Friday, October 8, 2010

Status Check – US Sprints

Michael Rodgers, Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay and Trell Kimmons (L-R) of the U.S. celebrate after winning the men's 4 x 400 metres relay at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich August 19, 2010.    REUTERS/Michael Buholzer (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

As US middle and long distance hopes strengthened in 2010, our bread and butter sprints seemed a bit fuzzy. Not that we didn’t have some outstanding performances, but looking ahead to the upcoming cycle of major championships, you need “depth” as well as outstanding individuals to carry the day. One or two injuries can change the entire fortunes of a sprint squad. In 2006 Tyson Gay (9.84/19.63) and Xavier Carter (19.62) looked ready to lead us through the next decade. Tyson won the sprint double in ‘07 but by ‘08 neither was available for duty with injury knocking them both out of the picture. Meanwhile we watched foreign newcomers Derrick Atkins, Richard Thompson, Alonso Edward, and Usain Bolt pick up major hardware! Demonstrating both that nothing is ever guaranteed, and there is a need for constant development of our young athletes. 

So, from that perspective, as I look at our sprint forces heading into 2011 we have our “foundation” – the individuals that we know we can count on. Athletes that are just breaking through to the elite ranks – the individuals that hopefully will help us build a strong sprint corps through the upcoming three seasons. And a lot of athletes that are still “developing”. Now in some ways that’s a good thing – because we know that we have a large base of potential to draw from. On the other hand we need that potential to be actualized “soon” because the world is no longer just sitting by watching us clean up in these events!

Here’s my breakdown:


Our Foundation

There are a handful of athletes that I think we can pretty much hang our hats on knowing that they are going to come through for us in Daegu – given good health. Headlining this group on the men’s side are Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix and Jeremy Wariner.

Gay should be the #1 ranked 100 man this year, as well as one of the top men in the 200. Tyson beat all comers and showed that he can indeed compete with and beat Usain Bolt. We have no one else in this category in the 100 however, which makes me a bit nervous. In the 200, however, we saw the return to form of Wallace Spearmon with 5 sub 20’s and a seasons best of 19.79. Being on the “comeback” trail, I expect we will see even better from him in 2011. Walter Dix was also a burner in the deuce with a best of 19.72 (his #2 time ever) to go with 4 sub 20’s of his own. Dix also ran a PR 9.88 in the 100, though he competed here sparingly. This trio should form our short sprint nucleus in 2011.

In the 400, there was only one name this year – Jeremy Wariner. Wariner, himself on the comeback trail, once again became the world leader on the clock, beat everyone in sight, and displayed great rhythm is controlling nearly every race he was in. The most exciting thing about this group of men is that every one of them has fought injuries over the last season or two and are just coming back into their own – which means that their best days should lie ahead.

On the female side we had a set of sprinters this year that stood out as individuals that we will be able to go to war with in 2011. In the 100 Carmelita Jeter is clearly our top woman. She’s lead or been near the top on the clock globally for the past couple of seasons, and has few peers in the rest of the world. Marshavet Myers also showed consistency under 11.00 this year, to get back to the promise she began to show in ‘08 – including a win in London and 3rd in Zurich.

Over 200 Allyson Felix has only one true peer  – Veronica Campbell Brown – no one else is even close. And in the 400, Debbie Dunn reached a new level of consistency that found her constantly battling among the world’s best. Felix also showed that she is a solid threat here as well as she beat all of the world’s best and took the Diamond League title in this event to go with her 200 title. Finally we have Sanya Richards who, though off with injury this year, will be a major force in the 400 given she comes back to good health. – and could factor in the 200.


The New Breakthroughs

On a global level there were many breakthrough sprinters this year – Lemaitre, Gonzales, Carter, Blake, Okagbare, Firova, Soumare, to name a few. As the rest of the world continues to improve it is imperative that we do so as well. Because I think ultimately it will be these athletes that make the difference in increasing or decreasing medal counts. Unfortunately while the rest of the world seemed to have massive improvement, we only had a handful of sprinters that had true break throughs in 2010.

Chief among these on the men’s side was Ryan Bailey who had nice seasons in both the 100 (9.88) and 200 (20.10). It was especially nice given that this was his first real season of international competition. He acquitted himself well, competed strongly, and set personal bests in both sprints. The key for Ryan will be his health, as he suffered several little niggles throughout the season that probably slowed his development. Trell Kimmons also had a breakthrough of sorts this summer, improving his 100 (9.95) and running lead leg on one of the fastest relays in history (37.45). Kimmons needs a bit more consistency but we know that he is a competitor. Outside of this pair though I saw no real breakthroughs anywhere else, including the 400 – and that is what has me a tad concerned. Similarly,, on the women’s side the only real breakthrough was in the 100 with Lashauntea Moore beginning to show promise as she twice ran under 11.00 (10.97/10.99) and got an international win in Rome (11.04).

As a nation we have got to get more athletes to this point in their development.


Who’s Next?

The answer to that question could be the difference between gold and silver in the relays, and two or three athletes in individual finals. With the injury rate of today’s sprinters being what it is, depth becomes a necessity. Because we’re always an injury or two away from going from outstanding to mediocre right now. Not an ideal situation to be in.

For starters, we do have some veteran’s that have been there before, but are working their way back. Xavier Carter (19.63/44.53) was a budding star in ‘06 but was done in by injuries in ‘07/’08 and has been trying to get back to form (20.14 in ‘10). If he does he goes immediately to the top of the pack in either long sprint. Justin Gatlin was Olympic Champ (100/’04) and double world champ in ‘05. Since then has served a well publicized suspension, but returned after four years to run 10.09 in limited action. If he gets under 10.00 with regularity he too could be a factor. Both returning to form is possible. Look no further than the two down years of Jeremy Wariner, who this past season began to look like the man that won everything between ‘04 and ‘07.

We also have a cluster of sprinters that, for several years now, have been at the edge of a break through moment. Darvis Patton (9.89/20.03), Travis Padgett, (9.89) Ivory Williams (9.93), Rae Edwards (10.00), and Mike Rodgers (9.94) head this list on the short sprint side. All have had flashes of brilliance, but have come up short once making the team and getting on the big stage. They have the potential to be players at this level, but must show improvement and consistency to get it done. Of the quarter milers, Lajerald Betters went pro this year and had several nice outings – among them 44.70 and 44.71. And there is always the spectre of Angelo Taylor (44.05) getting serious about the event again, as he seems to waver between here and the intermediate hurdles.

But I think the most potential, aside from a vet or two returning to form, may lie in the collegiate ranks. There were several youngsters that looked good early domestically – Tavaris Tate (44.86), Curtis Mitchell (19.99), and Jeff Demps (10.06/9.96w) come to mind . But it’s tough to evaluate them without a bit of international competition under their belts. We also have our typical logjam of young quarter milers hovering around between the 45.00 to 45.40 range – an area prime for a breakthrough into the 44’s.

Similarly for the women, I believe we will see a return to form from veteran Lauryn Williams following a layoff this year (10.88/22.27 PR’s) to go with a handful of athletes that have been around a while – Miki Barber (11.02), Shalonda Solomon (10.90/22.36), Natasha Hastings (49.84). Any of these women could have an impact in 2011. Especially Williams who is a proven winner - ‘05 World 100 champion. And as with the men, there is a lot of young potential out there – Alexandria Anderson (11.02/22.60), Gabby Mayo (11.13), Bianca Knight (11.07/22.43), Porscha Lucas (11.12/22.29), and Francena McCorory (50.52) sitting at the head of the class. All of these women have been making steady improvement and could become serous contenders for our national team next year.


Where Are We?

So, where do we stand heading into 2011? Well, like an ice berg, while the tip of our sprint corps does not look as deep as I would like, there is much potential lying just below the surface. Ideally I would love to see Carter, Gatlin and Williams all return to form. Not only would that give us immediate depth to counter what the rest of the world is bringing, but it would solidify both sprint relays – and Carter could potentially help both the short and long relays. Although Bailey, Kimmons and Moore could step in and do the job nicely given the same level of improvement is shown in 2011 that was made in 2010. As a matter of fact, solid improve from any of them in 2011 makes our sprint team very strong. And if intermediate hurdlers Angelo Taylor (44.05) or Kerron Clement (44.40) decide to give the event a go we immediately become stronger there as well. As ironically some of our best quarter milers (Taylor, Clement & Carter) tend to choose other events.

And our youngsters are very exciting. I think some, like Curtis Mitchell, Alexandria Anderson, Tavaris Tate and Francena McCorory are just beginning to tap into their enormous potential. While others like J-Mee Samuels, Maurice Mitchell, Marcus Rowland, Joey Hughes and Donald Sanford are just starting to figure it out. Which is exciting as that means that there is a lot of potential in the “pipeline”.

While the days of “sweeping events” is behind us, I do expect that we win between ten to fourteen medals in the sprint events in Daegu. Which I think would be a very solid achievement given the current state of world wide sprinting. More importantly, I believe that six to eight gold medals is a realistic possibility. To do either would reestablish our dominance in the sprints globally. And that I believe is an achievable goal.

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