Field events, whether men's or women's present the broadest spectrum of athletic body types: Powerful shot putters contrasted with tall, willowy high jumpers; javelin throwers built like tight ends and long jumpers built like shooting guards.
But in London, the women's field events offer more buzz than the men's.
Unlike the men's field events, the women's infield events are stacked with world record holders, all-time greats and some of the most compelling athletes in the history of the sport. Any such list starts with Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the two-time Olympic champion (2004, '08), world record holder (16 feet, 7 ¼ inches) and owner of 18 of the top 21 marks in history. Isinbayeva, 30, ``retired'' after the 2009 world championship, sat out the 2010 season, has not matched her best jumps in 2012 and no-heighted in Monaco on July 20, her last competition before the Games. Still, she must be considered the favorite. The second-best women's vaulter in history is Jenn Suhr of the U.S., who won the silver medal in Beijing and comes in with the best vault in the world this year.
Also returning to defend a gold medal is javelin thrower Barbora Spotakova of the Czech Republic, whose world record of 237 feet, 2 inches was set in 2008. The third world record holder in London is hammer thrower Betty Heidler of Germany, who set the WR of 260 feet, 7 inches in 2011. Tatyana Lysenko of Russia is the No. 4 hammer thrower in history (in fairness to other events, the women's hammer has only been recognized as an official world record event since 1994 and has only been an Olympic event since 2000). Heptathlete Jessica Ennis has a chance to give Great Britain its first track medal of the Games, and is the gold medal favorite in her specialty. Notably missing here is Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic, the Beijing silver medalist and two-time world champion, who will miss the Games with an injury.
Three-time world champion and defending Olympic champion shot putter Valerie Adams of New Zealand is 6-foot-4, 273 pounds, but brings a rare athleticism to the ring. Until 2011, Adams had thrown farther than any women in the world in more than a decade (mostly since the steroid-addled 1970s and '80s), but now Adams faces a challenge from Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus, whose best throw in 2012 is only four inches short of Adams's best. Jill Camerena-Williams will also fight to match the bronze medal she won at last year's world championships.
The best bet for the U.S. is two-time world champion long jumper Brittney Reese, 25, who finished fifth in the Beijing long jump and has since dominated the event worldwide. Reese (23 feet, 7 ¼ inches) is the third-longest U.S. jumper in history, behind only Jackie Joyner-Kersee (24-7) and Marion Jones (23-11 ¾).
Brittney Reese, a former high school basketball player from Gulfport, Miss., who won an NCAA title for Mississippi in 2008, comes into the Olympics as the top-ranked long jumper in the world and owner of the best Twitter handle:
They are two of the best shot putters of the modern, random-drug-testing era. Adams, who moves through the ring like a great offensive lineman, has won three world titles and the Beijing Olympic gold. Ostapchuk was the bronze medalist in Beijing and has twice finished second to Adams at worlds.
Both are 30 years old. Isinbayeva has two gold medals and a secure place as the greatest women's vaulter in history, but has shown vulnerability this year. Suhr has surpassed 2000 Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila as the greatest U.S. vaulter in history, but probably faces her last chance at a gold medal.
High jumper Chaunte Howard Lowe of the U.S. is not an underdog in the traditional sense. She has jumped higher than any U.S. woman in history (6-8 3/4; the 13th-highest for a woman in history, and second-best outside Europe) and won five U.S. titles. She has also twice given birth, which would make an Olympic medal even more remarkable.
The last -- and only -- U.S. medal in the women's shot put was in 1960, when Earlene Brown took the bronze in Rome. It had been even longer between discus gold medals before Stefanie Brown Trafton won her gold in Beijing; the last winner was Lillian Copeland in 1932. The U.S. has never won a medal in the triple jump and won't win one in London, either.