With our National Championships complete and the Diamond League at the mid point it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at what’s happened so far this season. As with any endeavor there have been ups and downs but I want to start off looking at the positive things that have happened in the sport this year – especially for US fortunes going forward.
So here are 10 things I have found exciting about the first half of the 2010 season. The first two focus on the international sport. The third on the future in general. And the rest focus on reasons to be excited about the sport here in the US.
If there is an athlete out there that should have his name featured on the marquee of any meet he attends it’s David Rudisha. One can debate the relative merits of individual events, but arguably the two toughest events out there are the 400 hurdles and the 800 meters. Both require speed AND endurance in amounts that are just short of world class in other events. To think that a human can run a full lap of the track in 48/49 seconds THEN run another lap before stopping is simply awe inspiring – as is the current WR of 1:41.11 seconds set by Wilson Kipketer (KEN)! I’ve long felt that this is one of the toughest WR’s on the books, and for almost 13 years no one has been remotely close – until now. This young man is only 21 years old, yet his recent 1:41.52 has him on the brink of one of the most venerable marks in history. And should he manage to get under 1:41 it will be one of the greatest achievements ever. He doesn’t get the headlines but he is not only one of today’s greatest athletes, but one of history’s best. He is one of the most under appreciated stars in the sport, but a star none the less.
Right up there in terms of all time WR’s is the 60 foot blast in the triple jump by Jonathon Edwards (GBR) in 1995! Like the 800 record, this mark has been truly untouchable. Only Kenny Harrison (US) at 59’ 4” has ever gone more than 59 feet – a year later in 1996. So for a decade and a half 59 & 60 feet have simply been marks in the sand. But in 2010 Teddy Tamgho lept 59’ in New York to once again breach that barrier. This was no fluke as Tamgho first emerged indoors with a surprising WR of 58’ 8.75”. Tamgho is for real! And like Rudisha is one of those young underappreciated athletes that truly deserves a lot more attention than he is getting. Go outside and mark off FIFTY NINE FEET. Then imagine skipping your body across the track three times and landing THAT far away! Tamgho and Rudisha are two athletes this sport needs to figure out how to market quick, fast, and in a hurry.
The Collegiate Championships
If there was a meet that epitomized what track and field is about and what a meet can be, it was this year’s NCAA Championships. It had all the elements of good sports – great head to head match ups, exciting relays and a team competition that came down to the very last event! All accomplished through a group of young people that easily contained some of the future stars of the sport. Lisa Koll, Christian Taylor, Andrew Wheating, Kirani James, Ryan Whiting, Ashton Eaton, Blessing Okagbare, and Johnny Dutch, are all names almost guaranteed to appear on the startlists of upcoming Olympics and World Championships. It was a pleasure watching them prepare for the big stage at this meet.
If USA Track and Field is looking for an athlete to provide a “face” for the sport as we head into the next series of global championships they couldn’t do much better than to start with David Oliver. This young man is personable, articulate and is beginning to dominate is event in the mold of the legendary Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah. I know that he has more races ahead with WR holder Dayron Robles. But even should he lose his share, it simply will set up what could become one of the sport’s biggest and best rivalries – something the sport desperately needs more of. Oliver v Robles could well become the second coming of Nehemiah v Foster, and Oliver seems well suited to play the role of Nehemiah. USATF needs to look at developing a marketing program around this AR holder that focuses on his considerable strengths on and off the track.
Here is another newly minted AR setter that is articulate and has personality – and she’s in the field, long an area of US weakness! Patterson has emerged this year as one of the world’s most consistent javelin throwers and is on her way to being a serious medal threat in the event. Since her AR series in Des Moines she’s been on a tear, throwing well over 200 feet in each outing while going up against some of the world’s best throwers. Like Oliver she is a tough competitor, a good interview and is a face that the public would welcome into their homes. In my opinion potentially one of the new faces of the sport in the US as we look for ways to sell the sport here in the US – especially looking to highlight the field events that traditionally get a lot less attention than the track.
Chaunte Howard Lowe
In that same vein is Ms Howard Lowe – a field event performer that is in contention with the best globally. Another recent AR setter, Howard Lowe is also a good interview and a crowd pleaser. AND she has a budding rivalry with one of the sport’s higher profile athletes in Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic. The two of them have gone head to head a couple of times already and neither has blinked as the winning margin has been a matter of a single miss here or there. The marketing possibilities just scream! Like Patterson and Oliver she is a tough competitor that has reached that “next level” and appears ready to stay there. Giving us strong medal hopes heading into the next series of majors and an athletes we can most definitely market around. Who could ask for more?
For a few seasons now I’ve seen waiting for someone to step up along side Tyson Gay as we take on the world in the sprint wars. We’ve gone far too long without a venerable 1-2 punch in the sprints. Dix has been on the cusp of being in that position for some time now. He had an outstanding collegiate career, but since then has been on and off, hot and cold. Between a decision to skip Worlds in ‘07, an outstanding Games in ‘08, and then injury and agent issues last year it’s seemed that Dix may just vanish back into the sprinting landscape. But this year he has come out with a vengeance – sprinting with determination and purpose. This is the sprinter I’ve been waiting to see take the track. He looks every bit the man that is ready to fulfill his destiny. Which means we should have a viable two headed sprint monster heading into Daegu/London/Moscow.
Bershawn Jackson & Johnny Dutch
This pair is exciting because they give us hope today AND tomorrow. If we have an event that I would say seems medal set for a while it is the 400 hurdles. Jackson seems to be rejuvenated. He’s healthy again, is back to his old stride pattern and looks like he is going to be VERY hard to beat in the near future. As a matter of fact, “Batman” seems to be getting his “second wind” in his career at age 27 and the best may yet be ahead of him. If so, the 21 year old Dutch could be primed to be the perfect “Robin” – fighting the hurdle wars side by side with Jackson as he prepares to take over when Batman retires in some far off future. Jackson is clearly the best of the world’s veteran hurdlers right now, and Dutch has emerged this year as arguably the best of the young guns coming up. Together they could provide us with solid medal potential in the long hurdles going well into the 2020’s.
Phoebe Wright & Morgan Uceny
Last year was a very exciting year for American women in the middle distances as Jenny Barringer, Anna Pierce, Kristin Wurth Thomas, and Maggie Vessey moved into the upper reaches of world class – giving us solid medal hopes in the 800 & 1500 meters. This year another young dynamic duo is emerging as Phoebe Wright (800) & Morgan Uceny (1500) are following in their footsteps. Wright barreled through the collegiate season as if she were on a mission heading to the front of the pack and staying there all season long with a front running, catch me if you dare style. A style that won her a national title and has kept her in contention against the best in the world – earning her a 1:58.22 PR at Pre. Ditto for Uceny. I must admit I didn’t pay much attention when she won the US indoor title this winter – chalked it up to a lot of other athletes focusing on getting ready for the outdoor season. But all this young lady has done is drop her PR steadily all season long including big runs in New York (PR 4:04.01 for 6th) and Lausanne (PR 4:02.40 for 2nd). And like Wright (and training mate Anna Pierce) she’s displayed a gritty, hang on to the leaders, running style that is necessary in international competition. My gut says these two young ladies are going to be heard from for some time and I won’t be surprised to see either in an upcoming major.
The search for America’s next great middle distance runner (male version) may finally be over. Watching Andrew Wheating compete at this year’s NCAA Championships I felt he displayed all the skills necessary to grow into the job. He’s competitive, has good endurance, and his long limbs help give him a nice turn of speed. His heroics at the NCAA meet gave indication of a young man who could be part Dave Wottle and part Jim Ryun. I didn’t have to wait long for confirmation as Wheating showed just how competitive he could be when he went back to Eugene for the Pre Classic and ran 3:51.74 in his #2 event as he held his own with the world’s best over the mile. His current PR’s (1:45.03, 3:37.52, 3:51.74) don’t scream medal hope, but his competitive nature and the drive that he shows on the track tells me he just might be our best hope on the big stage. He could very well end up being the best middle distance runner to come out of the University of Oregon, and that alone says it all.
There are lots of others to be excited about as well. Allyson Felix looks primed for a potential 200/400 double attempt. Wallace Spearmon could be ready to challenge at the top.Anna Pierce is rounding back into ‘09 form. Jenn Suhr is getting healthy. Our shot putters have gone from a Big 3 to a Big 5. Jeremy Wariner is getting back to form and there are several young men improving in that event. Tyson Gay is running as well as ever. And I’m sure that by the time the curtain closes on the season this list of 10 could easily be a list of 25. But these are the things that stand out to me on the positive side of the sport as we head into what should be the most exciting part of the season.