Happy New Year to everyone! And welcome to the World Championship year of 2013. The start of a new year is always exciting, especially when it comes to track and field. The Olympic year of 2012 is now officially closed and a part of history – which means that everyone gets to start with a clean slate.
That raises the question of who will be the dominant athletes of the new year? That journey starts now, and gives us fans much to look forward to and speculate about. Without question, the big story that will be followed all year is: who will win the medals at this year’s World Championships in Moscow?
For those of us in Western Nations, we’ve been waiting 33 years to see our athletes compete in Moscow, because the last Major to be held in the Russian capital was boycotted by the United States and several other Western nations. So in some ways this will be a rather historic competition – and of course the most anticipated meet of the year.
So, what else am I looking forward to this year. Lots! I’m looking forward to more of Christian Taylor & Will Claye – one of the best one-two punches ever in the triple jump. I’m looking forward to watching the battles among the top shot putters, as the event is one of the deepest in the sport. And I’m looking forward to seeing just how fast Allyson Felix can cover 200 meters.
Below, however, are ten things that I’ll be following with great earnest over the course of the coming season. Stories and events that I think could go a long way towards helping to up the image of the sport and make it a bit more marketable – if those charged with marketing the sport are taking any notice.
1. The SEC as a true collegiate super conference.
This should be the biggest story of the collegiate season, because as loaded as the SEC was already, 2013 is the year that Texas A&M joins the fray! The University of Florida is the defending Men’s NCAA indoor and outdoor champion, and looks ready to give a strong defense of its titles. The three titles before that were won by Texas A&M! Arkansas won three in a row from ’03 thru ’05, and the two titles before that were won by LSU and Tennessee. Making for nine titles in the New Millennium for SEC schools.
The results are similar on the women’s side where LSU won in 2012, to add to titles win in ’00, ’03, & ’08. Texas A&M won titles in ’09, ’10, & ’11. And South Carolina and Auburn picked up titles in ’02 & ’06 – another nine titles for members of the conference in the New Millennium. Look for more of the same in 2013, along with some of the most outstanding collegiate competition in the country – it doesn’t get any better collegiately than the SEC. Look for several athletes starring in Moscow to get their spring training at SEC schools prior to heading to the World Championships.
2. Jamaica’s attempt to stay atop the sprint world.
It’s happened before. Someone comes along and takes the United States down from atop the sprint world. Russia’s Valeri Borzov in the 70′s. Canada in the late 80′s/mid 90′s with Ben Johnson, Donovan Bailey, and Bruny Surin leading the way. And Great Britain in the 90′s with Linford Christie and John Regis leading the charge. But each time the US bounced back to regain the throne.
This time may be different however. Usain Bolt rose to power in 2008 and thru 2010 carried Jamaica on his back. Then in 2011 we saw the emergence of Yohan Blake as a legitimate force. Enter last year, where they added Warren Weir and Jason Young in the deuce. In addition on the women’s side Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce and Veronica Campbell Brown have been carrying the mantle nicely.
Suddenly instead of running out of steam, Jamaica is growing its stable of sprinters, and the question is are they becoming entrenched in the position of top dog? 2013 could go a long way towards answering that question. Can Bolt, Blake and last year’s emerging sprinters continue to improve? Will Jamaica continue to develop new island talent? Stay tuned to this story, and the one following!
3. The return to health of American sprinters.
Jamaica’s sprinters have certainly raised their game – there’s no doubt about it! It hasn’t hurt however, that the US had had tremendous difficulty keeping its top sprinters healthy – especially the men. After three seasons of constant injuries, top sprinter Tyson Gay had surgery in 2011 and made his debut just before last year’s Trials – trying to regain form on his way to London. Walter Dix was injured right before the Trials. Mike Rodgers was injured before the Games as were quartermilers Jeremy Wariner & LaShawn Merritt.
And just as youngsters Harry Adams & Mookie Salaam looked ready to emerge early in the season they each went down to injuries. I’ll be watching the rehab/recovery/return to form of all of these young men as they are all critical to the attempt of the US to regain the top rung of the sprint wars. The race for the top in sprinting could be key to track and field improving its stature in the world of sports.
4. The men’s 800 meters.
The sprints get a lot of attention because of names like Bolt, Gay, Blake, and Gatlin. But the most exciting event right now for my money is the men’s 800 meters!
We start off with the world record holder, David Rudisha who is fresh off his barrier breaking 1:40.91 run in London. Rudisha just might be THE most outstanding athlete in the sport today – marketing execs take notice. But as good and outstanding as he is, the real strength/excitement of the event lies in the three TEENS that finished behind him in London – Nigel Amos (1:41.73), Timothy Kitum (1:42.53), and Mohammed Aman (1:42.53). As quiet as it’s kept the 18 year old Amos became the =#3 all time performer in the event – only Rudisha and Wilson Kipketer have run faster! Not to mention that Kitum & Aman are faster than the WJR that stood at the start of 2012.
No other event has this kind of talent among its youth! We’ve never had two men under 1:42 in the same season before, let alone the same race. Yet suddenly we’re looking at the prospect of potentially four athletes running that fast during 2013. That’s not counting the potential for Americans Duane Solomon & Nick Symmonds to improve. Or for Britain’s Andrew Osagei to also get better. I think the 800 is poised to statistically become the top event in track and field – with several of the youngest potential stars the sport. Everyone should take notice.
5. American female middle distance runners.
Post Beijing, US female middle distance runners were making huge strides. Suddenly we had several women running under or right at 4:00 in the 1500, as well as 1:58 in the half. Last year however, the wheels seemed to be coming off the bus.
Yes we got a medal in the 1500 in London, and came close in the 800. But top competitor Morgan Uceny fell in her second major in a row after being poised to head to the podium. And several others just didn’t have good seasons in 2012. That said, all can’t repeat with a down year at the same time – can they?
Specifically,Uceny has to be able to cross that finish line in Moscow – as well as finally get under 4:00. I have to believe that both Anna Pearce & Jenny Simpson can get back under 4:00 as well. And it would certainly be nice to see Kristin Wurth Thomas back leading the pack.
The 800 sseveral women on the verge of truly competitive running that bear watching as well. Alysia Montano seems to have settled in as a true competitor internationally. Personally, I think the 1500 runners above have the potential to run in the 1:57 range as well with a tad more speed work. I would love to see some of the following get there as well: Molly Beckwith, Geena Gall, Alice Schmidt, and Phoebe Wright. And if she would just stay with the first lap pace, I believe Maggie Vessey could get back under 1:58 as well.
At any rate, I think 2013 should be the year that US female middle distance runners become competitive as a group. So I’ll be keeping an eye on them.
6. Women’s vertical jumps.
While I’m talking about the women, I’ll also be keeping an eye peeled on the women’s vertical field events – because suddenly they’ve become quite competitive at a high level.
Yelena Isinbayeva took a break in ’11 and apparently her short absence was enough to give her competition a shot of confidence. Jenn Suhr found her form at the right time and was just short of 16 ft vaulting 4.83m/15′ 10″. On the season, nine women were over 4.70/15′ 5″ including young Heidi Spiegelburg who was just a centimeter off Suhr’s yearly leader. That kind of depth bears watching. Especially with the former queen looking to regain the throne. This event should be hot!
As should the women’s high jump. Long time leader Blanka Vlasic found herself nursing injuries in 2012, and as with the vault the competition found its confidence as six women leapt over 2.00m/6′ 6.75″. Yearly leader Anna Chicherova cleared a nice 2.05m/6′ 8.75″ and will be looking to retain the throne. Can Vlasic come back and unseat her? And can Americans Chaunte Lowe & Brigetta Barrett continue their rise? Especially young Barrett, who performed her best work in London taking silver at 2.03m/6′ 8″ – and her career is just getting started? I’m also curious about Ariane Friedrich who had a down year in 2012, but scaled 2.06 in ’09. Together with the other 2.00m leapers from this past season, this group of women could make 2013 the year of the female jumper.
7. Men’s 400 hurdles.
Given that this event has been in what I consider to be in a down mode, some might wonder why I’m including it as something I’ll be watching in 2013. Well, this event is LOADED with talent and it’s got to explode at some point!
I think 2013 will be that time. Especially when you look at the year that Felix Sanchez had in 2012. The “ancient” one showed just what hard work and perseverance can do as he once again took the top rung of a major nearly a dozen years after his first World title in ’01.
Given his success last year, can a resurgence by Angelo Taylor be far behind? Or how about Bershawn Jackson, or Kerron Clement. The “old guard” of the event is still alive and kicking – and Sanchez showed what is possible from this group!
Of course there is youth in this event too, as some very talented young people run the long hurdles. Athletes like Jeshua Anderson, Jehue Gordon, and Johnny Dutch all have mid 47 or better potential in my opinion. And we can’t overlook the middle aged competitors like last year’s resurgent Michael Tinsley, L.J. van Zyl, Javier Culson, or David Greene.
The bottom line is that this event is loaded with talent. Enough talent that at some point soon we’ve got to see the competition drop into the mid to low 47′s. If not this year, when?
8. Men’s 110 hurdles.
Two of the events top young talents, Aries Merritt & Jason Richardson, dominated the event in 2012 – with Merritt ending his season with a dizzying WR of 12.80! Having a pair of men running under 13.00 makes for a hot season in the hurdles in any year.
Yet with the number of top level hurdlers that were injured last year, I believe there is more to come in 2013. Consider that former WR holders Dayron Robles & Liu Xiang, and former AR holder David Oliver, all suffered some sort of injury in 2012. That’s three sub 13 men at less than their best! Getting them healthy alone could make this THE event of 2013.
But as they say on late night commercials “wait, there’s more”! Because there is lots of young talent coming up in hurdles. Talented youngsters like Orlando Ortega, Hansle Parchment, Andrew Riley, Barrett Nugent, and Kevin Craddock all have low to sub 13 potential.
Given all of the talent residing in the hurdles, there are three questions surrounding this event. 1. Can the former record holders regain their health and challenge for the top spot once again? 2. Can any of that young talent step up to the next level? 3. Just how fast can Aries Merritt run?
See, you you thought we saw the best the event had to offer in 2012. I say we might just be getting started!
9. Sprint relays – men & women.
The 4×1 delivered WR’s for both the men and women in 2012 – both in barrier breaking times. Like the men’s high hurdles however, something tells me that we’re just getting started – and that my friend’s is saying a lot.
I have two questions for the the women. First, can the US squad get anywhere close to 41.00 again in 2013? The team that set the record will be back – and there should be several individuals challenging to get on the team. Chief among them should be Marshavet Hooker. Out last year on maternity leave, she’s back and if she returns to 10.8 form another record could be in store.
Question #2 is can the Jamaican squad get under the previous record and close the gap on the Americans? Jamaica had all of its horses on the track in London, yet found themselves a country mile behind the sterling Americans while setting a NR of their own. Can they find a way to close that gap? This battle should be interesting to watch. As will the battle between the American and Jamaican men.
Jamaica’s men ran the same squad that set the previous record in 2011 – so has a seasoned squad that works well together. Will they attempt to improve on any of their legs and if they do will that upset the balance they’ve developed?
In contrast, 2012 marked the first time since Osaka ’07, that the US men finished a final in a major. They did so with a less than 100% Tyson Gay; an inexperienced Ryan Bailey; and Walter Dix on the shelf with injury. Surely there is more that this squad can put together?
Watching how all of the above plays out should be one of the big stories of 2012, as several of the sports to starts will be involved.
10. The Record Chase.
The media is obsessed with records when it comes to track and field. When we are setting records we get LOTS of attention. 2012 saw five new world records set during the year – three of them at the Games themselves – a marketing dream for the sport. Can 2013 equal or surpass five WR’s?
David Rudisha (1:40.91), Aries Merritt (12.80), and Ashton Eaton (9023) all appeared to have more in the tank last year – though Merritt’s race did border on perfection. The women’s 4×1 broke a mark that had lasted since the 80′s so could be Beamonesque in nature – which means it could last for a while. The men’s 4×1, on the other hand, could just be getting started as both Jamaica and the US have the potential to get better IMHO.
So much for last year’s records. There is other potential as well. For example, there are the men’s sprints where the athletes seem to be getting a bit faster every year. Frankly both sprints could be under fire this year. Blake upped the ante last year and will be looking to post a stronger challenge to Bolt. Gay was a legitimate challenger before injury and will be looking to get back to that form. Gatlin returned to truly elite status in 2012 and will have begin the year where he was when he left the sport – has age diminished his ability to improve further? Walter Dix dropped to 19.53 his first year with John Smith, then injury took him out early last year. Can more be in store in 2013? Then there is the group of young talent looking to challenge, led by Ryan Bailey, Warren Weir, Jason Young and others. The one thing about speed is that when you get a lot of it on the track at the same time special things happen!
Finally my outside choice for a potential record is the men’s triple jump. I know that 60 feet is a fur piece out in the sand, but Christian Taylor has the kind of physical gifts that come along only every once in a while – great sprinting ability to go with his jumping skills. I think he could be the Carl Lewis of the triple jump in terms of what he brings to the event. All it takes is the right jump in the right competition, and buddy Will Claye keeps him sharp. Bottom line, I suspect we will see a few records set this year, so keep looking out.
So these are some of the things that I’ll be watching closely in 2013. As the season gets under way I’ll start taking a look at individuals.