There are high hopes for low figures in German sprinting as the summer season approaches. The reason for such optimism comes in the form of Tatjana Pinto and Julian Reus who have been lighting up the indoor circuit with some sparkling performances.
In Reus’ case, it was an outright German record over 60m that has garnered such enthusiasm while Pinto has approached times that have not been seen in German women’s athletics for more than a generation.
Both performances came at their national indoor championships in Leipzig at the end of February when Pinto dramatically lowered her personal best for the short sprint from 7.23 to a scintillating 7.07 while Reus finally captured the outright German record with 6.52, 0.01 faster than Sven Matthes’ clocking from 1988 which, coincidently, was the year Reus was born.
Off the back of these indoor performances, what is exciting German commentators is the possibility of both athletes dipping under the magical benchmarks of 10.00 for Reus and 11.00 for Pinto this summer.
No less than 25 years have passed since 11 seconds was last breached by a German woman but the person who came closest in recent years was Verena Sailer. Three years ago she clocked a tantalising legal best of 11.02 before being scooted to a windy 10.91 (5.4m/s) last year in Lausanne.
Now retired, Sailer was in the stands to see Pinto emerge into the limelight to beat Sailer’s indoor best by 0.01 and make herself the fourth-fastest woman in German history.
Pinto was almost in shock by what had happened, but she immediately put her dramatic improvement down to a change in coach. Thomas Prange, himself a useful sprinter in his day with a 60m indoor best of 6.68, helped her refine her start technique.
Formerly, the 23-year-old exploited her leg speed in the final phase of her races to the detriment of the start. But it was noticeable in Leipzig that her start has improved dramatically this winter.
A near-perfect reaction time of 0.116 followed by an impeccable pick-up catapulted Pinto into what she regards as the strong part of her race, the finish, and the task was done.
“I have to thank my coach for the part he has played in this,” she said later. “We weren’t thinking of an indoor season but since training was going better than expected we decided to compete.”
On a historical note, that time of 7.07 has only been beaten in the German indoor championships by one German athlete, Katrin Krabbe, the last German under 11 seconds outdoors, who won the title with a time 0.01 faster than Pinto’s a year and a half before she was born.
The task now for Pinto is to transfer this new-found speed to the outdoor season.
Currently, her 100m personal best stands at 11.19 from four years ago but the fact that she has substantially improved her indoor best this winter suggests that the weapons are there for a serious assault on the 11-second barrier.
Pinto’s excursion to the IAAF World Indoor Championships Portland 2016 was part of a plan to prepare for sterner battles ahead.
Although she did not progress beyond the semi-finals, she regarded the company she was in as part of a valuable hardening process for the summer.
“This was my first international championships since 2014," she said. "I have not had a big meeting this year in which I could compare myself with the top athletes. I have made a step in the right direction by coming here."
Reus near sub-10, but medals more important
For his part, Reus is much closer to the 10-second barrier than Pinto is to hers. With a 100m best of 10.05 stemming from 2014, and with the most consistent winter campaign of his career under his belt, he is looking to capitalize on that to go faster than ever in the coming months.
His 10.05 is a national record but Reus is not the sort of person to dwell on times, however. It is far more important for him to achieve honours.
Despite the fact that he had broken Frank Emmelmann’s former record, which had stood since 1985, with that 10.05 in Ulm, he did not particularly react at the finish, a fact that he puts down to not being aware of how fast he is running in the heat of battle.
“During the race I don’t notice anything,” he commented after his record run. “It could be anything between 10.05 or 10.20 as far as the sensation of speed goes. What I do notice is if I have had an error-free run or not. In sprinting, small mistakes can make a big difference at the end.
“It is not worth worrying about times. There are too many parameters you cannot influence. I just want to have a good run, improve myself and be satisfied with what I have done.”
He has, for example, no illusions about his chances of a major title in the individual 100m. As he sees it, dipping under 10 seconds would not help much against athletes of the calibre of Usain Bolt and co, so Reus has his sights set firmly on success in the relay.
“After fourth place in the 4x100m in the World Championships of 2013 and 2015, we want to mount a serious challenge for an Olympic medal," he said. "The only chance we have for international honours is in the relay."
It has taken a generation for German sprinting to enter a new exciting phase, but with Reus and Pinto ringing the changes, there are high hopes that the form these two have shown in the winter will continue to rewrite the record books and, perhaps, translate into medals.
Michael Butcher for the IAAF