Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Sprinting - Track and Field's "Fringe" Area - Part Two
As we closed out the seasons of 2006 and 2007, sprinters Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay had taken the standards of greats Carl Lewis, Donovan Bailey, Maurice Greene, Frankie Fredericks, and Michael Johnson and cranked it up a notch making 9.8 more common place, 19.7 a winning time in a Major once more, and sub 20 something to look for when the best stepped on the track.
But the ceiling still appeared to be solidly in place on the ultimate performances of the sport, as 9.7 was still an anomaly and 19.6 had been 10 years in the waiting. But, as I said in Part One, the best stuff started happening when the aliens landed! And that landing occurred in the Olympic season of 2008!
The Olympics have always brought out the best in this sport's star athletes. After all, for the better part of a hundred years it was THE showcase for the sport - the moment that everyone lived for. It's the Olympics that gave us 29' 2.5" in the long jump, 46.78 in the intermediate hurdles and 19.32 in the 200 meters. So seeing "alien" performances on the greatest athletic stage in history was something that we've become accustomed to - the ultimate result of the best competing against the best. What we hadn't seen before is that level of performance as your common every day occurrence.
But it seems that "aliens" - or their earthly counterparts - had something different in mind, because we didn't have to wait until the Games to see otherworldly performances in 2008. As a matter of fact, we didn't have to wait for the US Trials, where previously we've seen a few out of this world performances. In '08 the fireworks began early, and from a completely unexpected source!
Usain Bolt had given the 100 a try in 2007, and a 10.03 showed that he indeed had potential over the distance. Another 10.03 in early March of '08 confirmed that the previous year's mark was indeed no fluke. But nothing could have prepared the world for the 9.76 BOMB he laid down in Kingston at the beginning of May! The second fastest time in history, achieved by a novice at the distance; with only two men in history previously under 9.80 without drugs; faster than the greatest ever (Maurice Greene); and only .02 off the WR! Surely Bolt must have been abducted by aliens in the off season and had his DNA altered!
If the alteration was in doubt, it was confirmed in New York on May 31st when Bolt once again went sub 9.8 breaking the WR with a stunning 9.72! The DNA had taken, Bolt was now confirmed to be of alien decent! Tyson Gay began to show some signs himself as he ran 9.85 for second after stating prior to the meet that he had yet to start his speed work!
So after completing his speed work, Gay went to the US Trials where HE became a member of the sub 9.80 club with a round of sprints that were staggering - 9.77 AR, 9.85w, 9.68w - apparently the Mothership made a stop in the US after leaving Jamaica! Alas, Tyson was injured during the meet, so we didn't get to find out just how well the DNA took in '08.
But Usain Bolt showed that his DNA was doing just fine after the abduction - thank you very much - as he was just at the beginning of his run through '08. In the months preceding the Games Bolt sauntered to a few 9.8's while he began to tune up in the 200 running 19.83, 19.76, and 19.67 heading into Beijing.
Then he landed in Beijing (apparently via the Mothership) and 9.69 and 19.30 seconds later, the sprinting landscape had been altered forever! Two world records and two Beamonesque performances! Never in the modern era had we seen one sprinter have such an impact on the record books. The 9.70 barrier had fallen with a thud, as Bolt actually seemed to toy with the field along the way! Never before had we seen a WR fall with such apparent ease.
And though he was clearly working for all he was worth in the 200, to have 19.32 taken down would by itself have placed Bolt among the hallowed names of the sport! All this from a man that had never broken 10.00 before the start of the year in the 100 meters and who struggled mightily behind Tyson Gay over 200 just one season before! Alien DNA indeed!
Tyson meanwhile, had one of the best seats in the house as he watched from the stands as Bolt went on his medal winning, record setting rampage. Only six weeks earlier he had run what was possibly the best sprint series ever in any type of championship, yet was reduced to watching Bolt take double gold in double record performances.
Suddenly the standards as they existed just two years prior in 2006 were a memory, as the sprint world wondered in collective awe at how what they had just witnessed was possible!
But apparently Tyson Gay has studied Fringe Science, because he he came back in 2009 and showed that perhaps the Mothership had indeed abducted him a year earlier. Delaying the start of his season slightly because of an injury, he started out awesomely. First a pair of 400 meter races saw him drop from a previous best of 47.08 down to 45.57 - world class in its own right. But then he began to sprint, dropping a 19.58 opener in the 200 that a) made him #3 all time with the #3 performance ever as only Bolt and Johnson (once each) had ever run faster, and b) was the fastest opening 200 by anyone ever in history! Another new standard had been set.
Then he turned his attention to the 100 meters where he churned out a 9.76w opener in New York! Gay's race was barely windy at +2.2, showing that his 9.77 from the previous year's Trials was not a fluke but a signal that he, like Bolt, had entered another level in sprinting. And if there was any doubt that Gay could run 9.7 again, Tyson put that to rest with a sizzling 9.75w in the opening round of the National championships. A tantalizing tease as Gay merely ran the round to lay claim to his bye into the World Championships in Berlin - as the reigning World Champion in both sprints.
Of course his alien counterpart had been busy as well, with a WR over the rarely run 150 meter sprint in May letting everyone know that he was still in form and was serious about retaining his status as the top sprinter on the planet. But Bolt was being more judicious in his appearances in '09 and didn't get his 100 meter season under way until he won the Jamaican national championship with an easy 9.86 - which gave him the world lead.
Gay countered with a 9.77 in Rome, and the competition for World's Fastest Human was on! Bolt opened his 200 season with a 19.59 (in the rain) then added a 9.79 and our two resident aliens were jabbing each other with times that only one other human in each event had ever been able to achieve! Imagine - we had never seen an actual 19.5 run before yet these aliens each had one for the season - and they were making 9.7 look more common place than even former WR holder Asafa Powell had ever done.
The anticipation for Berlin was high - even after the revelation that American alien Gay had a bad groin that would need surgery after the end of the season. As with everything else these two did in 2009, the 100 meter final in Berlin did not disappoint, as they continued to reset the standards. Tyson Gay getting a better than average start that kept him with Asafa Powell early as he accelerated away to a blazing 9.71 - on his way to the SILVER medal! That's right, silver, because Usain Bolt had the best start in the field and motored away to what I can only call an unbelievaBolt 9.58 - a time not even calibrated into video games!
Consider than in 38 years, from 1968 (the beginning of the Automatic Timing Era) thru 2006, we saw the 100 meter record drop .18 seconds. But in two seasons Usain Bolt, with only 10.03 to his credit entering 2007, dropped his own PR .45 seconds on his way to lowering the WR a staggering .19 - greater than nearly 4 decades of 100 meter sprinting had been able to achieve - unbelievaBolt!
The strain of Gay's silver was too much for his groin and he had to pull out of the 100 leaving Bolt to run solo as no one else was even in the same zip code. The only question left with Gay out of the race was how fast would Bolt run without any opposition. A question Bolt answered with a 19.19 run and another WR! Even as I write it the time doesn't look real, like a mistake was made.
Yet once again - for the 6th time in 2 years - Bolt had broken a sprint record! SIX TIMES. Carl Lewis did it once. Mo Greene once. Michael Johnson thrice. All three running for over a decade each in pursuit of sprint excellence. In two seasons Bolt has broken more sprint records than Lewis, Greene, and Johnson COMBINED! Let Fringe Science explain THAT!
By the way, Tyson Gay was not through. Sore groin and all he took to the track a few more times before he called it a day. And in Shanghai all he did was run 9.69 - equal to Usain Bolt's former WR set in Beijing! The time is the #2 time in history and #2 on the season. Gay's series of marks on the season was astounding with his top five marks, 9.69/9.71/9.77/9.88/9.93 (avg - 9.796) nearly equal to Bolt's, 9.58/9.79/9.81/9.86/9.89 (avg - 9786). The average of their top 5 marks on the season is better than anyone else in history except former WR holder Asafa Powell! And in the 200 where just two years previous we had only one mark under 19.6 seconds (the legendary 19.32) 2009 saw no less than FOUR such marks!
In but two seasons, the sprint world has been turned on its ear and altered forever. When Shawn Crawford ran 19.79 to win gold in Athens in 2004 there were many whispers that it had to be drugs that made him run so fast, so long had it been that we had seen anything under 19.80. By 2006, 3 men had been busted for drug use in their attempts to run 9.77, 9.78, and 9.79 with only two men left standing at 9.77 and 9.79. in the past two seasons we have seen TWELVE such marks including 3 UNDER 9.70!
Evolution? Much too short a time frame. Bolt's a freak? Well he's been the same size for the past 4 seasons as an adult. Maybe everyone else that came before these guys just didn't work hard enough? Yeah, that's why Carl Lewis won 9 Olympic gold medals; Mo Greene won every 100 meter gold medal between 1997 and 2001 and threw in a bronze for good measure in 2004; and Michael Johnson set WR's at both 200 AND 400 meters and spent the better part of a decade #1 ranked in either or both events. I've seen these reasons and others bandied about on the internet in an attempt to explain the otherworldly times we've seen these past two seasons - all falling short of the mark.
Me, I think I'm going to contact the writers of "Fringe" and see if they can come up with a plausible explanation. After all they specialize in unexplained phenomena. And what we've been witnessing these past two seasons is nothing like anything ever seen before on this planet!