2016 Summer Olympics: Will the US rule the track?April 22, 2016

Let's tell the good news first. Sally Pearson, the gold medal winner in the 100 meter hurdle in London, will defend her title in Rio de Janeiro. Her personal best of 12.28 seconds, set during the 2011 World Championships in Athletics, was six hundredths of a second from the world-record time of 12.21. (Yordanka Donkova of Bulgaria set the world record during a local meet in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria on August 20, 1988.) She was unable to compete in the 2015 world in Beijing, as she fell badly during the Golden Gala event in Rome last June. The image of the Gold Coast native bellowing in pain was hard to forget.

"My left wrist is quite famous," she said. "Three scars, 12 broken bones and dislocation... it doesn't move but I'm not in pain now."

Pearson was at the launching of the Australian track and field team's competition uniforms in Sydney last Tuesday. And there was no sledging, as many thought their outfit was snazzy. The Olympic champion addressed those who doubted about her chances in Rio.

"I never give up. It's been a horrible 10 months but I still believe that I can win," she pointed out.

The women's 100 meter hurdles will be one of the most anticipated races in Rio. Aside from Pearson, the other contenders are Brianna Rollins of the US, the 2013 world champion, Danielle Williams of Jamaica, the current world champ, and Nia Ali of the US, the reigning world indoor champion. This will be the scenario if Rollins and Ali qualify at the US Olympic team trials in Eugene, Oregon this July.

It's not a surprise that the American team is not that dominant in athletics, but recent results would cause concern. At the London Games, the US edged Russia by one gold for the first place in the medal standings. (As far as the total number of medals was concerned, the US had nearly twice as many as the Russians.) It was a different picture at the 2015 World at Beijing, where the Americans won a measly 6 gold medals. The US was behind Kenya and Jamaica in the medal board. Although the US overwhelmed the rest of the field in the World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon last month, it would remain to be seen if the Americans could do it again in Rio.

Mo Farah of Great Britain is expected to defend his 5,000 and 10,000 meter titles successfully, while fans will wonder if Ashton Eaton (of the US) will break his own world record in the decathlon. Let's take a look at the marquee events:

Who can beat Usain Bolt? It won't be Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay, even if their presence would cast a dark cloud at track's blue-ribbon event. They were suspended for doping, and they cooperated with the authorities. It didn't sit well with some athletes, but the result speaks for itself. Bolt beat Gatlin and Gay at the big events. (The media hyped up the 100-meter race in last year's world, describing Bolt's win over Gatlin as the triumph of good over evil.) The Jamaican's legacy is already assured, but one more sprint double is something else. It may remain unbroken for some time. But back to the question. Trayvon Bromell, who beat Asafa Powell for the gold medal in the 60-meter race in Portland, might be Bolt's toughest challenger in Rio. The native of St. Petersburg, Florida is only twenty years of age. He has a good chance of making it to the winner's podium in Eugene. (The three fastest sprinters will run in Rio.) Youth might have the advantage.

Can Allyson Felix score the 200- and 400-meter double? One must go back to the 1996 Summer Olympics, where fans witnessed Michael Johnson (of the US) and Marie-José Pérec (of France) scoring this rare double. Schedule won't allow some athletes to attempt it. In Felix's case, she chose to compete in the 400 meters in Beijing. The schedule for track and field was out, and it was revealed that the finals of the 400 meters and the heats of the 200 meters would be hours apart. (The heats will be held during the day time, while the finals will take place at night time.) Rio will be Felix's final Olympic appearance, and she wants to end her career with a big bang. No one doubts about her chances of scoring a double during the trials, but she may need some luck in Rio. But there's a good chance.

Will Dafne Schippers win the 200 meters at Rio? Schippers, a native of Utrecht, Netherlands, ran past Elaine Thompson and Veronica Campbell-Brown in the finals of the 200 meters in Beijing. It wasn't a fluke, as the former heptathlete won the silver medal in the 60 meter spring in the world indoor championships. Her victory over the favoured Jamaican sprinters in the 2015 world could be considered as an upset. Felix didn't run in her signature event. Winning a medal in Rio isn't a remote possibility, but an Olympic title will intrigue fans. It might be time to make a bet.

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