In about one week’s time we start the process of putting together our team for the World Championships. Four days of intense competition that will determine who gets to go to South Korea and who gets to go back to the drawing board.
Perhaps the most intense and difficult of the squads to make, is the 100 meter dash team where it is common for .01sec or less to decide who goes and who stays home. A bad day, a bad start, a bad lean can mean the end of the journey. Add to the drama the fact that this year has already seen SEVENTEEN men under the once magical 10.00 barrier – six Americans, seven Jamaicans, four “Others” – and it’s no wonder that the Trials finals for the US and Jamaican men’s squads in this event are two of the most highly anticipated races of the season. Two races that should live up to the hype.
Before I begin let me say that I expect to see lots of changes on both squads from previous years. Heading into next week I see only two constants – Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt. Everyone else seems to be in a state of flux – previous stars falling a bit (Powell, Dix, et al), the previously struggling rising up (Mullings, Rodgers). Not to mention what looks like a potential youth movement (Blake, Ashmeade, Salaam, Mitchell). The big question is who can stand up to the pressure of the “Trials”?
So without further adieu here’s how I see the two squads shaking out after all is said and done. I’m going six deep in my predictions as I’m sure that will include individuals on both squads that will be looked at for potential relay duty, among others in related events.
I expect Tyson Gay to be razor sharp with his training geared solely on the 100. The key to Gay is always the start. Here that will affect his time, but not his place, as I just don’t see anyone that can challenge him barring a catastrophic start or injury (knock on wood). The question is what will be happening behind him?
Mike Rodgers has been the most consistent American this spring with 3 sub10’s and a slowest time of 10.07, not counting the –3.4 mps negative wind race in New York. His consistency should pay off with a second place finish behind Gay.
It’s that third, and final, spot for Daegu that has been giving me fits. But after much thought I’m going with what may not be a popular choice, but one that makes sense given how the season has gone – Justin Gatlin. Gatlin has been here before; understands the pressure; has been on a steady road of improvement; and I believe is back where he was in June of ‘06. Not that it will be easy, because I expect collegians Mookie Salaam and Maurice Mitchell to make it a tough race. I also expect Walter Dix to make it an interesting race. But like Gay he too suffers from inconsistent starting (i.e. first 30 meters) and hasn’t seemed sharp enough to contend early or fit enough to run down the field.
Outside of Tyson Gay, who may have the best top end on the planet, if you don’t start well in the first 30 of this race, it will be a wrap. There will be a lot of familiar names that will not make the cut – Darvis Patton, Travis Padgett, Rae Edwards, Ivory Williams, Ryan Bailey, and Trell Kimmons could form a solid final of their own with all but Edwards having sub10 credentials. But it’s all about who’s ready next week, and this is how I see next week playing out.
Usain Bolt has a bye in this event to Worlds and has given indications this season that he will not be competing in Kingston. So with that in mind my prediction assumes that if Bolt is in attendance it’s as a spectator. If he does elect to compete simply insert Bolt into the top spot and move everyone else down a peg.
With that said Mullings is clearly the man to beat in this race. He’s lead the world for most of the spring, has a best of 9.80 and five sub10’s to his credit this season. More importantly he has already been through the fire, going head to head with both Bolt and Gay and more than holding his own – he will be hard to intimidate. He confirms that with a win in Kingston.
Behind Mullings look for two youngsters to join him in ushering in a era of change for Jamaica. Yohan Blake trains with Bolt and is not intimidated on the track. He’s a tough competitor and will run Mullings hard and sew up the 2nd Daegu spot by 80 meters. The sea change in the Jamaican 100 will be completed by the man child Nikel Ashmeade, who should be the best of the closers in this field.
I know, by now everyone is saying “umm, what about Asafa?”. While Powell ushered in a new era in Jamaican sprinting in 2004, Bolt and the current youth movement has caught up to the former WR holder who this season is looking like the ‘96 version of Carl Lewis – and that is how I see him finishing in this race. Nesta Carter looked ready to take this race (in Bolt’s absence) at the end of last season, but has not looked as sharp and recently said he suffered hamstring issues at Pre. Frater, like Powell is up against a strong youth movement and will be out of the money here, as with Bolt’s bye Jamaica will get three others into Daegu.
And as with the US meet, there will be a lot of talent left on the cutting room floor – Mario Forsythe, Lerone Clarke, Dexter Lee, and Oshane Bailey to name a few. Good sprinters, but just not ready yet.
So when the smoke clears, we’ll see how close I was in about 10 days time. Those who get tickets on the flight to Daegu will be facing a field that should include Ngoni Makusha (ZIM), Christophe Lemaitre (FRA), Richard Thompson (TRI), Gerald Phiri (ZAM), and Dwain Chambers (GBR) among others.
But make no mistake, you have to go through these two squads to attempt to get a medal. So the outcome of these two races should settle a goodly portion of the Daegu final. Next I will attempt to decipher the women’s event – which may be more difficult than the men – before taking a look at the 800 meters.