Today’s agenda was short but sweet – 8 events, 7 finals and 1 semi. But when the names involved include Cantwell, Hoffa, Gay, Gatlin, Richards Ross, Merritt, Wariner, and Suhr you’re talking about one high powered afternoon. Not to mention a lot of athletes looking for redemption – and most got just that.
The most anticipated event was the men’s 100 meters as most people were looking to see how Tyson Gay was going to hold up. The worry rapidly changed from Tyson’s legs to Walter Dix’ as Dix pulled up at the end of the first semi! Dix showed up for the final, but his leg was heavily wrapped and his chances didn’t look good – not with Gatlin, Gay, Rodgers, Patton and Bailey all looking like contenders. At the gun the "starters" – Trell Kimmons and Mike Rodgers – were out as expected, but it was Justin Gatlin with another solid start, and the best drive phase this side of Usain Bolt, that took control by 30 meters and never looked back flying past the line in 9.80 for the win. Gatlin’s time was the second fastest of his career, only behind the 9.77 that was taken away when he had to serve his "time out". It also made him #2 on the year behind Usain Bolt (9.76). And now after taking gold in Athens then having to watch Beijing, Gatlin is back as a major contender!
Behind Gatlin, Tyson Gay recovered from a poor get a way to take second in 9.86, as he closed like the super sprinter that he is. Remarkable given that this is only his second final in the last year! Just a month ago many questioned whether he’d be able to show up and be competitive. Now with only two finals in the books; proving he can last through rounds; and a 9.86 to his credit; Gay has another month to get sharp before entering the London stadium. I rather like his chances at this point!
I also like what I saw from the third member of the squad, Ryan Bailey. Bailey got a fair start, which is good for him, then closed hard to nip Mike Rodgers at the line – 9.93 to 9.94. I’ve said for some time that Bailey has the potential to be our version of Bolt – a tall powerful sprinter capable of doing some stellar things. I think he took his first step in that direction with this run, and with John Smith as his guide, I expect even better in London.
The only disappointment for me in this race was the injury to Dix. He was last in this final as he only went through the motions. But I believe, and will have to do a little research, but I think he may be selectable to the relay as a Trials finalist. So that could be interesting later. But then that first four would look pretty good going Rodgers to Gatlin to Gay to Bailey! And we haven’t seen what the deuce will produce yet as Wallace Spearmon in great form is also relay material. Speaking of that deuce, the status of Walter Dix could greatly alter the results of this race. First no Tyson Gay, and now possibly no Walter Dix! Spearmon could be the lone stud taking on the Jamaicans and the rest of the World in London.
The 100 wasn’t the only event on the track as we did get both 400′s, and they produced solid teams – and a few surprises. There was no surprise at the men’s winner as LaShawn Merritt powered to a 44.12 victory. After having only a couple of races last year before going to Daegu, Merritt has had a full season behind him this year and is looking like the man that won gold in Osaka and Berlin. He’s running with confidence and looks ready to put up a strong defense of his title. The man that finished behind him is also looking good as Tony McQuay was a clear #2 in 44.49. It was a PR for the NCAA champion, and his first loss of the season – can’t fault him for losing to Merritt. He just gets better every time out and with a month to prepare I expect he’ll be even better in London. He and Merritt look to present a very strong 1-2 punch at the Games.
The surprise here was third placer Bryshon Nellum who got his first ever sub 45 with his 44.80 finish. In a meet full of stories – Gatlin, Gay, Eaton,et al – Nellum’s could be the best of all. One of those feel good stories that NBC will have a field day with. But Nellum is more than a story, he’s one of the most talented young men out there and it’s great to see him make this team. He ran a very strong race, finished well in the stretch and earned his ticket to LondonI think this group is going to do some special things and I’m looking forward to the 4×4!
While Nellum making the team was a pleasant surprise, Jeremy Wariner not making it was a sad one. I didn’t think he would. He’s just not looked like "Pookie" – that once dominant quarter miler who ran the four segments of the race like a metronome! Once upon a time Wariner was 21.0/23.0 on demand. But today there was nothing in that third 100 – and when he came off that turn back in the pack I just knew there was no ticket to London for the once Olympic and World champion. It’s going to feel funny not seeing him line up in London. I hope the he can get back to form and contend for a spot next year for Worlds – he’s too young yet for it to be over.B
Wariner lost his dominance, but Sanya Richards Ross was clearly the most dominant woman on the track in the women’s 400. Sanya went out hard as she is prone to do, but she finished very strong in the stretch, running away from the field easily. Her 49.28 was the fastest time in the world and tied the Trials record set by Chandra Cheeseborough back in 1984. Chandra had company in her run with Valerie Brisco giving her a run for her money, in Eugene all they could do is chase after Sanya. And surprise of surprises the best chaser was veteran DeeDee Trotter. I don’t think DeeDee was on anyone’s radar coming into this meet but her own, which just goes to show you need to believe in yourself! Trotter pumped her arms like crazy in the stretch and ran by everyone not named Sanya. She finished ahead of Francena McCorory who grabbed the 3rd spot to add some veteran savvy to the youthful legs of Francena. Together with Sanya they should form a strong team.
We got some strong performances in the field as well – though they didn’t get nearly enough TV time. Reese Hoffa threw a huge 22.00m/72’2.25" – longest throw in the world – to lead Ryan Whiting (21.66m/71’0.75") and Christian Cantwell (69’9.75") into London. So once again we send a rather formidable shot team to the Games – combining some youth with experience. The long jump, on the other hand will be full of youth. Without Dwight Phillips at the Trials, the youngsters played leap frog – all the way up to the final jump. When the smoke cleared Marquise Goodwin (8.33m/27’4"), Will Claye (8.23m/27’0") and surprising George Kitchens Jr (8.21m\26’11.75") were on their way to London.
The women in the field selected a crew of solid veterans to represent us in the discus as defending Olympic champion Stephanie Brown Trafton (65.18/213’10") led Aretha Thurmond (62.23m/204.2") to London. Super vet Suzy Powell Roos (60.20/197’6") finished in third but did not reach the “A” standard and so won’t be making the trip. A pity as she has has a great career and been one of our best over the years. And as a fellow resident of Nor Cal I have to give her props. Finally, Jenn Suhr in the middle of a weak season, cleared 15′”1 to win the Trials and head back to the Games. She’s been fighting injury all year but put it together when she needed to. Now with some 5 weeks to prepare, she should be able to compete for a medal at the Games.
That’s a lot for a short schedule. Monday presents an interesting schedule with the only finals on the track being the men and women’s 800′s to go with finals in the women’s triple jump, men’s high jump and men’s javelin – so this will be Field Day, for those of you that remember the elementary school end of the year event. Alysia Montano is an overwhelming favorite in the women’s 800, with a very bunched group behind her. The men’s race is just bunched, with Nick Symmonds the favorite off reputation. Like I said, this will be an interesting Day. Then we get a couple of days off, and a chance to go back and reevaluate what’s happened so far.