I went to college on a track scholarship. I've even run against 4 members of USA Track and Field. Needless to say, track is my favorite event at the Olympics. I'm going to spend the next 3 days talking about the prospects for American athletes in the 3 aspects of the track and field competition: Men's Track, Men's Field, Women's Track and Field. No, I'm not trying to put women to the back seat by cramming them into one day, I just don't know the sport as well.
Men's 100 Meter Dash
This could be the best event of the Olympics in any sport. Assuming that Tyson Gay is in fact healthy the middle 4 lanes of the Olympic final will be World Champion Tyson Gay, World Record Holder Usain Bolt, former World Record Holder Asafa Powell, and 2 time defending NCAA Champion Walter Dix. It's not a stretch to think that the Americans could take home 2 medals here, but I think Dix will get squeezed off the medal podium. Depending on conditions all three medal winners could go under World Record time. This is the greatest compilation of 100 Meter runners maybe ever. Outstanding!!
Men's 200 Meter Dash
This event lost some of it's luster when Tyson Gay pulled up lame at the US Trials, but make no mistake: there should still be some fireworks. Walter Dix is probably better in the 200 than he is in the 100. Wallace Spearmon is probably the best curve runner in the world. Shawn Crawford races animals on TV. The only athlete primed to prevent an American sweep is the aforementioned Usain Bolt. Should be another very good race with the probability of two American medalists.
Men's 400 Meter Dash
The only question in the 400 will be if LaShawn Merritt can break Jeremy Wariner's (PA competitor number 1) stranglehold of dominance in this event. Wariner has dominated this distance since before the Athens Olympics, but Merritt showed some possible chinks in Superman's armor by beating him at the Trials. Between the two of them they have the top 10 performances in the world this year. David Neville is in a good position to make it an American sweep. Neville's strongest competition will come from two Bahamians, Christopher Brown and Andretti Bain, and a Canuck, Tyler Christopher. It would take a super human effort from Wariner to break Michael Johnson's World Record. I think that Merritt is pretty much maxed out.
Men's 800 Meter Run
Nick Symmonds (PA competitor number 2) provides the US a legit contender for a medal. The last US medalist in the Olympics at this distance was Johnny Gray in 1992. This might be the distance where the US has the least auspicious history. It's sort of surprising considering the storied history the US has in both the 400 and the 1500. Symmonds is a crazy man. He and I entered college at the same time and we both went to Division 3 schools, so I've followed his career pretty closely. He loves pain and he looks more like a wrestler than a runner. He's going to be a distinct underdog, but he also hates losing. I've seen this guy gut out wins and snatch victory from some improbable spots. The question is now whether he can do it on a major international stage. The favorites will be Abubaker Kaki of Sudan, veteran Yuri Borzakovskiy of Russia, Yusuf Saad Kamal of Bahrain, Yeimer Lopez of Cuba and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi of South Africa. If Nick can make the finals anything can happen but I think he'll have to try and take out a perhaps uncomfortably fast pace and see if he can hang on over the last 200 meters.
Men's 1500 Meter Run
The American trio in this event each presents an interesting story. At the World Championships last year Bernard Lagat became the first man ever to pull off the 1500/5000 meter double. That was the premier story in track and field since Michael Johnson set World Records in the 200 and 400 in Atlanta. Lopez Lamong is the former "Lost Boy of Sudan". Leonel Manzano (PA competitor number 3) is the 5'5" Mexican immigrant who continues to bewilder opponents with his consistency and implausible speed. Neither of these 3 have posted one of the top 20 times in the world this year, and realistically Lagat is the only one with a legitimate shot at medalling. The performance lists need to be taken with a grain of salt. Bernard has taken this year a little easy after a taxing 2007 and the trials were taken out at a painfully slow pace. Aside from the windy day in Eugene the rabbit also lagged behind his desired 800 split by nearly 5 seconds. There is a preliminary heat followed by the semifinals and the finals, so Lagat could parlay his distance training into success as the meet wears on. Look for the field to force Lagat into a face pace in the first round because a fast pace will hurt Lagat as he is attempting the double once again. On the other hand the 1500 final is the day before the 5000 prelims so Lagat will be able to focus exclusively on the 1500. It's hard to single out a favorite in this event. 13 runners have run within .9 seconds of the worlds fastest time this year, so it should be uber competitive.
Men's 5k Run
This will be the other half of Lagat's attempt at unparalleled Olympic success. This is probably his better event especially as he ages a little and loses a bit of his speed. The story here is very similar to the 1500, a lot of very talented competitors including World Record holder Kenenisa Bekele. Moses Ndeima Masai of Kenya has separated himself from the rest of the world by nearly 2 seconds, but in a distance like that, in an Olympic year, the gap must be taken somewhat lightly.
Men's 10k Run
Abdi Abdirahman won the American Trials in June and gives the US their best chance, but he would need so many things to go wrong for so many people in order to compete for a medal. Kenenisa Bekele is the World Record Holder and he is also 25 seconds clear of his closest competitors this year. Following Bekele are two more Ethiopians, Sileshi Sihine and Haile Gebreselassie. Realistically the Ethiopians should sweep.
Men's 3000 Meter Steeplechase
The US is in trouble in this event. The PR's for each of the American athletes are not within 5 seconds of the top 10 performances in the world this year. It's still a distance race which the US has never been an American forte, but this event history is particularly bleak. It's still a fun race to watch though on the off chance that a competitor makes a splashdown into the always interesting water pit.
110 Meter Hurdles
If the 100 meter dash is the premier event of this track meet the 110 meter hurdles are a close second. This race features the current World Record Holder, Dayron Robles of Cuba, former world record holder, and reigning gold medalist, Xiang Liu and a hard charging American trio of David Oliver, Terrence Trammell, and David Payne. Payne was a somewhat surprising 3rd place finisher at the American trials, but he's here nonetheless. David Oliver is the only man besides Robles with a performance in the top 8 this year. Terrence Trammell is the two time defending silver medalist. All three Americans should make the finals and once you get there it's anybody's race. The US will get at least one man on the podium and they could sneak another on there as well. It's plausible that all three men on the podium will break the world record.
400 Meter Hurdles
The US has a long history of success in this event and they completely missed the podium in 2004. Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson are the premier 400 hurlers in the world. Angelo Taylor won the gold in Sydney (he's the guy that somewhat infamously turned and waived on his competitors in the closing meters of his olympic triumph). Realistically the US should sweep. LJ Van Zyl of South Africa and Danny McFarlane could sneak in and beat out Taylor, but this is another strong event for the Americans. Both Clement and Jackson have had leisurely 2008 seasons, and while both are over half a second off of the world record they could give a legitimate effort to reestablishing the mark.
There is no universe in which the Americans shouldn't dominate both relays. No country has the depth that the Americans have both sprint events. The 4x100 should include Tyson Gay, Walter Dix and possibly Wallace Spearmon, Shawn Crawford, and Darvis Patton.
The 4x400 meter relay will include LaShawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner, David Neville and Darold Williamson (PA competitor number 4). The World Record in this event turns 10 next month. These guys definitely have a chance to break that record. They'll need to average 43.5 splits, and frankly the only competition for this squad will be the clock.