Recently I read this article from the Bleacher Report called "Olympic Track and Field Trials 2012: The Weakest Events for Team USA in London" written by John Rozum.

Which events got called out? For both men & women: 800 meters, hammer throw, 10,000 meters, and javelin throw. Additionally, the men's discus contingent was named.

Considering track & field is presumably outside Rozum's primary expertise, I would say his assessment was fairly decent. But I still definitely disagreed with him in a few places. First, the 800 meters. Furthermore, while the 10,000 meters ain't exactly Team USA's forte, I'm not sure that our medal chances are much worse there than in the other long distance events. Finally, the biggest flaw to Rozum's analysis was his omission of the women's triple jump—the only event besides walking (which I admittedly do not keep tabs on) sending a mere single athlete to London.

The men's 800 meters is an enigma. At the top you have overwhelming London favorite, world record holder David Rudisha of Kenya. Rudisha basically seems capable of running 1:41 at will. After him, no one else has even been able to crack 1:43 for the past two seasons. Rudisha has more 1:41's under his belt than USA Trials winner Nick Symmonds has 1:43's. But Symmonds is consistent, a good racer, and has a solid finishing kick that bodes well with the pace that we generally see in rabbit-less, championship competitions. So while a Rudisha gold is one of the surest bets of the Olympics, silver and bronze are up for grabs. Symmonds is not expected to medal (though with some luck it is within the realm of possibility) but he is in favorable position to be the first American finalist since 1996.

Joining Symmonds are Khadevis Robinson and Duane Solomon. The 36-year-old Robinson should be commended for his longevity while the 27-year-old Solomon had a breakthrough performance at trials that could be an omen for good things to come.

The women's 800-meter squad features a legit medal contender in Alysia Montaño (note: the U.S. has not medaled in this event since 1988). Montaño was just a few hundredths of a second shy of the bronze at last year's World Championships and currently sits #2 on the 2012 world leaders list. Most importantly, she has been consistent while some of her African and Russian rivals have been streaky. While her teammates Geena Gall and Alice Schmidt are a tier below her, I have generally been pleased with the depth the U.S. has displayed in this event over the past couple of years—lots of up-and-coming talent clocking "A" standard times under that 2:00 barrier.

American record holder Galen Rupp was #4 on the 2011 world leaders list for 10,000 meters. But the robust talent pipeline coming out of East Africa makes this event hard to forecast. Still, Rupp should be the most competitive American entrant for this event since 1964. Combined with Matt Tegenkamp and Dathan Ritzenhein, I expect higher finishes in this event than the steeplechase.

Indeed, the two most successful American female 10,000 meter runners in recent history have opted to focus on the marathon instead for London. However, Amy Hastings and Lisa Uhl both have PR’s that are faster than the time Lynn Jennings ran to claim bronze in 1992 (which stood as the American Record for a decade thereafter.) There is some daylight between them and the third American, Janet Bawcom, but she has still run comfortably under the “A” standard to qualify.

The women’s triple jump has been an Achilles’ heel for the U.S. since its inception (1996 was the first Olympic women’s triple jump contest). And this year zero athletes achieved the “A” standard, meaning only the winner, Amanda Smock, qualified for London. The American Record (14.45 meters by Tiombe Hurd in 2004) is barely in the top 1,000 jumps all-time (955th). Smock’s winning jump at trials (her season’s best) would have barely earned her a bronze medal at the recent World Junior Championships.

The problem is hard to diagnose. The men’s side has enjoyed sufficient success in the event. And the other women’s jumping events (long jump and high jump) produced outstanding marks at trials.

Certainly major injuries haven’t helped. Four of the top five all-time high school American triple jumpers never improved beyond their prep marks due to health issues. The one exception, Erica McClain, managed to continue improving through college and for a couple years as a pro only to suffer an injury in 2011 that was so gruesome I simply cannot bear to think or write about it (you’ll have to look it up on your own). Still, our deficiency in this discipline remains a bit of a mystery.

Nevertheless, the American team appears to be stronger as a whole than the squad that competed in Beijing four years ago.  While there will definitely be several events where we miss the podium by a mile, I expect us to comfortably walk away with by far the most medals of any participating nation.  

Thanks for reading!  And I hope to read some interesting comments.

Bashful Hound

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