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

What Happened to the Fast Starters ?

Feb 24th, 2010
4:42 pm PST

Track and Field: USA Track & Field Indoor Championships

With the championship portion of the indoor season at hand, we will finally get to see the best of the best going head to head. At least the best of those that have decided to participate during this indoor season.

This is the point in the season where we look forward to sizzling times. With the spotlight typically falling squarely on two headline events – the short sprint (60) and the mile/1500. Unfortunately, neither has been too stellar this year – though I fully expect both to pick up considerably when we get outdoors.

The mile seems to be lacking that someone with “oomph” this year. That Ryun, Keino, Coghlan, ElGuerrouj type. The races have been good races – they’ve just lacked that special someone. The short sprint, however, should be exciting in spite of the lack of big name stars competing under cover.

That’s because the 60 is typically such an explosive event. Six seconds of pure speed. But this year something has been missing from the 60 this year aside from last year’s outdoor World’s medalists – that explosive starter that electrifies the crowd!

You know the guy I’m talking about. He’s the one that as soon as the gun goes off seems to be in full flight! He sets the tone, the pace, of the sprint. The “catch me if you can” guy that either just blows the field away and gives you chills, or gets reeled in by that imposing sprinter with the serious finish that leaves everyone breathless. Either way it’s that super starter that makes the race feel fast – and that’s been missing this year. Which is why I think we have yet to see anyone under the 6.50 mark this year.

This year’s indoor leader at 6.50 is Dwain Chambers. A solid sprinter, but no match as a starter when compared to Asafa Powell, who is clearly the world’s current best starter. Powell, the best of the New Millennium, is the latest in what has been a rich history of fast starters in the sport. A few that are ingrained in my memory are:

Mel Pender – 1968 Olympic team member. Great reaction to the gun and great turnover.

Herb Washington – An indoor master in the early 70’s. So quick that the Oakland A’s signed him just to serve as a pinch runner.

Houston McTear – Perhaps the greatest high school short sprinter ever. The gun went off and he was instantly a couple of meters up on the field! Ran a WR 9.0 for 100 yards in high school as well as 10.16 in the 100 meters.

Ivory Crockett – Crockett was the adult version of McTear during the 70’s. He was the first to 9.0 for 100 yards. Great early turnover and acceleration.

Steve Riddick – Was the indoor master during the late 70’s. One of the few tall sprinters that seemed able to master starting and accelerating early in the race.

Ben Johnson – Yes I know he was banned for drug use, and therefore some never want to include him in any conversation. But there is no denying that Ben’s unorthodox “hop out of the blocks and run” style was perhaps the most explosive start the world has ever seen.

Andre Cason – Cason’s career was riddled with injury, but when healthy his acceleration was among the best.

Jon Drummond – Drummond was another, like McTear, that seemed to instantly create separation as soon as the gun went off. He was undoubtedly the best lead off leg the world has ever seen combining his infallible start with a very smooth turn.

This is the type of sprinter that has been missing this indoor season – the burner who creates excitement right from the gun. For an example of true early race explosion, watch the following video of the current indoor record of 6.39 as Maurice Greene burst clear of the field from the gun on his way to that sizzling mark.

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