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

Will the Sprint Assault Continue?

Jan 3rd, 2010
4:43 pm PDT
Frankie Fredericks of Namibia celebrates winning the Men's 200 metres Final

We enter 2010 with ’09 in the rear view mirror – and the vision in that mirror is one of a massive assault on the short sprints in 2009. Tyson Gay debuting at 19.58; becoming consistent at 9.7 (9.79w, 9.75w, 9.77, 9.71) and setting a new American Record of 9.69. Kerron Stewart (10.75, 10.75) and Shelly Ann Fraser (10.79, 10.73) with multiple 10.7’s and Carmelita Jeter (10.67, 10.64) with multiple 10.6’s. And of course a new set of WR’s (9.58, 19.19) from Usain Bolt.

This being the second year in a row that we’ve seen the sprint lists sizzling, it begs the question: with the sprinters now at such an insane level, will we see a similar assault on the all time lists/records indoors? After all, the records indoor records are nearly as formidable as those that the athletes have been chasing outdoors. The current indoor records are:

Men’s 60 – 6.39, Maurice Greene, 1998, 2001
Women’s 60 – 6.92, Irina Privalova, 1993

Men’s 200 – 19.92 – Frank Fredericks, 1996
Women’s 200 – 21.87 – Merlene Ottey, 1993

All of these records were set in the 90’s and went unscathed through the “oughts”. Only Maurice Greene in 2001 was able to equal his own record in the 60 during the past decade. With the likes of Bolt, Gay, Powell, Jeter, Fraser, Stewart out there running well you would think that these records might be in a bit of jeopardy.

When we look at the all time lists, however, few inroads were made in the last decade. Of the 22 times under 7.00 that have been run in the women’s 60, NONE were run in the last decade! Likewise, of the 13 times under 22.35 in the women’s 200, NONE were run in the New Millennium! Incredible when you consider that Veronica Campbell Brown, Allyson Felix, Marion Jones, Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards, Stewart, Fraser and Jeter all competed during the decade.

Similarly with the men, of the 23 times at 6.45 or faster in the 60, only 6 were run in the oughts! Of all the short sprints only the men’s 200 shows decent numbers as of the 12 marks under 20.30 in the 200 half (6) were run in the previous decade. The men’s 60 may be the biggest surprise of all the indoor sprints as the oughts were the decade where sub 9.80 became popular. Yet of the sub 9.80 sprinters we saw during the decade, only Justin Gatlin at 6.45 clocked a “decent” mark.

Now in defense, or perhaps not, of the decade’s best sprinters, we haven’t seen them indoors in the New Millennium – especially the 60/100 sprinters! In the 90’s we saw quite a bit of Maurice Greene, Jon Drummond, Frankie Fredericks, Andre Cason, Tim Harden, Linford Christie, Obadele Thompson, John Capel, Irina Privalova, Merlene Ottey, Gail Devers, and Gwen Torrence indoors. Since the turn of the century, appearances indoors by the likes of Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards, Kerron Stewart, Allyson Felix, Shelly Fraser, Carmelita Jeter and Sanya Richards have not been nearly as common – and we’ve not seen Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, or Usain Bolt at all. A shame since the marks that were set by their counterparts in the 90’s are actually fairly formidable. All are nearly as impressive as those that sit outdoors.

To her credit Carmelita Jeter, according to agent Mark Block, plans a full indoor season this year with the stated goal of breaking the 60 meter record. I would think that she might have a decent shot at the mark – though her forte lies in her midrace pick up and finish. The sprinter I would like to see take a shot at the mark is the blitzkrieg starting Shelly Ann Fraser. A start like she caught in both the Olympics and World Championships could get her close to 6.92 – certainly near 7.00. Same story in the men’s event as Asafa Powell seems to have the perfect race pattern to attack the indoor 60 record – though he was lead through 60 in Berlin by Usain Bolt.

In the longer event, a Veronica Campbell Brown v Allyson Felix matchup, with Kerron Stewart in the fray, might get one or more of them close to Merlene Ottey’s only sub22 ever run indoors! Likewise, Tyson Gay v Shawn Crawford might be the ticket towards another sub20, and a shot at Fredericks venerable 19.92. Though it would be interesting to see what Bolt could do indoors around the sharper bends of a 200 meter track.

We clearly have athletes out there that should be capable of challenging these marks. The question, as it always seems to be in this sport, is can we get them on the track? In the New Millennium, that has been one of the sport’s bigger challenges – getting its headliners on the track and competing against each other, especially in the sprints. Just as we had Greene, Fredericks, Privalova, Ottey, and Devers indoors in the 90’s, we need to get Jeter, Bolt, Gay, Powell, Fraser and Felix on the track in the teens.

With the sprints shining the spotlight on the sport over the past couple of seasons, it would be nice to see that continue as we turn the page into a new decade. Especially given that the World Indoor Championships typically get little attention outside of the sport. But with the bevy of top level sprinters we now have, to get some high level matchups In Doha would be the continuation of a coup for the sport. As would seeing some of these marks challenged during the course of the season. No better way to build the sport than to bring in the decade the same way we left the last – blazing around the track.

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