Reading through the news I noticed that currently the sports books have Usain Bolt as an overwhelming favorite to win 100 meter gold in London. While Bolt has earned the right to be considered favorite vis a vis his competitive record in the last four years, the Olympics is the place where miracles – or at least upsets – occur with regularity. One need look no further than Bolt himself who emerged from last place finish in the ’05 200 final, and a silver in the ’07 race, to double sprint gold – and double WRs – in Beijing.
Or how about the Seoul Games of ’88 where record holders and legends found themselves on the wrong end of several upsets. I have to start with Ben Johnson over Carl Lewis if only for the drama – drug suspension aside. But Carl was also upset in the deuce by Joe Deloach. Butch Reynolds, the man who destroyed the legendary 20 year old 400 WR, found himself needing a few extra meters as he fell just short of catching Steve Lewis for the gold. Or how about the man who ran 122 races in a row without a loss – 107 finals – Edwin Moses who finally lost in Seoul to Andre Phillips!
I watched Paul Ereng storm down the stretch of the 800 to defeat Joaquin Cruz – defending Olympic champion and only the 2nd human to run under 1:42! There was Paula Ivan stealing the 1500 with the field trailing some 50 meters + behind; and Australian Debbie Flintoff King defeating three East Germans and two Soviets in the 400 hurdles when the Eastern Bloc ruled the sport – and everyone else except Flo Jo in Korea. All of this in just a single Olympic Games! The moral of the story – anyone on any day especially in the Olympics.
So what does that mean for London? To me it means that no one is a lock and that I won’t be surprised to see anyone get less than gold when the competition is done. To prove it here are some "upsets" that I wouldn’t consider upsets if they happen.
Tyson Gay over Usain Bolt – 100 meters
I know the talk right now is about Bolt and Blake, and many are ready to write Tyson’s obituary. And I know that we’ll probably have NO idea about Tyson’s health or fitness until after the first round in Eugene. That said he’s only one of two men capable of opening at 9.7. I also know that his 9.69 was 9.5x with a semi decent start. SO, if he shows up to Eugene in one piece and makes it that way to London, I won’t be surprised if be evens the tally and defeats Bolt in London.
Yohan Blake over Usain Bolt – 200 meters
Now Tyson involves a few "ifs", this is simply a matter of both men getting to the final. Just as Gay’s 9.69 is etched in my mind, so is Blake’s 19.26! Without the blazing turn of MJ or Bolt he came that close to the WR! Now there is a world of difference between running with Dix on the turn and running with Bolt on the turn. But if Blake is close come the stretch, gold won’t shock me. (don’t laugh but a Spearmon win wouldn’t knock me for a loop either).
Carmelia Jeter over VCB & Felix – 200 meters
This race has been dominated by Allyson Felix and Veronica Campbell Brown for so long they should just just call it the Allyronica dash! And I’m sure that most consider one or the other the favorite for London. But Jeter looks like she’s starting to figure this race out. And with 10.63 speed could easily run sub22 if her speed endurance improves – possibly quite a bit under. If she should get an MJ ’96 turn in London, keeping her from gold might be a bit much even for Allyronica.
Christin Wurth Thomas over the field – 1500 meters
I know, she’s got to make the team first – against the strongest field in US history. But then no one is guaranteed passage to London, not even the favorites. That said, every time I see Christin run I get flash backs of Seoul and Paula Ivan. And if there’s anyone that could flat out steal a race it’s Christin Wurth Thomas. She almost pulled it off at Nationals last year and she’s had another year to get stronger. One of these races she’s not coming back to the field – and if it happens in London I won’t be shocked.
Abubaker Kaki over David Rudisha – 800 meters
David Rudisha is as certain a gold medalist as there is heading into London – the most dominating track athlete over the past couple seasons. He’s twice set the WR after it was unapproachable for over two decades. A bad race for Rudisha is a PR for most others. But right before Rudisha started his reign of terror, Kaki was setting the WJR at 1:42.69. Four years later he’s playing second fiddle to Rudisha – and he’s got to be tired. There’s nothing like being #2 to inspire an athlete. Quiet as it’s kept, Kaki is #5 all time and next in line for sub 1:42. He’s capable, and if he pulls it off I won’t be shocked. As a matter of fact I’m shocked he hasn’t done it yet.
Chaunte Lowe over Vlasic & Chicherova – high jump
Blanka Vlasic and Anna Chicherova are straight up studs – and Vlasic is full of “swag”. Chaunte just jumps high – but she doesn’t seem to fear swag! And that’s what makes her so tough – the lack of fear. Before taking maternity leave for most of last year, Lowe stared down Vlasic over and over in 2010, often going to count backs in her losses to Blanka. Lowe won’t blink and eventually will win the stare down. It could happen in London and I wouldn’t be surprised.
Ngoni Makusha over Phillips & Watt – long jump
Speed. In the long jump speed presents opportunity. It’s no wonder that some of the event’s best have had great speed. Carl Lewis, Larry Myrics and even Dwight Phillips were all world class sprinters at one point. That said, only Carl has a faster PR than Makusha’s 9.89 – his WR setting 9.86 World Champs win in’91! Combine that kind of speed with just one perfect, or near perfect plant off the board and you get Beamon ’68 or Powell ’91! Not too far fetched when you consider that Makusha was 4th in Beijing and 3rd last year in Daegu. A long 28 footer and a gold medal by Makusha in London and I wouldn’t bat an eye.
An Unknown over the field – men’s 400
There are some studs in the quarter right now . LaShawn Merritt, Kirani James, and Jeremy Wariner are the first names to roll off the tongue. But there’s something about the 400 that seems to make stars out of nobodies . Alberto Juantorena was not yet a star when he won in Montreal. Only track geeks probably remember Alonzo Babers. Steve Lewis was a prodigy who became a star in ’88. And both Wariner and Merritt rose from up and comers to legitimate stars with Olympic wins. Merritt, James and Wariner could form a formidable trio in London, but if a new name tops the podium it would simply be the normal course of Olympic history – and I wouldn’t be shocked.
There you have it. No sacred cows in London. Everyone is vulnerable. That’s why they run, jump, and throw – to see who wins. The best on the day kind of thing. And with the athletes that should be showing up in London, we should have a great time finding out who all the champions turn out to be. Now, maybe the start lists will be out and we can start looking at what Penn, Drake and a few others will look like this weekend .