Monday, June 22, 2009

US Nationals Preview - The Sprints

U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials - Day Three

When looking at the US medal count in the Olympic Games or World Championships one of the most critical areas is the sprints - along with the hurdles. We tend to be out matched in the middle and long distance events, but regularly garner medals in the shorter events. So performances in Eugene in these events will go a long way towards how many potential medals we will pick up in Berlin.

The sprints are volatile events. Injuries happen out of nowhere and in the blink of an eye - Xavier Carter blew a knee in '08, Tyson Gay a hamstring last year. One slip, a mistimed lean, or just an off day can mean the difference between making the team, or being in the 4th or 5th position. But trying to figure out how it's all going to play out is fun, so I'm going to give it a shot. So here is how I see our sprint team shaping up once the finish line has been crossed for the final time in Eugene.

Men's 100

Word is that Tyson Gay will be running here, but only in one round. He has a bye in this event, as well as the 200, as the defending World Champion, so only needs to compete in the selection meet - and running one round fulfills that requirement. All eyes will be on him to see just how fast he does run.

With that said, the race for the three teams spots should be fierce. Mike Rogers has run himself into the role of favorite. 10.01, 9.93w, and 9.94 WL in his last three races has earned him that distinction. Behind him is a horde of men within an eyelash of each other so far this year. Walter Dix (10.00), Travis Padgett (10.00), Trindon Holliday (10.00), Darvis Patton (10.02), Rae Edwards (10.02), D'Angelo Cherry (10.04) and Ryan Bailey (10.05) should all be in the mix. Dix and Patton were on last year's Olympic squad and Dix came hold with bronze. This year's squad should be:

1. Mike Rogers
2. Walter Dix
3. Darvis Patton

Watch - Ryan Bailey. Bailey has burst onto the scene late through the Junior College ranks. Tall and strong in the Usain Bolt mold, if he nails the start he will sneak onto this squad.

Men's 200

A veteran field here with a slew of men that have represented the US internationally before. Wallace Spearmon is currently #2 on the yearly list behind Tyson Gay and is the strongest finisher in the field. The question with Wallace is always the first half of the race where he tends to give up lots of real estate early. Walter Dix is the collegiate record holder, won the Trials last year, and got bronze in Beijing. Shawn Crawford won Olympic gold in '04, and silver last year in Beijing. And Darvis Patton cut his teeth on this event, winning silver in Paris in '03 before focusing on the 100 the past couple of seasons. Also in the field is Xavier Carter who started the 19.6 binge in 2006 and quarter miler supreme Jeremy Wariner who is looking to work on his speed.

This is perhaps the deepest event of the meet in terms of quality of entrants. Last year's Trials race was very close and I expect this one to be as well. The only man that can afford to be off the pace coming off the turn is Spearmon and even he can't give up too much to this field. No turn, no team! Having said that look for the following to head to Berlin:

1. Wallace Spearmon
2. Walter Dix
3. Xavier Carter

Watch - Mike Rogers. Rogers ran a very quiet 20.24 PR in late May. He is stronger this year than previous years and winning does wonders for one's ego. If he wins the 100, we could see a man on a roll coming into this event - which would make him dangerous with the right lane draw.

Men's 400

The most wide open sprint on the men's side this year. Defending Champion Jeremy Wariner is running the 200, leaving Olympic Champion Lashawn Merritt running almost solo here. Merritt was dominating last year, and has continued in that vein this year. Wariner is the only man capable of challenging him, so barring something completely bizarre, everyone else will be running for second and third here.

That run will be a crap shoot as no one else has really stepped up this year. Our third best quarter miler in recent years has been Angelo Taylor who will be focusing on the intermediate hurdles where he is twice Olympic Champion. Darold Williamson was once on par with Wariner (they were school mates and training partners) but has been down in recent years. Lionel Larry made the World Championships team in '07 then got injured before the meet and hasn't quite been the same since. Collegiate leader Gil Roberts was injured in the NCAA final. And former NCAA Champion Xavier Carter has spent more time the past couple seasons in the 100/200.

All of which makes this one very hard to call. Its quite possible we will see one or two new names emerge in a race like this. So going out on a limb I'm going to say:

1. Lashawn Merritt
2. Michael Bingham
3. Lionel Larry

Watch - Xavier Carter. NCAA Champion in 2006. He hasn't been seen in this event yet this year though he does have a qualifying mark from last year and is declared in this event. His speed is sharp and he did PR over 300 at Pre. If his endurance is there he will run his way onto the team in this uncertain field.

Women's 100

Two women have dominated this event this year. Jamaican Kerron Stewart and Carmelita Jeter. Jeter is undefeated and will be looking to leave Eugene undefeated! Her competition should come from those that finished ahead of her at last year's Trials - Torri Edwards, Muna Lee, Marshavet Hooker, and Lauryn Williams.

None have been able to beat Jeter this year, though Lee has run her close. Edwards typically runs very fast at Nationals and has the kind of blitzkrieg start that can devastate a field. Lee, Hooker, and Williams can all close well. But Jeter has developed a mid race surge that has put everyone away early. Which means that everyone else should be running for two spots. And the winners are:

1. Carmelita Jeter
2. Muna Lee
3. Marshavet Hooker

Watch - Alexandra Anderson. Anderson is the NCAA Champion and has shown an uncanny ability to run through a field late in the race. She did multiple duty in Fayetteville running the 4x1, 100, 200, and 4x4! She may be a bit tired in Eugene. If she is able to get her second wind, however, she could make things interesting and a slight improvement on her PR (11.02) could put her on the team.

Women's 200

Allyson Felix has dominated this event since 2003. She's had no peer in the US and only twice Olympic Champion Veronica Campbell Brown has been able to keep her off the top of the podium. Felix is the defending World Champion and does not have to run this event. And currently I'm unclear as to which event she will run in Eugene - because she qualifies for all three sprints. I'm going to assume she may run one of the other events - either for speed work or strength work - leaving this wide open.

Best of the rest could be NCAA Champion Porscha Lucas. Lucas PR'd her way to times of 22.52 and 22.38 on her way to the title. Lauryn Williams has always run this event well, though she is better known in the 100. She is the current world leader and if she is shut out in the 100 will be looking for redemption here. Several others in the mid 22 range - Shalonda Solomon, Carmelita Jeter, and Bianca Knight - could make this race interesting.

If Felix runs, Felix wins. If not look for:

1. Lauryn Williams
2. Porshca Lucas
3. Bianca Knight

Watch - Alexandria Anderson. Anderson was a very close 3rd at the NCAA Championships. More importantly she ran a sterling leg on the 4x4, her 50.93 being the fastest split of the final. She has the speed and she has the speed endurance. If fatigue doesn't get her we could see a break through performance here.

Women's 400

This event could be very interesting. Sanya Richards has dominated this event for a few years now, but has had some notable let downs in big meets. One of those let downs was at the 2007 version of this meet where she took 4th and missed making the team for Osaka. So no medal of any kind for Richards in '07 finds her needing to run here to make the team.

She could potentially have to face Allyson Felix - the one American woman that has shown the ability to beat Sanya convincingly at this distance. Felix typically is in the 200, but could pass that event here - or even double. IF she runs here it could provide the show down of the meet!

Once we stop talking about these two women there is a huge drop off this year. The top collegians - Joanna Atkins, Jessica Beard, and Francena McCorory - are young, new to this level, and inexperienced. And vets DeeDee Trotter and Natasha Hastings have yet to really step it up this year. Based on what I've seen this year, and a gut feeling, I'll say the team will be:

1. Sanya Richards
2. Joanna Atkins
3. Natasha Hastings

Watch - Allyson Felix. If she shows up here, and I think she could, we will get an awesome race that could approach National Record (48.70) level.

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