Things should start heating up pretty quickly now. The U.S. Marathon Trials are in less than two weeks, and the indoor season will be going strong by the end of the month. So we’ll be full gear into the buildup for London in just a few weeks.
Of course one of the big questions in any Olympic year is: who will the major players. It might be a bit early to start identifying major players, but here are some matchups that I think bear looking for this year, that should have a major effect on medal distribution in London.
Usain Bolt v Tyson Gay v Yohan Blake (Sprints)
These are the three best sprint doublers in the world (100/200) and will have a lot to say about what happens in both short sprints. Between them the trio has won all the available 100 titles since ’05, and Gay and Bolt have won all the 200 titles since ’05. Unfortunately seeing them compete before London may not happen. They didn’t meet at either distance last year – Blake winning the World 100 title minus Bolt & Gay; Bolt the 200 title minus Blake and Gay. Gay is the last man to beat Bolt at either distance, defeating him over 100 in 2010, and defeating him over 200 in 2007. Astonishingly Bolt & Gay have not competed over 200 since that World Championships final in ’07. A meeting between these three, especially over 200, could be one of the most explosive races in history!
Carmelita Jeter v Veronica Campbell Brown (Sprints)
They are the female version of the best sprint doublers in the world. The difference is that they have no problem running against each other any place any time – so there is the possibility of seeing them head to head BEFORE London! In Daegu they split the sprints – Jeter taking the 100; VCB the 200. But Jeter was a relative rookie in the deuce at the elite level. Their races this year will be fierce as neither woman likes to lose – and I expect to see an even more improved Jeter in the deuce. So wherever they happen to hook up will feature a race of epic proportions. They could be headliners at any meet in the world and will definitely feature in London.
LaShawn Merritt v Kirani James (400 Meters)
One of the most anticipated races in Daegu was LaShawn Merritt’s attempt to defend his 400 title – because he was short on races and the world was waiting to see if he could pull off the near impossible. Round one went to Kirani James! James proved that was no fluke by winning again in Zurich. They will again be one of the matchups to watch this year. But this year, Merritt will have a full season behind him, and James will no longer be the young upstart. Their races, should they meet before and/or after London, will be as anticipated as those between Merritt and Jeremy Wariner between ’07 & ’09. And speaking of Wariner, should he find good health this could be one of those special trios that the sport seems to be developing lately!
Jessica Ennis v Tatyana Chernova (Heptathlon)
A couple of years ago the Heptathlon looked to be Ennis’ to lose at home in London. Then Chernova made a 300 point improvement in the event and left Daegu with the gold medal! Multi event competitors rarely compete in more than a couple of full events a year, so I doubt we see them before London. But some of the greatest competitions in the Olympic Games have come in the multi events – and these two women should give us a doozy! Both women seem to be hitting their stride in the event and Ennis will be the home town girl at the Games. A solid recipe for an exciting event!
Liu Xiang v Dayron Robles v David Oliver (110 Hurdles)
This is one of those “trios” that I alluded to earlier. Yes I know that the World Champion is Jason Richardson, and that he is still growing and getting better. As a matter of fact I expect he will be primed and ready for London. But this trio is still the three fastest in history, and all three were in various states of rehab last year. This is an Olympic year and I expect these men, and Richardson to be ready. I expect to see them all in various combinations compete before London. And I do believe that the races between this trio (in varied combinations) will give us a window into their health, and therefore be a predictor for London.
Brittney Reese v Darya Klishina (Long Jump)
This is one of those veteran vs upstart matchups. Reese is the veteran that is coming off a World Championships victory. Klishina the European Junior Champion who got her hat handed to her in Daegu. So there is the notion of the upstart looking for redemption. But with this pair there is another element. Reese is one of those “natural” athletes that has yet to truly hone her craft. Klishina is the polar opposite, very technically trained. That is the kind of competition that I find very intriguing. Which will win out, great ability or great technique?
Mo Farah v Kenenisa Bekele (Distances)
Bekele is the multiple WR setter and medal winner coming back from injury; Farah, the growing distance runner who made major strides last season into territory that puts him in the Bekele range. As with Reese and Klishina we have that veteran vs upstart story. AND as with Chernova and Ennis we have an athlete that will be competing “at home” at the Games – a scenario that seems to develop at least one “home” star every Games! We won’t know for some time which event they will meet over (5000 or 10000) or even if we will see them contest both in London. But my gut tells me that they will meet at least once, and that when they do something special is in store!
Vivian Cheruiyot v Meseret Defar (5000 meters)
They were the two fastest 5000 meter runners of 2010. They are #2 (Defar) and #3 (Cheruiyot) all time in the event. Cheruiyot just won the World title. Defar took bronze in Daegu, and was also bronze in Beijing, after winning Olympic gold four years earlier in Athens. Defar will be looking to regain the top of the Olympic podium. Cheruiyot will be looking to translate her World title into Olympic gold. There is no event, nor any two individuals with more plot lines heading into London than this pair! These two are going to make the 5000 exciting!
I’ll be keeping my eye on these matchups and others as the year goes on. As a matter of fact I have another group of “potentials” that often get overlooked that I want to take a quick peak at before things get rolling.