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

Who’s Windows are Threatening to Close?

Mar 20th, 2013
9:57 am PDT

Sprinter ShadowA common phrase in the world of sports refers to an athletes "window" closing – to his or her window of opportunity expiring. In most cases we’re talking about the opportunity to win a title, but the term can also refer to obtaining records or other significant performances.

Every couple of Olympic cycles or so, as the sport’s population begins to age at the top end, we get a group of individuals who’s windows begin to close. For these athletes, they start to compete against “Father Time” as much as their real world opponents. In that regard this year could be huge in the careers of several athletes – more precisely with respect to their legacies after the sport. How will they be remembered – or in some cases what will be forgotten? Ironically it’s expectations that often define careers, and expectations can overshadow accomplishments when the expectations are for even greater accomplishments!

The list below is of closing windows of expectations. Most of these athletes careers have been interrupted by injury, which only goes to show that, as in life itself, nothing in the world of sport is guaranteed! One bad step, race, or even decision can alter one’s fate. Following are eight windows that I will be watching with interest this year.


Tyson Gay

People tend to forget that Tyson was double sprint champion in Osaka (’07) and led the winning 4×1. That’s because a) he was injured the following year, and b) Usain Bolt began his run of titles and record breaking that same year! He’s PR’d in all three sprints since ’07 in spite of injury woes, but PRs mean little in a sport obsessed with titles and records. That’s where Tyson’s window sits, facing the titles and records being won by Bolt. And the question on the table is can he climb through and snatch a title and/or record before his window closes? Word is he’s healthy now, but with sprint times dropping faster than a bear market can Tyson keep pace or will Father Time win another race.


Asafa Powell

In 2005/06 Powell was setting records and his fans were predicting a gold rush of epic proportions. A 5th in Athens preceded the record spree. Injury in ’05 and he never towed the line in Helsinki. Tyson Gay took Osaka (Powell 3rd), and then Bolt took over the sprints in ’08 (Powell 5th/’08, 3rd /’09). So in spite of being the most prolific sprinter in history on the clock, Powell has little hardware or wins against major competitors. His window continues to get smaller as the sprint fields in major meets continue to get faster with bronze in London going in 9.79! Only once in a championship setting has Powell run better than 9.90 (9.85 for bronze in’09). With Bolt & Blake entering the season as the winners of the last two major 100 titles; Tyson Gay healthy for the first time in several years; Justin Gatlin back to his former title winning form; Ryan Bailey in his second season with sprint guru John Smith; Walter Dix coming back from injury; and several young sprinters looking to make a name for themselves; climbing through that window to the top of the podium in Moscow could be like trying to thread the eye of a needle for Powell.


Jeremy Wariner

I’m sure some are wondering why Wariner is on this list. After all, he’s won gold at both the Games and World Championships in both the 400 and 4×4. Add that he is the third fastest man in history in the 400 and he’s done about everything that can be done in the sport! Wariner’s window has nothing to do with medals however. His window has to do with the World record in his event. When he was on his gold medal streak, he was also dropping his PR at a steady pace. After running 43.45 in ’07 it looked like Wariner was heir apparent to Michael Johnson as WR holder. Then he left his longtime coach and mentor to MJ himself, and the wheels fell off the bus! First LaShawn Merritt replaced him on the top of the podium in Beijing. Then his times began to drop and injuries began to creep in. Watching Wariner indoors it appears he could be healthy once again. But just what toll have injuries and Father Time taken on his pursuit of 43.18?


Alan Webb

When Alan Webb ran the mile in 3:53.43 in high school medals and titles seemed to be just over the rainbow! While there have been several highs in his career – like his American record 3:46.91 in ’07 and three US titles – there have been far more lows, including his lack of medals in championships. Injuries (and poor race tactics) have done in Mr. Webb over the years and now he’s looking at moving up in distance. As one of the most talked about high school athletes ever, and one of the fastest in history on the clock,  will Webb ever medal in a major championship – at any distance? It’s not unusual for distance runners to continue to move up in distance until they find their “fit”. One would think however, that having had sub 1:44 speed, the mile/1500 would have been Webb’s ideal race. We’ll see if moving up in distance will extend Webb’s window or confirm that it’s indeed shut.


Steve Hooker

In a recent post,I stayed that I think we could see a 20 foot vault in 2013, and the most likely athletes to turn the truck would be Renaud Lavillenie of France. Not too long ago however, that likely suspect would have been Australia’s Steve Hooker who himself looked ready to clear 20 feet and challenge the great Bubka. Like so many others on this list however, injuries have slowed him down. He peaked outdoors at 6.00m/19′ 8.25" outdoors in ’08; then soared over 6.06m/19′ 10.5" indoors in ’09 – and has regressed each season since! Last year saw him down to 5.72m/18′ 9" and watching Lavillenie and Otto dominate the pole vault landscape. And this winter Lavillenie had firmly planted himself as the potential next Bubka. Hooker is only 31, so he’s not done yet age wise. Can he regain the lofty heights he once cleared or is his window shut?


Wallace Spearmon

In 2006 the 200 meters came out of a long slumber and right out front was Wallace Spearmon with a PR 19.65 and multiple wins over the likes of Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, and a hot Xavier Carter. With the fastest finishing stretch on the planet Spearmon looked poised to dominate the event for years, but in ’07 Gay got hotter, and in ’08 Bolt found another gear. Walter Dix has gotten faster and Yohan Blake faster still, and suddenly Spearmon is having difficulty getting on the podium let alone winning races. He’s battled back from injuries and his finish is still stunning but no one is waiting for the stretch to turn on the heat any more, and Spearmon finds himself too far down far too often to make a difference at the finish. With the emergence of so many top level 200 sprinters is Spearmon’s window shut at the top of the podium? Spearmon started ‘12 as fast as ever, but didn’t improve over the season. And there were rumors this winter that he may be moving up to the 400. Personally I think all he needs is a better turn. Either way we’ll see what 2013 brings.


Blanka Vlasic

In ’09 Vlasic came within .01 of Stefka Kostadinova’s legendary 2.09m/6′ 10.25" high jump – the closest one can get to a WR without actually setting it! Four years later however, and the record hasn’t changed hands. As a matter of fact, like others on this list, injuries have seen her results regress while the competition has improved. A showman with plenty of "swag" in ’09, she finally had surgery last year to fix her Achilles tendon. So entering this season the 29 year old is looking to once again approach Kostadinova, regain the throne, and do her "dance". The field awaiting her may be the toughest of her career, which would make the accomplishment even sweeter should she prove successful. But as with several others, Father Time sits in the shadows, and he may be the toughest competitor of all.


Sanya Richards Ross

I’m sure this may be the most surprising name on the list for some. After all, Sanya has overcome her early demons and won the titles (World & Olympic) that initially eluded her. Personally however, I’ve expected much more from Sanya. For most of her career she’s been the dominant quartermiler against a field of women that would’ve had difficulty winning titles as far back as the ’70s! Given Sanya’s talent, she should be slaying these women. Especially since she’s the only woman currently competing that’s run under 49 seconds. So for me that’s where her window sits – staring at the all time list. Her current best is 48.70, but when I compare her to women like Cathy Freeman (48.63) and Jose Marie Perec (48.25) I see far more potential in Richards Ross. Throw in the fact that many believe that if Allyson Felix gave more time to the 400 that she has sub 48 potential and Sanya could end her career NOT being the best quartermiler of her era! Sanya needs to start dropping serious times to cement her legacy or risk having it snatched from her in my humble opinion. 2013 could be an important season in her career.

That’s my Windows Watch List for 2013 if you will. We’ll see how these individuals perform in the upcoming months. Especially now as the season is on the brink of seriously getting rolling!

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25 Responses to “Who’s Windows are Threatening to Close?”

  1. Anderson says:

    Good list of athletes, but i completely disagree about SRR. Sanya could retire today and would easily go down as one of the top 400 runners ever. Even with her down falls, she was basically the overall most dominant 400 runner from 2005-2012. All global medals(indoors and out), she is one of 4 women to have run under 49 more than twice, obviously has the most sub 50s ever.
    And most people know the world record is kind of a stretch, so she is not in a position like Wariner is in.

    20 years from now most will be able to look back and kind of label the eras, East Europe in the 80’s, Perec in the early 90’s, Freeman late 90’s, Guevara/Williams-Darling in the early 2000’s, and SRR up till this point.

    • CHill says:

      I’m not disputing that she’s been the best of the era to date .. I’m just saying she’s ruled over a weak “kingdom” and has not reached her potential ..

      When fans are saying “wait til the top 400 meter sprinter takes the event seriously”, you’re not that dominant in comparison to the best ever ..

      And should Felix take the event seriously for 4 or 5 seasons, and she’s certainly young enough to do that, Sanya’s legacy as the top quartermiler of the era would evaporate ..

      • Anderson says:

        I think Felix’s 400 potential is a little over hyped, but that’s another discussion.

        But you cant penalize SRR for “ruling over a weak kingdom”. She cant control how fast her competition runs.
        And if Felix started somehow started to dominate from now through Rio, that doesn’t eliminate the past 8 years…that just moves us into a new era…SRR has already made her mark in history. I think Winning the Olympic gold sealed the deal.

        Also Note that SRR and Felix are only 8 months apart in age…

        • CHill says:

          I think it may be time to have the Felix discussion given that she’s pretty much accomplished what she can in the deuce ..

          No, Sanya had no control over what the competition does, but she does control what she does .. And she’s underperformed .. Add I said initially she should be destroying these women, and she’s not .. She should have several sub 49s – even if high 48s .. And she should definitely be splitting 48s regularly .. those things aren’t happening .

          Yes she will be remembered as the best during this period up to now regardless .. Not sure she will be remembered as one of the greats .. And definitely not if Felix comes along and dominates her ..

          • Anderson says:

            “She should have several sub 49’s”

            Your seem to be basing he on what you think she should do, and not evaluating what she actually has done. (which is why I consider AF’s 400 potential to be slightly over hyped by many)

            Like I said, she is one of 4 in history to run sub 49 more than twice. The only person to do so since the 80’s, aka more than Perec(twice) and Freeman(once).
            In a post below regarding why VCB was off the list you noted that its because she has won titles, fast times, beat the best, and the sprint WR for women are out of the question…Sanya has done the same thing…Its really hard for me to believe that if SRR retired today and Felix dominated for the rest of her career, the past 8 years aren’t seen as the SRR era. 8 years is a long time in T&F…

            Hopefully I’m not coming off hard, just some friendly discussion.

          • CHill says:

            I evaluate her based on both what she has done and what her potential is .. Much the same as I started during the winter when I talked about evaluating athletes ..

            For example, you say she’s run sub 49 more than twice .. which is true .. What was unsaid is that two of those were barely, and none were in situations that mattered – major championships ..

            What’s also not mentioned is that none of the other women under 49 ever lost a race they should have won, while Sanya had lost several .. In conjunction with that, the others all faced stiffer competition than Sanya while winning those races ..

            And while Sanya does have three sub 49s, several others with fewer trips under have faster PRs having done so in the heat of true battle ..

            No, Sanya hasn’t chosen her competition, but she hasn’t lived up to it either – let alone dominated it .. And all that is without discussing how I think she’s under performed on the clock against her potential ..

            I’ll start with Cathy Freeman who in terms of comparison of speed she brought to the event v Sanya shouldn’t be near her in OR, let alone ahead ..

            Sanya as the best of her era is akin to Kim Collins winning gold in ’03 – almost anyone could have given the condition of the field at the time …

        • Waynebo says:

          Over-hyped? Definitely not. She has Run splits of 48.0 & 48.1 without focusing on the event (Sanya has NEVER split that fast). That gives us a hint of what she could do if she made it her primary event for a few seasons. (She ran it in 2011 primarily to build strength for the 200) If She were to dominate, it would impact Sanya’s legacy precisely because they’re so close in age. Clearly she would have to race Sanya several times. I hope it happens because it would be great to watch.

          If Sanya doesn’t bring the AR down to at least 48.4 or 48.3, I think she has underachieved because clearly she has more in her than we have seen. And that is what would tarnish her legacy – the belief that she didn’t fulfill her potential.

          • Skydance7 says:

            Sanya’s race tactics have been inconsistent over the years. Her best (and worst) races have been decided on that backstretch phase, imo. In this sense, she needs to become more machine-like each and every time out. When she has just a little fuel reserved coming off that final turn, no one in the current era is better.

          • CHill says:

            Yes race tactics have been her downfall .. Sorry of part of my point, because the best don’t have issues with their race tactics .. That’s why they dominate as opposed to scratch out wins, and lose races they shouldn’t …

          • Anderson says:

            splits mean nothing unless your reproducing that in the open. Felix has been doing the 400 for years sporadically. When she finally took the event seriously in 2010-2011, she only improved her PR by about .2 or so…I can name tons of athletes, male and female, who have amazing relay talent but cant put together a great open race. I would be willing to bet the farm that Felix never breaks the American Record.

          • CHill says:

            I’m not sure I would say that Allyson has yet to focus on the quarter .. She ran it more in 2010/2011, but the 200 was still her event of choice .. And clearly she didn’t find a balance of training that would allow her to excel at either one – as in do her best at either ..

            That said, even not doing her best at either, she won at both .. More fuel to indicate she could be THE best of her era in both .. Like MJ however, I think she would need to focus on one at a time training wise, while competing in both .. Then we would see great times in one while winning in the other .. And potentially laying down her PRs in each in separate seasons ..

  2. Waynebo says:

    A very good list. You already know where I stand with Tyson Gay – I just believe this is his year. I expect PR’s across the board. We’ll see if I’m right or just dreaming.

    I thinks Powell’s window has closed. Considering he held the WR in 2005, his time to be dominant was really ’06 – ’10. Hasn’t conquered the mental barrier and his lack of progress in the 200m as well as the way he gets caught at the end of 100’s tells us his strength isn’t improving.

    Physically, Wariner is fine. There is still a 43.17(WR) in his legs, but I don’t think health is the issue. He lost something mentally in 2008 that he has yet to regain. The fact that he’s been back with Clyde Hart for 3 full seasons and hasn’t regained his edge really concerns me. I’m not saying he’s done, but I question if he really wants it anymore.

    Alan Webb = DONE! Period. Never had the mental edge he needed and hasn’t gotten any better.

    Wallace Spearmon is the most questionable and frustrating to me. I’ve never understood why he won’t run that first 100 harder. I hope he does make a serious move up to the 400 while he still has a few seasons to develop in it. He’ll have a little more room to pussy-foot around in the first 100 and still be in the race.

    I actually agree with you about Sanya. She set that AR back in 2006 and I really thought she would have lowered it by now. She doesn’t seem hungry for records and fast times. She runs just fast enough to win. I’ve seen her let up in the final 15-20 meters of some very fast races, at least one of them a sub-49. I think she could go 48-flat if she wanted to, but I don’t think she wants to – and that’s disappointing to me. I hope Allyson takes the “off” year of 2014 and focuses on some fast 400’s against Sanya to put some pressure on her. Allyson is the only one who is on her level when she’s at her best.

    Blanka can do it if she hits the weights. She needs strength for more lift. She said she was going to – then got injured, so we’ll see.

    • CHill says:

      I think this is Tyson’s defining year .. New PR’s and battling for titles or similar to last year – fast but not fast enough ..

      I also think Powell’s window has shut, but he needs to finish in a major for “confirmation” …

      Wariner is THE classic example of just how important the coach really is in a career .. I think Wariner lost more than anyone will ever realize in that year plus before he got back with Hart .. Wariner proved it’s about more than having the right workouts on paper .. That said, I’m not sure he’s physically ready for 43.17 .. We’ll find out though pretty early I think .. He needs to go under 44 by nationals in my opinion the be on the path ..

      I do think Webb is done, mostly because he’s never shown the racing savvy to me – even when he was healthy .. A time trial king ..

      Spearmon, wow .. A matter of poor race pattern in my opinion – and who says that about a sprint ?? I don’t see a move up to the 400 as beneficial, because he still needs to “go out to be on top of the podium” – as in a 20.9/21.0 first 200 .. Wait and kick is still not going to work .. Might as well get with they program in the deuce, cause I still think he’s stronger than anyone else, but HE has to believe it ..

      Sanya I covered responding to Anderson ..

  3. Brandon says:

    I find it funny you left out Veronica Campbell Brown. Her age is definitely starting to show. Her 200 dominance is officially over and she is apart of a group that is racing for 3rd behind Jeter/SAFP in the 100 (now with Ahourie having her specular indoor season the 100 medals might be reserved). I believe Sanya has way more races than VCB. And Wariner has been plagued with injuries he needs this season to be great so that his legacy will not be tarnished.

    • CHill says:

      I left VCB out because I don’t think she has anything to prove … She’s won major titles, run fast times, and beat the best .. WRs for women are basically out of the question, and her clockings are among the best ever .. I think her career has been more than sufficient and I think she’s maximized her potential ..

  4. Rohan says:

    Agreed with VCB. Complete career, except Oly 100m Gold.Not sure what you mean by Spearmon being stronger than anyone else. Gay will be in the mix for sure. Sanya has done her stuff except for exceptionally fast times. I will live the the rest of the opinions.

    • CHill says:

      I’m not even mad at VCB for not winning Olympic gold in the 100 because it was never really her race – she learned to be better at it ..

      Spearmon is the rate sprinter that gets stronger late race .. Always has .. Others struggle to maintain form, he doesn’t .. Even in his 19.65 – which is why I don’t understand his not going out harder .. Blake does that to a degree as well, just not sure as well if both are fully healthy ..

      Tyson running 9.69 was 9.5x with any kind of reasonable start .. But his start is rarely reasonable, and the prestige it puts on him is so great that I fear injury will happen again .. I’d love to see him focus on the deuce, get back to sub 45 firm, and see what he could do .. It’s been since ,’07 that he’s really had a season of 200 sprinting ..

  5. Rohan says:

    Not sure i agree with you that with a reasonable start Tyson goes 9.5x.He would need more than a ‘reasonable’ start to venture into those unchartered teritory.

    • CHill says:

      In that race a reasonable start gets him to 9.5 .. He was no where near Powell until mid race – then was no where near him at the finish !!! We’ll see if he still possesses that kind of explosiveness, but that race was in that range ..

      • Steve says:

        I am not too sure Gay would run 9.5x with a better start, remember that was on a very fast track and he got a 2.0 wind behind him. Also Powell’s quick start/reaction does make most good starts look average.

        Bolts 9.69 in Bejing made ppl think 9.5 was a possibity due to his antics a few metres before the end (remember it was a 0.0 wind), but Gay in contrast was as they say “balls out!” in his race.

        At this present juncture the runner I see with 9.5 potential in the near future is Blake; his 9.69 was with a -0.1 wind and his 19.21 shows he has serious Top End speed to achieve the mark.

        • CHill says:

          I hear what you’re saying, but I think you’re overlooking a couple of your own points ..

          Gay didn’t just trail Powell, he trailed the field – badly !! Partly because of poor start, partly because he stumbled – he’s bad at dragging his feet .. He was meters down to Powell at 30 and finished a meter up at the tape – .16 to be exact .. Even though Gay was twice as far down as he finished up let’s attribute the same .16 as a differential and you have 9.53 with a conservative differential ..

          Now to your argument it’s a very fast track and max wind .. However, that is the nature of sprinting – times are always conditional .. That’s why personally I think comparing times, even with the over hyped wind/altitude calculator is farcical at best .. On that day, on that track, with that wind, and a better start Gay was capable of 9.5x ..

          Now is he still capable ?? I don’t know .. But he was then ..

          Back to the conditions, it’s why we need athletes to compete – at least one reason .. Comparing times isn’t how the sport should be gauged .. For example, Bolt in Beijing and MJ in Atlanta, same winning time but who wins head to head ?? My gut says MJ’s turn ability and 43 sec strength is enough to hold off Bolt who faded slightly at the end, as well he should have ..

          But if you remember many said based on times heading into Atlanta that Frankie was the man .. And Gay got a decent start in Stockholm, puts pressure on Bolt and wins .. And in spite of injury claims it was Bolt with a pair of low 9.8 clockings heading into the race not Gay ..

          Who’s capable right now of 9.5 ?? Bolt obviously based on London .. Possibly Blake, but Blake has progressive acceleration that he holds as opposed to explosive acceleration – it’s why he’s so good over 200 … Gay IF he’s back to ’09 form .. Ryan Bailey with an improved start and a couple of mechanical changes – but his body is capable .. Not sure anyone else is that’s running right now .. Most just don’t have the levers, or generate nearly enough power/force ..

          That’s my take ..

          • Steve says:

            9.53!! I think you have loss some objectivity here, him finishing up a metre ahead and winning by .16 sec does not mean this time differential translates to the initial metre lead at the beginning.

            If you notice Powell did his usual easing up before the line (especially when he is behind), which is in contrast to Gay who ran straight through, hence this would have significantly contributed to the 0.16 time difference in the end.

            Both athletes were accelerating in the first few metres hence the time differential would be significantly less; If this was not the case he would not have caught Powell.

            I don’t think the wind calc is not over hyped as you say, it is there for a reason, to allow for race times to be deemed legal or not for record purposes & there seems to be a general consensus that the maximum legal tail wind of 2.0 m/s provides a 0.10-0.12 second advantage over still conditions at sea level.

            It is well know in sprinting circles that if a lot of energy is expended at the start, there is the potential to lose something in the end of the race and Gay is not known for his quick start.

            You compare Bolt in Bejing to MJ in Atlanta. Bolt just finished running faster than his body had ever run in 100m (which does take a lot out of you physically), just a few days before running the 200m record even the legendary MJ while watching it in the BBC studios was amazed with his record time. Would he have held Bolt off when he ran the 19.19 in Berlin? 😉

            I agree head to heads are important but I think they are even more important in a Championship setting and Bolt has won the 100m against Gay at Olys and Worlds. The race you mentioned was in a non-championship year otherwise known as an Off-Year.

            I agree with your point about Blake’s progressive acceleration….Bailey is interesting but then there are a few other young intriguing talents out there now

          • CHill says:

            I’m not saying that’s what Gay would have run, simply saying that comparing the first half of the race to the second, and how fast down he was, he showed the acceleration needed to get under 9.60 ..

            Yes, Powell gave up once again, butt I think his shut Diana are over rated as far as how fast he would’ve run, because we’re talking about a few steps and momentum continues forward .. Point is were talking hundredths not tenths, do somewhat negligible ..

            I agree about the energy distribution of a Sprint, only further substantiates the potential for the stronger quartermiler to out finish Bolt – again were talking about a hypothetical ..

            I’ll also say in that regard that MJ also performed best in big meets – so no advantage to either one ..

            And when I refer to wind calculator I’m trying to those that day if you ran x time with x wind and x altitude you would have run x time with zero wind .. Far to many other factors affecting a race .. We do however need some standard – 2mps/4.47 mph to establish record setting standards, because there is definitely and effect on races .. Again that’s one reason why we need head to heads ..

            MJ v Bolt when Bolt tan 19.19 ?? Tough question .. Like Atlanta err know the Doha track and stadium were built for speed – fast surface and wind tunnel that produces few windy times because of the direction of the track .. And Bolt had the advantage of basically zero competition so never had to query about trying up – as he did in London for example .. And we have no 100 time to gauge our speed on – and of course he was a tad fresher not having run that hard 100 final ..

            I need to sleep on that one ..

  6. Rohan says:

    Hypothetically, base on talent,mechanics etc, Bolt, Gay,Blake, powell and Gatlin at their very best, who wins or whats the order they finish?

    • CHill says:

      Tricky question … Given talent, mechanics, each in top form, competing at their best and in a race where each executes “their typical race” the results go:


      Gay/Blake could be interchangeable each finishing ahead of the other 5 of 10, but Gay having the slight edge in explosive acceleration mid to late race ..

      That said, if either catches the perfect start he can win the race outright even over Bolt … Bolt has the mechanical advantage by virtue of his length .. But can be beaten if you get out ahead and pressure early .. But only two men in this field are capable ..

      Gatlin has a wonderful race pattern, but one huge flaw – turnover .. His stride is too long reducing his turnover opportunity, so at the high speeds he’s going to lose ground ..

      Powell can’t relax late race in traffic .. End of story ..

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