US Olympic Track Team 2012: Power Ranking the Top 10 Athletes Heading to London
Track and field competition lies at the heart of the Olympics' origins. Competitors from across the globe have spent their entire lives preparing for the action that awaits at the 2012 Summer Games in London.
As usual, America features a fine crop of runners, jumpers, hurdlers, throwers and everything in between. However, not all world-class athletes are created equal.
Some of the stars from the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials won't make it past preliminary rounds in London. Others will wind up on top of the winner's podium with a gold medal dangling across their chest.
Who leads the way this summer for Team USA? It's time to size up the U.S. roster and examine which athletes are primed for greatness at the 2012 Olympic Games, ranking America's top 10 contenders.
10. Wallace Spearmon (200m)
Spearmon, who suffered a disappointing disqualification during the 2008 Games in Beijing, is on a path to redemption. The former University of Arkansas star secured first place in the men's 200-meter dash at the U.S. Trials with a time of 19.82 seconds.
He has emerged as the American star in the event after both Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin scratched it off their list to focus on the 100-meter dash and team relay competition. Spearmon is the American indoor record holder in the 200 and aims to finally prove himself on the world's biggest stage.
It's likely now or never for the 28-year-old Dallas, Texas resident.
It's apparent that Spearmon has used his nightmare-ish 2008 Olympic experience as motivation.
"That's definitely something that's been on my mind since 2008," Spearmon told the Associated Press. "It's hard to make one Olympic team, go and make the final, step on the line when you thought you had a medal, do about 300 meters of the victory lap and have to live with that."
Arguably America's best finisher on the track, it's time to see if Spearmon can cap off his quest in London.
9. Meb Keflezighi (Marathon)
At 37 years old, Keflezighi is the senior member of our Team USA track and field power rankings. The 2004 Olympic silver medalist shows no signs of slowing despite his many years of starring in the marathon, a taxing 26.2 mile run.
In fact, he's getting faster.
The California resident completed the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trial in a personal best 2 hours, 9 minutes, 8 seconds to become the first American to earn victories at both the Trials and the New York City marathon in a career.
"It was just a magical moment," Keflezighi told the Associated Press after wrapping up his fastest time.
That run was over two minutes faster than his 2004 silver medal effort in Athens, so anything appears possible at this point for the accomplished veteran.
8. Christian Taylor (Triple Jump)
The reigning World Outdoor gold medalist continued to build on his momentum during the U.S. Olympic Trials. Taylor secured first place in the event with a leap of 57 feet, 10 inches in Eugene and is on pace to pick up a medal in London.
A 10-time NCAA All-American at the University of Florida, Taylor was the youngest finalist in the 2011 World Outdoor Championships' final. Despite immense success, the 22-year-old remains under the radar for most casual Olympic fans.
Expect that to change when Taylor takes on global competition in his first Olympic appearance.
7. Sanya Richards-Ross (200 and 400m)
Ross, the 2012 400-meter World Indoor champion, hopes to top the bronze medal she earned in the event at the 2008 Games in Beijing. She appears to be well on her way to doing just that.
The Austin, Texas resident ran 49.28 seconds in the 400 to take top honors at the U.S. Trials. Ross' finish tied the meet record, which had stood untouched since 1984.
The six-time American outdoor champion will also participate in the 200-meter dash after placing third in the event at U.S. Trials.
Ross, 27, is married to NFL defensive back Aaron Ross, who won two Super Bowl titles with the New York Giants. She has an excellent chance to add to the couple's expansive trophy case this summer.
6. LaShawn Merritt (400m)
The two-time Olympic gold medalist appears ready to defend his crown in 400-meter competition. Merritt once again won the 400 at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
His finishing time of 44.12 seconds ranks as the best recorded time in the world this year. The Florida resident also figures to play a prominent role on Team USA's 4x400-meter relay team, which took gold at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
Merritt's mentality seems to match his physical prowess at this point.
"I mean 400 meters in track is not going to change," Merritt told Jason Dill of his hometown Bradenton Herald. "Not the same track, but the same 400 meters. It's just a matter of being healthy and running around smart. And going out, really executing the race like coach and I put it together."
5. Allyson Felix (100 and 200m)
Felix, embroiled in controversy following her third-place tie in the 100-meter dash in U.S. Olympic Trials competition, is finally ready to move on. Jeneba Tarmoh has surrendered sole possession of third place to Felix, putting the 26-year-old on track to chase two individual medals in London.
The California native shined in the Trials' 200-meter dash final. She ran a personal best 21.69 seconds, which ranks as the sixth-fastest finish of all time and the quickest women's 200 since Marion Jones' 21.62 in 1998.
"I don't think it's sunk in yet," Felix told USA Today's David Leon Moore following the scintillating run. "For so long, I've looked at those times. I've kind of been inching along.
"But the job is not done. It's all about London."
Felix is a two-time Olympic silver medalist in the 200 and should be considered the event favorite at the 2012 Games.
4. Justin Gatlin (100m)
Gatlin, who broke through as a star at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, is back in a big way. His gold-medal-winning 100-meter dash was the third-fastest in Olympic history at the time.
Gatlin ran 9.85 seconds in that race. Just this past Sunday, he posted a remarkable 9.80 at the U.S. Olympic Trials.
"Everything seems so surreal," Gatlin told reporters after his scintillating performance. "I just went out there and gave it my all.
Following an eight-year absence from the Summer Games scene, Gatlin seems to have shifted into another gear, which should strike fear into the heart of his Olympic competition. In 2010, he returned from a four-year suspension for a positive steroid test as a man on a mission.
Regardless of what happens in London, his Olympic outcome will be a major part of the Team USA narrative because of the road that led Gatlin to this point.
3. Brittney Reese (Long Jump)
Reese set a new American record at the 2012 World Indoor Championships, where she earned the world long jump title. Her leap of 23 feet, 8 3/4 inches is uncharted territory in the U.S and makes her the event favorite in London.
Reese is the nation's best Olympic long jump threat since Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a three-time Summer Games gold medalist in the event.
“She’s something we haven’t seen in the States in many, many years,” Joyner-Kersee told Rick Maese of the Washington Post.
That's high praise from an all-time great.
Reese, a four-time defending world champion in the long jump, owns consecutive titles both indoors (2010, 2012) and outdoors (2009, 2011). There's no reason to think her reign won't continue at the 2012 Games.
2. Ashton Eaton (Decathlon)
This 24-year-old ranks up there with Missy Franklin and Jordyn Wieber as Team USA's top Olympic newcomers. After placing fifth in the U.S. decathlon trials in 2008, Eaton emerged as world record holder in the event during the 2012 Trials.
Competing in his hometown of Eugene, Eaten topped the all-time decathlon mark.
If that's not a pre-Olympic statement, then what is?
The popularity of the decathlon has waned over the years, but Eaten could be the man to inject some excitement back into the longstanding Olympic staple. How will he prepare for London after such a superb performance?
"Going into London, I'm not going to change a thing," Eaton told the Associated Press. "Clearly."
Sounds like a solid game plan.
1. Carmelita Jeter (100 and 200m)
Jeter is another incredibly impressive Olympic first-timer. At 32 years old, she seems to be peaking at the right time
The 2011 World Outdoor 100-meter dash champion and 200-meter silver medalist will compete alongside talented teammate (and featured member of this list) Allyson Felix in both events at the 2012 Olympics.
Staying true to form, Jeter took top honors in the 100 at the U.S. Trials and was runner-up to Felix in 200-meter competition. In 2009, she clocked 10.64 seconds in the 100, making her the second-fastest woman ever behind the late Florence Griffith-Joyner, who ran a renowned 10.49.
Given Jeter's recent dominance, it's almost a shock to think that she has never participated in an Olympic race. This summer, she plans to make the most out of her long-awaited opportunity.
"I have to win medals," she told USA Today last summer, prior to the World Outdoor Championships. "That's the No. 1 thing. Usain Bolt did win the Olympics and did win worlds."
The stage is set for the world's clear favorite in the 100-meter dash. Expect her to seize glory in London.