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

Track & Field’s Most Exciting Event

Nov 27th, 2020
9:25 am PST

Track and field is blessed to have some of the greatest athletes ever competing today. Nearly every event has individuals that are either in the top 3-5 all time in their event or are a world record threat! And that’s not counting the events where the present works record holder is competing! As a matter of fact, there are events where all of the aforementioned are currently competing! It’s a great time to be a fan of this sport from a purely competitive perspective.

Ironically, the most exciting event is often treated as a “step child” by the sport. But then, many of the sports’ events are treated that way from time to time. The men’s 400H was that way, until Edwin Moses made it both fast and exciting. Then it began to get equal billing with the previously “more glamorous” 110H! Eventually Edwin crafted a record nine year winning streak of over 100 finals to go with World Records and multiple Olympic and World titles. Today Karsten Warholm is attempting to replicate Edwin’s career.

Similarly Mondo Duplantis, Eliude Kipchoge, Ryan Crouser, and Christian Taylor have brought notoriety to the Pole Vault, Marathon, Shot Put and Triple Jump – other events that often get overshadowed. The bottom line is this. Every event has the potential to be great when great athletes compete. That takes me to the most loaded event on the planet – the men’s 200!

The sport, and many fans, consider the deuce a between event. Between the high profile 100 and the 400. The 100 of course, is a premier event because it is used to define “The World’s Fastest Human”! Due to its profile, meet promoters pay more to 100 competitors because the race draws people to a meet. At the other end of the spectrum, the 400 is often not thought of as a sprint, but a “separate” event. It’s popularity really depends on who’s competing. With several men competing today that have bests under 44.00, which helps increase the visibility of the event.

In between you have the 200. It often gets “the leftovers” from the other two races. Guys that aren’t quite fast enough in the 100; or not quite strong enough in the 400. Which usually means you’re not getting the high profile athletes unless one decides to “move up” or “drop down” for training purposes. Ahh, but when the right athletes find their way to this event, the results can be outstanding. Athletes with both exceptional speed AND exceptional speed endurance turn the 200 into a marquee event!

The first real example of this was in 1968 when 100yd record holder John Carlos , and 200yd/440yd record holder Tommie Smith, both decided to focus on the 200 for the Olympics! The result? Carlos became the first man to break 20.00 at the Trials by running 19.92. Smith returned the favor at the Games in a stunning race winning in a record 19.83! They made the race fun to watch. And it didn’t hurt that their protest caused the race to be replayed over and over and over again!

The 70’s saw American Steve Williams and Jamaican Don Quarrie go at it for most of the decade over the 200. They were the two most memorable sprinters of the decade and they went head to head often in both short sprints. Their frequent doubles brought attention to the deuce. While the literally split most of their faces, Quarrie ended up running 19.86 to become #2 all time at the time, and won an Olympic title in ‘76. But it was the’80s that saw the 200 become truly exciting. Carl Lewis became the most exciting athlete in the sport with the 200 as part of his repertoire. He was the 1984 Olympic champion clocking 19.80. He set a then American record at 19.75 arms running 50 meters with his arms raised high! His high profile produced recruits to his college and club team that both became Olympic Champions – Joe DeLoach (19.75 in ’88) and Mike Marsh (19.73 in ’92).

Carl’s high profile also drew the attention of one Michael Johnson. In the early 90s it was Johnson challenging Carl and his SMTC mates. It was Johnson winning that ’92 Trials race (from lane 8 as he triumphantly screamed), then having to watch Marsh win the Games. Fueling both fire and rivalry in Johnson. The result saw Johnson winning Worlds in ’95 (19.79) and then WRs and wins at the Trials (19.66) and Games (19.32) in 1996. Coupled with a 400 title in Atlanta, Johnson joined Lewis in the legendary category. His final “challenge” was watching Maurice Greene rise to break the WR in the 100 and become World Champion in the 200 in 1999. Resulting in a titanic clash between the two at the 2000 Trials!

The event went quiet for nearly a decade while everyone was trying to get used to 19.32. Then a young quartermiler (Usain Bolt) became very good at the deuce. As did a young man born for the race (Wallace Spearmon); and three freaks of nature – Tyson Gay, Walter Dix, and Xavier Carter. By 2009 the record was down to 19.19 and Gay (19.58), Dix (19.53), Blake (19.26) & Spearmon (19.65) rewrote the all time lists. More importantly, they brought excitement and value to the event! And that brings us to today.

Because NOW the BEST talent in the sprints has found its way to the 200 meters. The best short sprinters. The best long sprinters. The best tweeners. The 100 has a handful of high level elite sprinters. The 400 a few less. But the 200 is LOADED! The current World Champion and #4 all time, Noah Lyles. The world record holder in the 400, Wayde van Niekerk. The current #1 in the 100, Christian Coleman. The top triple threat ever, Michael Norman. Recent NCAA champion, Divine Oduduru. Current World Champion in the 400, Steven Gardener. Current community college champion, Kenny Bednarek. A couple of former World champions in Justin Gatlin and Ramil Guliyev. These are the men that make up the current top athletes in the world! Those still running at their top level.

19.50 – Noah Lyles
19.57 – Justin Gatlin
19.69 – Clarence Munyai
19.70 – Michael Norman
19.73 – Divine Oduduru
19.74 – LaShawn Merritt
19.75 – Steven Gardener
19.76 – Ramil Guliyev
19.80 – Andre Degrasse
19.80 – Kenny Bednarek
19.81 – Alonzo Edward
19.81 – Akeem Bloomfield
19.84 – Wayde van Niekerk
19.85 – Christian Coleman
19.87 – Alex Quinonez
19.88 – Xie Zhenye

The amount of talent in this event is crazy. Imagine Tommie Smith and John Carlos times 10, because this group has that kind of talent – and they all love the event! Truly exciting because many of the sprints biggest names compete in THIS race! Including Noah Lyles and Michael Norman who debuted on the big stage in 2016 when both ran this event at the US Trials and nearly made the team! Norman setting a high school record of 20.09! They’ve since gone head to head in Europe as pros, Norman winning 19.70 to 19.73, furthering what may be the biggest and best rivalry in the sport! Both are well spoken; give great interviews; are generally loved by fans; and Lyles is the consummate showman! So, for those who asked, what now that Bolt is gone? Uh, this is what!

The other exciting thing about the deuce is the international flavor of the participants. What was once a US v Jamaica showdown now also showcases athletes from China, Bahamas, South Africa, Nigeria, Canada, Turkey, Panama and Ecuador. Rare is the event that has that much universal appeal across the globe. It’s exactly what the sport needs as we attempt to increase viewership here in the US and abroad.

So, my first plea is for meet promoters to find as many opportunities as possible to put these guys together on the track. Cutting THIS event out of Diamonds League meets is like cutting off your nose to spite your face! There is NO reason not to include this event at ANY meet. You want good theater to put butts in the stands post Covid. Well, it’s right here.

My next plea is for Olympic organizers and schedulers to rework the schedule to make BOTH the 100/200 AND 200/400 doubles possible – because it IS possible. Especially if you dump the co-ed relays. After all this is the Olympics, not high school – or middle school. The goal is, or should be, to put the most exciting events; the best athletes; and the best possible match ups on display. All of that is available in these events, including on the women’s side!

My next plea is to the athletes. When it’s available, compete in the deuce! Domestically. At the Trials. At the Games. Elevate it. Like Tommie and John; Michael, Frankie and Ato; Usain. When the best race at the Olympics magic seems to happen. I have no doubt that a final with Lyles, Norman, Oduduru, Guliyev, Gardener and Degrasse could do what some say can’t be done! I mean, Blake and Dix together yielded 19.26/19.53.. Today’s group is ahead of where Dix and Blake were entering their match! As a good friend of mine would say, today’s potential final could run something stupid!

Which brings me to my final plea. Fans of the sport blow up the internet! Let’s get the above to happen. Email, tweet, Instagram. Tell the powers that be that we need changes to the Olympic schedule. Tell meet promoters you want to see this on schedules. And tell the athletes you want to see them racing over THIS distance. We want to see special and these guys racing will be just that. This group competing in Tokyo. The thought of that race gives me chills!

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