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

Can the US Top the Podium After A Decade

Jun 13th, 2019
12:54 pm PDT

Ten years. A decade. A lot can happen in 10 years. Ten years ago, the iPhone made its debut – now no one can remember how we lived WITHOUT smartphones. Before that Blackberry and Nokia ruled the cell phone world, and if you were really cool you owned a Razr! Young people today can’t remember either of those names with a market dominated by iPhones and Galaxy’s. 

A decade ago was the last time the US men won a Major 4×1. Winning in Osaka against a Bolt/Powell lead squad 37.78 to 37.89 – Jamaica’s first sub 38! Believe it or not, that race was run with a substitute on anchor for the United States – that’s how dominant we once were. And yes, Jamaica ran an “A” team of Marvin Anderson, Usain Bolt, Nesta Carter, and Asafa Powell! Telling that to a young person today is like telling them that the Blackberry Bold was once the supreme cell phone on the market – huh! Oh, by the way, if that’s unbelievable enough, Bolt didn’t run the 100, and was third in the 200! 

Ah, but what a difference a year made. By Beijing, Double World champion Tyson Gay was hobbled by injury and Bolt was WR holder in the 100. Bolt left the Games a double Olympic champion and double WR holder and Jamaica left with Olympic relay gold and a 37.10 WR – with Carter, Powell, and Bolt! The US failed to complete their semi and the streak began. Ten years of Jamaica atop the podium, and the US struggling to complete handoffs. Our best finish since then being a silver medal runner up behind a Jamaican WR in 2012 – 36.84 to 37.04. We did get silver again in ’13 before going back to exchange issues in ’15/’16.

Ten years of frustration, for what used to be the premier 4×1 squad on the planet. Yes, the world has gotten better. Seems like everyone is running 37s these days including China, Japan, and the University of Florida! Japan took silver in Rio ahead of us BEFORE we were disqualified! Yes, ten years of the world getting better, while we’ve continued to run in place – and fail to pass the baton adequately.

London was Usain Bolt’s final major 4×1, and in spite of him going down in pain on the anchor, we STILL lost to Britain! We botched the perfect opportunity to send him into retirement with an American relay victory – though Gatlin did take the 100 meter title, with Bolt being pushed into third. It still seems a tad hollow to me, finishing behind Britain with Bolt laying on the track.

Since then, the world has had a year without Bolt. Gatlin ran sparingly. And Yohan Blake was far from the 9.69/19.26 monster he was when he was training with Bolt. As a matter of fact, everyone on the entire island of Jamaica seemed to have had their MOJO impacted by Bolt’s retirement. In contrast, the rest of the planet seemed rejuvenated. Sprinters in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe were running well. And here in the US, youngsters began to rise up and flex their sprinting chops.

So, just where does all this put us as we head into Doha? Well, with Doha being so late this year, national championships aren’t scheduled around the world until July – another month off. Speculating is fun though, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Britain still has its core and enters as the defending champion. Somehow I don’t see them running under 38 however. If they do it won’t be much under. They’re very beatable. Also beatable is once unbeatable Jamaica. No Bolt, no gold. As a matter of fact, I don’t see a medal in their future for a while. Bolt’s gone. Powell is running like the aging sprinter that he is. And while Blake has run 9.9, he can’t carry a squad alone.

The two biggest threats I see to the US taking the top of the podium are Japan and Nigeria. Yes, that’s what I said. Japan shouldn’t be a shock. They’ve already taken silver internationally and run 37.63. They should be even stronger this time around as they’ll be able to add Hakim Sani Brown who recently helped the University of Florida set a collegiate record 37.97 and ran a 9.97/20.08 double at the NCAA Championships. Adding him to their silver winning squad, Japan should be even faster entering Worlds.

Then there’s Nigeria. They too have a couple of youngsters that cut their teeth in the NCAA with Divine Oduduru and Raymond Ekevwo. Ekevwo lead of Florida’s national record 4×1, while Oduduru was busy taking the sprint double in 9.86/19.73! Nigeria has a 10.07 and 10.11 to pair with them, which makes them as good as anyone out side of the US. They could be trouble for everyone.

Canada could be a dark horse. Aaron Brown has become a solid sprinter, but they need Andre Degrasse to return to form. Similarly so could South Africa with Akane Simbine, if he can get help from Wayde van Niekerk.

And what about us? Well we have the horses. We always do. Actually our problem is that we have too many. Selection is always an issue with us – putting the right people in the right places AND making sure they pass well. I know there are people calling for Justin Gatlin and Mike Rodgers to be on the team. They are what remains of the “old core” relay squads. No disrespect, but it’s time to turn things over to the youngsters. The old guys are just that – old and aging. And they’re not as fast as they used to be. We’ve got some outstanding young people that are more than capable of getting the job done! And I believe they’ve developed good relay skills from collegiate running that are still fresh in their minds. After all, last place at this year’s NCAA Championships was a blazing 38.92!

Of course a lot of that will have to get sorted out at nationals, because we have a system that requires you make the “relay pool” based on how you finish there. Democratic, but not necessarily the best way to develop continuity. I think there are better ways to create our national teams, but another conversation for a different post. Today I have to look at who “should” be available based on recent performances. From that viewpoint I would say the pool most likely will consist of: Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Ronnie Baker, Justin Gatlin, Cravon Gillespie, and Bryand Rincher. These are the individuals racing best at the moment. Yes I know Baker hasn’t yet, but he will. On that note, I’d give Rodney Rowe a shot to make it along with Cameron Burrell and Kendall Williams. Filling out my potential pool. Personally I would also like to see Michael Norman considered but his 400/4×4 duties (should be make the team) would make that difficult.

So if this is the pool, I would go with Coleman to Baker to Gillespie to Lyles as my team to bring the gold back home. Coleman is easily the best starter in the world and could put us out front from the gun. Baker us a 9.88 performer that closes extremely well. Gillespie is a turn running sub-10/sub-20 kid who was second only to Oduduru in Austin. And Lyles is a finisher in the mold of Tommie Smith, Carl Lewis, and Usain Bolt – enough said. It’s my belief that this group can not only garner gold, but potentially take the WR in the process.

I know many are saying what about Gatlin, but as I said earlier I’m ready to turn it over to a new crew. And frankly, I think Gatlin would be a one year rental and I’d like to see us put together a squad that will work through at least one full championship cycle – ’19 Worlds/’20 Olympics/’21 Worlds – if not longer given their youth. We need some stability and continuity of we are going to return to perennial victory.

It’s been a long decade. There are young fans that believe the 4×1 is the property of Jamaica. It’s time to get our swagger back. If the University of Florida can go 37.97, then our national team should be able to eclipse 36.84! We have the foot speed. We just need to put the right foursome on the track and move the baton. Therein lies the challenge. I think the young guns are ready to accept the challenge.

NCAA Championships Review

Jun 10th, 2019
8:40 am PDT

It's June, and there have been track meets being run all spring. But the weather has been horrible up to now, and results have been scattered. It seems like every meet has been "so-so" with the occasional "wow" race thrown in. Like we had Michael Norman scream 43.45 at MtSac. Then Noah Lyles and Christian Coleman square off at 9 Read More...

Grant Holloway – How Many Subs?

Jan 29th, 2019
6:45 am PDT

There are a LOT of exciting young  track and field stars today. Sydney McLaughlin, Noah Lyles, Mondo Duplantis, Gabby Thomas, and Michael Norman to start a list. After watching this past weekends activities however, it hit me that perhaps the most talented athlete out there may be sliding under the radar!  I remember when Carl Lewis first emerged Read More...

How About a Real World Championships?

Jan 23rd, 2019
11:32 am PDT

It's funny that one of the first things written about the sport in 2019 is about the addition of mixed relays to the World Relays event and to the World Championships. Funny, ha ha, in that they are being added ostensibly to make the events more interesting for "fans".  How about we make the World Championships really interesting by having it be about THE BEST track and field athletes in the world? My point being that it's time to have a true world event and not the knock off of the Olympics that we've been running since 1983 Read More...

CAS Needs to Get This Right

Jan 5th, 2019
7:45 am PDT

Perhaps the most important decision for the sport this year, will be made in March when the Court for Arbitration in Sport (CAS) makes a ruling on the Caster Semenya case.  This matter has been ongoing for the better part of the 20-teens, with the IAAF ruling Semenya ineligible to compete because of testosterone levels much higher than those of women Read More...

Ten Predictions for 2019

Dec 31st, 2018
8:55 am PDT

I'm going to start the new year right. One, I'll be posting more. Not as much as I used to because I'm coaching. But a lot more than I have since my illnesses/surgeries. That said, I'm going to start with my predictions for 2019 - the first being that it's going to be a fun year for track and field. We've got a whole lot of new talent all over the track (& field) and many will be competing in their first World Championships Read More...

Six Matchups I’m Looking Forward To in 2019

Nov 24th, 2018
3:32 pm PDT

  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 Read More...

Bring Back the 100

Aug 19th, 2018
3:27 pm PDT

Two of the sports most exciting events are the "mile" and the 100. I put the mile in quotation marks because there are two versions of the mile. In addition to the actual mile, there is the 1500 meters, often called the metric mile. That's actually kinda cool, because it provides some flexibility when meets are being put together Read More...

Pulling Up the Last Leg of 2018

Aug 10th, 2018
7:21 pm PDT

This has been a very interesting season. We knew that it would be, given that it's an off year and off seasons are usually marked by change - and 2018 has seen lots. As a matter of fact, we're looking at a nearly wholesale revamping on the men's side. I can't remember this great a reboot since BALCO laid waste to the landscape back just after the turn of the century Read More...

The Sprints New World Order

Jul 22nd, 2018
2:53 pm PDT

The "Old Guard" is officially gone. It took a long time as athletes have longer careers than in the past, but it still happens. The athletes that have dominated the world stage since 2004 have finally given way to the new generation of sprinters and hurdlers. When the next championship cycle begins in 2019, there will be a slew of new young athletes taking the podium Read More...