Saturday, June 20, 2009

Six Stories to Watch at US Nationals

IAAF Golden League

What happens at Nationals doesn't stay at Nationals - it has a profound effect on what happens at Worlds. Look no further than last year's Olympic Games where the first round of last year's Olympic Trials 200 determined the fate of the men's sprints in Beijing.

This year's National Championships has the usual high number of stories but there are a half dozen that I think could have profound impact on the global scene. So here are the 6 stories that I will be following very closely:

1. Tyson Gay - The world's #1 sprinter in 2007 and this years defending World Champion in both sprints from Osaka will be making his 100 meter debut at the National Championships. Gay's injury at last year's Olympic Trials became a major issue for American sprinting at the Olympic Games. Gay spent this spring working on rehab and strength. He debuted over 400 with a PR 46.38, then lowered that to 45.57. He then debuted over 200 in New York with a PR 19.58 - the #3 time ever. Anyone else seeing a pattern here? We've seen the improvement in his endurance. We've seen the improvement in his speed endurance. Now we will get to see just where his speed is at. Tyson will be leading our sprint forces into Berlin. Nationals will show us where he is at in his training, and just who his supporting cast will be. If you want to drown out a lightning bolt it helps if you can bring a Typhoon to the stadium!

2. Jenny Barringer - Barringer has had an extraordinary season so far. Extraordinary times during the indoor season from the mile to the 5000. Outdoors she's improved her own collegiate record in the steeplechase and smashed the collegiate record in the 1500 with a stunning 3:59.90! Barringer has run herself into the position of America's #1 female distance runner this year. She's fit, tenacious, and very competitive as she displayed at Prefontaine as she ran the world leader to the wire in setting her 1500 PR (only the 3rd American under 4 minutes)! I know she loves the steeple, but I am so hoping that she runs the 1500. Its more of a signature event, and she would bring more attention to herself and American middle distance running with a medal in the event in Berlin - something I think she can accomplish. We need another Mary Decker Slaney or Suzy Favor Hamilton - that distance darling that can capture the attention of the American media. Jenny has the personality, and the heart. Now she just needs a little hardware.

3. Men's 200 Meters - An event where we have superb depth but a lot of questions. Tyson Gay answered one question when he opened up at 19.58. The real question is, will any of our other sprinters live up to their potential. Xavier Carter (19.63), Wallace Spearmon (19.65) and Walter Dix (19.69) are all in the top 10 all time in the event, and have shown the potential to compete with the likes of Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt. At their best, they along with Gay and Bolt, could create the greatest final in any event in the history of track and field! Spearmon ran 19.98 behind Gay in New York, so could be approaching form. Carter ran a personal best for 300 at the Prefontaine Classic, and could be ready. Dix opened his season with what was a world leading 10.00 into a negative wind early this spring. Their performances at Nationals will determine whether this event is ready to take lead billing away from the 100 meters this year, as it appeared it was poised to do back in 2006 when the 19.6 explosion began.

4. Galen Rupp - America has longed for a distance icon for a long time now. Not since Rob Kennedy in the 90's have we truly had an American (born and raised) distance runner that has been able to provide a serious challenge on the world stage. Rupp could be that long awaited runner. Not as locked into "pace" racing as most Americans tend to be, Rupp seemingly has the ability to change pace, as well as kick - attributes necessary to run with the various African runners that dominate the distance events these days. Rupp should make the team at whatever distance he chooses to run. More importantly, however, I will be looking to see how he runs - simply to win, or to prepare himself for the challenges ahead. America needs a distance runner that is competitive on the world stage - just as it needs a 100 man to do the same. Typically that runner is in the middle distances - the mile/1500 meters. Occasionally a Steve Prefontaine comes along in the longer distances and captures the imagination of the country. Rupp could be that guy.

5. Jen Stuczynski - Stacy Dragila was one of the pioneers of the pole vault. She raised the bar here in the US and was the winner of the World Championships back in 2001. Since then, however, Russia has taken over the event. First with Svetlana Feofanova, setting records and winning gold medals, then with the reigning queen of the event, Yelena Isinbayeva taking over and winning everything in site and taking the bar up to 5.05m! Stuczynski now appears to be nearing that level. More importantly is the consistency that she has achieved in the event. Nationals could be her opportunity to take the American Record near Isinbayeva's territory and in the process send word that she will be ready to challenge her in Berlin and bring the vault crown back to the US.

6. Dwight Phillips - Phillips won gold in the long jump in '03, '04 and '05 and it looked like he was going to be The Man for years to come. But flame can be fleeting in track and field. One day you are the talk of the town, the next an up and comer has arrived and stolen your thunder. And while Phillips was consistent in the high 27 foot range, Irving Saladino came along and got consistent right above 28 feet! And so '07 and '08 belonged to the young Panamanian as he won gold twice. During that time Phillips seemed to faulter, but this year a rejuvenated Phillips has taken to the track and the field. He's improved his speed to 10.06 in the 100 meters and his last 3 meets have seen him near 28 feet, just over 28 feet and at 28'8.75" approaching an area only four others in history have seen, 29 feet! Twenty nine feet is an area that creates legends - Bob Beamon, Carl Lewis, Robert Emmiyan, Mike Powell! Phillips could be flirting with legendary status in Eugene!

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