Olympic Track & Field 2012: Why US Men Won't Reach Podium in 100 or 200
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The United States' mens sprinters have an image problem. While they were once the toast of the sport, they are being overshadowed by the Jamaican team as the world's premier sprinters.
Don't expect them to find a solution in London.
The U.S. faces a strong Jamaican field and some difficult international competition. They will also be missing some of their best sprinters, putting more pressure on those that are competing.
While many experts are predicting a medal in the 100-meter dash and at 200-meters, the U.S. will face a few big obstacles at these distances.
In a nutshell, the problem the U.S. faces is Jamaica. They boast the world record holder in Usain Bolt and the man that has bettered him in recent events, Yohan Blake.
The two are favored to run one-two in London.
After that pair is Asafa Powell, the speedster that was expected to be the Jamaican star in 2008. He is aging, but is healthy and has been preparing well.
He posted a 9.88 in the finals at the Jamaican trials.
The U.S. will struggle to find an answer to this trio.
Walter Dix secured the bronze medal for the U.S. in Beijing and would have been a favorite to medal in London. However, he's been dealing with injury issues.
He attempted to run the 100 final at the U.S. team trials with a wrapped hamstring, but just couldn't fire off his ailing leg.
Instead, the United States' hopes fall to Tyson Gay and 2004 gold medalist in the 100, Justin Gatlin. Gatlin edged Gay in the U.S. team trial, but Gay figures to be a bigger threat to the Jamaican team.
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If Gay is healthy and running well, he's one of the few men in the world that has posted times in the neighborhood of Bolt.
But health and running well haven't described Gay as of late. He's had periodic nagging injuries over the last two seasons that have impacted his training and his performance.
Another issue for Gay is his prior Olympic failure. After predicting four gold medals in Beijing early in 2008, he suffered a hamstring injury. This impacted his training schedule (sound familiar) and he left Beijing without racing in a single final.
The 4x100 relay team was his best shot at a medal, but they didn't make the final after Gay and Darvis Patton failed on the baton exchange.
Gay has never won an Olympic medal and will be pressing to change that. But he has not shown he's back to his pre-2011 form and being hurt earlier this year could again derail his Olympics.
Like Gay, Powell has never won an individual medal at the Olympics and has been training to fill that vacancy in his trophy case.
But don't expect him to feel the pressure that Gay will be under, based on an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner.
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Before, I used to have a lot of pressure on my hands. Before Usain, it was only me and I felt the entire pressure of the entire Jamaica on me. Now I have learned from Usain to stay relaxed and not pressure myself or worry about anyone but just to do this for myself, and I have been working on that and it seems to be working out.
I've been around for a while and been running well, but what I have learned is not to take anything for granted, never stop working, and that when you get to the top you have to work as if you are second best."
Powell is healthy and running well. Combined with a new mental approach, he'll be tough to keep off the podium.
The U.S. has solid odds of winning a medal in the 200. They are even favored to do so by some sources, but the competition will make for a difficult run.
Blake posted a time of 19.80 seconds to win the Jamaican Senior National Championships. While this is well above the time Bolt is capable of running, it was .03 seconds faster than his teammate that day.
Joining them is 21-year-old sensation Jason Young, who is fresh off a personal best of 19.86 seconds.
This spells trouble for the U.S. men thinking about the podium.
Wallace Spearmon Jr. is the class of the group. He can certainly keep pace with at least one of the Jamaicans, witnessed by his 19.82 (+2.3) at the U.S. Olympic team trials. He finished well ahead of Maurice Mitchell and Isiah Young, though, who are not serious medal contenders.
Spearmon shouldn't be alone to battle Jamaica at this distance, but he is.
How many medals will the U.S. win in the men's 100 and 200?
Tyson Gay opted against running the 200 at the trials, preferring to focus on the 100 in London and concerned with lingering injury concerns.
"It only makes sense to focus on the 100 after the setbacks I have had this year," he told Reuters in an interview, as shared by NBC.
Team USA's real opportunity to medal was supposed to be Dix, silver medalist at the 2011 World Championships.
But Dix was working through a leg injury and, like Gay, was not able to compete at 200 meters at the U.S. trials.
In addition to the trio of Jamaicans, Spearmon will be facing a strong European champion, Christophe Lemaitre of France. Lemaitre was the bronze medalist at the 2011 World Championships, running a personal best of 19.80.
While Spearmon is considered a favorite, there is one issue in his approach to the 200 that could undermine his medal chances. He tends to start off slow and look to close on the field.
The runners he'll be facing aren't exactly easy to chase down.
Spearmon was facing a similar challenge in Beijing and pressed too hard, stepping out of his lane and being disqualified. It cost him a medal.
He revisited that race in a recent interview with the USA TODAY.
"I'm ready to get this going and go on to redemption. No more stepping on lines. No sobriety tests," he stated, referring to his inability to run a straight line in Beijing.
"I'm more prepared mentally and physically."
If Spearmon can't get out of the blocks quicker in London, staying in his lane won't be the issue. Tracking down the Jamaicans will be his primary problem.
Jamaica has a realistic opportunity to sweep the podium in these two sprints. Gay and Spearmon could squeeze their way onto the podium, but it shouldn't be expected.
Minor injury issues will hinder Gay's chances, and running the 200 without two of their best sprinters could dash their medal hopes.
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