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

Amazing US Male Sprint Depth

Nov 22nd, 2021
12:58 pm PST

The Olympics and World Championships used to be fairly easy to predict. The US and Jamaica would split the sprint medals. Kenya and Ethiopia would split the middle and long distances. Europe would win the throws. And a hodge podge of athletes would scramble after the jumps and multi medals. That’s kind of how track and field had been divided up amongst the world. However, something changed during the two year hiatus caused by Covid. After the dust settled, the competitions were complete, and the results were finally tallied from Tokyo, most long time track and field coaches and fans agreed. The rest of the world had gotten better.

Take the “speed” events for example. We (the US) didn’t win a single gold medal in an individual sprint or hurdle event on the men’s side – not one. Literally unheard of since the inception of the Olympic Games. Leaving many feeling like we were “losing our touch” and that something was seriously wrong here at home. Throw in the fact that in spite of finishing the race, we did not advance to the final of the 4×1 (first time ever), and many Americans were wringing their hands in agony over our hopes moving forward. And it wasn’t because Jamaica had won all the medals, because they didn’t win any either! One would have to go all the way back to the boycotted 1980 Games to find both nations shut out – and only because both nations boycotted the meet!

As dire as that appears however, I’m here to say that the death of US sprinting has been greatly exaggerated! As a matter of fact, in spite of the horrible results in Tokyo, we appear to be deeper than ever before – including the 1960’s when our dominance was clear. The reality is that we just had a bad meet. In large part because USATF leadership did not provide proper pre meet preparations – ie we did not have an Olympic training camp. Another conversation for another day. For now, back to the track.

There have been several periods of time, when we’ve been three, even four deep in the sprints. Deep meaning athletes that were serious threats to medal at a major. Hines, Greene, Carlos, Smith in the 100/200 in the mid to late 60’s. Lewis, Burrell, Marsh, Mitchell in the early 90’s. Gatlin, Spearmon, Gay, Dix in the mid 00’s. And yes, we’ve always had long lines of sprinters with fast times. Right now however, we have both – lots of very fast men that are great “competitors” as well. Take a look.

Christian Coleman – In spite of missing the Olympic season and his shot at that title, Coleman is already a silver medalist, and defending World champion over 100 meters. Many believe that he would have won in Tokyo as well had he been allowed to compete. He’s easily the best starter on the planet, and the WR holder in the 60 meters – and he’s very hard to run down in the 100. As a matter of fact, with a PB of 9.76, he’s the fastest 100 meter guy currently on the planet. He’s also a fairly good 200 sprinter with a best of 19.85. In spite of missing all of 2021, he will start 2022 as the prohibitive favorite in the 100 at Worlds, and will change the game with his return. Seeing individuals changing events to take on the 100 may not be a thing in 2022.

Noah Lyles – Noah has lost only two 200 meter races in his professional career. Unfortunately for him, and the US, one of those was the Tokyo final. Yet, in what was a “bad” race for Noah, he still came away with a bronze medal running 19.74 – so much for a “bad” race. His PB of 19.50 makes him the 4th fastest individual in history, and post Tokyo he screamed 19.52 in Eugene to emphasize the point. He’s also accomplished in the 100 with a PB of 9.86 and the Diamond League championship in 2019! The best finisher on the planet, he’s actually run Coleman down in the 100 and anchored the US 4×1 to 37.10 in 2019. In my opinion 2021 was a season of growth for him, as “losing” seems to inspire him. Not making the 100 squad, I believe was a key moment for his career, because he sees being able to win the double as the path to greatness – and Noah wants to be great. I expect to see double PB’s for Noah in 2022.

Fred Kerley – Fred says he’s a sprinter. No particular event. He just wants to run whatever he feels like running. With bests of 9.84, 19.76, and 43.65 to his credit, that would appear to be true – he can do whatever he sets his mind to. The truth is, that he believed this BEFORE he ran sub10 and sub20 this year! Kerley shocked the world when he informed us that he was going to attempt to make the 100 squad after being a quarter miler his entire professional career. Not only did he make the squad, but he was the only American medalist in the event with his silver medal. His 100 PB in hand, he then went on the circuit to improve his 200 PB (20.25 at the start of the season), and proceeded to drop that down to 19.76. While I don’t think that Kerley has given up on improving his PB in the 400, I don’t expect to see him leave the shorter events any time soon either. Which means a lot more of Fred in the short sprints in 2022. In what’s shaping up to be a very crowded sprint field!

Kenny Bednarek – I’ve been waiting for his emergence in the deuce for a while as he had several very fast windy times as a community college sprinter. Unfortunately he could never get fast times and legal wind at the same time. That changed in 2021 as the Olympic season put him front and center in the sprint wars – and he responded magnificently! He finished 4th in the 100 at the Trials in the 100 (9.89) and 2nd in the 200 (19.78). Then went to Tokyo and took silver in the 200 in a swift 19.68. A pretty good opening season as an elite sprinter if you ask me. Finally, he, the clock and the wind were in sink, as he ran 11 races under 20.00 with legal wind! More than anyone has ever run before in a single season. Now he gets to start 2022 as a known quantity, and perhaps a bit of a target on its back. In what could be the deepest sprint of the year.

Erriyon Knighton – Prior to 2021, I knew the kid was fast. Fast enough to sign a professional contract with Adidas atthe end of his JUNIOR year in high school. But, to be honest, while 20.33 is a fast time for a youngster, I had seen that before. Dwayne Evans, Henry Thomas, Roy Martin, Joe Deloach, we produce fast kids every year in the US. Not like this kid! In 2021, this young man arrived and in a big way! Simply put, he broke the WJR twice: running 19.88 & 19.84; make the Olympic team and the Olympic final; and was 4th at the Games. The only better performance by a high schooler being Dwayne Evans’ bronze medal in 1976! As Knighton was better than Usain Bolt in his Olympic debut – Bolt bowing out in his opening round. Erriyon ran with the men and beat them in sterling fashion. Looking almost effortless at times. He is both the present and the future of sprinting and I’m dying to see what 2022 brings.

Michael Norman – I’ve had the pleasure of watching Norman since he was a freshman in high school since we both live in California. In high school he made his name as a quartermiler. Twice winning State and setting a State Record of 45.09 as a Junior! But he was also pretty good at the short sprints running 10.27 & 20.14. So, while many have been surprised to see him in the “sprints” the past few seasons, he is no stranger to the shorter distances. As a matter of fact, as a high school Senior, he was 5th at the Olympic Trials in the 200 and was the World U20 champion in the event. He currently sports PBs of 9.86, 19.70, and 43.45. So clearly he too can run anything he wants. And at the end of the 2021 season he was increasingly seen in the 100. My guess is that we see a lot more of him in the two shorter events moving forward. Further adding to the intense competition in the sprints.

Ronnie Baker – Prior to this Olympic season, Baker was known primarily as an indoor runner. Mostly because he had run very fast 60’s (6.40) and had been hurt often outdoors. In 2021 however, he held it together; made the Olympic team and Olympic final; and ran 9.83! Not too shabby. Like most fast starters, his energy distribution tends to leave him spent towards the end of races. With a bit better speed endurance, he could be a serious challenger for the title of WFH (World’s Fastest Human). Unfortunately, he doesn’t run the 200 at all. So, unless he adds a diet of long sprints to his training program, I don’t see his finish changing much. That could be difficult in a sporting environment, heavy in “long” sprinters. The 2022 season could define the rest of his career.

Trayvon Bromell – Trayvon was THE sprint story of 2021. In 2016 when he was at Baylor, he was the up and coming young sprinter in the US – then he injured his Achilles! A potential star that seemed done before he could really get going. He spent several years trying to come back without much success. Then suddenly things started to click, as 2021 proved to be the year that he made his way back to elite status. After winning the Trials 100, he looked like the favorite for the gold medal in Tokyo. But a very close 9.99 semi final found him missing the final. Regrouping after the Games, he got back to sub 9.80, giving him two for the season (9.76, 9.77). Entering 2022, Bromell and Coleman are the two fastest 100 meter sprinters on the clock. It will be interesting to see how they compare side by side on the track. As they battle to be the top dog in the sprints marquee event!

Marvin Bracy – I hesitate to put him in this group. But at 9.85 in 2021, and having made the Olympic team in 2016, along with Bromell, I would be derelict if I didn’t. My “issue” is that most of his best times have occurred in races that haven’t included most of the above athletes. And while he did make the ’16 squad, the competition has moved up a few notches since then. As such, he has more to prove than the rest. He will certainly spice up the US sprint wars though. No doubt about that.

This is where we will start the World Championships year. With more depth than any nation has ever enjoyed. The Olympic Champions – Marcel Jacobs (100, Italy), Andre Degrasse and (200, Canada), will be coming to America to attempt to show that their Tokyo titles were no fluke! Meanwhile, America wants to prove that our lack of gold in the sprints in Tokyo WAS a fluke! The Trials sprints could very well be the most exciting in history given the depth in the US. That and knowing that new talent emerges every year! It would not surprise me to see at least one American record fall. So, get your popcorn and beverage of choice ordered early. The road to Eugene should be fun to watch. with the Trials producing what should be a classic. And then, Worlds!




















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