The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Preview: Multi-Events

The ninth in our series of Olympic previews examines the heptathlon and decathlon.

The Schedule: Thursday Aug 21, Friday Aug 22
The Americans: Bryan Clay, Trey Hardee, Tom Pappas
The Contenders: Roman Šebrle (CZE), Maurice Smith (JAM), Andrei Kravchenko (BLR) Dmitry Karpov (KAZ)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Clay, Kravchenko, Karpov; SI - Clay, Smith, Seberle
The Story: Clay's performance at the Olympic Trials made him an overwhelming favorite. Finally putting some injuries behind him, he scored 8832 points, the world's highest in three years. That previous best? 8732, at the '05 Bryan Clay. In fact, he has three of the best four totals in the last four years and won the heptathlon at this year's World Indoor championships. He is a strong favorite to improve on his Athens silver medal to gold.

World Record holder Roman Šebrle won that gold medal, as well as last year's World Championships, and appears to be the only athlete capable of defeating Clay (as opposed to Clay defeating himself). He's getting a bit long in the tooth and pulled out of a decathlon earlier this year citing injury, but underestimating him would be a mistake. Last year he made a quick recovery after being hit in the shoulder with a javelin--a few inches in another direction and it would have been instantaneously fatal.

Others to watch are Kravchenko, World Indoor silver medalist and the European Cup champion; Smith, last year's surprise Worlds silver medalist who has warned of more surprises in Beijing; and Karpov, a seemingly perennial bronze medalist.

The Schedule: Friday Aug 15, Saturday Aug 16
The Americans: Hyleas Fountain, Jacqueline Johnson, Diana Pickler
The Contenders: Tatyana Chernova (RUS), Lyudmila Blonska (UKR), Kelly Sotherton (GBR), Jessica Ennis (GBR)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - ; SI -
The Story: This is the event that nobody wants to win. Defending World and Olympic champ Carolina Kluft has abandoned it, at least for the time being, and will compete the long and triple jumps instead. World Indoor champ Tia Hellebaut also opted out and will high jump. Former World champ Eunice Barber also skipped it in favor of the long jump. So the door is open.

Until early this year, you would have had to pick Blonska as the new favorite. She has far and away the best PR, won last year's IAAF Combined Events Challenge as the year's top heptathlete, and took silver at the Worlds behind Kluft. But two things happened to change that.

First, Chernova scored a massive PR in May to handily defeat Blonska at the big Gotzis heptathlon. Just 20 years old, she is obviously a star quickly on the rise. (And if you're entering any medal prediction contests, it's worth noting that her previous PR was set in Beijing.)

Second, Fountain scored an even bigger PR at the US Olympic Trials. It was the year's highest point total, and of her competitors only Blonska has ever scored higher. The Dayton, Ohio resident who occasionally trains at a track located on Edwin Moses Boulevard now has a realistic chance to make the city find another street to rename for a gold medalist.

Brits Sotherton and Ennis were third and fourth at last year's Worlds and figured to move up with Kluft's departure, but they may be leapfrogged. Trials runner-up Johnson is a four-time NCAA champ and will gain valuable international experience, but probably is not competing for a medal.

No comments: