MonteCarloIn the concluding edition of their comprehensive review of the last 12 months of Athletics competition, statisticians A. Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava give their impressions of the SPRINTS in 2009.
That number more or less sums up 2009 as far as 100m running is concerned. Usain Bolt cutting more than a tenth off of his one-year-old World record in the World Championships final was not just the greatest moment of the year but arguable of the whole history of 100m running. Such a massive improvement of the most prestigious of all World records should simply not be possible in this day and age.
But still it did happen and what made it even more remarkable was that it was not the product of exceptionally favourable conditions. There had been no talk about the track being exceptionally fast, the weather was good but not special in any way, the wind at 0.9 mps was well below the maximum allowable 2.0 – and Bolt's reaction time of 0.146 was just average (actually only the 6th fastest in the race). So the performance was due to one single factor: Usain Bolt was simply running much, much faster than any human being ever had before. Period.
Something further underlined by the fact that the runner finishing a well beaten 2nd – Tyson Gay – moved into 2nd place on the World All-Time list! And Gay himself was more than a metre ahead of the next runner who happened to be the former World record holder Asafa Powell. So Bolt's striking supremacy is not due to weak opposition, rather the complete opposite: He is actually up against the toughest competition ever, the No 2 and 3 on the All-Time list!
And it is not just those three individuals making this a special era in the history of 100m sprinting. Trinidad's Richard Thompson ran 9.93 – a time that only twice ever before (Tokyo '91, Beijing '08) has not given the athlete a place on the podium – but now had to be content with 5th place and his countryman Mark Burns despite running 10.00 ended up in 7th place.
To that picture it should be added that there were four juniors (U20) sub-10.10 for the first time ever. Especially interesting as two of them do not come from the USA/Caribbean area that otherwise is so dominant on the international sprint scene: Christophe Lemaitre of France and Ramil Guliyev of Azerbaijan! But there still is an indirect connection to Bolt and Gay as both Lemaitre and Guliyev were previously regarded more as 200m-runners.
Is that just a coincidence or has it been realised that speed endurance rather than explosive power actually is the main key to success also at 100m?
Just like in the 100m the fabulous new World record by Usain Bolt in the World Championships final defines the year. Perhaps even more so as it was his eighth race of the championships and run into a slight headwind and without any kind of push from the opposition. Rather he left everybody else "standing" already on the bend and had a final winning margin of over six tenths!
If Bolt – who turned just 23 in Berlin - can keep his motivation he apparently has the ability to dip under 19 seconds in the future. Remember not only the headwind in Berlin but also the fact that he had lost a considerable amount of 200m-specific training in the spring due to a foot injury suffered in a car crash in April. Talking about sub-19 when just about a handful of the other current runners are able to run sub-20 is mindboggling, but "mindboggling" is just what Usain Bolt is.
When reigning World Champion Tyson Gay – do you remember how completely outstanding we all saw him after his emphatic sprint double in Osaka just two years ago? – due to a groin injury had to pull out of the 200m in Berlin it appeared to open up for a fight for the silver between experienced US runners Shawn Crawford and Wallace Spearmon.
However, despite both of them running up to expectations with sub-19.90 races the silver medal was snatched away from them by the 200m revelation of 2009, Panama's teenager Alonzo Edward. He had shown promise two years ago running 10.28/20.62 but last year was eliminated already in the first round of the 100m at the World Juniors in Bydgoszcz. So nobody then would have expected him to run 19.81 for silver in Berlin. But he did.
What happened between 2008 and 2009 was that Edward got picked up by Barton County College in the USA, a school that seems to be specialising in finding and developing exciting talents. Tyson Gay went through that route some years ago and in the current crop at Barton you can besides Edward find also Ryan Brathwaite (World Champion 110m Hurdles) and Tabarie Henry (4th at 400m in Berlin)!
One could only guess how much further Edward can develop in years to come. But with Gay's future in the event somewhat uncertain due to the groin problems (what he can do if fit he indicated by his 19.58 in New York in early June) the world really "needs" new athletes that can challenge Bolt in the future to bring out his maximum.
Others with obvious potential for going well below 20.00 is of course Ramil Guliyev and Christophe Lemaitre, because as said above they despite their brilliant 100m times this summer appear to be even more suited for the 200m. Lemaitre won the World Junior title in 2008 at age 18 and Guliyev took the World University Games gold this year in 20.04.
But the most exciting talent might still be Cuba's Roberto Skyers – who has just turned 18 this November – and who went from 21.65 in 2008 to 20.24 in 2009! With three more races sub-20.50 he also proved that the 20.24 was no fluke. It will be very interesting indeed to follow his further progress with the 2010 World Juniors in Moncton as the obvious first step onto the global scene. 400m
2009 will go down in the 400m annals as a very quiet year indeed where it seemed as if everybody from the top-duo of LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner and downwards had decided to take a breather. The 23-year-old Merritt had his first year of not improving his PB and on average ran half a second slower than in 2007 and 2008 and the 25-year-old Wariner ended up with a top time of 44.60 after running 44.00 or faster the five previous years.
That they still had no problem securing the top-2 positions in the Worlds underlines that this was a down year generally for the 400m. If one digs a little deeper into the World lists this is illustrated also by the fact that the number of sub-45.00 runners at 16 was the lowest this decade and that the number of sub-45.50 dropped drastically from the normal 50+ down to 38.
But it is quite possible that this was just a quick dip that will be soon forgotten. Because a new generation took advantage of the establishment taking a rest: Over half of the top-16 runners were sub-45 newcomers born between 1986 and 1989. Especially worth noting was that only two of them are from the USA, the nation that traditionally has dominated this event completely.
Not so in 2009: In fact Merritt and Wariner were the only two USA-runners on the top-10!! (Has that ever happened before?) The challenge to the traditional US supremacy is mainly – just like in the shorter sprints – coming from the Caribbean. 50% of the sub-45-runners are Caribbean, 25% from the USA and 25% from Europe!
Renny Quow of Trinidad – with his spectacular even-paced way of running the event (seemingly coming out of "nowhere" in the finishing straight) – is leading this charge and despite his bronze now he at age 22 must still be characterized mainly as an exciting prospect for the future. Just as the same is true for Tabarie Henry of the US Virgin Islands who finished 4th in Berlin.
However, they may still quite soon be passed by the Kirani James of Grenada who already has had an Bolt-esque success as a teenager: Silver at the World Youths in 2007 with 46.96 while still only 14 years old, silver at World Juniors last year with 45.70 and then gold at the World Youths this year with 45.24.
It was a great year for women’s sprints with fast times in each of the three sprints. Surprisingly the most impressive results came after the World Championships and not for a World champion either. Jamaican Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser won the 100m World title in a fast 10.73s, but that wasn’t nearly the fastest time of the season. 30-year-old American Carmelita Jeter first won the World Athletics Final in 10.67 and improved to 10.64 in Shanghai week later. In the 200m Allyson Felix of USA, 24, continued her reign winning a third consecutive World title. Having lost at the Olympics the American had a perfect 200m season with seven wins in seven competitions. Another 24-year-old American Sanya Richards won her first individual title in the 400m winning 10 finals in a row.
The women’s 100m season was not a clear one in terms of the best runner in the world. Following her Olympic gold Shelly-Ann Fraser competed very little before the World Championships. There was no indication before Berlin she could duplicate her Olympic performance although she did win the Jamaican championships in June. A win in Lausanne and a second place in Rome were the only meets for the Jamaican in Europe prior to Berlin.
30-year-old Carmelita Jeter, a late bloomer in the sprints, enjoyed several fast wind-aided early season races. She clocked 10.85 on two occasions in late May and early June in New York and Eugene and then went on to win the US title with another fast windy time of 10.78 after she had clocked 10.72 (windy) in the semi-finals. With a win in London prior to Berlin she seemed like a good pick for the gold but at the World Championships she was well beaten and finished with a second straight bronze medal. But all this changed in the next few races.
Jeter won in Zürich with a 10.86 personal best and in Brussels as well (10.88). Biggest results however were still to come. In almost windless conditions she clocked 10.67s winning the last World Athletics Final in Thessaloniki and then went on to better that in Shanghai a week later with a 10.64s personal best moving to number two in the world all-time list behind Florence Griffith-Joyner’s (USA) World record 10.49.
25-year-old Jamaican Kerron Stewart also set a big personal best this season clocking 10.75s in Rome and then tied that result for the silver medal in Berlin.
The United States has a commanding 31 athletes in the world top 100. Jamaica is second with 13 and Great Britain, Russia and Germany are tied for third with six apiece.
As usual the women’s 200m season was quite thin with many of the sprinters concentrating on 100m races during the season and others the 400m. But finding the number one athlete in the event was still very easy. 24-year-old Allyson Felix won all of her seven finals of the season and winning an unprecedented third consecutive World title in this event for a career total of six including three relays. Felix was in good form, but narrowly missed personal bests in all three sprints. The California native, who ran 22.11 (altitude) at the age of 17 already in 2003, only raced three times before Berlin with a 21.88s season’s best in Stockholm in her last race before the World Championships. Felix was also part of the United States’ 4x400m winning team in Berlin.
33-year-old Bahamian Debbie Ferguson McKenzie returned to the World Championships podium eight years after she won in Edmonton 2001. The veteran had a great season also recording her fastest time since 2002 clocking a season’s best 22.23 in Stockholm behind Allyson Felix. In Berlin Ferguson McKenzie finished in third place right behind double Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica who won her second straight silver at the World championships.
The United States has 30 athletes in the world top 100. Jamaica has 13 for second place and Russia 12 for third.
24-year-old American Sanya Richards had an almost perfect 2008 season. Eight wins out of nine finals, but because that one failure was in Beijing it wasn’t so perfect and the American came back to deliver in 2009. She suffered a shock defeat with a slow time in her first race of the season in Kingston clocking 51.12 behind Jamaican Novlene Williams-Mills’ 50.99, but after that things went the way Richards wanted and her first individual World title was the reward in Berlin.
She did not only win her last ten finals of the season, but clocked nine sub 50-second times with an additional 50.05 from the US Championships. Richards now has a record 41 races under 50 seconds during her career and set a world leading 48.83 season’s best in Brussels after the World Championships, the second fastest lap of her career and the fourth sub 49-second race ever.
The women’s 400m season was a real fast one with eight athletes under 50 seconds and the World Championships final was a classic with every one of the eight athletes having clocked a result under 50 seconds during their careers. 24-year-old Jamaican Shericka Williams, who won the silver in Beijing, crowned a great season with another silver medal in Berlin clocking a personal best 49.32, not so far away off Richards’ winning 49.00 result.
Russian newcomer Antonina Krivoshapka, 22, had not impressed in her only major race abroad before Berlin, Stockholm, but proved that her fast times in Russia weren’t random. Krivoshapka, who had set the fastest ever time in rounds, a 49.32 personal best winning her semi-final at the Russian championships in July, took the bronze in 49.71 in Berlin.
The United States heads this event with 27 athletes in the world top 100. Russia has 19 for second place and Jamaica 12 for third. 2009 World Lists - [100m] [200m] [400m]