Monday, June 1, 2009

New York Revisited - Balance is Back in the Sprints

After watching the meet again, actually a couple of times, as well as some video on You Tube, this was one hot meet that deserves some additional comments. But before I comment on the meet, I want to beg NBC, and any others that will be televising meets, to do everything in their power to televise the FULL meet! We missed some outstanding races - men's 110H and women's 200 - as well as some outstanding field event competition that could have been shown in between running events. This was a high class competition and every chance we have to showcase the best of this sport to viewers in the United States should be maximized.

Now, back to New York. I said after the Penn Relays that it is still early in the season, and that the goal is the World Championships in Berlin - and I say the same thing now. HOWEVER, those who said that the power in sprinting shifted to Jamaica because of the results of Beijing were clearly jumping the gun! From Penn, to Doha, to Carson, and now New York, American sprinters have shown over and over that Beijing was a hiccup, not a Sea Change, in the hierarchy of global sprinting. A meet where the US had some down performances primarily due to poor health of key personnel (and a women's 100 that should have been called back as admitted by the announcers on NBC Saturday) and some come through performances when it mattered by some Jamaican athletes.

Now that the dust has settled, and everything (and everyone) has gotten back to normal we see Usain Bolt, Kerron Stewart, and Veronica Campbell Brown still competing at a high level for Jamaica while others that shined in Beijing struggle. While for the US we have Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix, and Terrence Trammell back to good health, and others continuing to improve their consistency - like Carmelita Jeter, Travis Padgett, and Darvis Patton. I say this not to take away from what Jamaica accomplished in Beijing, because they kicked our butts. But to point out to USATF and the USOC that the panic that came from Beijing is unwarranted!

Don't get me wrong, we have some structural issues that need to be addressed. As I have said a few times we need to provide better assistance to our athletes and coaches, and we need to examine the proximity of our National Championships/Trials to give our teams more rest and recovery time before having to take the track again to compete in a Major Championship meet. But we still have the best team of athletes on the planet in the sprints and hurdles. We need to give them what they need to succeed and focus on trying to get our middle and long distance areas to a similar level of global performance.

Speaking of performances, that 200 by Tyson Gay was a thing of beauty. 19.58. The #3 time in history. Best ever outside the Games. Done in Tyson's first sprint race of the season. And, in his words, without much speed work. But most importantly it underscores what I've said since Beijing - that a healthy Tyson Gay would have affected the outcome of the sprints in Beijing. I.E. that while Usain Bolt was outstanding in Beijing Tyson Gay, as he showed at our Trials in the 100 and again this weekend in the 200, is Usain's peer, and his injury deprived us of a titanic battle in Beijing.

If you don't believe me, look no further than this weekend's result and a comparison between the two in the 200 meters. Yes, Usain has the World Record, an outstanding WR. But that is but one race. If we take a look at the all time top ten, former WR holder Michael Johnson has two of those races (2. 8), Usain Bolt has three (1, 5, 9), and Tyson Gay also has three (3, 4, 10)! Point being that while there is much focus on the WR, it is one race, and it is consistency that determines winners when racing takes place. Saturday's race also gave Tyson Gay the distinction of being the only athlete to run under 19.70 in three different seasons ('06, '07, 09). And given the speed he displayed on that turn Saturday (I clocked him several times with an average at 10.00) he should open up near his PR in the 100 (9.77) and stands a good chance of improving on that this season.

What does this all mean? It means that while many thought that Usain would run ragged over the competition, that at the very least we will have a TWO man battle for sprint supremacy this season! And THAT is good for the sport. The sprints are always marquee events. Few races generate excitement at a meet like the 100 meter dash. So having real competition and anticipation about the outcome is good for the sport.

The real key will be how well others might develop. Walter Dix looked to be on fire well over a month ago, but has been involved in a contract fight. We need him to get that resolved and get back on the track. With bests of 9.91/19.69, solid improvement could put him in the fight with Bolt and Gay. Wallace Spearmon finished well Saturday, and if not for Gay his 19.98 would have been the world leader, and is still an outstanding time for this time of year. His bests are 9.96/19.65 and a bit of improvement puts him in the mix as well - and up to last year he dominated Usain Bolt in the 200! Darvis Patton (9.89), and Travis Padgett (9.89) looked to be improved over their performances at this stage last year. And Michael Rogers looks to be much improved this year, already lowering his best from 10.06 at the start of the season to 10.01, with a windy 9.93 to win Saturday's race. So American prospects look very good.

But Jamaica and the Caribbean is about more than Usain Bolt. Countryman Asafa Powell is #2 all time in the 100 (9.72) and owns eight of the thirteen marks under 9.80. He's always a factor outside of majors and if he ever got it right in a major could easily put a field away. We saw huge improvement last year in Churandy Martina (AHO) dropping down to 9.93, Trini Richard Thompson to 9.89, and Jamaicans Michael Frater (9.97) and Nesta Carter (9.98) running sub 10. And already young Yohan Blake is down to 10.07.

With a bit of luck we could see one or two of these athletes make enough improvement in their races to spice things up a bit. After all, at the start of last season Bolt had bests of 10.03/19.75, and look where he ended up! New York has become the spot where sprinting turns the curve each season and really heats up. In 2007 Tyson Gay ran 9.76w then stayed hot on his way to triple gold at the World Championships in Osaka. In 2008 Usain Bolt ran a WR 9.72 and stayed hot on his way to triple gold at the Games in Beijing. Saturday Tyson scorched 19.58 and Michael Rogers emerged as a possible top level contender. We'll see how the season turns out, but it's nice to know we do have some balance in the sprints.

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