Thursday, September 2, 2010

How Do the Current Sprinters Rank

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - AUGUST 06: Tyson Gay (l) of USA wins the men's 100m from Usain Bolt (c) and Richard Thompson (r) of Trinidad during the IAAF Diamond League meeting at the Olympic Stadium on August 6, 2010 in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

As is typical, there has been a lot of action in the men’s 100 meters this off season. Lots of PR’s and, with the exception of history’s three fastest on the clock, quite a few head to heads. The big race for many being this year’s Rieti meet where nearly everyone set a PR or seasonal best. So heading into the next trifecta of Major championships, just where do the sprinters sit with respect to each other? Well, as with the short relay, talk is already heating up regarding this topic, so I thought I would take my own shot at “ranking” the world’s current crop of sprinters. Plus, it will be somewhat of a precursor for my decisions on who I think should be on the US 4x1 when I post that within the week. So following is my “grouping” of the 100 meter guys, along with my rationale for how they were placed.

I will say before I get started that my groupings have less to do with “times” than with competitive ability. Because at the end of the day, once they step on the track, there will be human beings in the blocks – not a set of times. And far too often, its the competitive nature of the athletes that shines through – which is why the unexpected always happens in a Major. So, first my groupings:

1st Tier U. Bolt, T. Gay
2nd Tier A. Powell, W. Dix, R. Thompson, N. Carter
3rd Tier Y. Blake, R. Bailey, C. Lemaitre, T. Kimmons, M. Frater, J. Gatlin
4th Tier C. Martina, D. Patton, I. Williams, M. Forsythe, R. Edwards, M. Rodgers, D. Bailey. T. Padgett

I’m sure they are not quite what most would have expected so let me explain. My first tier consists of those athletes that I feel – and history says – are competing to become champion. Everything about Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay says this is the case. Both have won championships (Bolt 2, Gay 1). And both have dominated everyone else in the world as Gay’s only conqueror in a major (aside from injury) has been Bolt, Gay taking silver in Berlin. I’ve heard, and read, that Bolt is in a class of his own, but the numbers don’t back that up. Both he and Gay have run sub 9.80 legally six times each, and if you toss out each man’s PR as an outlier they sit at 9.69 and 9.71 – virtually even (and “basic times” are speculative and for conversation purposes only). Toss in their head to head record – 2 to 1 favor of Bolt, with Gay’s victory the most recent – and they are indeed peers. The only other sprinter that might make an argument for being in this tier is Asafa Powell. The argument for Powell is that he has run sub 9.80 seven times – one more than both Bolt and Gay – and under sub 10 on more than 60 occasions. But in the last 3 years he has only 1 victory over each man, and in his last four Majors has only come up with two 3rds and two 5ths. Which in my book, places him in the next tier.

The 2nd tier is where I have placed those athletes that should be battling for the podium and a medal. Powell heads this group as he has been on the podium twice and has the best set of marks in the group. Dix and Thompson have also been on the podium – both finishing ahead of Powell in Beijing. Dix also has a solid set of marks this year and wins over most of the other sprinters in the matrix. Thompson’s times have been lacking of late, but he has wins over the 3rd tier sprinters and a pair of windy sub 10’s to his credit this year. Carter fits here because he has pretty much dominated everyone except Bolt, Gay, and Powell, and is this year’s rising star in the event – similar to where Tyson Gay sat in 2006, the last off season.

The 3rd tier is the tier where the most movement is taking place – and I would expect to see the most movement from this group next year as well. Most of this group is trying to get into medal contention. That would be Yohan Blake, Ryan Bailey, Christophe Lemaitre and Trell Kimmons. All have made improvements on the clock, but need to become more consistent, and need to take some scalps of the men ahead of them. They are close, but not quite there yet. And Blake, Kimmons and Bailey will have the added pressure of a Trials process that could leave them off the team and out of Worlds altogether. At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Frater. Once in a contending position, he finds himself headed in the other direction and trying to hold on to medal hopes. If next year is like this year, he will find himself in the 4th tier instead of the 2nd tier – 2011 will be a big season for him. And quite fittingly, I’ve included Justin Gatlin in this tier. Why? Because he’s done his time, has come back, and through his handful of competitions so far is down to 10.09 and within the top 10 in the US. Just like the others in this tier he is trying to get into a podium position. And like Blake, Kimmons, Bailey and Frater, will have to get past a brutal Trials system to get there. But like most in this tier, he has shown serious improvement and has taken his share of scalps in limited opportunity.

The 4th tier consists of those individuals that right now are just fighting for a chance to compete at a higher level – and most actually seem to be regressing this season. We’ve not seen Darvis Patton at all, as he announced mid season that he was taking the year off to heal injuries. Ivory Williams started off hot but has been MIA most of the year. Churandy Martina, Travis Padgett and Daniel Bailey looked like world beaters in 2008 but are just getting beaten in 2010. Mike Rodgers looked like he had arrived last year, but has been lost back in the pack this season. Rae Edwards just can’t seem to get past this tier. And Mario Forsythe is a “who is he” outside of Rieti – where everyone became a star for their 15 minutes of fame. This group has potential, but in the quickly evolving world of the men’s 100 meters you go big or you go home – and this group will be staying at home unless they come up big – quick, fast, and in a hurry.

I nearly added a 5th tier for those athletes not quite on the radar, but moving up quickly. That would’ve taken in athletes like Jeff Demps, Marcus Rowland, J-Mee Samuels, Martial Mbandjock, and Rondell Sorrillo. But that’s more of a Chrystal ball type post and I just wanted to deal with the known quantities for right now. Although one of the things about this sport that is most fun is the fact that you KNOW someone unexpected is going to arrive next year. That’s the nature of the sport – once one season closes you have to get ready for the next, because it will be a NEW season. You can’t mail it in, you have to go out and compete – which is why times become such a moot point.

So, that’s how I see the 100 as of today. We’ll see what it looks like in the Spring.

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