In my latest article at Runner's Tribe I look at the debuts of Shalane Flanagan and Brett Gotcher and wonder as to just how much we can predict about an athlete's future success based on their debut performances. Here's a snippet and the little slideshow I embedded in the article:
The fact is, we're only really concerned with two types of debuts: the Superstar Debut and the Overachiever Debut. The Superstar Debut matters because the athlete has already proven herself over the course of her career at other distances, and built up an expectation of excellence. Most debuts we remember are Superstar Debuts. They are recognized by their publicly announced date, fervent debate as to what to expect, and generally, a slight feeling of letdown after the fact. Flanagan's debut in Houston is a great example of this.
The Overachiever Debut comes about a different way. The athlete is usually known or recognized in a general sense, but does not have high expectations placed on his debut performance going into it. He then goes out and runs a time nobody thought possible. It's not the case that he has actually overachieved, of course, as that would imply he performed better than he was actually capable and that's impossible. But the fact that he surpassed expectations so greatly makes his debut something to celebrate. Brett Gotcher's marathon provides us with a fantastic example of this.
Of course, there is also the extremely rare Superstar Overachiever Debut, in which everyone excitedly awaits the performance and yet the athlete still manages to exceed expectations. A couple examples of this include Ryan Hall's 59:43 AR half marathon debut and Alan Webb's 27:34 10k debut in which he outkicked Dathan Ritzenhein. I'd probably include German Fernandez's 3:56.5 indoor mile debut as well. These performances were so stunning that they completely shifted expectations of what we thought the athlete was capable of in the future. Many of us were hoping to see this from Shalane, but she opted to play it safe (hence the slight feeling of letdown).
For fun, I put together my Top 10 US Debuts of the past decade. These were the races that made me sit up and say, "Wow".