Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Gay v Bolt - Williams v Quarrie Revived

2008 Reebok Grand Prix - Mens 100m

In the mid 70's the hottest matchup in the sprints was that of American Steve Williams vs Jamaican Don Quarrie. Two of my favorite sprinters of all time, they dominated the clock, the rankings, and the competition. They were the dominant sprinters on the planet between 1973 and 1976 in both the 100 and 200. They raced each other often, and had some legendary duals - none more so than their dual setting of the 200 meter record (19.8) at Eugene in 1975 - a true classic.
Williams was tall and lean with a graceful stride at top speed that ate up ground in huge chunks. Quarrie was shorter, with classic knee lift, and tremendous turnover - their contrasting styles delivering an asymmetrical beauty to their matchups.
Some 30 years later this classic matchup has been revived in the form of American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Usain Bolt. The matchup is not totally new, as they have faced each other often over 200 meters the past several years. But last year Bolt added the 100 meters to his repertoire, became double Olympic champion, and set world records in both events - becoming a multiple threat along with Gay who was double World champion in Osaka but was injured prior to Beijing.
They have yet to meet this year but each has had races that show that a showdown is looming. None more so than Tyson's 19.58 200 in New York on May 30, and Bolt's 19.59 200 just yesterday in Lausanne - the first time two races of such magnitude have been run in the same season. I've watched both races multiple times now and am struck by the ghosts of Williams and Quarrie. Although here in the New Millennium the styles are reversed with the Jamaican being the long striding sprinter this time around and the American the knee lifting, turnover machine. But they bear more than just a technical resemblance to their '70's counterparts because, like Quarrie and Williams before them, Gay and Bolt truly seem to love the competition.
Whereas the top sprinters of the middle of this decade seemed more intent on how much they could earn by meeting each other, these two warriors are a throwback to a more fun time in the sport. A time when athletes got along off the track, but fought like warriors on it! Quarrie and Williams could often be seen laughing and smiling at the end of a meet though they had pushed each other to the limit earlier. And it has been refreshing to see Tyson and Usain sincerely congratulating each other after races and giving props to each other in post race interviews. And you can see in their runs this year that they are both aiming for the other and that both are ready for the challenge!
The sprints have longed for the return of Williams and Quarrie, as the two key elements that fuel the sport are nationalistic pride and mano a mano competition. And it has been a long time since we've had that in the sport - especially from two men this great in two different disciplines. It couldn't have come at a better time as sprint fans have been waiting for this type of matchup for years.
New York and Lausanne were glimpses at the future - a future that will come alive in Berlin. That is the beauty of having warriors that love competition, because you know that when they take to the track the possibility of something magical happening is as close as the sound of the starting gun. I've waited 30 years to see Williams v Quarrie revived and I have no doubt that the sprints in Berlin will be just as exciting as that 1975 race in Eugene! This is going to be a great World Championships.

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