Fantastic four give 200-meter dash a lot of splash
By Dick Patrick, USA TODAY
The men’s 100 meters has long been track’s glamour event, but it will be overshadowed in this weekend’s AT&T USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships by the 200. Six of the biggest names in sprinting are entered, including four youngsters who have lit up a race dormant for nearly a decade.
The meet, beginning Thursday in Indianapolis, is the qualifier for the world championships in Osaka, Japan, Aug. 25-Sept. 2. The first round of the 200 is Saturday; the semifinals and final are Sunday.
Xavier Carter, Wallace Spearmon Jr., Tyson Gay and Walter Dix — none older than 24, but four of the six fastest in 200 history — have created buzz in an event that lost luster after Michael Johnson retired in 2001. Johnson brought huge attention to the 200 in 1996, when he broke a 17-year-old world record in the U.S. Olympic trials, then lowered it to 19.32 seconds in the Atlanta Games.
Dix says he’s focused on the 100 this weekend and might drop from the 200 after a long season at Florida State that included the world’s best 200 time this year, 19.69 seconds. Still, the event should have a top field.
It includes Shawn Crawford, who led a U.S. sweep of the 200 in the 2004 Athens Games but has become almost an afterthought at 29. He focused on the 100 last year after foot problems in 2005.Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic 400 champion, also will run the 200 this weekend. The defending world champ in the 400, he automatically qualifies for the world meet in that event.
The top three in the U.S. meet go to Osaka.
“It’s been a long time since any event was so deep,” says Mark Block, a former sprint coach now Carter’s agent. “Only three going to the world championships? Incredible.”
Carter started the upswing in the event last year in Lausanne, Switzerland, by running 19.63, second to Johnson’s record, shortly after leaving LSU early to turn pro.
“It’s all Xavier Carter’s fault,” says Spearmon, who trains with former Arkansas teammate Gay. “He lost his mind and ran 19.63. Now everybody’s losing their minds.” Spearmon and Gay ran faster than 19.70 last year. Then Dix set an NCAA record with the 19.69 last month.
“The improvement at 200 was long overdue,” Johnson, now Wariner’s agent, said in an e-mail. “Because I broke (the world record) by so much, people failed to believe they could rise to that level.”
Clyde Hart, Johnson’s longtime coach, says it takes stamina to be good at the 200: “You can’t be a great 100-meter runner, do a little bit of training and say, ‘I’m going to jump in there and run a great 200.’ I think (100 world-recordholder) Asafa Powell is learning that now.”
Powell, a Jamaican, was third in the 200 in the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago behind Carter and Spearmon.
Hart notes Johnson, who also owns the 400 world record, was 28 when he set the 200 mark. “Speed comes with strength,” Hart says. “Strength comes with work and maturity. A lot of (the young stars) are kind of like wine. They’ve got to mature a bit to be at their best.”
Residence: Baton Rouge
Carter was the star of last year’s NCAA championships for LSU, winning titles in the 100, 400 and 4x100 and 4x400 relays. He’s the only person to win the 100 and 400 in the NCAA championships in the same year.
Before his eye-opening 19.63 seconds in the 200 last year, his best was 20.05.
In high school, he was a star in football, basketball and track and went on to play wide receiver for two seasons at LSU.
This season has been a challenge. Carter, who’s 6-3 and 170 pounds, says he got a late start to training and gained weight. He went to Johnson City, Tenn., where his agent is based, in April to focus on track.
“I know I put myself in the hole by not doing some of the things I should have been doing to get myself prepared,” said Carter, who showed he’s in shape by winning the 200 against a field that included Spearmon, 100 world recordholder Asafa Powell, Crawford and Wariner in the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago. “I wasn’t aware that if I didn’t do those things I’d be as far back as I was.”
In Johnson City, the workouts were written by LSU coach Dennis Shaver and supervised by Gary Evans, who coached Carter in high school and helped with his training at LSU.
Carter also has run the 100 in 10.09 seconds and the 400 in 44.53.
“I’m strong at the end,” he said. “That takes heart to be behind and reach for something you’re not sure will be there. I’m training to be better at the start.”
Residence: Coral Springs, Fla.
Dix stole the show in the NCAA championships this month by winning the 100 and 200. He also ran on the winning 4x100 relay to lead Florida State to its second consecutive team title.
His 19.69 seconds in the 200 in May set a collegiate record. Now he’s focused on Ato Boldon’s collegiate 100 record of 9.90 after running 9.93 to win an NCAA title.
“That’s my only goal for the (national) meet,” Dix says. He is uncertain about running the 200 at this meet, calling it a “backup.”
Boldon says it would be a smart decision to compete in only the 100. “He’s got a lot of time ahead of him,” Boldon says.
Should he make the team in the 100, Dix says it’s not certain he’d run in this summer’s world championships after the long collegiate campaign. “That’s not something I’m looking forward to,” he says.
In 2005, he finished fourth in the 100 in the national championships but declined a spot in the relay pool for the world championships.
“He’s a different kid — a really good kid who’s a throwback,” Florida State coach Bob Braman says.
A junior, Dix hasn’t decided whether he’ll stay in school or turn pro early. “The first goal I have is graduating,” he says.
Says Braman, “He’s all about records, not about money.”
Residence: Fayetteville, Ark.
Gay had a breakthrough season in 2006, becoming the only person with a top-five all-time mark in the men’s 100 and 200. His times of 9.84 seconds in the 100 and 19.68 in the 200 are tied for fifth fastest in history.
He credits the improvement to finally being healthy after injuring his lower back and hamstring in 2004-05. “I knew once I had a completely healthy season, I’d be able to perform and run fast times,” he says.
The world record of 9.77 in the 100, held by Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, has been within Gay’s reach this spring. He has run wind-aided times of 9.76 and 9.79.
Ato Boldon, an Olympic 200 bronze medalist and now a television analyst, forecasts a great meet for Gay in Indianapolis.
“I could see him coming out of this meet with a 9.75 (a world record in the 100) and 19.65,” Boldon says. “I think he’s the future of the USA in both events. Him and Walter Dix.”
Clyde Hart, who coached 200 world recordholder Michael Johnson, picks Gay to win the 200. “You kind of lean to the one who’s the fastest 100-meter runner.”
Gay started sprinting in eighth grade in Lexington, Ky., inspired by his sister, Tiffany Gay, and his mother, Daisy Lowe, who also competed in the sport.
“I couldn’t win races in the 100 because my start was so bad,” Gay says. He has been working this year with Jon Drummond, who trained with Boldon and was an excellent starter.
Wallace Spearmon Jr.
Residence: Fayetteville, Ark.
Spearmon’s father, Wallace, won the 200 in the 1987 Pan American Games and finished fifth in his semifinal heat in the 1987 world championships.
The younger Spearmon has been building an impressive resume in the event. As a freshman at Arkansas, he won the 2004 NCAA title. The next year he finished second to Justin Gatlin in the world championships. Last year he won the 200 in the national championships and ran faster than 19.90 five times.
Gay and Spearmon are coached by Lance Brauman, who is serving a prison sentence on five counts related to paying athletes for work not performed while he was the coach at Barton County (Kan.) Community College.
Spearmon, 6-3, played football and basketball at Fayetteville High. He also competed in the long jump, triple jump and high jump.
Of the young quartet of Carter, Dix, Gay and Spearmon in the 200, Michael Johnson is most impressed with Spearmon, who races with a gold necklace clenched lightly in his teeth.
“He is the most consistent and has natural speed and endurance because he could move up and run a good 400,” Johnson says. “His race strategy, though, leaves questions. If he works on his strength and endurance more and adjusts his strategy to run the whole race, he could be very impressive.”