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

MtSAC and the Journey Begins

May 10th, 2021
8:15 pm PDT

I’ve been quiet for a bit. Just watching all of the exciting results pour in. After all, its been “early” in the season, and while it’s been fun to watch, the real running hasn’t quite begun. Now however, college conferences are beginning – signaling that the end of the collegiate season is just around the corner. And the Trials are just over a month away. So results begin to take on a different level of meaning. Making MtSAC an important meet this year!

Important for several reasons. One, it’s the first meet of an American series being touted as, “The Road to Tokyo” here in the US. But more importantly because we’re beginning to get some of the US’s best on the track to “test” the waters. As the jockeying for position has officially begun!

So, what did I come away with from MtSAC? That this year is going to present one hell of a Trials. Probably something akin to 1968 or 1988 (without the wind)! Some take ways.

Elle Purrier – I’m starting with Elle, because I actually like the 1500, and she’s clearly the new 1500/5K threat in the US. A tough act following in the footsteps of Jenny Simpson, Shannon Rowbury, and Shelby Houlihan.Personally I still rate Shelby as America’s best right now. Her finish is just devastating. But Elle made 3:58.37 look ridiculously easy! And it was no fluke as she ran 4:16 in the mile last year. Elle is for real! With Simpson, Rowbury and Houlihan all still competing. And several otehr youngsters looking really good, it may take sub4 to make this year’s team.

Sha’Carri Richardson – Speaking of ridiculously easy. That’s how Sha’Carri is making the sprints look! A 10.74 followed by a 10.77 (-1.2) at Mt SAC and I’m not sure she broke a sweat. That’s three legal 10.7’s already in 2021 – and her MtSAC winner was worth 10.69 in still conditions! She will have to get past the Jamaicans to get gold in Tokyo. But if she runs what I think she’s capable of, that won’t be a problem. Her So Cal she reminds me of Flo Jo’s debut in San Diego in ’88 – simply the best on the track. The difference being that Sha’Carri has attitude. Like everyone doubting her earlier in the season, has lit a fire under her! Opponents beware, because Sha’Carri says she’s just getting started!

Rai Benjamin – Training partner Michael Norman tends to get the PR and interviews. In part because they race often, and Norman usually wins. But MtSAC found Benjamin in his element – and he crushed it! THIS version of Benjamin, attacking the turn, powerful up the stretch. Can defeat Karsten Warholm as long as he doesn’t let him get away early. As his season opening 47.13 indicates, Rai is in great shape and ready to run. Round two of Warholm, Benjamin, and Samba is shaping up to be the awesome event that everyone has been waiting for.

The Women’s 200 – I’m commenting on this as a group, because this race could end up being the closest of the women’s sprints at the Trials! MtSAC was without Sha’Carri, who currently leads the US. But, if she runs here, it could be a group running for two spots in Eugene. So far, the leader of that group appears to be Gabby Thomas, who won here in 22.13. She’s tall and strong and seems to really be dialed into the deuce right now. But the Grand Damme of American sprinting, Allyson Felix, looked almost young again as she closed in the stretch to claim second! And it took all of that to get past Lynna Irby and Jenna Prandini. Both of whom ran outstanding races of their own! This race is shaping up to be a real barn burner at the Trials. A grab some popcorn and settle in kind of race! I need to see a couple more races before I decide my favorites here. That’s how close I think it’s going to be.

Noah Lyles and Kenny Bednarek – Everyone has been talking about Terence Laird. Not without reason, as he opened in 19.81 and followed with 19.82w. Seemingly forgotten in the hoopla however – at least among casual fans – have been Kenny Bednarek (19.65w this year, legal 19.80 PR), and Noah Lyles (19.50 PR) the reigning World Champion. Both have been spending time in the 100 early season,but MtSAC found them going head to head for the first time – and it didn’t disappoint. Bednarek blitzing the turn and holding Lyles off for 190 meters. Then Lyles did what Noah does, which is find the finish line first. Winning in a meet record 19.90 to 19.94. I’m going out on a limb here, but the road to the Tokyo deuce goes through this pair – today’s Smith and Carlos. IMHO

The 4×1 Relays – There has been a lot of speculation on the internet about who the US relay teams will be. While there is no way to know until the actual Trials, here are my suggestions based on who I think will be in the team.

Women – I want Sha’Carri and the 200 Crew! Gotta anchor Sha’Carri. Period, end of discussion. Allyson on second. Again, end of discussion. Lynn Irby on leadoff. Very solid turn runner and good out of the blocks. The third leg is the question. I’m going to say Thomas over Prandini, but could go either way. Both are strong, I think Thomas is a tad stronger, but Prandini has relay experience on her side. This group could actually challenge the WR in my opinion. Blasphemy to to some, I know. But these women are strong and fast and have the ability to really push the zones. A winning group in my opinion. And yes, I’m aware that Jamaica is out there. I still think this is gold!

Men – First caveat, Gatlin has to run under 9.90 for consideration. Yes, he has history. But we’ve got a lot of very strong closing sprinters at this time. And this is about running fast, not about sentiment. Nor is this like ’96 when we were thin on sprinters, and the specter of a still somewhat youthful Carl Lewis was sitting in the stadium. That said, Lyles anchors, and Trayvon leads off – end of discussion – there is no better starter or finisher. Bednarek on second. Ive watched him for a couple of seasons now and this kid is fast and strong – perfect for the backstretch. The only way I change my mind is if someone runs sub 9.90 twice and one of those is under 9.85 – and he’s consistent at or under 10.00. Third leg is always the tough one. I’m going with Baker, unless someone steps up big time at the Trials. This is about consistency, and Baker is that when healthy. There is always the possibility of someone getting on a roll at the Trials and sneaking onto the team. Especially given the number of youngsters running under 10.00 right now. But as I stated earlier, to make this team over those I’ve listed I need to see a couple of sub 9.90’s first. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

So that’s my view of MtSAC. It was a great meet throughout. Looks like next up will be the power conferences – SEC, Pac112, Big10, ACC, etc. And the USATF Open in Ft Worth Texas. Exciting times just around the bend.

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