Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Are We in Position for 30 Medals?

12th IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day Nine

Thirty medals. That's the stated goal of USATF CEO Doug Logan. Thirty medals in London, 2012.

This is the goal that was set following a 23 medal performance in Beijing. A performance that was considered to be unsatisfactory. So with a follow up in Berlin that netted one fewer medal (22) than Beijing questions abound:

• Was 30 just an arbitrary number?
• Is 30 a realistic goal?
• If so why are we so far off?
• If 30 "is" realistic then where will they come from?
• Do we have a "structure" in place that will help us get there?

At least these are some of the questions that I have heard from friends I've talked to and from those of you out there that have emailed me. Tough and legitimate questions when it seems that we are actually "losing ground" against the rest of the world - and in some cases against ourselves.

For example, for two majors in a row we have gotten nothing out of our 4x1 relay squads - male or female. These are supposed to be "guaranteed" medals but we've drawn a big "zero"! Some misfortune perhaps in not completing the handoffs. But has anyone noticed that we've been slipping in our sprint depth?

Yes we have Tyson Gay running off the hook. And Carmelita Jeter has emerged as a serious sprint force. But what do we have behind them? Only three Americans ran sub-10 this year behind Gay, and no American women were sub-11 behind Jeter! Not good commentary when the rest of the world is IMPROIVNG their numbers in this area.

Same for the 200 meters. Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix are keeping us strong and in gold medal contention. But the world equaled us this year in sub-20 performers (3 to 3), and on the women's side our next best 200 meter runner is Sanya Richards and she doesn't contest the event very often!

We're still strong over 400, but playing catch up in the 800. We've reached parity in the women's 1500, trying to find it in the men's. The women's middle distances look very promising with Maggie Vessey (1:57.84), Anna Willard (1:58.80/3:59.38), Christin Wurth Thomas (1:59.35/3:59.98), Jenny Barringer (3:59.90), and Shannon Rowbury (4.00.33) emerging as a very formidable group.

In the distances, its on the men's side of the ledger that we are seeing emergence into potential global competitiveness with breakout seasons by Dathen Ritzenhein (12:56.27/27:22.28), Matt Tegenkamp (12:58.56), Tim Nelson (27:36.99), Galen Rupp (27:37.99) and Anthony Famiglietti (27:39.68). Extremely exciting given that the beginning of the season was focused on the potential breakout of Rupp, yet we saw huge growth from the others as well!

In the field events, we're looking at an athlete here and there, but very little depth anywhere. Nice breakouts from Brittney Reese and Trey Hardee. But aside from the men's pole vault and shot put, we don’t have the depth anywhere in the field to sustain even one injury to anyone of significance - and that person may not even be a contender!

My point is that somewhere along the line we have dropped the ball on development. We are dependent on Individual coaches and their athletes rising to the occasion. With all the available talent in this country we have no means of moving a 10.15 sprinter , 13.30 hurdler, 3:55 miler, or 26'6" long jumper to the next level! Everyone is surprised that "a country the size of Jamaica can produce the likes of Bolt, Powell, Fraser, and Walker" when what should really be baffling is that we haven't produced a dozen of each!

In a country of our size and potential resources the development of Willard, Barringer, Ritzenhein and Tegenhamp should be a given, not a pleasant surprise! We should be knee deep in Tyson Gay's and Carmelita Jeter's. Yet we only have one of each and we have yet to see if the development of our middle and long distance runners this year will be enough to translate to the medal stand.

It's been brought to my attention by a US coach that the Germans won only one medal in Beijing, then improved to NINE in Berlin! Another small country making tremendous strides in a short period of time. The question is: How are they improving while we apparently keep taking small steps backwards?

Until we figure that out (we being USATF and those in charge of the sport here in the US) then we are NOT in position to win 30 medals. Not in Daegu, not in London, not even in Rio! As long as we are relying on blind luck, we will continue to produce a medal count in the low 20 range. In a good year perhaps even the mid 20's. After all, even a blind squirrel finds an occasional nut and right now that is our approach to winning medals - the luck of the draw in any given season!

We hope that Tyson stays healthy. We pray someone else "rises to the occasion". We wait for someone to "come out of the woodwork". We're glad that Sanya exorcized her demons. We're shocked and thrilled that Brittney came through. Ecstatic that Trey had the meet of his life. This is no way to manage what is supposed to be the greatest track and field power on the planet!

You see a goal requires a PLAN. A methodology. A road map on how to get there. Yet in a country where everyone seems to have a GPS system, we travel blindly on the stated road to thirty medals! So I fear that we will not get there any time soon. I would love to see USATF prove me wrong. But until a comprehensive plan for developing talent in this country is in place, I just don't see it happening.

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