Down for the Count in London Town? (Part I)


usain_and_teammates

All good things, much like bad things, eventually come to an end. It was never a matter of if we’d be knocked off our short sprinting perch. It was merely a matter of when.


A golden era

Since 2008, Jamaica has been the dominant force on the global short sprinting scene. This pre-eminence has been largely due to the legendary exploits of Usain Bolt, undoubtedly the greatest 100m/200m man of all-time; and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, to my mind, the greatest female 100m sprinter in history.

This dynamic duo has been ably supported by the likes of 2016 double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, 2008 Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, 2011 world 100m champion Yohan Blake, joint Olympic 100m silver medallists Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson, 2013 World Championships 200m silver medallist Warren Weir, as well as a few other medal-winning speedsters.

Unfortunate events and untimely absences

Bolt’s preparation for his World Championships swansong was beset by tragedy, hobbled by suboptimal competition, and bogged down by a seemingly endless stream of sponsorship obligations. The fact that he still managed to finish a mere 3/100ths of a second behind 100m gold medallist Justin Gatlin speaks more to his phenomenal physical gifts than anything else.

With Bolt only contesting one individual event, as opposed to his customary two, the loss of a long assured medal — in the 200m — was virtually guaranteed. The graphic below reflects just how Atlas-like the broad-shouldered sprint superstar has been for us over the years.

male_medallists

Of the others referenced above, only Thompson, Blake, and Weir were able to toe the start line in the English capital. Thompson, who was limited to a lone individual event, apparently had one of those wretched (no pun intended) days at the office that we’ve all had from time to time. Meanwhile, the oft-injured Blake and the enigmatic Weir were both obviously short of their best. Nonetheless, the former of the two Racers men still managed to finish a creditable fourth behind training partner Bolt in the 100m final.

Fraser-Pryce, Campbell-Brown, Stewart, and Simpson were all absent for one important reason or another. This fantastic foursome, collectively missing from a global championship for the first time in forever, had accounted for eighteen (18) of our twenty-one (21) Olympic and world 100m and 200m medals won between Beijing ‘08 and Rio ‘16. Here’s a breakdown:

female_medallists

The finish line is in sight

There’s no doubt that a transition phase is just around the corner. With the exception of Elaine and Yohan, it feels like just about every other stalwart mentioned above has one foot flirting with the sand on a tropical beach somewhere — and that’s perfectly okay. Even if “rights” were earned things, they’d be more deserving of this kind than just about every other Jamaican. They’ve been a tremendous source of national pride during a time in which there really hasn’t been that much for us to be proud about. I fail at finding the words to fully express my gratitude.

The “Empire” strikes back

The United States of America has ruled the sprint world with an iron fist ever since Baron Pierre de Coubertin resurrected the Olympic Games in 1896. They’ve been less dominant in the World Championships era, which began in 1983, but not significantly so. Their men have still managed to win about as many short sprint titles as the rest of the planet combined. Meanwhile, their women have only been marginally less successful. It was surely only a matter of time before they reclaimed the two most coveted titles in the athletics realm.

Short sprinting goes global

Ramil Guliyev, from that sprinting hotbed known as Turkey (by way of Azerbaijan, that other sprinting hotbed), claimed the 200m crown vacated by Bolt in London. South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk, history’s only sub-10, sub-20, and sub-44 man, finished second in the highly anticipated final. Meanwhile, the talented Jereem Richards claimed a good bronze medal for Trinidad and Tobago, which is no stranger to global 100m/200m success.

Athletes from traditional sprint powers Great Britain (Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake) and the United States (Ameer Webb and Isiah Young) also featured. However, Jamaican half-lappers were conspicuously absent. There was a rising Japanese star (Abdul Hakim Sani Brown) and a maturing Botswanan 200m/400m stud (Isaac Makwala) in the mix as well, though.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see more sprint final fields mirroring this type of composition in the future. Things and times are a changing.

From heroes to zeroes?

Bolt is a once-in-a-generation talent. His like might not be seen again in my lifetime. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown are also among the greatest short sprinters to ever do it. It’s understandable that there will be some sort of drop-off in medal production once they’re no longer competing. However, the talent is too abundant, the culture too strong, and the coaching too experienced for us to remain this far from the top of the sprint game for very long.

I’ll dive deeper into some of these reasons for optimism in Down for the Count in London Town? (Part II). Coming soon…

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