Wednesday, July 6, 2011

U.S. Relay Hopes – Not as Bad as You Might Think


It’s hard to talk about Tyson Gay without having the U.S. 4x1 being brought up. After all, Tyson has been involved in the most successful unit’s we’ve put on the track for the better part of the last half decade. So, between talking about Tyson and with Worlds less than two months away, it seems an appropriate time to discuss our potential relay fortunes in Daegu.

So I will take this opportunity to give my two cents on personnel and how I see us fairing at Worlds in the four relay events.


Men’s 4x1

Here is where the impact of the loss of Tyson Gay will be felt. Having competed in the rounds at Eugene I believe Tyson is technically eligible to be placed in the relay pool – and therefore to be used in Daegu. He was interviewed before he left Eugene and stated that he wasn’t sure if he would feel right about being on the relay as he feels he “didn’t earn it”. I’m sure there are many that would argue that based on his pure speed and history on U.S. relay squads – that’s the argument I would put forth if I were lobbying for his inclusion.

Having said that, as a huge fan of Tyson Gay, the only way I would want to see him on the squad is if he is completely and thoroughly 100% – which I don’t see happening between now and then! Why would a fan say no to Tyson on the relay in Daegu? Because I want to see him at his best on the build up to, and in, London next year. And I believe that starts with shutting it down for this year – completely. Yes, I  want to beat Jamaica as much as anyone that loves track and field and bleeds red white and blue! But I would rather see him healthy and available for London and Moscow, and hopefully beyond, than to risk further injury and more missed opportunities – and relays – going forward.

Besides, I still think we can turn the trick with some solid preparation and the right personnel placement. That’s why I’m giving my shout out now to coach Drummond and the fellas in the pool. We can do this in my opinion and here is how – by replicating the attributes of the most successful squad we’ve had in the past decade and a half.

That squad was last year’s Zurich foursome of Trell Kimmons, Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay, and Mike Rodgers. A team that ran 37.45 with relatively average at best handoffs. And, while it may not seem like it, we can replicate that team. Trell Kimmons and Mike Rodgers are both available – and up through Nationals Rodgers had proven to be an upgrade over last year. What is missing, is what I’ve called for years the internal engine of our international 4x1’s – Spearmon and Gay, ironically both to injury.

But if you look close enough, we actually have a solid set of replacement parts – Walter Dix and Justin Gatlin. Dix is the sprinter best able to emulate Tyson’s sterling runs on the turn. As a matter of fact, he ran toe to toe with Tyson on the turn last year at the Pre Classic in Eugene where he was able to edge him at the tape for a rare win over Gay at 200. That came in mid season against a Tyson Gay that was running extremely well at the time. Justin Gatlin, meanwhile, has the potential to be an upgrade to Spearmon on the second leg – no disrespect at all to Spearmon. Gatlin is an Olympic and World champion athlete who has worked his way back to regular Sub-10ville. And if he is able to improve at all between now and Daegu, and I think he will, should be ready to run a blazing backstretch. Add several weeks to get together and work on baton passing (to improve over last year’s squad) and there is the potential to run even better than last year’s 37.45 (#5 on the all time list!)!

I will get into head to head matchups against the Jamaicans once we are closer to Worlds and I am in “Preview” mode. But suffice it to say that that is the only squad that I feel can challenge a team of Kimmons to Gatlin to Dix to Rodgers – egos left at the door and everyone running where he will give us the best opportunity to win!


Women’s 4x1

This squad is a little easier to put together, because the parts we needed all made it through to Daegu. We have our best 100 & 200 women, and experienced relayists in Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix. Throw in the year’s solid #2 sprinter in Marshevet Myers, and the year’s potentially most improved in Miki Barber – two more sprinters with international experience – and you have the pieces necessary to one screaming 4x1.

I also think that personnel placement is pretty easy – go for the jugular right off the bat! That’s why my suggested order is Myers to Felix to Barber to Jeter. Myers has become a solid 10.8 sprinter this year and a threat to stand on the 100 meter podium. Leading off with her would be akin to leading off coach Drummond himself – get out, get ahead, and put pressure on the field!

That pressure would be fairly great given that the backstretch would be inhabited by Allyson Felix, who is accustomed to closing on those outside of her with baton in hand. The one, two punch of Myers to Felix has the potential to close the door early to any thoughts of gold for the competition.

Barber in 10.9 form could be the strongest third leg we’ve had since Inger Miller was blitzing the turn in the 90’s! By the way, those squads were running 41.4’s/41.5s with a best of 41.47 – #2 all time.

Jeter on anchor is both a wrap and a safety net – all at the same time. If the team passes to perfection she’s ahead and can’t be caught, period. If there are mistakes, she has the top end speed to run down just about anyone depending on the deficit. You can’t ask for much more out of an anchor.

As a team, I think this squad has the potential to challenge that 41.37 WR that’s been sitting on the books since 1985! They key of course will be passing. Several squads have taken to the track with better overall individual times than that East German squad. No one, however, has yet to pass with their precision. And THAT after all is the key to the 4x1 – men and women.


Men’s 4x4

We got a big lift with the inclusion of Lashawn Merritt on the 400 meter team. Running the 400 out of the blocks requires one to be “race” sharp. Running a leg on the 4x4 simply requires that he is ready to compete – something that Merritt has shown the ability to do time and time again. If he and Wariner are “ready” by Daegu, then I think that this is another one of those U.S. runaways that we have become accustomed to seeing.

My foursome: Tony McQuay to Angelo Taylor to Jeremy Wariner to Lashawn Merritt. I know McQuay won Nationals, which to some means “anchor” position. But as with the women’s 4x1 I’m thinking, go for the throat from the gun – and McQuay gives us on lead off what many squads will be looking for from their anchors, similar to Merritt in Beijing!

As a matter of fact that is exactly what I’m looking to replicate here – the Beijing performance. That’s why I’m following up with Angelo Taylor. A mid to low 44 on lead off, followed by a low 44 (possible 43) from Taylor and the rest of the world should be in the rear view mirror coming into the third leg. It worked in Beijing just like it worked in Osaka (another Merritt to Taylor special) and I say it works one more time in Daegu.

I chose Wariner for third because he’s more race sharp than Merritt. And if for some reason we haven’t quite shaken everyone loose, Jeremy should be able to do so and give Merritt a lead. I have no idea what shape Merritt will be in, but my guess is that he will be ready to go toe to toe on an anchor against just about anyone that will be available. Of course, if things go as they should, he will simply have to maintain whatever he is given – something he should be more than capable of doing.


Women’s 4x4

Depth. That is our strength in the women’s 4x4. We have the world leader in Allyson Felix. We have Lashinda Demus who should be on the podium in the 400 hurdles. And then a pool that should include Sanya Richards Ross, Francena McCorory, Debbie Dunn and Jessica Beard. A pool that immediately gets smaller if Richards Ross goes sub50 – because that will signal that she is close to “normal”. When that happens this event should be a “wrap” because I don’t see any other country that deep through three – and definitely not through four.

My choice for the fourth slot comes down to performance in Europe – and to some degree the third and fourth slots. IF Richards Ross doesn’t come around then I’d go with Dunn and McCorory. IF Richards Ross does come around I’d go with Dunn as my fourth, but only if she is racing better than McCorory.

Personnel placement is easy. Because as I’ve tried to do with each of the four squads, I say let’s not reinvent the wheel, lets go with what we know works. For the women’s 4x4 look no further than the Berlin gold squad of Dunn to Felix to Demus to Richards Ross. Another one of those teams that went for the throat early and succeeded – by over THREE seconds! Even with Sanya’s current form, that squad should be capable of similar success.


So those are my squads for Daegu. The next few weeks could change things a bit if there are injuries or lapses in performance. But these are the foursomes that I feel will give us the best chances of success in South Korea.

Note: As I go to post I see that the relay pools came out late yesterday. Missing from the pool is Lashawn Merritt. Hopefully they leave room to add him. Either way I stick with my call on personnel for the 4x4.

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