Hope Rests With The Master

Lemaitre – The Great White Hope.

As of today, the second most popular post on this blog is Fastest White Man. Yes second, it still has some way to go before it surpasses the top post, Bear Grylls A Fraud!

Because of this, and because I haven’t posted anything for a while I’d thought that I would take another look at the Fastest White Man issue as there has been a recent change in the prospects of a sub 10 white sprinter.

Matt Shirvington

Not since Matthew Shirvington ran his 10.03s (which for me is the fastest a white man has ever run) has there been such a resurgence in interest a white man breaking the 10s barrier. The reason? A 19 year old Frenchman by the name of Christophe Lemaitre recently won the 100m at the European Athletics Junior Championships with a new European Junior record of 10.04s.

Only two men under 20 years old have ever run faster – Darrel Brown and Yohan Blake. Darrel Brown ran 10.01s aged 19, today aged 24, his PB is 9.99s. Making a Lemaitre sub 10s seem possible.

But when you consider that a 19 year old Brown (and Lemaitre) ran faster than Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Maurice Greene and Usain Bolt at the same age, yet his PB is only 9.99s (compared to 9.77s, 9.72s, 9.79s and 9.69s respectively), you realise that being fast at a certain age is not a reliable indicator of future ability.

For example, Tyson Gay is the fastest man of the year so far, with a time of 9.77s. Aged 19 the best he could run was 10.28s, but he has improved quite a bit since then.

The fastest 19 year old in the world is currently Yohan Blake of Jamaica. He’s a training partner of Usain Bolt and his PB is 9.93, which he ran last month.

The White Master

Perhaps this explains Collio’s sudden rise in form?

Even so all eyes will be on the ungainly runner come Berlin as he is the closest white man for over a decade to the magic 10s barrier. Like Bolt, who is 6’4″, Lemaitre is tall for a sprinter, standing 6’3″ and much was made of Bolt’s height at the Olympics last year as being the basis for his amazing speed. Lemaitre’s fans are hoping that he can use his height in a similar way to Bolt.

As a comparison, Gay is 5’11”, Powell is also 6’3″, Greene 5″9′, Bailey 6′, Lewis 6’3″ and Linford Christie was 6’2″, clearly there aren’t many short, top class sprinters.

Lemaitre is already No.5 on the white all time list, at least technically, but if you remove Woronin’s dubious time and those run at altitude, Lemaitre (whose nickname is Lemaitre blanc – The White Master) is the second fastest white man ever.

This wave of expectation is further aided by the fact that the white all time top ten has had another two entrants this summer. The apparently ageless Simone Collio, who ran a new PB of 10.06s, despite being in his 30th year, placing him 7th (or 3rd) on the all time list, and Ramil Guliyev who ran 10.08s to enter the list at 10 (or 6th).

The White Top 10 6

  1. 10.00 (+2.0) Marian Woronin (POL) 09.06.1984 – Dubious
  2. 10.01A (0.0) Pietro Mennea (ITA) 04.09.1979 – Altitude
  3. 10.03A (0.0) Nicolas Macrozonaris (CAN) 03.05.2003 – Altitude
  4. 10.03 (-0.1) Matthew Shirvington (AUS) 17.09.1998
  5. 10.04 (0.20) Christophe Lemaitre (FRA) 24.07.2009
  6. 10.06A (+2.0) Johan Rossouw (RSA) 23.04.1988 – Altitude
  7. 10.06 (+1.2) Simone Collio (ITA) 27.012009
  8. 10.06 (+1.9) Frank Emmelmann (GDR) 22.09.1985
  9. 10.07 (±0.0) Valeriy Borzov (UKR) 31.08.1972
  10. 10.08 (+1.3) Ramil Guliyev (AZE) 13.06.2009

Many see this as the summer a white man will belatedly break 10.00s. Although in reality any such feat is likely to be overshadowed by Gay Vs Bolt and most likely a new World Record. A white man breaking the 10.00s barrier and still not making it past the Semi’s isn’t likely to get much press.

EJCH Novi Sad 2009 – M-100m Final Christophe Lemaître 10.04 EJR

In all likelihood, Berlin, like Beijing last year, is not going to be anything special for white sprinters, but the prospects of  a white sub 10.00s look better for Berlin next week than they have for a long time, add to that the Bolt Vs Gay showdown, possible new world records etc and it should be an interesting World Championships.

13 responses to “Hope Rests With The Master

  1. I certainly agree that success at an early age is no reliable predictor of mature sprint performance.

    Coaching is really underrated in track and field and is relevant here. Look at Glenn Mills’ training group.

    Yes, yes, yes, everyone will talk about the possibility/probability of pharmaceutical aids in connection to them.
    But even if there is truth to those insinuations, thousands upon thousands of athletes have taken PEDs and not seen the kind of improvements you see there.

    That murky issue – which has been murky since the introduction of anabolic steroids into the world of athletics in the late 1950s – makes it hard for me to discount times because of rumored or confirmed usage.

    Yes, Ben Johnson was on PEDs…but so was most of the rest of the 1988 Seoul final. Ben was just caught sooner. The high-profile drug busts (and the quiet discoveries) have followed in the two successive decades.

    The point I’m making rather long-windedly is that Bolt is going to do some remarkable things, his training partners will do very very well, people will talk about them being on something, and even if they are right, it will all be quite spectacular anyway.

    Their programs are somewhat mysterious, which is a shame for people who’d love to know, but that makes it all sort of fun.

    They’ve got a great plan that has translated early success into truly international success. In an event as finely-tuned as the 100 meters, it takes deep understanding to not only not screw things up but to actually improve things.

    Now, Lemaitre very well could wind up being a 10.04 lifetime runner – if things are screwed up for him by whoever’s working with him.

    Shirvington (and no, I’m not a world-class coach – – – but I have some idea what overtraining is, what CNS fatigue is, and how these things affect sprinting in both the short and long term) was ground into the dirt by a brutal regimen that no one (and certainly not a 20 year old) could hope to escape from injury-free.

    From what I’ve seen, people who “peak” very early in sprinting are generally just the victims of bad luck (freak injuries, financial issues/political issues as has been the case in many poorer countries, etc) or stupidity (their coaches, their country’s or their own).

    I hope Lemaitre and Guliyev don’t run into either of these problems, just as I hoped Bolt didn’t (and hope he continues to improve).

    Berlin should be great for the sprints. I’d think that if any of the “whites” go under 10 they would certainly make the semis (I very much doubt there has been a set of exclusively sub10 semis) , but maybe you were being hyperbolic.

    • Well spotted, I meant to put ‘not making it past the semi’s’, as I think that 10.03s was the slowest time in Beijing last year for the final and believe it will be even faster this year.

      I agree about the drugs. It certainly has tarnished the sport, and I also assume that everyone is on something, so as not to be disappointed when they are caught. I don’t think that there has been a clean final for a very long time.

      The 1988 final is a good example. Johnson was vilified, and Lewis and Christie held up as examples of what true 100m athletes should be like, when in reality they were all doping.

      Almost makes you feel sorry for Johnson, almost.

      It is going to be an interesting 100m in Berlin however even though I know most are cheats.

      You might be right about Shirvington, he has had a lot of injuries. I just find it odd that it seems to be white sprinters that peak early (usually at junior level) but not black sprinters.

      • I guess one would need an exhaustive set of data to determine whether the early peaking for whites is genetic/physiological or a result of trends in training.

        I believe the history of sprinting shows a gradual increase in training age for high performance overall – sprinters were previously recording PBs at ages 21/22 (and this was therefore the age people believed one “peaked”), now it seems to be anywhere between 25-30.

        I’ve read that reactivity levels peak around 22 and strength peaks at around 30, so it would seem logical that sprinting (which seems hinged on maximizing both) would occur sometime between these ages.

        Now, whether further advances in training, nutrition, pharmaceuticals, and health can push the latter category (strength peak) any older is something I am completely ignorant of.

        One problem with what you’re after (and I suppose I am too, now) in evaluating peaks of elite-level white sprinters is simply that there are so few of them. Our sample size is so small that I’m not sure what we can make of it.

        Plus, we get into a hazy discussion about race – what does Patrick Johnson count as if he is 1/2 Aboriginal, 1/2 white? Maurice Greene is biracial to some extent; if it were as large as 1/2 white, 1/2 black, does he count as white, black, or simply biracial? Is Guliyev “white”? People like Koji Ito or Shingo Suetsgo often get included in the white category (though maybe only by the caste-footballers) .

        Once we determine our preconditions, we look at the results and what affected them

        How much did the rigorous steroid program of Borzov and his contemporaries affect his post-PR performance?

        Prima facie, this would seem to be a plus to future sprinting rather than a minus. I don’t know enough about his cycles in particular or to PEDs in general to say much on this topic.

        [Note on Borzov: if we’re crossing out altitude records (as you’ve done above), than Borzov should be counted as the WR-holder for quite a long period of time based on his non-altitude 10.07. Disallowing this because of the probability of drugs seems unfair based on above allowance about PEDs role in the sport. In any case, he was a dominant sprinter who probably wished the two Americans had actually not been misled as they were in the drama around the 1972 100meter finals – I’m sure he wasn’t fond of that asterix.]

        Maybe the Soviet machine over-trained him early on in the literal race for dominance over the West. Maybe he just hit a physical peak.

        Macrozonis is someone I don’t know too much about. His time was at altitude but he was pretty young when it happened and seemed primed to meet that sort of time at sea-level. He had some injuries and I’ve heard a lot about the incompetence of the national Canadian athletics organization BUT I really don’t know enough to comment.

        Mennea was 27 when he hit his PRs in the 100 and 200, at altitude. The 100 still looks impressive in comparison to what others were running at that time. The 200, though outside our current discussion, was truly exceptional (even if it should have been broken much earlier than it was).
        At 27, he “peaked” later than the rest and seems more modern in that respect than most sprinters of his era.

        Woronin was 28 at his PR.
        Was it dubious because he never approached that time before or after?

        That’s a tough thing to put on an athlete – Michael Johnson went 19.66 and 19.32 in 1996 but rarely even got below 19.9 before or after. Bob Beamon was a great long jumper before 8.90 in Mexico City but he never got close again nor was he in that realm before.

        An exceptional one-off single performance or season that someone never repeats doesn’t mean it never happened. In Beamon’s case, the right combination of luck, wind, and altitude pushed him 2 feet further than ever before. In Johnson’s case, relentless speed endurance work, Hart’s brilliant peaking program, and a once-in-his-lifetime effort put him not only under 19.7, 19.6, 19.5, but under 19.4. It really happened, despite him not being in that range previously or later.

        I watched a video clip of Woronin running 10.28 in a quarterfinal. The site this clip is on mentions that he runs sort of like Borzov and I agree. He’s very smooth but runs with very low knee lift that looks (to my uneducated eye) to limit his stride length. He shuts down with 15-20 meters to go, so he appears to be in 10.18 – 10.14 shape here. In that range, a very good day could very well put him around the 10.00 mark, IMO.

        I have no idea who Rossouw is and the internet seems to be sort of ignorant too. A perfect wind and altitude means he was probably just a very good sprinter, though not elite, sprinter of his day who got lucky and I’m not sure I’d look too deeply into it.

        Emmelman was 24 for his PR. He got a nice wind for his PB and might never have had that sort of help to get him to that point at anytime before or later. That is, perhaps that wasn’t his “true peak”, but merely his best time and does not reflect his true flat-wind capabilities of that point in his career. Or maybe 24, while still on the young side of the 22-30 spectrum we’re talking about, really was just his time.

        Collio might have adjusted his training or might simply be a reflection of the increased training age in the modern era I was discussing (see also: Patrick Johnson, Dwain Chambers). He’s the oldest on the “white” list and could conceivably still improve this year (or next, or the one after, etc.)

        If we count this top-10 as being elite-level —- and I would for some of the 1980s guys and I would for Guilyev, Shirvington, and Lemaitre considering their ages, but probably not Collio, Rossouw, or Macrozonis (relative worth of times) —- it’s hard to draw any hard conclusions about age of “peak performance”.

        When you look at sub-elite it becomes a much more formidable task but maybe filled with more answers.

        People like Pickering favor your speculation.

        He’s an interesting case and I feel bad for him. He’s been saddled with so much expectation by a nation that wants a sprint hero, by the many many other people who want an elite white sprinter, and by his own early high marks. He seems genuine in his opposition to PEDs in the midst of an athletics culture that tacitly endorses them but simply has not improved lately, despite a consistently good effort this year.

        Anyway, this is a retardedly long post. I just wanted to say that I’m not sure if the top-10 white list has much to say about relative ages of peaking and that more answers might lie in the sub-elite category.

        It is in this category that I think more might also be said about non-west(or sub-saharan, as you pointed out) african runners via examining relative proportions.

        There are many more immediately sub-elite black sprinters than white, but there are still some of the latter.
        Does the proportion of the former to the latter remain consistent at the elite level – if we have 1 non-ssafrican runner in the sub10 range to 68 ssaffrican, is the ratio something similar in the 10.05 to 10.25 range? How about in the 10.25 to 10.50 range?

  2. Thanks for the comment Stylee, and some interesting points.

    Regarding Borzov, Jim Hines also ran a 10.03s time in 68 that wasn’t at altitude, so Borzov wouldn’t have had the world record but still a good time for the era.

    As for peaking, I was reading something about Allan Wells the other day where he pointed out that in his day athletes tended to peak at one specific point in the season, usually the major championship, and no amount of training or preparation could change that. He was amazed that athletes today can break records at any point in the season, so maybe there is more to this than simply peaking at a certain age, the whole issue of form and peaking seems to have changed.

    It definitely seems that other than Woronin, the fastest white men all ran their PBs at an early age.

    As for the sub elite, it is difficult to get any information on any athletes in such a category. Most lists only record the elite sprinters (and they are normally the only ones that people remember). I have tried it with British sprinter’s (most of whom would be considered sub-elite) times but only with a small sample:

    The Top 10 White British Sprinters

    Allan Wells – PB: 10.11s – Age 28
    Craig Pickering – PB: 10.14s – Age 19
    Ian Mackie – PB: 10.17s – Age 21
    Cameron Sharp –  PB: 10.20s – Age 25
    Elliot Bunney – PB: 10.20s – Age 20
    Allyn Condon – PB: 10.21 – Age 24
    Nick Smith – PB: 10.28s – Age 21
    Peter Radford – PB: 10.29s – Age 18
    Dougie Walker – PB: 10.31s – Age 23
    Toby Box – PB: 10.32s – Age 22

    Average age: 22.1. It’s not a perfect list, I may have missed some, and its not exactly a big sample (I had intended 25, but the longer the list the more unfamiliar the names became), but it gives an idea. Only Craig Pickering is still running.

    10 Black British Sprinters (Starting from 10.11s)

    Christian Malcolm – PB: 10.11s – Age 22
    Darren Braithwaite – PB: 10.12s – Age 26
    John Regis – PB: 10.15s – Age 26
    Rikki Fifton – PB: 10.16s – Age 22
    Mike McFarlane – PB: 10.22s – Age 26
    Tim Abeyie – PB: 10.22s – Age 23
    Leevan Yearwood – PB: 10.22s – Age 20
    Marcus Adam – PB:10.23s – Age 23
    Jason John – PB: 10.23s – Age 23
    Terry Williams – PB: 10.23 – Age 25

    Average age: 23.6. This one is trickier as three are still running and young enough to get new PBs. But take away Fifton, Abeyie and Yearwood, who are still running and it is: 24.4.

    The same problem with the Top 10 Black Sprinters, six of the ten are still running and four are under 27, but the average there is 24.1. The average for those that have retired is slightly different at 25. Not conclusive proof or even evidence, but certainly indicative.

    Woronin was 28 at his PR. Was it dubious because he never approached that time before or after? …Michael Johnson went 19.66 and 19.32 in 1996 but rarely even got below 19.9 before or after. Bob Beamon was a great long jumper before 8.90 in Mexico City but he never got close again nor was he in that realm before.

    I see what you’re saying, but it is different for the 100m, times tend to be pretty consistent among the top athletes. That said, it does not appear to be the same with the top white athletes.

    A poster gave this list on Caste Football and another one comparing it to black athletes (which has been removed), he’s subsequently been banned, but hopefully he won’t mind me putting it here.

    10.00 – Marian Woronin’s next 9 fastest times were: 10.11, 10.14, 10.14, 10.15, 10.16, 10.17, 10.17, 10.19, 10.19

    10.01 – Pietro Mennea’s next 9 fastest times were: 10.15, 10.15, 10.18, 10.19, 10.19, 10.20, 10.22, 10.24, 10.24

    10.03 – Nicolas Macrozonaris’s second fastest ever time was a 10.13.

    10.06 – Frank Emmelmann’s next 9 fastest times were: 10.17, 10.18, 10.19, 10.19, 10.20, 10.21, 10.21, 10.21, 10.21

    10.07 – Valeriy Borzov’s next 9 fastest times were: 10.14, 10.14, 10.14, 10.16, 10.20, 10.21, 10.27, 10.27, 10.27

    10.08 – Geir Moen’s next 9 fastest times were: 10.17 10.18 10.20 10.20 10.20 10.23 10.24 10.32 10.32

    So maybe all white sprinters have one amazing race outside of their norm. Perhaps I was a bit too hasty judging Woronin, as most have the same gap in their two best times. That said, it was on his home track at his national championships, if it wasn’t for that I’d probably believe it.

    I remember once seeing Linford Christie left in the blocks at the national championships, he assumed it was a false start; it wasn’t. But when the starter saw Christie still in his blocks, he fired again, making it a false start. The other athletes weren’t happy, but that is one of the perks of being a national hero.

    I’m still not sure of Woronin’s time, but comparison with the other top whites certainly gives it more credibility.

    It is worth also noting that Shirvington is the only exception to this, and the only white sprinters to have gone sub-10.1 more than once.

    Compare that to the top black athletes that have retired:

    9.79 – Maurice Greene’s next 9 fastest times were: 9.80, 9.82, 9.85, 9.86, 9.86, 9.87, 9.87, 9.89, 9.90

    9.84 – Donovan Bailey’s next 9 fastest times were: 9.91, 9.91, 9.91, 9.93, 9.93, 9.94, 9.95, 9.96, 9.97

    9.84 – Bruny Surin’s next 9 fastest times were: 9.89, 9.92, 9.95, 9.96, 9.97, 9.97, 10.02, 10.02, 10.02

    9.85 – Leroy Burrell’s next 9 fastest times were: 9.88, 9.90, 9.94, 9.94, 9.96, 9.96, 9.96, 9.97, 10.00

    9.86 – Carl Lewis’ next 9 fastest times were: 9.92, 9.93, 9.93, 9.93, 9.93, 9.96, 9.96, 9.97, 9.97

    9.86 – Frankie Fredericks’ next 9 fastest times were: 9.87, 9.89, 9.90, 9.91, 9.93, 9.93, 9.94, 9.94, 9.95

    Even if you throw in a couple of older athletes:

    10.03 – Jim Hines’ next eight best times: 10.08, 10.11, 10.14, 10.23, 10.26, 10.31, 10.32, 10.38

    10.03 – Silvio Leonard’s next eight best times: 10.03, 10.08, 10.08, 10.10, 10.11, 10.13, 10.15, 10.15, 10.15

    9.93 – Calvin Smith’s next 9 best times: 9.97, 9.97, 9.99, 10.04, 10.04, 10.05, 10.05, 10.06, 10.07

    The results show far greater consistency with black athletes. Of course if Woronin’s time was real, that would mean that a white athlete has already run a sub 10 race. Ignoring Woronin’s 10s, his next best was 10.11s, the same as Wells. Wells has also run a 10s flat, the year before Moscow. But he had a 6.8m/s wind. So I am still not convinced. Even so it looks as though white athletes may only have one real chance of running sub 10, Lemaitre may well have already had his.

  3. Charlie,
    I don’t think you can qualify or are qualified in your assertion that Woronin’s 10.00 run with 2.0 wind is dubious. Obviously the maximum allowable wind is present and can make a substantial difference. Using the recognised tool, 10.00s with 2.0mps wind is equivalent to 10.1 in nil wind conditions: Woronin has a fair number of 10.1x times.!!

    • Thanks riconb,

      I am not disputing that he could run it with the right wind, rather that the wind was +2.0. He may have had a few 10.1s but in the national championships? Seems a bit like overkill to me.

      The same year Donovan Reid won the UK championship in a time of 10.42s, beating Linford Christie into second place.

      The year before Calvin Smith had won in 10.30s, beating Allan Wells!

      Yet Woronin was running 10.00s?

  4. Thanks for the analysis of the British sub-elites (and I think we both understand how arbitrary this designation is, but it’s required for the discussion).

    That certainly tips things in favor of what you’re saying, at least among that sample group.

    I’d love to do the same with white Americans but it’s terribly tough to find any recent good times by that group.

    In the 200, there was Kevin Little in the 1990s, and of course Wariner and Andrew Rock in the 400, but the American “great white hope” is conspicuously absent from the 100 meters in the last 3 decades. (? anything to suggest otherwise ?)

    The Matt Brunos, Casey Combests, etc., seem to have hit the top of their career arcs in their late teens, earlier even than your British list. Combest was into drugs (not ones that enhanced performance either), if I recall correctly.

    But one would think that a country as big as this one could put out more than 2 or 3 10.2 white guys every 2 decades.

    I remember a guy named Dallas Robinson last year who, at age 25, exploded into near-elite times in the indoor sprints after having not run for the previous 3 or 4 years. He was a big web sensation on the sprinting sites he frequented and people were expecting big things out of him…until he inexplicably changed coaching staff and sustained a bunch of injuries.

    This is one example/exception of a guy who was improving well after that early point.

    I don’t like to get into speculation regarding the dearth of white American sprinters when compared with, say Italians, Irish? (Gillick and Hession) or now even Frenchman because I will indubitably be associated with those ridiculous caste-footballers [for the record, I don’t believe it’s PED related at all]. That’s beside the point, really.

    I’m just wondering if data on white American sprinters gives more credence to your hypothesis or not.

    Another interesting thing to look at would be powerlifters’ ages and their PRs. The relationship between the two sports is obviously not one-to-one but there’s enough similarity to make it relevant.

    • I also couldn’t find any information on US white sprinters, or even international sub-elite white sprinters as it gets very difficult with people you have never heard of trying to find out who was white/black etc.

      I thought about looking at the Australian all time list or the Italian or Greek, as they are also mostly white, but I can’t find any information for them either.

      He’s an interesting case and I feel bad for him. He’s been saddled with so much expectation by a nation that wants a sprint hero, by the many many other people who want an elite white sprinter, and by his own early high marks. He seems genuine in his opposition to PEDs in the midst of an athletics culture that tacitly endorses them but simply has not improved lately, despite a consistently good effort this year.

      I also feel sorry for Pickering, he has gone from our No.1 up and coming sprinter to an also ran in just a few seasons.

      It also can’t help his confidence that his long time rival, and the athlete he has always been ahead of up until 2007, Simeon Williamson, is going to Berlin, but he isn’t. On the plus side I don’t think that Dwain Chambers is going to do well this year, he didn’t like being beaten by Williamson at the national championships and if Williamson gets further in Berlin I think he will retire. His ego is too big to cope well with being No.2. That at least will give Pickering more chance in the British team, although there is still Edgar, Williamson, Aryeetey, Dasaolu and Devonish a head of him.

      I am also not sure that Pickering has the mental toughness to cope with this season and bounce back.

  5. I don’t say Guliyev or Lemaitre will go sub 10. But they are running fast times smoothly and seemingly within themselves. I looked at Macrozonaris and Shirvington, and although they’ve run quite fast times have never looked smooth or within themselves. These two white guys definately look like naturals compared to other white ‘sprinters’ i’ve seen whithin the last 15 years or more.

    • It’ll be interesting to see if they go sub 10.1 again. If they do that, then they may have something. As yet only Shirvington has done it.

      I agree Lemaitre does look smooth, I haven’t seen Guliyev run yet though.

  6. 10’09 for his first 100m of the season

    He is in good shape.

    sub-10 maybe for this summer

    Bye !

    • Shit! It looks as though I may have to eat my words if he carries on like this.

      I haven’t seen it on any official lists yet, but I think that would be the third fastest of the year so far, even faster than Yohan Blake.

  7. he did it, you should update your blog 🙂

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