Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nationals Recap – Sprints


The National Championships ended a couple of days ago now and I’ve been running it back over in my mind, and the DVR, a few times.  Upon further review it was one of the most interesting meets we’ve had in a while. So much so that I’m going to recap it in parts – because there was a lot that went on. At the conclusion, I will put out my first “Medal Watch List” of the year – a list that I will adjust during the summer lead up to the World Championships.

I’m going to start with a recap/analysis of the sprints. Partly because they have traditionally been our strongest area heading into a World Championships or Games, and partly because more happened here than perhaps anywhere else in the meet.

As this meet unfolded I had this feeling of déjà vu, but couldn’t figure out why. After re-watching the meet and going through the results it hit me – sprint wise this meet was eerily like the 1976 Olympic Trials. In 1975 the two biggest names in men’s sprinting were Steve Williams and Donald Quarrie – an American & a Jamaican.  Williams was a WR setter in ‘75 over both the 100 (9.9) and 200 (19.8), Quarrie a record setter in the 200 (19.8). Williams #1 World ranked in the 100 #2 in the 200; Quarrie #2 in the 100, #1 in the 200. At the start of the ‘76 season Williams was HOT – Mar 27 (9.9), Apr 17 (19.9), May 8 (10.0), and May 22 (19.9). It was assumed that only Quarrie, or perhaps young upstart collegian Harvey Glance – himself a two time WR setter at 9.9 earlier in the season – could stop Williams from double gold in Montreal. Then a hamstring injury pulled Williams from the Trials! Our hottest sprinter and surest medal bet was OUT. (Ironically a hamstring injury had taken a younger version of Williams from the ‘72 Trials, he was no stranger to injury).

Then, at the Trials themselves Houston McTear, THE wonder kid of the day (high school senior) , pulled up while finishing 2nd in the 100 final – he made the team but would not be healthy at the Games. The winner of the race was indeed Harvey Glance with veteran Steve Riddick in third. With Williams out of the deuce, another youngster, JC star Millard Hampton, took the title ahead of another high schooler, Dwain Evans, and a who woulda thunk it Mark Lutz. The 400 saw comeback veteran Fred Newhouse lead youngsters Herman Frazier and Maxie Parks to Montreal. But perhaps our best quarter miler would not be eligible to run in Montreal as one John Smith was competing in the fledgling ITA (professional league) and was ineligible for Olympic competition!

Now I took that little detour through history because quite frankly that’s almost exactly where we are today in the men’s sprints! Our best sprinter (Tyson Gay) felled to injury. A mixture of young talent (Dix, Rodgers), veteran (Gatlin, Patton) and “who” (Dodson). A youth (McQuay), a comeback vet (Wariner) and perhaps our best not eligible (Merritt) for our quarter mile squad!

How did we get here? Clearly we are witnessing a changing of the guard in US sprinting – much as we were in ‘76. They say that in sports Father Time is the only one that is undefeated – and he took a lot of scalps in this meet as bodies simply broke down, time taking it’s toll. Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Xavier Carter, Shawn Crawford, just a few years ago they looked like our foundation – ready to take us through another 10 years. But as I noted last year, injury is apparently the new aging, and we just may not see those LONG careers that we thought professionalism would bring.

So, now that the dust has settled, how does this group look? If I’m being honest, unclear. Dix and Gatlin both said that they made the team in spite of fighting injuries and illness. And I have to believe them, because frankly I didn’t expect Dix to make the 100 squad. So in some respects it gives me some hope knowing that both “should” be better/faster in Daegu. The question is how fast will they need to be?

Our biggest challenge should be the Jamaicans, but they’ve had their own issues of late. Bolt was not Boltian earlier in the season. Powell and Carter have claimed injuries at various times. Mullings was said to have nearly pulled out of his Trials with cramping. Ashmeade seemed to be having issues at Trials. Clearly fast times are taking their toll! Then there are two youngsters out there that are ready to potentially hijack things – Ngoni Makusha and Christophe Lemaitre. Both are improving rapidly, and neither has the “miles” on their drive trains that we and the Jamaicans seem to have on ours! Makusha has a very beautiful natural race pattern and could be deadly in Daegu. Lemaitre has a ton of talent, but can he get it all harnessed in time?

That said, looking at our chances, I say one medal in the 100. Maybe two in the 200. A better shot at two in the 400. But if I were playing spades I’d be hoping that someone doesn’t have too many spades sitting in their hand, or I’m toast! A healthy Bolt goes sub 9.80 and sub 19.60. That’s uncharted territory in big race situations for anyone else that is headed to Daegu. The closer you can get to that the better your chance at a medal. Healthy both Dix and Gatlin are battle tested and capable of medaling – Dix in both, Gatlin in the 100. Can Patton PR in the deuce after all this time – because that’s what it will take to medal. McQuay appears ready to challenge the young talent in the 400, can Wariner? These are the five men that I see attempting to hold the down the sprint fort in Daegu. And then there is the specter of Lashawn Merritt and whether or not he will be allowed to compete – because if he’s in form he can change everything in the 400!

Now for the women – I saved the best for last! For the first time in a while, our women’s sprint team looks to be much stronger than our men’s squad heading into a major. Whereas Father Time took a toll on our men, he seems to be biding his time with the women. Our 100 crew came through intact, with “vet” Miki Barber running better than ever. Carmelita Jeter is just rolling this year, and Marshevet Myers is having a PR season. In the deuce, we are lead by Allyson Felix who is going for a “four-peat” in this event. Like Myers, Shalonda Solomon is putting together what looks to be her best season ever. Jeter turned some attention here and PR’d in Eugene, and Jeneba Tarmoh is young and talented and having a PR season herself. So we look very solid in the 100 & 200 with the women.

The area where there may be a bit of concern is in the 400. The first question is whether or not Nationals winner Allyson Felix is going to attempt the double in Daegu. That’s a big question, because defending champion Sanya Richards Ross is just not looking the part. She may be the one woman in our sprint crew that Father Time is tapping on the shoulder. She’s not looked good at all outdoors, and Nationals was not a good meet for her. After pulling out of the 400 and getting blitzed in the deuce, she’s just not looking like a 10.97 / 22.17 / 48.70 sprinter. So if Felix decides against the double we’re looking at Francena Mc Corory, Debbie Dunn, and Jessica Beard. Talented, but lacking the experience that Felix and Richard Ross bring to the event.

The challenge? Well, primarily Jamaica, primarily Veronica Campbell Brown. She’s the one Jamaican with more medals than Bolt! And apparently she has Father Time’s favor because she seems to get better with time – at least in the 100. With Gay out, the biggest sprint showdowns in Daegu should be between Campbell Brown & Jeter in the 100 and Campbell Brown & Felix in the 200. She should get strong backing from Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce and Kerron Stewart, but as of right now Campbell Brown be runnin things on the island. As for the 400, no one anywhere is really stepping up, but expect to see a Jamaican, a Russian, a Ukrainian, and a Brit do so in the next 2 months.

So, how do we look? As of today, I say two medals in the 100, a possible two medals in the 200 and one, possible two in the 400 – and I think I’m holdingi a pretty strong hand. Jeter is an ace in the 100, and Myers will be hard to keep off the podium the way she is currently running. Felix is an ace in the 200, Solomon & Jeter looking really strong right now. Felix is a medal in the 400 should she run, if not strength of field will determine what we get here.

That’s how I see it. Relay wise we should medal in all four relays – the question is what colors. I will take a look at the relays separately when I’m done with other events. I will also take a look at Tyson Gay, because I’ve had a lot of people asking me what I think about Tyson and the future. Andn I will be taking a look at the Merritt situation. So I will give my two cents on all of the above later.

Suffice it to say, however, that there are a lot of question marks in the sprints right now on the men’s side of the ledger. A lot that has to be answered over the next eight weeks or so.  And to be honest, I’m less concerned with what Jamaica is doing than I am with what we are not doing. We had a BIG men’s class in 2005 when the first four finishers in the 200 at the NCAA Championships were Wallace Spearmon (soph), Xavier Carter (frosh), Tyson Gay (sr) and Walter Dix (frosh)! We’ve had nothing like it since. Yet we’ve had some outstanding young sprinters coming out of our high schools since then – better on the clock than the foursome I just listed. We have to figure out the disconnect!

But Daegu is looming ahead, and I’ll really be watching the next four to six weeks, because we should have a clue by that point at just how well we’re going to do. Next I’ll be recapping the Hurdles.

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