These Games already feel different. Maybe it’s the fact that venues are STILL under construction. Maybe it’s the Zika virus that has so many afraid to go. Perhaps even the status of injured athletes like Christian Taylor, Allyson Felix, and Usain Bolt – what level will they be ready for in a few short weeks?
Whatever it is, somehow CHANGE seems to be in the air! Expect the unexpected. Youth will be served. I feel it. I smell it in the air.That said, this sport at its best is about match ups. So what match ups will define these Games? What will everyone be talking about when the janitors are cleaning out the stadium for the final time? My thoughts!
Bolt v Gatlin II
I still believe there are bigger battles that will be played out in Rio, yet these two are the only Olympic champions since 2000, and Bolt’s narrow win at World’s makes it interesting. Besides we’re talking about the race to determine the world’s fastest human – this event is always relevant! Having two dynamic protagonists just heightens the excitement.
Bolt withdrew from Jamaica’s Trials with an injury. He returned to the track in London with a 19.89 deuce – he’s ready. Gatlin won the US Trials in both sprints – he’s ready. This race is very simple. Gatlin will use the most solid race pattern on the planet to put some space between he and the field by 60 meters. Bolt will attempt to stay close, until he pulls it together at 80 meters. Bolt will surge, Gatlin must hold form. One bad step by Gatlin, and he loses. If he holds form he wins. Most likely candidate for bronze is Bromell who has the tightest race of the rest. Gatlin has the most to prove – he lost this race at Worlds and has had to live with the knowledge that he let it get away. Bolt the most to lose – his "legacy" is tarnished slightly with a loss. Nothing like a race for pride! Gatlin “should” win – but he should’ve won last year. My heart says Gatlin, but my head says Bolt – hoping that Gatlin will hold form and prove me wrong.
Now HERE is a matchup. Same principals as Worlds – Merritt, James, and van Niekerk. Three of the fastest men in history – and three great racers.
This race has the potential to be a WR run! Kirani James is the defending Olympic champion, but will have a hard time upgrading from his bronze at Worlds. His race is strength based, and his long strides don’t allow for the speed that we should see in the first 300 of this one, because van Niekerk and Merritt have both upgraded what was already the best speed in the event since MJ.
Merritt has twice run 19.7x (only MJ ran faster) in the deuce and made the U.S. team in that event as well. Van Niekerk dropped 9.98 in the 100 early in the season (also 20.02 this year), becoming the only sprinter ever to go sub 10/20/44!
This race is going to be HOT and a WR is a possibility – dare I dream sub 43! The first man to 300 wins – the pace will be too swift to allow for strong finishing kicks. Wait for the stretch at your own peril. Merritt and van Niekerk first off the turn – it will only take two steps to secure this victory. Merritt is faster over 200, I’m going with Merritt.
The American squads have turned this event into a comedy of errors for a solid decade now. So why am I including it as a great match-up, because both the US and Jamaica are looking at change – and Britain just had TWO squads run sub 38.
Jamaica is losing Nesta Carter who has led off everything since ’08. Yohan Blake is well below his best, as is Asafa Powell. Similarly Tyson Gay is not the turn burner he once was for the US, and 2012 anchor Ryan Bailey is not on this year’s team. Both will have different looking squads this time around. Meanwhile, the Brits showed that they have enough speed, and move the stick well enough to get to mid-37 (or better). And earlier in the year China showed what stick work can do defeating a Jamaican squad – without its principles mind you. This race could have more suspense than many might expect.
We’ll see who actually takes the track for Jamaica and the US, I’m going to throw an American team out there that I think can get the job done. Trayvon Bromell on leadoff. Justin Gatlin on the backstraight. Ameer Webb on the bend. And LaShawn Merritt bringing it home. Yes, not your typical "four fastest in the 100 at Trials" mentality. But THAT philosophy has failed us! Bromell is faster than anyone not named Gatlin or Bolt. Gatlin always dominates the backstretch. Webb has been solid all year; is in the top 10 in the 100, and top 3 in the deuce – and runs a solid bend. Merritt ran Gatlin to the wire in the deuce and runs without fear – he won’t be looking over his shoulder waiting for Bolt to show up! That’s my two cents, and the squad that could move the stick and win the gold – I’m just saying. The US won’t listen to me, and that favors Jamaica.
This was supposed to be a rematch from last year’s awesome Worlds race – with Allyson Felix thrown in to spice it up. Making for possibly the most exciting race of the Games! But Elaine Thompson didn’t run Jamaica Trials and a Felix injury slowed her and she missed by .01 – though she made the 400 team! The women have been hot this year however, and this race still has appeal. Dafne Schippers is back and running well and Tori Bowie has run sub 22 and been dominant all season in this event.
This pair should provide a great head to head match-up. While super vet Veronica Campbell Brown is close enough to form at 22.29 to potentially upset things in what will surely be her final Games! Bowie and Schippers will be doubling back from the 100 and at least one of them will be looking for a good medal possibility – or possibly a gold medal doubles. Either way, this race should still be must see TV. My pick is Bowie but Schippers runs until the race is done – there’s no quit in her! Watch the turn on this one. She who leads off the turn wins.
I can describe this event in one word – LOADED! Elaine Thompson, Tori Bowie, English Gardner, Murielle Ahoure, and Tianna Bartletta ALL under 10.80! Veronica Campbell Brown and Dafne Schippers both at 10.83 – and I have yet to mention defending Olympic champion Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce – who coming off injury just hasn’t gotten it going.
There are four women that are very consistent: Fraser Pryce, Bowie, Thompson and Schippers. Everyone else is hit and miss. Expect your medalists from the four. If Fraser Pryce finds form everyone else is in chase mode. If not, expect a race like the US Trials with a bunch of finishers in a mad dash for the medals. I’m pulling for Bowie.
I wasn’t going to include this, because for my money Allyson Felix is the clear favorite. Especially since the Trials she could spend a month of focus on this event. However, Bahamian Shaune Miller made me do a double take with her world leader (49.55) in London. Felix is still my favorite, but with 22.05 speed over 200, Miller is the one sprinter that can pressure Felix early in the race. And Miller is serious about this event, bypassing the 200 to focus here. That means she’s serious about racing Allyson! And that means a VERY exciting final for the rest of us. Exciting enough that we should see the first sub 49 since 2009. With a little push I think Allyson joins the top 10 all time list in this event.
Men’s Long Jump
A year ago I was looking forward to the Triple Jump as the prospect of Taylor, Pichardo, and Tamgho going at it over 59 feet had me drooling! The once exciting Long Jump had fallen on hard times with 27 for jumps becoming rare – let alone 28 feet, or beyond.
Fast forward a year. Only Taylor continues to jump at a high level in the Triple, while suddenly the Long Jump seems to be exploding! Brit Greg Rutherford dominated last year’s Worlds (27′ 7") while Americans were NOT a factor. This year’s US Trials saw a major resurgence with two men over 28 feet. Winner Jeff Henderson (28′ 2.25) and Jarrion Lawson (28′ 1.75"). A total of seven men jumped over 27 feet, with number three qualifier Marquis Dendy coming in at 27′ 7.5". Of course these men must replicate their efforts at the Games. But all three are proven competitors who typically have done their best in big meet situations. We’ve been kept off every major podium since London. This group is ready to battle Rutherford and reclaim our dominance in this event. Lawson has been on a roll this year, winning the NCAAs in the sprints as well as long jump; and coming up with a stellar jump series at the Trials. After much thought I’m betting on him here as well.
Men’s High Jump
This has become one of the sports most competitive events. Barshim Mutaz has the potential to jump A WR if he’s on – he’s that good in my opinion. First he’ll have to get past Bogdan Bondarenko and Derek Druin who are both great competitors and high jumpers – pun intended. Erik Kynard and Robbie Grabarz should also be in the mix. And suddenly there’s a new name with Italian Gianmarco Tamberi jumping 7′ 10"! Passes and misses add to the tension of this event, and if we get solid coverage, this could be one of the most exciting competitions of the meet. I say Mutaz wins on ability, but anyone named above could take the gold. It’s that kind of competition.
This race is almost always a tactical battle in the Olympics. This time around I think we have the best trio ever to fight for medals in this event. Jenny Simpson (3:57.22) and Shannon Rowbury (3:56.29) are two of America’s fastest all time – Rowbury the AR holder. Brenda Martinez (1:57.91/4:00.94) one of our best competitors. Simpson was World Champion in 2011 and leads this veteran group into Rio.
This event is loaded with Kenyan Faith Kipyegon (3:56.41) and Brit Laura Muir (3:57.49) recently setting PRs, and WR holder Ginzebe Dibaba always a threat. But in a race where no one wants to rabbit, we actually have some kickers that can battle over the final lap – and I like our chances. Especially Simpson who just seems to know where to be. I think that will have to be following Muir who I expect to be the one to take charge by mid race with Kipyegon and Simpson in tow. Look for a hot final 150 with these women in the mix. If Martinez can run a clean race, she could play the role of spoiler. Dibaba should win, but watch out for Simpson.
The US shattered the WR in London. Since then, Jamaica has won the last two World Championships – with basically different squads each time and the #2 time ever last year. The US however, has more foot speed than ever going into Rio. The question is who takes the track.
After some thought, I think I would go with the following combination. Tianna Bartletta on lead off – after all she lead off the WR. No Allyson Felix this year, but we can actually upgrade with Tori Bowie (no disrespect to Felix) running the backstretch. In full flight Tori is as good as it gets and should blow this wide open. On third leg I go with the speed of English Gardner to counter the possibility of Elaine Thompson here – she ran third last year – to maintain Bowie’s lead. I’d finish with the strength of Jenna Prandini – her start fails her on occasion but her finish is always strong. Jamaica anchors Fraser Pryce who can’t run her down from behind. I think that foursome, in that order, counters whatever Jamaica puts on the track and produces history’s second sub 41.
I expect these to be the best battles of the meet. The one event I left out being the men’s 800 which I think is just wide open! Possibly the "surprise" event of the meet as far as winner and time. I expect to see several individuals shine. Christian Taylor giving 60 feet a shot in the Triple Jump. Joe Kovacs remaining dominant in the Shot Put. Renaud Lavillenie possibly giving 20 feet a scare.
I think the US women, can once again approach 3:16 in the 4×4. And look for two American high schoolers ( Vashti Cunningham and Sydney McLaughlin) to medal! Bottom line is this IS the Olympics,and there won’t be a bad event. It showcases what this sport is about at its best – competition. And shows just how exciting this sport is when you get the BEST on the track (and field) competing. No music necessary. No events will be run on the street – and the fans will be riveted!
Usain Bolt recently said that the sport needs him to win in Rio. No. What the sport needs is for him to compete more outside of Olympic and World Championship events. The sport needs all of its stars competing regularly. It’s the only way people get to see just how fast they can run,jump,and throw. It’s why other major league sports are SO POPULAR – their athletes are showcased REGULARLY! And it’s why the Olympics are so highly anticipated – we get to see the best go head to head. And the world watches. Must see TV!