The World Junior Championships closed out a near week long run Sunday in oft rainy Eugene – yes rain struck yet another big meet here. And while I continue to have my own thoughts about making this remote northwest corner of the country the focus of the sport here in the US, one thing that did become clear is that US sprint fortunes look better than they have for a couple of decades!
First my two biggest beefs of the meet. One, it’s Eugene. Yes they know how to put on a meet. They should, playing in the back yard of Big Daddy Nike they get the backing to practice practice practice. But it is still a small community in a small remote corner of the country, with questionable weather that never totally cooperates. And while our kids/athletes get to visit locales like London, Sydney, Barcelona, Rome, and Paris to get a sampling of the rest of the world’s culture when competing in major meets abroad, we put our impression not in the hands of Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Atlanta, New Orleans, Chicago, Dallas or any of the numerous metropolitan locations that the USA had to offer, but instead a place without a major airport to fly into. Don’t get me wrong, I cut my teeth growing up at the Modesto Relays, arguably one of the greatest meets to ever grace the planet – but I would never have run a major there may Tom Moore’s soul rest in peace!
My second, and even bigger complaint is this – can someone tell me why we’re hosting the biggest IAAF event in the US for decades and we can’t provide US announcers for the global feed? I won’t even get into the fact that said feed is on a network here in the US that’s unavailable to a large majority of the population. Or that the same feed was completely cut (be design) on the day of the 100 meter finals. But I got to spend nearly a week listening to foreign announcers announce OUR meet – Caribbean rivals no less! That’s like throwing the world’s biggest backyard bbq but you have to invite the neighbor you’re always trying to one up to man YOUR grill – because apparently you can’t cue! Embarrassing.
Ok, enough of my ranting, and I’m sure I’ll hear about it. Let’s talk about performance, because the kids did their thing and THAT was worth the price of admission. While the adults continue to have difficulty trying to figure out how to get it right, the youngsters knew exactly what to do and they did it well. American exceptionalism may be waning in many facets of society including "adult" track and field, but the future of the sport looks bright if we leave it in the hands of the kids that showed up last week. First I have to give a shout out to Mary Cain who won the first medal of any kind over 800 meters ever for the women in this meet. She broke that curse by snatching gold from the hands of the Kenyans with a devastating kick over the final lap. After getting boxed down the backstretch and exerting body language that clearly said "oh know you didn’t" she swung wide, shifted gears and ran away grin her counterparts with a "take that" attitude. The thing I LOVE about Mary is the sprinters aggression she brings to distance running. An aggression that was on display in bunches by our sprinters.
Lately we’ve been taking an international best down in the adult ranks. The generation of sprinters that was supposed to lead the way – Xavier Carter, Walter Dix, Wallace Spearmon, and a host of females – has whittled down to old folk Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Carmelita Jeter, and Allyson Felix. And youngsters that looked to be ready to step up – Isaiah Young, Ryan Bailey, Maurice Mitchell, English Gardner, Kimberlyn Duncan and others – for whatever reason just haven’t got there. Meanwhile our rivals from Jamaica, to Trinidad, to Britain and France have loads of talented sprinters shutting the last half decade or so. Looks like the pendulum may be swinging back!
You see our young US sprinters were out in force in Eugene taking gold medals, passing batons, creating huge margins of victory, and generally "showing out" in front of the world. Remember these names : Trentavis Friday, Kaylin Whitney, Kendall Williams, Arianna Washington, and Trayvon Bromell because they are going to be the face of US sprinting for a term similar to the old folk mentioned above – translation at least a decade – because for the first time in a long time I see "IT" in this group of kids. What is "IT"? For me an undefined combination of talent, ease, exuberance, aggression, self awareness, self assuredness and other unnamed qualities that great athletes seem to possess.
Of that list, we’ve heard a lot about Bromell this year because he was a college freshman lighting up his elders a la Harvey Glance back in the 70’s, but for many of the others, high school competition has kept them out of sight of all but the track nerdiest of us – and even we saw new sides previously hidden. At least I know I did. That changed last week however.
On the women’s side, we’ve already watched Tori Bowie emerge as potentially the next great thing in American sprinting this season – which gives Kaylin Whitney and Arianna Washington time to grow into their roles at the top of the sprinting food chain. Good thing given that Whitney just finished her sophomore year of high school @ 11.10 / 22.49. She’s the most promising young female sprinter since Allyson Felix a decade ago. With two high school seasons to go, she’s the HS record holder in the 100 and #2 all time in the 200 – only Felix’ 22.11 standing between her and the top of that list. This young lady is fierce, powerful, fast and with two years to perfect things like her start she could be ready for Rio and still be eligible for World Juniors – her upside is huge as is the timeline for greatness.
On the boys side of things, Bromell and Friday are already throwing down grown men’s elite times. Bromell (9.97) and Friday (10.00) are the two fastest juniors in history. And under all conditions only three juniors have ever run faster than Friday’s windy 20.03/20.04 performances. The names at the top of the list – Justin Gatlin and Usain Bolt! Bromell has gotten the headlines so far, but Friday has a powerful flow about him that could propel him to great things in my humble opinion. His acceleration is barely perceptible, but the results are devastating. I think we may finally have the type of young sprinter ready to take on the new breed of sprinters that are popping up around the globe.
He’s certainly as good at this stage as athletes like Gatlin, Gay, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake. As with Whitney, watching him run he has a huge upside ahead of him and time to grow. All one has to do is watch the final 100 of his 200 victory or his anchor leg on the 4×1 to visualize what this kid may be able to accomplish in the future.
Personally I haven’t felt this good about US sprint fortunes since watching the 2005 NCAA Championships – a meet that featured no less than Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix and Xavier Carter. If they turn out to be as good, and my gut says they will be better, we are in good shape heading into the next generation of sprinting.