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

2020 On Pause

May 1st, 2020
4:33 pm PDT

I’ve been busy during the first part of the 2020 track season. Work, coaching, reorganizing life. So watched quietly as the early season began to develop. It would be quiet anyway I told myself. 2019 had been way too long! It had dragged on and on as we all waited for Doha.

Doha was hot. So hot they had to wait till near October to hold it. So hot they had to compete in an air conditioned stadium. Yet the competition ended up being sizzling hot! As Doha 2019 ended up being one of the greatest World Championships ever, on paper. Leading to crazy expectations for Tokyo 2020.

Forward to 2020 and the general consensus was that everyone would get rest, begin to put in a base, and the season would begin in earnest in the spring. That was the thought. That somewhere around Penn Relays, we’d begin to see the studs emerge from their winter training to test themselves. Penn, MtSAC, Shanghai. That’s where the season would begin.

A funny thing happened on the way to the practice track however – it got shut down! Literally. Closed. Locked. Long story short, a new virus has emerged, and the manner in which our various local, state, and federal entities have chosen to deal with it has created a near shut down of life as we know it. Unprecedented. Schools, closed. Libraries, closed. Gyms, bars, closed. Restaurants, take out only. Non “essential” businesses shut down. No gathering larger than 10 individuals. I woke up one morning to the equivalent of a bad sci-fi movie – earth has been invaded by non benevolent aliens!

Where has that left track and field? Well, the pause button has been hit. High school track here in California is awaiting word in mid April as to its fate. The NCAA shut down for the year – right as the indoor championships were about to begin! The early Diamond League meets (hard for me to say Wanda League) have been postponed. And just a couple of weeks ago, the Olympics were put off  a year.

This after things looked to be ready to heat up. Because, in spite of most athletes looking for a delayed start to the season (be careful what you wish for) several appeared ready for big things! Prime among them being Mondo Duplantis who broke the indoor WR in the vault. Not once, but twice (20’ 2.75“ & 20’ 3.25”) and appeared to have a mastery of the 20 foot zone.

Then there was Christian Coleman who appeared for a couple of races and promptly ran 6.37 to win US Nationals. Just off his own indoor record of 6.34. Also showing great sprint form was Ronnie Baker, who is returning from injury last year. Baker ran a series of 6.4’s of his own, topped by a 6.44! Common back from injury, Baker looked ready to run sub 9.90 once again outdoors.

Have I mentioned that Donovan Brazier ran an America indoor record of 1:44.22 in the 800. Matched by Ajee Wilson setting an American record 1:58.29 for the women ! Yes, the women were in record mode too. Among them being “unknown” Elle Purrier, who ran a sizzling 4:16.89 mile to set an AR, and Yulimar Rojas who triple jumped 50’ 7.5“ for a new WR! That was the quiet indoor season.

So, what next? That’s the question everyone has been asking lately. Unfortunately there are more questions than answers. The biggest question that needs to be answered is: when will “sanctions” be lifted? The answer will tell us when training will resume in earnest, and what that training  schedule should be. Then we’ll know what type of season will be held in 2020!

I don’t want to even speculate at this point. I’m hoping sooner than later (given safety for all of course) but we probably won’t know for a few weeks and reliable numbers are in. So, before I close, I want to take a look at a couple of things that are related to the sport.

For starters, I think this is a blessing in disguise for 2019’s collegiate stars. 2019 was a very long year for athletes like Sha’Carri Richardson, Divine Oduduru, Cravon Gillespie, and Kenny Bednarek, among others. It showed when Europe arrived. They now get to rest a bit more before attempting to make a run at Tokyo. Similarly for those looking to return fully from injury. The most visible being 400 WR holder Wayde van Niekerk. His event got much tougher in 2019 with several men running mid 43. Wayde had appeared to be healthy early, but extra prep time will certainly be welcomed. Personally I’m hoping it also does wonders for Tori Bowie. As I want to see her back in 10.7/sub22 form heading into our Olympic Trials.

Truly, the extra time can be used to most athletes advantage. Rest is always a good thing when used properly. And the reset and new time table will be fine for most. The only athletes that could find a negative impact from the delay are those athletes nearing, or at the end of their careers. Father Time is tough enough when you begin to age in sport. Allowing him extra time could make things a tad tougher. Athletes like Justin Gatlin, Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt, Mike Rogers, Yohan Blake, Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce, Blessing Okagbare and others could find the road a little longer. Not impossible, just not as easy as before.

In either case, I can’t wait for this pause to be over. Looking forward to getting them all back on the track. I’m missing the savvy of Felix and Gatlin AND the youthful energy of Richardson, Holloway, Lyles and Coleman.The precision and beauty of Duplantis, Taylor and Echevarria. And the strength and power of Kovacs, Crouser and Walsh! I want another round of Naser v Miler Uibo and Delilah v Sydney. Because at its best, our sport is as good as it gets.

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