In the northern hemisphere, autumn beckons.
The long, hot days of summer have faded and the cool air of the night is brisk, though welcome. It's a time for chimney-checking and firewood stacking.
If track and field truly has a time of respite, this would be it. Time to rest, reflect, re-focus, and re-fuel...for most of us.
Even as I write, high school and collegiate cross country teams are already well into their season. And marathoners, true to their name, never seem to quit.
However, with the closing ceremonies of last Friday's pre-championship meet in Daegu, South Korea, the track and field season unofficially ended.
Looking back, it was a remarkable season indeed. The post-Olympic year is typically a down year, but just when the sport needed it most, athletes came through with Olympian-esque performances which left us stunned—and expectant for the season to come.
Without a World Chamionship in 2010 and the London Games nearly three years away, track and field will need some help in its quest to regain significance among sporting fans.
- Promoters must arrange the most tantalizing matchups possible. When the top two or three athletes in any event are in direct competition, people notice. Additionally, under these conditions, excellent marks are usually the result.
- Athletes, agents and governing bodies must continue to polish the image of the sport. The mishandling of sensitive gender, race and doping issues tarnished an otherwise stellar season in 2009.
- Media must respond. Aside from Usain Bolt's undeniable feats, mainstream media missed a ground-floor opportunity to capitalize on the remarkable exploits of other stars—and the recaptured attention of former fans returning to the fold.
- Athletes must seize the moment. The conditions and environment are ripe for greatness. Except in only a very few events, domination by one athlete is no longer an issue. Competition is keen, as young athletes push the veterans. A few world records in the next two years would do wonders for the sport.
Let us look ahead to some major areas where we should expect to see some outstanding performances:
Usain Bolt. Every time he steps into the blocks, the world holds its breath. And now, talk of running the 400 meters and eventually the long jump? The scary part is that Bolt was not in peak condition in 2009. Away from the track, Bolt is the sport's greatest ambassador, in the mold of Meadowlark Lemon or Muhammad Ali.
Bolt's closest competitor is American sprinter Tyson Gay, who came on strong in the late season despite a painful groin injury. Gay is not getting any younger, and probably sees 2010 as his best opportunity to show the world what he's got. After surgery this offseason, the groin should not be a problem—or an excuse. (To Gay's credit, he never once used the injury as an excuse.)
Former world record-holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica battled injuries this year as well. A healthy and conditioned Powell has the ability to run faster. He's the x-factor.
Hopefully, we will see Bolt and Gay compete in the 200 meters in 2010 as well.
For the women, American Carmelita Jeter, like Gay, peaked when all others faded at the end of the season. She established herself as the second-fastest woman in history, behind only the legendary Flo-Jo. In 2010, she will be the woman to beat.
In the 400 meters, Leshawn Merritt (men) and Sanya Richards (women) show no signs of relinquishing their American stronghold.
In the absence of Cuba's Dayron Robles and China's Liu Xiang, Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados conveniently established himself as king in the men's 110 meter hurdles. Robles and Liu, with American Terrence Trammell will return in 2010 to provide a very interesting rivalry in that event.
Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele dominates the 5,000 and 10,000 meter races. Some of his finishes in 2009 have been nail-biters, at least to those outside looking in. One gets the feeling Bekele, out of boredom, sometimes toys with his competition. He runs with a smile. In 2010, we'll once again ask, "Can anyone really challenge him?"
One of the most intriguing and exciting rivalries of 2009 came in the men's shot put. Poland's Thomasz Majewski and USA's Christian Cantwell always seemed to draw attention to their event. One would leap-frog the other with seemingly every throw—and this happened in numerous meets. They truly are the cream of the crop and promise much excitement in 2010.
The women have captivated the pole vault crowd in recent years. Yes, the skimpy attire and pretty faces have drawn the worldwide audience in, but the performances and drama has kept them entranced.
Most of that drama has centered on the queen, Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia. When she plants her pole, fans are not wondering "will she win?" They wonder "will she set yet another world record?"
She stumbled in Berlin at the worlds, failing to even medal, but came right back the next week with a world record. Poland's Anna Rogowska threatens to emerge from Isi's shadow in 2010.
Again, it's been the women making the headlines in this event—notably one woman, Blanka Vlasic of Croatia. She has been creeping closer and closer to the world record, falling a silly centimeter short in 2009 at 2.08 meters. It's only a matter of time. Will that time be in 2010?
This has been only a brief discussion of the highlights to expect in Track and Field for 2010. Much more comprehensive analysis has been done elsewhere. Please search the net for more detail—and expect great things next year!
"Rojo's Roundup" itself will now take a respite from a fantastic season. The track and field community at Bleacher Report has responded beautifully to a great season, with your literary contributions and excellent commentary. We had several AOTDs emerge from the wonderful writers here.
Please continue to check in for updates and any breaking news. And contribute an article anytime. The indoor season is right around the corner.
Now, Rojo has some wood to chop...
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