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

Is Coleman the Heir Apparent?

Mar 14th, 2018
7:50 am PST

Me for Blog picChristian Coleman has had a blazing indoor season. He opened with a WR 60 meters of 6.37 that had no chance of rectification because electronic blocks weren’t used. He then proceeded to cruise 6.4s, on his way to the US Championships. There he shut down on 6.47 and 6.43 heat and semi before crushing the WR with a 6.34! He finished up with a 6.37 to win the World Indoor Championships! No one came close all season. Coleman’s biggest opponent all season was the clock.

Of course the internet has gone nuts, immediately drawing comparison to newly retired 100 WR holder Usain Bolt with the question, "Can Coleman break 9.58?" – shows just how important the 100 meters is to the world of track and field!

So, that said, can Coleman break 9.58, and is he the heir apparent? Well, to address the first question, I think fans need to realize two advantages that Bolt had in his WR – one of which no one else will ever have again. Bolt’s advantages were both natural and artificial.

Bolt’s natural advantage was his height. At 6’5", Bolt had a leg span which allowed him to run the 100 with approximately 5 fewer strides than most of his competition. That’s huge, given that he had a much better start than the average man his size – and better than most of his competition! The other advantage, that has been taken away from the sport, is that the zero tolerance false start rule for not exist. Individuals could "hedge their bet slightly" without the penalty of being thrown out of the race. Something that Bolt did frequently, actually drawing a false start in the rounds in ’09, on his way to that 9.58 final – which he lead from start to finish. And being eliminated in ’11 from the 100 final after the institution of the rule. It makes a difference.

Those things said, where does that leave Coleman? Well, for starters unable to hedge at all. He’s stuck in the blocks, as everyone has been since 2010 – and if you notice, most of the superior times were pre-10. The notable exception being the London Games. This is perhaps the biggest impediment for anyone in pursuit of the record.

The second is Coleman’s height – or lack thereof. At 5’9" Coleman is 8" shorter than Bolt. Actually he’s 4" shorter than reigning World Champion Justin Gatlin. So Coleman’s giving up a lot of leg/stride length. He’s done growing, so the only way he can improve his "stride" is to increase his foot strike (power) without sacrificing turnover. Possible, but not sure enough to get from his current PR of 9.82 to 9.58.

I’m impressed with Coleman’s indoor season. A nice follow up to last year’s NCAA performances; collegiate 100 record; and World Championships silver medal, but the odds of running 9.58 are low. The first target for both fans and Coleman should be the American Record of 9.69. Only the WR and Bolt’s 9.63 2012 Games win are faster. When Tyson Gay ran that mark he was at the height of his career and had crazy top end speed – ditto for Yohan Blake who has duplicated that mark. IF Coleman can do that, then talk of 9.58 could be more realistic.

First stop will be 9.7x which should happen this year. How easily he does that, and how often, will also be an indicator of Coleman’s ability to ultimately run a WR. The one certainty is that Coleman will be fun to watch this year.

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