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

USATF 2013 – Changing of the Guard

Jun 27th, 2013
2:49 pm PDT

PlaceholderLife is about change, and sport imitates life. And in the sports world change is inevitable. Injuries and age are the demons of athletes. That and the new and improved versions that arise every year!

This year we saw a lot of all three of those things at the National championships – mostly however the rise of new & improved athletes ready to take their place on the international stage. Below are my observations from Iowa of some of the top “next level ready” athletes taking over for those ready (or not) to step aside.


Men’s Sprints

Tyson Gay & Justin Gatlin are beginning to look ageless, but we know that’s not the case. I’ve been waiting for an athlete or two to emerge and improve to the level of sub 9.90 & sub 20 to lead the way into the next "Trifecta" of Beijing (’15), Rio (’16), and London (’17). Ryan Bailey emerged last year, making the London final and finishing 5th at 9.88. This year it’s Charles Silmon, who edged out veteran Mike Rodgers for the final ticket to Russia. Silmon was very poised and I think will be ready by Beijing, if not this year.

Not quite ready last year, but definitely ready this year is Isaiah Young who cut his teeth in London and came back to scream 19.86 behind Tyson Gay in the 200 final. Young has dropped his 100 best to 9.99 this year, but has shown himself to be a very solid and improving 200 man. Behind Young was another young springer in Curtis Mitchell. Mitchell looked ready to emerge a couple of drawings so running 19.99 just out of college. Then injury hurt and the road back – a path he completed in Des Moines as he equaled his 19.99 finishing ahead of none other than Wallace Spearmon.

The last team that didn’t have Spearmon or Walter Dix was Athens ’04. And Tyson Gay aside, it could signal the end of the road for the great collegiate sprint class of ’05 that had Gay, Dix, Spearmon, and  Xavier Carter.  They look to be replaced by this year’s crop of youngsters that includes Silmon ,Young, Mookie Salaam, Ameer Webb, Dentarius Locke, and Maurice Mitchell. Along with the injured Ryan Bailey, and a few high schoolers that I think will blossom, I think this is the next decade of US sprinting talent.

I’ve left the 400 out of the conversation because while Jeremy Wariner looks to be on the down side of his career, LaShawn Merritt looks just fine, and this is an event that we just seem to grow talent. Two years ago we got Tony McQuay. Last year the return of injured Bryshon Nellum. This year’s find is Arman Hall – and Florida has taken over from Baylor as Quartermiler U! This event is constantly evolving and I believe we are in good hands moving forward.


Women’s Sprints

Injuries have been taking a toll on our to women – in addition to the aging process. We’ve been due for some new hot talent for awhile. That talent seems to have arrived in a big way this year as the winners of both short sprints were young up and coming sprinters – English Gardner (10.85) and Kimberlyn Duncan (21.80w) – and third place in the 400 went to budding star Ashley Spencer.

Gardner was hot all weekend twice running under 10.90 and showing both consistency and poise. Her style reminds me of Gail Devers and if she can replicate what she did in Des Moines she could have similar results in Russia. Hot on her heels was young Octavious Freeman who lowered her PR to 10.91 while looking like a potential World finalist. In third Alexandria Anderson has been around for a bit but had the kind of breakthrough meet that Michael Tinsley had last year. This trio is young enough and talented enough to pair well with Carmelita Jeter, and even take over from her when the time comes.

Two hundred champion Kimberlyn Duncan looked like the second coming of Gwen Torrence as she outran multiple global gold medalist Allyson Felix in the final stages of the 200 meter final. This is an event where the talent seems to rotate in and out, but my gut says that Duncan, like Felix and Torrence, is in it for the long haul – which means we should see her on national teams in this discipline annually for years to come.

Injury severely hampered Sanya Richards Ross in the 400 – to the point of limiting her to a sixth place finish in the final. Yet, our prospects in Moscow continue to look good as Natasha Hastings (49.94), Francena McCorory (50.01), and Ashley Spencer (50.58) put together a nice set of rounds that culminated in a solid final. Hastings and McCorory are young veterans that have made international teams in the past, but are still improving. I expect all three to improve in Moscow as that seems to be their patterns. If so well be very competitive in the 400.


Women’s Distances

Simply put two names – Mary Cain and Ajee Wilson. Cain is the most documented athlete in the sport this year. There’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said. I will only reiterate that she is the future (present) of the sport, and perhaps the smartest runner I’ve ever seen in the sport. There have been talented runners before her injuring the liked of Mary Decker, Suzy Favor and Regina Jacobs. All were talented, but none showed the racing savvy of Cain. Even current stars Alysia Montano, Morgan Uceny, and Shannon Rowbury seem to lack her racing skills.  I would love to have seen Simpson in that final, as she tends to put herself in good position in races. They could make a good pairing. And yes, I’ve touted Uceny’s racing skills in the past, but while she’s raved week outside of championships she’s got to improve on staying out of trouble in them. Either way, Cain has clearly learned much from Master Salazar!

The bigger surprise was Ajee Wilson. No surprise that she a talent, or that she’s a pert of the future. The surprise was that she would arrive in this meet and threaten Cain’s recent AJR in the 800. Wilson became the second junior in less than a month to boys through the two minute mark just mudding Cain with her own 1:59.55! We’ve never had a pair of such talented young middle distance runners at the same time. I foresee some amazing international racing for these two in the future.


Women’s Hurdles

Brianna Rollins. That says it all in the short hurdles. Every race she ran in Iowa was under 12.35 – unheard of! Fresh out of college and she’s having a season for the ages. Barring injury, she could be around at a high level for at least a decade. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the world since she has yet to reach what should be her prime years.

Behind Rollins were "middle aged" hurdlers Queen Harrison and Nia Ali who both had a break through meet with PR’s of 12.43 & 12.48 respectively – and youngsters Krist Caitlin & Vashti Thomas also in the final. This event is on the verge of some wholesale changes at the top – and the "kids" are hitting their stride just in time as veterans Lolo Jones, Dawn Harper, Ginnie Crawford, and Kellie Wells have been around nearly a decade and are close to entering the other side of their careers. This group of youngsters is ready to take the hurdles to the next level.

The same can be said for the women’s long hurdles where we could have three athletes running under 53 seconds soon. Kori Carter had been improving by Lewis and binds this year and entered Nationals as the global leader in the event. Illness kept her out of threw final however, yet we still had a pair of women in the 53’s as Dalilah Muhammad (53.83) ran a huge PR to edge out Georgianne Moline (53.88). These youngsters will team up with veteran Lashinda Demus in Moscow to form a very formidable squad. More importantly, Carter, Moline and Muhammad should well lead the hurdles for the next decade, continuing the medal attack in this event that Demus has held down for the past decade.

All in all that’s a lot of change in the American team in one meet/season – especially in areas where we typically are medal threats. The proof is always in the pudding and this year’s pudding is located in Moscow Russia. We’ll see just how ready the members of the new regime are in August. Good luck to all.

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