Yes I know that the 2010 season isn’t quite done yet. But for my money it’s never too early to put a relay team together. Because one of the most important aspects of relay running is continuity and team togetherness – and that’s difficult to achieve when team members are practically making introductions prior to stepping on the track to compete!
That’s why I think it’s time to start thinking about creating “national relay squads” that are selected and run together during the course of a couple of seasons or so – health and injuries permitting – as opposed to our antiquated system of selecting the first few men that cross the finish line at our national championships each year. Because, as I said previously, while speed is important, the 4x1 and the 100 meter dash are two completely different animals. And we need to start treating the 4x1 as the independent entity that it is if we want to get back on the winning track in international competition.
Yes, I know that would be opening up a can of worms, because there would be much politicking to get people on, or off, the squad. Wait a minute. We have that now – so no change on that front! What we would be able to do is get the best people in place (based on someone, or some groups opinion) and give them an opportunity to work together and actually get good at running the relay together. Something the rest of the world is already doing. I understand that it’s a bit easier for other countries, because we still have the deepest pool of available talent – Jamaica notwithstanding. But it really isn’t that difficult to separate out who our top people are without running them down the track in a make or break 100 meter dash. And if we are being honest with ourselves, the rest of the world has caught up to us in this event, so just throwing four guys and a baton out on the track is no longer going to get the job done. Because much to the chagrin of the Allen Iverson’s of the world, this event does take PRACTICE.
So, I’m proposing that we select a squad early and give them the opportunity to practice, and work together so we can get the stick around the track and take our rightful place on the podium instead of watching the medal ceremony from afar. With that said, here are my thoughts on who that squad should be. Note that I am looking at speed – but more specifically what I call “relay speed”. I’m also looking at experience, previous success, and most importantly individual placement because I also think that we should have an advantage in putting together relay teams. For starters, most of our kids have grown up running relays in a high school setting and then in a college setting of some sort. So they shouldn’t be strangers to the baton. I also think we have a very under utilized group of individuals that could be quite helpful – college coaches. These guys (and gals) put together relay teams for a living! They are not only acquainted with the art of moving the baton around the track, but understand the importance of “who goes where” in the chess match that is truly the relay.
Final word before my selections. The relay is truly about TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More – because it takes all four members to get the stick around the track and across the line. Some would say that team members need to check their egos at the door, but I disagree. I say they need to bring them to the track. Because each team member needs to OWN his leg. While many people put great emphasis on the anchor leg, there are FOUR legs and each one is important. If you don’t believe that think about team members and how they are remembered. Dennis Mitchell, and Calvin Smith are remembered for OWNING that second turn. Bernard Williams and Leroy Burrell are remembered for OWNING the backstretch. If you say Jon Drummond you might as well be saying Lead Off, just as if you say Carl Lewis you’re saying Anchor. These are all men that took their leg on the relay seriously, and all ran some of the fastest splits ever recorded on THEIR legs. If we want to win gold again and return the WR to the US, THAT is the attitude that must be taken. Each man must OWN his leg and get the job done that he needs to get done.
With that, my squad is:
|Lead Off||Walter Dix – 9.88 / 19.69|
Dix isn’t an exceptional starter, but he is a tremendous 200 meter runner who runs a stunning curve on the relay. He’s got tremendous pick up and is strong enough to push the outgoing runner completely through the zone if necessary without any loss in speed – i.e. he can move the stick. He also has the ability to catch the outgoing runner should he leave his mark a bit early. Dix is a seasoned veteran who has competed on the sports biggest stage – the Olympics. A multiple NCAA champion and double sprint medalist in Beijing, Dix doesn’t rattle, doesn’t false start, and is a fierce competitor. He will give maximum effort and should give us an immediate lead from the gun.
|Backstretch||Wallace Spearmon – 9.96 / 19.65 / 45.22|
If this were just about the 100 meters Wally wouldn’t be in the discussion – which is why I’m sure many of you are scratching your heads. But this isn’t about the 100 it’s about the relay, and all relays do with Spearmon on the backstretch is win. This year’s Continental Cup team won with Spearmon on the backstretch. The 2006 World Cup 4x1 winners had Spearmon on the backstretch. Arkansas won the 2005 NCAA 4x1 title with Spearmon on the backstretch. This year’s Zurich squad ran 37.45 (#5 all time) with Spearmon on the backstretch. And the last gold medal winning effort for the US in the 4x1 had Wallace on the backstretch (against a Jamaican squad lead by Bolt and Powell). Spearmon rarely wins a 100 meter dash at this level – because his start is among the worst in the world – but there are no blocks in the relay! And just as his start is horrible, his top end speed when he is up and running is outstanding. Combine that with the fact that he has great synergy with my selection for the turn leg, and Spearmon is an easy choice for me. Because all he and my next selection do when they run together is win – they haven’t lost a 4x1 they’ve been on together since the 2004 NCAA Championships!
|Turn||Tyson Gay – 9.69 / 19.58 / 44.89|
When you have a man that has run 9.69 and is possibly the best turn runner ever you put him right here! Tyson Gay is a game breaker on the turn as he has shown time and time again. Especially when he has been paired with Spearmon as in all the above mentioned races - ‘05 NCAA’s, ‘06 World Cup, ‘07 Worlds, Zurich’s blazer this year as well as this year’s Continental Cup. This duo knows how to move the stick, and whatever lead Tyson can get you on the straight – because everyone wants to anchor him – he can get you 50% MORE on the turn! Not to mention that his closing speed and experience handing off the baton virtually ensures that whomever your anchor is, Tyson will get to him and get him the stick – after he has broken the back of the competition. You win relays by getting in front and with Spearmon on the backstretch and Tyson blitzing the competition on the turn we’ve run 37.59 (leading Kaaron Conwright and anchoring Jason Smoots), 37.78 (leading Davis Patton and anchoring Leroy Dixon) and 37.45 (leading Trell Kimmons and Mike Rodgers)!
|Anchor (A)||Justin Gatlin – 9.85 / 19.86|
What’s a relay without a bit of controversy? I’m sure many are scratching their heads over this selection, but here’s why I make this choice. The questions, accusations, issues dealing with his ban aside, he’s done his time and is back in the sport. In what has amounted to about a month’s worth of competition after a four year layoff Gatlin’s at 10.09. Given his current rate of progression, I’m not going to say that we will see him running 9.7 next year, but he should be somewhere under 10.00. Like Wallace Spearmon he’s never been a great starter, instead his strength has always been his top end speed once he’s gotten up and running. And what I’m looking for in an anchor is someone that can Close the Deal – and Gatlin has the experience to do just that! He’s been twice a double NCAA sprint champion, the 2004 Olympic 100 meter champion, and ‘05 double World Sprint Champion – all done well before the positive test in ‘06. IF Gatlin is anywhere under 10.00, I want him bringing the stick home because we should have a lead and he won’t be caught – stronger and faster on the fly than either Smoots, Dixon or Rodgers on any given day!
|Anchor (B)||Ryan Bailey – 9.88 / 20.10|
One should always have a plan “B”, and knowing that Gatlin may not be available – for any number of potential reasons from he doesn’t get any faster to the “political”– we could still be in need an anchor. The requirements would still be the same – I need someone that has great top end speed, and strength. Ryan Bailey fits that bill. Not because of his 100 time – his two best times were set in magical Rieti – but because of his closing speed. He’s dropped his 200 time near 20 seconds and he’s run close to Nesta Carter when they’ve raced this year – closing strongly on him each time. He’s big, strong and competitive. And frankly, should he improve next year the way he has this year, and stay healthy, he could end up being my #1 choice to anchor. Gatlin has him on experience and competitive history at the moment, but Bailey has the most “upside”.
So that’s my squad. I think the rest of the world would have to try and match up with us if we ran this team, and I’m not sure they can. Not talking about on the clock, because we can be matched up with on the clock. The competition can put a potentially “faster” team on the track based on individual 100 meter times. But on ability and skill sets, if the members of this team bring their egos to the track and each man OWNS his leg, this team can’t be beaten.
The interior duo of Spearmon and Gay is a proven winner. Together they won a World title against a Jamaican squad that had both Bolt and Powell – with Darvis Patton and Leroy Dixon on lead and anchor, and ran 37.45 with Trell Kimmons and Mike Rodgers! They are the engine that runs the US 4x1, and are as lethal a pairing as Dennis Mitchell to Carl Lewis or Jon Drummond to Andre Cason. Walter Dix is a major upgrade on lead off. He has the ability to match the likes of Jon Drummond and Michael Marsh at this position. If Dix does this, and Spearmon and Gay run to potential, then the job of the anchor man will be to hold the rest of the world at bay, because I don’t see a team out there that can run with this troika for all three legs. And if Gatlin or Bailey are healthy and in form, there is only one man, maybe two, that can run with them on anchor – and none that can catch them.
If this group runs together and gets the stick around the track it’s gold in Daegu. That’s my story and I’m stickin to it!