The Usain Bolt Show has been renewed for a third and final season. The world’s fastest man has already arrived in Rio de Janeiro and is ready to complete one more sweep of the gold medals at this year’s Olympics.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the few shows within track and field that has a positive light to it at the moment. Russia’s track and field team will not compete at the Summer Games due to extensive evidence of systemic and state-run doping at previous Olympics. The United States should pick up a few more medals as a result of Russia’s absence, and yet its biggest challenge will come from Kenya and Jamaica—two countries whose respective anti-doping agencies could also take a look in the mirror.
This summer in Rio will also be one for redemption for Team USA, as the U.S. walked away with a disappointing six gold, six silver and six bronze medals at last summer’s world championships in Beijing. The team is headlined by returning Olympic champions Allyson Felix, Ashton Eaton and Brittney Reese but will also feature a slew of young talent in the sprints, which is underscored by 2015 100-meter world championship bronze medalist Trayvon Bromell.
For nine days (Aug. 12–21), fans can get excited about world-class performances and suspend the harsh realities of corruption, cover-ups and other controversies.
Here’s a look at the track and field scene in Rio:
Athletes to watch
Usain Bolt, Jamaica: 100, 200 and 4x100 meters
The world’s fastest man goes for his third straight gold-medal triple in his final Olympics. Bolt plans to retire after the 2017 world championships in London. He is already the first man to win back-to-back Olympic titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100 meters with his memorable wins in Beijing and London. He has slowed down in times since London but remains unbeaten at a global championship.
Mo Farah, Great Britain: 5,000 and 10,000 meters
Farah was electric in London as he won the 5,000 and 10,000 meters before his home crowd. He doesn’t hold the world record in either distance, yet he has established himself as one of the most dominant distance runners of all time when it comes to tactical or even fast-paced races. Farah’s closing speed has been unmatched as he’s won the world championship titles at both distances in 2013 and 2015. Finland’s Lasse Viren is the only athlete in history to pull off the double in consecutive Games, doing it in ’72 and ’76—Farah will try to join him.
Ashton Eaton, USA: Decathlon
Eaton continues to build his case as the world’s greatest athlete as he returns to the Olympics looking to become the first man since Great Britain’s Daley Thompson (‘80 and ‘84) to win back-to-back decathlon gold medals. Last summer, Eaton improved upon his own world record by raising his decathlon point total to 9,045 at the 2015 world championships in Beijing. No athlete is better over 10 events, and the world will get to see that one more time.
Asbel Kiprop, Kenya: 1,500 meters
Kiprop finished a distant 12th place in the Olympic final in London as he failed to defend his gold medal from the 2008 Olympics. There’s no runner who looks as perfect and smooth while running near-world record times than Kiprop. Since London, he lowered his personal best to 3:26.69, becoming the third-fastest man of all time at the distance. He may be favored to win his second gold medal.
Wayde Van Niekerk, South Africa: 400 meters
Michael Johnson is famous for his gold medal win in the 200 and 400 meters at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta while wearing golden spikes, and he also holds the 400-meter world record of 43.18, but South Africa’s rising sprint star could take it down, while facing challenges from the likes of USA’s LaShawn Merritt (2008 gold medalist) and Grenada’s Kirani James (2012 gold medalist). At last summer’s world championships, Merritt and James were on pace to break Johnson’s record through 300 meters but Van Niekerk took the crown in 43.48, which was the fastest time since 2007.
Eliud Kipchoge, Kenya: Marathon
Kipchoge previously spent ten years on the track and won an Olympic bronze and silver medal at 5,000 meters in 2004 and 2008, respectively. Since transitioning to the roads, Kipchoge is peeking into G.O.A.T. territory, but a lack of a gold medal is keeping him from truly entering the conversation. With a 2:03:01 personal best and wins at the Chicago, London and Berlin Marathons in the last two years, Kipchoge may finally get his day on Aug. 21.
Storylines to watch
Bolt vs. Gatlin again
It was built up as a good vs. evil narrative by broadcasters last summer. USA’s Gatlin, who served a four-year suspension for testosterone from 2006–10, already owns a gold medal from 2004 but has since re-emerged as Bolt’s biggest challenger. He ran the fastest 100-meter time in the world last summer but flailed away his chances at the gold medal at the world championships in the closing seconds of the 100-meter final in Beijing. Bolt was in bad form before worlds but always turns out when it matters the most. Rio will be one last hurrah, and Gatlin is ready to play the party spoiler.
Kenyans vs. Farah
As previously mentioned, Farah can win any type of race, so that complicated the East Africans’ attempts to come up with a strategy to break him. If it becomes a matter of team tactics to push an early pace or relying on their kicks in the final lap (something that has failed many times), Farah always seems to have an
Evan Jager to the podium
American Evan Jager showed a lot of promise when he ran 8:00.45 for the 3,000-meter steeplechase, which requires athletes to clear seven water jumps and 28 barriers along the way. Kenyans have dominated the event but he could be the first American to medal since 1984.
David Rudisha vs. Boris Berian
Berian, running the 800 meters, presents the top American hope to try and break a long dry spell of no U.S. gold medals in an event 800 meters or longer since David Wottle at the 1972 Summer Games. It will not be an easy task as Kenya’s Rudisha, the world record holder and reigning Olympic champion, continues to run the fastest times in the world. Regardless, Berian toeing the starting line is not a bad deal for someone who was flipping burgers at McDonald’s just two years ago.
Joe Kovacs vs. the world record
The shotputter Kovacs unleashed the eighth-best throw in history last summer, recording a 22.56-meter toss to set a Diamond League record. He went on to win gold at the world championships and could try and break the world record in Rio. Just four years ago, Kovacs missed the Olympic team by one spot at the trials—now he’s a gold medal contender.
Aug. 12 — 20K racewalk
Aug. 13 — Discus, long jump, 10,000 meters
Aug. 14 — 400 meters, 100 meters
Aug. 15 — Pole vault, 800 meters
Aug. 16 — Triple jump, high jump, 110-meter hurdles
Aug. 17 — 3,000-meter steeplechase
Aug. 18 — 400-meter hurdles, shot put, decathlon, 200 meters
Aug. 19 — 50K racewalk, hammer throw, 4x100-meter relay
Aug. 20 — Javelin, 1,500 meters, 5,000 meters, 4x400-meter relay
Aug. 21 — Marathon