Thursday, April 1, 2010
2010 Outlook - Women's 400
One of the events that looks to be in for some movement among the elite could be the women's 400. After years of dominating the event in non major competition, Sanya Richards (US) finally added that elusive gold medal at lasts year's World Championships in Berlin. The question this year is: now that she has won gold how long will she be able to continue to dominate?
On the surface a strange question when you consider that she is only 25 years old and should now be entering her prime. The talent that she could be facing this year, however, is also young and equally talented. For the first time in her career she could face some serious challenges this year in one off competition as the indoor season produced two very strong potential challengers in Debbie Dunn and Francena McCorory.
The 32 year old Dunn is the veteran of the group and is no stranger to top level competition having competed internationally during the last decade. She is, however, new to the elite level as she didn't run under 51 seconds until last year when she broke both the 51 & 50 second barriers, finishing the season with a 49.95 best. She continued to show improvement indoors as she won both the US and World Championships and in the process lowered her indoor best by 2.31 seconds to 50.86. Dunn seems primed to run somewhere under 49.50, and if so will become a major player in an event where sub 49.50 is rare territory. Only three women ran under that mark last year with only Richards doing so more than once.
McCorory is on the other end of the age spectrum at 21 years old - and is just getting started at this level. But what a start, as she broke Diane Dixon's 19 year old American Indoor Record with her sizzling 50.54 world leading run. The mark was a 1.1 second lowering of her indoor best from the start of the season. Similar improvement outdoors would also put her in the 49.50 range and give Richards serious competition.
The most intriguing potential challenger however, is sprinter Allyson Felix. Felix is also young at 24, but very well seasoned competitively. Felix is a three time World Champion in the 200 meters (with two Olympic silvers) and has sprint bests of 10.93/21.81/49.70. Felix has spent most of her time running the 100/200 and has only dabbled in the 400. In spite of this, however, she has still been a regular force on our 4x4 teams, routinely being the fastest split in the race. This combined with the fact that her horrendous start leaves her vulnerable in the 100 - even more so as the event has gotten faster over the last couple of seasons - and it would make sense for Felix to focus more on the 200/400 double. Something she has said will get more of her attention this year.
If that's the case, I can see Felix dropping a second, or better, from her 400 PR putting her squarely shoulder to shoulder in competition with Richards - someone she has beaten in the past over this distance.
Richards toughest competition outside the US should come from Russia and Jamaica. Russia produces 400 meter runners with the same frequency that we produce 100 meter sprinters. Last year's best being Antonina Krivoshapka, a young 22 year old who could be the future of the event for Russia. Krivoshapka had a 49.29 best last year and had another 3 runs in the 49.6/49.7 range making her the most consistent quarter miler not named Sanya Richards last year. She finished the season with a bronze in Berlin while improving her best from the start of the season by a whopping 1.9 seconds! Given her level of consistency she could well be the next Olga Bryzgina or Olga Nazarova - making her a serious threat on the world stage.
Finishing between Richards and Krivoshapka in Berlin was Jamaican Sherika Williams with a PR 49.32. The 24 year old Williams has been improving steadily for several seasons now dropping her PR from 50.24 in 2007 down to the current 49.32. Williams has done her best running in the majors the past few seasons, so it will be interesting to see how she does without a major to focus on this year.
One other quarter miler that I think bears watching will be Britain's Nicola Sanders. Sanders is also young at only 27 years old, and was silver medalist in Osaka in '07 at 49.65. She has suffered from injuries since then, however, but appeared to be getting healthy at the end of last season. At her best Sanders is a hard running sprinter that is able to maintain well in the final stretch of the race - making her a constant threat. Healthy she has an effect on any race she is in.
These should be the main challengers in what I think will be an exciting event. Given good health the main battle should be between Sanya Richards and Allyson Felix. They bring the most speed and talent to the 400 and are reminiscent of the 60's Lee Evans and Tommie Smith - the world's preeminent 400 and 200 sprinters of the day who occasionally matched up over 400 meters. Expect some stirring battles between Richards and Felix this year, with the American Record falling somewhere along the way. Especially if these two are pit against Russian Krivoshapka somewhere in Europe.