My predictions are out there, and I knew that there would be some disagreement. But then a wise man once said, "if everyone is thinking alike, someone isn’t thinking". So for those not understanding why we’re not thinking the same thing, I thought I would give a little insight into how I came to my conclusions.
Between now and the start of track and field in London, I’ll try to cover the sprints, middle distances/distances, hurdles, and field. Before I get started let me say again that IMHO this is going to be an upset fest before all is said and done. We have a large number of top level athletes entering London stadium with injuries and/or with minimal competition under their belts. We have a venue with weather that will be less than optimal. And we have only two athletes IMHO that are “unbeatable” this year: David Rudisha and Ashton Eaton – and one bad event could take out Eaton.
Do I expect my predictions to go according to plan 100%. No I don’t. I’ve said on more than one occasion that this meet is going to do anything but go according to form. It’s going to be what I call a transition Olympics – one where a lot of new faces make inroads and some old one’s finally get what they’ve been fighting for for so long. Which is why I’ve taken a few liberties here and there with a stretch or two or three.
But then that’s what predicting is all about. Not necessarily just taking a look at the yearly lists and going top to bottom, but trying to take a look at things like personal histories; competitive records; the conditions they will face; how the event may unfold in THIS meet; and the hardest of all desire, heart and human nature. In short if you’re really predicting you take a few risks. If you don’t you never win the NCAA Tournament bracket! So when I said I was going out on a limb, that’s exactly what I did. I don’t do things the way everyone else does, that’s not my style. I try to take a holistic approach to prognostication – look at everything I can and make MY own call. But my history is I get a lot more right than I do wrong – and I’ve never claimed to be perfect, just good. LOL.
As for “you take a US bent”. Of course I do – where I can. If I’m in a situation where I’m flipping a coin, it has Thomas Jefferson on both heads. But then those making that claim do exactly the same with their athletes. In the face of injury there are those that insist Bolt will win all three sprints. Or that Liu will run another WR. Or that Idowu will win gold at home. All are fine athletes, have won championships, set records and proven to be among the best at what they do. This is London, 2012 and injury takes the measure of every athlete during his or her career. That is part of the nature of the sport, and that will play a role in London.
So let’s take a look at the sprints. I’ve already done a full write up on the men’s 100. Given the field entering London – top four on the all time list, plus #8 – I thought it warranted special attention. It’s potential as a historical race aside, the 100 usually had heavy impact on both the 200 and 4×1. In a "normal" year we typically lose 200 sprinters to the 100 – tweaks, serious injuries, and fatigue the usual culprits. Look no further than Berlin ’09 when Tyson Gay withdrew from the 200 after running 9.71 in the 100 due to groin issues flaring up.
If Bolt is not 100 percent at the start of the 100, at the conclusion he could be facing the same decision Tyson Gay faced in ’09 – bypassing the deuce to help his team in the 4×1. Or worse withdrawing from the Games. A possibility in great weather, more probable in the cold and dampness of London. So while the deuce has already been weakened with the losses of Gay and Walter Dix, with Bolt’s health a question mark, he could be next on the list. That would leave Blake and Spearmon as the class of the field and one medal left – Spearmon’s loss in Monaco aside as it’s typical to have a poor race after crossing the pond.
And while Powell isn’t entered in the deuce, history says problems in the 100 remove him from the 4×1 – as that’s been his camp’s decision in the past with pay for play awaiting post Games. The 4×1 will be impacted by the health of sprinters coming out of the 100. Losing Powell, while it didn’t hurt last year in Daegu, could be very costly this year. A loss of both Powell and Bolt would be devastating to Jamaica’s fortunes. A full strength Blake and sub par Bolt could carry Jamaica to a medal, but gold is possible only if their top three are on the track, healthy, and passing well – which leaves the question how much relay work has been done with injured athletes rehabbing? The US already lost Mike Rodgers to injury, but he was slated for “B” squad duty. USA Red did run 37.61, but with two thirds shaky hand offs. Those must improve, because another dropped baton would be devastating.
How about the quarter? Merritt dropped out of Monaco with a "cramp". Looking at the race, I take that at face value – leaving Merritt as favorite. If it’s worse however, he could fall out of the medals, because this field is young and hungry. Kirani James, Tony McQuay, the Borlee twins, Luguelin Santos, and Bryshon Nellum being the most likely to be in the medal hunt. James and McQuay getting the nod from me as they have won big races already – Worlds for James, US Championships for McQuay. Together with Merritt, this trio is easily the strongest set of finishers on the track hands down. Anyone hoping to beat them and get to the podium will have to come off the final turn with a huge lead and hope to hold on. Santos seems to run easily, but this race should be in the 44.00 neighborhood, and I’m not sure his short stature will allow him to keep up with the bigger men. Ditto with the Borlee’s. If the race goes mid 44’s I think they have a chance, but if it drops closer to 44.00 that limits who has medal hopes.
While they don’t have anyone in contention in the open event, look for the Bahamas to make noise in the 4×4. They have four men capable of 44 high in the open event which gives them four solid legs in the relay. And note that if Merritt has more than a cramp and ends up out of the relay things tighten up a bit. McQuay has already shown to be able to go 44.0 on multiple occasions and should drop below in London. Someone else will have to step up to drop around 44.0/44.2 to keep us out front and out of harms way.
Now, how about the women? A very similar story to the men, as the top women have been somewhat up and down, and the 100 will set the stage for the rest of the meet. Early on Veronica Campbell Brown was the only Jamaican looking like an elite sprinter. Then at New York, Shelly Ann Fraser suddenly looked like the ’08 version blasting the field for a quick 10.92 before going to Trials and dropping 10.70. The 10.70 defeated VCB who was second in an SB 10.82 – and hasn’t run another 100 heading into the Games. Meanwhile, Fraser has run another, coming 8th in London after failing to get her customary blitz start and visibly throwing in the towel.
On the US front, Carmelita Jeter opened at 10.81; won a couple of minor races; then came third in the New York race (11.05) where she suffered a slight injury. She rebounded to win Trials inn 10.92, then came second in that London race to Blessing Okagbare. Joining Jeter in London are Allyson Felix, who has PR’d at 10.92; and Tianna Madison who has run 10.97 & 10.96 and split Jeter and Felix at Trials.
But the real surprise of the season has been Okagbare who beat Fraser, Jeter, and Madison in London, then put the smack down on the field in Monaco. As with the men, the false start rule will play a role – I think many forget that this will be the first Games with this rule in force. In this environment it’s the starters that are technically sound in the first third of the race with the advantage v those that depend on reaction. This race comes down to how quickly Fraser & Madison cover that first third v how close Jeter, Okagbare, and possibly Felix are at mid point. Advantage to the top finishers as I believe it will be difficult for the starters to get far enough out to hold them off a la Daegu.
The deuce will be every bit as exciting and interesting as the race was at US Trials. Interestingly enough, there are usually fewer drop outs in this event following the 100 than with the men – perhaps because they don’t develop the same stresses on their muscles that the men do. With that, Felix’ PR 21.69 makes her a clear favorite going in – especially given the way she ran the turn throughout the rounds. If she is close or ahead coming off the turn she is nearly unbeatable given her strength in the stretch.
The real question lies with her challengers. Double Olympic champion Veronica Campbell Brown has looked like anything but. While her 100 has looked good, her deuce has not. She enters London with a season’s best of only 22.38, and lost the Jamaican Trials big to Fraser running 22.42. Fraser in contrast ran 22.10 in that race for a new PR – improving her 22.15 that she ran for 4th at Trials in ‘08. Fraser is untested at this level in the event, not having run it previously at a Major.
Finishing second to Felix at US Trials was Carmelita Jeter in 22.11 – a PR for her as well. Jeter finished second in this event at Worlds in Daegu where she also won the 100 title – so has shown the ability to double at this level. Third at US Trials was Sanya Richards Ross in 22.22. She entered the meet with a WL 22.09, but found as Felix did last year that doubling in the 200/400 takes a bit out of the legs.
When all is said and done the key to this race is VCB. Felix, Jeter, and Fraser will be out. Typically so is VCB, but Fraser ran her even at Trials and out finished her in the stretch. She looked a bit sluggish in a loss at Luzern, but like Spearmon in Monaco, I’m attributing that more to jet lag than poor form. Still I’m not sure she’s ready to defend against Felix, but the fight for silver and bronze between she, Fraser & Jeter will be intense. I give the edge to Jeter and VCB having been here before – and VCB has the heart of a champion, she won’t go without a fight. If anyone blinks look for Richards Ross to slip in. The 400 will take a bit out of her legs which will prevent her from fighting with the leaders on the turn, but she’s strong enough to get there if anyone falters. The wild card could be Russian Aleksandra Fedoriva who PR’d at 22.19 at Russia’s Trials, but she has no other substantial history in the event.
Finally there is the women’s 400. This could be war. Russian Antonina Krivoshapka leads on the clock at 49.16. She was 5th in Daegu, 3rd in Berlin during her breakthrough season in the event. Right behind her on the clock is Sanya Richards Ross at 49.28 – easily the most experienced competitor in the field – 6th in Athens, 2nd Helsinki, 3rd Beijing, 1st in Berlin, and 7th in Daegu in an up and down season. Her conqueror in Daegu was Amantle Montsho who edged out Allyson Felix for the gold in a stirring stretch run. Similarly Beijing winner and defending Olympic champion Christine Uhuruogu also won with a strong stretch run – the same powerful run she used to win in Osaka the year before. Finally, earlier in the season Novlene Williams Mills looked to be a contender in this event with a win over Sanya in Kingston and another big win over Montsho in Shanghai.
The stretch run in this race is going to be brutal. If Richards Ross manages her race pattern she is the only one to run under 49, and her improvement in speed says she could improve on her PR 48.70 – giving her the advantage in this field. Montsho must stay close because this field is full of finishers. Krivoshapka should be out and will be the one to chase. And Ohuruogu, well there’s just something about her competitive nature in Majors. This trio should be fighting for two medals with one being left out. And if Mills is close she could slip in.
Relay wise, this should be about the US, Russia and Jamaica as they have the depth of quarter milers that others just don’t have. Next let’s look at the middle and long distances.