The marathon is probably the trickiest of the distance running events to predict. Over the past two Olympics, only one favorite has won (the now-deceased Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya in 2008). Since it takes such a toll on the body, your typical marathon runner will run only one or two marathons per season. Plus, the marathon is brutal and a lot of these athletes will show up to the starting line pretty beat up. The medalist is someone who shows up relatively healthy, in great shape, and mentally prepared. Unlike track, little things on the course (hills, humidity, temperature, etc.) can give some athletes and advantage over the other. There are certainly many world class runners in this field, but unlike a 5k or 10k where there are probably 5-8 athletes who have a chance to medal, there are probably 20-30 runners capable of sneaking at the very least a bronze medal if they run their best. The Kenyans, Ethiopians, Chinese, and Japanese all enter with strong competitors.
How will the American’s fare?
They’ve actually got a really good possibility of snagging a medal. Native-Minnesotan Kara Goucher has had some fair success since 2006. She’s finished in the top 3 of three major marathons (New York, Berlin, & Boston) as well as winning a bronze in the 10k in the 2007 World Championships. She’s coming off having a child in 2010, a coaching change, and some injuries.
Shalane Flanagan was born to be a great runner. Her mother, Cheryl Treworgy, was a one-time world marathon record holder and her father, Steve Flanagan, was a member of national cross country teams and an elite-level marathoner, as well. After turning pro in 2004, she was an Olympic finalist in the 5k. Moving up in distance to the 10k in 2008, she cut nearly 30 seconds off the American record and won a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympics becoming only the second American after Lynn Jennings to medal at the 10k. She won the Olympic Trials marathon and has been knocking out some consistently great times over the past few years.
Desiree Davila finished second at the Olympic Trials marathon and has the fastest time ever by an American. In 2011, she finished second by a mere two seconds, at the prestigious Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, though, she’s really struggling with some hip-related injury right now. As of writing this preview, it’s not even 100% certain she’s going to be able to run as she’s doing almost all of her training on a zero-gravity (and relatively impact free) Alter-G treadmill.
Men’s 800 heats
If I could pick the winner of one distance event at the Olympics to bet money on, I’d most certainly back David Rudisha of Kenya. He currently has 9 of the 15 fastest times ever in the event including the world record. The rest of the field is currently about two seconds slower than the times he’s been running all year. What’s even more impressive is that his running style is to go out hard (sometimes 2-3 seconds faster than the rest of the field) and run the second lap all by himself. If you are anything like the typical American sports fan, I’m guessing a lot of you haven’t watched a whole lot of track and field outside of the Olympics. I highly suggest checking out Rudisha.
How will the American’s fare?
In many ways, it depends entirely on how the final plays out. If a couple of the top contenders go out with Rudisha in an effort to win the gold, there is a chance that they’ll look like they are carrying an anvil on their back over the last 100m of the race. “Controversial” (that’s a whole another story) runner Nick Symmonds has been the cream of the American crop at the 800 since 2007. He’s been a voice of change for athletes sometimes rubbing some people the wrong way in an effort to promote the sport and it’s athletes. The best way he could promote the sport would be by running his way into the Olympic final, which he was unable to do in 2008 at Beijing.
Duane Solomon was the third place runner at the Olympic Trials but since has run a fantastic race in Monaco good enough to make him the 5th fastest entrant. Khadevis Robinson is the “old man” among the middle distance men at the age of 36. He has been a model of consistency representing the US in six consecutive World Championships. Seeing as he’s never finished higher than 5th in a World Championship race, it seems unlikely that he would be able to sneak into medal contention.
Women’s 1500 heats
Mark my word… this event is going to be marred with drug-related controversy. In fact, it already has as the world leader Mariem Alaoui Selsouli from Moracco was banned less than three weeks before the Olympics (she had already been banned for two years in 2009). They’re are others (*cough*Russians*cough*Turks*cough*) that I suspect, as well. Many of the usual suspects (Kenyans, Ethiopians) will be in contention as will the strong contingent of Russians. The local favorite will be 2011 World Championship silver medalist Hannah England, appropriately enough, of Great Britain.
How will the American’s do?
As much as I was hoping to see Gabrielle Anderson (who is from my hometown of Perham, MN) make this team, the good news is the trio of Morgan Uceny, Jenny Simpson, and Shannon Rowbury represent a really strong chance for an American to get a medal. Morgan Uceny was the favorite to win the 2011 World Championship race before falling with a little over a lap to go. Fellow American Jenny Simpson went on to win that event. Shannon Rowbury is a 2008 Olympian in the 1500 and was a finalist. She was a bronze medalist at the 2009 World Championships.
All three have a really good chance to make the finals. Uceny had the fastest time in 2011, however 12 women have run faster this year (sub-4 minutes). Simpson, as the defending world champion, has to be considered a strong contender, as well. Rowbury, having made 5 world finals since 2008, will definitely be in the mix as well.