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

Can the US Top the Podium After A Decade

Jun 13th, 2019
12:54 pm PST

Ten years. A decade. A lot can happen in 10 years. Ten years ago, the iPhone made its debut – now no one can remember how we lived WITHOUT smartphones. Before that Blackberry and Nokia ruled the cell phone world, and if you were really cool you owned a Razr! Young people today can’t remember either of those names with a market dominated by iPhones and Galaxy’s. 

A decade ago was the last time the US men won a Major 4×1. Winning in Osaka against a Bolt/Powell lead squad 37.78 to 37.89 – Jamaica’s first sub 38! Believe it or not, that race was run with a substitute on anchor for the United States – that’s how dominant we once were. And yes, Jamaica ran an “A” team of Marvin Anderson, Usain Bolt, Nesta Carter, and Asafa Powell! Telling that to a young person today is like telling them that the Blackberry Bold was once the supreme cell phone on the market – huh! Oh, by the way, if that’s unbelievable enough, Bolt didn’t run the 100, and was third in the 200! 

Ah, but what a difference a year made. By Beijing, Double World champion Tyson Gay was hobbled by injury and Bolt was WR holder in the 100. Bolt left the Games a double Olympic champion and double WR holder and Jamaica left with Olympic relay gold and a 37.10 WR – with Carter, Powell, and Bolt! The US failed to complete their semi and the streak began. Ten years of Jamaica atop the podium, and the US struggling to complete handoffs. Our best finish since then being a silver medal runner up behind a Jamaican WR in 2012 – 36.84 to 37.04. We did get silver again in ’13 before going back to exchange issues in ’15/’16.

Ten years of frustration, for what used to be the premier 4×1 squad on the planet. Yes, the world has gotten better. Seems like everyone is running 37s these days including China, Japan, and the University of Florida! Japan took silver in Rio ahead of us BEFORE we were disqualified! Yes, ten years of the world getting better, while we’ve continued to run in place – and fail to pass the baton adequately.

London was Usain Bolt’s final major 4×1, and in spite of him going down in pain on the anchor, we STILL lost to Britain! We botched the perfect opportunity to send him into retirement with an American relay victory – though Gatlin did take the 100 meter title, with Bolt being pushed into third. It still seems a tad hollow to me, finishing behind Britain with Bolt laying on the track.

Since then, the world has had a year without Bolt. Gatlin ran sparingly. And Yohan Blake was far from the 9.69/19.26 monster he was when he was training with Bolt. As a matter of fact, everyone on the entire island of Jamaica seemed to have had their MOJO impacted by Bolt’s retirement. In contrast, the rest of the planet seemed rejuvenated. Sprinters in Africa, Asia, South America, and Europe were running well. And here in the US, youngsters began to rise up and flex their sprinting chops.

So, just where does all this put us as we head into Doha? Well, with Doha being so late this year, national championships aren’t scheduled around the world until July – another month off. Speculating is fun though, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Britain still has its core and enters as the defending champion. Somehow I don’t see them running under 38 however. If they do it won’t be much under. They’re very beatable. Also beatable is once unbeatable Jamaica. No Bolt, no gold. As a matter of fact, I don’t see a medal in their future for a while. Bolt’s gone. Powell is running like the aging sprinter that he is. And while Blake has run 9.9, he can’t carry a squad alone.

The two biggest threats I see to the US taking the top of the podium are Japan and Nigeria. Yes, that’s what I said. Japan shouldn’t be a shock. They’ve already taken silver internationally and run 37.63. They should be even stronger this time around as they’ll be able to add Hakim Sani Brown who recently helped the University of Florida set a collegiate record 37.97 and ran a 9.97/20.08 double at the NCAA Championships. Adding him to their silver winning squad, Japan should be even faster entering Worlds.

Then there’s Nigeria. They too have a couple of youngsters that cut their teeth in the NCAA with Divine Oduduru and Raymond Ekevwo. Ekevwo lead of Florida’s national record 4×1, while Oduduru was busy taking the sprint double in 9.86/19.73! Nigeria has a 10.07 and 10.11 to pair with them, which makes them as good as anyone out side of the US. They could be trouble for everyone.

Canada could be a dark horse. Aaron Brown has become a solid sprinter, but they need Andre Degrasse to return to form. Similarly so could South Africa with Akane Simbine, if he can get help from Wayde van Niekerk.

And what about us? Well we have the horses. We always do. Actually our problem is that we have too many. Selection is always an issue with us – putting the right people in the right places AND making sure they pass well. I know there are people calling for Justin Gatlin and Mike Rodgers to be on the team. They are what remains of the “old core” relay squads. No disrespect, but it’s time to turn things over to the youngsters. The old guys are just that – old and aging. And they’re not as fast as they used to be. We’ve got some outstanding young people that are more than capable of getting the job done! And I believe they’ve developed good relay skills from collegiate running that are still fresh in their minds. After all, last place at this year’s NCAA Championships was a blazing 38.92!

Of course a lot of that will have to get sorted out at nationals, because we have a system that requires you make the “relay pool” based on how you finish there. Democratic, but not necessarily the best way to develop continuity. I think there are better ways to create our national teams, but another conversation for a different post. Today I have to look at who “should” be available based on recent performances. From that viewpoint I would say the pool most likely will consist of: Christian Coleman, Noah Lyles, Ronnie Baker, Justin Gatlin, Cravon Gillespie, and Bryand Rincher. These are the individuals racing best at the moment. Yes I know Baker hasn’t yet, but he will. On that note, I’d give Rodney Rowe a shot to make it along with Cameron Burrell and Kendall Williams. Filling out my potential pool. Personally I would also like to see Michael Norman considered but his 400/4×4 duties (should be make the team) would make that difficult.

So if this is the pool, I would go with Coleman to Baker to Gillespie to Lyles as my team to bring the gold back home. Coleman is easily the best starter in the world and could put us out front from the gun. Baker us a 9.88 performer that closes extremely well. Gillespie is a turn running sub-10/sub-20 kid who was second only to Oduduru in Austin. And Lyles is a finisher in the mold of Tommie Smith, Carl Lewis, and Usain Bolt – enough said. It’s my belief that this group can not only garner gold, but potentially take the WR in the process.

I know many are saying what about Gatlin, but as I said earlier I’m ready to turn it over to a new crew. And frankly, I think Gatlin would be a one year rental and I’d like to see us put together a squad that will work through at least one full championship cycle – ’19 Worlds/’20 Olympics/’21 Worlds – if not longer given their youth. We need some stability and continuity of we are going to return to perennial victory.

It’s been a long decade. There are young fans that believe the 4×1 is the property of Jamaica. It’s time to get our swagger back. If the University of Florida can go 37.97, then our national team should be able to eclipse 36.84! We have the foot speed. We just need to put the right foursome on the track and move the baton. Therein lies the challenge. I think the young guns are ready to accept the challenge.

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