It’s easy to throw your support behind a favorite. Bandwagons are full of those rooting for athletes like Usain Bolt, Yelena Isinbayeva, David Rudisha, and Allyson Felix. But while I too have favorites that I am pulling for, someone has to give the underdogs some love. So here are six underdogs that I am rooting for. Athletes that don’t always get the respect that I think they should, but that I think are very capable of making a big splash in Daegu.
Morgan Uceny – 1500 meters
I’ve watched the rise of Uceny over the past few seasons and she has become one of my favorite “milers” of all time. Her runs this year have been impressive, not just because she has been winning but for the way she has run. She’s become the most race savvy middle distance runner of all the Americans – and one of the best in the world. The final 800 of her 1500 has become almost surgically precise. As she works her way into position over the third lap, then attacks with purpose in the final stages. She faces tough opposition in the 1500, but she is capable of getting on the podium – even of winning. I’ll be rooting every step of the way.
Christian Taylor – Triple Jump
Decathlon champions are usually given the title of “World’s Greatest Athlete” but if a poll were being taken I would have to cast a vote for Christian Taylor. This young man can do it all. He’s run 45.34 in the 400 and 20.76 in the 200, running them only on rare occasions. He’s split sub 45 in the 4×4 and run the backstretch on a 38.53 4×1 – he’s good enough that he could be used in either event in Daegu if the need arose! All that and he’s a JUMPER! Good enough to be a 26’ 10.5” long jumper and a 58’ 0.25” triple jumper. And it’s the triple jump where he’ll be competing in Daegu. This kid is a competitor – whatever event he’s in he finds a way to be in contention to win. If our national teams were loaded with his kind of competitive heart, we’d be talking about winning 40 medals instead of struggling to get to 25. He’ll be a rookie at Worlds, but I don’t think that will matter to him – somehow, someway he will be near that podium.
Walter Dix – 100 & 200 meters
If Rodney Dangerfield ran track he’d be Walter Dix, because Walter gets no respect. Yet, like Christian Taylor, he just always finds a way to get up on that podium. He stayed all four years in college, and was on the podium every year – mostly on top! He qualified for our World team in ‘07 but chose not to go and attended summer school instead. He then made the Olympic team and won double bronze in Beijing. Injury kept him out of Berlin, but he’s been national champion in ‘10 & ‘11. Yet when you talk about who has a shot to win the 100 or 200 in Daegu his name rarely surfaces! In the 100 meter poll I ran last month he didn’t get a single vote – yet even newbies Makusha & Lemaitre got votes! He’s as tough a competitor as Tyson Gay, and with PR’s of 9.88 & 19.69 is among the best in the world. Yet no one says he ever has a chance. Well I think he has a chance – a chance to go home with two more individual medals. And I’m saying so today before that bandwagon starts loading up with people saying, “I knew he could do it”.
Justin Gatlin – 100 meters
Not too long ago, in the middle of the last decade, Gatlin had all the respect in the world. Then there was a positive test in ‘06. That’s all it took to send the Olympic & World Champion away from the sport for four long years. He returns to a sport that has advanced during his absence. He is no longer the defending Olympic and World Champion – that honor belongs to Usain Bolt. The 100 record he once set has long been erased and dropped nearly two tenths of a second – huge in such a short race. And the accolades and respect he once had now belong to others he once dominated – specifically Bolt and Tyson Gay. But Gatlin hasn’t returned crying. He has returned determined to show that he didn’t need anything but hard work to be an elite sprinter. He has returned to make yet another World Championships team – and now is attempting to return to the podium. Whether you believed he doped or not, one has to admire the perseverance of the man. He waited four years to prove himself once again on the big stage and I wish him luck in Daegu.
Shalane Flanagan – 10,000 meters
When you think of distance events you think of Africans, because after all, runners from the continent of Africa have dominated everything above one lap since the 1990’s. Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco, these nations and others are routinely atop the podium at major international competitions. Occasionally, however, a runner comes along that believes he/she can work hard and compete against those that seemingly are unbeatable. On the women’s side, Paula Radcliff and Gabriella Szabo come to mind – and now Shalane Flanagan. In an event dominated by athletes from Africa (10,000 meters), Shalane sits at #2 on the yearly list – ahead of athletes the stature of Mesert Defar (ETH) and Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN). Flanagan garnered the bronze medal at the Olympic Games in Beijing. In Berlin, however, she was only 14th. Flanagan is once again among the truly elite, and I am rooting for her to return to the podium – possibly with an upgrade!
Kara Patterson – Javelin
Patterson had a great year last year. She set a new AR in the Javelin at 218’ 8.75” (66.67m); was routinely over 60 meters; and was often in the top 3 in DL meets (including a win at Pre). This year has been different, as this year she has only had one meet over 60 meters and her highest finish in a major meet was her 5th in London. But I’m happy with that 5th in London, because it was the last meet before Worlds and Kara said at the end of last year that she peaked too early; that she was tired late season; and that she was going to time this year to peak in Daegu! And I believe her. I believe that she knows what she’s doing and that we will see her best in Daegu. I also thing that her best means a potential top three finish at Worlds. So I’m rooting for one of the few female field event stars that we have.
U.S. Men’s 4×1 Squad
I know this makes seven, but it’s not an individual either. I’m rooting for them, however, and put them on this list, because like the others listed above, they are underdogs. It’s not easy for an American relay team to be considered an underdog, but this one is. After all, the men’s 4×1 hasn’t completed a final in a global Major since 2007 – which was a gold medal by the way. In some ways that team was very similar to this one. Defending World Champion Justin Gatlin had been suspended the year before, so we were without his services. Trials #2 & #3 in the 100 chose not to go to Osaka – Trindon Holliday to pursue professional football; Walter Dix to go to summer school. Then 4th place finisher Mark Jelks got injured prior to Osaka. Forward to this year and once again we’ve lost our top sprinter from the previous year (Tyson Gay), this time to injury. And we’ve lost Trials 3rd placer Mike Rodgers to a suspension. So here we are once again trying to put the pieces together heading into a Major. But you know, things turned out pretty good last time. Using out best available 200 man (Wallace Spearmon) and 6th place from the Trials 100 (Leroy Dixon) we out passed and outran the Bolt/Powell Jamaican squad to win the gold medal in Osaka. Proving just why it’s called a relay and the members are called a team. This time around it looks like we are once again using the best available 200 man (Darvis Patton), and throwing in a wrinkle with the man who should’ve been on the squad in Daegu save for suspension (Justin Gatlin)! And I’m rooting for them to once again out pass and outrun the rest of the world – including the tandem of Bolt/Powell – and show just why it’s called a relay and they are called a team. So Trell Kimmons, Justin Gatlin, Darvis Patton and Walter Dix go get ‘er done! Cause no one thinks you can – well I do.