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

Which Sprinters Will Challenge the Big Three?

Mar 19th, 2011
7:39 am PST


Now that the indoor season is officially behind us, it’s time to start taking a closer look at the outdoor season. Roughly 3 months until various national championships, and then a couple more until Daegu. It’s really not that far away.

The star of the last World Championships was Usain Bolt (Jam) with his double sprint win in double record breaking time. And with the rivalry between he and Tyson Gay (USA) beginning to peak, the sprints are almost surely to be among the highlight events in Daegu. With the re-breakthrough of Francis Obikwelu at the European Indoor Champioinships just a few weeks ago, it made me ask myself if there is anyone out there capable of putting up a serious challenge  to the troika of Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell in the hunt for 100 meter medals at Wrolds?

Barring injury, Bolt and Gay have shown that, unless someone else rises to the occasion, only they are capable of taking out each other. Both have championships gold to prove it, as well as the head to heads we’ve among the top sprinters in recent seasons. With 2 bronze medals and 2 fifth place finishes in majors, Powell is a bit more susceptible but still a major podium threat.

So who among the rest of the world’s elite could be in a position to reach the podium? After all, neither of the Big Three was born there. They had to work themselves into position, and any season could be the one that produces the next great champion.


Francis Obikwelu (POR)

Obikwelu has a very good record in championship settings. A World bronze medalist in the deuce in ‘99 at the age of 19, in the 100 he’s been Olympic silver medalist in ‘04, and twice European champion to go with several appearances in major finals. His 60 meter win says he could be ready to PR again after a brief retirement in ‘08 followed by working his back to form. Apparently he has once again found that form. If so, the smooth striding sprinter has all the physical gifts – another tall sprinter in the Bolt mode – to give the world’s best great difficulty. And his experience cannot be overlooked.

Nesta Carter (JAM)

2010 was something of a break out season for Carter as he found a bit of consistency in the 9.8 range with legal marks of  9.85 & 9.86 to his credit. He also had a 9.78 in Rieti – a locale that raises my eyebrows with nearly everyone running PR’s and marks that are generally not duplicated elsewhere. He beat all but the big three. And his blazing start has him in every race he’s in. As a matter of fact his start may rival that of countryman Powell.

Walter Dix (USA)

Dix also broke through to the 9.8 zone with a PR run of 9.88 in Switzerland (Nottwil). Dix is no stranger to the podium as he finished 3rd in both the 100 & 200 in Beijing, and won multiple gold medals in NCAA championship competition. As a short sprinter that depends on mid race acceleration and late race closing speed, any improvement in his early race (0 – 40 meters) could make him extremely dangerous – and a serous threat to gain the podium again.

Christophe Lemaitre (FRA)

Last year’s European find, Lemaitre became the first Caucasian sprinter to break the 10.00 barrier when he went 9.98 in Valence France. Then went sub 10 twice in the same day in Rieti – 9.98 & 9.97. While his times do not make him a podium threat, the fact that he has gone sub 10 in spite of needing much work to his race technique does. Tall in the mode of Bolt and Obikwelu, Lemaitre is a much more gangly type sprinter than his more polished counterparts – i.e. he has lots of wasted energy and has yet to really put a solid race together. If he can get “smoothed out” he is definitely a medal threat as he does have a very strong competitive nature.

Yohan Blake (JAM)

Blake is another in the growing stable of Jamaican sprinters – and also PR’d under 9.90 last year with a 9.89 in London. Like American Walter Dix, Blake is a short sprinter with a poor start, and like Dix has tremendous top end speed – that’s why both are sub 20 200 men. Blake is a bit more consistent in his early race however, and may be closer to the big three come mid race – but as his PR came against Tyson Gay’s 9.78 in London, he’s got to get a lot closer. Blake is young and still maturing however, and at 21 still has a lot of upside. How soon he reaches it may determine if he lands on the podium before the competition.

Ryan Bailey (USA)

I hesitate to put Bailey here because he is hurt an awful lot, but his potential is scary. Tall like Bolt, Obikwelu and Lemaitre, Bailey is a pleasure to watch once he is up and running. He PR’d last year behind Carter in Rieti with a 9.88 of his own – following a 9.95 heat. His start is atrocious – almost reminiscent of Steve Williams of the 70’s – but like Williams, once he is up and rolling he smoothly eats up ground. If he can A) stay healthy, and B) develop a strong drive phase to his start, I think he easily puts himself in the mix to reach the podium. But if is a big little word and he has two of them. So we’ll have to see “if” he can overcome those past failings. But at only 21 years old it may be just a matter of maturity – a la Blake – that gets him to the podium.

There are several others in the 9.9x range, and we know that anything can happen in a given season. But with the current state of sprinting what it is, if you haven’t run in the 9.8’s yet (and don’t get there by around June) your chance of getting on the podium are almost nil. Yes I know I put Lemaitre in the mix, but he’s broken 10.00 with SO many mistakes you have to think that just cleaning him up he goes sub 9.90.

As the first races are run outdoors, these are the men that I see with the best part of being in that final with the opportunity to provide a challenge to Big Three. Let’s see how they, and others, sort themselves out over the next few months.

6 Responses to “Which Sprinters Will Challenge the Big Three?”

  1. Anderson says:

    I think Richard Thompson should definitely be added to this list. Although his 2010 season was not spectacular, he has shown that he is able to perform when it counts, and also during the season he comes in right behind the big 3 or has won in their absence.

  2. Conway Hill says:

    Well Thompson did have a hot year in '08 .. A silver in Beijing and 9.89, and also a collegiate championship .. But has not done anything of note since .. 9.93 in Berlin for 5th and only 10.01 last year .. The game changed a lot last year .. It was a big year for emerging sprinters .. Thompson will have to really up his game to get in the mix .. Remember his 9.89 was a one off in what was the fastest race in history at that point ..

    He's one to watch, but he's going to have to show me he has moved forward and not backwards .. He could nudge Bailey or Lemaitre off the list, but I need to see some consistency at least in the low 9.9x range .. Even at that not sure I put his above anyone else on the list ..

  3. Anderson says:

    Definitely agree with you, he gets a lot of credit for his Beijing run, but I guess im looking at it more from a competitive stand point than just times alone. He won in the absence of The Big 3 in NY. In Stockholm he finished behind Bolt and Gay, and he has been able to make the finals of both past majors.
    Agreed he has to show up and thrown down some better performances during the season a little bit more, but i guess i just find it hard to put Lamaitre and Baliey up there basically off of last season. Well see as the season progresses though. Great Blog by the way!

  4. Conway Hill says:

    Well, he has won a lot against the lesser of the elite's .. No question .. And he has made the finals of both of the last majors ..

    I put Bailey and Lemaitre ahead of him because since Beijing each season has been a step backwards for Thompson, while the two of them have improved each of the last two seasons .. So they are on an upswiing and he is on a downswing …

    Now that can change for either of them – or fram anyone on the list including the big three .. Sprinters are always an injury away from being out of the picture …

    I think by May we will have a handle on Thompson, Bailey and Lemaitre … I think the others are fairly well set aside from injuries .. Should be a great sprint season … Now if we can just some head to heads before Daegu ..

    And thank you for the compliment

  5. wAcKY A.K.A Malik says:

    I have 2 agree with Anderson that Thompson should still be considered. As a Jamaican, I know that near the end of the '08 season Thompson, like Bolt, was involved in a car accident (an obvious hindrance to training), hence the sub par performance post- Beijing. Besides the Commonwealth Games, '10 was generally an off year, hence sub par performances once again.
    On the other hand Bailey produced his 1st and only sub-10 in a fast race (on an unusually fast track) and didn't endure as many rounds as Richard did in Berlin. "Performance when it counts"

  6. Conway Hill says:

    You make a good case .. I remember Thompson's accident .. But he has still not returned to form .. And I understand that '10 was an "off season" but the sprints were very competitive none the less .. Perhaps he was "saving" himself for the trifecta run .. We will see ..

    I agree about Bailey's PR being potentially "suspect" .. I'm not a fan of Rieti either .. What I like about him (for this list) is that he too has been injured often over the last two years but continues to get better ..

    Bailey is the most "iffy" sprinter on the list … Great potential, has to put it together .. I put him on based on that potential .. All things equal (both stay healthy, have good seasons, etc) I would say they may be two sides of the same coin – and Bailey has the tougher road to get to Daegu … So let's add Thompson and we'll see where we end up ..

Leave a Reply