Olympic Track and Field 2012: 4 Dark Horses Who Will Surprise on Podium

John Degroote@john_degrooteCorrespondent IIAugust 6, 2012

Olympic Track and Field 2012: 4 Dark Horses Who Will Surprise on Podium

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    While it is fun to watch powerhouses like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps rack up medals and take their place on podiums that have become like a second home to them, the story of a dark horse coming out of nowhere and stunning everyone is always something that gets the people on their feet.

    Dark horses can give the people of less dominant Olympic countries—like Qatar, Algeria and the Dominican Republic—a reason to cheer.

    There is nothing like seeing a competitor stand on the podium, as their country's national anthem plays in the background, knowing that all their hard work that they had put in to get there has paid off.

    Here are four track and field Olympians who have a chance to upset the favorites in London.

Luguelin Santos, Dominican Republic, Men's 400-Meter Run

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    The men's 400-meter became a free-for-all after defending gold medalist LaShawn Merritt dropped out with a hamstring injury.

    With the final quickly approaching, the favorites are Kirani James of Grenada—who beat Merritt at the World Championships in 2010—and brothers Jonathan and Kevin Borlee of Belgium.

    While these experienced racers may be favorites, the dark horse to make the podium is youngster Luguelin Santos.

    The 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic finished first in both his first heat and the semifinals with times of 45.04 seconds and 44.78 seconds, respectively.

    He has a great chance of earning his first Olympic medal in the 400-meter final Monday.

Mutaz Essa Barshim, Qatar, Men's High Jump

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    Mutaz Essa Barshim hopes to win a rare medal for his country in the men's high jump.

    Qatar has only won two bronze medals—ever—at the Olympics and Barshim is looking to add to that total.

    At the Asian Indoor Championships in February, Barshim took home the gold and set a new personal best with a height of 2.37 meters.

    With his height of 2.26 meters in the qualifying round, the 21-year-old, third-ranked Barshim will look to improve upon that height and land himself on the podium after Tuesday's final.

Kellie Wells, United States, Women's 100-Meter Hurdles

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    Americans Lolo Jones and Dawn Harper will be getting most of the attention in this event after their crazy finish in Beijing.

    Kellie Wells figures to be in the mix for a medal as well.

    Wells made her Olympic debut in London and ran the third fastest time in Round 1: 12.69 seconds.

    Only Sally Pearson (12.57 seconds) of Australia and the aforementioned Jones (12.68 seconds) ran faster times.

    “I don’t think I have ever been this nervous,” Wells told Joe Battaglia of NBC during an interview after Round 1. “It’s not because of my shape but because I want to make my country proud, my family proud.”

    Wells has a great chance to do just that. If she can keep her nerves at bay, she could find herself with a medal around her neck when all is said and done.

Taoufik Makhloufi, Algeria, Men's 1500-Meter Run

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    Taoufik Makhloufi will have one of the most tumultuous paths to the podium if he ends up there after the men's 1500-meter final.

    Earlier today it was being reported that Makhloufi had been thrown out of the Olympic games for allegedly not trying hard enough in the men's 800-meter heats on Monday.

    The referee said Makhloufi was guilty of “failure to compete honestly with bona fide effort.”

    Later, it came to light that Makhloufi had been nursing a painful knee injury and was saving himself for the 1500-meter final. After further examination by a medical officer, Makhloufi was reinstated just hours after being thrown out.

    Makhloufi ranked first in both his Round 1 and the semifinal races.

    A metaphor for how Makhloufi has taken the field by storm is the conclusion to his semifinal race.

    In the final 250 meters of the race, he made current Olympic and world champion Asbel Kiprop of Kenya look like he was standing still and gaped him.

    While Makhloufi has done great so far, you have to expect that the turmoil he went through Monday will have some effect on him in the finals.

    He also still has to hold off Silas Kiplagat and Nixon Kiplimo Chepseba of Kenya, New Zealander Nicholas Willis and Kiprop in the final if he hopes to make it to the podium.

    All have better personal and season bests than Makhloufi.

    If he does end up winning, it will be one for the books.