Once upon a time (a long time ago) when I took typing in high school, there was a practice phrase that we used that said, “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country”. That phrase could be well suited to American sprinters as we seem to be a bit short on top of the line sprinters these days. As I sit waiting for the start of the national championships, I can count on one hand the sprinters that I know can make a global final and have the ability to medal once they get there – Tyson Gay (100/200), Wallace Spearmon (200) and Walter Dix (100/200). That’s not to say that we don’t have others capable of making a final, but the chance that they do is dependant upon the circumstances of the day – and medaling is a crap shoot.
Last summer, and through this spring, we’ve seen massive improvement in our middle and long distance corps. Jennifer Barringer, Anna Pierce, Kristen Wurth Thomas, Matt Tegenkamp, Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenhein and Chris Solinsky among others have made huge improvements in their races. So much so that some, primarily our middle distance women, have put themselves in a position to make finals and potentially medal – while the others are now within smelling distance of doing the same. Now it’s time for our sprinting counterparts on the men’s side to step up their game in similar fashion.
For decades we’ve taken it for granted that we will go into the Olympics and World Championships with enough fire power to take at least two, and sometimes three, medals in these events. Be it with dual medalists like Jim Hines/Charlie Greene, Carl Lewis/Calvin Smith, or Michael Johnson/Jeff Williams. Or complete sweeps as with Carl Lewis/Kirk Baptiste/Thomas Jefferson, and Shawn Crawford/Bernard Williams/Justin Gatlin. The US has always been in the gold medal hunt with the solid potential to pick up one or two more per event. The recent improvement of Caribbean sprinters has been marked by a similar decline in American sprinting. Putting us in a less advantageous position when attempting to make the medal stand.
Now I’m sure that some would say that saying we are declining in the sprints might be a stretch or misuse of words. Especially since we have as many sub10 sprinters today as we have had in the past, as well as athletes running in the 20.00 to 20.20 range. However, the standards have dropped dramatically over the past couple of seasons. Winning a medal in today’s sprints take efforts of 9.8x and 19.8x – to win bronze. The same efforts that three or four majors ago would have sufficed for gold! With our competition improving it is imperative that we improve at the same rate. And so far only a few of our athletes have been able to keep pace.
Ironically it was the last “off” season in 2006 that things began to speed up. In 2006 Asafa Powell (JAM) twice ran 9.77 to tie the then WR in the 100 and had seven races under 9.90. Tyson Gay had his first serious season in the 100 running a best of 9.84 – with three marks under 9.90. Xavier Carter (US) became the #2 man all time in the 200 at that point with his 19.63 – the fastest since the WR race of 1996 – and two others ran under 19.70 during the season ( Americans Wallace Spearmon, 19.65, and Tyson Gay 19.68). Since then we’ve seen Powell drop to 9.72, Gay to 9.69/19.58, Walter Dix(US) drop to 19.69 (20.25 in ‘06, 20.18 the season before) and Usain Bolt (JAM) leap frog over everyone to 9.58/19.19 (after no previous marks in the 100 and a best of 19.88 in ‘06).
So with this being an off season, I’m hoping that once again we can find a few sprinters that will step up their game and join the upper echelon in the sprint game – much the same way that we saw a rush of improvement in our middle and long distance runners last year. Anyone looking to jump start their career could get a head start in that direction this week in Des Moines. With Tyson Gay our only true gold medal threat at either sprint distance on the men’s side there is plenty of room for ambitious sprinters to make a move into a spot on the team for Daegu, London and/or Moscow. That path starts in Des Moines.