2016 Olympic Games Preview And Predictions: The Sprints

So here we are again, 4 years since the Olympic torch was extinguished in London and it is nearly time for it to shine bright once again in the vibrancy of Rio de Janeiro.

If only things were as positive as I tried to make it in the opening sentence though! The decision not to give Russia a blanket ban and to not send the strongest possible message has put a huge downer with less than 2 weeks before the opening ceremony.  Since my blog focuses on athletics, it means that Darya Klishina will be the only Russian I will have to consider (quite strange that it was only the IAAF that ended up taking the strong stance that people wanted!) so the IOC’s decision doesn’t affect this particular post.  However I will focus on the action that is hopefully about to happen and will take on the mammoth task of predicting EVERY single medal to be won in Rio.  Here we go!

 

MEN’S 100 METRES

So Usain Bolt lines up at his 4th Olympics (a lot of people forget he was there back in 2004!) trying to be the first man to win 3 Olympic 100 metres titles.  The one thing you can say about Bolt is that he always runs his fastest times at the major championships.  He is also in a better position than he was last year in the fact he hasn’t had the same injury issues but the 100 is his more vulnerable event (even though he ranks higher in the 100 than he does the 200).  It seems Justin Gatlin will again play the pantomime villain and biggest challenger.  He hasn’t been as good as last year though when he was running 9.7x seemingly every single race but does have the world lead of 9.80 seconds.  Trayvon Bromell has continued where he left of last year having run 9.84 behind Gatlin at the US Olympic trials and if there was a surprise it would most likely be him.  Europe’s best hope seems to be Jimmy Vicaut who has twice run under 9.90 seconds this year but he has a tendency to not put it together in the biggest races as he did when he failed to win the Europeans when he was the big favourite.  Another story that could arise is that of Yohan Blake who hasn’t run much at all since winning silver at the last Olympic Games but has come back into some decent form (but still not close to his form in 2012) and could be a ‘surprise’ medallist.  Unfortunately I don’t see any of the Brits making the final this year and there is no doubt that you will have to run sub-10 in the SF’s to make the final.

My pick however is Usain Bolt.  This isn’t the vintage 2008/2009 Bolt anymore but I still see him running 9.7x in the final and I am not sure if Gatlin or anyone else will beat him.

PREDICTION:  GOLD: Usain Bolt (Jam); SILVER: Justin Gatlin (USA); BRONZE: Trayvon Bromell (USA)

 

WOMEN’S 100 METRES

You could argue the women’s side of world sprinting is more exciting and certainly has more depth.  The America trio of English Gardner (10.74), Tianna Bartoletta (10.78) and Tori Bowie (10.78) suggests that all 3 are serious medal contenders.  Before the trials Bowie would have been the pick of the Americans but despite only being 3rd (which in fairness is all she needed) I think the fact she has success at major championships (bronze last year in Beijing) gives her the edge over Gardner and Bartoletta.  She has also been more consistent.

The Jamaican contingent is as always strong including fastest woman this year in Elaine Thompson (10.70) and double Olympic Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.93) and International new-comer Christiana Williams (10.97).  There are lots of questions about whether SAFP will be able to defend her a title yet again and it has almost gone under the radar that she hasn’t run that fast although her best was at the Jamaican trials and her experience will help her more than any of her competitors.  However it was the performance of Elaine Thompson at those trials perhaps makes her the favourite for Gold.  The only question is her big time temperament with a high level of expectation particular over the shorter distance.  The only way to answer that question is to be put in that position but I haven’t seen anything as of yet to suggest that she would crack under the pressure.

From Europe, Dafne Schippers is once again the main and likely only major threat for the medals.  Her 10.83 she ran back in May is her fastest this year and while she has been beaten over the 100 this year a few times, she convincingly won the Europeans and she will be there or thereabouts, especially if she can get a relatively good start.  Desiree Henry looks to be Britain’s best chance but similar to the men, it will very likely take sub-11 to get into the final.

Ivory coast is likely to be Africa’s best hopes with Murielle Ahoure (10.78) and Marie Josee Ta-Lou (10.96) with Ta-Lou winning the Anniversary Games and Ahoure with that extremely impressive time although her next best time of 10.99 makes me wonder if that 10.78 was truly indicative of her potential in Rio.

PREDICTION: GOLD: Elaine Thompson (Jam); SILVER: Tori Bowie (USA); BRONZE: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

 

MEN’S 200 METRES

LaShawn Merritt is the world leader in the 200 meters (19.74 seconds).  I didn’t expect that of the beginning of the year! In fact he has run 3 of the 4 fastest times this year, only being broken up by everyone’s favourite sprinter Justin Gatlin (19.75).  Usain Bolt has only run one 200 this year and his 19.89 winning time shows that he is in fairly decent shape but expect him to go a fair bit quicker in Rio.  That to be honest is the point with Bolt.  If he runs 19.5/19.6 he will very likely win and I would be surprised if he doesn’t run around that kind of time so it is hard to look beyond him.  The 3rd American Ameer Webb (19.85) has been very consistent with 4 runs of 20.00 seconds or less.

Yohan Blake (20.29) and Nickel Ashmeade (20.07) make up the rest of the Jamaicans and it would appear that there won’t be a 1-2-3 sweep this time around but I would certainly expect Blake to be quicker whilst Ashmeade didn’t have the best run at the Anniversary Games in London and will probably do better in Rio.

Perhaps the best chance of a medal for the Brits in the sprint is this event with Nathaneel Mitchell-Blake (19.96) and Adam Gemili (20.07) both contenders to at least make the final.  Mitchell-Blake has had a couple of injury niggles and wasn’t super impressive at the Europeans so he has some question marks whilst Adam Gemili has gone the other way and his run in London was very encouraging and will looking to go sub 20 in Rio which will likely make the final.

PREDICTION: GOLD: Usain Bolt (Jam); SILVER: Justin Gatlin (USA); BRONZE: LaShawn Merritt (USA)

 

WOMEN’S 200 METRES

After that incredible final in Beijing last year I think many were thinking of the possibilities of the Olympic 200 metre final in Rio.  Dafne Schippers and Elaine Thompson had sped to times not seen for many, many years and there were others whose focus in Beijing were on other events.  However for Rio, Alyson Felix only qualified for the 400 metres, SAFP just wanted to do the 100 whilst Shaunae Miller will do just the 400 but this is still a very, very deep event at the moment.

World Champion Schippers does start as the marginal favourite in my opinion having run the fastest time in the world this year (21.93) but was beaten by American Tori Bowie in Eugene (21.99).  Of course there is Elaine Thompson as well (who I assume will line up in the 200 as well as the 100) with a best of 22.16 this year but has focused more on the shorter sprint this year so it is difficult to gauge what her form is in the longer sprint but her 10.70 for the 100 makes me think that she will likely go sub 22 again.  Former Double Olympic Champion Veronica Campbell-Brown lines up yet again and while I don’t think she will win a medal, she will probably make the final once again.

Dina Asher-Smith (22.37) is the next best European and has a good chance of making the final and will have confidence coming of becoming European Champion in Amsterdam.  The other Americans, Jenna Prandini (22.39) and Deejah Stevens (22.25) will make it likely that at least 2 American will make the final.

 

PREDICTIONS: GOLD: Dafne Schippers (Ned); SILVER: Tori Bowie (USA); BRONZE: Elaine Thompson (Jam)

 

MEN’S 400 METRES

This seems like a 3 way battle for the medals and indeed the same 3 who won the medals at last year’s World Championships and it seems difficult to say anyone else will get past them.  South African World Champion Wayde van Niekerk (44.11), former World Champion LaShawn Merritt (43.97) and current Olympic Champion Kirani James (44.08) are a level up from basically everyone else so in my opinion the question is the order of those 3.  As the 400 goes before the 200, that certainly puts Merritt more into play than had it been the reverse although but despite being ranked number 1 in 2016, he has been beaten on a couple of occasions including Kirani James.  In terms of the order, I think it will be the same as Beijing with van Niekerk edging ahead of Merritt and James but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was any order involving those 3.

After those 3, there is a large group of athletes fairly closely matched together who could all make the final.  Isaac Makwala is always one who can run very quickly but has had issues doing it consistently at the Championships but has ‘only’ run 44.85 this year.  It is curious how Granada has produced two excellent 400 metre runners with Bralon Taplin running consistently in and around the 44.50 mark.  Machel Cedenio has impressed me when I have seen him and is ranked 6th in the world this year running 44.34 in Monaco behind van Niekerk.

As for the Brits, it was good to see Martyn Rooney (45.04) timely returning to form retaining his European Title and the exciting Matthew Hudson-Smith (44.88) has done well since returning from injury.  As Rabah Yousif showed last year in making the final in Beijing, neither should think that making the final is too much to aim for but the competition is very, very tough.

PREDICTIONS: GOLD: Wayde van Niekerk (SA); SILVER: LaShawn Merritt (USA); BRONZE: Kirani James (Gra)

 

WOMEN’S 400 METRES

For some people, this could be a controversial one.  However for me the gold medal at the minute seems likely to be between Allyson Felix (49.68) and Shaunae Miller (49.55).  They were the top 2 in Beijing last year and they have been the top 2 this year as well.  After Felix surprisingly didn’t qualify in her favourite event in the 200 (which meant the timetable was changed for nothing), all her attention will be on securing the one major title she hasn’t won as a 200/400 runner.  In many ways Shaunae Miller could well be the next Alyson Felix, if not in terms of physical stature then perhaps in terms of career paths.  She could well have gone in the 200 as well but has decided to stick with just the one-lap sprint which is certainly her better shot at gold.

Now the controversial bit (some will disagree with that) but let’s talk about Caster Semenya.  Her 50.74 she ran at the South African Championships only puts her 14th in the World this year but with the apparent ease she ran that time in and the fact that there are multiple Americans and Jamaicans ahead of her who won’t be in Rio, she looks likely to make the final based of that run.  Ultimately her story is one which divides opinion and I will look at that again in a different post but I’m not quite convinced that she is going to come in and sweep all before her in this event.  The truth is no one knows quite what she can and will actually do in the 400 in Rio.  We’ve never seen her in that position before so is she a low 49/sub 49 runner as some people think or a high 49/low 50 runner? We’ll find that answer out but I certainly think the Jamaican contingent of Stephanie Ann-McPherson, Shericka Jackson and Christine Day will all challenge for one of the medals.

No Sanya Richards-Ross, Courtney Okolo or Francena McCorory for the USA and whilst Phyllis Francis and Natasha Hastings have run well to make the team, I don’t see them in the medals this time.  Same thing for Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu who just edged out Anyika Onoura for the final spot for Team GB but if she follows her usual pattern of peaking and getting better in the Championships, then I don’t think it is impossible for her to make the final but it is not the sure thing that is often has been in the past.

PREDICTIONS: GOLD: Allyson Felix (USA); SILVER: Shaunae Miller (Bah); BRONZE: Caster Semenya (SA)

 

THE RELAYS

I won’t go into too much detail here, especially for the shorter sprints as they are notorious for many strange things happening and can cause surprises whilst the 4×400 is usually a bit easier to predict.  Safe to say America and Jamaica will be heavily involved in all 4 relays (assuming there are no dropped batons) but I think we will get some good news for the Brits as I think we have a chance in all 4 relays to get a medal and I think we will have at least something to celebrate in the final couple days of the games.

PREDICTIONS:

Men’s 4×100: GOLD: JAMAICA; SILVER: USA; BRONZE: FRANCE

Women’s 4×100: GOLD: USA; SILVER: JAMAICA; BRONZE: GREAT BRITAIN

Men’s 4×400: GOLD: USA; SILVER: TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO; BRONZE: JAMAICA

Women’s 4×400: GOLD: USA; SILVER: JAMAICA; BRONZE: GREAT BRITAIN

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