Almost lost in the commotion over the 100-meter runoff that didn’t materialize between Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh at the U.S. Olympic trials was an array of world-class races and enough noteworthy leaps and bounds to suggest the team will come close to its goal of 30 medals at the London Games.
U.S. track and field athletes won 23 medals in Beijing and should again produce medals in their traditional strongholds, the hurdles and sprints. But Jamaica’s men and women will have a lot to say about the hue of those sprint medals.
At last week’s Jamaican trials Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100 in a world-leading 10.70 seconds and won the 200 in 22.10, third-best in the world this year and enough to beat two-time 200-meter gold medalist Veronica Campbell-Brown (22.42). Among the men, Yohan Blake ran a stunning 9.75 seconds in the 100 and 19.80 in the 200 to beat a slow-starting Usain Bolt (9.86 and 19.83) each time.
The U.S. women can point to Felix’s winning 200 time of 21.69 seconds, the fastest in the world since 1998, and to reigning 100-meter world champion and 200-meter runner-up Carmelita Jeter being in contention for another double, but the U.S. men could have a hard time against the Jamaicans. Walter Dix, a Beijing bronze medalist in both sprints, was hampered by a leg injury at the trials and will be limited to relay duty. Tyson Gay, recovering from hip surgery, remains a question mark after his runner-up finish behind Justin Gatlin in the 100.
“I am going to worry about myself,” said Wallace Spearmon Jr., who won the U.S. trials 200 in a wind-aided 19.82 seconds. “We’re going to figure out how to run faster.”
Competition at the U.S. trials was elevated enough that past Olympic medalists Jeremy Wariner (400), David Neville (400), Shawn Crawford (200), Bryan Clay (decathlon), Bershawn Jackson (400 hurdles), David Oliver (110 hurdles) and Adam Nelson (shot put) didn’t make the team.
Aside from Felix’s 200 victory, the highlights included Sanya Richards-Ross improving her world-leading time in the 400 to 49.28 and winning a spot in the 200; Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson running sub-13 seconds in the 110 hurdles – Richardson twice in one day – and Ashton Eaton setting a world record in the decathlon with 9,039 points.
But 400-meter hurdles champion Lashinda Demus, whose 53.98 was the world’s third-best this season, said her winning time might not be enough to prevail in London. “I know the time has to come down way more to be a contender,” she said. “It’s going to be sub-53 at the Olympics. I have a lot of work to do.”
U.S. Olympic women’s coach Amy Deem predicted the U.S. will spring some surprises.
“We have some areas that we are going to medal in we don’t traditionally medal in. That is what makes this team special,” she said, though she wouldn’t be specific.
Those areas could include the women’s 1,500, with world champion Jenny Simpson and trials winner Morgan Uceny; the women’s high jump, where Chaunte Lowe and Brigetta Barrett have posted the second- and third-best jumps in the world this year, and the women’s 800, where trials winner Alysia Johnson Montano posted the world’s second-best time early last month. No American woman has won an Olympic medal in the 800 since Kim Gallagher in 1988.
Distance-running Galen Rupp has a world top-five time in the 5,000 and will double in the 10,000 after becoming the first man to win both events at the U.S. trials since 1952. No U.S. man has won an Olympic triple jump medal since 1996, but Christian Taylor has the top two marks this year and Will Claye has the third-best leap and both should vie for spots on the podium.
“We have a strong team,” U.S. men’s Olympic coach Andrew Valmon said, “and obviously if we’re clicking on all cylinders, anything is possible.”