Fast 25: The 25 Speediest Athletes in the Olympics

Damin EsperFeatured ColumnistJuly 23, 2012

Fast 25: The 25 Speediest Athletes in the Olympics

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    The Olympics are here again, and that means one thing: speed. And we mean human speed.

    Sure, you can have your rhythmic gymnastics or your dream teams or your table tennis. But from ancient Greece to the modern Olympics, sports should be about who is the fastest over a particular distance.

    Here are 25 athletes to watch in London who cover ground (or water) faster than most everybody who's ever competed over the same distance.

25. Abel Kirui

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    Abel Kirui has won the marathon at the last two World Championships.

    However, Kirui doesn't just want to win the gold medal in London. He wants to break the Olympic record of two hours, six minutes and 32 seconds set by the late Samuel Wanjiru in 2008, according to the Chicago Tribune.

    He is capable of such a feat—his winning margin at the 2011 World Championships was two minutes, 28 seconds, the largest in the event's history.

24. Javier Gomez

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    Spain's Javier Gomez is the top-ranked male triathlete in the world this year.

    He is a two-time world champion and three-time winner of the ITU World Cup. He was the favorite to win the gold medal in Beijing, but a stitch caused him to finish fourth.

23. Andrea Hewitt

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    Andrea Hewitt, the New Zealand triathlete, is ranked No. 1 in the world this year, and won the 2011 World Championship Series Grand Final in Beijing.

    She lives and trains with French triathlete Lauren Vidal.

    Her sister, Sara, is a former member of the New Zealand national water polo team.

22. Sun Yang

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    There is likely no distance swimmer in the world better than China's Sun Yang.

    The 20-year-old is favored in the 400- and 1,500-meter freestyle. And at last year's World Championships, he broke the oldest world record in swimming in the 1,500, winning in 14 minutes, 34.14 seconds.

    He also won the gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle and silver in the 400-meter freestyle.

21. Federica Pellegrini

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    Federica Pellegrini is the favorite in the women's 200- and 400-meter freestyle, as this Italian swimmer holds the long-course world records in both events.

    She was the favorite in the 400 freestyle in 2008 but finished a disappointing fifth. A native of Mirano, she will turn 24 during the Games.

20. LaShawn Merritt

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    The defending Olympic gold medalist in the men's 400-meter dash is back after serving a 21-month suspension for a positive drug test.

    LaShawn Merritt claimed that the positive test came from purchasing male enhancement pills over the counter.

    He is one of two men to break 45 seconds in the 400 and 20 seconds in the 200—the other is Michael Johnson. Merritt won the 400 at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials in 44.12 seconds.

19. Jason Richardson

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    American hurdler Jason Richardson is one of the favorites in the 110-meter high hurdles, an event in which he owns three of the top eight times in the world this year, including a personal best of 12.98 set at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

    Richardson grew up in Cedar Hill, Texas, and is now coached in Los Angeles by John Smith, considered one of the top sprinting coaches in the world.

    He won the 2011 World Championship in the 110 hurdles in Daegu, South Korea, when Dayron Robles was disqualified.

18. Javier Culson

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    The Puerto Rican standout in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles will turn 28 on the eve of the Games, and looks to claim the international championship that would validate him as the top hurdler in the world.

    Javier Culson owns five of the top seven times in the world this year. Culson won the silver medal in the event at the past two World Championships, but was eliminated in the semifinals in Beijing.

17. Ranomi Kromowidjojo

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    The 21-year-old (she turns 22 just after the Olympics) from the Netherlands is the favorite to win the 50- and 100-meter freestyle events in London, but several experts seem to think she could eventually be a factor in the backstroke and the butterfly.

    Ranomi Kromowidjojo's toughest competition may come from Sweden's Sarah Sjoestroem.

    Kromowidjojo was a member of the winning 400-meter freestyle relay team in Beijing, and the Dutch will be favored in the event again.

16. Allyson Felix

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    Allyson Felix is one of the greatest American sprinters never to have won an individual Olympic gold medal. Her only Olympic gold medal came in Beijing in the 1,600-meter relay.

    However, she has won the gold at the World Championships three times, and has been a member of five gold medal-winning relay teams at the World Championships.

    Earlier this year, at the U.S. Olympic Trials, Felix was involved in controversy after she and training partner Jeneba Tarmoh finished in a dead heat for third place in the 100.

    Tarmoh eventually withdrew from a runoff, giving Felix a spot in the 100 in London.

15. Rebecca Soni

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    American breaststroke specialist Rebecca Soni is favored to win the gold medal in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke.

    She is the defending Olympic champion in the latter event and has won four gold medals (three individual) at the World Championships.

    She grew up in New Jersey, and her parents emigrated from Romania, although they are actually of Hungarian descent.

14. Sanya Richards-Ross

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    Few American sprinters have the distinguished career of Sanya Richards-Ross.

    She has been a member of six gold medal-winning 1,600-meter relay teams—two in the Olympics, four in the World Championships.

    At this year's U.S. Olympic Trials, she showed that at 27, she is still in world-class shape, tying the meet record in the 400 at 49.28 seconds.

13. Ryan Lochte

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    Ryan Lochte has been in Michael Phelps' shadow for most of his career, but the New York native has a pretty good resume of his own.

    He has won a staggering 12 gold medals at the World Championships, seven in individual events. He won the 200-meter backstroke at the Beijing Olympics, and swam a leg on two gold medal-winning relay teams.

    Lochte will be favored in three events in London: the 400-meter individual medley, the 200-meter freestyle and the 200-meter backstroke. He will only face Phelps in the 400-meter individual medley.

12. Aries Merritt

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    Aries Merritt was just an average sprinter in high school in Marietta, Ga. However, after his coach saw him jump a fence one day while screwing around at practice, he took up hurdling.

    Now, he's one of the best in the world, with four of the top seven times in the 110-meter high hurdles this year. His time of 12.93 seconds at the U.S. Olympic Trials is the best in the world this year.

11. Missy Franklin

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    It's hard to say exactly how good Missy Franklin is. The 17-year-old from Pasadena, Calif., qualified for seven events at the London Olympics, an unprecedented feat for an American woman.

    However, according to British bookmakers Oddschecker.com, she is only favored to win the gold medal in two of those events—the 100- and 200-meter backstroke.

    Her potential is off the charts.

10. Justin Gatlin

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    Justin Gatlin won the gold medal in the 100-meter dash at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Since then, he tested positive for a banned substance and served a four-year ban.

    He has returned to the sport, and in June, he won the U.S. Olympic Trials in 9.80 seconds, the fastest time ever for a runner 30 years old or older (he turned 30 in February).

9. James Magnussen

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    At 21 years old, James Magnussen is ready to assume his place at the top of the swimming world in the 100-meter freestyle.

    The Australian is an overwhelming favorite in the event in London, having won the event at the 2011 World Championships and owning the best time ever (47.10) without the benefit of a polyurethane bodysuit.

8. David Rudisha

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    David Rudisha is a Kenyan who has dominated the 800-meter dash over the past two years, now owning the world record at one minute, 41.01 seconds, and five of the top 10 times all-time in the event.

    He won the event at the 2011 World Championships, and if anybody but Rudisha is on the top step of the Olympic podium in London, it would be a huge upset.

7. Sally Pearson

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    Australian Sally Pearson has owned the 100-meter hurdles over the past two years, having won 31 consecutive races until the London Diamond League meet where she finished behind American Kellie Wells.

    A fall in warm-ups may have contributed to the end of her winning streak. However, she still owns the top three times in the world this year, and five of the top six.

    Pearson is the reigning world champion in the event and won the silver medal in 2008 in Beijing.

6. Kosuke Kitajima

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    Japanese swimmer Kosuke Kitajima may not be a household name in America, but the rest of the world is certainly aware of his accomplishments.

    Kitajima is the two-time defending Olympic gold medalist in both the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke, and owns 11 World Championship medals, including three gold medals.

    He's favored in both individual events in London. In June, he was even spotted checking out the competition at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

5. Michael Phelps

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    There are some who believe that Michael Phelps is no longer at the level he was four years ago in Beijing.

    That may be, but it's hard to call a 14-time Olympic champion anything other than the fastest athlete in the Olympics.

    Phelps will be favored in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly, and the U.S. will be favored in two of the relays, so that's likely four more gold medals for the most decorated athlete in Olympic history.

4. Veronica Campbell-Brown

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    Jamaican Veronica Campbell-Brown is one of the greatest female sprinters in history. She is the two-time defending Olympic champion in the 200-meter dash.

    No athlete, male or female, has won three consecutive 200 gold medals. She is also the reigning world champion in the event.

    She also owns a gold medal in the 100 from the World Championships. In all, she owns five Olympic medals and nine World Championship medals.

3. Cesar Cielo Filho

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    Cesar Cielo Filho is the most successful Brazilian swimmer in history. He is the defending gold medalist in the men's 50-meter freestyle, an event he has also won at the past two World Championships.

    He also earned a bronze medal in Beijing in the 100 freestyle, and has won four individual gold medals at the World Championships. He competed for Auburn University.

2. Usain Bolt

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    It's hard to believe that Usain Bolt would rank only second on a list of the fastest athletes in the Olympics.

    After all, Bolt obliterated the 100- and 200-meter world records over the past four years, recording times (9.58 seconds in the 100, 19.19 in the 200—both at the 2009 World Championships) that would have been completely unfathomable a generation ago.

    However, since winning the 2009 World Championships, Bolt has appeared to be mortal. He has been surpassed by countryman Yohan Blake as the favorite in London.

1. Yohan Blake

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    The 22-year-old training partner of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake has emerged as the favorite in the sprints at the London Olympics.

    Blake won the 100-meter dash at the 2011 World Championships; however, because Bolt was disqualified for a false start, many observers believed Bolt would reassume his supremacy soon enough.

    That hasn't happened. Blake defeated Bolt in both the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic Trials.