Identifying America’s top sprinters used to be pretty easy. In spite of our depth, there were always two or three men and women that stepped up to stand above the rest. Jim Hines, Charlie Greene, Wilma Rudolph, Steve Williams, Harvey Glance, Evelyn Ashford, Gail Devers, Carl Lewis, Calvin Smith, Chandra Cheeseborough, Mo Greene, Jon Drummond, Valerie Brisco,. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say that while there are always surprises at the National Championships/Olympic Trials the major players were clearly identified well before the meet started.
This year however, only three names immediately come to mind:Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix, and Carmelita Jeter – and are we won’t see Felix in the 200 because she has a bye. We have been undergoing a sea change in the sprints in recent years – both globally and domestically. Globally the rest of the world has shifted gears and caught up to what was once an unapproachable U.S. dominance. We still get our share of medals, but gold is no longer secure.
Domestically we are in a state of flux – a changing of the guard. We still have many hold overs from the early part of last decade – Shawn Crawford, Darvis Patton, Lauryn Williams. And our best hopes are entering the latter stages of their 20’s – Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix, Carmelita Jeter. These athletes are as dependable as ever, but we have yet to see a real surge of young sprint talent such as that that is occurring in the Caribbean and Europe. In the past we were the ones with a pipeline of young talent bursting forth each year, now we are watching as others are enjoying an influx of young new talent.
The result of all of the above is that with only 20 days til the start of Nationals the status of our sprint squads are as unclear as they have ever been. Yes we expect Tyson Gay to lead the way to Daegu in both sprints, with Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix leading the women’s 100 & 200 teams. After that, however it’s looking like a crap shoot. With several of our top contenders taking the track at Pre, I’m hoping that we get a bit of clarity regarding fitness and competitive levels.
In the men’s 100 we have Justin Gatlin, Mike Rodgers, Darvis Patton, Ivory Williams and Leroy Dixon. If we assume that the top two spots at Nationals “should” go to Gay and Walter Dix (in the 200 here), then there are several individuals looking to lock down that third spot – or possibly slip into the second spot. Of the group in Eugene this weekend, Gatlin, Williams and Rodgers should have the inside track – and I’m curious to see how they define their positions tomorrow. The real question is: how close to his former form will Gatlin get? Rodgers is sub-10 this year and should be the favorite among this group, but is often weak late race and becomes vulnerable to strong finishers. Patton is a vets vet but his legs are starting to age. We haven’t seen that “zip” since the Trials of ‘08. This is an important race for all of them heading into Nationals. One that could begin to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The 200 has some of U.S. history’s fastest men entered with Wallace Spearmon (19.65), Walter Dix (19.69), and Xavier Carter (19.63) lining up. Unfortunately Carter has been far from his best since injury in ‘08. Spearmon and Dix ran well last year – Dix ranking #1 in the world – but neither has yet to show the sub-20 form necessary to compete for a medal in Daegu. Yes, I know it’s still early yet. But when you consider that last year seven men broke 20.00 in a year that meant nothing championship wise, and that Bolt and Gay run 19.5/19.6 out of habit, one must be looking at sub-20 NOW to have any hope at the podium in August. This race is about both solidifying position for Nationals as well as getting in position for a medal run in Daegu.
The women’s 100 is very similar to the men. We have Carmelita Jeter who, like Tyson Gay, runs fast out of habit, followed by a group that has not yet put it quite together. One has the feeling that veteran Lauryn Williams will find a way to get on the team, because no matter how she looks prior to a championship meet she seems to get to the line on time. If that’s the case, then like the men we are looking at a lot of bodies trying to gain one spot. Marshevet Myers and Alex Anderson could get the inside track this weekend. Both are capable, and I would consider both top prospects to make the sprint squad. They have run well early, and this race is deep enough to provide a very strong pre Nationals tune up. With Jeter, Fraser Price and Stewart in the race it’s almost guaranteed to be a sub-11 victory. Key here will be how close the others will be – because it should take sub-11 to make the squad in 20 days.
There will be no women’s 200 at Pre. That’s a shame because there really haven’t been a lot of high level 200 races this year, so going to Nationals in this event is almost a blind draw at this point. But the 400 has Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards – both of whom are looking at possibly doubling in the 2 & 4 in Daegu. The race will still be important for both women. One, to see if Felix can put together another solid, sub-50 race. Two for Richards to see if she can get back on track. As she’s lost a couple races in a row now and hasn’t looked strong doing so. They “should: be our two strongest 200 sprinters, but if Richards isn’t “on” that opens up three spots behind Felix, who has a bye to Daegu.
Pre is traditionally a very strong meet in the distances – and this year is no exception. But this year, it could also serve as a window into the sprints when they are contested back on this track in under three weeks time. So keep an eye on the short races – you could be watching the majority of our sprint squad for Daegu getting in their final tune ups.