US Olympic Track Trials 2012: Breaking Down Top Athletes to Watch

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IIJune 22, 2012

US Olympic Track Trials 2012: Breaking Down Top Athletes to Watch

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    After a squall of activity on Thursday, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials begin in earnest today with the official Opening Ceremony and a full slate of events.

    To get you prepped for the whirlwind days ahead, we've compiled a list of seven headline athletes and dissected each performer's prognosis heading into the Trials.

    We'll get you up to speed on where they've been this past quadrennium and tell you what they need to prove in the next nine days to get where they want to go (hint: it begins with an "L").

Tyson Gay

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    Events: 100 meters

    Age: 29

    Prior Olympics: 2008

    Trials are a success if...

    He makes the team.

    Tyson Gay is the U.S. record holder at 100 meters and, if healthy, probably the only American sprinter capable of besting Usain Bolt. But health is a big "if," and against a deep field at Trials he's no lock to earn one of Team USA's three Olympic bids.

    Gay returned from a yearlong injury absence earlier this month and posted a respectable 10-seconds flat against a stiff headwind. Under neutral conditions it could well have been a 9.9 and likely would have earned him an Olympic berth.

    Now Gay has to string two solid meets together—no easy task considering the length of his absence and the pressure he'll face at Trials.

Carmelita Jeter

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    Events: 100 meters, 200 meters

    Age: 32

    Prior Olympics: None

    Trials are a success if...

    She re-asserts her dominance in the 100-meter sprint.

    The above declaration is a bit presumptuous considering Jeter's stunning failure to make the U.S. team back in 2008, but there's really no reason to think she's in for repeat letdown. Jeter is the defending world champion at 100 meters and has the season's best time.

    There is some cause for concern, however, in her recent form, a stretch that includes two times north of 11 seconds in the last two months. I don't think Jeter is at risk of missing another Olympic team, but she does need to get back under 11 to prove she's a gold-medal threat.

    Jeter will also run the 200 and has good chance to qualify there, but her best chance for gold will come at 100 meters. It's time to prove she's fit and focused at her primary distance.

Lolo Jones

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    Events: 100-meter hurdles

    Age: 29

    Prior Olympics: 2008

    Trials are a success if...

    She makes the team.

    The math doesn't look good for celebrity hurdler Lolo Jones entering U.S. Trials. Her season-best time ranks just eighth among American athletes in the 100-meter hurdles, and she'll have to demonstrate real improvement to make her second Olympic team.

    Though those results haven't dampened the enthusiasm around this charismatic, attractive track superstar, a failure to qualify probably will. Jones and her legion of sponsors have a lot on the line this week.

Allyson Felix

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    Events: 100 meters, 200 meters

    Age: 26

    Prior Olympics: 2004, 2008 (3 medals: 1 gold, 2 silver)

    Trials are a success if...

    She wins the 200-meter sprint.

    Track prodigy Allyson Felix has the chops to run any sprint distance, but her Olympic goal is clear:  Win gold in the 200.

    To that end she's dropped the 400, a race that yielded silver in Daegu but sapped her energy for the 200 final, and focused on speed work. Trials should be an excellent litmus test for that new strategy, with season leader Sanya Richards-Ross and Daegu silver medalist Carmelita Jeter pushing the pace.

    Felix will also run the 100 and has an excellent chance of making the team, but her heart and her legacy lies with the 200.

Sanya Richards-Ross

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    Events: 200 meters, 400 meters

    Age: 27

    Prior Olympics: 2004, 2008 (3 medals: 2 gold, 1 bronze)

    Trials are a success if...

    She qualifies in both the 200- and 400-meter events.

    No female sprinter comes into Eugene with more momentum than Sanya Richards-Ross. The former Longhorn owns season best times in the 200 and 400, a far cry from 2008 when she took a disappointing bronze in the latter and didnt' even run the former.

    Her 400 dominance is something of a given, but track fans will want to know if she's for real at 200, an event she's never medaled in at a major international competition.

Galen Rupp

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    Events: 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters

    Age: 26

    Prior Olympics: 2008

    Trials are a success if...

    He qualifies with ease.

    Galen Rupp is far and away America's most talented distance runner and the most likely candidate to end America's 44-year medal drought in Olympic distance events (excluding marathon).

    The lack of serious competition, however, means he's unlikely to post a top time at Trials. The pace simply won't push him to those heights.

    Expect Rupp to run a safe race at 10,000 meters, where he's a virtual lock to qualify. Things could get more interesting in the 5,000-meter run, with Bernard Lagat and Lopez Lomong offering resistance. But again, Rupp isn't like to explore his physical limits against a field with few other medal challengers.

    As long as Rupp exhibits smart tactics and makes easy work of his opponents, fans should be satisfied.

Trey Hardee

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    Events: Decathlon

    Age: 28

    Prior Olympics: 2008

    Trials are a success if...

    He can hold his own in the throwing events.

    Alabama native Trey Hardee is the two-time defending world champion in decathlon and would be an odds-on favorite to qualify in first position at Trials if not for the severe elbow injury he sustained less than a year ago.

    After undergoing Tommy John surgery in September and gritting through an accelerated rehab, Hardee  is able to compete again, but not at full strength. The injury shouldn't hurt him in the sprints, but pole vault and javelin could prove troublesome.

    If Hardee can make respectable marks in each, he's on his way to Olympic gold.