The first Post London weekend is here and I finally have a minute to just sit and think track. Since many of the biggest moments at the Games revolved around the sprints, seems like a good talking point today. It’s what’s on most people’s minds anyway: Bolt, the Jamaicans, the relay records. So, what did we learn in London, and where are the sprints headed from here?
First of all there is no doubt that right now two nations define the sprints: the United States and Jamaica. Both sets of men and women are the short sprints (100/200); with the US men & women, and to a lesser degree the Jamaican women, holding down the 400. I know the US men didn’t medal in the 4 for the first time ever at the Games, but that was due to injury and in spite of that “failure” still put together a patched up relay team that ran 2:57 – no one else can do that.
So, what will it take to be a serious challenger in the sprints? Well, looking at London, I would say going forward it seems like the magic number for admission to elite sprinting is “7″! Yep, the number “7″ has become the most important number in sprinting. Moving forward if you want to get on the podium in the men’s 100, you’ve got to be able to run 9.7x. If you want to get on the podium in the women’s 100 it will take 10.7x. The men’s podium in the deuce requires 19.7x. And while you can get on the podium with a bit less, if you want gold in the women’s deuce you need to be able to run 21.7x. In the 400s we’re looking at near 43.7x for men’s gold, and under 49.7x for the women to medal. And the next set of 4×1 WRs will come in at 36.7x & 40.7x. Oh yeah, in the 4×4 you gotta run 3:17 and 2:57 if you want to think about gold! Yes, for those of you that remember Schoolhouse Rock, “7″ is “Lucky 7″ in the sprints!
While their presence in the 400 and 4×4 is minimal, Jamaica is holding it down in the short sprints – and they’re in a good position to extend this for year run (yes it’s only been four years) into another four years – and a mini dynasty. Will that happen? Depends on three things: will their pipeline of talent continue to flow; will others besides Jamaica & the US begin to show a stronger presence in the sprints; will the US rebound back to prosperity? We’ve seen these short bursts of dominance before - most recently Britain in the early 90′s, then Canada in the mid 90′s – with the US bouncing back as the challengers to the throne were really based on one or two athletes, and their pipelines quickly dried up. So the real question it’s can Jamaica sustain through another Olympic cycle – or more?
The Jamaican pipeline looks to be half full and half empty. The full side is on the men’s side. Asafa Powell and Michael Frater are at the tail end of their careers, but Bolt is relatively young with perhaps another Olympic cycle in him. More importantly for Jamaica however, is that Blake is just getting started and they debuted some strong new talent in London in Warren Weir (23) & Kemar Bailey Cole (20) – and Jason Young (21) shocked in Lucern. With a strong quartet of young sprinters, Jamaica looks good through the next cycle.
The half full side is the women’s side. Veronica Campbell Brown is now 30, and no longer the lead dog of the Jamaican squad. That honor goes to Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce who’s four years younger at 26 – giving SAFP another Olympic cycle. Behind this pair, however things are not as good. Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart are both 28 this year and recent results say that they peaked a couple of seasons ago. The same could be said for the 32 year old Aleen Bailey and Sherry Ann Brooks, 29 this year. Jamaica’s future behind SAFP most likely will be determined by as yet undeveloped young talent.
The United States, on the other hand, is the mirror image of Jamaica – that is the opposite – as our current strength and depth lies on the women’s side. Carmelita Jeter will be 31 at the end of the year, the wrong side of the fence for a sprinter, but Allyson Felix (25), Tianna Madison (25), and Sanya Richards Ross (26) should all have another Olympic cycle in them. What’s really impressive however is the talent base that’s lined up behind them: Kimberlyn Duncan (21), Ashley Collier (20), Jeneba Tarmoh (23), Octavious Freeman (20) and English Gardener (20) set to peak within the next TWO cycles. That doesn’t include a strong young quartermile contingent of Francena McCorory (24), Ashley Spencer (19), Diamond Dixon (20), and Jessica Beard (23). The American women are locked and loaded and ready to compete through 2020.
On the flip side, the US men are very reliant on old guns Tyson Gay (30), Justin Gatlin (30), and Wallace Spearmon (28) – sprinters who may not be around through the next cycle. Mid 30’s is a tough time in the life of a sprinter as injuries take a bigger toll than when one is young – and after watching Tyson in London my question is will he regain his power in that surgically repaired hip? Even looking at the relay pool; along with those that just missed the trip to London &/or have recently represented the US internationally, the majority are primarily north of “25″, led by : Mike Rodgers (27), Trell Kimmons ((27), and Darvis Patton (35)! Not to mention the injuries that have periodically hurt Walter Dix (26) and completely taken Xavier Carter out of the game! Not the prettiest potential picture going forward. A similar situation exists in the 400 with former World/Olympic gold medalists Jeremy Wariner (28) and Lashawn Merritt (26) aging heading into the next cycle – though Tony McQuay (22), Michael Berry (21), and Josh Mance (20) have all run sterling relay legs in World/Olympic competition (a good starting point to emerge in the open event).
For the first time in a long time, the US really needs to nurture it’s “pipeline” if it wants to maintain contact with Jamaica and attempt to remtain the male sprint throne. At the head of that pipeline is Ryan Bailey (23) who emerged at the Trials and continued to run well in London. Rakieem Salaam (22) showed glimpses of brilliance in 2011, then started hot this spring before he was felled by injury – 2013 should be better and could be his break out. Similarly Maurice Mitchell (23) has shown flashes of what it takes over the last couple of seasons, though he didn’t run particularly well in London. One of the biggest problem trying to develop young sprint talent in the US was demonstrated just this week however, as HS record holder and former Collegiate champion Jeff Demps led off the 37.38 4×1 in London then came home and signed an NFL contact – the dollar signs of pro football outshining those of track and field and siphoning off a LOT of great talent every year. Had Bolt been born and raised in America it’s a good bet he’d be making “Megatron” like catches for some NFL team on Sunday afternoons!
None the less, the best hope for a “full recovery” back to the top of the sprint hill lies in the retention and development of the young stars coming out of high school right now IMHO. There is a wealth of talent in Abraham Hall (10.19), Tyreek Hill (10.19/20.14), Marvin Bracy (10.25), Aldrich Bailey (45.19/20.78) and Arman Hall (45.39) – the cream of this year’s high school crop. A group that may be the most talented to ever come out of high school at the same time – who collegiately could top the the 2005 NCAA Championship group of Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix, and Xavier Carter. The two big questions being can we keep them out of the NFL, and can we get them to the best coaches?
That second question is perhaps the most critical, because one of the ironies of the rise in Jamaican sprinting over the last cycle is that it’s been done using the US’s own former playbook of gathering talent into training groups with a top coach at the center. In the 60′s it was Speed City (Santa Clara County Youth Village) and Bud Winter. In the ’80.s it was the Santa Monica Track Club and Tom Tellez. In the 90′s it was HSI and John Smith. And in the 00′s it was Sprint Capitol and Trevor Graham. Ironically as our sprinters began to make decisions to “stay home” and continue to work with their college coaches, Jamaican sprinters began to gather together at the MVP and Racers camps – benefiting from the same “partner” & “mentor” training that once spawned Tommie Smith & Lee Evans; Carl Lewis & Leroy Burrell; Carl Lewis & Joe Deloach; Mo Greene & Jon Drummond; Steve Lewis & Danny Everett to name just a handful of combinations. You see, the combination medals of Usain Bolt & Yohan Blake is no accident! And with both Walter Dix and Ryan Bailey moving to Los Angeles to work with John Smith, Dix’ 19.53 and Bailey’s Olympic 5th (in less than a full season with Smith) weren’t accidents either. Neither were 100 finalists Carmelita Jeter & Blessing Okagbare – also Smith proteges. So if we can keep the young sprinters in the sport AND get them together with the best coaching, I think we can regroup during this upcoming cycle.
Can anyone else hope to break up the Dynamic Duo of the US and Jamaica? Well, the rest of the world has pockets of good young talent, but a ways to go to break up Jamaica and the US. France has Christophe Lemaitre who is only 22, and Jimmy Vicaut just 20. Trinidad has Keston Bledman (24) and Great Britain has young, inexperienced Adam Gemili (19). I think that Trinidad is capable of producing more top level sprinters, but the real talent pool in my opinion lies in Africa in country’s like Nigeria were the athletes are woefully under developed. Nigeria was a major force in the 90′s when many of their youth were attending American colleges and being developed. They had several sub10 sprinters and were among the first nations under 38.00 in the 4×1 – 15 years before now WR holding Jamaica as a matter of fact. There is a lot of potential there. Where the rest of the world has made huge strides however is in the 400 where Kirani James (GRN, 19), Luguelen Santos (DOM, 18), Steven Solomon (AUS, 19), and Lalonde Gordon (TRI, 24) lead the way. The 400 being the one sprint where everyone seems to have access to the podium.
To the point I made above about Africa, take note that on the women’s side the world’s hopes currently rest with Blessing Okagbare (NIG, 24), and Murielle Ahoure (CIV, 25) in the short sprints. And that Amantle Montsho (31) is among the world’s best quarter milers. The continent that is the richest in mineral resources may also some day prove to be the richest in sprint resources. The question is will those athletes ever truly be developed? If one or two of those federations ever get it together, look out world!
That’s the picture I see between here and Rio. We’ll see how the paint settles somewhere between Moscow, Beijing and Rio de Janeiro.