With the indoor season now beginning to heat up, it’s time to wrap up previews on athletes to watch this year. So last but not least is my list of Americans to watch this year. A tough list since I have so many favorites and see so much potential for this season.
Trying to narrow down the list to only ten was much harder than I thought it would be – so I extended the field to what I’m calling my “Track and Field Dozen”. Some are names that are everyone’s lips, and some are individuals that may not be. The one thing that they all have in common is that they are all tough competitors who will make a mark on the world stage this year – IMHO. So without further adieu here is my list of Americans to watch in 2011.
David Oliver – 110 hurdles
Oliver was the 2010 US Athlete of the Year – having set two America records and going undefeated in his event. In 2011 he will be looking to improve on last year’s campaign by adding World gold and potentially a WR. It won't be easy as he will face the current Olympic champion and WR holder (Dayron Robles, CUB) and the previous WR holder and Olympic champion and ‘07 World champion (Liu Xiang, CHN).
Allyson Felix – Sprints
Felix will be going for an unprecedented fourth straight 200 title in 2011. As if that weren’t enough, she may also be attempting to win gold in the 400 as well! She has the ability – she was ranked #1 in the world for 2010 in BOTH events. But it won’t be that simple, as she will have to beat two time Olympic 200 champion Veronica Campbell Brown (Jam) and reigning World 400 champion Sanya Richards (US) to get to the top of both podiums.
Christian Cantwell – Shot Put
I think I’m going to start calling Cantwell The Lord of the Ring – because that’s what he’s been since his silver medal in Beijing. World outdoor champion in ‘09 and World indoor champion in ‘10, Cantwell lost only two competitions in 2010 and won the Continental Cup. He’s become exceedingly consistent over 70 and is the early favorite for Daegu gold in my opinion – not to mention a threat to toss one out near the 74 foot mark!
Chaunte Howard Lowe – High Jump
Chaunte became the American record holder in the high jump when she leapt 6’ 8.25” in Cottbus GER, then bettered it with a 6’ 8.75” jump at US Nationals last year. She maintained form throughout the summer going toe to toe with last year’s World Female Athlete of the Year Blanka Vlasic. Time and again she took Vlasic to misses on the count back and will be looking to upend her in Daegu.
Tyson Gay – Sprints
Gay may be the most recognizable track athlete in America, because it’s his task to defeat the most recognizable track athlete in the world – Usain Bolt. A task he found himself up to in 2010 as he defeated the man they said couldn’t be beaten in their only encounter last year – winning the 100 in what was a shocker to most in Stockholm. Double World champion Gay (‘07) will attempt to take back both crowns against Bolt who won both in ‘09. Thiers's should be the biggest rivalry of 2011 – must see TV!
Kara Patterson – Javelin
Patterson made the javelin interesting for American track fans last year as she set a new American record (218’ 8”) and went toe to toe with the best in the world winning in Eugene; taking second in Gateshead, Monaco and London; and garnering third in Berlin. She will be looking for that kind of placing when she arrives in Daegu. As Patterson is one of our few hopes on the infield.
Bernard Lagat – 5000/10000
Lagat is often overlooked. At the beginning of each year his age is discussed as a reason why Bernard “should be” a step slower. What’s forgotten is that with age comes wisdom and Lagat may be the wisest of them all whenever he takes to the track. Last year the 35 year old merely set an American record in the 5000 (12:54.12) and looked as spry as ever. The same spyness that he showed in taking the silver medal at Worlds in the event in ‘09. Unless they try to run the “old man” into the ground, look for Lagat to be somewhere around the podium once again in Daegu.
Brittney Reese – Long Jump
Brittney is another of those athletes that tend to get overlooked. Perhaps because she has yet to approach the gaudy American record of 24’ 7” – but then none of the world’s current crop of jumpers has either! Which is why she is the reigning World champion in the long jump and the fourth longest jumper of the last couple of seasons at 23’ 3.5”. She’s still only 24 years old, so she has a very bright future ahead of her. One that could possibly include a defense of her World title later this summer.
Dwight Phillips – Long Jump
That’s right another long jumper! For all of our failings on the infield we’re still golden in the long jump. Because just as Reese won the women’s event in Berlin, Phillips took the men’s gold as well. And Phillips is no stranger to the feel of gold around his neck having won the Olympic title in ‘04 and World titles in ‘03/’05 to go with his Berlin medal. The 33 year old’s PR 28’ 8.25 is still fresh having been set in ‘09 and he was the #1 ranked long jumper in the world in 2010. Look for Phillips on the Daegu podium.
Chris Solinsky – 5000/10000
Last year was a break out season for Solinsky as he set the AR in the 10000 (26:59.60) and moved to the #2 all time spot among Americans in the 5000 (12:55.53). More importantly he was competitive against the world finishing 5th in Stockholm and 3rd in Zurich. I expect Chris to be even more race savvy this year, and hopefully add a bit of a kick. He and Lagat will give us something we haven’t had in decades – a viable duo in in the distances in international competition.
Female Middle Distance Crew
I’m cheating here a bit, but I didn’t want to leave anyone out. Truth is we have developed a very potent middle distance group among the women. Jenny Simpson (nee Barringer) Anna Pierce, Christin Wurth Thomas, Shannon Rowbury, Morgan Uceny, Alysia Johnson, Phoebe Wright, and Maggie Vessey have all moved to within striking distance in the middle distances (800/1500). Perhaps the most depth we’ve ever had. I’ve got to think that at least one or two of these ladies is podium bound. Rowbury was there in Berlin placing 3rd in the 1500. I think this time around we place in both the 8 & 15.
Leonel Manzano – 800/1500
Speaking of the middle distances, the rapidly improving Andrew Wheating tends to get all the press, but quiet as it’s kept Leo Manzano improved just as rapidly in 2010. Manzano was equally as fast in the 800 (1:44.56), faster in the mile (3:50.64), and just a tad behind in the 1500 (3:32.37). And in the 1500/mile he had big finishes in London (3rd), Brussels (2nd) and the Continental Cup (3rd). He and Wheating will both be battling for a spot on center stage in Daegu.
Carmelita Jeter – 100
Jeter is the second fastest woman in history over 100 at 10.63. That puts her smack dab in the middle of the biggest national rivalry in the sport – the US v Jamaica in the sprints. Jeter was 3rd in Osaka (‘07) and 3rd in Berlin (‘09). Jeter’s top end may be the best in the game, but she leaves too much ground to make up in the early stages of the race. If she can get that start together she’ll be golden – even semi together. I think John Smith will find a way to get her there on time in Daegu.
Bershawn Jackson – 400 hurdles
Batman went “Old School” last year and picked up his old stride pattern between the hurdles. The result was a near undefeated season and a seasonal best of 47.32 – just .02 off his PR. He looked like a rejuvenated athlete after a couple of injury plagued down seasons. He enters 2011 brimming with confidence and I dare say that to beat him will take a PR from most this year, because I believe Batman can get close to 47.00.
There’s my Track and Field Dozen – one more than a Baker’s Dozen with some extra names tossed into the middle distance ring! And I still have more that I wanted to throw in there. But I will work their names in as the weeks and months go by. Suffice it to say that we look good as the year begins. With a bit of good health and some improvement here and there we should be in for one excellent showing come Daegu.