At the end of every season, the awards start pouring out. Typically everyone identifies their Athletes of the Year, and Performances of the Year. There are also awards for Collegiate Athletes (Bowerman) and lists of the top athletes. Between now and the end of the calendar year I will also be taking a look at the various top athletes of 2010. Some will be conventional (such as Athletes of the Year), but I also want to take a look at some non standard classifications. So I am going to start with the athletes that I considered to be the athletes that I feel had the top breakthrough seasons among American athletes.
By “Breakthrough” I mean those athletes that achieved a new level of performance – in some cases moving up near the top of their event globally. Not just new PR’s but also consistency of performance. And all improved to the point where I think they are in a position to help the US in their medal search over the next couple of seasons.
Chris Solinsky – 5000 / 10000
Talk about a breakthrough to the top level. An American Record 26:59.59 over 10,000 in his first race of the season. Then three times under 13:00 in the 5,000 becoming #2 all time American at 12:55.53. More importantly he was 3rd in Zurich, 5th in Stockholm and 6th in Oslo – competing well against the best in the world. Now if he can just develop a kick to go with his strength and power I have no doubt he can give the African’s a race they won’t forget.
Kara Patterson - Javelin
An American Record 66.67m (218’ 8”) in the javelin at nationals and Patterson set sail on an outstanding European season. Patterson had 9 throws over 200 feet this summer, and a Diamond League victory over Spotakova in Eugene. She was also second in Monaco, London, Gateshead and third in Berlin – becoming a serious player in the javelin – perhaps a potential medalist. As I see her heading into Daegu/London/Berlin as one of our best hopes in the field.
Andrew Wheating – 800 / 1500
I watched Wheating make the Olympic squad in ‘08, but my gut said that was going to be his best finish of the year. And sure enough, he was out early in the rounds in Beijing. In ‘09 he won an NCAA title over 800 – but that was basically the end off his season. Ah, but this year. An NCAA 800/1500 double. A bit of a break from a long NCAA season. Then in limited international action we get a 3:51.74 mile at Pre, a 3:30.90 in Monaco, a 1:44.62 in Paris, and a 1:44.56 in London! And suddenly he’s starting to look like a young Jim Ryun. I use that name on purpose because as much as I’m fairly sure he has 1:43.xx in his immediate future, I think he can run 3:29 or maybe even 3:28 as well – and he can kick!
Morgan Uceny – 800 / 1500
I have to admit that when she won the US indoor 1500 title this past winter I had no clue who she was – sorry Morgan. I know who she is now though! She’s the gutsy young lady that’s always near the front somewhere, biding her time, and going with the big guns until she can’t go any more. And with that philosophy she’s gone from previous bests of 2:00.01 / 4:06.93 to 1:58.67 / 4:02.40 and a serious competitor in every race she’s in. Which is why I like her so much. She’s not afraid to get in their and fight. She’s tough, she goes after it. And she’s someone that I can see having a strong shot at being at least a finalist in one of the upcoming majors.
Ryan Bailey – 100 / 200
As odd as it sounds we need another top flight sprinter in our stable. Tyson is consistent, Spearmon is back from injuries, and Dix is right there when we can get him on the track. But we’re used to being at least two or three deep in sprinters with a shot to at least make a final if not capable of getting on the podium. And we’ve been lacking there since the days of Greene/Williams/Gatlin/Crawford. Now it looks like we may have another top notch man in Ryan Bailey. 2009’s Jr College 100 champ and record setter (10.05) and 200 runner up, Bailey showed flashes of potential brilliance in 2010 getting his PR’s down to 9.88 / 20.10. Bailey is that big, tall, strong sprint I’ve been waiting to come along to supplement all of the “smurfs” we have in camp. The discouraging and encouraging thing about Ryan’s season is that his improvement came amidst a season of various injuries that kept sending him back to recover. If we can keep him healthy, at worst he could be a fourth man for the 4x1 and at the best perhaps a double finalist in a major – paring well with Gay Spearamon and Dix.
Chaunte Howard Lowe – High Jump
Another American Record setter in 2010, Lowe jumped a sensational 6’ 8.75”. Interestingly enough the same height one Blank Vlasic jumped late in the year to set her own PR – placing Howard Lowe squaraely in the mix of the high jump! Something she proved many times over this year as she and Vlasic met on multiple occasions. The Croatian winning, but typically on fewer misses. Along with Kara Patterson, Howard Lowe became one of those rare top level field event performers that we desperately need in order to dramatically improve our medal count from recent global majors. She was over 6’ 6” eleven times this year. Now she just has to make Vlasic blink, as she’s definitely become a gold medal contender.
Leonel Manzano – 800 / 1500
Sometimes when it rains it pours, and this year after waiting years for some middle distance help to come along we got a double dose in 2010 as Leonel Manzano was right there with Andrew Wheating on the improvement meter. Manzano equaled Wheating’s best time of 1:44.56 in Berlin. Which caught me by surprise because I’ve never thought of him as an 800 meter runner – silly. In what I considered his specialty he ran 3:32.37 in Brussels, and 3:50.64, and showed an amazing ability to kick off of strong paces! Imagine that, we develop two middle distance runners that can stay with the pace AND kick in the same season! Manzano was a joy to watch and I eagerly wawait the 2011 season to see what he will do in Daegu – because he’s finished in the top two at nationals two seasons in a row now and I have to believe that he is going to make the team for Worlds.
There were some others that improved tremendously, but we didn’t get to see them much if at all in Europe and against top level competition. Like hurdler Johnny Dutch (47.60), sprinter Curtis Mitchell (19.99) and quarter miler Tavaris Tate (44.86). While I believe they will show further improvement, those listed above didn’t just improve on the clock or the tape measure, they also showed they could go the distance against tough competition. Which makes them my Top Breakthroughs for 2010. I enjoyed watching them this year, and look forward to seeing them take their shots at the podium in the upcoming set of majors in Daegu, London and Berlin.