Friday, 12 August 2016

Bolt versus Johnson over 200 metres.

I’ve read that Michael Johnson claims he would beat Usain Bolt over 200 metres if both athletes were at their best from a couple of sources. I am interested to look at the evidence regarding who would win this fantasy race.

Usain Bolt (left) and Michael Johnson (right).
I’ll leave the stats for later, but let’s look at the two hyped head to heads that Michael Johnson was involved in during his career. In 1997, after the Atlanta Olympics when Donovan Bailey won the 100 metres and Michael Johnson won the 200 and 400 metres, the pair raced in a unique head to head over 150 metres, where they featured as the only competitors. Donovan Bailey won this race in 14.99 seconds, whilst Johnson pulled up injured whilst clearly behind Bailey. The Bolt versus Johnson clash is over 200 metres though? Let’s skip ahead three years to the 2000 US Olympic Trials over 200 metres. Since 1997, Maurice Greene had dominated world 100 metre sprinting, and had won the gold medal at the 1999 World Championships over 200 metres. This race was to be a clash of the titans, but again injury hit, both athletes this time, whilst John Capel ran away with the victory. My reason for bringing these rivalries up is that I don’t think that either of these athletes would have provided Bolt a serious challenge if he was at his best, yet they were considered worthy opponents for Johnson.

Now for the stats. Firstly, Bolt's best time for the distance is the current world record, 19.19 seconds. Johnson's best is 19.32 seconds, which at the time was a new world record. Perhaps more telling, Michael Johnson has run under 19.7 seconds twice, Bolt has done so a staggering 14 times! Bolt’s two fastest times are quicker than Johnson’s best time, and whilst fairly mild, both Bolt’s runs were into a headwind, whilst Johnson had a slight tailwind. That stat alone suggests to me that Bolt would be a heavy favourite, but I think a closer and more exciting race would be over 300 metres!

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The women's short sprinters.

The women’s 100 metres will be a more exciting race than the men’s in Rio, simply because there are so many athletes who could potentially win it.

The  main contenders are Tori Bowie, Dafne Schippers, English Gardner, Elaine Thompson and Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce, with Tiana Bartoletta and Murielle Ahoure as outside bets.

Bowie was the bronze medalist at last year’s World Championships in Beijing and opened up this year in great form. In the first Diamond League meeting, Bowie clocked 10.80 to beat Dafne Schippers and did so again, this time over 200 metres, in Eugene. Throughout the rounds at the US Olympic Trials, Bowie was very impressive, and despite running a personal best performance in the final, she finished third, which raises the question whether she will be able to deliver her best performance in the final. Bowie will be competing in both the 100 and 200 metres as well as the 4x100 metres relay, and her coach, Lance Brauman’s thorough programme will provide her with the strength to complete up to eight races.

Tori Bowie
Schippers has continued her 2015 form into 2016 and has looked very solid on the track this season, and has proven herself to be a championship performer last year at the World Championships in Beijing where she won a silver medal in each of the sprints. She has produced some amazing performances on the Diamond League circuit this year, notably her 200 metres run in Oslo. It is likely that whatever Schippers is physically capable of, will be what she produces on Saturday night, in the 100 metres final. If she is able to produce a start that leaves her in contention, then her textbook form and minimal rearside mechanics will make her very dangerous over the latter part of the race.

Dafne Schippers
English Gardner is based in Los Angeles under the legendary John Smith. A former Oregon Duck, she comes from a school currently known for their female sprinters. Gardner has delivered impressive performances in Diamond League races, but her strongest race was in the US Olympic Trials final where she sped to 10.74 to put her second in the 2016 rankings. In what was always going to be a close race, Gardner held it together mentally to run a PB and defeat both Bowie and Tiana Bartoletta by four hundredths of a second. This is a vital trait for doing well in the Olympic Final, where she, like all the competitors, will be under immense pressure.

English Gardner
Elaine Thompson made substantial improvements last year under coach Stephen Francis. She ran Schippers extremely close in the World Championship final over 200 metres in Beijing, running 21.65. This year though, her most impressive performance has been over the 100 metres, winning the Jamaican Olympic Trials in 10.70 seconds, making her the fastest woman in the world in 2016. A surprisingly poor run in Oslo over 200 metres perhaps raised a couple of questions, where she was well beaten by Schippers, but Thompson has only qualified for the 100 metres in Rio, having not run the 200 metres final at her Olympic Trials.

Elaine Thompson
Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce has perhaps had her achievements overshadowed by Usain Bolt. She has won the last two Olympic 100 metres titles and three of the last four World Championship 100 metres titles. Last year in the World Championships 100 metres final, Fraser-Pryce did enough in the first part of the race to prevent Schippers from catching her with her strong finish, and questionable early season form suggests that her starts will need to be on point if she is to win her third Olympic 100 metres title. Another of Stephen Francis’ athletes, Fraser-Pryce cannot be ruled out however, even though there are seven women faster than her over 100 metres this year.

Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce
Tiana Bartoletta, last year’s long jump World Champion, finished second at the US Olympic Trials in 10.78 to secure her spot on the team, but was well beaten a couple of weeks later in Monaco by Schippers. Murielle Ahoure ran 10.78 in early June at a small meeting in Florida. Both women haven’t produced a performance to back up these runs as yet, and it is often difficult to reproduce an anomaly in an Olympic Final. However, stranger things have happened, and as they always say, once an athlete makes the final, anything can happen!

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Olympic 100m preview

At 10.25 on the evening of Sunday August 14th, eight men will settle into their blocks to determine who will be crowned the Olympic Champion. The most popular favourite will be the Jamaican, Usain Bolt, attempting to become the first man to win three Olympic 100 metres titles. In fact, only he and Carl Lewis have won two, and Lewis never had the privilege of crossing the line first twice, as he followed Ben Johnson down the straight in Seoul in 1988. Bolt does not travel to Rio with the world’s leading performance. In fact, he is ‘only’ fourth on the world rankings. So who is likely to line up in the final?

Nickel Ashmeade
Nobody makes the Jamaican team without the potential of making the final of a major championship. Coached by Lance Brauman, the Florida based athlete finished second behind Yohan Blake at the Jamaican Olympic trials in both the 100 and 200 metres in 9.96 and 20.45. A regular member of the Jamaican team, Ashmeade has a best this year of 9.94, and will likely have to run a lifetime best if he is be fighting for the medals in Rio.

Nickel Ashmeade

Yohan Blake
Since a great season in the last Olympic year, Blake has struggled for form, and reportedly been plagued by injuries. Once seen as the athlete who would take over the mantle from Usain Bolt, Blake has not qualified for a major championship since 2012. With a somewhat resurgence of form, Blake won the fiercely competitive Jamaican Olympic trials over both 100 and 200 metres in 9.95 and 20.29 respectively, but has been noticeably absent from the European circuit. Another Mills coached athlete, Blake is definitely capable of making the final, but he has not done anything that suggests to me he is in the form he was four years ago.

Yohan Blake

Usain Bolt
Bolt has a habit of winning pretty much all the time. His track record is even more impressive in major championships, where his only blip in the past eight years was his false start in the 100 metres final in the Daegu World Championships in 2011. Six Olympic gold medals and eleven World Championship gold medals is tough to bet against, but Bolt’s recent preparation has been unsettled by a hamstring injury, leading to a selection that some have seen as controversial. Typically, the top three Jamaicans past the post qualify for the Olympics, but Bolt missed both the 100 and 200 metres final at the Jamaican Olympic trials due his hamstring injury, and was subsequently selected having been given a medical exemption, which it was stated was reserved for athletes ranked in the top three in the world. A sub-20 second 200 metres victory in London at the end of July did not look like easy work for Bolt, but on more than one occasion I have suspected Bolt may be beaten at a major championship, and each time I have been left eating my words, so I predict the Glen Mills coached athlete will step up as usual as do enough to retain his title.

Usain Bolt

Marvin Bracy
Bracy arguably qualified for the US Olympic Team against the odds by beating Mike Rodgers and Tyson Gay to take the third spot on the team, behind Justin Gatlin and Trayvon Bromell, in 9.98 seconds. Coach by Lance Brauman, Bracy has featured in the last two World Indoor Athletics Championships 60 metres finals, winning the silver medal in 2014. The Florida based athlete will likely need to run faster than he has done so far this year to make an impact in the final, but he showed at last month’s trials in Eugene, he was able to hold it together under pressure, which is vital for Olympic success.

Marvin Bracy

Trayvon Bromell
One of the leading members of the next generation of sprinters, Bromell will be hoping to build on the form that saw him win the 60 metres at the World Indoor Championships in Portland in March as he heads to Rio. A smooth sprinter with text book form, he is the world junior record holder for 100 metres and had a hugely successful collegiate career, before opting to turn professional when he signed with New Balance last year. As a runner up behind Justin Gatlin at the US Olympic Trials in 9.84, Bromell is ranked number two in the world this year on time and he and his coach, Mike Ford, will have been working hard at Baylor University in Texas to overcome an early season Achilles injury to ensure he is in peak condition heading into Rio.

Trayvon Bromell

Andre Degrasse
Another ‘future of sprinting’, the Canadian was the joint bronze medalist with Bromell in last year’s World Championships. However, his preparation will be in sharp contrast to that of last year, where he completed a grueling collegiate season, before a personal best performance in Beijing. Since then, last year’s NCAA 100 and 200 metres champion has signed a professional contract with Puma and relocated from Los Angeles to Phoenix to join the ALTIS group and coach Stu McMillan. An early season toe injury saw him compete infrequently, but victories in Oslo, Houston and the Canadian Olympic trials, where he clocked 9.99, have demonstrated that the fast finishing, young sprinter should be in the mix come the final.

Andre Degrasse

Justin Gatlin
Gatlin is a controversial character due to a history involving positive drugs tests, but the rules allow him to compete and I expect him to be as competitive as he always is. Coached by three-time Olympic medalist, Dennis Mitchell, Gatlin is both unbeaten and the fastest man in the world this season, after winning the US Olympic Trials in 9.80, and although his form is not as impressive as it was twelve months ago, he puts that down to a more calculated approach to the season, so he comes good when it counts in Rio. He wants to avoid a repeat of Beijing last year, where Gatlin was the fastest man in the world, having running a handful of times in the 9.7s, but having run 9.77 in his semi, a 9.80 in the World Championships final was only good enough for silver behind Bolt.

Justin Gatlin

Jimmy Vicaut
The powerful Frenchman made an excellent start to the season, clocking both 9.88 and 9.86. Vicaut, coached by Guy Ontanon, was a favourite leading into last month’s European Championships, but only came away with the bronze medal. Winner at the most recent Diamond League event in London, Vicaut certainly has the physical tools to be competitive when the medals are distributed in Rio, but will likely not be most people’s favourite to challenge the likes of Bolt and Gatlin. 

Jimmy Vicaut

Others to watch for:
Kim Collins (Saint Kitts and Nevis) – coached by Paula Collins
James Dasaolu (Great Britain) - coached by Steve Fudge
James Ellington (Great Britain) - coached by Linford Christie
Jak Ali Harvey (Turkey) – coached by Lance Brauman
Femi Ogunode (Qatar) – coached by Dennis Mitchell
Akani Simbine (South Africa) – coached by Werner Prinsloo
Chijindu Ujah (Great Britain) - coached by Jonas Tawiah Dodoo 

My prediction:
Gold – Usain Bolt
Silver – Justin Gatlin

Bronze – Trayvon Bromell

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

A trip to ALTIS

In March this year, I visited my close friend, Greg Rutherford in Scottsdale, Arizona, and got the opportunity to witness him and others training at the ALTIS set up at Paradise Valley Community College. What better way to reflect on my experiences than writing a post to relay them onto the readers of my blog (both of them-that might be funnier if it wasn’t so close to the truth). I intentionally kept the account short, as when I read articles, I find it easier to digest information, the more succinctly they are written.

The first morning I arrived at ALTIS, I was struck by how busy the facility was, but how well everybody worked together. There must have been the best part of one hundred people there, divided into several groups, but there were no issues of people getting in the way of one another. It was a pleasant contrast to being at Sports City’s track in Dubai. There were no groups that were spread out over seven lanes, no one set up half way down the home straight, no cyclists on the track (yes, this happens) and no toddlers sitting in lane four (which also happens). It was a well-oiled machine, and everybody respected each other’s right to be there. The three coaches I spent the most time with were Dan Pfaff, Chidi Enyia and Stu McMillan.

Stu McMillan and I.
The first couple of days were spent with Dan watching the jumpers, and I felt a little better about hanging around by raking the pit and earning my presence at the facility. Dan’s sessions were very relaxed affairs, that appeared to be quite athlete led. He did little by the way of ordering athletes to jump, and left it up to them to decide when they were ready, whilst sitting and observing quietly. When feedback was required, he would offer it, often in the form of a cue to be used in the following jump. There was certainly no over-coaching taking place, which may have happened if Dan was a less secure coach, without his vast experience.

ALTIS and Canadian World 100 metre bronze medallist, Andre De Grasse and I.
The latter part of my stay at ALTIS was spent observing the sprinters, and largely Stu McMillan. Stu’s coaching has had a large influence from Dan, and it was clear to see by the way he also allowed the athletes to take responsibility. Athletes would ask Stu how their run was, and Stu would reply, ‘how did it feel?’ A strategy I had not seen used before was where Stu gave his group thirty minutes to complete as few or as many one hundred metre runs off the bend as they felt appropriate, allowing for the individual differences in psychology and physiology. Some athletes ran maybe four runs, others did up to six or seven. Another occasion that stood out to me was Carlos Herrera, the Mexican record holder, asking Stu if he could skip the lifting part of the session as his back had felt a bit tight, and Stu immediately said that was fine, without appearing to be fussed by it at all. That led me to believe (perhaps I am jumping to conclusions) how secondary weight training is viewed to sprint performance, by one of the leading authorities in speed training. In a similar scenario, Greg was not feeling too well one morning, and when I arrived at the track without him, Dan asked me if he was training, to which I responded that he was at home resting, and again Dan did not appear fussed. He trusted Greg’s judgement. I left Arizona feeling like I a lot of my thoughts had been reinforced, and I learnt the value of trusting the athlete and their instincts.

Chidi Enyia and I.

The key take way from the trip was the reinforcement that there is no magic bullet when it comes to training, and those that tell you there is are probably trying to sell you something. On a different note, the staff were extremely helpful and friendly, and invited me to contact them should I have any questions. It has been great to keep the lines of communication open with members of the team. If you have the opportunity to visit ALTIS, I strongly recommend it. You may not leave blown away by fancy training techniques, but you will leave with an appreciation of the consistency and attention to detail required to train at the highest level.