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

How the U.S. Team Looks at the Break

Jun 27th, 2012
7:39 am PDT

Ashton EatonSo with the first half of the Trials in the books, it’s time to start looking ahead to London and how this US team is beginning to shape up. I have to say that we have lost some talent – some folk that have gone to the mat for us in the past and come home with hardware. So we will miss Bryan Clay, Adam Nelson, Dwight Phillips, Lauryn Williams and Walter Dix – though we have yet to see if Walter will be back to attempt to make the 200 squad.

The most difficult of those to replace, based on these Trials, is Phillips in the long jump. The youngsters (Claye & Goodwin) are out around 27 feet, but that’s not quite the 28 feet that Philips has jumped in the past. Matter of fact, It’s been some time that we’ve had a 28 foot long jumper outside of Phillips – and that used to be a mainstay. Perhaps one of these youngsters will be the next. However, in today’s long jump, if one can jump near 27’ 6” that’s medal territory, and both of these young men are capable of doing just that. So while we don’t have Phillips, we are still capable of medaling here in London. 

In the other three events – decathlon, 100, and shot put – we will be as strong or stronger than we were in Beijing. This time around we should have a healthy Tyson Gay in the 100 meters. With this being only his 2nd race coming back from surgery, he’ll have another month to improve on the 9.86 he ran this week. At 9.69 (PR) only Usain Bolt has run faster (once). By his side will be former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, who threw down a 9.80 to win this week. Certainly he too, should be in the 9.7 neighborhood in London – and that neighborhood is medal territory. I’m not ready to start predicting medal colors just yet – for any events – but we are definitely back in the sprint game with two sprinters that are proven to perform under the bright lights.

Now throw in an improving Ryan Bailey (9.93 in Eugene) and veteran Mike Rodgers (9.94 in Eugene) and I will say that we are also back in the 4×1! This is as strong a foursome as we’ve ever put on the track – including the days of Lewis, Burrell, and Mitchell – so with solid passing, and proper personnel placement,  I have no doubt that we are capable of running in WR territory and challenging for gold. I think the 4×1 just got both competitive and interesting again.

A WR is what Ashton Eaton produced in the decathlon this week. And he and runner up Trey Hardee will make for the strongest ever 1-2 punch the Games has ever seen. So we’re as good as ever in the decathlon. Same for the shot put. With old hands Reece Hoffa & Christian Cantwell on board, and teaming up with young buck Ryan Whiting, we will be sending a trio of men capable of 71 feet or better. Each one is capable of bringing home gold, so some type of medal(s) should be in the offing.

Actually, we look pretty good in the field with half the team done. Along with the decathlon, long jump and shot put, we’re sending back defending high jump champion Jesse Williams, ‘04 Olympian (4th place) Jamie Nieto, and super talent Erik Kynard. A medal here is quite possible. We’re also a returning gold medalist in discus thrower Stephanie Brown Trafton who set a new American Record in early May. AND we have the American Record holder in the pole vault with Jenn Suhr coming through for the win this week. With the half the events left to be determined, we look pretty good in the field, which is an area that has been weak for us.

Back on the track, Galen Rupp looked very good in winning the 10,000 meters setting a Trials record in the process, yet looking well within himself. Predicting a medal here is tough because the Africans have had a stranglehold here, and Britain’s Mo Farah is as tough as they come, BUT I think given the right race Galen might be able to get it done. I’m also feeling pretty good about Nick Symmonds in the 800. Let’s be real, David Rudisha will win gold unless tragedy strikes. That said the fight behind him for silver and bronze should be fierce. If Nick stays close, he can be a part of that scramble. After all he was 4th last year at Worlds – but this is the Games and one has to step their game up one more notch.

Dropping back down to more speed oriented events, we look as good as ever – really. In the women’s 400, Sanya Richards Ross should be considered a prohibitive favorite given her recent performances – a world leading 22.09 in the deuce and a world leading 49.28 here at the Trials. She appears to have gotten her pace management together in her race, and as long as she doesn’t let the Games get to her (ie go out too hard and have trouble coming back home) she’s going to be tough to beat. It may be asking a bit to say McCorory &/or Trotter “will” medal given the strength of this event worldwide, but if either can produce a sub 50 in London, that may be possible. That pair, with R-Ross and Allyson Felix, however, should be favored for gold in the long relay. Especially when you consider that Debbie Dunn and Diamond Dixon should be in the relay pool, as well as Lashinda Demus (yeah I know we haven’t run her race yet). Some combination of all of the above should be able to run 3:17 or so and that wins gold.

Ditto the men’s 400 and 4×4 where LaShawn Merritt leads the way. Merritt looks like the man that won gold in ‘08 as he eased off in the final stages in Eugene yet still ran 44.12. He’s clearly a man capable of running under 44 – something no one else headed to London has come close to. Yes I know that Kirani James should be there and is a huge talent. But there is a gap between the 44.3 that he has run and the 43.7 that Merritt has run and appears capable of again – I’m just sayin as my kids would say. His runnin buddy this time around will be Tony McQuay who has shown to be quite the accomplished 400 man. His stretch runs are becoming memorable, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him somewhere near 44.00 in London.

Pair those two with Bryshon Nellum – you won’t find more of a warrior – and some combination of Josh Mance, Manteo Mitchell, and Jeremy Wariner and 3:56 or better should be in the cards. Yes I said Wariner. He did place 6th and should be in the relay pool. And let’s face it, he’s got the experience, and all he does is split 43’s. Whatever ailed him in Eugene, he has another month to get better, and if I’m talkin relay I still trust Wariner!

That brings us to the women’s 100 and 4×1 – and Dead-Heat-Gate. The final spot on the team is inconsequential. Jeter is the favorite entering London, and Madison should be right there for a medal. When you throw in VCB, Kelly Ann Baptiste, and perhaps Shelly Ann Fraser, there’s not a lot of room left in the fight for the podium. Of course anything can happen in the 100 – witness Dead-Heat-Gate – but Felix and Tarmoh are a step off the top competitors. And regardless of who gets 3rd and who gets 4th, both will be in the relay pool .

Now about that relay. Again, how the coin is flipped or runoff turns out, or whatever ends up happening, Felix is your backstretch on the women’s squad and Jeter is the anchor. Madison looks like a leadoff to me as she’s simply murdering everyone out of the blocks. So let’s figure out the third leg and be done with it. Frankly right now, that should go to Sanya R-Ross if she wants it – if we’re talking about the “best athlete available” as they do in other sports! That foursome wins, AND challenges the WR IMHO.

So, that’s what we look like half way through the Trials. One might say we’re loaded so far.

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4 Responses to “How the U.S. Team Looks at the Break”

  1. Anderson says:

    Wariner should not be on the relay. Since his 44.97 in the early season he has literally gotten worse. And finishing 6th in Eugene was the icing on the cake. Yea hes a legend, but there is a point when someone just doesn’t have it anymore. The 5 men who finished ahead of him are all at least 2 years younger and proving this is a “young mans race”.
    Add a hurdler like Taylor who has run sub 45 this year, and has beat Wariner in a race, and you have your relay.
    History is exactly that, history. This isn’t the 4×1, in the 4×4 if your not fast skills are irrelevant. And Wariner has proven that he is not fast enough to be on the team this year.

    • CHill says:

      Have to disagree slightly .. Wariner isn’t what he used to be, you’re right there, but his issue isn’t that he’s gotten so “bad” after the 44.9, he just hasn’t gotten better..

      He’s has meets of 45.04, 45.30, and the 45.24 here at the Trials .. That’s all pretty good statistically .. And he’s the #6 American at this point .. I’m not saying he gets anchor duty, or even that he runs the final .. But I think he deserves to be in the pool and get a look ..

      If he drops under 45 again in the next month he’s viable, maybe better than viable .. We’ll see what the hurdles do, but they haven’t shown too well either the last couple seasons – hurdles or flat .. And Angelo is about as far from his PRs as Wariner is ..

      Top four – Merritt, McQuay, Nellum, and Mance – should carry the baton unless someone else proves better .. But I’m not ready to count Wariner, or the hurdles for that matter, out yet .. Not with a month left .. Vets know how to work it ..

      If he’s not ready then however, it might be Webb time..

  2. Fortyacres and a mule says:

    I think you getting carried away with the men’s 4×1 a bit.Unless Jam messed up,the USA is running for silver in my opinion.

    • CHill says:

      We’ll see how the Jamaican sprinters look – and there is a baton to pass .. Bolt is Bolt .. After that, however, we will see .. Carter is not a 9.78 sprinter – that Rieti time notwithstanding .. He’s typically 9.9-something .. And Frater – the core of every solid time they’ve run in a major – is no where near his best form ..

      Two things you need to think about … One is that the US ran stride for stride with Jamaica last year up to the botched handoff – people tend to overlook that … And that was WITHOUT Tyson Gay manning the third leg .. The other thing is that Jamaica has been able to run freely in the other gold medal runs – no one around them to challenge .. I’ll add a third thing .. The fact that the US beat Jamaica WITH Bolt, Powell, and Frater running Leroy Dixon on anchor .. This race is not about 100 bests – only one man comes out of the blocks ..

      Yes Jamaica is fast … Yes they are the defending champions … And yes have the world record … But then you could say all of those things about the US heading into Beijing .. I like our chances …

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