As the Olympics near the half-way point, swimming and gymnastics have dominated the headlines -- as expected. The Michael Phelps/Ryan Lochte rivalry has (generally) lived up to its hype, and just like four years ago the king of the pool (Phelps) is stealing the big headlines with his record breaking 19 medals. Meanwhile, the U.S. women's gymnastics team has won the hearts of Americans everywhere.
Soon the swimmers will all be drying off, but as they put the warm-ups back on, the track team will be taking them off.
The track and field program consists of 26 running events, 16 field events, the decathlon (for men), the heptathlon (for women) and 3 walking events.
100m: Forget Phelps, this could very well be the best event of the Olympics. Current world record holder Usain Bolt (9.58) will square off against fellow Jamaicans Yohan Blake (who has beat Bolt in the past 4 years) and Asafa Powell (the gold medal favorite in 2004 and 2008) and Americans Tyson Gay (the American record holder in the event) and Justin Gatlin (2004 gold medalist in the 100m). This is stacking up to be one for the ages.
200m: American Allyson Felix ran the 6th fastest 200 of all time (and fastest in 14 years) at the U.S. Olympic trails (a blazing 21.69) -– that would make her the favorite in the event, but don’t count out Veronica Campbell-Brown. The Jamaican has left Felix in her dust the past two Games.
400m: In the 2008 medal ceremony all three men standing on the podium were American -– gold medal winner LaShawn Merritt, 2004 gold medal winner Jeremy Wariner took silver and David Neville took bronze. Merritt is the only returning sprinter, but is joined by contenders Tony McQuay and Bryshon Nellum. Is another sweep in the cards? Probably not -– the competition is headlined with 2011 World Champion Kirani James (who beat Merritt by 3/100 of a second).
The women’s side could be equally as interesting. After the dust settles look for American Sanya Richards-Ross to be near the top. Four years ago she took bronze in the 400m and gold in the 4x400m relay and holds the American record in the 400m (48.70). However Amantle Montsho beat Richards-Ross five times in 2011 and could be a possible medal spoiler.
800m: Don’t expect much from Team USA on both the men’s and women’s sides. In Beijing gold and bronze went to Kenyans, with silver going to Ishmail Ahmed Ishail of Sudan. America’s only hope is Nick Symmonds. Kenyan 2008 gold medalist Panela Jelimo largely disappeared after the Olympics, but at the 2012 World Indoor Championships she returned posting a world-leading 1:56:76. Alysia Montano is the only American in the event and was the 2009 world champ and 2011 runner-up.
1500m: Men’s world record: Hicham El Guerrouj, 3:26:00
Americans to watch: Leo Manzano (3:32:37), Andrew Wheating (3:30:90) and Matt Centrowitz (3:34:46)
Women’s world record: Yunxia Qu, 3:50:46
One of the most wide open events at the Olympics -- in Beijing the winning time was 4:00:23, yet this year alone more than a dozen women have done it in less than 4 minutes. Three American women have a shot at winning -– Jenny Simpson (2011 world champion), Morgan Uceny (2011 world No. 1) and Shannon Rowbury (2009 Worlds bronze medalist).
3000m Steeplechase: Men’s world record: Saif Saaeed Ahaheen, 7:53:63
Americans to watch: Evan Jager (8:06:81), Kyle Alcorn (8:20:86) and Donn Cabral (8:19:14)
Women’s world record: Gulnara Galkina, 8:58:81 (set in Beijing)
Americans to watch: Emma Coburn, Shalaya Kipp and Bridget Franek
5,000m: Men’s world record: Kenenisa Bekele, 12:37:35
Americans to watch: Bernard Lagat (American record holder) and Galen Rupp
Women’s world record: Tirunesh Dibaba, 14:11:15
Americans to watch: Molly Huddle (American record holder), Julie Culley and Kim Conley
10,000m: Men’s world record: Kenenisa Bekele, 26:17:53
American to watch: Galen Rupp
Women’s world record: Junxia Wang, 29:31:78
Americans to watch: Lisa Uhl, Amy Hastings and Janet Bawcom
Marathon: Men’s world record: Patrick Makau Musyoki, 2:03:38
Americans to watch: Meb Keflezighi (2004 silver medalist), Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman
Women’s world record: Paula Radcliffe, 2:15:25
Americans to watch: Shalane Flanagan, Desiree Davila and Kara Goucher
20km: Men’s world record: Vladimir Kanaykin, 1:17:16
American to watch: Trevor Barron
Women’s world record: Vera Sokolova, 1:25:08
American to watch: Maria Michta
50km (men only): the longest and slowest Olympic track event (by far) has never been completed in under 3 and a half hours. The only American competitor is trials champion John Nunn.
110m hurdles (men only): When American record holder and 2008 bronze medalist David Oliver (of Howard University fame) failed to qualify for the event, he left it wide open. In his place are Americans Aries Merritt who ran the fastest time in 2012, 2011 world champion Jason Richardson and Jeff Porter.
100m hurdles (women only): Three Americans will likely be chasing Australian Sally Pearson who ran the 4th fastest time in history at the 2011 World Championships (12.28). In 2008 American Lolo Jones hit a hurdle late in the race and allowed fellow American Dawn Harper to pass her for the gold. Both of them are back this year, as is Olympic newcomer Kelli Wells.
400m hurdles: Men’s world record: Kevin Young, 46.78
Americans to watch: Michael Tinsley (48.02), Kerron Clement (47.24) and Angelo Taylor (47.25)
Women’s world record: Yuliya Pechonkina, 52.34
In 2008 Jamaican Melanie Walker took the gold in 52.64, but in 2011 she lost to American Lashinda Demus with an even faster time of 52.47 (American record, 2nd fastest time in history). The competition will be fierce and it might take a world record setting run to take home the gold.
High jump: Men’s world record: Javier Sotomayor, 2.45m
Americans to watch: Jesse Williams and Jamie Nieto
Women’s world record: Stefka Kostadinova, 2.09m
Americans to watch: Chaunte Lowe, Brigetta Barrett
Pole Vault: Men’s world record: Sergey Bubka, 6.14m
American to watch: Brad Walker
Women’s world record: Yelena Isinbayeva, 5.06m
American to watch: Jenn Suhr (American record holder)
Long Jump: Men’s world record: Mike Powell, 8.95m
Americans to watch: Will Claye, Marquise Goodwin and George Kitchens Jr.
Women’s world record: Galina Chistyakova, 7.52m
Americans to watch: Janay Deloach and Chelsea Hayes
Triple Jump: Men’s world record: Johnathan Edwards, 18.29m
Americans to watch: Christian Taylor (2011 world champion) and Will Claye (2012 World Indoors champion)
Women’s world record: Inessa Kravets, 15.50m
American to watch: Amanda Smock (14.18)
Shot Put: Men’s record holder: Randy Barnes, 23.12m
Americans to watch: Christian Cantwell (22.54m), Reese Hoffa (22.43m) and Ryan Whiting (22.00m)
Women’s record holder: Natalya Lisovskaya, 22.63m
Americans to watch: Jilian Camarena-Williams and Michelle Carter
Discus: Men’s world record: Jurgen Schult, 74.08m
Americans to watch: Lance Brooks, Jarred Rome and Jason Young
Women’s world record: Gabriele Reinsch, 76.80m
Americans to watch: Aretha Thurmond, Gia Lewis-Smallwood, Stephanie Brown Trafton
Hammer: Men’s world record: Yuriy Sedykh, 86.74
Americans to watch: Kibwe Johnson (80.31) and A.G. Kruger (79.26)
Women’s world record holder: Betty Heidler
Americans to watch: Amber Campbell, Amanda Bingson and Jessica Cosby (American record holder)
Javelin- Men’s world record: Jan Zelezny, 98.48
Americans to watch: Craig Kinsley, Sean Furey and Cyrus Hostetler
Women’s world record: Barbora Špotáková, 72.28
Americans to watch: Brittany Borman, Rachel Yurkovich and Kara Patterson (American record holder)
Decathlon (men only): Consists of 10 events: 100m, long jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus throw, pole vault, javelin throw, 1500m. As obscure as this may seem, it has long been dominated by Americans. The 2008 gold medalist was American, Bryan Clay, although he won’t be competing this year. In his place is the duo of Ashton Eaton (world record holder) and Trey Hardee (two-time World Champion).
Heptathlon (women only): the women’s event only has seven parts: 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m, long jump, javelin throw, 800m. The world record holder is American Jackie Joyner-Kersee and this year three Americans will be chasing her record: Sharon Day, Chantae McMillan and Hyleas Fountain.
4x100m: Pretty much a race for second place. Jamaica is the runaway favorite for gold -– in Beijing they set a new world record, three years later they did it again (37:04) and could likely be the first team to run the race in under 37 seconds. With a sprint team led by Tyson Gay the U.S. does have a shot at a medal, but most likely it won’t be gold.
The women’s race leans much more in favor of the Americans. Four years ago both the U.S. and Jamaica were disqualified for dropping the baton. Assuming that doesn’t happen again, Bianca Knight, Allyson Felix, Marshevet Hooker and Carmelita Jeter have a shot at the gold.
4x400m: The U.S. men haven’t fallen short of gold in this event for the past seven Olympics, but this could be the year the streak ends. At the 2011 World Championships it took last second heroics from LaShawn Merritt to bring home the gold. The team of Merritt, Angelo Taylor, David Neville and Jeremy Wariner will have to work hard to keep a growing list of contenders at bay.
The American women have been equally successful in the event, winning the past 4 Olympic gold medals, but like the men, they’ll have growing competition, mainly from Jamaica and Russia. Sanya Richards-Ross and Allyson Felix will lead the team in pursuit of a 5th straight gold medal.