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

What Happened to U.S. Sprint Camps?

Sep 23rd, 2011
5:04 am PDT

The sprints have traditionally been the bread and butter of U.S. international teams since, well forever. Heading into your typical Olympic or World Championships competition, one could count on U.S. domination of the sprints, hurdles and relays.

imageIn Daegu, however, such was not the case – at least on the men’s side of the ledger. As a matter of fact, when the smoke cleared, we had two sprinters make sprint finals – Walter Dix in the 100 & 200, and LaShawn Merritt in the – and only one gold medal from our male sprint crew with Merritt’s come from behind win in the 4×4.

Granted the rest of the world is improving, but as I said previously I believe the problem lies more in our lack of improvement than in the rest of the world catching up. After all, we still have as much talent as ever. At the end of the 2010 season things looked to be going well. Tyson Gay had defeated Usain Bolt over 100 meters and ended the season undefeated, with the co-fastest time in the world, and ranked #1 in the world in the event. Gay (19.72) Combined with Walter Dix (19.72) and Wallace Spearmon (19.79) gave us three men under 19.80 over 200 meters. And Jeremy Wariner looked healed and ready to resume his role as one of the world’s best quarter milers after dropping times of 44.13 & 44.22.

Things also looked good from the up and comers in 2010. Ryan Bailey became a staple on the European circuit and responded with bests of 9.88 & 2010. Trell Kimmons and Ivory Williams were solid and respectable, each running 9.95 during the summer. Curtis Mitchell went sub20 (19.99) with back up runs of 20.06, 20.23 and 20.27. And 2008 H.S. record setter J-Mee Samuels PR’d at 10.03 in his best season since leaving high school. We had 11 athletes at 10.10 or better, 8 under 20.30, and 14 running faster than 45.30. The point here is that our talent pool was/is as strong as ever – still the deepest on the planet.

So, a year later, why did we enter Daegu stadium with only two sprinters able to make finals? Why did we need a come from behind effort to win the 4×4? Why were we “hoping” to maintain contact with Jamaica in the 4×1? You can point to injuries – Gay, Wariner, Spearmon, McQuay. You can point to bad luck – Patton going down in the 4×1. But I’m going to point to the fact that our sprinters have gotten away from what has worked in the past – training TOGETHER with the best available coaches. And when we talk about the rest of the world “catching up” they have done so using the very same methodology that our sprinters have gotten away from!

When you look at the modern era of sprinting – going back to the 1960’s – the vast majority of our Super Sprinters have been developed by top coaches coaching multiple talented athletes – a combination of technical expertise joining with a fierce training environment.image

The 60’s had the Santa Clara Valley Youth Village – better known as Speed City – coached by all-time great Bud Winter. The camp produced Tommie Smith, Lee Evans, John Carlos, and Bill Gaines among others. The 70’s saw no major camps and, perhaps coincidently, a drop in success internationally with Borzov dominating the ’72 Games and Caribbean athletes the ’76 Games. Once again in the ‘80’s however, we saw the emergence of a super camp – the Santa Monica Track Club. Under the tutelage of Tom Tellez we witnessed the development of Carl Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Joe DeLoach, and Mike Marsh, et al – and a climb back to the top of the world’s elite and international podiums.

The late 80’s saw John Smith gather 400 meter talent and develop Steve Lewis, Danny Everett and Quincy Watts. Then create a full on club in the 90’s – H.S.I. – that produced Ato Boldon, Jon Drummond and Maurice Greene, and maintained sprint supremacy into the turn of the century. The mantle went to SprintCap in the early oughts with Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin, then inexplicably the sprint training camp system seemed to simply dissolve – at least in the U.S. The pairing of Tyson Gay and Wallace Spearmon was the last great U.S. training pairing, coming on the heels of them being teammates at the University of Arkansas. After going pro, however, Spearmon left the “group” while Gay continued to train with coach Brauman.

Ironically, however, as American sprinters began to seek “individuality” in their training and coaching, Jamaica began to embrace the training camp philosophy. Jamaica started with the MVP camp headed by Asafa Powell, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter – coach Stephen “Franno” Francis. Then the Racers Club with Usain Bolt, Daniel Bailey and Yohan Blake – coach Glen Mills. And as Jamaica went to training camps that combined the country’s best talent with the best available coaches, and the U.S. to individuals working independently, the pendulum swung from U.S. success internationally to Jamaican success – culminating in multiple international finalists, medals, and records!image

Even more ironic, is that while American sprinters have abandoned “training camps” U.S. middle and long distance runners have discovered them with great success. On the women’s side of things the Mammoth Track club has spawned Morgan Uceny, Anna Pierce and Amy Hastings. While the men have found much success in Oregon under the tutelage of Alberto Salazar as he’s churned out Dathan Ritzenhein, Galen Rupp and Chris Solinsky among a cast of what have become America’s best ever distance crew!

Obviously getting the best athletes together with the best coaches WORKS. Once upon a time, Maurice Greene sat in the stands of our Olympic Trials and watched as others made the team he felt he should have been on. He then moved half way across the country from Missouri to Los Angeles to be trained by John Smith. After four individual World Championships, an Olympic title and an Olympic bronze for good measure, Greene retired as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time) in the 100 meters. This past year, British distance runner Mo Farah decided that he too needed to find a coach and group that would take him to the top. So he came across the Atlantic Ocean and across the United States to Oregon to train with Salazar and his group. His reward, gold in the 5000 and silver in the 10000 in Daegu!

I’m starting to overuse this word, but ironically John Smith is still coaching outstanding sprinters – they just happen to be women! His latest champion is Carmelita Jeter, gold medalist in the 100 and silver medalist in the 200 in Daegu. At 10.63 she is the second fastest woman of all time – second only to WR holder Florence Griffith Joyner. And Jeter was no accident because before Jeter he coached Torri Edwards (10.78) and before Torri, Inger Miller (10.79/21.77). I would say that Smith still has it. Yet with a resume that includes Olympic and World Champions Steve Lewis, Quincy Watts, Maurice Greene, Inger Miller and Carmelita Jeter (and World Champion hurdler Jason Richardson added just this year) not a single top level U.S. male sprinter has entered the H.S.I. camp since the retirement of Maurice Greene after the 2004 season!

Instead, training solo, American sprinters have watched as MVP and Racers training partners have churned out the results: Usain Bolt (9.58/19.19), Asafa Powell (9.72/19.90), Nesta Carter (9.78), Yohan Blake (9.82/19.26), Michael Frater (9.88) and two WR’s in the 4ximage1 (37.10 & 37.04) – and that’s just on the top end.

The moral to this story is that there is a CLEAR path to success. A path and system that the U.S. PIONEERED and rode to tremendous success for several decades! When we have gotten off that path, the 1970’s and the “oughts”, we have seen others take over and begin to dominate. And when we have watched others emulate that path, they too have had the same type of success that our sprinters once enjoyed.

So my suggestion to all of the American sprinters out there that aspire to greatness is, find yourself a partner or two and the best coach you can, and just as Maurice Greene once did BEG him to make a champion out of you – because it WORKS! Yes, you may have to go half way across the country a la Mo Greene. But on the positive side, you won’t have to move half way across the world like Mo Farah! Then again, if you don’t mind getting beat, stay right where you are. Mediocrity requires no change in comfort. There is a cost to greatness, however. Luckily for American sprinters it is within reach – and the wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented.

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3 Responses to “What Happened to U.S. Sprint Camps?”

  1. Shaik says:

    Interesting story! Such as inspiration, it has wonderful stuff, lovely to find your blog!

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  2. TrackMom says:

    Great post…Has an American ever been trained by a Jamaican(excluding Inger Miller) do you think A coach there would train a willing American?HUM??

  3. Conway Hill says:

    Depends on if you consider Trevor Graham jamaican … But I haven't seen any Americans going to jamaica to be coached .. Actually I can't think of any Americans being trained anywhere other than here in the U.S.

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