The real action in a meet like the National Championships is supposed to occur in the finals. The preliminary rounds are supposed to separate the contenders from the pretenders. Sometimes, however, the early rounds aren’t as “balanced” as they perhaps should be.
The result is that you get some very interesting combinations early on. Combinations that don’t always make it to the finals as someone gets eliminated too early in a “first 2 plus fastest 4” kind of scenario – especially in straight away races where favorable/unfavorable winds can play an unwanted role.
Scanning through the heat sheets for the opening rounds I found some early heats that could be very interesting.
Women's 100: heat 1 - - Lakya Brookins, Miki Barber, Jeneba Tarmoh, and Marshavet Myers
Only the first three are guaranteed to move through to the semifinal round. Barber has been under the radar most of the season, but comes in with an SB of 11.14 and could make things interesting.
Women's 200: heat 4 - - Marshavet Myers, Lauryn Williams, Carmelta Jeter, Lisa Barber
Same scenario as in the 100, three guaranteed spots and a wild card in Lisa Barber. Barber’s a good turn runner, and could put some early pressure on the others in the field if she’s in form.
Women's 400: heat 3 - - Jessica Beard, Kesia Baker, Sanya Richards Ross
Three advance, but according to the heat sheet one of them is Sanya Richards Ross. She hasn’t had the kind of season she would like to have so does she have to run a bit harder here to be in that top 3? And if so, what does that do to the races of Baker and Beard? Do they try to race her or do they run to qualify and conserve energy?
Women's 400: heat 4 - - Mary Wineberg, Debbie Dunn, Natasha Hastings
Same story with the trio. Three advance, so they should be safe. The question will be just how hard will they push each other? There are a ton of 50 second types entered – not to mention Allyson Felix and potentially Sanya Richards Ross! The balancing act here is, have to make it out of the round, but be ready to compete in the next round.
Men's 100: heat 1 - - Rae Edwards, Shawn Crawford, Darvis Patton, Justin Gatlin
Three advance, which means that at least one of these men will not make it. The irony here is that in ‘04 Crawford and Gatlin were two of the most dominant sprinters on the planet. They went 1,2 in their Olympic semi and 1, 4 in the final. Here both will be running for their lives in the opening round.
Men's 100: heat 3 - Mookie Salaam, Walter Dix (side by side)
Both men should make it, because both should play a major roll in the final. Yet here they sit in adjacent lanes having to go at it in the FIRST round. Tough because depending on how they finish here they could see each other again in the semi and again in the final – and unless you are clearly superior it’s tough to beat an opponent three times in a row over a couple of days.
Men's 100: heat 5 - Ivory Williams, Maurice Mitchell, Tyson Gay
The same story in this heat for Williams and Mitchell. They get the pleasure of potentially facing Gay three times in a row. More importantly they are both potential finalists that get a chance to get in each other’s head before the final! Something tells me that these 100 heats could be more brutal than usual.
Men's 200: heat 1 - Mookie Salaam, Justin Gatlin, Shawn Crawford, Rodney Martin
Once again, three automatic qualifiers and four potential candidates. What’s interesting here is that Salaam and Gatlin have been running well but have drawn lanes 2 & 3. Meanwhile out in lanes 7 & 8 will be Crawford and Martin, who at this point in their careers could certainly use those gentle curves!
Men's 200: heat 3 - Davis Patton, Xavier Carter, Maurice Mitchell
Three automatic qualifying berths, but the real question is just how well will vets Patton and Carter compete against the youngster Mitchell? All three should make it out of the round, but what kind of momentum will they have moving forward? A good run here could set you up for the semi, a bad run prolong the agony!
Men's 200: heat 5 - Tyson Gay listed to run
There is no one of consequence in this heat not named Tyson Gay. I only list it because a couple of weeks ago Tyson said he wasn’t running this event – but here he is listed in lane 4. Now better to have a lane than not – he can always not run if he has a lane, but can’t get a lane later if he decides that he does want to run. So I consider this a bit of insurance on his part. Though I would love to see him take part, because personally I think this IS his best event.
OK. So I’m getting close to my final word before the gun goes off! The last thing I will say is to keep an eye on Mr. Lane Draw. As the athletes work their way through the rounds Lane Draw will begin to play a VERY important roll in determining the team to Daegu – mark my words. A third place in a round instead of second can mean the difference between Lane 5 and Lane 2! And you don’t want too tight of a turn, nor do you want to be too far away from the hot competition going on in the middle of the track! So the only way to make sure Mr. Lane Draw treats you right is to cross that line early! Which is what really makes all of these early match ups important!
So with that. On your marks. Set. Let’s GO! I’m chompin at the bits for the meet to start!