It was a windy holiday weekend across much of the U.S. as report after report on most of this weekend’s meets referenced the wind and weather as a factor – keeping most performances to average at best. I watched the ACC Championships online, and certainly the weather played havoc for much of the meet as rain poured and the wind blew and the results were less than stellar the first couple of days. But on the final day the sprinters caught some favorable winds and the speedy Florida State Seminoles sent notice to Florida, Texas A&M, LSU and others that they would have something to say about who takes home the medals and team title in Des Moines.
The Seminoles already had one of the NCAA’s top times in the 4x1 at 38.87. Saturday they cruised to a 39.61 that crushed a weak ACC field – a preview of what was to come. Riding a maximum +2.0 wind, they went 1,2,3 in the 100 meters behind Ngonidzashe Makusha’s sizzling 9.97 – 10.03 for Maurice Mitchell and 10.27 for Kemar Hyman. Makusha & Mitchell taking over the top two spots on the NCAA list and Makusha becoming #2 in the world on the season. Then, as if 1,2,3 in the 100 weren’t enough, they came back to go 1 thru 4 in the 200 with Maurice Mitchell (20.19, +1.1) taking the world lead well ahead of teammates Brandon Byram (20.57), Charles Clark (20.78), and Brandon O’Connor (20.91).
Their performances were the latest salvo in the men’s NCAA title hunt as four of the top five teams in the country – Florida (#1), Texas A&M (#2), Florida St (#4), and LSU (#5) – are all very strong in the sprints. Clearly the battles in the relays, sprints and hurdles are going to have a profound effect on the final team title outcome in Des Moines. Also certain to have an effect on the podium at the NCAA championships will be long jumper, now sprinter Makusha.
Ngonidzashe Makusha is no stranger to the podium, having won the NCAA outdoor title as a freshman in ‘08 with his PR 27’ 2.75”. He just missed the podium in Beijing the same year with a 4th place finish. He came back to repeat as NCAA champion in ‘09 at 26’ 7.25”w, but competed only once in 2010. He won the ACC title in 25’ 4.75” but it was the 100 where he turned heads this time around. He entered the race with a PR of 10.52 set back in ‘07 and only placed 6th in his semifinal of the World Jr. Championships in ‘06 in 10.84. None of which gave any indication of what was to come – the second legal sub10 run this season at 9.97!
Perhaps we’ll see more of him in the 100. If so, the Zimbabwean could become the latest in what was once a strong line of African sprinters. Everyone is familiar with African names at distances of 800 meters and above. David Rudisha (KEN), Abubaker Kaki (SUD), Asbel Kiprop (KEN), Eliud Kipchoge (KEN), Tariku Bekele (ETH), and Samuel Chalenga (ETH) are just a handful of dozens of African middle and long distance runners that currently dominate the sport.
But one has to go back to the early “oughts” and Frankie Fredericks (NAM) to find an African that was a major factor in the sprints. Ironically, while the Caribbean has risen up over the last decade to challenge American sprint dominance (Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, et al) it was the continent of Africa in the 90’s that was forcing the issue. With athletes like Francis Obikwelu (NGR), Olapade Adeniken (NGR), Davidson Ezinwa (NGR), Frankie Fredericks (NAM), Daniel Effiong (NGR), Abdul Zakari (GHA), Chidi Imoh (NGR), Desi Aliu (NGR), Seun Ogunkoya (NGR)and Oluyemi Kayode(NGR) at the top of sprint lists, making the finals in majors, and winning medals. And it was Nigeria in 1992 running 37.98 in the 4x1 getting under the 38.00 barrier – 15 years before the Caribbean nations.
But the “oughts” have seen a virtual drought in African sprinting. While the continent’s distance runners have gone through the roof – controlling every event from the 800 through the marathon – the sprinters nearly became extinct. Until Saturday. I’m hoping we see more of Makusha in the sprints. After all, jumping and sprinting tend to compliment each other. Carl Lewis (9.86/ 29’ 1.25”) is certainly the most famous in this regard. But several others also did well at both including: Larry Myricks (28’ 8.25”/20.03), Kareem Streete Thomspson (28’ 3.75”/ 9.96), and Mike Conley (27’ 9.25”/58’ 7.5”/20.21). Last year’s top jumper, Dwight Phillips has gone 28’ 8.25/10.06). And people forget that former 100 WR holder Leroy Burrell (9.85) also jumper 27’ 5.5”. So perhaps Makusha can be both a renaissance man and sprint and jump while starting a renaissance in African sprinting. Definitely one to watch as the season moves forward.