The United States track and field team only earned seven gold medals at the 2008 Olympic Games, their lowest number of event victories in athletics since the 1976 Games.
The 2012 London Games, however, could be a year for U.S. track and field to win double-digit gold medals, a feat they accomplished in five consecutive Summer Olympics from 1984-2000, but have not accomplished since, according to USATF.
The following slides break down the eight track and field events where a member (or in the case of relay teams, members) of Team USA has the best chance of bringing home gold from London.
U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton’s top performance this season of 9,039 points is not only the world-leading performance, but also a world decathlon record.
No decathlete has ever been better than Eaton was on June 22-23 at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials, and if he even comes close to matching that performance in London, he should win gold.
Eaton’s score is 481 points higher than that of Germany’s Pascal Behrenbruch, who has the world’s second-best decathlon score.
Additional competition for Eaton could come from fellow U.S. decathlete Trey Hardee, Belgium’s Hans van Alphen and Dutch decathlete Eelco Sintnicolaas, but Eaton is the heavy favorite to win gold, and if anyone will be on his heels in London, it will probably be his fellow American, Hardee.
Of any track and field event in London, the decathlon is the safest bet to bring home a gold for the United States, thanks to Eaton being so far ahead of everyone else in the event.
While much ado was made about Allyson Felix’s “dead heat” for third place in the 100-meter dash with Jeneba Tarmoh at the U.S. trials, Felix’s more significant performance from the trials came in the 200, which she won in 21.69 seconds. That time made Felix the world leader in the 200, and is the only time run this year below 22 seconds.
With that performance, Felix became the authoritative favorite to win Olympic gold in the 200, but her two toughest competitors for that crown are her two U.S. teammates in the event, Sanya Richards-Ross and Carmelita Jeter.
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could spoil the U.S. party atop the podium, but the U.S. contingent is going to be tough to beat in this event.
Richards-Ross currently ranks second in the world, with Fraser-Pryce third and Jeter fourth. The fastest times of those three women, however, are separated by only two seconds. If Felix runs at her best in London, she should bring home gold in the 200.
The six farthest throws in the world this year among men’s shot putters are all by members of the U.S. Olympic team.
Christian Cantwell is the world leader with a best throw of 73 feet, 2 1/2 inches, but the next three best throws this year have been by fellow Team USA thrower Reese Hoffa, whose best mark is 72’2 1/4”. The next two best throws are courtesy of Cantwell and the third member of the U.S. team, Ryan Whiting.
Hoffa has been consistently the best thrower in the world this season, making him the favorite to win gold in London, but if anyone is to beat him, it is most likely to be Cantwell or Whiting. The next-best thrower this season, Poland’s Tomasz Majewski, has a best throw of only 70’10 1/2”.
Aside from Ashton Eaton, the surest bet among U.S. track and field athletes to win gold in London is women’s long jumper Brittney Reese.
Reese, the two-time reigning world champion in long jump both indoors and outdoors, is looking for her first Olympic medal, and if she jumps at her best, she should win the gold. Reese has the two longest jumps in the world this year, with a best mark of 23 feet, 5 1/2 inches set at the U.S. trials.
Reese’s toughest competition is likely to come from Russia’s Anna Nazarova, but two other Americans, Chelsea Hayes and Janay DeLoach, are dark-horse candidates to win gold. Either way, the U.S. should be able to take gold in long jump, and it will most likely be because of Reese.
The world’s two best triple jumpers are not just Olympic teammates for Team USA, but were also previously teammates at the University of Florida. Those two men are Christian Taylor and Will Claye, who have jumped farther than any other triple jumpers this year.
Taylor, who is the world-leader with a best jump of 57 feet, 10 1/4 inches and is the defending triple jump world champion, is the favorite to win Olympic gold. Claye, the 2012 indoor triple jump world champion, is his top competition, with a best jump of 57’7” this year.
Russia’s Lyukman Adams and Great Britain’s Phillips Idowu could also be contenders for gold, but if Taylor and Claye jump as far as they are capable of, one of them should take home the top prize.
Ten of the world’s 11 best times in men’s 110-meter hurdles this year have been by members of the U.S. Olympic team.
Five of those times, including the world’s three best, all of which are exactly 12.93 seconds, were obtained by Aries Merritt, who has run that exact time in his past three meets to set himself apart as the favorite to win Olympic gold.
Merritt’s toughest competition will come from fellow U.S. hurdler Jason Richardson, the 2011 world champion who also holds four of the world’s 10 best times this season. Jeff Porter, who is the fourth-fastest hurdler in the world with the 11th-best time, is a medal contender but unlikely to win gold.
The spoiler to U.S. supremacy in the hurdles could be China’s Liu Xiang, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist. Only Merritt has run faster than Xiang’s best time of 12.97 seconds this season, but Xiang has not run top times with the consistency of Merritt and Richardson.
With each great performance, Merritt has looked like a safer bet to win Olympic gold, and chances are good that either he or Richardson will win top honors in the 110 hurdles.
Russia’s Antonina Krivoshapka ran the fastest women’s 400-meter dash time in the world, 49.16 seconds, in Cheboskary on July 5, while fellow Russian sprinter Yulia Guschina tied the world’s second-fastest time in the same race.
The woman Guschina tied, however, is Team USA’s Sanya Richards-Ross, who has been consistently dominant when she has run the 400-meter dash this season, and remains the favorite to win Olympic gold.
Richards-Ross has two of the world’s fastest times, with a best time of 49.28 seconds, and has only lost once this season.
That loss came to another gold-medal contender, Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills, but she has also beaten her along with other contenders, including Botswana’s Amantle Montsho.
Richards-Ross is certainly not a lock to win gold in the 400, and there is not another U.S. gold-medal contender in the event, but she remains a big favorite, and should be able to bring home the gold from London.
All four U.S. relay teams have a strong chance of winning gold in London, but both the men’s and women’s 4x100-meter relay will face very stiff competition from Jamaica, while Russia is the favorite in the women’s 4x400-meter relay. On the men’s side, however, U.S. is looking good for gold in the 4x400.
The U.S. 4x400 team will be led by LaShawn Merritt, who has run the world’s two fastest 400-meter dash times this season, and Tony McQuay, who has run three of the world’s eight fastest times. They are likely to be joined by Bryshon Nellum and Josh Mance, both of whom rank within the top 10 runners in the distance this season.
The U.S. boasts two of the three fastest 400 runners in the world this season, while the only team to have two 400 runners with faster times than Nellum and Mance is Belgium, which does not have another runner who has broken 46 seconds this season aside from twin brothers Kevin and Jonathan Borlee.
The one potential snag in the United States’ run to gold in the 4x400 could be the health of Merritt, who injured his hamstring at the Monaco Diamond League meet on July 20, as reported by the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
Even without Merritt, the U.S. team could likely still win this race with a fill-in, which would likely be either Manteo Mitchell or Jeremy Wariner.
That said, Merritt told the AP that he expects to be fully fit for the Games, and as long as he is healthy, there should be no stopping Team USA in the men’s 4x400.
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Dan Hope is an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and also a member of B/R’s 2012 Olympics Coverage Team. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.