Can Rio’s Athletics Programme Match the Magic From London?

With Rio 2016 just around the corner, it is hard not to reflect back to the London 2012 Olympics athletics programme which provided us with many magical moments which included eleven Olympic records and four world records.

FOX Sports athletics analyst, Ian Deeth, watched every minute of the action and listed his favourite ten performances from the track (in no particular order). Can any of these athletes reclaim their Olympic titles in Rio or will new stars emerge?

2012 Flashback Part One: Track Event

1. Usain Bolt (Jamaica) – Men’s 100m

Usain Bolt

With doubts surrounding his fitness and justified concerns about his ability to produce a world-class start on the big stage, Bolt entered these championships with many believing his compatriot, Yohan Blake, who had defeated him at the Jamaican trials, could steal his Olympic title.

Bolt silenced his critics with a new Olympic record of 9.63 seconds, which was over a tenth of a second ahead of his nearest rival and the second fastest time 100m ever. Seven out of the eight competitors broke the 10-second barrier, making this the quickest 100m field ever assembled. A few days later, he became the first man in history to claim the back-to-back Olympic titles over both 100m and 200m and cement himself in the history of the sport as a legend!

Can Bolt add to his six Olympic Golds or will his fierece rival, American Justin Gatlin, stop his dominance?


2. Sally Pearson (Australia) – Women’s 100m Hurdles

Sally Pearson

Australia’s Sally Pearson had dominated the sprint hurdles for the past few years and was the overwhelming favourite for gold in London. But leading into these Games, no woman had ever won the sprint hurdles title at the World Championships and then Olympic gold the following year. In a high quality field, Pearson delivered a sublime performance, using her superior flat speed between the barriers, to clock a new Olympic record of 12.35, narrowly edging out America’s Dawn Harper, who was just two hundredths of a second behind.

Sally Pearson will not be competing in Rio after tearing her hamstring in training. American Kendra Harrison smashed the world record in the London Diamond League but failed to make the US team so Brianna Rollins (USA) will line up for favourite this time around.


3. David Rudisha (Kenya) – Men’s 800m

David Rudisha

Kenya’s David Rudisha had made the 800m his own, winning every Diamond League meet throughout the 2012 season and had come close to breaking his own world record on several occasions. On the evening of Tuesday 7th August, Rudisha wowed the 80,000 capacity crowd in a master class of front running, going through the bell in 49.28 before coming home in an astonishing time of 1:40.91, smashing his own world record in the process.

The quality of the rest of the field cannot be understated. Behind him, six personal bests were recorded including two national records and a new junior world record by Botswana’s Nijel Amos. As a footnote, Britain’s Andrew Osagie’s time of 1:43.77 for last place would have been quick enough to have won him Olympic gold in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

Rudisha currently leads the world rankings with 1:43:35 but only finished third in the Kenyan trials. Will the Games see him return to gold medal form?


4. Jessica Ennis (Great Britain) – 100m Hurdles in the Women’s Heptathlon

Jessica Ennis

Not since Australia’s Cathy Freeman in 2000, has a female athlete faced so much pressure from a home nation leading up to an Olympic Games. Freeman duly delivered in what is known in Olympic history as ‘Magic Monday’ and Jessica Ennis did the same in sensational style, capturing the first of three golds for the host nation in a stunning 45-minute period, which from now on will forever be known as ‘Super Saturday.’

Ennis got off to a blistering start, setting a best ever performance inside a heptathlon for the 100m hurdles. Her time of 12.54 seconds was equal to Dawn Harper’s winning time from the individual event at Beijing in 2008. By the end of her sixth event, the gold medal had all but been secured and the 800m acted more as two victory laps, as Ennis posted a total score of 6,955 points, shattering her own British record as well as placing her as the fifth highest scorer for the heptathlon of all time. Surely she would have been in the mix for another Olympic medal, had she raced in the sprint hurdles as well.

In her first major championship following the birth of her first child, Ennis captured gold at last year’s worlds in Beijing. However, Canada’s Brianne Theisen Eaton, wife of reigning Olympic and world champion decathlete Ashton Eaton, narrowly leads the world rankings. Can Ennis be the first ever British female athlete to reclaim Olympic gold?


5. Kirani James (Grenada) – Men’s 400m

Kirani James

In an event usually dominated by the USA, it came as a complete shock when not one single American athlete made it through to the 400m final. Athletes from the United States had completed clean medal sweeps in this event in both Athens and Beijing.

However, it came as no surprise that the rising star of the event, Kirani James, did make the final; the Grenadian had shown quality ever since he was young, running 46.96 as a 14 year-old and then 45.70 a year later. Now at 19 years of age, James had made his first Olympic final and flew around the track in 43.94 seconds to add the Olympic gold to the world title he won in Daegu a year earlier.

With Grenada’s population just over 110,000, there were nearly as many people in the stadium and surrounding Olympic village as there were back in his home country watching the teenager’s Olympic victory. James also became the first non-American athlete to run sub-44 seconds for one lap of the track.

The men’s 400m looks set to be a three-way battle between reigning Olympic champion Kirani James, world leader LaShawn Merritt and 2015 world champion, Wayde Van Niekerk. One of the most hotly anticipated races of the Games.


6. Felix Sanchez (Dominican Republic) – Men’s 400m Hurdles

Felix Sanchez

At 34 years of age, 2004 Olympic 400m hurdles champion Felix Sanchez looked well past his best after a series of injuries had stopped his progression in recent years. Between 2001 and 2004, the Dominican had put together an impressive run of 43 successive victories.

But Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson, the world number one, was unbeaten throughout the season and the clear favourite for gold.  However, Sanchez enjoyed something of a renaissance and after an impressive win in his semi-final, he flew over the ten barriers spread over one lap of the track in a world leading 47.63 in the final, to claim his second Olympic title! Amazingly his time in London was exactly the same that he ran when he won in Athens eight years earlier.

Sanchez announced his retirement from athletics earlier this year and world leader, Johnny Dutch (USA) also announced his retirement from the sport after failing to make the US team leaving the event wide open for 2016.


7. Mo Farah (Great Britain) – Men’s 5000m

Mo Farah

After securing Britain’s first ever Olympic long distance gold when claiming the Olympic title over 25 laps during ‘Super Saturday,’ Mo Farah qualified for the 5000m in one of the strongest distance line-ups ever assembled.

After a slow start to the race, the pace gradually increased and with 600m to go, Farah made his decisive move. Once in the lead, the Brit controlled the race to perfection, refusing to let anyone overtake him. Despite a late charge from Ethiopia’s Dejen Gebremeskel, Farah crossed the line in first place to secure his second gold of the Games.

His final lap was timed at a phenomenal 52.94 seconds. Only six runners had previously achieved the prestigious distance double on the Olympic stage including Czech legend Emil Zatopek (who amazingly also won the marathon at the same Games as well) and world record holder Kenenisa Bekele from Ethiopia. Farah now becomes the seventh, but he is the first one to have done it on home soil creating more ‘Mo-lympic’ history

Can Mo Farah continue his dominance in the distance events at world level or will his African rivals finally put together a plan to halt his fabulous gold medal run?


8. USA – Women’s 4 x 100m

Carmelita Jeter

East Germany had held the 4 x 100m world record for 27 years but on the penultimate night of the track and field programme, the American quartet of Tianna Madison, Allyson Felix, Bianca Knight and Carmelita Jeter smashed it by over half a second, in a showcase of how to exchange ‘the stick.’

Leading from start to finish against arch rivals Jamaica (who included Olympic 100m champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in their line up), Carmelita Jeter took the baton clearly in the lead on the anchor leg and blasted down the home straight and through the finish line, pointing at the clock which read a jaw-dropping 40.82 seconds. Amazingly, this was the Americans first Olympic victory in the women’s 4 x 100m since 1996!

The USA have huge strength in depth in this event yet again, with English Gardener, Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie having all clocked sub 10.80 this season. They have all the credentials to challenge their own world record yet again.


9. Allyson Felix (USA) – 2nd leg of the Women’s 4 x 400m

Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix secured her third gold of the Games, running a blistering 47.88 split on the second leg of America’s 4 x 400m gold winning team. This was the United States fifth successive triumph in this event at Olympic level.  

After gold in the 200m and 4 x 100m, Felix received the baton from first leg runner, Deedee Trotter and opened up an unassailable lead to hand over the baton to Francena McCorory. With 400m individual Olympic champion, Sanya Richards-Ross on the anchor leg, the USA finished more than three seconds ahead of silver medalists Russia. Their time of 3:16.87 was the equal fifth quickest women’s 4 x 400m relay time in history.

The USA have four of the top five fastest women in the world this year, (Allyson Felix, Courtney Okolo, Quanera Hayes and Phyllis Francis) all of whom have clocked sub 50 seconds this year. Surely they will be untouchable in Rio?


10. Jamaica – Men’s 4 x 100m

Jamaica men’s 4 x 100m relay team

If the Olympics were a Hollywood blockbuster, than the writers could not have scripted a better climax to the Games. The men’s 4 x 100m relay saw world and Olympic champions Jamaica in Lane 6 against their main rivals America in Lane 7. The Americans had set a national record in qualifying but the Jamaicans were fielding the same lineup that broke the only track and field world record at the IAAF World Championships a year earlier.

Trell Kimmons and Justin Gatlin had given the USA a narrow lead from Nesta Carter and Michael Frater at the halfway stage, but a sublime piece of bend running on the third leg from Yohan Blake saw the Jamaican eat up any lead the USA’s Tyson Gay had been given. When Ryan Bailey took the baton narrowly ahead of Usain Bolt, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Within just a few strides, Bolt had edged ahead of the American and the Jamaican tore up the track, pushing hard all the way through the line to stop the clock at 36.84, setting the third track and field world record of the Games. It was Bolt’s sixth Olympic gold, a feat only matched in athletics history by Paavo Nurmi, Ray Ewry and Carl Lewis. It was a fitting end to a phenomenal nine days of track and field action.

The USA and Jamaica should be set to go head to head in what is likely to Usain Bolt’s final appearance at an Olympic Games. Will be a happy ending for the Olympic legend or will Gatlin and company upset the party?

Ian Deeth