Thursday, June 24, 2010

The real junior nationals

I love the New Balance Outdoor Nationals. It is the best high school meet in the country, period. If an athlete has aspirations for a good end-of-year ranking from Track & Field News, or a better shot at Michigan athlete of the year (and the cover of my yearbook), they should compete there.

I also love the Junior Olympics, both USATF and AAU varieties. Their state qualifying meets drive me nuts, being statistical and organizational nightmares, but they do it right at the national level. However, in the grand scheme of things, the JOs are kid stuff.

Let's talk about the USA Junior Nationals, going on in Des Moines right now. Sponsored by USATF, it's the qualifying meet for the World Junior Championships, which will be held in Moncton, Canada, in late July. The top two Americans in each event will go to Worlds (if they meet the standards).

The term "Junior" internationally means teenager (roughly--they can't turn 20 before the end of the year). So the vast majority of high schoolers are eligible, and about half of college freshmen.

How good is the competition at the World Juniors? It is the best. Winning a medal at the WJs is a very good indicator of medal potential at the Olympics. From Haile Gebrselassie to Usain Bolt, many of the greats have run at the WJs. Check out these meet records: 10.09, 20.28, 44.66, 1:44.77, 3:35.53, 13:08.57, 27:30.86, 7-9.25, 18-8.75, and so on. Get the picture?

So who's in Des Moines going for it? Kendall Baisden, for one. She competed in the 100 today, finishing 7th in 11.76 (after an 11.75 heat). I haven't talked to her coaches yet, but I'm guessing she ran the 100 so she could be considered for the 4 x 100 relay pool--the U.S. will be a medal favorite at Worlds. She will also be running the 400 (she scratched the 200). There she not only has a chance to make the team but a chance to medal if she improves on her 53.05 PR. The meet record is 50.62, and in only three of 12 years has 53.05 been fast enough to medal.

Nick Kaiser is also there, running a PR 1:50.13 to make the final. That makes him the 5th fastest in Michigan history, and also betters the World Junior time standard of 1:51.00. (Even if a U.S. athlete wins at Des Moines, they must have a performance better than the IAAF standard to be entered at Worlds. This is real elite international competition, not the Caribbean Invitational.) (Hey, if you look at that link, you might also note that no sprint/LJ marks are accepted by the IAAF as qualifiers unless they have legal wind readings--which means no Michigan marks are acceptable unless I'm at the meet. Pretty pathetic--our officials need to get with the program on how our sport works.)

Other Michigan names I've spotted so far: Mumford's Debonie Lofton, 2:12.41 in the 800 heats. Ex-Portage Northern thrower Andrew Evans won the discus at 193-11 (in Junior competition, the men throw implements heavier than HS but lighter than college/Olympics). Also notable was Zack Hill (3rd at 63-6.75, 5th at 179-9). Jordan Clark, who apparently did not compete for Lathrup this year, ran 12.12 in the 100 heats. Samantha Lockhart, ex-Sexton, finished 12th in the shot at 45-8.5. Ariel Roberts (ex-Pioneer) placed 5th in the heptathlon at 4862.

I should also note that Saline's Brooke Pleger attempted to get into the Junior Nationals. Last week, in trying to reach the qualifying standard of 158-feet in the hammer, she reached 149-6 at Hillsdale. She may have been disappointed, but she should be very proud that she broke the all-time state record.

More on the U.S. Juniors meet in the next few days.

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