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

Texas and Florida Signal Start of the Season

Mar 29th, 2023
8:03 am PDT

This year’s indoor season was as good as I’ve ever seen. Personally I much prefer outdoors, but the marks that were churned out this year, were nothing short of stellar. Especially on the women’s side. This coming with most “elite” athletes either not competing at all indoors, or only making a brief appearance.

Still we got WR’s from Mondo Duplantis (6.22m), Ryan Crouser (23.38m), and Femke Bol (49.26). We also got great marks from Grant Holloway (7.35), Trayvon Bromell (6.42), and Britton Wilson (49.49). Marks good enough to be outstanding outdoors! Which is where we’re finally headed. There have been a few meets already, but with the Florida and Texas relays on deck, the season is poised to truly launch. Athletes that are confirmed to compete this weekend include: Erriyon Knighton, Rai Benjamin, Noah Lyles, Ronnie Baker, Abby Steiner, Gabby Thomas, Melissa Jefferson, Jenna Prandini, Valarie Allman, Christian Coleman, Kenny Bednarek, Dalilah Muhammad and JuVaughn Harrison. And that is a partial list!

Now that it feels like track season, I’m going to start it off with five questions that I have for this year.

One. Will Rai Benjamin finally get 400H gold in Budapest. In case you missed it, Budapest is host to the World Championships this year. And Rai Benjamin is easily the most talented intermediate hurdler on the planet. His bests at everything from the 100 thru the 400 are better than all of his competitors. However, he has yet to win global gold. Finishing behind Karsten Warholm twice, and Allison dos Santos once. Benjamin’s friend and training partner, Michael Norman, faced the same situation last year – being possibly the most talented individual in the 400, yet having failed to win gold. Norman overcame his demons last year to win his first global title. Will Benjamin do the same this year?

Two. Will an American woman stand atop the 100m podium in Budapest? While it may seem like the Jamaican women have had a stranglehold on the event, the truth is that it’s a fairly recent phenomenon. Since the year 2000, American women won gold in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2011, and 20 17. An American also won silver in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2012, and 2016. The “problem” ( being competitive in this event) has only existed post Covid! Personally, I believe that draught ends this year. And I don’t think it will be by Richardson, Hobbs or Jefferson – the names most often mentioned. I’ll give my favorite to end this ridiculous string in a later post.

Three. Will the US men’s 100m record fall this year? I think the time has come for the American record in the men’s 100 to go. After all, we have three men with bests of 9.7 – Fred Kerley (9.76), Christian Coleman (9.76), and Trayvon Bromell (9.76). We have several others in the all time top 30 in the event. Ronnie Baker (9.83), Marvin Bracy (9.85), Noah Lyles (9.86), Michael Norman (9.86), and Micah Williams (9.86). IF, we get good conditions at nationals, I think something special can happen since ALL of these men say they’re running the event this year. That includes long sprinters Lyles, Norman and Kerley. This will be a fun event to follow this year. One of many.

Four. Will the US men win the 4×1 in Budapest? We’ve had issues with the relay since the days of Jon Drummond, Mike Marsh, and Maurice Greene. In spite of superlative speed, we’ve had issues getting the stick around the track. It appeared that things had gotten “back to normal” in 2019, when a squad of Coleman, Gatlin, Rodgers and Lyles dominated in Doha. But failure to get out of the semi in Tokyo, was followed up with a narrow loss to Canada in Oregon. So now we’re back to a two meet loss streak. I’m of a mind that this was a blip. We made the mistake of not running our best in that Tokyo semi. And injury to Kerley, and in my humble opinion failure to anchor Lyles, led to Eugene’s outcome. We should be dominate again in Budapest. However, we must treat this as if we’re the underdog. To me that means, having a relay camp immediately after Nationals while we have the guys together. They’re got enough that a couple of days should take care of things. It also means putting the right group on the track – ignoring the outside pressure of coaches and agents! The right group in my opinion would be. Christian Coleman on leadoff. The best starter out there, no offense to Trayvon Bromell who is a very close second. Fred Kerley on second. Power, strength, and speed. Kerley always closes hard. Michael Norman on third. A excellent relay turn runner in high school, and college, with great hands moving the baton. I would also consider Erriyon Knighton who seems able to flatten out the turn and run it like he’s on a straight. He’s just a bit less experienced in relays, but I would have faith in his ability. And on anchor, Noah Lyles who undisputedly had the best tip end speed on the planet today. Yes, there are others that would do just fine. Kenny Bednarek, Trayvon Bromell, Marvin Bracy, and Ronnie Baker would make a fine foursome on their own. And there are many that would like to see Grant Holloway on that third leg. Clearly we have an embarrassment of riches – which is why losing its so embarrassing! We only get four on the track however, and that’s the four that I think would do best. If we lose in Budapest, it’s because we’ve not done the things necessary to get it done.

Five. Here’s a question that I think many are thinking, but maybe are afraid to ask our loud. Will Femke Bol upset Sydney McLaughlin in the 400H this year? I know. The question sounds like blasphemy. Sydney’s run an unbelievable 50.62 WR in the event. Only Dalilah Muhammad has ever run under 52, once behind Sydney. But Femke had an incredible indoor season. Breaking world records in the 500m and 400m. The 400 taking down a record that had stood since the 80’s! Her 49.26 being faster than her outdoor best of 49.44. And frankly, she looked like she could’ve run in the 48’s. She’s faster and stronger (remember she set the 500m record) than ever, and seems to have grown into her 6’0″ height. She’s a much better athlete than the one that ran 52.03 behind Sydney and Dalilah. So I think the question, is she ready for Sydney, to be a valid one. There are two questions here. How much better is Femke? And, can Sydney get any better? Because Sydney’s record was Beamonesque in scope. This is what’s going to make the question one to watch over the course of the 2023 season. Leading to the final in Budapest.

I said five questions. I’m going to add a sixth. Will we see a 200m WR this year? I left this genderless on purpose. I think that BOTH records, men and women’s, could potentially fall. Because both events have the necessary elements. Individuals that are close. And individuals good enough to push them. On the women’s side, Shericka Jackson (21.45) is close. Elaine Thompson Herah (21.54), Gabby Thomas (21.61), and Abby Steiner (21.77) are close enough to push her, and even defeat her. On the men’s side, Noah Lyles (19.31) is close. Erriyon Knighton (19.49), Andre DeGrasse (19.63), and Kenny Bednarek (19.68) are close enough to push him. All the the above challengers to the leaders have compelling stories of their own.Thompson and Thomas were both improving before being slowed by injuries. Both should be healthy now. Steiner was improving until the fatigue of nearly 60 races finally slowed her down. No longer in college, she’ll be able to better manage her season. On the men’s side, Knighton is no longer in high school! So he’s able to note train like a pro. DeGrasse and Bednarek are both coming off injuries. They are healthy now. Not that Jackson and Lyles have been standing still. Noah has improved his 60m which means an even better first half of his race. And Shericka has opened her season with her best 400m in several years. Bottom line. The 200m is going to be HOT.

Ok. There are some things to ponder as the season gets started in earnest. Hopefully that gets you excited for what should be one of the best seasons ever.

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