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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Preview: Men's Sprints

The thirteenth in my series of Olympic previews looks at the shortest running events for men.

100 Meters
The Schedule: heats and quarterfinals, Friday Aug 15; semifinals and finals, Saturday Aug 16
The Americans: #5 Tyson Gay, #9 Walter Dix, #11 Darvis Patton
The Contenders: #1 Usain Bolt (JAM), #2 Asafa Powell (JAM), #4 Derrick Atkins (BAH), #7 Jaysuma Saidy Ndure (NOR), #8 Michael Frater (JAM)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Bolt, Powell, Gay; SI - Gay, Bolt, Dix
The Story: This is among the most anticipated events in the entire Olympic Games, pitting the current World Record holder against the previous one and the defending World champion.

Only two issues leave any doubt as to whether Usain Bolt can win gold: he has never run a four-round championship in the 100, and Powell narrowly beat him in Stockholm just a few weeks ago. The theoretical way to beat Bolt is to get out of the blocks ahead of him and apply pressure throughout the race, and Powell did exactly that.

Powell, however, has shown a consistent inability to run his best in championship meets, or even when similarly running from behind. Most observers don't figure him to be the winner, but the 100 can be a real crapshoot sometimes.

The wildcard in all of this is Gay. After his injury suffered at the US Olympic Trials, no one knows for sure what he's capable of. After a recent workout, he proclaimed himself at about 85 to 90% of his immediate pre-trials fitness level. At 100%, it would be a toss-up between himself and Bolt, but a lack of racing may result in a loss of sharpness. Still, there are three rounds to work with before the final, and he might be closer to 100% and not want anyone to know it; as my hall-of-fame high school coach always said, if you think you can win it pays to keep it a secret for as long as possible.

The attention has been almost exclusively on these three, but if you're looking for a dark horse it's Walter Dix. Rumors have circulated that he suffered an injury while winning the Trials 200, but he sure didn't look like it. His season has been short, as he suffered an injury much more severe than Gay's in April. A year ago he was good enough to challenge for a medal at the Worlds but stayed home to concentrate on schoolwork. The potential is there, but few besides the true fan know about it.

200 Meters
The Schedule: heats and quarterfinals, Monday Aug 18; semifinals, Tuesday Aug 19; finals, Wednesday Aug 20
The Americans: #3 Wallace Spearmon, #4 Walter Dix, #14 Shawn Crawford
The Contenders: #1 Usain Bolt (JAM), #6 Brian Dzingai (ZIM), #8 Brendan Christian (ANT), #11 Richard Thompson (TRI), #12 Marlon Devonish (GBR)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Bolt, Dix, Crawford; SI - Bolt, Dix, Crawford
The Story: Bolt is getting attention for his 100 record, but this is almost assuredly his best event. With Tyson Gay failing to make the US team due to injury, this is expected to be little more than a coronation.

Spearmon and Dix, however, has PRs that indicate they may be able to challenge the Jamaican. Considering that Bolt will have to run eight rounds in six days, and his commitment to hard training has at times been questioned, the upset is possible. Spearmon will only run the 200 which gives him an advantage there. If Bolt loses, however, I see Walter Dix as the man to do him in. While Dix also has double-duty on his plate, he is a bull-strong runner who never wears down as much as his opponents. Just fourth in the NCAA 100, he came back to win the 200 later in the meet, and similarly won the Trials 200 after a heavy week of racing. He is a smart runner who manages his efforts well and has that rarest of qualities in sprinters: belief in delayed gratification.

If you can find a casino sports book offering odds on the Olympics, take Dix to win. A quick check of online betting odds has him anywhere from 9:1 to 11:1, but the reality is more like 3:1 or less. You heard it here first.

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