Track and Field preview (cont.)
Kenyan Pamela Jelimo in the 800 meters (Mon., Aug 18). Athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia have dominated distance running for nearly two decades and will probably dominate these Olympics. Kenyan women have won three Olympic track medals, but none at any distance shorter than 5,000 meters.
Enter 18-year-old Jelimo, who has run five of the seven fastest 800-meter times in 2008. The owner of the other two, Yelena Soboleva of Russia, has been banned from the Games in a bust that nailed seven Russian track athletes. Jelimo, who does not show an 800 PR before this year, has broken 1:56 five times, including a PR of 1:54.97. Last week she told the Kenyan press that she thinks she has a chance at Jarmila Kratachvilova's 25-year-old world record of 1:53.28. The question becomes: Is that a world record you really want to break?
The men's 4x100 (Friday, Aug. 22). The old theory was that if the U.S. got the stick around the track, it would win. Getting the stick around was often a problem. In 1996, the U.S. got the stick around and got beat, the first time that had ever happened. In 2004, it happened again, when Maurice Greene couldn't make up for two lousy exchanges and came up .01 short of Great Britain's Mark Lewis-Francis at the tape.
In Beijing, it might not be that close. The Jamaicans will trot out Bolt, Powell, 2005 world silver medalist Michael Frater and Nesta Carter. Frater's 10.02 is the slowest time of the four and no relay team has ever included two runners with 100-meter bests under 9.80, never mind 9.75. If the United States is sloppy with sticks, it won't be close.
Marathons (Women: Sun., Aug. 17; Men: Sun., Aug 24). The Beijing weather has improved slightly since most media arrived a week or two ago. It's merely uncomfortable, not oppressive. It rains regularly. But for Sunday's women's race, it's expected to be in the mid 70's with clouds and heavy humidity. Could be worse. Could be much better. It was much hotter (95 degrees), but much less humid when Deena Kastor won a bronze medal in Athens.
Temperatures are expected to build to higher levels for the men's race, in which 25-year-old Ryan Hall will try to provide the U.S. with its second consecutive marathon medal (following Meb Keflezighi's silver in 2004), after a drought of 28 years (since Frank Shorter's silver in Montreal in 1976).
The reality is that with the exception of Sydney in 2000, every recent summer Olympic marathon (men and women) has been contested under less than ideal conditions. It follows that each of these races becomes a referendum on the practice. Perhaps London will be cooler four years from now.
USA longshots in the 800 (Final on Sat., Aug. 23). The 800 at the U.S. Trials on the night of June 30 was, by consensus, the most compelling moment of the meet in Eugene (with the possible exception of Tyson Gay's digger in the 200-meter quarters): Nick Symmonds kicking out of a box and running away, Andy Wheating kicking into second, Christian Smith and Khadevis Robinson diving at the line (with Smith getting the third spot and the Olympic 'A' standard in the same race).
On paper, none of the three has a shot at a medal and Symmonds, the fastest and most experienced, will be pressed to make the final. His season's best (and PR) of 1:44.03 makes him only the 10th-fastest individual in the world in '08. Wheating, who has incredibly been running track for only two years, is ranked No. 23 and Smith is No. 34.
But there is something about this threesome. Symmonds and Wheating, in particular, have explosive kicks and to advance through the rounds in a championship 800, runners must finish. The 800 is loaded here, with five entrants at 1:43.26 or faster and three under 1:43 flat. But if the U.S. runners can survive the rounds, and if the pace doesn't go impossibly fast in the final, we could be looking at Dave Wottle redux.
Felix, Goucher and Richards. In their perfect world, two-time world 200-meter champion Allyson Felix and U.S. 400-meter record holder Sanya Richards would both be running the 200 and 400 meters here. The schedule does not permit it, so each will take one shot at her first individual Olympic gold (and Felix will do it after running horribly in her last race, a 23-flat 200 in London that followed a quick trip home for a friend's wedding).
Goucher, meanwhile, will try to match -- or better -- her stunning bronze medal finish at last year's worlds. (Plus, she has extra buzz after writing in her hometown newspaper that a member of the Redeem Team asked for her phone number during the opening ceremonies).