The marquee sprint events have been raced at the London Olympic Track and Field Meet. As, expected, they confirmend Jamaican dominance. Usain Bolt looks unbeatable right now. While countryman Yohan Blake looks just as unbeatable, so long as he’s not racing against Bolt. I can understand the dejection showcased by American Tyson Gay afterwards. Its going to be a long time before the Americans get the fastest man in the world title. And with the Jamaicans winning gold and bronze in the women’s event, Team USA Track is behind the eight ball in the chase for worlds fastest woman too. But, we’ll always have the various 400-meter races. Sanya Richards-Ross brough home America’s first track gold of the meet when she motored to victory in the womens 400 meter. Certainly, America will flex its track muscles in the other, traditionally red,white and blue strong events at that distances, right? Think again. The world has stormed America’s Track and Field castle. Two races at that distance go off tonight and, shockingly, the best bet would be that no Americans will strike gold.
MENS 400 METER HURDLES
Americans have owned this race, pulling in gold in 18 of 24 Olympic Finals. They swept this event four years ago in Beijing with Angelo Taylor, Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson going gold-silver-bronze. Considering Clement bookened the Olympics with 2007 and 2009 World Championships, this event remained firmly tucked in Team USA’s corner. They may have ceded the pure sprint races–relays included–to the Jamaicans, but this was still an event they had cornered. And then the 2011 World Championships happened last summer. The Americans were shut off the medal stand. Unlike the sprints, where its the singular dominance of Jamaica thats relegated America to runners-up status, this was at the hands of the whole world with track powers England, Puerto Rico and South Africa earning the medals. Toss in the fact that fourth place went to Domincan Felix Sanchez, who also won one of the rare non-American medals in the event during the major meets from 2007-09 and suddenly the whole world was in Team USA’s grill in one of their more reliable races.
The favorite tonight is Puerto Rican Javier Culson. He had the fastest time in the world this year coming into this meet. He’s won the silver medal at the two world championships since the last Olympics. And, oh yeah, he’s undefeated this year. He’s won all four Diamond League races he’s entered this season beating just about everybody in today’s gold medal race at least once. He’s the betting favorite right now at +110.
Chasing after the chalkChalk is another name for the favorite team to win. is a pretty stacked field. Felix Sanchez, the 2004 Gold Medalist, starred in the semifinal round. Remember when we said Culson had the top time in the world coming in to the meet? We’re using the past tense because Sanchez blew that time out of the water with his 48.56 to win his semiffinal heat. But can he beat Culson head-to-head? He finished fifth and second in Diamond League races that Culson ran, as well as finishing last in Rome when he fell during the race. At +135 to win today, he’s the second favorite on the board.
The top American hope is Angelo Taylor. He’s a +1000 shot to win gold. He won the gold in Beijing. And also took gold in the 2000 Sydney Games. Part of the reason the Americans were shutout of the medal podium a year ago at worlds is that he was shaky going over some of the later hurdles and his race fell apart over the back half. At the US Olympic Trials, he didnt win the race because he clipped over one of the final hurdles and came in second instead. In Saturday’s semifinal race, he again looked great for the first 300 yards or so. But seemed to run out of gas, faded a bit, allowing Culson to pass him while having to fight off a charge other runners over the final meters to hold on the automatic qualifying spote. On one hand, he’s the only racer other than Culson to win a Diamond League race this year. On the other hand, none of the other runners in tonight’s field raced in the Shangai event that Taylor won. He’s donning the Edwin Moses commemorative beard for Karma.. He’ll have to be at his technical best and close better if he wants to get a third gold in this event like his idol.
The field also includes reigning world champion from England Dai Greene. He has a pair of runners-up finishes to Culson on the circuit this season, but he’s struggling in this meet. He had a terrible semifinal race and just snuck into this final with the last qualafying time. He didnt showcase any of the closing speed that got him gold last summer at Worlds. The hometown hero goes off at 10/1 odds.
Americans Michael Tinsley and Kerron Clement are +1800 and +2500 respecticely. Clement is a 2-time World Champ and a silver medalist from Beijing. But he came in last place during the semifinal rounds last summer at the 2011 World Championships. Can he regain form on the big stage? Tinsley is easily the least decorated of the three American entrants. But, he’s also the current national champ, having won the US Olympic Trials earlier in the summer. Some say it was a fluke because Taylor clipped that hurdle. Tonight is the former NCAA Champ from Jackson State’s chance to quiet those whispers and cement his name in the US Track record books.
Rounding out the field, we have Trinidad/Tobago’s Jehue Gordon. As a 21-year-old, Gordon came in fourth place in the 2009 world championships. But he hasnt elevated his status much from there. He cant be discounted, however. He broke his national record during the semifinal run and has been more than competitive along the Diamond League circuit this season earning a 2nd, 4rth and 5th place finish in the three races he’s entered. He’s 20/1 to win this race, but dont be suprised to at least see him on the medal stand. Lastly, there’s Jamaican Leeford Greene. He’s not given much of a chance here. He’s the only racer without odds. But thats maybe because track and field bookies are already tired of the public betting on Jamaican runners.
MENS 400 METER RUN
The second major gold medal race at Olympic Stadium today is the Mens 400 Meter run. And its another American stalwart. Team USA has swept the medal podium in each of the last two Olympics. They’ve won gold in this event at all but one non-US boycotted Olympics since 1952. Between the Olympics and World Championships since 1996, Americans have pulled in at least two medals in 7 of 12 events, winning 20 of the possible 36 medals. All that ends this year. LaShaun Merrit had to pull out earlier in the meet on account of injury, which not only knocked America’s best gold medal hopeful out of the race, but really killed Team USA’s chances period in this event. We dont have anybody thats even racing in the finals tonight after Bryshon Nellum fell just short of qualifying time in yesterday’s semifinals. There’s an Australian in the race, a pair of twins from Belgium in the race and all sorts of Caribbean Islands have representation in this race, but there isnt one American going off in tonight’s final. The Merrit injury opends the door for Grenada’s Kirani James. The current world champion and former Alabama Crimson Tide trackster should run to an easy gold tonight. Oddsmakers have him listed as the overwhelmingly -300 favorite. Dominican Laguelin Santos, whose run the fastest non-James, non-Merrit time this season is exepcted to be his closest competitor at +300. The Belgian Borlee twins, who train at Florida State, are both at +1800, while a pair of runners from the Bahamas Chris Brown and Demetrius Pinder are +2500 and +4000 respectively. Steve Soloman, Australia, and LaLonde Gordon, Trinidad/Tobago, are running but arent listed with any odds.