MonteCarloIn the concluding edition of their comprehensive review of the last twelve months of Athletics competition, statisticians A. Lennart Julin and Mirko Jalava give their impressions of the SPRINTS in 2006 - the men’s and women's 100m, 200m, 400m.
MEN - Sprints
100m (**see note)
It was an extremely solid season for Jamaican World record holder Asafa Powell, the 2006 male World Athlete of the Year. In all, Powell achieved a record-setting 12 sub-10 second races during one season and now has 25 legal sub-10 clockings at the age of 24. He did not suffer any losses during the season before he was disqualified in Yokohama Super Meet in September. He won his first 16 finals from the start of the season. Powell tied his 2005 World record of 9.77 twice, firstly in Gateshead and then in Zürich and also recorded wins at the Commonwealth Games and World Athletics Final. Powell also was one of the three athletes winning each of the six races of the 2006 IAAF Golden League.
Clearly number two over the 100m distance was 24-year-old American Tyson Gay. He lowered his personal best several times with the best mark of 9.84 coming in Zürich where he took second place following home World record setting Powell. Gay recorded his first career sub-10 second race in Réthmino in July winning in 9.88 and followed this with five more consecutive sub-10 races ending with the World Cup win in Athens.
In Doha, Qatar on 12 May there was an African record of 9.85 set by Nigerian Olusoji A. Fasuba behind Justin Gatlin's 9.77**.
There were seven athletes under 10 seconds this season, one less than eight last summer. The overall depth continued it’s deep dive as there were only 20 athletes at 10.10s or faster in 2006. 2005 had 26, 27 in 2004 and 33 in 2003. USA even raised the amount of athletes in the world top 100, they had 40 there in 2006 with Jamaica following with 10 athletes.
**NOTE. Justin Gatlin (USA): on-going legal process regarding possible sanction for anti-doping violation.
100m World Ranking
100m Performance List
The 200m season was easily the best ever. Top of the world all-time list was rewritten by three young Americans. Xavier Carter took the second all-time spot (19.63), Wallace Spearmon is now third (19.65), and Tyson Gay equal fourth with Namibian Frank Fredericks’19.68 clocking from 1996. Although only third on the season list, it was Gay who impressed the most in this event. After finishing second (19.70) in the magnificent Lausanne race in July behind Carter (19.63), Gay went onto record a great sequence of races with wins in London (19.84), Brussels (19.79) and finally in the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart (19.68).
World leading Carter, the “X-man”, had three races under 20-seconds, but only won one bigger race than Gay, his victory at Lausanne. It has to be said that Carter’s season was naturally affected by the fact that he raced in all three sprint distances winning the NCAA titles over 100m and 400m and leading the world in 200m.
200m specialist Spearmon had a very good season as well. The 21-year-old American won the US Championships and recorded five sub-20 second races and also won the World Cup in Athens. Following his Athens win he then set a personal best of 19.65 winning in Daegu, Korea. Three more athletes went sub-20 in 2006: Usain Bolt (JAM – 19.88), Asafa Powell (19.90) and Jordan Vaden (19.98). The overall depth strengthened in 2006, 28 athletes recorded a mark 20.40s or faster. In 2005 there were 25 athletes at this level, 32 in 2004 and 33 in 2003. USA reigns with 35 athletes in the world top-100, Jamaica has 14 for second place with Japan following with eight.
The reigning Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner kept his cool over the 400m distance. The 22-year-old American moved to fourth place on the world all-time list setting a personal best of 43.62s winning the Golden Gala meeting in Rome in July. Wariner was one of the 2006 IAAF Golden League jackpot winners winning all the six meetings. His season included three sub-44 performances and two personal bests. Before his world leading mark of 43.62 he set a best of 43.91 winning in Paris bettering his earlier mark of 43.93 with which he won the Helsinki World Championships in 2005. During the 2006 season Wariner also raced over the 200m distance. He set a personal best of 20.19 and finished fifth in the US Championships where he only opted for 200m race. He won the first 12 races of the season before not finishing the race in the Golden GP in Shanghai in September.
Behind Wariner, Gary Kikaya (COD) and fellow American LaShawn Merritt also had impressive seasons. Kikaya set four national records with the last one, 44.10, to finish second behind Wariner at the World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, also being a new African record. 2004 World Junior champion Merritt, who had run a promising 44.66 as a junior in 2005, finished third in Stuttgart in a big personal best time of 44.14. The 20-year-old went on to win the World Cup in Athens after this. Despite a strong top some of the depth in this event had been lost during 2006. There were now only 21 athletes under 45 seconds, in 2005 there were 23, 19 in 2004 and 18 in 2003. USA has 30 athletes in the world top 100 with Jamaica following with nine.
WOMEN - Sprints
2005 brought about something of a "changing of the guard" at the top where a young generation in their early 20's headed by runners like Lauryn Williams and Veronica Campbell almost replaced the "establishment" with only Chandra Sturrup (BAH) and Christine Arron (FRA) managing to hold their own against the youngsters.
This year despite the absence of both Sturrup (raced little) and Arron (injury, raced little) by early summer it still looked like the old guard had struck back as Marion Jones (USA) after a couple of years of mediocrity put together a string of victories and times around or below the 11 second threshold. Especially as this coincided with Williams struggling in vain to find her previous form and with Campbell due to injury having to end her season almost before it started.
But when the summer had ended 2006 still had produced a new undisputed No 1 in Jamaican Sherone Simpson. The 22-year-old had belonged to the international elite for a couple of years but her 6th places in Athens '04 and Helsinki '05 quite well summarised her role then. 2006 started out similarly losing to Torri Edwards (USA) in Eugene and Debbie Ferguson (BAH) in the Oslo Golden League – but from mid-June onwards Simpson compiled an almost perfect record.
The only loss was a narrow one to Jones in the Paris Golden League (10.98 vs 10.92) and the wins appeared to become more and more comfortable: First 0.04/0.05 vs Jones in Rome and London and then between 0.15 and 0.29 in the three August GL's and the WAF and the World Cup. That kind of supremacy in the women's 100m hasn't been seen since Jones’ prime years around the turn of century.
It will be very interesting if Simpson can manage to retain the position in the coming years. Most likely athletes like Campbell and Williams will bounce back after their "lost" 2006 campaigns and one must not forget Ivet Lalova who reportedly now is training well again after the long period of rehabilitation that followed the nasty leg injury she suffered due to a freak accident when warming up at the Athens GP meet in June 2005.
But Lalova will probably find it quite tough to just to reclaim her position as No 1 in her own country as Bulgaria in 2006 boasted the undisputed No 1 junior sprinter in Tezdzhan Naimova. The 19-year-old completely dominated the 100m at the World Junior Championships in Beijing winning by about one and half metres and recording 11.28 into a noticeable headwind.
As for the general standards in the women's 100m, nothing really significant occured in 2006. Looking at the 25th, 50th and 100th mark there was the normal slight improvement usually seen in the year following more marked regress of a post-Olympic year like 2005.
With the 100m once more a featured Golden League event and without any global championship the competitive opportunities on the world stage in 2006 for the 200m runners were few and far between. The only real showdown was the season-ending World Athletics final where Allyson Felix (USA) won in 22.11 from 400m-dominant Sanya Richards (22.17), and 100m-dominant Sherone Simpson (22.22).
It is sad that those three didn't fight it out more times during the season as that almost certainly would have produced the sub-22-times the world has been missing since the Sydney Olympics, i.e. for over six years. That such times were possible in 2006 was clearly demonstrated by Simpson who recorded 22.00 twice in races when she won completely impressed - by more than one full second at the National Championships in Kingston and by 0.35 over Richards at DN Galan in Stockholm.
As could be expected with the limited amount of competitions on offer (more or less only the standard set of national and regional championships) the overall statistical picture remained unchanged with the 10th runner close to 22.50 and the 50th just under 23.00. But the potential is there for a much stronger performance with more competitions.
Already last year as a 20-year-old Sanya Richards (USA) was the leading 400m runner although she did miss the World Championships title. This year she returned further improved and no one was able to stop her from putting together a perfect seasonal record of wins including a perfect Golden League (six of six), the World Athletics Final and the World Cup.
The only thing that seemed to be missing was a truly outstanding top time but Richards took care of that also when she ended her season by storming to 48.70 at the World Cup. She won that race by almost one and a half seconds and she rose to No 7 all-time in the process, replacing Valerie Brisco-Hooks as the US record holder. Only two runners in one race (the 1996 Olympic Final) have run faster since 1988!
While the previously dominant figures of Ana Guevara (MEX) and Tonique Williams-Darling (BAH) faded further out of the picture, a group of runners belonging to the same generation as Richards continued their ascent. Russian 21-year-old Olga Zaytseva went from 50.06 to 49.49, Bulgarian 22-year-old Vanya Stambolova from to 52.99 to 49.53, and Jamaican 24-year-old Novlene Williams from 50.59 to 49.53.
Especially remarkable was Stambolova who went from being a relatively anonymous 400m Hurdler in the summer of 2005 (56.29) to World Indoors 400m silver medallist in the winter of 2006 running 50.21 in Moscow. During the summer she put together no less than ten sub-50.20 marks topped by a 49.53 best.
But perhaps even more remarkable was that she managed to stop the world leading nation (four of the top-8 in the 2006 World List) Russia from getting the 400m title at the European Championships in August. Before Stambolova's sudden burst onto the scene in early 2006 the only uncertainty concerning the 400m gold in Gothenburg seemed to be which Russian it would be that triumphed.
Statistically 2006 was a very much a clone of 2005: 22 sub-50 times by 7 athletes vs 21 by 6, 26 athletes sub-51 vs 23 and 76 sub-52 vs 75. What is somewhat remarkable, however, is the fairly weak US presence behind superstar Richards: Only three more in the top-30! The contrast to the men's 400m (e.g 8 of top-16!) is startling!