I’ve seen this movie several times before during the professional era of the sport. A top level coach gets a sprinter to the top. Then others join the camp in hopes of having the same success. Soon another sprinter emerges from the group, and now two of the best sprinters in the world are training together daily. They try to coexist as 1a and 1b, but at some point they must meet outside of practice and 1a and 1b become Batman and Robin, as the dominant Alpha Male finally emerges.
You see, while it sounds good to say “1a & 1b”, there’s no such thing in the egomaniacal world of sprinting. If you’re a sprinter at the top of your game you want to be “THE MAN”, and at the end of the day there is no sharing victory. The tough thing for star pairs is that there is no hiding from your competition. There’s no training in secret, no sneaking up on the opposition. There are no surprises because you see each other and run against each other every day. Then at some point a separation occurs. It may be slight. Often it may be mental. But it happens, and when it does we get “Batman & Robin” – the consistent winner, and the consistent runner up!
I saw the original play out in the early ‘80’s as Tom Tellez developed a young Carl Lewis. Soon Carl was joined by Kirk Baptiste, and they went 1,2 in the 200 at the 1984 Los Angeles Games – the alpha Carl emerging as Batman to Kirk’s Robin. Then Joe DeLoach joined the camp, winning the Olympic Trials 200 ahead of Carl, who once again won the 100. This time, however, Carl played Robin to Joe’s Batman as DeLoach upset the defending champion to win the ’88 Olympic title.
One more time Carl got another new training mate in camp, this time in the form of Leroy Burrell – who would prove to be the toughest of Carl’s teammates. Leroy would run as fast as Carl on a regular basis. Then in June of ’91 Leroy would run 9.90 to win the National title ahead of Carl’s 9.93, in the process taking down Lewis’ 9.92 WR from Seoul. Ah, but two months later they would line up once again in the final of the World Championship 100 final. And once again the alpha in Carl would win out 9.86 to 9.88 as both he and Burrell went 1,2 – both under Leroy’s two month old WR!
The sequel played itself out in the mid 90’s in Southern California – a fitting locale given Hollywood and all – this time under the tutelage of Coach John Smith. First Smith developed National Collegiate Champion Ato Boldon who won an NCAA title at 200 in ’95, then the 100 title in ’96. Internationally Boldon would earn 100 meter bronze medal at both the ’95 World Championships and ’96 Olympics. An up and coming Maurice Greene was at those World Championships, failing to medal. He then failed to make the US team for Atlanta – watching from the stands as Boldon won bronze in both sprints. Shortly thereafter Greene asked Smith to become his coach, and the following year (’97) both Greene and Boldon were ready to make a run at 100 meter gold in Athens. After Boldon came close to the 9.84 WR in the semis running 9.87, Greene came .01 closer in the final as he took his first World title in 9.86, and the mantle of fastest man in camp. It would be the first of three World titles and one Olympic title over 100 meters (and one World title over 200) for Greene as Boldon would take 5th in the ’97 race and silver in the ’00 Olympics, as the new “Batman & Robin” would ring in the New Millennium as the planets two top 100 men.
The next version of Batman & Robin would be found four years later across the US in North Carolina, when two time Collegiate double sprint champion (‘00/’01) Justin Gatlin would join Shawn Crawford and coach Trevor Graham in Raleigh. In ’04 they would find themselves at the forefront of the sprint bus splitting the sprints in Athens – Gatlin gold in the 100, Crawford gold in the 2002. The following year (’05) saw Gatlin emerge as the dominant sprinter winning double gold in Helsinki, as injury began to curtail Crawford’s career.
Almost simultaneously to the short lived reign of Gatlin & Crawford, another duo was working its way up the ladder in Arkansas as Wallace Spearmon and Tyson Gay began to wreak havoc on the collegiate ranks. In ’05 they became the first college teammates to both break 20.00 in the 200 as Gay ran 19.93 in his NCAA semi before Spearmon came back to win the final in 19.91 (Gay in 3rd). The duo would then find their way to the World Championships where they finished 2nd (Spearmon) and 4th (Gay) behind Gatlin’s gold medal run. It would be the following year that would see both emerge as potential gold medal threats with Gay becoming a double threat (9.84/19.68) and Spearmon setting his PR 19.65. The following year in Osaka, however, the results of ‘05 would be reversed as Gay would win the sprint double (9.85/19.76), and become the camps Batman, with Spearmon taking 200 meter bronze. Since then, Batman & Robin have split, each going their own way and Gay emerging as one of history’s greatest sprinters, which brings us to the latest sequel in the Batman & Robin series – the Jamaican version.
Splitting Gay and Spearmon in the ’07 Osaka 200 final and finishing second was one Usain Bolt. Bolt then emerged in ‘08/’09 as the world’s top sprinter, winning double gold in both Beijing (’08) and Berlin (’09). In 2010 he was joined in camp by Yohan Blake – former World Junior 100 meter bronze medalist (’06). Training with Bolt, Blake quickly began to show much progress, ending the 2010 campaign with 9.89/19.78 bests. He completed the transformation to serious world threat this past season dropping his PR’s to 9.82/19.26 and winning World Championships gold in the 100 meters. Meanwhile training mate Bolt, missed the 100 final due to a false start, but came back to win 200 meter gold. He then watched Blake run the #2 200 time ever in Brussels (Bolt ran the 100). Suddenly Bolt and Blake sit like other pairs before them, with the world now wondering who is going to be Batman and who Robin?
The duo managed to go through the entire 2011 season without racing against each other – not once. That’s led to much speculation as we enter the 2012 season. Would Blake have won the 100 if Bolt hadn’t been disqualified? Would Bolt have won the deuce if Blake had been in the race? Bolt certainly seemed to be paying attention in Brussels when Blake ran 19.26, and looked as surprised/awed as the rest of us. It reminded me of the 1989 National Championships where Lewis watched Burrell win in 9.94 while blowing away the field – the look on his face saying that he realized that Burrell was now in his league! And thus the battle for world, and camp, supremacy began.
I think that the same can now be said for Bolt and Blake – that Brussels was the moment that they became a bit more than teammates. Whether they choose to be or not, they are now camp rivals – posing as much a threat to each other’s quest for gold as American rival Tyson Gay. So, before they prepare to take on the rest of the world, curious minds will want to know the identities of Batman & Robin – who’s the Best in Camp!.
Bolt already has a double double to his credit along with 9.58/19.19 bests. But it could be said that perhaps he has peaked. Even if Bolt hasn’t peaked that 19.26 run in Brussels by Blake left many scratching their heads and wondering just how much more upside does he have. If you noticed up above, often duos push each other to new bests with Robin becoming Robin in spite of a new PR!
If history is a guide, the Jamaican Trials will tell us nothing, unless one or both fail to make the team. Trials winners are not necessarily Games winners – the goal at Trials to make the team and not the time to peak. If anything one might postulate that the loser at Trials will have additional incentive to prove himself in London! And comparing times won’t help either, since most athletes will be looking to be at their best at the Games.
No, there will be no coronations until August, just some teasers and a lot of speculation. Who do I think will emerge as “Best in Camp”, aka Batman? Usually I go with the proven winner. But like the rest of the world that 19.26 made me say “hmmm”! Plus Bolt has been sitting on top now for three long years – a near lifetime in the world of sprinting. If I had to pick one today I would consider a split. After all we’re talking two events, not one – and the 100 is very start dependent in this world of Bolt, Blake and Gay, et al. Blake being the better starter of the upper echelon! But 19.26! But, at the end of the day here in January the right answer is that Bolt is Batman until Robin beats him – and Blake has yet to do that. He may have the potential to do so, but potential simply means maybe until it actually happens. That means for now Bolt remains Batman.
But I’ve seen all the movies, and Robin NEVER likes riding in that sidecar! I expect to see a much more assertive Blake this year. A sprinter that, should they race outside of Kingston (Trials) and London (Games) will not be satisfied playing the support role any longer. They may be smiling and clowning before the gun goes off. They will probably shake hands and wish each other luck. But make no mistake; neither will want to lose to the other, because neither wants to risk giving the other an edge. This should be one of the fun stories to watch on the way to London! The story inside the story of this year’s sprints. The internal battle for “Best in Camp” on the way to the international battle for “Best in the World”. Stay tuned.