August 11, 2016
For 10 days every four years, the rest of the world tunes in to watch our favorite sport — track & field. That 10-day critical period begins on Friday as the track & field competition at 2016 Summer Olympics kick off in Rio.
Four years ago, we put together “Friends and Family Previews” of the competition and we’re doing it again in 2016. We know that LetsRun.com diehards will be tuning in no matter what, and we have in-depth distance previews to satisfy their appetites. This preview is for the casual fan who may not know all the events or athletes but still wants to enjoy watching the Games. It’s also for the distance focused die-hard who doesn’t know much about the other events. We hope that after reading it, you’ll have a better idea of what to expect when the events unfold.
If you already are a die-hard, then we encourage you to share this link with your non-diehard friends so they can better enjoy the Olympics and maybe become fans themselves. Share it with your co-worker, spouse, friend or neighbor who thinks you are a little weird for being obsessed with track and field.
Below, we preview the Day 1 action for you which will take place on Friday, August 12th. Note, if you haven’t checked out our broad overview of all 10 days of track action, please do so now: The Friends and Family Guide To Track & Field At The 2016 Summer Olympics: Bolt’s Swan Song, Hyperandrogenism & Everything Else You Need To Know To Get Ready For Rio
We also think the casual fan will enjoy the sport more if they are playing fantasy sports. Have them sign up for our contest: Fantasy Track And Field At Its Finest: The $200,016 LRC Running Warehouse Rio Track And Field Prediction Contest Is Here!. Free and so simple that a non-track fan could win it.
Friday – August 12, 2016 – Will History Be Made?
The big story line for day 1 of the track and field action in our mind (but we’re not sure if NBC is smart enough to focus on this) is simple, “Will we for the first time see a woman win a third-gold medal in an indivdual track event.”
In the history of the Olympics, no woman has won three gold medals in an individual event. On day 1 of the Olympic track and field action, there are two non-race walk finals and in both events a woman will be going for her third straight gold. Tirunesh Dibaba, the winner of the 10,000 in 2008 and 2012, will race in the morning in the 10,000 before Valerie Adams goes for her third straight gold in the shot put at night.
Later in the Olympics, three other women will go for a third gold – Barbora Špotáková (javelin), Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (100), and Veronica Campbell (200). Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will actually start her quest on day 1 as the women’s 100 prelims will take place. Of the five women going for history, only two are favored to win gold, Adams and Špotáková.
#1 Highlight: Women’s 10,000 Meters (10:10 a.m. ET): The Best vs. The GOAT
The first final of the 2016 Summer Olympics is a doozy. It pits the GOAT (Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba, the Greatest of All Time) against the best runner on the planet (Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana) against the defending world champion (Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot). Let’s start with Dibaba, who is most definitely the greatest female 10,000-meter runner ever (she’s the two-time defending Olympic champion, owns three world titles and is one of just five women to have broken 30 minutes) and possibly the greatest female distance runner, period. Dibaba won the world title in 2013, moved up to the marathon in 2014 and then went two years between races after giving birth to her son in 2015. Now 31, she’s still known as the “Baby-Faced Destroyer” because of her youthful appearance and ruthless attitude on the track.
If Dibaba is the Roger Federer of the women’s 10,000, Ayana is the Novak Djokovic. Ayana won the World Championship at 5,000 meters last summer in dominant fashion to seize the title of world’s greatest distance runner and she hasn’t lost since. Her front-running style makes her a threat to break the world record every time she races. At the Ethiopian Olympic Trials in June, she handed Dibaba the first loss of her life at 10,000 meters. No female track & field athlete has ever won three gold medals in the same individual event. Ayana has the fastest time this year by a big margin and is the favorite; if Dibaba can somehow defeat her in Rio, it would be a legendary performance. Good thing Dibaba is already a legend as we don’t expect her to win this one.
The Kenyans aren’t bad at this event either. Vivian Cheruiyot is the reigning world champ and will be out for revenge after taking bronze behind Dibaba at the last Olympics. And Alice Aprot is a star in the making who won the African Championships by over a minute (a huge amount in a track race).
Two other things about the 10,000: 1) It will be held in the morning, which is unusual for Olympic finals; 2) The top two Americans in this event have a history. At last year’s World Championships in Beijing, Molly Huddle — the greatest American runner of her generation — was just meters away from winning the bronze medal. It would have been a career-defining achievement for Huddle in an event where non-African-born runners rarely contend. Yet just before the finish line, Huddle slowed down and threw up her arms to celebrate. Unbeknownst to her, American teammate Emily Infeld was right behind her and scraped through for one of the unlikeliest medals in the history of U.S. track and field.
Infeld, an injury-prone runner who surprised many by even making the team, ran the race of her life and took the bronze. Both women will be back in Rio but are long shots to medal as the field at the Olympics is much stronger than the field at Worlds last year so it’s highly unlikely that either will grab a medal, but Huddle is favored over Infeld.
Women’s Final #2: Women’s Shot Put (7:35 p.m. ET): Look For Valerie Adams To Make History
For a long time in track & field, there was no bigger lock than New Zealand’s Valerie Adams — older sister of Oklahoma City Thunder center Steven Adams. Adams won every major outdoor title from 2007 to 2013, and from 2010 to 2014, she didn’t lose at all — 55 straight victories. But she was hurt at the start of last year and did not try to defend her World title in Beijing. Then at this year’s World Indoor Championships in Portland, she was only third. But if Adams can win in Rio, she’ll become the first woman to win three Olympic golds in the same individual event — assuming Dibaba doesn’t do it earlier in the day.
Only three women have thrown the 8.8-lb. shot further than 20 meters (65’7.5″) this year: Adams (20.19m) and the top two finishers from Worlds last year, Christina Schwanitz of Germany (20.17m) and Lijiao Gong of China (20.43m). They’re all well ahead of the next-closest competitor, World Indoor champ Michelle Carter of the U.S. (19.59m), so expect those three to be your podium in some order. Carter is coached by her dad Michael. He’s the only man in history to have won an Olympic medal (silver 1984 men’s shot put) and Super Bowl ring (San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1985 after 1984 NFL season) in the same year.
Men’s 20km Race Walk (1:30 p.m. ET)
We dont’ think this event will be on tv. If we’re being honest, even we don’t know much about the race walk. Say what you will about the event, but there’s a good chance they can walk MUCH faster than you can run: in 2012, China’s Chen Ding won the Olympics in a time of 1:18:46 — that’s 6:20/mile for 12.4 miles!
Heptathlon Day 1 (all day)
The heptathlon consists of seven events, spread across two days: the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200 meters (Day 1) and the long jump, javelin and 800 meters (Day 2). For each event, an athlete receives a certain amount of points based on how fast they ran, how far they jumped or how far they threw. The athlete with the most combined points wins.
Four years ago in London, Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill won the event as part of Great Britain’s “Super Saturday” when three Brits won three golds for the host nation in London (Greg Rutherford in the long jump and Mo Farah in the 10,000 were th other two). Ennis-Hill took the 2014 season off to have a baby but returned to win the World Championship last year. If Ennis repeats in Rio, she’ll join the U.S.’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee as the only women to win multiple Olympic heptathlon titles. But she’ll have her hands full as Brianne Theisen-Eaton, wife of the greatest decathlete of all time, Ashton Eaton, won the pentathlon at the World Indoor Championships in March and has posted the world’s best score in the heptathlon in each of the past two years. Now don’t be confused. Even though Theisen-Eaton is married to America’s biggest track star Ashton Eaton and she lives in the US, she is Canadian and competes for them.
Side note: if you want to be good at the heptathlon, it might pay to hyphenate your name. There’s Joyner-Kersee, Ennis-Hill, Theisen-Eaton plus medal threats Katarina Johnson-Thompson of Great Britain and Laura Ikauniece-Admidina of Latvia.
Women’s 1500, 1st round (7:30 p.m. ET)
The women’s 1500 – 109 meters or 19 seconds short of a mile – is realistically the one non-sprint event on the track on the women’s side where it’s possible an American could win the gold medal. Amerca’s beset gold medal shot is Jenny Simpson, who won gold in 2011 at the World Championships before struggling at the 2012 Olympics where she didn’t make the final. Shannon Rowbury, who set the US record in this event last year at 3:56.29 (so that’s like a 4:15 mile), also could medal but she’s only run 4:05 this year. The third US entrant – Brenda Martinez – is on her first Olympic team and is a good story as she had to make the team in the 1500 after being tripped with just 100 meters to go in her favorite event – the 800.
Internationally, the big story is defending world champ and world record holder Genzebe Dibaba (younger sister of Tirunesh, the 10,000-meter stud) is in this event. Back in June, police raided the hotel Dibaba and her coach Jama Aden were staying at in Spain and allegedly found the performance-enhancing drug EPO and other doping materials. Dibaba wasn’t the only athlete in the hotel (Aden coaches many athletes) and Aden claims he’s innocent and the drugs weren’t part of his group but considering Dibaba’s times were already drawing suspicion before the bust (the world record she broke was viewed as unbreakable since it was set by a doped-up Chinese runner), she will be met with A LOT of scrutiny in Rio.
We guess if we are going to mention that Genzebe Dibaba’s group has been the subject of a drug investigation we should mention that Shannon Rowbury‘s group is also under investigation by the US Anti Doping Agency. Rowbury is part of the Nike Oregon Project coached by former Boston and New York City marathon winner Alberto Salazar. Last year, a former assistant coach in the group and some former athletes came forward and said they didn’t think everything done in the group was kosher – although they clearly didn’t have proof as no charges have been filed.
Men’s 400, 1st Round (8:05 PM ET)
The men’s 400-meter final in Beijing last year was one of the greatest in the history of the one-lap event. Led by South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk‘s 43.48 (#4 all-time), three men broke 44 seconds in the same race for the first time in history while Luguelin Santos of the Dominacan Republic became the fastest fourth-place finisher in history, clocking 44.11.
This is truly a clash of the titans. You’ve got the reigning world champ van Niekerk against the past two Olympic champions, LaShawn Merritt of the United States and Kirani James of Grenada. Between them, the three men have claimed every global 400 title since 2008, and all three men have been in fine form this year. They’re 1-2-3 on the 2016 world list, and both van Niekerk (44.11 sb) and James (44.08 sb) are undefeated. Merritt has lost twice (both to James, at the Drake Relays and the Pre Classic), but he’s also shown impressive short speed as he has taken up the 200 as well this year and run three of the four fastest times in the world (including a world-leading 19.74 at the Olympic Trials).
Women’s 100, 1st round (9:40 p.m. ET)
Who is the fastest women in the world? We’ll start to find out as the women’s 100 gets under way.
The U.S. has three legit medal threats in English Gardner (2nd fastest women in the world this year at 10.74), Tianna Bartoletta (tied for 3rd fastest women in world this year at 10.78), and Tori Bowie (tied for 3rd fastest women in world this year at 10.78), but Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson is the world leader at 10.70 seconds. Then there’s Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. Like her countryman Usain Bolt, Fraser-Pryce has won two straight Olympic 100-meter titles. She’s looking to become the first woman in any individual event to win three straight. Fraser-Pryce won Worlds in 2013 and 2015 (there was no World Champs or Olympics in 2014) but she hasn’t been running well this year. Fraser-Pryce is known for her clutchness (and her colorful, creative hairstyles), but will that be enough to beat a deep, talented field?
Men’s 800, 1st round (9:10 a.m. ET)
Four years ago, the men’s 800 was the best race of the Olympics, with Kenya’s David Rudisha setting a world record in the final. We’ll have more to say about Rudisha when we preview Monday’s final, but our advice is that you watch all three rounds as the 800 is arguably the most exciting race in track & field. A two-lap sprint that pits distance runners against sprinters, many big names often end up missing the final entirely: at the last two U.S. championships, the U.S. #1 hasn’t even made the final.
Rudisha remains the favorite — though not an overwhelming one as he was only third at Kenya’s Olympic Trials — but we’re going to highlight the Americans as each has an amazing story. The U.S. champ, Clayton Murphy, is the next great American middle-distance runner. He made the semifinals at the World Championships as a 20-year-old last summer and has been even better in 2016. This year, as junior at the University of Akron, Murphy won the NCAA 1500 title in 3:36 (the fastest time in almost 20 years), then turned pro and won the U.S. title at 800 meters. Murphy is super talented, but he’s also a really smart racer. His potential is almost unlimited.
The U.S. runner-up, Boris Berian, has an even better story. Two years ago, Berian had flunked out of DII Adams State and was working at McDonalds inside a Walmart. But pro runner Brenda Martinez and her husband Carlos Handler took a chance by inviting him to join their new training group in Big Bear Lake, Calif., and he improved rapidly; in March, the 23-year-old won the World Indoor title. As if that wasn’t enough, however, Berian was also embroiled in a messy lawsuit during the outdoor season. His former sponsor, Nike, served him while he was watching a meet in May for breach of contract. Berian had signed a short-term contract with Nike that ran through the end of 2015 but Nike had the right to match any contract Berian was offered during the first six months of 2016. Another shoe company, New Balance, offered Berian a contract. He agreed with New Balance’s offer, and Nike said it would match the deal. But the contract Nike presented Berian wasn’t an exact match — it included “reduction clauses” that would dock Berian’s pay if he didn’t hit certain incentives. For example, if Berian got injured and wasn’t ranked in the top 10 in the world, his $125,000 salary could be reduced all the way down to $6,250. After a month of legal maneuvering (you can find our complete coverage here), Nike dropped the case on the eve of the Olympic Trials and Berian made the team.
Charles Jock is the unlikely third member of the U.S. team. Jock was born to Sudanese parents in an Ethiopian refugee camp before moving to San Diego as a child. Jock now trains in Eugene, Ore., site of this year’s Olympic Trials, and earned minor internet fame for the blue-collar fashion in which he made the Olympic team.
Just learned @CharlesJock rode his bike to the meet, made the Olympic's, then biked home. That's the most blue collar thing I've ever heard.
— Patrick Casey (@patkc13) July 5, 2016
Jock making the Olympics this year is kind of like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter in the midst of a crummy season. He’s only run one good race this season, and it happened to come in the Olympic Trials final. And at the Olympic Trials, he only made the semis (by .007 of a second!) because a runner in front of him let up too early. But at the Trials, survive and advance is the name of the game, and now Jock gets to run in Rio.