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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Preview: Women's Middle Distance

800 Meters
The Schedule: heats, Friday Aug 15; semifinals, Saturday Aug 16; finals, Monday Aug 18
The Americans: #15 Hazel Clark, #19 Nicole Teter, Alice Schmidt
The Contenders: #1 Pamela Jelimo (KEN), #3 Janeth Jepkosgei (KEN), #5 Lucia Klocová (SVK), #13 Yuliya Krevsun (UKR)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Jelimo, Jepkosgei, Soboleva; SI - Jelimo, Jepkosgei, Krevsun
The Story: Meteoric doesn't even begin to describe Jelimo's rise to the top. An 18-year-old converted sprinter, she has run the 800 a grand total of seven times in her life; two of them were the fastest times recorded in the last decade. (That is, besides the one recorded by Yelena Soboleva, who was one of seven Russian women recently caught in a doping scandal.) Jelimo appears unbeatable.

Appearances can be deceiving, and Jepkosgei is thought to have a very real chance to win. She spent seven years toiling at the 800 before finally making a Kenyan national team, and last year she peaked brilliantly to win the World Championships. If Jelimo makes an error, Jepkosgei could make her pay for it.

Then, of course, there is the fact that the 800 is the most unpredictable track event. This year's World Indoor championships is a perfect example: Australia's Tamsyn Lewis, previously an unremarkable runner, found herself in the right place at the right time and won the gold medal. Since then, she's gone right back to being unremarkable.

1500 Meters
The Schedule: heats, Tuesday Aug 19; semifinals, Thursday Aug 21; finals, Saturday Aug 23
The Americans: #5 Shannon Rowbury, #8 Erin Donohue, #9 Christin Wurth-Thomas
The Contenders: #2 Maryam Yusuf Jamal (BRN), #3 Gelete Burka (ETH), #7 Sarah Jamieson (AUS), #14 Daniela Yordanova (BUL)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Jamal, Soboleva, Tomashova; SI - Jamal, Lishchynska, Burka
The Story: The USA has never won an Olympic medal in this event, but that may change this year. The Stars & Stripes is fielding its strongest trio ever in this event, headlined by Rowbury. She will be a breakout media star if she manages to win gold.

That's a tall order. Jamal has won just about everything that matters over the last three years, except indoor championships (this year she was beaten by two of the DQ'd Russians). She spent the early part of the outdoor season honing her 800 speed before going back to the 1500, winning both her starts.

The second of those was also Rowbury's first-ever European race. She ran smart and in control and pushed Jamal to the line, losing by a scant 0.34 seconds. Burka bombed in that race, finishing seventh, but it was her lone bad outing of the year. A jack-of-all-trades, this year she was third at the World Indoor Championships (1500) and tenth at the World Cross Country Championships (8k).

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