Heading into Rio will be several individuals that closed the deal and won gold in London. It’s been four long years since the national anthem played for these individuals. They will come to Rio 26th dreams of repeating that success. Who will be able to close the deal again four years later?
Here’s my guess at how these London champions will do in Rio.
Women’s 100 – Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce
Fraser Pryce has had her way in the last TWO Olympic Games. Twice she’s parlayed her blazing start into easy gold medal runs. This year however, she enters Rio as a decided underdog. Injury has slowed her training, and while her reaction to the gun is still there, she’s lacked the separation that’s put her well clear of the field by 60 meters. She also seems to lack the strength necessary to hold off the closing rush of the big finishers.
More importantly, however, has been the growth of her young rivals. Carmelita Jeter is gone. Veronica Campbell Brown slowed. Instead they’re replaced by Tori Bowie (10.78), English Gardner (10.74),Dafne Schippers (10.83), and Elaine Thompson (10.70). Thompson and Bowie win consistently – Bowie has beaten everyone.
Fraser Pryce has shown nothing to this point that would indicate victory in Rio. It looks like the torch will pass to another this time around. Most likely Bowie or Thompson. My pick is Bowie
Men’s 100 – Usain Bolt
Bolt romped to victory in 2008 against a rather weak field in Beijing in 9.69. London saw a much stronger cast with Yohan Blake and Justin Gatlin being legitimate 9.7x threats. The result was Bolt’s, and the world’s #2 time ever (9.63), as both athletes pressured him thru 70 meters clocking 9.75/9.79 respectively.
Last year, Bolt faced his biggest battle in a major championships when he faced a Justin Gatlin that was running 9.7x at will. The result was a .01 win over Gatlin in 9.79, as Gatlin stumbled near the end of the race as Bolt powered to victory.
So what happens here? Gatlin again enters as the primary foe leading the world at 9.80. Teammate Trayvon Bromell seems to also be in the mix at 9.84 and a solid race pattern of his own. Everyone else of note has been running 9.9x – not good enough here – including London silver medalist Yohan Blake. Bolt has run 9.88 – around his typical form heading into a major. A slight injury saw him withdraw from his trials, but a 19.89 in London says he’s fit.
The race will be identical to Worlds – Gatlin gets out, Bolt chases. Gatlin must hold form, Bolt must draw close by 70. The one that does what he should best, wins. Since its Bolt that seems to be in Gatlin’s head, I have to call gold for Bolt! Giving him the only trifecta in history, breaking his asterisked tie with Carl Lewis – Carl getting his repeat after Ben Johnson was DQd.
Women’s 200 – Allyson Felix
There will be a new Olympic champion in Rio as Allyson Felix missed her opportunity to defend when she failed to make the U.S. team by.01! Felix won the US Trials in the 400, and will be attempting to repeat her World Championships win from last year. In her place, the trio of Dafne Schippers, Tori Bowie, and Elaine Thompson should wage a scintillating battle for gold. Schippers closes best, but Thompson and Bowie will be out fast The first to 150 wins this race. I’m betting on Bowie to close out the double.
Men’s 200 – Usain Bolt
Since 2008, Bolt has had no significant challenge in this event. In London his 19.32 easily defeated teammate Yohan Blake – with no one else really in contention. Last year at Worlds Justin Gatlin (19.56) appeared ready to challenge, but seemed lackluster after his defeat in the 100.
This year, Gatlin again appears to be the primarily challenger having won the US Trials in 19.75. An interesting challenge could come from quartermiler LaShawn Merritt who leads the world in both the 400 (43.97) and 200 (19.74) heading into Rio. Bolt has run a single 200 in 2016 – a 19.89 win in London.
A fit Bolt runs at least 19.5x in majors since ’08. Only Gatlin and Blake have run in this zone. Blake has shown no signs this year. Gatlin needs a victory in the 100 to fuel him here. Should Bolt lose the 100 he will look to this event for retribution. If he wins the 100 he’s running here to complete the double.
Regardless of what happens in the 100, everything favors Bolt here. Only if Merritt is able to run out of his head does anyone have a shot at the upset. So look for a Bolt repeat in the deuce.
Women’s 400 – Sanya Richards Ross
There will be a new 400 champion in Rio since Sanya failed to make the U.S. team and has announced her retirement. London 200 champion, Allyson Felix, will be attempting to take the title here. She’ll be challenged by Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas, who has the 200 speed to put pressure on Felix early. Felix has the best combination of speed and strength however, so I don’t see anyone upsetting her here. Especially since she gets to focus on the single event.
Men’s 400 – Kirani James
With primary rival, LaShawn Merritt sidelined by injury, James romped to victory in London. Since then, Merritt has returned better than ever and a new rival, Wayde van Niekerk has emerged to join them. At last year’s Worlds this trio all went sub 44 – van Niekerk (43.48), Merritt (43.65), James (43.78) – and a new champion was crowned.
So, how do things look heading into Rio? Well, van Niekerk has improved his 100 PR to 9.98, and Merritt has dropped his 200 PR to 19.74, and leads the world in both the deuce and quarter (43.97). James has a seasons best of 44.08 entering Rio, but has not improved in any other areas a la can Niekerk and Merritt. LaShawn has had the best season to date, but van Niekerk has been where he needs to be at 44.11.
What seems certain is that James will not repeat. He just doesn’t have the speed this time around against a pair of quartermilers with sprinters’ speed. What’s less certain is who will succeed him. Both Merritt and van Niekerk have the speed and strength to pull off the win. Merritt’s improvement in the deuce is the most significant with respect to the 400 as it should enable him to run a faster first 200. In a race where it appears the first to 300 should win, that’s a significant advantage. Thus my choice for gold is Merritt.
So that’s my look at the defending sprint champions from London. It’s going to be tough going for the former gold medalists – some won’t even be competing in Rio. Next I’ll take a look at the hurdle and jump events.