The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Six Matchups I’m Looking Forward To in 2019

Nov 24th, 2018
3:32 pm PST

 

Ok. The 2018 track season is well behind us now as cross country and marathons dominate the landscape. As a matter of fact, the indoor season is right around the corner, which means that many athletes are already back grinding in preparation for the first of the upcoming three Championships ahead in this next major cycle.

While there wasn’t a major championship in 2018, the performances of the athletes – particularly the youngsters, left me salivating for the action that 2019 promises. There were many performances that would’ve garnered gold medals in most Olympics and World Championships! As a matter of fact, there was a lot of altering of all time lists,and what I consider the final weekend of the 2018 season produced a pair of World Records! This past season was HOT!

It is in that vein that I begin the first season of the upcoming championship trifects. So, to that end, here are half dozen matchups that I can hardly wait for in 2019.

 

Abderrahmane Samba v Rai Benjamin, 400H

This is THE race that everyone wanted to see THIS year! Typically it’s the 100 meters that captures the public’s desire for a head to head clash. Carl Lewis v Ben Johnson and Usain Bolt v Justin Gatlin come to mind. Something extraordinary happened this year however, as Abderrahmane Samba (46.98) and Rai Benjamin (47.02) became the 2nd and 3rd fastest 400 hurdlers in history – with Samba becoming only the second hurdler in history under 47 seconds. Suddenly a legendary WR was not only within reach, but possibly under threat by TWO men. Meaning a race of legendary proportions is potentially in the offing! Silly me, I thought we might get it on the circuit while both were still hot. But Benjamin finished his season running the deuce before shutting down early. Leaving us wondering what might have been. My guess is, barring tragedy, we’ll get that race in the Doha final. That day could become the hottest ticket of the meet. With speculation that the two could push each other near 46.50 – a mark of Beamonesque proportions. Watch these two carefully during the season.

 

Michael Norman v Wayde van Niekerk, 400

This matchup is a little less certain, but potentially just as epic. Wayde van Niekerk (43.03) is the current WR holder in the event. Having blazed that mark from lane 8 in the Rio Olympics. He injured a knee before the start of the 2018 season however, requiring surgery to repair it. He’s been rehabbing since in an attempt to be ready for Doha and Tokyo. In his absence, Michael Norman had his own rise to prominence this year. Running bests of 19.84 in the deuce, and 43.61 in the 400 – mirroring van Niekerk’s sub 20/44 ability. His most exciting race however, was a 43.06 relay split he ran for USC in the Regional final on his way to his NCAA 400/relay titles. Like the WR holder, Norman appears effortless and in control when racing. And while several others have recently reached the sub 44 plateau in the event, none appear ready to run in that that sub 43.50 region. Meanwhile Norman has shown the ability to not only do that, but to challenge van Niekerk’s WR. IF Wayde van return to form, and Norman maintains his current progression curve, the 43 second barrier could fall in 2019! Most likely  in a head to head race in the Doha final! In a year where several  veterans will be looking to return to form, the return of van Niekerk could be the most anticipated of them all.

 

Shaunae Miller Uibo v Salwar Eid Nasser, 400

The 400 is shaping up to be the hottest distance in 2019. In this case, in Uibo (48.97) and Nasser (49.08) we have the 10th and 13th fastest quartermilers in history – and the fastest in a dozen years. More importantly, we haven’t had two women running this fast at the same time since the mid 90’s! Half the sport’s fans have never seen women’s 400 racing at this level! So while the WR is off the table, this will still be something epic. Especially if they are able to push each other to something near mid 48 – which I personally think is very possible. Shaunae Miller Uibo is the faster of the two with a 200 best of 21.88. The young Nasser has proven to be a very strong, even paced sprinter however. And like the men’s Michael Norman, has a very nice improvement curve. It was she who pushed Miller Uibo under 48. I dare say that a matchup in Doha will produce 48’s for both of them. The last time two athletes at this level met was 1996, and we got premier performances from Marie Josee Parec (48.25) and Cathy Freeman  (48.63). Expect something similar when the gun goes off in Doha on the women’s 400.

 

Kendra Harrison v Brianna McNeal, 100H

The women’s hurdlers race all the time – they never duck. As a result, these two are not strangers to each other as they’ve run often in Europe. They are the world’s two preeminent hurdlers however, and there’s something about championship races that create special moments in this sport. Especially when two athletes of this caliber go at it with each having something the other would love to have. Harrison (12.20) is the WR holder, having set the mark in the final race of the 2016 season – a season in which she failed to make the Olympic team. McNeal (12.26) is the =4th fastest ever in the event, and just happened to win that gold medal in Rio – to go with World championship gold she won in 2013! Harrison made the 2017 team for London, but only came home with bronze. That’s one WR and one bronze medal for Harrison; two gold medals for McNeal. Will Kendra finally get that elusive gold medal? Can Brianna win a third and take away the record? Doha could produce something special for one of these women. The question is, which one? 

 

Christian Taylor v Pedro Pichardo, TJ

The field events typically don’t get the attention that the track does, but the truth is that some of the sport’s top competitors compete in the field. Two of the best are triple jumpers Christian Taylor (59’9″) and Pedro Pichardo (59’3.75″), the 2nd and 4th longest jumpers in history. Since 2010, Taylor has been the dominate force in the event, winning three World Championships and two Olympic titles. He used the 2018 season to work on his 400 skills, running a PR 45.07 while jumping part time. Meanwhile, after setting his PR in 2015, Pichardo missed the 2016 season due to injury. He’s worked his way back since, jumping 58’10.5″ this year and leading the world. Now, both 59 footers appear ready to go toe to toe in Doha. Where Pichardo will be looking to rest the title from Taylor. In the process, they could push each other over 60 feet and the long standing record held since 1995 by Jonathon Edwards – something Taylor has stated he’d love to achieve. With both men healthy, this could be the matchup of the year.

 

Renaud Lavillenie v Armand Duplantis, PV

This matchup has the potential to be one of the most exciting competitions in history. As we have the wily veteran Lavillenie v the 17 year old boy wonder Duplantis. Despite the huge difference in age (13 years) they are the =#2 vaulters in history at 19’10”! Though Lavillenie technically is the highest vaulter in history having cleared an indoor WR at 20’2.5″ – only the second vaulter ever over 20 feet. Duplantis spent most of 2018 raising the WJR. Often doing so against grown men on the European circuit. So, despite the age difference this is the best matchup in the history of the event! So much so that we “could” see the first competition with two 20 for jumps. And ironically it is Lavillenie that will have to perform above expectations as he’s hitting the end of his career. Watch for the kid to be stronger than ever as he, on the other hand, is just beginning to mature. This should be a long, exciting, competition.

Of course, by the time we get to Doha this could all change. New protagonists could arise. Athletes may not progress as expected. And there is always the specter of potential injury. But I’m betting that these events produce the hottest head to head competition at Worlds. 

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