The Games are well under way, and I’m bored out of my mind! With the time difference between here (West Coast) and London, there is nothing going on after early afternoon West Coast time. Plenty of time to review the day’s activities and get ready for action on "the big screen". Except that in spite of having a full day to prepare, the Prime Time package that’s been put together by NBC so far has been less than inspiring. I can only hope that the events of track and field are exciting enough on their own to translate better to the screen than have Olympic staples swimming and gymnastics have so far.
I have a few suggestions for NBC on how to do a better job of televising track and field, but first here are a dozen events that I am looking forward to that I think will be so exciting that not even NBC can screw them up.
1. Men’s 100 meters – This race has EVERYTHING! The defending champion and WR holder – Usain Bolt. Another previous champion – Justin Gatlin. The current World champion – Yohan Blake. Another previous World champion – Tyson Gay. The five fastest men ever – Bolt, Gay, Asafa Powell, Blake, and Gatlin. Bolt recently injured, potentially healthy, but working out in closed sessions. Gay returning from surgery in ’11. Gatlin two years removed from suspension. Powell never better than fifth in two previous Olympics. And the last three men to defeat Bolt at this distance – Blake, Gay, and Powell. Pick a story line and run with it, because there are several ways that this one can play out. I’m not sure we’ll really know how well some of these men are going to do until the semis – but I think the semis and final are going to be among the best in Olympic history.
2. Women’s 200 meters – The anticipation for this race would be enough with two time defending champion Veronica Campbell Brown taking on two time runner up, and three time World champion Allyson Felix. Especially give that VCB turned the tables on Felix at the World championships. But it gets better, because last year’s 100 meter World champion, Carmelita Jeter moved up to take silver on this event and qualified for London. This year, defending Olympic 100 meter champion, Shelly Ann Fraser moved up and defeated VCB at Jamaican Trials. And as if things weren’t crowded enough, American 400 record holder Sanya Richards Ross moved down to make the team here as well. This event is usually a “left over” from the 100 meters, but this time around I think it may out do the 100 for excitement and depth. This could produce an Atlanta ‘96 moment in terms of sheer excitement!
3. Men’s 800 meters – Normally I wouldn’t be excited about what should be a rout. After all WR holder David Rudisha has already run under 1:42 twice this season and only Abubaker Kaki has ever run under 1:43 among the challengers – and he appears to be no where near that form. That said, Rudisha is almost certain to set a new OR, and there’s the chance that if he gets in a groove we could see an historical WR under 1:41, because even with inclement weather I think the man capable in anything short of a storm! Oh yeah, the race behind him should provide excitement as well with several 1:43 types in pursuit of hardware. The medals are wide open and it really depends on who’s hot when the gun goes off. So a fast race in front and a free for all for the medals – that could be very exciting.
4. Women’s 1500 – I enjoy this race because outside of championship running it’s like a game of checkers – jump out to a quick lead; clear the board; and be first to finish off your opponent. But in championship settings it’s more like a game of chess – watch to see what your opponents do; put yourself in position to strike; then make a decisive move and head for home! This year’s field has a lot of great checkers players with no less than a dozen women running under 4:00 this year. The question is who will play the best game of chess, because that is how Olympic medals are won. Look no further than both the men’s and women’s races at Worlds last year where unknown quantities won medals and in the case of the women won the race. Look for a very exciting final last lap.
5. Men’s Triple Jump – Field event competitors get multiple attempts – and there is nothing more exciting than watching a great field event competition where a battle of “one up man ship” takes place. Long jump battles like , Carl Lewis v Larry Myricks San Jose ’87, Lewis v Myricks Indianapolis ’88, and Lewis v Mike Powell Tokyo ’91 all come to mind. Christian Taylor and Will Claye have shown a propensity for similar head to head theatrics – and I expect to see more of the same in London. Throw in a bit of international seasoning with Russian Lyukman Adams, Italian Fabrizio Donato, possibly Ukrainian Sheryf El Sheryf – and an obiglatory Cuban as they tend to come through in big meets – and this event should provide some fireworks. I just hope that NBC actually spends some time in the field.
6. Women’s Pole Vault – For much of her career the two time defending Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva has been nearly invincible – two Olympic golds, two World golds, four indoor titles, fifteen outdoor WR’s and thirteen indoor WR’s. One doesn’t get much more dominating than that. But “Isi” hasn’t been the same since setting a WR in the ‘09 season. She took time out in 2010 to figure out if she wanted to compete any more. She returned, but has not had the huge leaps we have been accustomed to. Then in her final tune up before the Games she no heighted in Monaco. So the door appears open for others to step through for the first time since the 2000 Games. Like world leader Heike Speigelberg, AR holder Jenn Suhr, reigning World champion Fabiana Murer, reigning indoor champion Anna Rogowska, and British record holder and hometown girl Holly Bleasdale. Nothing like a competition when the competitors feel like they have the chance to take down a legend – and I think these women smell blood.
7. Men’s 400 Hurdles – It’s not often in the Olympics that you have an event where anyone can win it – but that’s what we have with this race. The closest thing to dominant has been Javier Culson. But while he leads the world on the clock and continues to win, the competition is always right there – I’m not getting that Edwin Moses/Kevin Young vibe. Of course the competition hasn’t been burning up the track, and THAT is what makes me wonder if there is going to be a lot of SB/PRing going on in London! Defending World champion Dai Greene is running at home and wants to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. Defending Olympic champion Angelo Taylor is known for doing his best in this meet having won two titles and looking for a third. Kerron Clement has two World titles to his credit, and once looked like a strong bet to run sub47. He was runner up in Beijing and would love to upgrade here. And with a field like this one, it’s possible to see someone step up their Game and emerge a la Edwin Moses in ‘76. I think this race is going to be very interesting.
8. Men’s 5000 Meters – This is the speed event of the distance races and there is going to be a lot of speed on the track. The Kenyans and Ethiopians will be going at it tooth and nail, but for the first time since the African nations took over the distance events in the ‘90’s there will be legitimate competition from other nations. Primarily Britain’s Mo Farah, American Bernard Lagat, and potentially Americans Lopez Lamong and Galen Rupp. Lagat has shown to be able to defeat the African’s in the past, the question here is does he still have enough zip in his legs as he may be the smartest runner on the track. Farah has become a beast the last couple of seasons and is young and fearless and running at home – a very dangerous combination. Lamong is new to this event having moved up from the 1500, but this appears to be a more natural distance for him. As an unknown quantity, he could surprise many including himself. And Rupp is more of a 10,000 man, but has shown enough of a turn of speed this year that if the pace goes right he too could slip into the mix. Bottom line is this could be the first 5000 in many a year where the Kenyans and Ethiopians are pressed – and that will be something to see.
9. Women’s 4×400 Relay – Relays are always exciting, and this one could be the most exciting of the meet. I love a good 4×4, as there is lots of time for things to develop and action to happen. This time around I think we have three squads in the United States, Russia and Jamaica that could battle it out IF one or two athletes run some stellar legs. On paper it’s a battle between the US and Russia as each is capable of coming through with at least three 49 second legs. Jamaica only has one such leg on paper this year, but they do have the resources to potentially come up with one or two more – hence IF one or two athletes can come up with stellar legs a three team battle is always more exciting than a two team blow out. My gut says we see big action in this race.
10. Men’s 4×100 Relay – The sprints will be over and we’ll know how healthy everyone really is. Suffice it to say that regardless of how the individual sprints turn out, everyone will want to do well here. Jamaica will want to prove that it is indeed the King of the event. The US will want to show that it CAN get the stick around the track and that in doing so it can reclaim the title. And teams like Trinidad, France – and did anyone else see that Germany clocked 38.02 - will be looking for a Britain ‘04 moment where the big dogs make mistakes and they can capitalize and claim gold! For overall excitement I actually prefer the 4×4, but when you have a race that brings together Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake, Justin Gatlin, Christophe Lemaitre, Asafa Powell, Ryan Bailey, Keston Bledman, Richard Thompson and a bunch of German no names that obviously know how to pass, well that sounds like something exciting is going to happen!
11. Women’s 100 Hurdles – I like races where history can be made, and this is one of those races. Sally Pearson has been on a roll for two years now, and when that happens to an athlete you never know what might happen. She broke the 12.30 barrier last year running 12.28 and has looked capable at times of coming oh so close to the WR of 12.21. The biggest question mark is the role that the weather will play and I’m afraid that cold and wet conditions will hold her back – and possibly lead to another loss like the depth the one she suffered in London prior to the Games. Because a wet track is actually a good thing for the opposition. But if we can get something close to decent weather perhaps we can witness a run at history that has stood since 1988!
12. Men’s 110 Hurdles – This could be the race of the meet. Blasphemy I know given the depth of the men’s 100, but we’ve got four men under 13.00 in this race, and that is historical in it’s own right. WR holder Dayron Robles is the one athlete with the biggest question mark over his head. If healthy he’s right there in the mix, but if he’s off even a bit he doesn’t get to the podium. Previous WR holder Liu Xiang looked like he was ready to take down the WR earlier then recently complained of back pain – back pain in the sprints and hurdles is not good at this level of competition. Reigning World champion Jason Richardson is even better this year, twice running 12.98 – yet has slipped to #2 American. the role of top American was taken over this year by Aries Merritt who twice has blazed 12.93 – and defeated Liu to take the indoor title earlier this year. This race is as loaded as the 100, but with barriers in the way. Precision. The most precise hurdler from gun to tape will win this race. And as with the women’s hurdles, the weather could make the difference between a great race and a historical one – because this field is capable of being the first with four men under 13.00, not to mention a new WR along the way.
So there are the dozen events I’m calling Must See TV. Of course I started out to do a list of 10 and then just couldn’t leave any of these out. And there are several on the cutting floor that deserve mention like the women’s 100, the men and women’s high jump, the men’s pole vault, the men’s shot put, the men and women’s 400. Well you get the point, these Games are really loaded pretty much across the board. I’m not sure there is a “weak” event on the schedule. So I wait with baited breath and wish that Friday would hurry up and get here. And I hope against hope that NBC does track and field justice. Next my thoughts on how they can do just that.