One of the nice things about this sport is watching the development of youth. While it is harder these days to make an impact internationally as a young person, the opportunity is still there for many. Following are ten young people that I think will have that opportunity in 2011.
Kirani James – Granada – 400 meters
This young man was just a breath away from running under 45 seconds last year in the quarter (45.01) – and he was only 18 years old! The World Youth Champion in ‘09, he added the World Junior title and NCAA title to his resume in 2010. Next stop, Daegu. And I will be very surprised if the smooth striding James is not a finalist at this year’s World Championships.
Halima Hachlaf – Morocco – 800 meters
The women’s 800 meters has been looking for someone to “take over” for a while now. There hasn’t been a repeat winner in a major over the distance since Maria Mutola won back to back World’s in ‘01/’03. As a 21 year old last year Hachlaf showed signs of moving into prime position as she won the Rome Grand Prix early with her PR 1:58.40, along with a second in Gateshead. Her fitness waned thereafter and she had a couple of DNF’s – indicative of perhaps injury during midseason. But at her best she seems capable of running with anyone – and in what is a wide open event that could produce a medal.
Abubaker Kaki – Sudan – 800 meters
David Rudisha took all the headlines in this event in 2010, but two years prior in ‘08 Kaki broke the African AJR Record indoors and the WJR outdoors! He improved to 1:42.23 last year and became the fifth fastest performer in history. A feat that went virtually unnoticed during Rudisha’s all conquering season. Look for Kaki to continue to improve in ‘11 and provide competition for Rudisha. He’s too good a competitor to just sit back and let Rudisha rule the event without putting up a fight.
Queen Harrison – United States – Hurdles
It’s not often that we see women that are truly adept at both hurdle distances. Last year we had two – Tierra Brown and Queen Harrison. Harrison settled the question of who was best with a double victory at the NCAA Championships on her way to becoming the women’s winner of the Bowerman Award for 2010. She’s since turned professional and will take her 12.61/54.51 PR’s into battle against the world’s elite athletes. It will be interesting to see if she focuses on one event or attempts to make the US team in both.
Christian Taylor – United States – Jumps
The US has been suffering through a very long drought in the triple jump. After a string of superb triple jumpers – Willie Banks, Mike Conley and Kenny Harrison – we haven’t had a true gold medal threat since Harrison’s victory in Atlanta way back in 1996. Taylor has the ability to change that. The young man definitely has the talent with bests of 45.34 in the 400, 26’ 3.25” in the long jump, and 56’ 4.5” in the triple jump – and he’s just a j20 year old junior at Florida. Taylor is on the early Bowerman Watch List, and on my list as someone that will make an impact for the US internationally during the next few majors, as I believe he has the potential to make us creditable again in the triple jump.
Sandra Perkovic – Croatia – Discus
Croatia is known as the home country of last year’s #1 female track and field athlete – Blanka Vlasic. I think that’s about to change as young Croatian discus queen Sandra Perkovic also seems to be headed to stardom. In her first season of “senior” competition she won the Diamond League finale in Brussels, took the European title in Barcelona and finished second in the Continental Cup in Split. Not too bad for the young 20 year old. I’m dying to see what she does in Daegu.
Andrew Wheating – United States – Middle Distance
Americans have always had a fascination for middle distance runners. Pre started his career in the mile. Jim Ryun will forever be an icon. And we have watched with baited breath the career of Alan Webb. While Webb is on the comeback trail, the next great American middle distance runner may already be here. Wheating started out by leading the Oregon Ducks in their pursuit of a national title during last spring. While the Ducks fell just short, Wheating did his share winning both the 800 and 1500 at the NCAA Championships. After a brief respite he turned his attention for a short time to Europe. Long enough to run PR’s of 1:44.56, 3:30.90 and 3:51.74! One can only imagine what he will be able to do now not having to run for collegiate points and with his sights on Daegu.
Darya Klishina – Russia – Long Jump
Jamaica turns out sprinters, Kenya distance runners and Russia turns out jumpers! Russia turns out long and triple jumpers like clockwork and Darya could end up being the best of them all. As a 19 year old last year she was #2 on the yearly list with her NJR of 23’ 0.75”. She also competed well, beating her countrywomen at the Znamensky Memorial and winning Diamond League meetings in Stockholm and London. Having already shown she can compete with the best she will be setting her 20 year old sites on Daegu. And I will be surprised if she isn’t on the podium.
Jehue Gordon – Trinidad – 400 hurdles
There are a lot of good young hurdlers out there, including Jesua Anderson (48.47) and Johnny Dutch (47.63) so to say that Gordon could be the best of the lot is saying a mouthful. But at the tender age of 17 he finished fourth at the World Championships in his PR 48.26! Two years later Gordon is still only 19, yet will be looking to improve upon that placing. The only way to do that will be to get on the podium – a prospect that I think is very likely.
Gabby Mayo – United States – sprints/hurdles
Gabby probably fell off a lot of people’s radar as she missed a great deal of last year to injury. Yet in spite of missing the best meets of the year she still managed to run 11.13 in the 100 and 12.81 in the 100 hurdles. Pretty awesome when you consider that she ran the 100 mark in April and didn’t compete after late May. The US is usually pretty deep in both sprinters and hurdlers – and our national teams are tough to make. But I like Mayo’s heart and there is something about her that says she’s going to be tough to keep off the team. We need a young sprinter to step up. I think Mayo could be that sprinter. At 21 years old she’s just about the right age to do so.
There is just a ton of talent out there. These 10 are just the tip of the iceberg. All have talent and that certain “it” that I think will see them all progress up the ladder of success in 2011.