Being a World Championship season, 2011 will no doubt have it’s share of “hot” events. I’ve already taken a look at some of the stars that I think bear watching this year – and by association so should their events. But there is one event that I think could be the star of the season – the men’s 200 meters!
Why the men’s 200? After all it’s typically the 100 that has fan’s mouths drooling. Well, because right now the deuce has it all – star quality, depth, rising stars, intriguing stories and a rivalry. Everything you need for one outstanding event. Yes, the 100 usually gets top billing – and it will be a hot event again this year as well – but the 200 has more elements to it this year.
For starters we have the reining World and Olympic champion, who also happens to be the WR holder, looking to defend his title – Usain Bolt, JAM. Bolt is also looking to defend his 100 title, and should he win the 100 in Daegu would come into this event looking to become the first ever to defend double World titles. He will do so toeing the line as the man who has set the last two WR’s in the event at 19.39 and 19.19 – the hottest sprinter in the world in 2008 & 2009.
Standing in his way, however, should be the man who last defeated him at this distance in a major – Tyson Gay, USA – as Gay was the double sprint champion in Osaka (coincidently the last time Worlds was held in Asia). It was also the last time we saw Gay and Bolt compete against each other over this distance! Since then both have have improved dramatically, but in Bolt’s two major championship/WR setting runs Tyson Gay was on the sidelines with injuries. Rather important because Gay is the only sprinter that can run with/beat Bolt on the turn and therefore pressure him in this event.
Interestingly enough, however, while Gay took the ‘07 title from Bolt, he is not the last sprinter to defeat Usain at this distance. That distinction belongs to Wallace Spearmon (USA) who defeated Bolt in Brussels on September 14, 2007 with a 19.88 run. Ironically Bolt finished third in that race as Xavier Carter finished second and also ahead of Bolt – after beating Bolt the week before in Zurich. All of which means that the last three individuals to defeat Bolt over this distance are all scheduled to take to the track in 2011.
Both Spearmon and Carter (USA) have had injury issues in the intervening years, but last year Wallace had his best season since ‘06 (when he set his PR 19.65) as he had a season’s best 19.79 and ended the year ranked #2 in the world. In spite of the injuries, Spearmon still found his way into medal position in ‘08/’09 (though DQ’d for a lane violation in ‘08). So the prospect that he will have a healthy championship season ]in 2011 means the potential for the return of a sprinter that just a few years ago was running toe to toe with both Bolt and Gay – and winning. Because at his best Wallace Spearmon is possibly the best finisher in the world.
Increasing the depth in this event should be the man who ranked #1 last year, ahead of Spearmon – Walter Dix (USA). Dix was the double bronze medalist in Beijing behind Bolt and, after missing much of ‘09 to injury, returned last season to run within .03 of his PR (19.69), defeat Tyson Gay (19.72 to 19.76) in Eugene, and end up with the #1 ranking in the world for 2010. When he’s healthy and motivated, Dix is one tough competitor as he showed in both Beijing and Eugene. He’s a turnover machine that just keeps churning, and he’s a good enough turn runner to be in the fray coming off the bend – tremendously important when competing against both Bolt and Gay.
2011 could end up being the year of “Returning to Health” as another that should add to this event’s depth is Berlin Silver medalist, Alonso Edward (PAN). Edward became the youngest ever medalist in this event at Worlds in ‘09 as the then 19 year old sizzled to a 19.81 – fastest ever for that age. Edward missed last year’s outdoor season with a strained hamstring, however, curtailing his development. Should he come back fully healthy this year we could see one of the world’s best young sprinters get back on track – which could give us another high end 200 man. Because after finishing ahead of sprinters the level of Wallace Spearmon and Shawn Crawford in Berlin as a 19 year old this young man’s potential is scary.
Another youngster who began to actualize his potential last year is Yohan Blake (JAM) who went from a pre-2010 best of 20.60 to 19.78 last season! Blake only competed at this distance twice in ‘10, but with times of 19.78 and 19.86 to his credit announced that he may be more of a player in the deuce than in the 100. It will be interesting to see if he gives the 200 more attention in 2011. If so, he will add significantly to the depth in the event.
Another who added to the depth of the 200 in ‘10 was Curtis Mitchell (USA). With a 19.99 to his credit at the beginning of the summer, Curtis Mitchell became yet another youngster adding his name to the list of sub 20 performers, and another to watch in 2011. Especially since he cut his season short in June and did not participate in any of the real heavy 200 meter races that occurred on the European circuit. Mitchell is another of the new breed of tall sprinters at 6’ 4” and is still learning to run this event. Once eh puts it all together he is going to be dangerous – as if 19.99 isn’t already dangerous.
And as if there weren’t enough young talent out there, there is Ryan Bailey (USA) who ran 20.10 in spite of dealing with several injuries during the course of the season. Then there is also young Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre, who broke the 10 second barrier in the 100 (9.97) and found time to clock 20.16 only running a handful of deuces. Both Bailey and Lemaitre clearly have more in them and should be interesting to watch this year. Throw in Xavier Carter (USA) who is still trying to work his way back to his 2006 form (19.63) and the well chronicled story of Justin Gatlin (USA, 19.86) returning to the sprint wars – both now training together under the tutelage of sprint coach Brooks Johnson – and there are more sub 20 and potential sub 20 sprinters out there than any time in history – and who knows who will emerge THIS year!
So knowing that the chance of seeing Bolt v Gay happen before Daegu is slim to none, there is still plenty of top level talent out there to populate just about any meet that has the foresight to have the men’s 200 on it’s schedule! Which then takes us to the grand finale and what should be the first head to head in three years between the winners of the last three major championships in this event – Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt! A final in which we could have a final in which every competitor toes the line with a PR under 20 seconds – and a race that could see every finalist finish under that mark!
So this is why I believe that the men’s 200 will be THE event of the 2011 season. It has perhaps the world’s hottest head to head in Bolt v Gay, as well as the greatest top end depth of any event out there right now. Throw in the potential of a WR and some serious all time list altering, and not too many events have everything that this event will bring to the table this season.