Jeremy Wariner of the US takes the 400m Olympic gold (Getty Images) © Copyright
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2004 – Sprints Review

Statisticians A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) begin the first of their end of season event category reviews covering all Athletics disciplines, highlighting the best performances which have taken place across our sport in 2004. Part One of eight.

MEN - Sprints

Do you remember the year when a mere 10.07 sufficed to give the World Championships gold medal to Kim Collins? Well, it was just one year before the Olympic Games where a 9.89 didn’t even bring a medal for Shawn Crawford, and where Collins, despite running 0.07 faster than in Paris, had to be content with a discreet 6th place.

So the world of 100m running in just one year went from “doom and gloom” to the highest quality ever! Before Athens 2004 there had never been a 100m race where a sub-9.90 had not given first or second place! How exceptional this year was compared to the previous one is also emphatically illustrated by the number of legal sub-10.00 and sub-9.95 performances recorded: In 2003 there were 9 and 2 respectively – in 2004 it was 33 and 19!!

A truly revolutionary development even if one takes into account that 2003 was seen as an exceptional off-year for the men’s 100m. However, if one takes the analysis a little bit further down the lists one is in for a big surprise. Because then 2004 turns out to be nothing exceptional but almost identical not only to the last Olympic year (2000) but also to the “off-year” of 2003:

Pos  2000    2003    2004
1       9.86     9.93    9.85
5       9.97     9.97    9.88
10    10.02   10.00   10.01
25    10.09   10.07   10.09
50    10.16   10.17   10.15
100  10.24   10.26   10.26

What was special about 2004 was the presence of a handful of exceptional individuals that consistently produced super times, but behind that select group it was very much “business as usual”. This is well demonstrated by the apparent paradox that the number of sub-10.00 performances as said exploded from 9 to 33, while the number of sub-10.00 performers shrunk from 8 to 7!

And the “explosion” actually was not that big a surprise to those reading the 2003 review: “It thus appears that we just have to accept that the dearth of sub-10 sprint times this year was more or less a freak co-incidence, a pure statistical variation where the true stand-outs were missing.  … But if we do look beyond the established group of stars there were indeed some very exciting prospects for the future making themselves known on the international scene this summer: Justin Gatlin, Darrell Brown and Asafa Powell. Already next year those three could be operating at a level that will make us completely forget there ever was an off-year in the event.”

If one would now make a similiar attempt to look into the future it is logical to expect that this “young generation” born in the early 80’s should become even more prominent in 2005. Gatlin and Powell just need very minor improvement to threaten the World record, and if Darrell Brown manages to avoid the injuries that spoiled his 2004 he could also be up there.

100m - IAAF WORLD RANKINGS - as of 13 Dec 2004  
Position - Name - DOB - Country - Points
1. Asafa POWELL  82 JAM 1408
2. Shawn CRAWFORD  78 USA 1374
3. Francis OBIKWELU  78 POR 1370
4. Maurice GREENE  74 USA 1367
5. Justin GATLIN  82 USA 1350
6. Aziz ZAKARI  76 GHA 1323
7. Kim COLLINS  76 SKN 1304
8. Leonard SCOTT  80 USA 1272

Just like the 100m, the 200m was last year characterised by reasonably good depth coupled with a lack of brilliant top marks. Thus it was to be assumed that the Olympic fever would bring a similar statistical effect, i.e. a group of runners raising their game to produce a good bunch of sub-20-times. Especially as the 200m, after “being forgotten” by most meeting organisers since Michael Johnson retired would be a featured event in the TDK Golden League 2004.

However, with one major exception (Shawn Crawford – 19.88 in the US Olympic Trials, and 19.79 in the Olympics) there were no really outstanding times recorded. It turned out that the Golden League didn’t manage to attract the top runners consistently. No one ran all six meets, only Frank Fredericks and J J Johnson competed in five and the top-2 US runners – Crawford and Justin Gatlin – were only present at the first one in Bergen.

As a consequence the six victories were spread between six different athletes and the winning times were quite consistent at the “sub-brilliant” level: Bergen - Crawford 20.31, Rome - Buckland 20.20, Paris - Obikwelu 20.12, Zürich - Williams 20.13, Brussels - Fredericks 20.20 and Berlin - Powell 20.24w.

Judging from this summer “the man of the future” is Asafa Powell who just appears to need a little bit more stamina to become a consistent sub-20-runner. But then of course his future in the 100m looks at least as bright and as that is a more “glamorous” event it is quite possible that he never will make the 200m his No. 1 priority.

This “market situation” appears to be going to remain for the foreseeable future, so most likely the superstar of the 200m future will be a runner who - just like Michael Johnson - is combining the event upwards with 400m rather than downwards with 100m. A description that perfectly fits another Jamaican, the - compared to Powell - even younger and even taller Usain Bolt.

World Junior champion at age 15 in 2002 Bolt, however, appears to be injury-prone. This year he opened with the sensational new WJR of 19.93 in early spring but that turned out to be also the finish of his season. He did start at the Olympics but was obviously still hampered by the injury and was eliminated in the first round. But he can take some consolation from the fact that Michael Johnson had a long history of hamstring injuries in the early part of his career.

200m - IAAF WORLD RANKINGS - as of 13 Dec 2004  
Position - Name - DOB - Country - Points

1. Shawn CRAWFORD  78 USA 1356
2. Frank FREDERICKS  67 NAM 1346
3. Bernard WILLIAMS  78 USA 1333
4. Francis OBIKWELU  78 POR 1331
5. Stéphan BUCKLAND  77 MRI 1321
6. Justin GATLIN  82 USA 1318
7. Asafa POWELL  82 JAM 1302
8. Joshua J. JOHNSON  76 USA 1294

Just like the 200m the one-lap-event has suffered a post-MJ “depression” since 2000 but this year there finally came signs of a new generation of runners capable and unafraid of approaching the elusive sub-44-territory once more. Just like in the other sprint events there was no general rise in standards with the number of sub-45-runners remaining around the normal 20-25 number.

No, the signs of a “new dawn” were mainly that the average age in the uppermost echelons fell dramatically and that the No 1 position was grabbed by a 20-year-old with seemingly limitless potential – Jeremy Wariner.

As for the “new generation taking over” claim, it is very clearly demonstrated when looking at athletes making up the top-10. In 2003 their average age was 25.7 years while it in 2004 it fell to 23.0 years which must be some kind of record (at least for the modern era) low. This pattern is astonishing for an Olympic year because those traditionally are dominated by “last gasps” by the establishment who then leave the scene to the new generation for the post-Olympic years. If we look at the 1999 – 2000 – 2001 period the numbers were 26.1 – 26.3 – 25.0, i.e. as expected.

Especially noticeable is the change of guard (or rather generations) in the USA, where seven out of their top-8 in 2004 where born in 1981-84. This seems to indicate that we should look forward to even faster 400m running in the upcoming years. However exciting the potential of Wariner, he still might not be as dominant within his own generation because of runners such as Otis Harris, Darold Williamson, Jerry Harris, Kelly Willie, Andrew Rock et al!

The event thus also seems destined for continued US domination although there are some good prospects for the future also in France’s Leslie Djhone and Jamaican Brandon Simpson. And of course there is also the possibility that Usain Bolt makes 400m his main priority (less risk of hamstring injuries) and if he does, even Wariner better beware in Beijing 2008!

400m - IAAF WORLD RANKINGS - as of 13 Dec 2004  
Position - Name - DOB - Country - Points

1. Alleyne FRANCIQUE  76 GRN 1359
2. Otis HARRIS  82 USA 1334
3. Derrick BREW  77 USA 1328
4. Michael BLACKWOOD  76 JAM 1314
5. Leslie DJHONE  81 FRA 1312
6. Jeremy WARINER  84 USA 1308
7. Davian CLARKE  76 JAM 1304
8. Brandon SIMPSON  81 JAM 1290


WOMEN – Sprints

There were many changes at the top of the women’s sprinting during the Olympic year of 2004. First of all, Ana Guevara’s (MEX) reign over the 400m distance came to an end after 25 straight wins. The Mexican’s streak lasted from 19 August 2001 to the Golden Gala in Rome on 2 July 2004 where she lost to Tonique Williams-Darling (BAH), who became the new number one in the 400m, and later also the Olympic champion. The Women’s 100m also saw big changes. There were several new names coming to the scene and a total of six athletes under the 11-second limit. 22-year-old Jamaican Veronica Campbell was the commanding figure in the 200m, she recorded the world leading time of 22.05 on course to winning the Olympic gold medal in Athens.

Marion Jones came back to the track during 2004, but her previous form was nowhere to be seen. Jones ended the season with a best of 11.04 in May and did not even reach a place in the US Olympic team. Early season saw some promising performances by 21-year-old Lauryn Williams (USA), who won the NCAA Championships in June clocking a world leading 10.97.

But in the next week this mark was quickly wiped off the world leader list by Ivet Lalova (BUL) who clocked a wonder time of 10.77 winning the European Cup First League in Plovdiv. The double European Junior champion over 100m/200m in Tampere 2003 could not however prove herself completely worthy of that race later on. Although she did enter the top class of the women’s sprints, she could 'only' finish fourth in the Olympic final with her second best career mark of 11.00.

During the summer IAAF GP’s in Europe, Yuliya Nesterenko (BLR), who raced only five times outdoors before the Olympics, scored a couple of import wins in Rome and Iráklio before finishing third in Lausanne, her final meeting before Athens. But the Belarussian was sure of herself in the Olympics, she won races in each of the four rounds also marking out two national records (NR) and went under 11 seconds four times, of which the heat winning mark of 10.94 NR was the first of her career. She won the second round in 10.99, semi-final in 10.92 NR, and then the final in 10.93 edging Lauryn Williams who clocked a personal best of 10.96 for the second place. In a very tight final Veronica Campbell was third in 10.97.

In the overall quality of the event the Olympic did not make its usual impact this time. In 2004 there were 30 women at 11.20 or better, the exact same figure as we had in 2003 as well. 2002 had 28, 2001 27 and Olympic year of 2000 38. USA had 27 athletes in the world top-100, Russia is far behind with eight, and Jamaica third with seven.

100m - IAAF WORLD RANKINGS - as of 13 Dec 2004  
Position - Name - DOB - Country - Points

1. (1.) Yuliya NESTERENKO  79 BLR 1357
2. (2.) Veronica CAMPBELL  82 JAM 1340
3. (3.) Aleen BAILEY  80 JAM 1330
4. (4.) Ivet LALOVA  84 BUL 1322
5. (5.) Christine ARRON  73 FRA 1319
5. (5.) Lauryn WILLIAMS  83 USA 1319
7. (7.) Debbie FERGUSON  76 BAH 1318
8. (8.) Sherone SIMPSON  84 JAM 1293

After a few very low key seasons for the women’s 200m, there was finally progress during the Olympic season 2004. There were better marks in both the top of the lists and also in the overall quality of the event.

Veronica Campbell, the double World junior champion in Kingston 2000, finally got her breakthrough in the senior level. The Jamaican has been in college in the USA and therefore her European races are very few. However, she has an amazing win streak of 24 races over the 200m with her last loss dating back to March 11, 2000, when she was only 17 years old. In addition to the Olympics, she only attended one meeting before Athens in Europe - she won in Linz clocking 22.56. But her win in Greece was a clear one, a world leading time of 22.05 for an Olympic gold which was followed by another win in the World Athletics Final in Monaco in September.

18-year-old Allyson Felix (USA) took the silver medal in Athens with a World Junior record time of 22.18. She will most probably be one the athletes trying to end Campbell’s win streak during 2005. 28-year-old Debbie Ferguson (BAH) took the bronze in Athens with her season’s best of 22.30.

Overall there was big improvement, 2004 saw 33 athletes at 22.75 or better, in 2003 there were 23, 2002 had 18, 2001 20 and 2000 27. This shows that 2004 was clearly the best year since and including the Olympic year of 2000. USA leads this list as well with 28 athletes in the world top-100, against ten by Russia and eight by Jamaica.

200m - IAAF WORLD RANKINGS - as of 13 Dec 2004  
Position - Name - DOB - Country - Points
1. Veronica CAMPBELL  82 JAM 1342
2. Debbie FERGUSON  76 BAH 1325
3. Ivet LALOVA  84 BUL 1297
4. Kim GEVAERT  78 BEL 1293
5. Cydonie MOTHERSILL  78 CAY 1291
6. Aleen BAILEY  80 JAM 1288
7. Abiodun OYEPITAN  79 GBR 1282
8. Allyson FELIX  85 USA 1274

Although Ana Guevara was not far from her 2003 form, she was a clear number two during 2004. 28-year-old Tonique Williams-Darling showed huge progress since finishing third in the World Indoor Championships in Budapest in March. The Bahamian won eight straight 400m competitions from the start of the season, including a very important one in Rome. In the Golden Gala meeting she ended Guevara’s win streak of 25 competitions beating the Mexican by almost half a second, recording a national record of 49.25 ahead of Guevara’s 49.74.

However, Williams-Darling’s good form came to an end in the World Athletics Final where she faded to sixth place, Guevara won that meeting. But by then Williams-Darling had already won the Olympic gold in Athens clocking 49.41 to take a pretty tight battle against Guevara, who took 49.56 for the second place. Natalya Antyukh (RUS) was a real surprise for a place on the medal podium, she clocked her second sub-50 race for the bronze in 49.89.

There were a total of 22 races under 50 seconds by seven athletes during 2004, which is a lot more than has been usual over the past few years. There was also very rapid progress in the overall picture. There were 35 athletes under 51 seconds during 2004, which is more than double the 17 in 2003. 2002 had 17 as well, there were 20 in 2001 and 32 in 2000, another Olympic year. As expected, the United States is the top country in the world top-100 in this event. They have 25 athletes with Russia also very strong with 16, Jamaica is third with seven.

400m - IAAF WORLD RANKINGS - as of 13 Dec 2004  
Position - Name - DOB - Country - Points

1. Tonique WILLIAMS−DARLING  76 BAH 1415
2. Ana Gabriela GUEVARA  77 MEX 1380
3. Monique HENNAGAN  76 USA 1345
4. DeeDee TROTTER  82 USA 1318
5. Christine AMERTIL  79 BAH 1316
6. Natalya NAZAROVA  79 RUS 1315
7. Natalya ANTYUKH  81 RUS 1314
8. Ionela TIRLEA−MANOLACHE  76 ROM 1311