U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton
In a men’s track and field landscape dominated by Jamaican sprinters and distance runners hailing from Kenya and Ethiopia, there are no sure bets to win gold medals at the London Olympics for Team USA. However, with a deep roster of U.S. athletes spread across every event, Team USA is likely to come out with a lead on the overall medal table when the 2012 Games come to a close.
The U.S. men won 14 total medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and they have enough talent to potentially earn 15 in 2012. The following 10 men are the most likely to stand on a podium in London.
Competition in the 110-meter hurdles is going to be steep at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials. Team USA has three elite hurdlers—Jason Richardson, David Oliver and Aries Merritt—who are all major contenders to win in the event, and whose results amongst one another are often interchangeable. Among the three, however, Richardson is the strongest bet to not only make it to London, but bring a medal back.
Richardson is the defending world champion in the event, having won gold at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, South Korea with a winning time of 13.16 seconds. Richardson’s best time this year currently ranks only sixth worldwide and fourth among U.S. athletes, but he has duplicated that winning time twice in competition.
The United States is loaded with talented sprinters who run the 100- and 200-meter dashes. However, with only three spots available at the U.S. Olympic Trials in each event, sprinters will face difficult competition just to make it to London, and for those who get to London, they will have to contend with a tremendously talented Jamaican contingent, led by Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, to earn medals.
Among U.S. sprinters, Tyson Gay gets the most attention, and with good reason, as he is the U.S. record-holder in the 100-meter dash. However, Gay is an inconsistent performer who has missed major time due to injuries. Team USA’s actual best bet of any of its sprinters to earn a medal in London is Walter Dix.
Dix is a consistent performer who has performed well in major competitions over the past four years. He was a double silver medalist at the 2011 World Championships, finishing second in both the 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash. Dix was a double bronze medalist in those two events at the 2008 Games.
Dix will have to run well in both events at the trials just to make it to London, but assuming he qualifies, his recent history indicates that he should be among the top contenders to earn a medal in both the 100 and 200.
Even at 37 years old, Lagat remains the United States’ best bet among distance runners to win a medal.
Lagat, who will attempt to qualify for the Olympics in the 5,000-meter run, finished second in the event at the 2011 World Championships and also set the American record in the event earlier in 2011 with a time of 12:53.60. Lagat also earned a gold medal in the 3,000-meter run at the 2012 Indoor World Championships.
Lagat has not yet competed in the 5,000 this outdoor season, but he proved that he is still in shape with a victory in the 1,500-meter run at the Adidas Grand Prix on June 9. When he runs the 5,000 for the first time this season at trials, expect him to show up in medal-contender form.
Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson has established himself as the world’s best 400-meter hurdler, with the three fastest times in the world already this season; but with four of the world’s nine fastest times this season, Jackson is a close second. Jackson’s consistency lends itself well for his chances to earn his second Olympic medal in London this year.
The athlete nicknamed “Batman” earned his first Olympic medal with a third-place finish in Beijing in 2008. Jackson had a disappointing sixth-place finish at the 2011 World Championships, but his early-season performances indicate that he is back on top of his game this year and ready to contend for an Olympic medal.
Hoffa’s toughest competition could come in trials, as four of the top five shot putters in the world this season are from the United States. Among them, however, Hoffa is the class of the field, and the most likely to leave London with a gold medal.
Hoffa ranks first worldwide with a top throw of 71 feet, 6 ¾ inches, and he also has the second-best throw this year.
Hoffa has not medaled in a world championship competition since winning gold at the 2007 World Championship, but the 2012 Olympics could be his time to break back through to the top of the podium.
Claye ranks among the top six athletes worldwide this season in both long jump and triple jump, with respective marks of 27 feet, ¾ inch and 57 feet, 4 ¼ inches. Going forward to London, Claye is a serious medal contender in both events.
Claye finished third in triple jump at the 2011 World Championships, and won gold at the 2012 Indoor World Championships, an event at which he also took fourth in long jump. Claye has proven himself to be one of the world’s strongest and most consistent jumpers, and he is likely to take at least one medal at the 2012 Games.
Williams won gold in high jump at the 2011 World Championships by clearing a height of 7 feet, 8 ½ inches. Williams has jumped even higher this season, clearing a height of 7 feet, 8 ¾ at the Adidas Grand Prix on June 9, a jump which has him currently ranked second worldwide.
Williams appears to be on top of his game and in great position to contend for a gold medal in London.
LaShawn Merritt established himself as the world’s best 400-meter dash runner at the 2008 Games when he dethroned 2004 gold medalist Jeremy Wariner with a winning time of 43.75 seconds.
Merritt followed that up with an impressive victory at the 2009 World Championships, but his entire career came into question when he tested positive for a banned substance in 2009 and was forced to serve a 21-month suspension.
However, Merritt has bounced back strong and re-established himself atop the 400-meter dash world pecking order. He finished second at the 2011 World Championships but currently ranks first worldwide with a time of 44.19 seconds. With Merritt hitting his stride once again, he is a gold-medal favorite going into London.
The United States has three truly elite decathletes, all who are major contenders to win gold at the 2012 Games. However, Trey Hardee is still recovering from Tommy John surgery, while Bryan Clay has not completed a decathlon since May 2010. Ashton Eaton, on the other hand, is a fantastic young decathlete whose prime is just beginning and could be ready to win his first gold medal in London.
Eaton finished second to Hardee at the 2011 World Championships with a score of 8,505, and earlier this year, he set the world record in the heptathlon at the 2012 World Indoor Championships with a score of 6,645.
Eaton’s weakest area are his throws, but he is very strong in all of the running and jumping events. He has the overall skill set to win an Olympic decathlon, and even if he does not stand atop the podium, he will still earn hardware if he performs up to his ability at the trials and in London.
Over the past year, Christian Taylor has established himself as the world’s best triple jumper.
Taylor won gold at the 2011 World Championships with a jump of 58 feet, 11 ¼ inches and he is back on top of the world this year, ranking first worldwide with a best jump of 57 feet, 9 ¾ inches. Taylor also finished second in triple jump at the 2012 World Indoor Championships.
If Taylor makes it to London and jumps up to his ability, he should be able to beat the field and win gold.