Goodbye 2010. Welcome 2011. Last year was fun, but there is something special about having a Major championship to look forward to. It makes the season seem more “official”.
The athletes seem to feel that way anyway. Last year saw many athletes take time off, and end season’s early. We may see more athletes begin their seasons a bit later this year – as they extend their preparation for Daegu. But one thing is for certain – the competition should be fierce this year.
With that in mind, here are 10 things that I think will bear watching in 2011.
The Collegiate Indoor Championships
The indoor season has lost much luster over the years. The number of top level meets has decreased, and the best of the elite athletes tend to avoid the “boards” and focus their efforts on preparing for the outdoor season. The one area of the sport that still regards the indoor season as “serious” is the colleges. And their focus during the winter is on winning indoor championships – individual and team. Watch the squads from Florida, Oregon, and Texas AM – annually the nations best – as their battle for collegiate supremacy begins with the indoor championships in Columbus Ohio.
Gatlin’s story is well known, so no need to repeat it here. Suffice it to say that his “comeback” last year, though brief, was successful. At least I would say that 10.09 in a handful of races after a four year “layoff” was success. This year he has changed coaches and is working with veteran coach Brooks Johnson – the architect behind David Oliver’s dominant 2010 season. Gatlin’s journey will bear watching in 2011 as he attempts to make the U.S. sprint squad for Daegu. Once a double World Champion, it will be interesting to see how close he can come to the last two double World Champs – Tyson Gay (‘07) and Usain Bolt (‘09).
The Diamond League
I would have thought that the off season would have been the perfect time to debut the Diamond League. After all there was no Major to conflict with athlete’s training/competition schedules. If there was difficulty getting the best to go head to head last year, it will be more difficult this year, as these meets may take a back seat to the athlete’s focus on Daegu. After all, the need to rest, rehab, or get in additional training time will supersede potential meet commitments. Not to mention that for over a decade now, many of the top stars have taken the approach of avoiding “contact” until The Big Meet. Let’s see how the Diamond League deals with the issue of presenting high level match ups in a championship season.
The USATF CEO Hire
This could be the most important hire for the sport here in the US is several decades. The issue here is not about how many medals we win in London, Moscow or any other championship. Rather it’s about what role the US will play in the sport globally as we move forward. Will we host a Major? Will we develop the infrastructure necessary to bring the sport back to prominence here in the US? Will we increase the number of “elite” level meets held here in the US and will we get greater exposure of meets on TV? The answer to these and other questions will lie in the success or failure of this hire. USATF says that a new chief will be hired by the end of the first quarter – in time to monitor preparations for Daegu.
The Men’s 110 Hurdles
You want a story/rivalry/marketing opportunity, it’s all right here. The three fastest men in history – all from different parts of the world. David Oliver just dominated 2010 and set his AR. Dayron Robles dominated 2008, won Olympic gold and set his WR. Liu Xiang was the Athens (‘04), Helsinki (‘05) and Osaka (‘07) champion, and twice a former WR setter. All three should be healthy and in their prime in 2011 – and love to compete when healthy! The all time list in this event could take a beating in 2011, and the final in Daegu should be a barn burner. 12.85 could be in the offing this year.
The NCAA Outdoor Championships
What started the year off indoors will culminate with the outdoor version – annually the world’s best team oriented championship competition. Last year’s meet saw the men’s championship go down to the very last event – and Texas AM scoring a 1 point victory over Florida. They should both be in the mix again this year – along with the squad from Oregon – as the nation’s best collegians will gather in Des Moines for the seasons' final battle. It should also give us a glimpse into Daegu as many international stars hone their craft at US colleges. And I have a feeling we will see several members of the US team for Daegu warming up in Iowa.
It’s not often that an athlete at the top of their game just walks away from a sport, and then walks back in. Back in 1993 Michael Jordan announced his “retirement” saying that he had lost his desire to play. A year and a half later, in 1995, he returned to the game he had once dominated – and picked up where he left off. After failing to medal at the outdoor World Championships in Berlin and the indoor World championships in Daegu, Isinbayeva announced on April 10th that she was going to take an “indefinite” break from track and field saying "At this moment I cannot exactly say when I will return to competitions." Well that moment appears to be at the Russian Winter Meeting in Moscow on Feb 6. We will see if the Double Olympic Champion will take up her WR setting and title winning in 2011.
The U.S. National Championships
Always a major event, this time around should pose many questions? Will Tyson Gay come through healthy on his way to sprint showdowns in Daegu – after all his last full championship did not end well. Will Allyson Felix attempt to double in the 200/400 – if she does we could see a Felix v Sanya Richards showdown over 400. Which Walter Dix will show up – the sizzling sprinter that double medaled in eijing and defeated Tyson Gay in Eugene this past season, or the injured half interested sprinter who sometimes just seems happy to be there? Does Gatlin make the squad? How will our middle distance runners perform – will anyone emerge from this group ready to compete for medals in Daegu? And aside from our shot putters, long jumpers, pole vaulters, Chaunte Howard Lowe and Kara Patterson will we see any other field eventers step up to the plate and look podium ready? For the answer to these and other questions we look to Eugene once again – Jun 23 – 27.
The Jamaican National Championships
According to the media, there is a rivalry brewing between the US and Jamaica. It’s mostly a 100 meter rivalry (men & women) combined with Usain Bolt’s double medal winning performances in the last two Majors that has the media talking. But heading into Daegu it’s really a two man race in both short sprints with Usain Bolt & Tyson Gay going head to head for world sprint supremacy. The Jamaican Championships, coupled with the US National Championships, will tell us if anyone else on either side is ready to step up and be counted as podium material behind the mercurial duo. And whether or not there is health and depth behind Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell Brown. After this weekend, the wagering on the Daegu sprints will escalate dramatically.
The World Championships – Daegu South Korea
This is the big one! The meet we will all be awaiting with baited breath. Where all the questions will be answered. Will we see a sub 1:42 in major competition (David Rudisha)? Will the US get the baton around the track in the 4x1’s? How will their layoffs affect the performances of Justin Gatlin, Yelena Isinbayeva, Shelly Ann Fraser and Lashawn Merritt? Is Christphe Lemaitre ready for the big time? Who gets gold, Oliver, Xiang or Robles? Chris Solinsky, finalist, medalist? And who is the world’s fastest man, Gay or Bolt – or do we get a split? Daegu will hold all the answers!
2011 has the potential to be the most exciting season in history. It’s got every kind of story imaginable as we begin the journey. It should be a track fans nirvana!