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

An African Sprinter Emerges as Florida St Rolls

Apr 25th, 2011
7:46 am PDT

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It was a windy holiday weekend across much of the U.S. as report after report on most of this weekend’s meets referenced the wind and weather as a factor – keeping most performances to average at best. I watched the ACC Championships online, and certainly the weather played havoc for much of the meet as rain poured and the wind blew and the results were less than stellar the first couple of days. But on the final day the sprinters caught some favorable winds and the speedy Florida State Seminoles sent notice to Florida, Texas A&M, LSU and others that they would have something to say about who takes home the medals and team title in Des Moines.

The Seminoles already had one of the NCAA’s top times in the 4×1 at 38.87. Saturday they cruised to a 39.61 that crushed a weak ACC field – a preview of what was to come. Riding a maximum +2.0 wind, they went 1,2,3 in the 100 meters behind Ngonidzashe Makusha’s sizzling 9.97 – 10.03 for Maurice Mitchell and 10.27 for Kemar Hyman. Makusha & Mitchell taking over the top two spots on the NCAA list and Makusha becoming #2 in the world on the season. Then, as if 1,2,3 in the 100 weren’t enough, they came back to go 1 thru 4 in the 200 with Maurice Mitchell (20.19, +1.1) taking the world lead well ahead of teammates Brandon Byram (20.57), Charles Clark (20.78), and Brandon O’Connor (20.91).

Their performances were the latest salvo in the men’s NCAA title hunt as four of the top five teams in the country – Florida (#1), Texas A&M (#2), Florida St (#4), and LSU (#5) – are all very strong in the sprints. Clearly the battles in the relays, sprints and hurdles are going to have a profound effect on the final team title outcome in Des Moines. Also certain to have an effect on the podium at the NCAA championships will be long jumper, now sprinter Makusha.

Ngonidzashe Makusha is no stranger to the podium, having won the NCAA outdoor title as a freshman in ‘08 with his PR 27’ 2.75”. He just missed the podium in Beijing the same year with a 4th place finish. He came back to repeat as NCAA champion in ‘09 at 26’ 7.25”w, but competed only once in 2010. He won the ACC title in 25’ 4.75” but it was the 100 where he turned heads this time around. He entered the race with a PR of 10.52 set back in ‘07 and only placed 6th in his semifinal of the World Jr. Championships in ‘06 in 10.84. None of which gave any indication of what was to come – the second legal sub10 run this season at 9.97!

Perhaps we’ll see more of him in the 100. If so, the Zimbabwean could become the latest in what was once a strong line of African sprinters. Everyone is familiar with African names at distances of 800 meters and above. David Rudisha (KEN), Abubaker Kaki (SUD), Asbel Kiprop (KEN), Eliud Kipchoge (KEN), Tariku Bekele (ETH), and Samuel Chalenga (ETH) are just a handful of dozens of African middle and long distance runners that currently dominate the sport.

But one has to go back to the early “oughts” and Frankie Fredericks (NAM) to find an African that was a major factor in the sprints. Ironically, while the Caribbean has risen up over the last decade to challenge American sprint dominance (Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, et al) it was the continent of Africa in the 90’s that was forcing the issue. With athletes like Francis Obikwelu (NGR), Olapade Adeniken (NGR), Davidson Ezinwa (NGR), Frankie Fredericks (NAM), Daniel Effiong (NGR), Abdul Zakari (GHA), Chidi Imoh (NGR), Desi Aliu (NGR), Seun Ogunkoya (NGR)and Oluyemi Kayode(NGR) at the top of sprint lists, making the finals in majors, and winning medals. And it was Nigeria in 1992 running 37.98 in the 4×1 getting under the 38.00 barrier – 15 years before the Caribbean nations.

But the “oughts” have seen a virtual drought in African sprinting. While the continent’s distance runners have gone through the roof – controlling every event from the 800 through the marathon – the sprinters nearly became extinct. Until Saturday. I’m hoping we see more of Makusha in the sprints. After all, jumping and sprinting tend to compliment each other. Carl Lewis (9.86/ 29’ 1.25”) is certainly the most famous in this regard. But several others also did well at both including: Larry Myricks (28’ 8.25”/20.03), Kareem Streete Thomspson (28’ 3.75”/ 9.96), and Mike Conley (27’ 9.25”/58’ 7.5”/20.21). Last year’s top jumper, Dwight Phillips has gone 28’ 8.25/10.06). And people forget that former 100 WR holder Leroy Burrell (9.85) also jumper 27’ 5.5”. So perhaps Makusha can be both a renaissance man and sprint and jump while starting a renaissance in African sprinting. Definitely one to watch as the season moves forward.

3 Responses to “An African Sprinter Emerges as Florida St Rolls”

  1. kwsompimpong says:

    I was thrilled to see a fellow African make a dent in the sprint world. Makusha is an incredible athlete, and also an Applied Economics major. Love it! Now, I just need to find video of the race.

  2. zion1971 says:

    I disagree with your analysis of african sprinters of the past. The english speaking caribbean countries with a total population of less than 10 million people have always had a dominant presence in the sprint over the africans since 1948-the year when they first enter the Olympics. Jamaica alone have more olympic medals than Nigeria and Ghana put together.During the 90s Fredericks had Ato Boldon and Obadele thompson (both from caribbean) to contend with while on the women side it was Ottey, Stirrup, Cuthburt,etc. And when we were not winning medals we were also making all the finals and winning races outside the majors. The caribbean countries were always america's greatest threat in the sprints.

  3. Conway Hill says:

    While you are correct in a general historical sense, that does not hold for the decade of the 90's .. And not just a matter of opinion …

    In the 7 majors that were contested in the 90's, Caribbean nations won 6 sprint medals and had 19 placements in the finals … In contrast African nations won 12 medals and had 33 placements in the finals !!! And this doesn't count relays where Nigeria medaled in '92, '97, and '99 – twice running under 38.00 !!!! The Caribbean didn't run under 38 until 2007 …

    In more direct competition, in the 3 Commonwealth Games that were contested in the 90's, Caribbean nations won 3 sprint medals and had 11 placements in the finals while African nations won 8 medals and had 21 placements in the finals !!!

    The 90's were not a traditional period for sprinting in any sense of the imagination … Africa was truly on the rise during this decade … And it's only been due to poor management of it's people via poor federations that there has been the drop off that we've seen … All the names I mentioned before were active and doing very well …

    And truly told, both the Caribbean and the U.S. had down periods … Great Britain and Canada dominated the podium from '92 thru '96 – Michael Johnson being the "outlier" during this period …

    Note that this conversation has been focused on the men's events as that is what my original post was focused on …

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