In today’s society age has become relative. Someone 60, used to be considered "old" – and 70 year olds were ready for the "old folks" home. Now of course, thanks to advances in medicine it’s not uncommon to have 80 year olds still driving cars and running marathons.
Similarly athletics is undergoing an aging population. A couple of decades ago athletes in their late 20’s were looking to retire – while the early 30’s were inhabited by athletes that had stayed too long while trying to remain relevant. Recent advances in nutrition, training methods, and more money in the sport have allowed athletes to compete well into their 30’s approaching 40 – making it tougher for the young to make their mark early in the sport.
This year’s National Championships however, saw several youngsters step up their game and make the team – and several veterans show that the sand has finally run out of their hour glasses!
Most painful for me was watching Jeremy Wariner just not have that "gear" any longer. Still fluid in flight, his pace is now more mid 45 than mid 43. A finalist once again, but not a true contender. Even more painful (literally) was watching Carmelita Jeter reach for that passing gear late race, only to "blow a tire" as her thigh gave out. Sending her to the track in pain. And Walter Dix just didn’t have it! Neither did Sanya Richards Ross Nor did Duane Solomon who just ran out of gas in the final stretch. And when was the last time or distance troops went anywhere without Bernard Lagat?
All formerly America’s best, apparently finally succumbing to Father Time. Every dog has his day, and apparently we will get to see some new puppies try to do their thing in Beijing!
The most exciting for me is Trayvon Bromell – The WJR holder in the 100, he’s improved this season AND become world class in the 200 as well. In Eugene he improved all the way to 9.84 and =#10 all time in the 100, while becoming the first American teen to make the World Championships squad in the 100!He’ll have a tough row to hoe in Beijing – Gay will be sharper, and Gatlin and Bolt will be there. But his technique is spot on, and in today’s uber competitive sprint environment that gives him a shot.
Another pretty technically sound young sprinter is Jenna Prandini. I’ve had the pleasure of watching her since high school. This is her sport. This is what she loves and you can tell when you watch her compete. I say that because part of competition is passion. Love of the game. Not just enjoying winning, but refusing to lose. The "it" factor – and Jenna has "it". For that reason – that and she’s technically solid – I expected to see her make the US team for Beijing. Her start betrayed her in the 100, but guts and a solid straight gained her victory in the deuce. I don’t see her beating Felix if she chooses to defend, but I think everyone else is fair game.
A "kid" that could very well come home with gold is jumper Marquis Dendy who soared to victory in the long jump and also made the triple jump team. Dendy is no fluke – he’s been "hot" all year. The long jump has been waiting for someone to come along and take it back to the 28 foot range. I think Dendy is going to be THAT guy – and I think it starts in Beijing.
Where we may really see change is in relays. The most intriguing of which could be the women’s 4×1 where I could legitimately suggest a University of Oregon quartet of English Gardner to Allyson Felix to Jasmine Todd to Jenna Prandini! Hey, I think that group can win. Similarly how about a men’s squad of Trayvon Bromell to Justin Gatlin to Tyson Gay to Isaiah Young! I’m partial to 200m sprinters on relays.
The men’s 4×4 should only have one "standard" name (Merritt) with David Verberg, Vernon Norwood and Bryshon Nellum carrying the stick around the track. And with Richards Ross not even making the final in Eugene the women’s long relay will certainly have a different vibe. Though I suspect that a group of Natasha Hastings to Allyson Felix to Phyllis Francis to Francena McCorory can win gold.
Yes, there will be lots of change in Beijing. How about a shot put squad with Joe Kovacs and Jordan Clarke? Or a distance crew wth Ryan Hill and Ben True flanking Galen Rupp? And if you don’t recognize the names Sandi Morris or Debi Payne, you can find them pole vaulting with Jenn Suhr.
There will be lots of familiar names in Beijing – we didn’t completely remake the team this time around. But for the first time in about a decade I can see our international hopes shifting to new athletes. I find it fresh and exciting. I’m looking forward to Beijing!