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

What to Watch in 2016

Jan 12th, 2016
1:24 pm PDT

CwaypicOlympic years are always exciting for sports fans because that global showcase will take place this summer. That means we will see the best that track and field (among other sports) has to offer – the best athletes competing head to head. Sad that I can’t say that in any other year, but unfortunately we don’t get this type of competition in any other year with any regularity. One would have hoped that the World Championships would have become THAT meet by now – having been around since 1983. But alas, though we get some scattered excellence around Worlds, it’s still "The Games" that the world aims for and "EVERYONE" watches.

No, everyone prepares their best face in an Olympic year. From the host city (Rio) to defending champions, to challengers, to athletes looking to break through to the top. The athletic atmosphere will be charged with athletes preparing to be THE BEST they can be when the opening ceremonies begin in August. There’s something about knowing that over a billion people will be tuning in and watching what you do!

That said, this will be a huge year for track and field. With questions of doping once again dominating the news, we need the competition to overshadow the news, because the sports’ best marketing tool is always the competition. When we get our best on the track competing against each other this sport fills stadiums and sells itself. THAT should be at the top of Lord Coe’s agenda – getting the athletes competing head to head OUTSIDE of the major Championships. Do that and your problems go away.

So, on that note, I’m going to focus my first post of the year on the athletes/match ups I’m looking forward to most in 2016, because there are some exciting competitive prospects awaiting the sport this year.

 

Women’s 200

On the competitive front, this could be the hottest race of the year for either gender. Let’s start with the WC final where Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson became two of history’s best; Candyce McGrone and Dina Ashersmith became legit contenders; and VCB once again clocked sub 22. Then consider that 21.6 performer and three time world champion Alyson Felix was improving her 400 PR while winning gold before dropping a 47.9 relay split! Throw in the potential of a healthy Tori Bowie; an improving Jenna Prandini; another new Jamaican (one will emerge); a healthy Michelle Lee-Ahye; and perhaps a Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce double and no event can compete on top end depth! And the best thing is that unlike the men who avoid each other like the plague, the women WILL compete – so we should see great races in the lead up to the eventual Rio showdown! By the way, if there’s not enough intrigue over this race, consider that Felix v Schippers has already occurred – with Schippers the victor. I say that because should Felix double, you can bet she will be looking to even the score. A nice subplot heading into Rio.

 

Men’s 400

Last year SIX men broke 44.00 – three in the WC final, two others in the rounds. The greatest single season depth ever seen in the event. Even more impressive was the fact that six different countries were represented among the sub 44’s – with four new nations in the mix. We’re seeing the sprints get faster AND countries other than the US and Jamaica in the mix. The quarter is no longer the exclusive playground of the United States! I expect to see last year’s leaders back under 44, and some new blood enter the fray – further elevating the event. The 400 could become the most competitive male sprint event in Rio. Add to the mix the fact that it may be the least predictable sprint and we’re looking at excitement ,on top of great depth. My definition of must see TV!

 

Women’s 1500

Ginzebe Dibaba set a sensational WR in the event nearly running under 3:50 while leading a seasonal parade of nine women under 4:00 in 2015 – impressive depth. As with the other events I’ve mentioned, it’s the depth and promise of exciting competition that makes this event appealing to me. It doesn’t hurt that two of the top contenders are Americans Shannon Rowbury (3:56.29 AR) and Jenny Simpson (3:57.30). Rowbury the faster on the clock, Simpson the more consistent competitor and a former World Champion. The 1500, along with the 100, is one of the most popular events in the sport. Having the women running well under 4:00 enhances the event. And with Dibaba threatening to run under 3:50, well you just have to feel compelled to watch the 1500!

 

Men’s Sprints

I say men’s sprints in the plural because this is going to be a season so transition, one way or another. We have the old guard of Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, et al who are looking at their last Games – even if they eek out another season or two afterwards. They will face a new crop of young sprinters headed by Trayvon Bromell, Andre Degrasse, Anaso Jobodwana and a host of youngsters that have grown up believing anything is possible. It’s my belief that we will see several youngsters clocking sub 9.90 / sub 20.00 this year – preparing to replace the "old men". I also believe that youngsters will outnumber veterans in Rio finals. Of course the hard part will be defeating those veterans, and that’s where the drama will play out – and what will keep the men’s sprints in the spot light! Yes, everyone will tune in to see what Usain Bolt does – you can take that to the bank. But watch the rounds and all the races without Bolt in them, because you will find at least one medalist that was unexpected before the opening ceremony in Rio. My gut is telling me that we will see one, maybe two new athletes on stage in Rio.

 

Men’s Triple Jump

Usually it’s the long jump that features in Olympic years – in most years really. Recently however, the long jump has been in a funk, with jumpers struggling to get past 27 feet and jumping nowhere near the 28 foot barrier. In contrast, this event has a trio of jumpers that have surpassed an amazing 59 feet and are eyeing the magical 60 foot World Record! Three of history’s five best all time jumpers will be competing in Rio – Christian Taylor (#2), Pedro Pichardo (#4), and Teddy Tamgho #5) – the best field of competitors since WR holder Jonathan Edwards and Kenny Harrison (#3) battled it out in the mid in the 90’s. It’s that kind of competition that lead Edwards to the WR, and that lead Taylor to his fantastic 59’9" leap in Moscow last year. I think this trio can leave Rio with all three jumping in excess of 59 feet – and if that happens I can see one of them over 60 feet!

 

Multi National Competition

What is really exciting me about this year, is that the sport is truly becoming more global at the top. Growing up, the sport was dominated by the US, Russia, and East Germany. During the 90’s Kenya, Ethiopia, and the North Africans began to dominate the distances. The 2000’s saw the rise of Jamaica and the Caribbean nations in the sprints. In 2015 however, we saw a multitude of nations begin to assert themselves. We saw Chinese sprinters and relay teams. As well as athletes from Turkey, Botswana, South Africa, and The Netherlands. Russian, French, Cuban, Danish, and Kenyan hurdlers. Chinese, Cuban, Jamaican and Croatian throwers. In short the sport is truly becoming less "head to head" among a handful of countries and a real global sport. Fitting in an Olympic year in the event that was established to celebrate "global" competition.

There will be much more to watch this year, these are just my personal favorites. I expect that we will get a lot of new names and faces added to the mix, as well as some great competition from some old veterans. That’s how things go traditionally in an Olympic year. Final hurrahs by a few greats that go into the sunset with their final medal haul. But also new names and faces. Youngsters that leave their mark for the first time – but not the last. Stars are born in Olympic years. Watching them develop is one of the most fun parts of the year. I’m looking forward to it.

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