’t want to risk the 400m [by doubling]. But if I can run a PB in the 200m, I can run fast in the 400m."

Parker Morse for the IAAF