I love Usain Bolt. In fact, many of us love Usain Bolt. However, we must remind ourselves from time to time that he won’t be running any race longer than a fifth of a kilometre.
This Olympics promises a veritable smorgasbord of other track events to feast our eyes on.
From an Australian perspective, there are slim picking, with only Jared Tallent as a legitimate medal chance. Heck, Australia will do well if any other runner makes the finals in their chosen event.
Still, it’s going to be on TV, so you may as well watch the following:
1. Women’s 100m
Timing is everything. For all the (completely understandable) hype surrounding Bolt and the potential ‘triple-triple’ he’s trying to achieve, there is another Jamaican who is out to create history and become the first person, male or female, to win three consecutive individual golds in the same track event.
Luckily for Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, her 100-metre run is before Bolt’s.
Standing in the way of the undisputed queen of double-barrelled names though is an injury-affected campaign, plus a raft of younger women coming through. Her key advantage is that she was in a similar position in Beijing last year and still won.
A proven performer at the top level, so will keep the others honest right up until the finish line.
2. Men’s 800m
The London 2012 800 metres was without doubt the showpiece event of the track and field program.
All runners posted sub 1:44 times. Seven of the runners ran personal best times (the other ran a still impressive season best), and of course it was topped off by David Rudisha’s outrageous world record, becoming the only man to dip under 1:41 in history.
While it’s highly unlikely any world record will be broken this time around, Rudisha is the most outstanding 800-metre runner we’ve ever seen, and any true athletics fan will have the TV on for 102 seconds (101 if we are lucky) to see him toy with his opposition.
Rudisha will be remembered in the same breath as Bolt or Kenenisa Bekele when people are discussing the definition of ‘dominant’. Watch him and savour the moment.
3. Women’s 800m
This will be the most controversial of the entire athletics program.
Now that she’s off the testosterone blockers, Caster Semenya is the prohibitive favourite to take the gold. Can she harness her abilities and advantages and finally break the drug-tainted world record which has stood for 33 years? T
here is no doubt that her gold will split the fans. Some will say it’s marvellous, some will say her natural advantage is just not fair.
Me? Well, the more doping records that fall the better. Semenya may have a natural advantage, but she at least wins clean. That’s what counts.
4. Men’s 10,000m
I love the long-distance events, a thrilling 26 to 28 minutes. There are always two battles going on in a 10k: the footrace, and the tactical battle. It’s one of the very few events where you are both physically and mentally exhausted.
One athlete is an exception: Mo Farah. British people will long remember the 10,000 in London because of Farah, and that he won on the night of nights for British athletics.
Farah exerts complete control over tactics and the pace of a race – control to the point where you think he could do it again half an hour later.
Expect nothing less from him in Rio.
However, what I would also like to see is for him to control the race at a faster pace. For all his considerable talents and abilities, he controls a race to the point where they are really quite slow (look no further than the crawling 5000m in 2012). Races in which he does not participate are actually faster. There are four people in the race (including his training partner, Galen Rupp) who have faster PBs than Farah.
The world record is out of his reach, but I would like to see him set the pace so that an Olympic record is for the taking. He needs to do it too: while his double gold in 2012 was awesome, he’ll never be revered in the same way as Haile Gebrselassie and Bekele until he starts setting records.
Where better than an Olympic games?
5. Women’s heptathlon
Okay, so this isn’t purely track, but it is still worth keeping an eye on over its two days of competition, with three people in particular to watch.
Reigning Olympic and world champion Jessica Ennis-Hill is looking to emulate Jackie Joyner-Kersee and win consecutive golds in the heptathlon.
Brianne Theisen-Eaton is out to become one half of the first husband-wife pairing to win gold at the Olympics since the Zatopeks in 1952 (and Ashton Eaton is a near-certainty to win the decathlon). The critical differences between the Eatons and the Zatopeks are that the Eatons are doing the same event (yes, a slight technicality between hept- and dec-, but they both are still ‘–athlons’, right?) and that the Eatons are representing different countries!
The last woman to watch will be Katarina Johnson-Thompson, whom besides her awesome surname, will be in Rio seeking redemption. She was a podium certainty in Beijing in 2015 and blew it badly on the long jump: her pet event. Apparently, her computer desktop photo is an image of her fouling her third jump, reminding her of her failure.
She has immense abilities, but has yet never really completed a heptathlon where you would say she posted seven competitive scores in her events. If she does in Rio, she’s right up there for gold.
6. Men’s 50-kilometre walk
This is the only athletics event which will feature a reigning Olympic champion who holds an Australian passport. If Jared Tallent happens to pull off a gold-medal walk (and he would be looking at a podium place a the bare minimum) then he will have the distinction of being the only person to be awarded a gold medal across two Olympics in the space of only a few months!
He’s a top-five performer this year, and proven at big events as well. A spot on the podium should be his minimum aim.
7. Women’s 200m
In sprint events, people of West African heritage dominate. In long distance, it’s the East Africans. In hurdles, the technical aspects level the playing fields significantly, so that raw and pure pace is not a guarantee of victory.
This is the fairly accepted state of track events.
However, every once in a while we an anomaly pop up. Galen Rupp in long-distance racing is one, Jeremy Wariner another.
Dafne Schippers is the new anomaly – and what an anomaly. Make no mistake about it: this woman is quick; by far the quickest European woman to ever (legally) race. She’s the third fastest of all time – Florence Griffith Joyner and Marion Jones (the latter a cheat, the former with a seriously questionable career) are faster – and the reigning 200-metre world champion.
To prove she’s no one-trick pony, she came second in the 100 metres in 2015. She’s the holder of the world’s leading time this year, and one of just two people to run sub-22 seconds in 2016.
By no means is this in the bag, but signs are looking good.