Now that we’re completely done with the indoor season, it’s time to start taking a look at how this outdoor season might possibly shape up. More importantly, at how the Games might shape up. So as I go through the various events on the Olympic slate, I’m going to try and Identify those individuals that I feel as of today ill be in the mix – the contenders and potential contenders.
I’m going to start with the sprints because they tend to get going a bit earlier than other events. And this time around they’re already pretty well defined, as we have a large group of veterans that “should” be vying for the medals in a few months. Nothing is ever written in stone, especially in an Olympic year. So I’m sure there will be changes before I actually sit down to do predictons for the Games themselves. But today this is what I’m looking at.
Men’s 100 – Is there such a thing as unbeatable?
For the last four years two names have led the conversation on the 100 meters – Usain Bolt (JAM) and Tyson Gay (USA). Bolt is the WR holder (9.58) and the defending Olympic champion from Beijing, Gay a former World champion and second fastest man in history (9.69). Bolt enters the season having lost to Gay in ‘10, and having false started out of the World Championships last year. So while Bolt has come to be thought of as “unbeatable” by many the only thing that matters at the end of the day is what happens in London. The winner of the Daegu final was Yohan Blake (JAM) who won handily with neither Bolt nor Gay (recovering from surgery) in the race. Blake has risen to co-favorite status based on that win and a superb 200 run during the summer in spite of a PR of “only” 9.82.
Several men look to challenge this trio in 2012. At the head of the list is former WR holder Asafa Powell (JAM) who in two prior Olympics has twice finished 5th. Powell is fast (9.72) but has come no where near his best times in Major competition. Walter Dix (USA) could also challenge. Though his PR (9.88) isn’t there with the leaders he manages to find a way to the podium placing 3rd in Beijing, and 2nd last year in Daegu. Another who knows his way to the podium is Justin Gatlin (USA) Olympic and World champion in ‘04/’05 who spent time out for a drug suspension. He’s come back to run 9.95 last year, then 6.46 indoors to take this winter’s World indoor title. In his 2nd full season following the suspension he could become a major threat again.
While the US and JAM dominate this event, Richard Thompson (TRI) won silver in Beijing and set a PR 9.85 last year, and Christophe Lemaitre (FRA) took the French record down to 9.92, and just missed medalling in Daegu placing 4th. Both men have a strong shot at the final in London. Ngoni Makusha (ZIM, 9.89) could also have a role in London. Last year’s NCAA champion and his nations record holder, he could upset things with improvement and consistency. Several others could emerge to be factors in London including Nesta Carter (JAM, 9.78), Mike Rodgers (USA, 9.85), Michael Frater (JAM, 9.88), and Ryan Bailey (USA, 9.88), but first they must make it out of the US and Jamaican Trials.
Women’s 100 – Will we see 10.6 in London?
The women’s event is even more of a US v Jamaica affair than the men. Defending Olympic champion Shelly Ann Pryce (JAM) is returning and still young, fast (PR 10.73), yet is overshadowed by the events two studs – Carmelita Jeter (USA) and Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) – arguably the two most dominating women in sprinting today. Jeter is #2 all time at 10.63, while “VCB” has a knack for winning and with a PR of 10.76 can never be counted out. Jeter is the reigning World champion and would love to add Olympic gold while VCB just won the World indoor 60 title. She’s twice won the deuce in the Games and would love to add 100 meter gold.
There are a handful of women truly in their class entering the season. World bronze medalist Kelly Ann Baptiste (TRI, 10.84) is the best non American/Jamaican and will be gunning to break up the two countries this year. That will be a tough chore as in addition to the ladies above the nations boast Kerron Stewart (JAM, 10.75), and Marshavet Myers (USA, 10.86) – both are fast and extremely competitive.
These women are truly the class of the world as the season gets under way. Anyone wishing to crash this party will have to have a Shelly Ann Pryce ‘08 type of emergence between now and London. A very daunting task indeed.
Men’s 200 – Have we seen evolutionary change in the deuce?
This time four years ago I would have bet that 19.6x would win in Beijing. As we start the road to London there are FOUR men with PR’s faster than that headed by WR holder and defending Olympic champion Usain Bolt (JAM, 19.19). Hot on his heels is Yohan Blake (JAM, 19.26) who raised eyebrows in Brussels last year. Walter Dix (USA, 19.53) lowered his best last year and was runner up to Bolt at Worlds. And Tyson Gay (USA, 19.58) has also run under 19.60 in spite of limited appearances over the last four years and only as season openers – he has not run a summer deuce since 2007.
Arguably this is where the conversation begins in this event. Can Bolt repeat? Can Blake run faster? Will Gay be healthy? Can Dix get ahead at some point in the race? The answers to those questions could decide the medals. There are three men in my opinion that as of today can affect the London podium. First is Wallace Spearmon (USA, 19.65), who like Gay has been battling injuries over the past couple of seasons. Still he has run 19.79 and defeated Blake in the process. Prior to 2007 he was the dominant 200 man and master of both Bolt & Gay. The strongest finisher on the track with a better turn, and good health, he is in the mix.
Next, Christophe Lemaitre (FRA, 19.80) lowered his NR while taking bronze in Daegu – and frankly this just might be his best event. He’s still learning how to run the deuce and is raw in spite of his sub-20 status. Continued improvement could find him in that sub-19.60 range – and THAT could really complicate the race for the medals. Finally there is Berlin silver medalist Alonzo Edward (PAN, 19.81) who did so at the age of 19! He’s been slowed by injuries over the past few seasons, but healthy is still just short of reaching his prime sprinting years – so running substantially better than his PR is not out of the question.
There are some others that have the ability to make the final: Nickel Ashmead (JAM, 19.91), Saidi Ndure (NOR, 19.95) being in the best position. But reality is that if you can’t run under 19.60 you have no shot of being in contention here.
Women’s 200 – Can anyone run sub 21.70?
Until someone proves otherwise there are only two women that matter as we await the first gun – Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM, 21.74) and Allyson Felix (USA, 21.81). Campbell Brown is the two time defending Olympic champion, and will be gunning for an unprecedented three peat! Felix is the double silver medalist and a three time World champion who would love to take this crown from VCB the way VCB stopped Felix’ attempt at a historical four peat at Worlds last year.
The woman making the greatest strides towards adding her name to the mix is Carmelita Jeter (USA, 22.21) who had multiple wins over Felix last year and split VCB & Felix at Worlds last year with her silver medal performance. The swift one must get a bit stronger though because Olympic deuces tend to go under 22 seconds, and it’s my belief that both VCB and Felix are capable of running under 21.70 given the right conditions – which means that’s where Jeter needs to be. Or anyone else for that matter.
Those with the best chance are Kerron Stewart (JAM, 21.99) and Shalonda Solomon (USA, 22.15). On any given day they could explode into medal contention. Perhaps waiting in the wings are Kimberlyn Duncan (USA, 22.24) and Bianca Knight (USA, 22.35), but both will have to step up a couple of notches to be in the podium discussion and will have to get past that Olympic Trials meet in Eugene, which will test the abilities of both.
Men’s 400 – Are we back to sub-44?
The 400 meters has seen some epic seasons and Olympic races – specifically 1968 and 1988 come to mind. I expect 2012 to follow in that mold. Defending Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt (USA, 43.75) is coming off of a very short season where with only a couple of races under his belt he took silver in Daegu and ran 44.35. His conqueror in Daegu, and Zurich, was 18 year old Kirani James (GRN, 44.36) the best teen we’ve seen since Steve Lewis (USA, 43.87) in, 1988. The man that should join these two to form one of the strongest triumvirates in two decades is Jeremy Wariner (USA, 43.45), 2004 Olympic champion and #3 performer all time.
In my opinion all three at their best are capable of sub-44 and we could see the first race ever with three men in the 43’s! I’m not sure that I need to even go beyond these there as sub-44 is like asking the short sprinters to run under 9.80 – I’m not sure anyone else can do it, let alone under the pressure that these three will exert. Germaine Gonzales (JAM, 44.40) is the most seasoned of the challengers, but may be short of the sprint speed necessary to compete for the podium. Tony McQuay (USA, 44.68) and Nery Brenes (44.65) – last year’s US champion and this year’s World indoor champion respectively – have the talent to get close to 44.00 and have proven to compete well under pressure. But 44.00 could easily leave you on the outside looking in.
The one thing about the 400 is that huge improvements are possible in the course of a season. Even under that scenario however, the talent pool has been a bit shallow the last few seasons. The best “talent” that I see coming out of the woodwork to get in contention would be Michael Berry (USA, 44.91) who made major strides in 2011 and screamed the best 4×4 leg of anyone in the World Championships. There have been a bunch of 44-high performers over the last few seasons, which is good, but probably only good enough for quarterfinal action.
Women’s 400 – Will we see a 48?
Last year’s World champion, Amantle Montsho (BOT, 49.56) just edged Allyson Felix (USA, 49.59) in a race that produced PR’s for both women. Both are back and looking to improve, although the big question will be whether or not Felix runs this event in London. Felix’ attempt at a 200/400 double last year found her taking silver here and bronze in the deuce – her favorite event. So it will be interesting to see if she attempts the double again or focuses on the 200 where both VCB and Jeter wait.
The woman that could have something to say about that is Sanya Richards Ross (USA, 48.70), the ‘09 World champion, American record holder, and only woman currently competing with a PR under 49.00. Felix has shown the ability in relays to also run in that territory, and has defeated Richards Ross in the past. The question is whether or not we will see a Trials/Games set of showdowns between the two.
Richards Ross is coming off a couple of difficult injury plagued seasons, but looked very good indoors and at her best becomes the lead dog in this event. Felix and Montsho both looked good all year last year, and would be expected to improve this year.The trio are prohibitive favorites in my opinion.
Russia always produces solid 400 meter runners – of course you never know who they will be. We could see last year’s duo of former sprinter Ana Kapachinskaya (49.35) and Antonina Krovoshapka (49.92), or we could have some new faces – but they will have at least one contender before London, there is no doubt of that. Jamaica’s women are stronger here than the men and should have Rosemarie Whyte (49.84) and Novlene Williams Mills (49.63) in the mix. There is also Francena McCorory (USA, 50.24) who appeared ready last year to break the 50.00 barrier and was a major factor in every race she as in last year. Depending on health and competition decisions, this could be the most open of all the sprint events on the London schedule.
There you have it – who I see as the starting contenders in the sprints as we open up the season. This is an Olympic season which means that things WILL change as the season geos forward. Four years ago today I would not have mentioned Usain Bolt as a 100 meter challenger – yet he took home gold. That’s how things go in an Olympic year. It’s also part of the fun of an Olympic year – because it’s never really decided until they cross the line.
Next I’ll give the middle distances a shot, where a lot has evolved in the four years since Beijing.