The very nature of the Trials makes this meet exciting – the best in the country come together with only three competitors per event moving on to the Olympic Games. That alone puts a spotlight on every event – and I will be keeping an eye on them all. But some events carry even more intrigue and drama. So while I’ve already given my list of who I think will make the team for London, there are a couple of events that I want to take a closer look at starting with the Men’s 100 meters.
The 100 takes on a bit of added importance in this Olympic cycle, because it is one of the traditionally strong "US" events – and one that we’ve lost in three consecutive Majors. We’ve lost 100 gold before, that happens. Whether we’re talking about Borzov (’72), Christie (’92/’93), or Bailey (’95/’96). As a matter of fact that ’92 thru ’96 stretch is as long a drought as we’ve seen in this event – not counting that ’72 thru ’83 stretch that included the boycotted ’80 Games. So it’s time to find that Carl Lewis/Mo Greene to recoup the title as we currently sit in the midst of an ’08 thru ’11 drought.
But it’s about more than finding a hero/savior in the 100, because we’re also in the midst of a 4×1 relay drought during the same time frame as well! A drought in which we weren’t even silver or bronze as we failed to complete the race – three Majors in a row. So this selection process will not only decide who goes up against Usain Bolt in London, but who will comprise the relay pool that will take on the Jamaicans, Trinis, and French among others for relay medals.
If that isn’t enough, this time around the 100 is full of stories. Athletes returning to the big stage. Injuries and potential injuries. Veterans vs youth. And some of the best athletes the US has ever produced in the event. Frankly enough stories to create our own little track and field soap opera – and a rather interesting backdrop for this year’s Trials 100.
Let’s start with two major stories. One is the return of Justin Gatlin to the Trials as a major player internationally in this event. The ’04 Olympic champion, missed the ’08 Trials altogether while serving a major time out from the sport for a drug infraction. Out for four years, many assumed, myself included, that returning to the form that saw him win titles in Athens and Helsinki was little more than a dream for Gatlin. Yet after finishing an abbreviated 2010 with a 10.09 best, he worked his way to 9.95 last year and enters the Trials with a 2012 best of 9.87 – defeating Jamaican Asafa Powell in Doha. Suddenly Justin Gatlin is back in podium range.
The second major story, is the return of Tyson Gay to competition. The ’07 World champion, AR holder, and second fastest man in history (9.69) won this event at the ’08 Trials but was injured in the 200. He has struggled with injury since, though his AR run and 9.71 silver medal performance behind Usain Bolt’s WR came while nursing groin problems. Gay is now coming off hip surgery in 2011 and just had his first race in a year in New York – winning the"B" race in 10.00 into a headwind. He still has to show he can negotiate rounds, but Tyson looks ready to run in that 9.85/9.90 range in Eugene – and based on history that would earn a ticket to London!
We have one other semi major story in Mike Rodgers, who missed much of last season to a minor time out from the sport for inadvertent drug use. Rodgers, who ran a PR 9.85 in early 2011, just ran 9.99 for third in the New York "A" race to show good fitness heading into the Trials. The fast starting Rodgers is always a threat to steal a race.
Then we have an injury line of stories, as we do at every Games. This time around it starts with Walter Dix – bronze medalist in Beijing, silver in Daegu – who appeared to tweak something at the end of the 100 at the Prefontaine Classic. Dix is as strong a big meet sprinter as we have – second only to Gay and Gatlin in international accomplishments.Healthy, Dix is a co-favorite, forming a very formidable trio with the aforementioned sprinters. Injured he could be fighting for relay duty. In his favor is the fact that he nearly always performs his best in championship situations.
That’s just the start of the injury list however, as it also includes Mookie Salaam – the first American to break 10 seconds this year with his 9.98 opener at Auburn this past April – just .01 off his PR! His follow up in Doha saw him injured on the turn of the 200 – and he hasn’t competed since. Opening under 10 with a near personal best, Salaam looked to be ready for a potential breakthrough - perhaps dropping into the 9.8x zone. The question is will he return at the Trials and continue his improvement?
Another who appeared to be making strides early is Harry Adams who just last week screamed a 9.96 in his semi at the NCAA Championships. This after a 20.10 deuce in April – both marks huge PRs. But after a photo finish final in the NCAA 100, Adams jogged a 26.51 in the final of the 200 – briging his health into question. Did he have a major or minor injury in Des Moines? Minor and he could be a factor in Eugene. Major and the big dogs keep him on the porch.
Speaking of the NCAA Championships, former 100 champion Jeff Demps missed the meet while nursing a hamstring injury. Demps will return to the track in Eugene looking to make the final and compete for a trip to London after making the semis in ’08 and equaling the WJR (10.01) as a prep senior. Demps ran windy 9.96s in both ’10 & ’11 and is another young talent that could be ready to emerge this year.
Perhaps the biggest talent of all could be Ryan Bailey – he of the 6′ 4" frame. The JCR holder (10.05), Bailey has been injury prone in the past, but after running a solid relay anchor at Mt SAC, then screaming a 10.01 opener in Los Angeles, Bailey has been MIA following a 10.57 (-1.9) effort in Ponce. In an Olympic year, one doesn’t know if injury or training is behind the lack of competition. If it’s training, Bailey could be a beast in Eugene as he earned his 9.88 PR before moving to the John Smith training camp this year – and we know the success that Smith has had with sprinters. Can you say Maurice Greene and Carmelita Jeter?
Finally, we have a stable of sprinters that have broken 10 seconds on occasion but haven’t shown the consistency to dial it in on demand. These men are dangerous because on the day they could be good enough to earn a golden ticket. That list includes Darvis Patton (9.89), Travis Padgett (9.89), Ivory Williams (9.93), and Trell Kimmons (9.95).
So these are the major players at this year’s Trials. Statistically, we’re as deep as we’ve ever been from a talent/potential standpoint. We have the AR holder, AJR holder, HSR holder, and JCR holder in attendance – and gold medalists from ’04, ’05 and ’07.
All of the above making this race potentially one of the most exciting 100 meter battles in Trials history. How do I see it playing out? This is a group of sprinters that depend on top end speed and strong finishes. The two true starters in this field are Mike Rodgers and Trell Kimmons, and should either or both make the final they will surely set the early pace.
Make no mistake, however that this race is about the finishers, the big dogs being Tyson Gay, Justin Gatlin, Walter Dix and Ryan Bailey. Anyone else hoping to have an impact on this race will have to get out ahead of this foursome early and hope to stay there!
Gay is certainly the best of the bunch but is still a bit rusty and has to be able to manage the rounds. Bailey is the poorest starter of the group – but if he’s around at the 60 mark look out. Dix is a poor starter with great top end speed, but questionable health going in. While the most complete race pattern belongs to Justin Gatlin – and it is this that gives him the edge heading into Eugene. That’s why my predicted finish is Gatlin, Gay, and Dix – a squad that I feel has the potential to go into London and compete. Because win, lose, or draw this trio has proven that they all shine best when the lights are on.
The fight behind them for relay duty should be fierce – and this could be the first race in Trials history with all finishers under 10 seconds with legal wind. In either case, I expect to see something on par with the ‘88 Trials race where Carl Lewis won in a windy 9.78 and the final spot to Seoul coming down to thousandths of a second. Look for Bailey, Rodgers, and Kimmons to lead this charge. That leaves two spots open – the healthiest athletes in Eugene will get them. This Trials should be one hell of a race.