Track Preview Part 1: Who will shine in Rio?

In the first of our four-part preview of the track and field competition at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, our correspondent Ian Deeth predicts how these events will play out.

On 12th August, the sporting world’s attention will be drawn to the Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where, for 10 days, the biggest names in athletics will battle it out for Olympic glory. With team selections finalised and final race preparations complete, a clearer picture is starting to develop of those athletes who might go on to succeed at the Games.

The beauty of sport, however, is often its unpredictable nature and only time will tell if the sports’ established stars will perform or whether we will see some new talents emerge. Early season high fliers can have a tendency to fade after peaking too soon and favourites sometimes falter.

It is not uncommon for leading contenders to surprisingly choke under the intense pressure of performing on the world’s biggest stage. And then there are those who push themselves too hard, agonisingly crossing over that fine line between optimal performance and injury. To make matters even more unpredictable, add into the mix possible collisions between athletes, clattered hurdles, dropped relay batons and false starts and suddenly no result seems certain. Regardless, I have attempted to predict the medalists for all 47 track and field events at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

In part one of four, the focus is on the men’s track, where all eyes will be on Usain Bolt in his quest to claim an unprecedented triple-triple and secure his legacy as surely the greatest Olympic sprinter of all time. His fierce American rival, and fastest man in the world over 100m this year, Justin Gatlin, will be gunning to stop him.

Elsewhere, Britain’s Mo Farah will be looking to continue his dominance at major championships in both 5000m and 10,000m metres, but will anyone emerge from Kenya or Ethiopia to break his dominance?

Men’s 100m

Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin are set to battle it out for Olympic gold once again, in a script which reads as an almost identical build-up to last year’s World Championships. Gatlin currently leads this season’s IAAF world rankings with 9.80 seconds but, as we all know, Bolt is the man for the big occasion and has won every major world 100m final (with the exception of his false start in 2011) for the past eight years.

He has dispelled any concerns over injury with a superb run at July’s Diamond League in London and will head to Rio as favourite. World Indoor 60m Champion, Trayvon Bromell, ran Gatlin close at the U.S. trials and will be looking for a place on the podium but will be pushed hard by Jamaican duo Yohan Blake and Nickel Ashmede, while France’s Jimmy Vicaut, another who rises to the big occasion, will also be a contender after running sub 9.90 on two occasions this season and showing excellent form in the Diamond League.

Bolt (JAM)
SILVER: Gatlin (USA)
BRONZE: Bromell (USA)


Men’s 200m

Surprisingly, American LaShawn Merritt is the world leader this year in the 200m with a 19.74 clocking from the US trials, as he looks to follow in the steps of Michael Johnson and emulate his audacious 200/400m double achieved 20 years ago at the Atlanta 1996 Games.

But he will have to produce something special to oust Bolt, who has only been beaten once in eight years over this distance. Gatlin will be another American athlete hot on Bolt’s heels as will Panama’s Alonso Edward. One of the rising stars in this event to look out for is 21 year old Miguel Francis from Antigua and Barbuda – training partner to Bolt – who ran a 19.88 national record at his Olympic trials.

GOLD: Bolt (JAM)
SILVER: Gatlin (USA)
BRONZE: Merritt (USA)


Men’s 400m

The men’s 400m looks set to be a three-way battle between reigning Olympic champion Kirani James, world leader Merritt and 2015 world champion, Wayde van Niekerk, who burst onto the scene last year in spectacular style. Van Niekerk is the only athlete in history to have clocked sub 10 seconds for 100m, sub 20 seconds for 200m and sub 44 seconds for 400m. No other athletes have been close to beating any of these three athletes this year, but which one will finish top in one of the most intriguing match-ups in Rio?

GOLD: Merritt (USA)
SILVER: Van Niekerk (RSA)


Men’s 800m

David Rudisha produced arguably the greatest performance of the London 2012 Olympics when he smashed his own world record over two laps of the track. The Kenyan currently tops the world rankings with 1:43.35 and is also the current world champion.

Rudisha has not shown the dominance, however, as when he stuck gold four years ago and only managed to come third in the Kenyan trials behind Ferguson Rotich, who currently leads the IAAF Diamond League standings and the surprise winner Alfred Kipketer. USA’s Boris Berian, France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Poland’s Adam Kszczot are other contenders in one of the most open races at the Games.

GOLD: Rotich (KEN)
SILVER: Berian (USA)
BRONZE: Rudisha (KEN)


Men’s 1500m

Kenya could be set to dominate the 1500m with reigning world and 2008 Olympic Champion Asbel Kiprop leading the challenge. His compatriot, Elijah Manangoi, finished second at last year’s world championships; the other Kenyan to qualify for the Games is Ronald Kwemoi.

These three athletes lead the world rankings and the IAAF Diamond League standings. Surprise 2012 Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi from Algeria, Ayanleh Souleiman from Djibouti and Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider will aim to stop a Kenya clean medal sweep.

GOLD: Kiprop (KEN)
SILVER: Souleiman (DJI)
BRONZE: Manangoi (KEN)


Men’s 5000m

Since winning a distance double on home soil in 2012, Mo Farah has dominated both long distance events at world level. After retaining both his 5k and 10k world championship crowns in Beijing last year, Farah will line up as favourite to clinch a double gold yet again.

In the 5000m, he will be well aware of the Ethiopian triple threat of Muktar Edris, Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet, who hold the top three standings in the IAAF Diamond League respectively. Could Kenyan-born American veteran Bernard Lagat be an outside bet in the 5000m, after a surprise win in the US trials? It would prove the perfect end to his illustrious Olympic career by claiming the only colour medal missing from his Olympic collection, the gold!

GOLD: Farah (GBR)
BRONZE: Gebremeskel (ETH)


Men’s 10,000m

Farah’s first business in Rio will be over 25 laps of the track, where friend and training partner Galen Rupp (USA) could provide competition. His main threats, however, are more likely to come from Africa, with Ethiopians Yigrem Demelash and Tamirat Tola posting sub-27 minute times this year.

Kenyan duo, Geoffrey Kamworor and Bedan Karoki, who finished first and second in the IAAF World Half Marathon earlier this year, will hope to convert their great form on the road over to the track. Half marathon world record holder, Zersenay Tadese from Eritrea, could also be in the mix.

GOLD: Farah (GBR)
SILVER: Kamworor (KEN)
BRONZE: Tadese (ERI)


Men’s Marathon

The men’s marathon is the closing event of the athletics programme and looks likely to be dominated by Kenya and Ethiopia, with the top nine times in the world this year held by an athlete from one of these two countries. Eliud Kipchoge leads the Kenyan charge after a world leading time of 2:03:05 in the London Marathon. This saw him fall agonisingly short of the world record by just 8 seconds.

He will be pushed all the way by compatriots Wesley Korir and Stanley Biwott, the latter of whom won the New York Marathon in 2015. The Ethiopian challenge will be led by Tesfaye Abera, who holds his nation’s third fastest time in this event at 2:04.24, set at the Dubai Marathon earlier this year. Just behind him in that race was 21-year-old Lemi Berhanu Hayle, whilst Feyisa Lilesa completes the Ethiopian lineup. Outside of the leading two nations, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie from Eritrea could be a surprise contender after he clinched the world championship title last year at just 19 years of age.

GOLD: Kipchoge (KEN)
SILVER: Ghebreslassie (ERI)
BRONZE: Biwott (KEN)


Men’s 110m Hurdles

World indoor 60m hurdles champion Omar McLeod goes into the Olympics as a firm favourite having posted seven of the ten fastest times in the world this year. The Jamaican is also the only athlete to have clocked sub-13 seconds this season and the only world class hurdler ever to have also dipped under 10 seconds for 100m.

Would-be contender Orlando Ortega is unable to compete as he has recently switch allegiances from Cuba to Spain whilst another possible medalist would have been Jamaica’s Hansle Parchment, but he has withdrawn due to injury. Other athletes who will be hoping to negotiate the ten 42 inch barriers to clinch a podium place are USA champion Devon Allen and France’s European Champion Dimitri Bascou.

Gold: Mcleod (JAM)
Silver: Allen (USA)
Bronze: Bascou (FRA)


Men’s 400m Hurdles

The class act over the 400m hurdles this season has been America’s Johnny Dutch, who leads the world rankings with 48.10s. However, the unthinkable happened in the USA trials, when Dutch clattered the last hurdle, with victory seemed almost assured, to knock him completely off stride resulting in him finishing outside the top three, so eliminating him for selection for Rio.

The winner of that race was Kerron Clement and the two-time world champion looks like he is peaking at just the right time after a fabulous win in the London Diamond League, edging out Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson, who looks like he is returning to his best form. European champion Yasmani Copello (Turkey) could be one to challenge for a medal as could South Africa’s L.J. Van Zyl. There will certainly be a new Olympic champion after 2012 winner, Felix Sanchez, announced his retirement earlier this year.

Gold: Clement (USA)
Silver: Copello (TUR)
Bronze: Culson (PUR)


Men’s 3000m SC

With five wins out of five in the IAAF Diamond League and having posted the three fastest times in the world this year, Consesius Kipruto is the red-hot favourite for this event. Completing the Kenyan trio bound for Rio are Brimin Kipruto and four-time world and reigning Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi.

These three athletes took all the podium places at last year’s world championships in Beijing and they could be set to repeat that feat in Rio. If they do, the only question is in what order will they finish?

Gold: C. Kipruto (KEN)
Silver: Kemboi (KEN)
Bronze: B. Kipruto (KEN)


Men’s 4x100m relay

Reigning Olympic and world champions Jamaica are set for a head to head showdown with the USA, with Bolt hoping to end his Olympics with an unprecedented ninth gold medal. Both nations can field teams with four sub-10 second sprinters.

The USA haven’t always been successful at getting the baton around, but did hand Jamacia a rare defeat at last year’s IAAF World Relay Championships. Great Britain have also had their fair share of changeover problems in recent years but along with France, Germany and Trinidad and Tobago, will fight it out for the minor medals, and possibly more, if the big two slip up.

Gold: Jamaica
Silver: USA
Bronze: Great Britain


Men’s 4 x 400m relay

Up until last year’s Games, the USA had won every single 4 x 400m gold since 1984* but London saw the Bahamas strike gold to cause one of the surprise victories of the Games. However, with an all-star line up of Kyle Clemons, Tony McQuay, Gil Roberts and Merritt, it is difficult to see them being challenged by any other nation.

If America do fulfill their potential, fighting it out for the other medals will be recently crowned European Champions Belgium, who are sure to include the Borlee brothers as three quarters of their team, as well as Jamaica, Great Britain and Poland. The men’s 4 x 400m relay will close the action in the Olympic Stadium.

Gold: USA
Silver: Jamaica
Bronze: Belgium

*In 2000 they were stripped of their medal after second leg runner Antonio Pettigrew admitted the use of performance enhancing drugs.


Men’s 20km Walk

Japanese athletes hold the top three fastest times in the world this year, with Eiki Takahashi, Isamu Fujisawa and Daisuke Matsunaga all dipping under 1:19.00 this year, albeit running these times on home soil. Spain’s Miguel Angel Lopez is the reigning world champion and will hope to add the Olympic title to his name. China’s Wang Zhen finished second in Beijing; can he finally claim his first global title in Rio?

GOLD: Wang (CHN)


Men’s 50km Walk

Jared Tallent could be Australia’s best chance of gold at these Games, as he looks to retain the title he won in London four years ago. However, he finished behind Slovakia’s Matej Toth at last year’s IAAF World Championships.

Those Games bronze medalist Takayuki Tanil will lead the Japanese challenge. Other contenders include France’s Yohann Diniz, who leads the world rankings, and China’s Zhendong Wang. Italy’s Alex Schwazer, who had posted the second fastest time this year, will not be competing after failing a drugs test for the second time in his career.

50km Walk

GOLD: Tallent (AUS)
BRONZE: Zhendong (CHN)


Article by Ian Deeth

You can catch Ian on Fox Sports Central, weekdays at 8pm, as he previews and reviews the key athletics action from Rio 2016.