This sport just CAN’T seem to get away from the issue of doping! Ben Johnson (1988) opened the door to sub 9.80 in the 100, and to an open conversation on doping! It took until 2002 and BALCO before that conversation became loud – though many wanted to pretend it was an American problem – despite all evidence to the contrary. Now, in 2016, it’s clearly a global epidemic in which even the IAAF has been shown to be complicit. And the reaction seems to be PUNISH SOMEBODY so that it appears that "something" is being done.
However, this sport needs to come up with something comprehensive before it commits accidental homicide – to itself. Why do I say this? Well, Russian whistleblowers say the entire nation has been in on systematic doping of athletes. Upon further review, the IAAF has banned Russia from the Olympics – with the blessing of the IOC. But should you ban an entire country? For example.
Jamaican sprinter Nesta Carter’s 2008 sample from Beijing has been retested and come back positive. He joins a list of prominent sprinters including Yohan Blake, Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, Sherone Simpson, Steve Mullings, Demar Robinson, Traves Smikle, and Veronica Campbell Brown that have served doping bans and one might wonder why Jamaica isn’t facing a ban from Rio as well. After all, Kenya is under the microscope too and there has been discussion of banning them as well – and Jamaica’s elite banned list is as formidable as anyone’s !
Of course, that would remove Usain Bolt from the Games, and THAT isn’t going to happen. I mean, he’s the marquee attraction. Coe and company aren’t ready to go THAT far to prove a point. Though Bolt is facing losing his relay gold from Beijing – and given that Carter was on every Jamaican 4×1 from ’08 thru’15 could those relay medals be in jeopardy as well? THAT could become a very interesting dilemma should Carter be proven to have doped beyond Beijing!
Back to the Games however. What would the Games look like if every country with multiple banned athletes was simply banned from Rio, or future sites, for cause – cause we’re not sure who’s clean or dirty? We could end up with a combined 1980/1984 Olympics – two boycotted Games with Eastern powers boycotting one, Western powers boycotting the other. In other words a Games with NO powers in attendance.
I mean , the wholesale banning of nations is a rather slippery slope. Can you imagine a 2016 Games without Russia, Kenya and Jamaica? That would be boring. Or a 2020 Games with say a third of the planet missing – the most powerful third? Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is never a good idea. Be angry with Russia. Fine the federation, punish the leadership. But you can’t punish ALL athletes from any single nation. The answer isn’t wholesale bans. The answer is to do a better job on the anti doping front. Being a decade behind is inexcusable, but no one wants to talk about THAT. The REAL answer is to have testing methods good enough to catch athletes NOW – which would be THE deterrent necessary to potentially end doping. At least the pervasiveness of doping.
So, let’s talk about the athletes. Specifically American athletes as we look towards the Trials.
The Field Events
Speaking of the fans, at the end of the day it’s about the athletes, and the athletes are starting to show their skills. If America is going to have a great showing in Rio this year it’s going to start, not on the track, but in the field events where several competitors are at the head of the class right now. Leading the way should be triple jumper Christian Taylor who’s one of the most intense competitors on the planet! He’s the defending World AND Olympic champion and the final round comeback king! It doesn’t seem to matter how far the competition manages to jump, Mr Taylor will see your 58 feet and raise you and go 59 – he simply refuses to lose. And if Taylor is "Batman" then Will Claye is "Robin", because he was runner up in London to Taylor’s gold! So I say this year’s team begins here.
Going from horizontal to vertical, Vashti Cunningham is also turning into a solid winner in the high jump. The high schooler won the World Indoor title, and looks to be ready to take on the big girls again in Rio. She’ll join with Chante Lowe to give us another one two punch at the Games. And while I’m discussing strong combos, we should also have a one two punch in the women’s pole vault with defending Olympic champion Jenn Suhr and rising star, and this year’s World Indoor runner-up Sandi Morris.
Throw in defending Olympic long jump champion Brittney Reese, and shot putter Joe Kovacs who’s been on a tear since last year, and the US should fare well on the field in Rio.
US Middle Distance
Also looking good heading into the Trials are American middle distance hopes which got a big boost this week with the announcement that NCAA 800 champion, and American Junior Record setter Donovan Brazier turned pro AND entered the Trials. He gives a huge shot in the arm to an event that was looking to be down. Now he joins female half miler Ajee Wilson having the potential to solidly compete against the world in Rio.
In the metric mile, we’ve never looked better with former World Champion Jenny Simpson and American Record holder Shannon Rowbury both healthy. And suddenly former world #1 Morgan Uceny running her best in several seasons. Add Brenda Martinez and Shelby Houlihan and all we need now is for Mary Cain to find form again. Either way we’re as deep in the women’s 1500 as we’ve ever been. The men, I’m not sure where we are to be honest. I have faith that Centrowitz knows how to race, but is he, or any of our men ready for what I’ve seen on the Circuit so far? Ask me after the Trials.
If we have a "dominant" event right now, it’s the women’s 100 meter hurdles. We dominate the yearly list. We win all the Diamond League and European meets. And Keni Harrison is this year’s find beating everyone in site and blazing 12.24 – #2 all time. She’s the one person entering Eugene that can make a mistake and still win! She’s that good right now. Behind her you can play “Rock Paper Scissors”. for the remaining slots, it’ll be that close for the other two spots.
In 2012 Aries Merritt was as good as Harrison. He won Olympic gold and set the WR. Last year he had a kidney transplant after a couple of down seasons following London. He’s back and at 13.24 is still in contention. With only David Oliver really looking to be competitive, I say both make the team. After that, pick em! If I have to, I’ll say Ronnie Ash, in a lean over Devon Allen.
Long hurdles – hmm. I guess I should Fear The Bow. That would be Shamier Little, bow wearing, consistent and tough. There’s another high schooler here that could make the team in World Junior Record setter Sydney McLaughlin – I think she does. And since this event is usually kind to veterans I’ll go with Georganne Moline who’s running well at the right time.
The men? Well, Johnny Dutch is running best. Michael Tinsley has been the most consistent since London. And Eric Futch has been on a roll. I think it’s that simple.
The Sprint Scene
The sprints are interesting right now, because the men and women are VERY different. The women are on fire – globally and domestically. The old guard – Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards Ross, and Carmelita Jeter among others – are having a tough time getting going. While the young guard – Dafne Schippers, Tori Bowie, Elaine Thompson, Jenna Prandini et al – have been running at mid season form!
The men, on the other hand, are well behind last year’s pace. Only Bolt (9.88) and Jimmy Vicaut (9.86) are the only men under 9.90. While the sub 20 list doesn’t include anyone you’d expect. While some say this means Bolt had even less competition than in the past, I’d say that many have gotten wiser and are beginning to subscribe to a phrase I came up with years ago – “It’s not how fast you run, but when you run fast!” For example, Bolt only had ONE really good 100 race last year. Fortunately for him if we the World final – same for the 200. Meanwhile Gatlin could run nothing but 9.7 and sub 20 – until the final at Worlds. I expect to see the best in the men in August.
So who will represent the US? Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt, and then everything else is WIDE OPEN! Yes, that includes Tyson Gay who’s looked to be less than his best. Likewise Trayvon Bromell hasn’t been up to last year’s version – yet. The hot new kid on the block has been Ameer Webb. But he’s been blah in his last few races. And 2012 find, Ryan Bailey, has not been a factor since. As for the 400, aside from Merritt, we’re looking like 2004 when anyone could make the team. I believe we’ll see some true surprises among the men that go to Rio. Two, maybe three guys that are just on on THAT day. Not before, and maybe not after. I have NO idea other than to say that Webb makes it if he’s near early season form.The Trials will be exciting if for no other reason than it’ll be wide open.
There will be excitement among the women too, but not because they’re not performing. On the contrary, it’s because so many have performed and performed well! Tori Bowie has been the best and most consistent of the lot. She’ll make both the 100/200 squads. Courtney Okolo is young and making the 400 look easy – she should make the quarter. Allyson Felix has been average to this point, but is always ready when it matters, so she’ll make the 200/400 teams. Now it gets tricky. The University of Oregon will claim a 100 spot. That will come from one of Hannah Cunliffe, Jasmine Todd, Jenna Prandini, Arianna Washington, or English Gardner. That leaves one spot in each of the sprints open. I’ll go out on that limb and say, another Oregon, Candace Hill, and Francena McCorory – though if Taylor Ellis Watson slipped onto that 400 squad I wouldn’t be shocked.
So sits the US with the Trials approaching. It’s time to watch the second most exciting track meet this year.