The last time U.S. sprint fortunes were in the precarious position we are now was coming off the 1996 Olympics. Yes, Michael Johnson won the long sprint double – the 200 in WR time. But for four straight Majors (’92, ’93, ’95 & ’96), we had lost the men’s 100 meters – and Donovan Bailey (CAN) took possession of the WR with his ’96 win. In ’95 & ’96 we lost the 4x1 relay as well – botched handoff in ’95, poor personnel management in ’96. Sound familiar?
Early during that same time frame, Coach John Smith was nurturing quarter milers Steve Lewis, Danny Everett and Quincy Watts who won Olympic gold in ’88 (Lewis) & ’92 (Watts); a couple of bronze (Everett, ’88 & ’91); and a silver (Lewis ’92). But in the middle of the decade Smith rebooted, and started attracting pure sprinters.
He began with Jon Drummond in 1993 – and he lead off a WR 4x1 in Stuttgart. Then added Ato Boldon (TRI) in ‘95, who took bronze in Goteborg and that ’96 Olympic final. A year after Atlanta he added one Maurice Greene, who didn’t perform as well as expected in Goteborg in ’95 and missed the team entirely in ’96. The rest as they say “is history” – Greene going on to win 100 meter gold medals in ’97, ’99, ’00, and ’01 – and set a WR 9.79 in ’99. Like John Wayne leading the cavalry, John Smith and his sprint crew came in to bring U.S. sprinting back to a place of prominence in the world.
Well it’s starting to look like 1997 all over again, because we’ve lost the 100 in the last three Majors – and the 200 to boot. We’ve lost the WR in the 100 – and the 200 too. And we’ve lost the last three 4x1’s – all to poor baton work. And once again, it looks like John Wayne, make that John Smith, may be riding in to save the day – with a group that closely resembles that ’97 group.
I received confirmation from Coach Smith this afternoon that this year’s “reboot” will have Trinidadian Richard Thompson – silver medalist in the Beijing 100; and Americans, Walter Dix – this year’s double silver medalist in Daegu – and Ryan Bailey – the 6’ 4” National Jr. College Record holder in the 100 meters! Dix and Bailey both have great top end speed and finishes, but often give up much ground early race. As luck would have it, Smith is a pioneer of the “Drive Phase” – the starting technique that saw Jon Drummond blaze to the front of races time after time, and that allowed Maurice Greene to be right where he needed to be to execute his own tremendous top end drive home.
They will join a squad that already has Daegu gold medalists Carmelita Jeter (100) & Jason Richardson (110H), and 4th placer Jaysuma Ndure (200). In September I asked what happened to U.S. sprint camps, well this has the potential to be the best ever!
If I sound excited, it’s because I am. Coach Smith has the history and the pedigree, and the new additions to his camp certainly have the potential. Now if only 2011 will mirror 1997. This is going to be an Olympic season to watch!