A 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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!