US Olympic Track and Field Team: Key Results from Pre-London Meets

Marilee Gallagher@mgallagher17Contributor IIJuly 27, 2012

US Olympic Track and Field Team: Key Results from Pre-London Meets

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    Heading into London, the U.S. team is coming off several strong results. Many of the athletes have recorded personal bests on the season, some have set championship records and one even became a new world-record holder.

    From Diamond League meets in 2012, true contenders emerged. A handful of the members of Team USA won on the Diamond League circuit in 2012, and even more placed on the medal podium. These showings, in addition to the U.S. Trials, gave form to who would be representing Team USA in the Olympics.

    In addition to the Diamond League, U.S. stars emerged from the 2011 National and World Championships. As the U.S. led in medals at the Worlds and have continued to put up times relative to the best in the world in track and field events on the year, they are definite favorites to take home a lofty medal haul in London.

    Here are some key results that have helped to determine the U.S. team and could give a taste of how certain athletes will fare in London.

Penn Relays

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    Although not an official Olympic event, the Penn Relays taught us more about the American team than any other event this season. In sweeping the USA vs. the World relays for both men and women, the U.S. showed they aren't kidding around and that they plan to medal in these events.

    An area the U.S. has struggled mightily in when it comes to relays is just finishing the race. At the 2008 Olympics, Doc Patton mistimed the exchange to Tyson Gay and, on a race in which the U.S. was contending to medal, they were instead disqualified. The same thing happened at the 2009 World Championships, but this time Patton and Shawn Crawford made an exchange outside of the zone.

    So many relays, events the U.S. are built to win, have ended in disappointment and unforced errors. It is not going to be like that in London though, or at least that is what the U.S. is trying to prove.

    Through their showing at the Penn Relays, the U.S. demonstrated that, if nothing else, they can finish a relay without dropping the baton.

Diamond League: Doha

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    The first Diamond League event of the season showed us a lot about the character of Team USA and gave a nice preview of which athletes would likely make the Olympic team.

    Justin Gatlin, after a 21-month suspension, came back in style to win the 100-meter dash with a time of 9.87 seconds. It isn't quite Usain Bolt's or Yohan Blake's time, but it was the first meet of the year and his first meet in almost two years. It definitely showed that Gatlin, if he could continue to train, could find himself contending for a spot on the podium.

    LaShawn Merritt won the 400-meter sprint in 44.19 seconds, setting a new meet record. It is a little off the 43.75 that he ran to win the 2008 Olympics, but it was still a good start to the season. Merritt is expected to defend his gold medal, and this meet gave us a little taste of what he could do in London.

    Allyson Felix also won her title in the 100 at the meet. Looking for her first Olympic gold, Felix began the season off strong. She made the decision to drop the 400 from her program, and it looked to be paying off.

Diamond League: Eugene

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    It was the fourth spot on the Diamond League World Tour, and it took place right in the heart and soul of American track and field: Eugene, Oregon. Fittingly, it saw nine Americans, six of whom are now Olympians, bring home victories in Eugene.

    Both Gatlin and Merritt took home their second titles of the year despite taking a bit of a step back. Both of them ran slower times, but, considering that they were running into a bit of a headwind, the times were respectable and good enough to bring these two another Diamond League title and show that they were favorites heading into the U.S. Trials.

    Reese Hoffa was coming off his first win of the season in the Diamond League's first shot put event in Shanghai. He continued to dominate the event, as he scored a world-leading 21.81 meters for his throw. There was really no competition, and Hoffa, who just missed medaling in Beijing, came into the season showing that he could be a gold-medal favorite.

    Christian Taylor has been the best triple jumper in the word for quite some time. The defending gold medalist from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu came into Eugene and set a new meet record by recording a jump of 17.62 feet. He, too, made a strong early-season push to make his first Olympic team.

    Both Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards Ross won their events. Felix posted a strong time in the 200-meter dash—the event in which she is striving to finally beat Jamaica's Veronica Campbell Brown at the Olympics—and Ross set a world-leading time of 49.39 seconds in the 400. 

Diamond League: New York

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    The New York meet was a good showing for a handful of Olympians from both the track and field disciplines.

    Jason Richardson finally got a victory on the season after finishing behind defending gold medalist Liu Xiang for the past few meets. Richardson, who hopes to medal in the 110-meter hurdles, ran the race in 13.18 seconds. It was a far cry from the numbers Xiang has posted on the year, but it helped Richardson's confidence, as it was the first race he won since the 2011 World Championships.

    Bernard Legat, a medal contender in the 1,500-meter run, also had a good showing, winning the event. This showed that Legat, whose biggest competition is Kiprop from Kenya, can beat his rival. His time is well off Kiprop's Diamond League best this year and the New York meet was the only one Legat won, but it was a good win for him anyway.

    Jesse Williams, the favorite to win the high jump in the Olympics, won his first Diamond League meet with a 2.36-meter jump—a new meet record. With this win, Williams began to have better performances and managed to win the final event before the Olympics in Monaco.

    Sanya Richards Ross continued to have a strong season, making it possible that she could run the 200-400 double in the Olympics. She posted a world-leading time in the 200, besting both Felix's and Campell Brown's best times on the year.

Diamond League: London

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    The London meet, one of the most anticipated events leading up to the Olympics, also provided good showings for the Americans competing in field events.

    Both Christian Taylor and Reese Hoffa once again won their events. Taylor, coming off this win, was now considered a strong medal contender in London, and Hoffa made it his third win in five tries on the 2012 Diamond League circuit.

    The best showing from this meet, however, came from Chaunte Lowe. Lowe continued to dominate the Diamond League with yet another first-place performance in the women's high jump. That marked her fourth win on the Diamond League circuit in five tries. Her only loss came at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, where she finished in third.

    On the year, Lowe has shown that she is a clear favorite to win the gold in London, and one more victory on the same track just further validated that gold-medal chase. 

2011 USA Track and Field Championships

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    With all Americans competing, the U.S. Track and Field National Championships weeded out the contenders from the pretenders. It decided which Americans would get to compete at Worlds and gave a glimpse into which Americans would ultimately be vying for a chance to go to the Olympics.

    Walter Dix, who actually didn't make the Olympics due to an injury, won both the 100 and the 200 at Nationals. Justin Gatlin, who could be a medal contender in London, once again ran a good race. His time of 9.95 seconds was good enough for silver and, considering the headwind, was a very good time for him to run at this point in the season.

    University of Oregon graduates Galen Rupp, Matt Centrowitz and Nick Symmonds all had good meets, winning gold in their events. The three, who all went to trials, were expected to make the Olympic team. Likely not medal contenders, they're all capable of running flawless races and showed, at this meet especially, that they could sneak onto the podium.

    Jesse Williams and Chris Taylor both won their field events, emerging as strong Americans who could contend for medals in London. Williams, the defending gold medalist from the Olympics, and Taylor, who has the farthest jump in the past 14 years, both had excellent meets.

    Carmelita Jeter ran two excellent races to bookend her 2011 season. Allyson Felix also ran a good race in the 400-meter sprint. As it turned, out this was the last 400 Felix would run in, as her focus has shifted to winning the 200-meter sprint in the London Games.

    Other Olympians who performed well include Lashinda Demus, who is a contender for a medal in the 100-meter hurdles, Morgan Uceny in the 1500-meter run and Brittany Reese, who set a championship record in the long jump.

2011 IAAF World Athletics Championships

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    The United States put on a show at the 2011 World Championships. The team led all countries with 25 medals, 12 of which were gold. Coming into the 2012 Diamond League season, a lot of new names and returning athletes in their best form emerged from this event. In preparation for London, it really yielded the best results the U.S. could have hoped for.

    LaShawn Merritt finished just three-tenths of a second behind Grenada's Kirani James. Meritt's race showed that, even in the loss, he is still one of the best in the world and that he is still the likely favorite to win the gold. Merritt also helped lead the U.S. to gold in the 4x400-meter relay, setting a world-leading time in the process.

    Matthew Centrowitz finished with the bronze in the 1500, emerging as a possible medal contender to follow in the coming year.

    Jason Richardson had a huge meet, finally beating China's Liu Xiang. As the 2011 world champion, Richardson was poised to have a strong Diamond League. After showing he could beat Xiang, Richardson became an instant medal contender.

    Jesse Williams and Christian Taylor both became U.S. and World Champions at this meet. Taylor even set a world-leading time. Building off of these strong performances, both are expected to perform at high levels the following season in the Diamond League.

    Then there was the decathlon. Trey Hardee, one of the potential medal favorites in London, barely edged current national champion Ashton Eaton to win the decathlon. Both of them put up a huge showing and made it known to the rest of the world that, in order to get a medal in the event at London, they would have to go through them first. 

    Carmelita Jeter backed up her solid U.S. Nationals with a great World Championships showing. She won the 100, beating Veronica Campbell Brown, and finished second to Brown in the 200. Her showings at the Nationals and at this meet clearly put her as a favorite heading into London.

    Allyson Felix also won two medals at this event and was one of several female athletes that set personal bests. Dawn Harper set a PB in the 100-meter hurdles and is one to watch for in London. Lashinda Demus, the gold-medal favorite for London, also set a world-leading and American record in the 400-meter hurdles. 

    Brittany Reese once again dominated the long jump, making her the prohibitive favorite to win the event at the London Games.

2012 U.S. Olympic Trials

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    Leading up to the Olympics, this was the only event that mattered, as results at this event and this event only would determine who would go to the Olympic Games. The 10-day competition replaced the U.S. Nationals, as the medal winners here were considered the national champions. With the team set and ready to go, the results at these trials were the last chance to show how prepared the U.S. team is.

    Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay both had great performances at the trials. Gatlin ran a 9.80, his best of the season, and Gay, who had been recovering from injury, added a second-place finish to his Diamond League wins of the season. His time was also a season best. Both of these athletes are healthy and have peaked at just the right time. Going into the games, both could challenge for a medal.

    Galen Rupp won both the 5,000-meter and 10,000-meter events. He set a championship record in the 10,000 and looks to be in pretty good shape to run a strong race in London. He should make the finals and could even sneak onto the podium.

    Aries Merritt has no doubt been the best American hurdler this year, and he cemented that status with a win at the trials. In the 110-meter hurdles he beat Jason Richardson. Heading into London, Meritt is a definite favorite along with Cuba's Dayron Robles and China's Liu Xiang, but Richardson also could challenge.

    Ashton Eaton and Trey Hardee once again battled it out for decathlon supremacy. Both of them notched great scores, but it was Eaton that took the victory. He posted 9039 points, setting a new world record in the event. After this meet, he became the clear favorite to win in London. Hardee is a contender for a medal as well and, knowing the recent rivalry these two have, could even best Eaton for the gold. 

    Sanya Richards Ross and Lashinda Demus both continued to dominate. Going into London, Ross is one of the favorites in the 400, and Demus is a strong gold-medal favorite in the 400-meter hurdles.

    Allyson Felix also came out of the trials on a great note. She set a championship record in the 200 and is ready to battle it out for the gold at the Olympics. She, just like Gatlin and Gay, is peaking at the perfect time.