Ashton Eaton set a decathlon world-record at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials.
The 2012 United States Olympic Track and Field Team Trials are likely to go down as the most memorable trials in track and field history.
This year’s trials had no shortage of excitement, from a world record-breaking performance to a controversial result that has gripped even casual fans of Olympic sports. The events of these trials, which were held from June 21-July 1 in Eugene, Ore., will be discussed for many years to come.
That said, the trials are now behind us, as we now look forward to how the U.S. track and field athletes who qualified for the London Olympics will fare against the best track and field athletes from around the world.
Looking forward, what have we learned from this year’s track and field trials? The following slideshow highlights 10 eye-opening results of the trials that have changed perception around U.S. track and field heading into the 2012 Games.
The biggest story to come out of the trials was not any spectacular winning performance. The story that ended up trumping all others was the unprecedented “dead heat” between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the final of the women’s 100-meter dash.
Through electronic timing and photo evaluation, it was determined that Felix and Tarmoh finished in an exact tie for third place, the final qualifying spot for the Olympics in that event. This left USA Track and Field with a unique predicament, as there was no tie-breaking procedure in place to determine which runner would advance to the Olympic Games.
Eventually, the two athletes decided to participate in a run-off to determine who would earn the third spot on the Olympic team, but in a surprising decision on Monday, Tarmoh decided to concede the spot to Felix.
The controversial tie came to a necessary resolution, but far from a good resolution. Unfortunately for Tarmoh, this resolution results in her missing out on the opportunity to run in the 100-meter dash in London, without any reason to believe that Felix deserved the spot any more than she did.
Hopefully, USATF learned its lesson from this controversy. For as rare as a dead heat may be in track, it is necessary for USATF to revise its rulebook and add a permanent tie-breaking procedure to prevent the drawn-out saga that emerged from its lack of preparation for this situation.
The dead heat controversy certainly shines a bad light on USATF, the national track and field governing body, for its surprising and embarrassing lack of preparation for the situation and its inability to come up with a tie-breaking procedure that both athletes would be content with. However, for those covering the Olympic trials, it created a story the media soaked up to its fullest extent.
The media focus of the Olympic trials really should have been on the record-breaking performance, the winners and all of the athletes who earned their tickets to London by qualifying to compete in their event. Unfortunately, the focus instead was shifted to the situation that would result in one athlete losing her opportunity to compete in her event in the 2012 Games.
From the time the dead heat became news, it was almost without exception that within the first five minutes of every NBC/NBC Sports Network telecast of track and field trials coverage, commentators Tom Hammond and Ato Boldon revisited the issue rather than focusing their attention on the stories happening that day.
That said, I do not criticize or blame NBC Sports, or any other media outlet, for giving so much attention to the situation (as clearly displayed in this slideshow, I am among them). In modern society, people tend to enjoy scandals, and this story heightened interest in the sport from people who otherwise would not have paid any attention to the Olympic track and field trials.
The dead heat controversy was a unique and unprecedented situation, but it garnered more attention than it ever should have received.
Before the dead heat ever happened, the biggest story of the trials was Ashton Eaton’s decathlon performance. Eaton scored a total of 9,039 points, which was not only enough to win trials, but also set a new world record in the event.
Eaton, who is only 24 years old, already looked to be the favorite to win Olympic gold in the decathlon, but now, winning seems to be almost a sure bet.
Eaton’s score is 481 points higher than the next-best score, which was achieved by Pascal Behrenbruch on June 28. Additionally, Eaton’s performances in Eugene were better in five out of 10 events than in any other among the top 15 decathlon scores this year.
Eaton’s incredible performance shows that the only person that can beat him is himself. If he can match his performance from trials at the Olympics, there appears to be no other decathlete in the world who can challenge his supremacy in the event.
Read more on why Ashton Eaton should be the face of U.S. track.
Apart from the dead heat controversy, there are plenty of positives to take out of the sprinting races on the women’s side of the trials. With tremendous performances in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes, Carmelita Jeter, Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross showed they could form a trio of gold-medal winners to sweep the individual sprints for the U.S. in London.
Felix’s trials will be remembered most for the 100-meter dash spot Tarmoh conceded, but going forward, her performance in the 200 final was much more significant. Felix blew away the field by running a time of 21.69, breaking a trials record while becoming the first woman in the world this year to break 22 seconds in the 200. If Felix can duplicate that performance in London, she should bring home a gold medal.
Richards-Ross’ performance in the 400 was equally impressive. She won with a time of 49.28 seconds, which tied the trials record and is the fastest time run in the world this year. Richards-Ross has the world’s two fastest times in the distance this year and has proven that if she is at her best, she will be tough to beat.
Jeter will also go to London as a gold-medal favorite in the 100. She was victorious at trials with a time of 10.92 seconds and won gold at the 2011 World Outdoor Championships.
Jeter will have stiff competition, however, in the 100. Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has the fastest time in the world this year, while Jamaica’s Veronica Campbell-Brown and Trinidad and Tobago’s Kelly-Ann Baptiste are also major contenders in the event.
Jeter, Felix and Richards-Ross are all favorites to top the competition, and Team USA’s 4x100-meter relay should also be a heavy favorite to win in London. That relay team is likely to consist of Jeter, Felix, Tarmoh and Tianna Madison.
Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt have both reached the pinnacle of track and field success by winning Olympic gold medals. Gatlin won gold in the 100-meter dash at the 2004 Games, while Merritt was victorious in the 400-meter dash at the 2008 Games.
Both U.S. stars, however, had their careers derailed by doping suspensions. Gatlin served a four-year suspension from 2006-2010 for a positive steroid test, while Merritt served a 21-month suspension from 2009-2011 for his positive tests for a banned substance.
Gatlin and Merritt have both faced a difficult road back to the top of the track and field world, but with trials victories, they proved they are ready to contend for Olympic medals once again.
Gatlin won the 100 final in 9.80 seconds, the fastest time of his career. Only two runners in the world, Jamaica’s Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt, have run faster times in the 100 this year. Blake and Bolt are the heavy favorites to take the top two spots in London, but Gatlin is in position to contend for a spot on the podium.
As for Merritt, he has established himself as the gold-medal favorite in the 400-meter dash. His trials-winning time of 44.12 seconds is the fastest in the world this year, and he also holds the second-fastest time. After falling out of the sport completely, Merritt is back in position to defend his Olympic title.
On June 22, I said that Bernard Lagat “remains the United States’ best bet among distance runners to win a medal.” At the trials, Galen Rupp proved otherwise.
Rupp finished first in both the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs at trials, which included him outkicking Lagat on the final straightaway to finish first in the 5,000. In the process of winning, Rupp set meet records in both races, with respective times of 13:22.67 and 27:25.33.
Rupp’s best time in the 5,000, 12:58.90, ranks third-best in the world. He has proven, however, he has the ability to step up when the competition is at its toughest, making him a serious medal contender in both races.
Lagat remains a medal contender in the 5,000, but having proved his supremacy in two distance races, Rupp is the most likely to bring a medal back from overseas.
Reese Hoffa has been among the world’s top seven shot putters both indoors and outdoors since 2004, but he has not medaled in a world championship competition since winning gold at the 2007 World Championships. Hoffa showed at the trials, however, that he is ready to not only take a spot on the podium in London, but possibly stand atop with a gold medal.
Hoffa won the shot put competition with a throw of 72 feet, 2.25 inches, the best throw in the world this year. In fact, he actually improved upon his previous status as the world leader, as he currently holds the three farthest throws in the world this year.
The numbers display that if Hoffa is on top of his game in London, there may not be another shot putter in the world that can beat him.
Although the United States has a bevy of talented athletes running the 110-meter hurdles, the two best in the world in that event have generally been accepted to be Cuba’s Dayron Robles, 2008 Olympic gold medalist and world-record holder, and China’s Liu Xiang, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist and former world-record holder. Aries Merritt, however, could be set to dethrone both by taking Olympic gold in London.
Merritt rose to stardom earlier in 2012 by winning gold at the World Indoor Championships. His success has carried into the outdoor season, and he achieved his biggest victory to date in the longer distance at trials.
Merritt’s winning time of 12.93 seconds ranks as the fastest time in the world this year, and he holds three of the world’s six fastest times.
To win gold, Merritt will have to outduel a strong field that should include Xiang and Robles, along with possibly his toughest competition in fellow U.S. hurdler and 2011 world champion Jason Richardson. His trials performance made a big statement in favor of him being able to do so.
Over the past four years, Brittney Reese has been a dominant force in women’s long jump. She is both a two-time defending world indoor champion and world outdoor champion, and she currently the world leader in the event. She will not be without tough competition for the gold in London, however, and much of that could come from her two fellow U.S. qualifiers.
Reese was victorious at trials, but her first-place finish did not come easy. Reese was in third place prior to her final jump, which was initially ruled a foul, but after winning a protest, Reese won with a world-best jump of 23 feet, 5.5 inches.
Reese is the best long jumper in the world, and if she is at her best, it is highly unlikely anyone will beat her in London. That said, the reason she had to win the event on her last jump was the breakout performances of two other talented U.S. long jumpers, Chelsea Hayes and Janay DeLoach.
Hayes qualified with a jump of 23’ 3.5’’, which has her ranked third worldwide. DeLoach also had a very impressive mark of 23’ 2.75”, with which she is ranked sixth worldwide.
Even if neither Hayes or DeLoach can challenge Reese’s effort to win gold, there is a good chance that at least one of them could join her on the podium.
Members of the 2008 Olympic team with their gold medals
The United States led all nations at the 2008 Olympic Games with a total of 25 medals in men’s and women’s track and field. It is difficult to predict whether Team USA can match or surpass that mark, but it should at least be close to it.
Fifteen men’s athletes across nine disciplines and 11 women across eight disciplines rank among the top three in the world in their event. Many of these top performances came at the trials, where the U.S. athletes displayed in nearly every event that they are capable of contending for medals in London.
The trials brought many great performances from athletes who qualified for the U.S. track and field team, and London should be a venue for much of the same.
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