Ja, US tussle for sprinting dominance

Ja, US tussle for sprinting dominance


Hartley Anderson

Sunday, January 06, 2013

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SEEMINGLY lost in the hubbub of the holiday season is the revelation that Track and Field News, arguably the most respected publication in the sport, has given the first five places of the Men's 200m world rankings for 2012 to Jamaican athletes.

This, however, is phenomenal only insofar as its novelty is concerned, as for the past few seasons, Jamaicans have dominated the half-lap on the professional circuit like at no other point in our illustrious history.

According to the renowned 'Bible' of athletics, Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Nikel Ashmeade, Jason Young and Warren Weir are the current numbers one to five in the world, respectively. The top-10 list is completed by Wallace Spearmon of the USA, Churandy Martina of Holland, Christophe Lemaitre of France, and Maurice Mitchell and Calesio Newman, both of the USA.

Interestingly, the IAAF lists in order Bolt, Blake, Martina, Ashmeade, Spearmon, Weir, Lemaitre, Young, Marvin Anderson (another Jamaican) and Norway's Jaysuma Saidy Ndure as their top 10 over the distance. And so, even though Weir and Young fall outside the top five in this instance, the overall list is more bedecked with Jamaicans, with an impressive six.

On the back of this, and as I recently articulated, Jamaicans — all things being constant — have a great chance of emulating the USA's historic 2005 achievement by capturing the top four places at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow this summer. This is facilitated by the rules of the world governing body that permit automatic entries to both the defending world champion and the winner of the Diamond League series.

Bolt and Ashmeade are the respective title-holders, but since they are of the same nationality, only one will be allowed a 'wild card' entry. The Jamaican authorities thus face the pleasurable dilemma of choosing one of the two, with the other to compete for one of three remaining spots in the event. This is unlike the Olympic Games where a maximum of three qualified athletes are allowed participation in an event, with the Worlds, therefore, being more flexible in this regard.

What is significant about Jamaica's current position is that like the USA in earlier times, whoever gets into the 200m team will be basically a cinch for a medal, as Weir proved in London. Understandably, however, the top two spots in the final are not expected to differ from that of the recent Games, once Bolt and Blake stay healthy.

As a respected fellow journalist recently pointed out, though, a potential fly in the ointment of a Jamaican 1-2-3 4 sweep is not necessarily to be found in the latter half of the aforementioned list, but rather, in the form of a fit Walter Dix, the 2008 double Olympic bronze medallist over 100 and 200m who was sidelined by injury for the major portion of last season, and who is expected to return this year.

Dix, one recalls, suffered the injury setback in the 100m semi-finals at the 2012 US Olympic Trials and was unfortunately denied a berth at successive Olympics, which, in case we forget, made things a bit easier for Jamaica in the sprint relay final.

In returning to Track and Field News' latest rankings, it's a straightforward two-horse race in the sprinting events at this juncture, as the said 200m list has five Jamaicans and three Americans for a total of eight out of 10. It is even more overwhelming in the 100m, where five Jamaicans and four Americans — for a total of nine — are in the top 10.

With Bolt rightfully perched atop, the list is completed by Blake, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Ryan Bailey, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater, Mike Rodgers and Lemaitre, in that order, with Lemaitre being the exception.

It's marginally more diverse among the women where seven athletes from these two countries are included in the 100m top-10 list, with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (No 1), Veronica Campbell Brown (No 3) and Kerron Stewart (No 10) being the Jamaicans ranked. Not to be outdone, the USA boasts Carmelita Jeter, Allyson Felix, Tiana Madison and Jeneba Tarmoh.

While Fraser-Pryce and VCB are the lone Jamaicans included in the top 10 of the 200m, however, the USA is amok with seven athletes; namely Felix, Jeter, Sanya Richards-Ross, Kim Duncan, Tarmoh, Charonda Williams and Bianca Knight.

Of similar interest is the presence of only three Jamaicans in either list, which lends credence to my assertion that female sprint talent is running thin and, therefore, the need for a new generation to step forward. This is brought into sharper focus with the significant dip in form of Stewart and Sherone Simpson, and further explains why we never seriously threatened the American quartet in London, once they got the baton around.

This leads me to the matter of the proposed head-to-head USA versus Jamaica match-up that emerged in the aftermath of the Beijing Games, but which has apparently died in its infancy. As I understand it, the meet was being mulled on a home-and-away format, with the sprint events (including the relays) to be the chief focus.

Not a novel idea among European countries, contests like these should be expected among the world's best in any sport, and like the World Relay Championships being planned for The Bahamas in 2014, would be a refreshing addition to the calendar.

In fact, the proximity of both countries; their inherent sprinting rivalry; their unquestionable historical pedigree and global status justify the staging of this meet, notwithstanding the scheduling glitches that could arise in an already packed season.

One sure thing is that like 'Champs' and the flourishing JII Meet, the National Stadium would be simply bursting at the seams if this event were to materialise.

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