The XXX Olympiad begins this week in London, England. Anticipation is running higher than at the ‘Jamaican Olympics’ held in Beijing, China, four years ago. It is imperative to point out that when Jamaica started its Olympic tradition in London in 1948, the Games had reached the 52nd year of its renaissance. The inaugural edition of the new Games took place in Athens, Greece, back in 1896. Alterations and one discontinuation aside, the Olympics are still the greatest show on earth. Hands down, no other spectacle is so highly anticipated.
When the medals are counted over this coming two-week period, Jamaicans across the globe will beam with pride when their stars mount the medal podium, as they have done on every occasion since the inaugural foray in 1948. The glaring exception being Tokyo, Japan in 1964, when a series of misfortunes cast a shadow on the Jamaican delegation, and they placed fourth four times!
Pundits and supporters of Team Jamaica are anticipating a record medal haul in 2012. One needs to be cautiously optimistic regarding such prognostications. Surely our competitors have been training vigorously and some may have even caught on. Just ask the recently reinstated Justin Gatlin, who boasts a recent victory over Asafa Powell, and who earlier won a gold medal at the Worlds Indoors. Still, competition is good and makes for unpredictable outcomes; there is no sure thing in sports.
• Back in 2008, the Olympic women’s 100m was won by the then unknown Shelly-Ann Fraser (later Pryce). Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson both won silver medals. The rest of the world was effectively shut out of a medal. The 100m will be just as competitive in 2012. I am not expecting another medal sweep. Fraser-Pryce is a big meet performer, and she will vigorously and successfully defend her title at the expense of the aging but fit Carmelita Jeter. The bronze is a toss-up between Veronica Campbell-Brown (10.82secs this year), Trinidad’s Kelly-Ann Baptiste, the 2011 World bronze winner, and Nigeria’s blessing, Blessing Okgabare, who is unbeaten in her last three starts including victories over Jeter, Fraser-Pryce and Stewart. Stewart could cop the bronze if she recovers from her historical slow start. In this star-studded field, although I choose the boundless defending champion, it will take a national record of around 10.67secs to overcome one of the finest fields ever assembled. She ran a Jamaican record of 10.70secs recently so she is on target. I am somewhat reluctantly backing the gutsy Campbell-Brown to take the bronze medal, but only just ahead of Baptiste and Okgabare.
• If the 100m presents a crowded and complicated field, the 200m is fully loaded. Among the principals on the Jamaican side are two-time defending champion Campbell-Brown, national champion Fraser-Pryce, and 2008 finalist Sherone Simpson, who is on the comeback trail after years of injuries. The US is supremely led by Allyson Felix, who is also entered in the 100m, but will not figure in that final. Felix starts as favorite with her PB of 21.69secs from the recent US Trials. Stacked in this heavy-hitting lineup are Jeter, who boasts a best time of 22.12secs, and 400m specialist Sanya Richards-Ross and her PB of 22.09secs. I expect Fraser-Pryce to start well and come off of the turn with a two meter lead. With her superior start and speed, and having ramped up her strength and finishing power, the final meters will still prove daunting as the rest of the field closes in. I give Felix the nod to take gold. If Blake is the ‘Beast’ then I will henceforth refer to Fraser-Pryce as the ‘Terror.’ She just keeps getting better and does not let up. She will win a lot of fans henceforth. The bronze medal is up for grabs with the likes of Simpson, Jeter and Richards-Ross challenging. It will be tough going for the two-time champion Campbell-Brown. I suspect she will be pipped in the final 30 meters. She has not looked herself in her last few races, losing recently in an uninspired 22.70secs. It will take between 21.58secs and 21.70secs to top this field.
• If women’s team captain, Novlene Williams-Mills is as motivated as she was at May’s Jamaica Invitational where she trumped a star-studded field, she has a great chance. The top Americans and Russians will be at her throat, as will be the defending champion, Christine Ohuruogu, and All Africa champion Amantle Montsho. Whoever intends to win this race must be prepared to run sub 49.00secs. In this tough line-up, only Richards-Ross, with her American record 48.70secs, has overcome that milestone. She is favored but is highly suspect and often disappoints when it matters most. Look for the fast-finishing Montsho and Williams-Mills to make a strong statement toward the end of this race.
• Defending 400m hurdles champion Melaine Walker is struggling to find her best form but she is tough as nails. I am backing her to score gold again ahead of 2011 World champion Lashinda Demus and the formidable Czech, Zuzana Hejnova. Kaliese Spencer, fourth at the last two Worlds has a tough task ahead but she could surprise. She is due to win a major medal at any moment. This will be a great race from start to finish.
• Veterans Kenia Sinclair in the 800m and Brigitte Foster-Hylton in the 100m hurdles are strong contenders to make the finals in their respective events. I do not expect either to win a medal although Foster-Hylton, 37, is a former World champion and always gives a full, honest performance. She craves an Olympic medal and it is either now or never as she nears retirement.
• If egos are set aside in preference of national interest, we should have a cohesive quartet lined up in the 4x100m final. Fraser-Pryce should handle lead-off duties because she is the most talented woman sprinter in the world; her starts are second to none. She leads off to Kerron Stewart to blast the backstretch as good as anyone, the ultra smooth and resurging Simpson to run the curve almost as good as anyone, and the proven Campbell-Brown on anchor. Assuming she finds her best form, she should lead the team home in first place, just ahead of the Americans. I expect a winning time in the neighborhood of 41.67secs, which would be a new national record, just outside of the world record of 41.37secs, held since 1985.
• The 4x400m relay will be keenly contested by the US and Russia. These are arguably the two best teams in the world; their depth in the metric quarter is undeniable. The quartet of Christine Day, Rosemarie Whyte, Shericka Williams and Williams-Mills would have to individually and collectively run the race of their lives to upset the predetermined gold and silver medalists.
• The men’s 100m is going to be legendary. This will be the fastest and greatest sprint race ever, and that is saying a lot. The final should include the four fastest men of all time. They are defending champion and world record setter, Usain Bolt (9.58secs); former American champion, Tyson Gay (9.69secs); former multiple world record holder, Asafa Powell (9.72secs); and World champion Yohan the ‘Beast’ Blake (9.75secs). Include for good measure: the US’s Justin Gatlin, the current American champion; the Netherland’s Churandy Martina (9.93secs); Trinidad’s Keston Bledman (9.86secs); his teammate Richard Thompson, the defending silver medalist from 2008, who has a PB of 9.89secs; and American third string, Ryan Bailey, who could improve upon his PB of 9.88secs; and, if he competes in this race, France’s Christophe Lemaitre, the European champion with a French record of 9.92secs. Note that there are eight lanes and 10 guys named. I have to choose the man who has been there and done that, Usain Bolt. He has to be ready to repeat 9.58secs if he intends to win. Powell will be caught on the line by Blake (9.72secs to 9.75secs thereabouts). Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin will be too far behind to catch up to the principals (9.83secs to 9.85secs). Brace yourself for a thrilling, breathtaking display of sheer speed and power, guts and frantic dives for the finish line.
• The 200m also promises to be a very close encounter. I think Blake will win this race with his superior start and better finishing strength. It may take a lifetime best to reach his goal (between 19.15secs and 19.20secs) but expect a humdinger of a race. Their Jamaican teammate Warren Weir (19.99secs) Lemaitre (19.80secs) and American Wallace Spearmon (PB 19.65secs) will decide who gets bronze. The rest of the assembled field does not stand a chance.
• Andrew Riley and Hansle Parchment with 13.12secs and 13.19secs, respectively, in the 110m hurdles, and 400m runner Dane Hyatt have outside chances of making it to their event finals. I do not expect any medal here.
• The men’s 4x100m relay, the last event on the Olympic program, will be a bold and contentious affair. Jamaica has won the last three majors, setting world records twice but the US has a point to prove. A team with Asafa Powell starting, strong man Blake to run the backstretch, Michael Frater around the curve, with Bolt finishing will be tough to beat. This is a sub 37.00secs team, assuming of course the baton gets around efficiently. The US, Trinidad and Tobago, Nigeria, France and Great Britain will be in tow although not necessarily in that order.
• The US owns the 4x400m relay. Expect no changing of the guard here. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, Nigeria and South Africa will ensure that every inch of this race is fully contested. Stiff competition notwithstanding, Jamaica should collect its fourth medal in as many relays.
As you gear up for Friday’s Olympic festivities, be prepared for anxious, heart stopping moments. Savor
moments; it is history in the making. We truly may never pass this way again!