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 2007 - the men’s and women's 100m, 200m, 400m.
MEN - Sprints
Any year that brings a new World 100m record is a memorable year in sprinting. And Asafa Powell's 9.74 when shutting down the engines noticeably in the last tenth of the race in a qualifying round in Rieti also immediately signalled that we most likely are in for further improvement in the near future. Actually his all-out 9.78 in the Rieti final in nil wind was intrinsically superior to the 9.74 with a nice 1.7 mps in his back.
And Powell is not even the only athlete that in 2007 proved himself capable of lowering the World record. Tyson Gay won all his races (but one in late September) and did so convincingly, especially in the World Championships (where a disillusioned Powell was just 3rd) and the US Trials. Gay's 9.84 into a slight headwind in cool weather in Indianapolis leaving all the other US sprinters more than two metres in arrears certainly proved his ability to successfully challenge the World record in more conducive weather conditions.
What the world missed in 2007, however, was more exciting head-to-head matches between the two candidates for the "Fastest human" title. Gay and Powell this summer only met once – the Osaka final – and regardless of who is avoiding and the various injuries to both, it is sad for our sport that the scenario of non-competition is still played out. In 2006 the two met in Rome, Stockholm, Zurich, Berlin and the World Athletics Final with Powell winning all but by an decreasing margin – 19, 11, 7, 10 and 3 hundredths – building tension and public interest going into 2007. But to no avail.
2007, however, did see the rise of a new name to the upper echelon: the Bahamas’ 23-years-old Derrick Atkins who this year moved from being "just another decent sprinter" to a runner that only lost to the "Big 2". Atkins had two early season wind-aided sub-9.90's behind Gay, then won Athens, Paris and Lausanne, then was second to Powell in Rome and Stockholm before taking the silver in Osaka behind Gay but ahead of Powell.
The greatest improvement into the top-10 this year belonged to ex-Nigerian Samuel Francis who running for Qatar lowered his personal best from 10.44 to 9.99. He, however, still needs to prove himself on the world stage against the other top sprinters. In Osaka he was injured and DNF'd in his heat.
Someone who was slightly obscure statistically (tying for 16th on the World List) but who did prove himself competitively was ex-Gambian Norwegian Jaysuma Saidy Ndure. Due to transfer of allegiance he was not eligible for Osaka, but on the international circuit he had an very impressive second half of the summer: In the two months 22 July to 22 September Ndure ran 8 meets in 7 different countries with times between 10.06 and 10.20 never finishing lower than 3rd. And his best event still probably is the 200m!
2007 was not a good year for US 100m running with great exception of Tyson Gay. That he won the Trials by a full two metres clearly proved that. And when the No 2 and 3 in the Trials Trindon Holliday and Walter Dix choose to end their seasons already then in June and not use their tickets to Osaka the situation became very visible in the World Championships with Gay being the only US runner in the 100m semi-finals.
But still not too much should be read into that fact when it comes to the Olympic summer of 2008. History has shown that the US in the Olympic years always manages to put together a very strong 100m squad.
Looking at the general standards in the World of 100m running 2007 could be classified as a quite "normal" year with no dramatic changes in the levels, just including the usual slight pre-Olympic-year-rise.
100m - 2007 World List
2006 brought a long awaited revival of the men's 200m as the event had been almost invisible on the international scene (outside of the championships) since Michael Johnson ended his career. While the 100m was staged at every Grand Prix meet almost nowhere was a featured 200m to be found, so even runners that would have been better at 200m chose to concentrate on 100m.
The consequence was very apparent statistically, in 2003 there wasn't even one sub-20 time recorded in the world. But in 2006 a new generation of runners brought the event back to life: Xavier Carter, Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt all ran several brilliant races and the score of 16 sub-20 times made it one of the all-time best seasons (only other years with more than 8 was 1996 with 19 and 1999 with 14).
But was 2006 just the exception? No, 2007 turned out just as good with seven runners dipping under 20 altogether 17 times. A sign of the revival of the event is the fact that it was featured in three Golden League meets (Zürich, Brussels, Berlin) as well as in the Lausanne Super GP.
It is also quite remarkable that the US at this moment is much stronger in the 200m than in the 100m as they have No 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7 on the year list and as only Jamaica's Usain Bolt managed to prevent a US medal sweep in Osaka, and this despite the fact that it was No 1, 4 and 9 on the World list that represented them at the World Championships.
2007 brought two major breakthroughs as USA's Walter Dix improved his PB from 20.18 to 19.69 and Norway's Jaysuma Saidy Ndure his from 20.47 to 19.89 (winning the World Athletic Final decisively over Spearmon). However, neither Dix nor Ndure had any other race even close their top marks (second best 20.13 and 20.41 respectively) so it remains to be proven that their top races were not of the flash-in-pan mode of the 2001 19.88 by J J Johnson or of the 1999 19.98 by Marcin Urbas.
But taking into consideration that the 200m is an event that usually has distinct peaks statistically in Olympic years there is – after the strong showings of 2006 and 2007 – good reason to expect 2008 becoming the best ever year in the history of the event. Especially as all seven sub-20 runners of 2007 were age 25 or younger!
200m - 2007 World List
Jeremy Wariner continued building upon a career that may finally challenge for the position as the greatest ever in the history of 400m running. Despite still being only 23-years-old he was the undisputed No 1 for the fourth straight year: He ran 6 of the top 8 times of the year, averaged a winning margin of 0.65 in his ten finals (not counting the race he abandoned at the start) and trimmed another 0.17 off his PB bringing it down to 43.45 a mark only Michael Johnson (thrice) and Butch Reynolds (once) has ever surpassed.
Despite this dominance, however, there were signs that he might need to improve further in 2008 to remain on top as LaShawn Merritt, two years younger, in Osaka joined Wariner as a sub-44-runner. In the London Grand Prix Merritt actually pushed Wariner all the way losing by a mere 18 hundredths.
The surprise revelation of the year was the 28-years-old former Olympic 400m Hurdles champion (Sydney 2000) Angelo Taylor who suddenly re-emerged on the World scene after some five years in the doldrums. Taylor lowered his 2001 PB by over half second to 44.05 when winning the US Trials (ahead of Merritt) and completed a US medal sweep in Osaka.
So although these three runners appeared to have a decisive grip upon the event – statistically it was a four tenth gap between Taylor and the No 4 on the World List – the example of Taylor proved once again that it is possible that a US 400m runner can go in one year from relative anonymity in the enormous US talent pool on to a global medal podium. Previous examples that come to mind are Larry James in 1968 and Steve Lewis in 1988.
With the US now occupying the top-12 positions on the All-Time World List anything but at least two US medals in Beijing would be a major surprise. This said despite the fact that no less than six other nations managed to get into the top-10 for 2007. But most likely there is a tough half second of improvement needed for the likes of Chris Brown, Leslie Djhone, Tyler Christopher and Johan Wissman from their current NR 44.5-level to challenge for the Olympic medals.
Wissman was the only one of them showing more than a marginal improvement in 2007 going from 45.57 to 44.56, but that is somewhat misleading as this was the first year he was focussing on the 400m having previously concentrated on the 200m where he has silver medals from both the World Indoors (2004) and the European Outdoors (2006). But running sub-45 in all three rounds in Osaka and becoming the first Swedish global finalist in the event since the 1920 Olympics, clearly indicated that he now has arrived at his best distance.
Looking at the strength of depth 2007 turned out a quite normal year quality wise on all levels. 45.22 for 25th place, 45.44 for 50th place and 45.92 for 100th place are numbers that are almost identical to what we have seen every year during the last decade.
400m - 2007 World List
WOMEN - Sprints
A fine women’s sprint season in 2007 finished with a clear number one in each of the three events. In the 100m, Jamaican Veronica Campbell, the reigning Olympic champion over 200m, capped a fine season with a win at the World Championships. In the 200m, American Allyson Felix was unbeaten in her four finals of the season and she clocked 21.81s to win in Osaka, fastest time since May 1999. Although Sanya Richards won 11/13 400m finals during the season, she failed to qualify for the World Championships. However, from July to September the American posted an impressive series of eight consecutive sub-50 second races.
Result wise the women’s 100m season was not a particularly impressive one, but 25-year-old Jamaican Veronica Campbell had a solid year. She posted five sub-11 second results and added another major title to her resume. Campbell has now won all possible junior and senior titles, she grabbed the World Youth 100m title in 1999, World Junior 100m and 200m titles in 2000, Olympic 200m title in 2004 and now the 100m World Championships gold in Osaka. Campbell ran a world leading 10.89 to win the National Championships in June and won her heat in each of the four rounds at the World Champs.
Despite fading to fourth place in Osaka, Torri Edwards (USA) came closest to match the season by Campbell, she went 2-3 against Campbell in head to head competition during the summer.
24-year-old American Lauryn Williams, the 2005 100m World Champion from Helsinki, had a very adequate season only winning her first race in October, but did rise to the occasion and took the silver in Osaka with a season’s best 11.01s.
In the overall picture USA is the clear number one country in this event with 36 athletes in the world top 100. Jamaica is second with 12 before Russia and Great Britain tied at third with six. Jamaica and USA occupy places 1-9 on the world list.
100m - 2007 World List
Allyson Felix (USA), who turned 22 in November, raced more at 100m than her favoured 200m during the season and that did apparently help her as she won all of her four 200m finals and 4/5 400m races as well. Felix successfully defended her 2005 200m World title in Osaka and grabbed a total of three golds there as she won both relays as well. The American impressively set personal bests in all three sprints, 11.01 100m, 21.81 200m and 49.70. Her 200m time from the Osaka final was the fastest since Marion Jones (USA) ran the same time 21.81 in May 1999.
The former 100m World Youth Champion was a massive 0.5 seconds faster than the second best 200m woman Rachelle Smith (USA) who clocked 22.31 in June.
Felix also successfully moved towards the 400m distance winning four races out of five with a big personal best 49.70s Stockholm in August where she snapped the victory just inches ahead of Sanya Richards (49.72s). Felix made great progress in 400m having set her previous PB 51.12s more than two years ago in June 2005.
The reigning Olympic 200m champion, Veronica Campbell, was well beaten in Osaka by Felix, but she was able to better her fourth place finish from 2005 to grab the silver this time with a season’s best time of 22.34.
USA dominates this event with 44 athletes on the world top 100 list. Jamaica has 12 and Russia and Great Britain both four.
200m - 2007 World List
Sanya Richards enjoyed another year at the top of the 400m, but something went badly wrong at the National Championships in June where she surprisingly faded to fourth place and out of the individual 400m race in Osaka. It was one of the biggest surprises of the season for Richards who came to the 2007 season having won all of her 15 finals in 2006 (but she did not qualify for the final at the World Indoor Championships in Moscow). Before the Indianapolis final she had won 15 straight finals and not counting her failure to qualify for the final in Moscow indoors, her last loss in a 400m final had come at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki where she was second and her last finish outside top three in a final was at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens where she finished in sixth place at the age of 19.
But Richards was still more than clearly the number one in the world. After the US Champs loss she won eight out of nine finals only narrowly losing to Allyson Felix by 0.02 seconds in Stockholm. The 22-year-old American added another eight sub-50 races and despite her young age now has an impressive total of 27 races under 50 seconds.
Briton Christine Ohuruogu was the surprise winner in Osaka, but another absentee from the World Championships 400m, Allyson Felix who went 1-1 against Richards in 2007 might be able to challenge her in the near future.
USA reigns this sprint event as well with 21 athletes on the world top 100 list, but Russia is a close second with 19 and Jamaica third at ten.
400m - 2007 World List