Now that we’ve taken a look at the men, it’s time to do the same with the women, because there will certainly be those women that step out of the shadows to make headlines.
After getting drubbed by the Eastern Bloc sprinters in ’76, Evelyn Ashford became Kryptonite to the Iron Curtain Superwomen demolishing them at the ’79 World Cup before making headlines at the ’84 Los Angeles Games. The ’88 Games in Seoul saw both Jackie Joyner Kersee and Heike Drechsler blossom, as one of the sport’s greatest rivalries was born. And the Games of 2000 saw Gabriella Szabo burst onto the scene.
The question now is who will be the next star to emerge under the spotlight of the Games/ So, once again I take a look into that murky crystal ball, to try and see which unknown, unheralded, formerly beaten athlete, will rise to the occasion in London. Here’s my best guess.
Phoebe Wright – USA – 800 meters
Phoebe has been part of the resurgence in middle distance running in the U.S. over the past few seasons, and with a PR of 1:58.22 set in 2010, sits right at the edge of podium potential. If you’ve ever watched Phoebe run you’ll understand why I’m excited about, because she’s one of those take the pace out; gutsy kind of runners that gives me chills as they circle the track. Runners like that are always in a position to “put the field away”, and my gut says this may be the year that Phoebe does just that. She’s competitively fierce; runs fearlessly; and should blossom in the Olympic season.
Mercy Cherono – KEN – Distances
Cherono is only 20 years old, and good at everything! She’s run 4:02.31 for 1500, 8:42.09 for 3000, and 14:35.13 for 5000. She’s a former World Youth Champion (3000 meters) and World Junior Champion (3000 meters and runner up over 5000 meters), and found herself crossing the line 5th at this year’s World Championships in the 5000 in her first attempt against the big girls! She has the speed in the 1500 and the endurance over 5000 and could do well at either, or both, in London. She’s one of the most talented young distance runners out there and I see her coming of age in London.
Kara Patterson – USA – Javelin
In 2010 Patterson made me become a fan of the javelin, as she broke the American record and competed toe to toe with the world’s best. In the process becoming one of our top field event performers and the most exciting American in the event since Breaux Greer. This past season found her peaking early (Rome in May) and not having a great summer season. After watching her throw in 2010 I have to think that that was just one of those seasons that athletes suffer through and that she and her coach will have her on the right track in 2012. If so that means a trip to London, and a strong competitive effort that could launch her onto the podium.
Tiffany Porter – GBR – 100 Hurdles
The Olympics wouldn’t be complete without athletes wearing the home colors stepping up into the spotlight. One athlete that has that kind of potential is hurdler Porter, who in 2011 set three NR’s on her way to a 4th place finish in Daegu. When the smoke settled on the 2011 season, Porter had taken the British hurdle record from 12.80 (Angie Thorpe in 1996) to 12.77, then 12.60 and finally a sizzling 12.56! At the start of the 2011 season, Sally Pearson’s best was a 12.50 from ’09 and her 2010 SB was 12.57. So clearly Porter is in a good position to do something special. Let’s see what she does competing in front of the British fans.
Jessica Beard – USA – 400 meters
Every era has a group of colleges that just seem to produce tremendous talent. The best of the last decade have been Oregon, Florida, Florida State, Arkansas and Texas A&M. Beard cut her teeth at A&M, and put up quite a set of numbers and finishes in the process. But Beard is more than numbers, she’s also about heart as she’s one of the fiercest competitors on the track. Her best of 50.56 dates back to ’09, so it’s time for an upgrade! And I think she’ll get just that in 2012. She gives it her all every time out and those kind of sprinters get rewarded in the end. I’m looking for big things from Beard in 2012.
Zuzana Hejnova – CZE – 400 Hurdles
Zuzana Hejnova is a a super athlete! She competes in the pentathlon indoors, as well as the 200, 400 and 800. She ran both hurdle races outdoors in 2011, and a leg on the national 4×4 squad. She seems to love to compete and that’s my kind of athlete! And I think she’s in prime position to make noise in 2012. Why? For starters she was 7th in this event in Beijing, and losers in one Games often become big hits in another. But the thing that really excites me about Hejnova is that she’s improved her personal best in this event for TEN straight years going back to her competition as a junior! During that stretch she has lowered the NR every year since 2006, ending 2011 with a NR of 53.29. She sits on the cusp of running sub53, and if she does is in position to medal or possibly win in London. She could be one of the most interesting stories of the Olympic year.
Jeneba Tarmoh – USA – Sprints
We have a lot of good young sprinters right now in the U.S. Kim Duncan, Bianca Knight, and Kya Brookins to name a few. But the young lady that has been the most consistent in her improvement has been Jeneba Tarmoh. I think any of those women could break through this year, but I’ve been watching Tarmoh since her high school days out here in California and I just feel that 2012 is going to be her time. She dropped her PR over 200 to 22.28 last year and she’s been oh so close to sub11 in the 100 in some “windy” races. She’s a strong competitor and tough around the finish line. In many ways she reminds me of Evelyn Ashford, which is why I can see her becoming a serious threat this year.
Darya Klishina – RUS – Long Jump
Klishina is only 20 years old, yet has jumped over 6.80m / 22’ 3.75” for the past three seasons – which is why it seems like I’m talking about a veteran jumper instead of someone just starting out in senior competition! She was the #2 jumper in the world last year at 7.05m / 23’ 1.5” – a mark that won her the European Junior title. She was less fortunate in Daegu finishing a disappointing 7th. But Klishina will only be competing in one championship meet in 2012 – the Olympics. That’s why I like her chances of reaching the top of the podium in London.
Ryann Krais – USA – Heptathlon
Every once in a while I have to step way out on that proverbial limb – and I’m going to do it this time with Krais. We here in the U.S. have always done a good job developing heptathletes, yet we’ve not been well represented as of late. I think Krais is going to change that. She’s been on a steady climb since being #5 in Athlete of the Year voting coming out of high school in 2008. Her first couple of seasons in college were not what she had hoped, but after transferring to Kansas St she won the NCAA title this year with her PR 5961. Then she followed that up with a runner up at U.S. Nationals (6032 PR) just missing out on the title by 28 points! She will be a senior at K State in 2012, and I expect more improvement from Krais. She may not reach the podium in 2012, but I do feel that the podium is in her future. And I expect her to give it a good shot in London.
Blessing Okagbare – NIG – Sprints/Long Jump
Okagbare is one of those intriguing prospects in the Jesse Owens/Carl Lewis mode as she can sprint and jump equally well. She does both so well that she is the reigning African champion in both the 100 & long jump – winning both titles at the tender age of 21. And she took Olympic bronze in Beijing in the long jump while still 19 years old. But it’s in the 100 that I think her real glory lies. She’s run 11.00, 10.98 windy, and had a sizzling hand timed 10.7 in 2010. She’s very raw as a sprinter and clearly living off of her natural speed. With a little tweaking the sky’s the limit for this young sprinter.
I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this group of women in the upcoming season. I have no doubt that one or more will be heard from in London.