Track is my field: Mark Cullen's international track and field website featuring storytelling, commentary, and predictions and event analyses for the Olympics and World Championships. I'll be writing from the 2018 European Championships in Berlin in August. I'm active on Facebook and Twitter: @trackerati.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Day 7 Olympic T+F Events Previews and Picks

for events beginning on
Day 7 – Thursday, August 18

M Shot Put
Until the US Olympic Trials, this seemed like an easy call. Joe Kovacs (US) moved up through the ranks in a predictable path to greatness – predictable because it’s a path pupils of his coach, Art Venegas, tend to follow. His culminating achievement was a win at the World Championships last summer and he seemed well on his way to Olympic glory. He may well be… but then the Olympic Trials happened. Ryan Crouser (US, OR) blew his PR out of the water with his 22.11/72-6 ½, just two centimeters short of Kovacs’ 22.13/72-7 ¼ /world leader.

Kovacs was comfortably in 3rd throughout most of the competition, but that was an unusual position for him, and even he acknowledged that he was very tight for the first 5 rounds. He let loose with a last throw that vaulted him into second and challenged Crouser’s lead, but it was, in its own way, too little and too late.

With this throw Kovacs passed Darrell Hill, the 22-year-old NCAA runner-up, whose 2nd round 21.63/70-11¾ served notice that he was here to play with the big boys for good. Crouser, 23, thinks the US could sweep the medals in Rio, and that certainly is a distinct possibility. But between 21.06/69-1¼ and 21.76/71-4¾ are 8 athletes in the mix for a medal.

At 26, Germany’s David Storl already has two World titles and an Olympic silver medal. He was second in Beijing and is a great big-meet competitor. He won this year’s Euro title with a modest 21.31/69-11.

No matter how far off the radar screen he may appear before big meets, never underestimate 2-time Olympic champion, Thomas Majewski (Pol). However, it’s a blank screen when he hasn’t cracked 21m this year and it may well take 22m to medal. O’Dayne Richards of Jamaica was a surprise bronze medal winner in Beijing, but his results are even more modest than those of Majewski this year.

Intriguing in 9th place on the world list is 19-year-old Konrad Bukowiecki (Pol), sure to be a crowd favorite. Don’t be surprised to see Buko make the final 8.

Likely to break up a US sweep is Tom Walsh of New Zealand. Part of this event’s youth movement, he won the World Indoor Championships in Portland this winter, suffered a bit of a performance dip during the spring, but rebounded nicely to finish 2-2-1-2 in his last four Diamond League meets.

1. Joe Kovacs, US
2. Tom Walsh, NZ
3. Ryan Crouser, US

W High Jump
This is an event in transition - and what a terrific transition it is.

Gone are the days of Croatia’s diva Blanka Vlasic, who, while entered in this meet, has only a single competition on her 2016 record, and that in January.

With Russians 1-3 at ’15 Worlds (and therefore out due to the drug ban) and Vlasic apparently not at her best (though intriguingly, she is entered), all three podium spots appear to be up for grabs.

Spain’s Ruth Beitia is leading the resurgence of an older group of competitors, some of whom are jumping the best of their careers. The Diamond League season began quietly enough with consecutive wins by Saint Lucia’s Lavern Spencer and Chaunte Lowe (US). Then Beitia took over and won three in a row to stamp herself as a moderate favorite going into these Olympics.

Lowe is among the very best of these veterans. Since being beaten in Portland for the World Indoor title by teenager Vashti Cunningham, Lowe hasn’t lost to her again, and that includes a triumph at the US Olympic Trials in a world list-leading 6-7/2.01.

Teenager Cunningham has seemingly vast potential, as if soaring to 6-6¼/1.99 in Portland wasn’t fulfillment of promise enough. It’s not often that a teenager in track and field has a legitimate chance of a medal, and Cunningham will be in the thick of it against the two great veterans.

Kamila Licwinko, Pol, has performed steadily among the upper ranks of women’s high jumpers: 4th in Beijing and 3rd in Portland – and World Indoor champ in Sopot in ’14.

Levern Spencer of St. Lucia has finished 1-2-5-6 in Diamond League meets this season, and don’t count out Inika McPherson, who jumped so well at the US Olympic Trials to claim the coveted 3rd spot on the Olympic team.

 Dark horses are Katarina Johnson-Thompson (GB) – will she double back after the heptathlon? – and Germany’s Marie-Laurence Jungfleisch, who has been in four major finals in the last two years and would love to make this the first time she climbs the podium; she is only one centimeter behind Lowe on this year’s world list.

1. Ruth Beitia, Sp
2. Chaunte Lowe, US
3. Vashti Cunningham, US

W 4x100m Relay
Close isn’t good enough, as the US found out twice in the Beijing World Championship relays. In fact, Jamaica’s margin of victory in the 4x100 (.61) was almost exactly twice what it was in their 4x400 triumph, and that is ‘dominating win’ territory.

It should be closer this time, with an aging and ailing Jamaican sprint corps and a young and startlingly quick - but inexperienced - US delegation. But if Jamaica can field a team even close to that of Beijing - watch out!

Their only relatively unknown member was Natasha Morrison, who had finished a modest-for-Jamaica 7th in the 100m final (Jamaican sprinters have to start somewhere!). Veronica Campbell-Brown led off and passed to Morrison, and then it was Morrison to Elaine Thompson to Veronica Campbell-Brown for the win. That team has 33 World and Olympic medals among them - granted, some overlapping on the same relay, but I did say 33 medals!

Meanwhile, the US has a Brazilian buffet full of choices for the sprint relay this year, with English Gardner, Deajah Stevens, and Ariana Washington (all from that collegiate hotbed of sprinting, the University of Oregon) rounding out a talented sprint corps led by Torie Bowie and Tianna Bartoletta.

And possibly someone named Allyson.

Elaine Thompson’s resurgence in the 100m makes the anchor role an interesting decision for Jamaica, just as Veronica Campbell-Brown’s apparent lack of form makes team membership a political hot potato.

Meanwhile, Great Britain is impressive with their 41.81 run at the London Diamond League in July, and the Netherlands is still recovering from the celebration which followed their European Championships victory (42.04) over Great Britain (by .41) and Germany (by .44). Still, Germany ran 41.62 on July 29.

Imagine this: three anchors get the baton at the same time; they are: Elaine Thompson, Dafne Schippers, and Torie Bowie or Allyson Felix. Who wins?

Much will depend on who shows up for Jamaica. With all hands on deck it will be the experience of Jamaica vs the raw talent of the United States.

And we know what always wins, don’t we? That’s right: raw talent – as long as they get the baton around.

1. United States
2. Jamaica
3. Netherlands

4x100m Relay
Round up the usual suspects.

That would be Jamaica, China, Canada, Great Britain + NI, France, and Germany. Don’t forget Antigua, which had such a great 2015 with a 6th place finish at Worlds. Or Trinidad and Tobago, which has finished 2nd and 3rd in the last two Olympics and shortened Ato Boldon’s life considerably (the accomplished sprinter and now accomplished analyst says it’s far worse to watch his national team than it ever was for him to run the relay itself).

Whaddya mean I didn’t include the US?

Do you have any idea how many picks I’ve squandered choosing the United States to medal in the 4x1? It’s 9, exactly, or maybe 10, which makes 9 not exactly exactly.

On the track, it’s 8 - 7 World and one Olympics. That’s how many times the US men have failed to get the baton around.

In the lab, it’s 9, with Tyson Gay’s positive from 2012 having wiped out the US record of 37.04 and deprived his teammates of their silvers – for some of whom (Trell Kimmons, Jeff Demps, and Ryan Bailey) it was the only Olympic medal they ever won.

While relay squads are in flux at press time, this much can be said: with Bromell, Gatlin, Gay, and Michael Rodgers, the US has a formidable lineup for a country that doesn’t take this event very seriously (relay camp for a couple of weeks before Worlds or the Olympics is not nearly serious enough – don’t even get me started).

Of course, it’s possible to go too far in this regard, as for East Germany life was a relay camp, but that’s another story. Trayvon Bromell showed his youth at ’15 Worlds when he had a poor start (understandably, a 19 year old does not want to false start his country out of the relay). The US would do well to place Bromell on anchor and leave it to the veterans to get the baton to him.

Then there’s that Jamaican team. Just get it to Bolt – easier said than done. But the formidable lineup of Nesta Carter (now out with a drug positive) to Asafa Powell to Nickel Ashmeade to Usain Bolt rendered the bobbled US exchange in Beijing moot – Jamaica would have won anyway. A key point for Jamaica this year will be their replacement for Ashmeade.

While not many relays have been run this year with national teams, Great Britain and Northern Ireland lead the yearly list at 37.78, with a 37.81 to back it up. Canada, China, and Germany are closely bunched behind at 38.22 and faster.

Note that Canada won ’15 World bronze with decathlete Damian Warner on anchor. Don’t you  love it when a gutsy call like that pays off?

Meanwhile, Brazil won bronze and silver in this event in 1996 and 2000. And Russia – well, nevermind.

Finally, Usain Bolt’s 30 birthday is the last day of the Olympic Games. Shouldn’t they have scheduled the men’s 4x100 as the closing event of the Games?

1. Jamaica
2. United States

3. China


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