Please note: I prepared these Fearless Picks and Predictions before the first Olympic track and field event began on 8/2, and they serve as my entries in two international prediction contests. So it's not been my intent to update them daily as daily updates are already being handled expertly elsewhere on this site. But I do want to note that Alex Schwazer of Italy in the 50k walk failed a drug test and was sent home; this occurred after the T+F had begun but before his event was held.

I will let you know how the prediction contests turned out after the men's marathon!

by Mark Cullen - blog at -
m 50k walk

Alex Schwazer of Italy won Olympic gold in ’08, and is returning to form after a skiing accident, as his 1:17:30 20k win in Lugano shows. He backed that up with a 3 ½ minute 50k win in  March and is a force to be reckoned with once again. Russia’s Sergey Bakulin is defending World champ, but was 5th in the World Cup with two teammates substantially ahead of him.

In that dramatic race, Sergey Kirdyapin edged Igor Erokhin 3:38:08 – 3:38:40. Can you imagine going three-and-a-half hours and losing by two seconds? I mean, it’s not bike racing. Australia’s Jared Tallent has rather quietly been collecting medals, silver in Beijing and bronze in Daegu; time to complete the set? Yohann Diniz of France, who majored in wine science, is #2 all-time. Erokhin has a slim competitive record due, possibly, to his two-year drug suspension. I think it’s a tossup between Igor and Jared for bronze, but I’ve gotta go with talent.

  1. Sergey Kirdyapin, Russia
  2. Alex Schwazer, Italy
  3. Jared Tallent, Australia

w 20k walk
Olga Kaniskina (Rus) has been the world ranked #1 for the last five years. Her 3 consecutive World Championship titles, as well as Olympic gold in Beijing, have made her untouchable in this event. Well, almost. Until she finished second to teammate Yelena Lashmanova in the World Cup by a rather substantial 55 seconds. But I don’t think that is going to happen twice, especially as this was Kaniskina’s seasonal best. China’s Hong Liu is very consistent in the big meets and has gone 4-3-2 in the last three majors. Elmira Alembekova (Rus) scorched a 1:25:27 (the #3 time ever) in February. Lashmanova is 20 and Alembekova is 22, and I’ll pick competitive record over time, especially since they’re both quite new to this level of the sport.

  1. Olga Kaniskina, Russia
  2. Liu Hong, China
  3. Yelena Lashmanova, Russia

*I strongly recommend watching one of the race walking events if you have the opportunity (and you might want to start with either the women’s or men’s 20k instead of the men’s 50k!). It’s fascinating to watch it unfold and to recognize the sophisticated strategy required to be successful in the walks - which are at running pace for most mortals.

w High Jump
The drama! The fashion! The tears! The makeup! What will the high jump be without them this year?! I am speaking, of course, about the absence of high jump diva Blanka Vlasic (Croatia). Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy tremendously watching her compete, and she earns all the drama she wants with her stellar international competitive record. But really, haven’t things gone too far when you google her name and you get “Blanka Vlasic Makes Pound Cake?”

Meanwhile, back on the jumping apron, Russia’s Anna Chicherova turned the tables on Vlasic to win the ’09 World title after finishing second in ’09 and 3rd in Beijing. Her form was flawless in winning the Prefontaine Classic in June, and in second was countrywoman Svetlana Shkolina, who also finished second to Chicherova at the Russian National Champions in early July. Both are jumping very well at just the right time. Chaunte Lowe won the US Trials at 6’7” with Arizona find Brigette Barrett second at the same height, and in difficult weather conditions. Both are jumping very well at just the right time. And notably, Lowe won the London Grand Prix in the middle of July, where she defeated Chicherova. I think that Chicherova wins in the sun, Lowe in the rain.

  1. Chaunte Lowe, United States
  2. Anna Chicherova, Russia
  3. Svetlana Shkolina, Russia

m Javelin
Andreas Thorkildsen is Norway’s two-time Olympic champ (04, 08), World champ (09), and three-time Worlds silver medalist (05, 07, 11). So in every major meet since 2004 he’s won gold or silver. But in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately event, he is a surprising 10th on the world list going into the Olympics – not his accustomed spot. And he came in 3rd in the only Diamond League meet he entered, and that was at home in Oslo. Vitezslav Vesely (CZ) won the European Championship this summer and leads the world list by almost two meters; he has placed 1st or 2nd in four Diamond League events. Oleksandr Pyatnytsya (UKR) won two Diamond League events and is 4th on the world list behind Veseley. Vadims Vasilevskis (LAT) won the Eugene Diamond League Meet and was second to Pyatnytsya in Monaco just before the Olympics. Cuba’s Guillermo Martinez has not been heard from much this year, but he won silver and bronze in the last two Worlds. And where is Thorkildsen’s great Finnish rival, Tero Pitkamaki? Actually, in 9th on the world list, just ahead of Thor.

A difficult one to call in a wide open field, as I sense a changing of the guard in this event.

  1. Vitezslav Vesely, Czech Republic
  2. Oleksandr Pyatnytsya,Ukraine
  3. Vadims Vasileskis, Latvia

m 5,000m
This year’s world 5,000m list is dominated by a single race: the Paris Diamond League 5k on July 7, in which the top ten times – in the 12:46-12:56 range - were run by 5 Ethiopians and 5 Kenyans. Clearly the deepest race in history, it produced 4 of the top 10 fastest times ever run. And yet the key words here are: ‘single race.’ A flat out barnburner with everyone running a lifetime best is not the championship style we’ve grown accustomed to in major international meets like the Worlds and Olympics. So the real questions out of a race like that are: who raced well? who won? That would be Dejen Gebremeskel (Eth), bronze medalist in Daegu, behind

Mo Farah (GB) and Bernard Lagat (US). Gebremeskel’s teammate, Hagos Gebrhiwet, set the World Junior record in finishing second to him in Paris. Farah earned World Championship gold (5,000m) and silver (10,000m) in ’11 to stamp himself as an – or the – Olympic distance favorite. He has only enhanced that perception with Diamond League wins in Eugene and London this year. In Eugene, he used a withering kick to win, in London a sustained drive over the last 800m. That each strategy works so well for him should strike fear in the hearts of his competitors. Bernard Lagat (US) is, at 37, trying one more time for his Olympic gold on the track (might he try the marathon at 41?). The ’07 1500m and 5,000m World champion has an extensive set of medals, including three silver and two bronze. This means he is always in it to the end; the question for London is what kind of finish does he have still in him, especially when compared to Galen Rupp’s decisive finish at the US Olympic Trials. Rupp has put his stamp on this event in the United States; can he bring the same kind of finish to the world level? The slower the pace, the better his chances to unleash his finish: his 1:53.45/52.53 to polish off his Trials win is truly world class. The Ethiopian and Kenyan teams are predictably deep, with five of the six entrants between them at 12:49.06 or faster (the sixth comes in with a sluggish 12:52.40!). Isiah Koech won Kenya’s Olympic Trials and was 3rd in the Paris barn-burner, and teammate Ewin Soi won bronze in Beijing.

  1. Mo Farah, Great Britain
  2. Dejan Gebremeskel, Ethiopia
  3. Isiah Koech, Kenya

w 800m
Pamela Jelimo (Ken), who won the Beijing Olympic championship at 18 and then vanished from the world scene with persistent injury, returned in style in March when, in her first international race in 4 years, she won the World Indoor title. Nice return! She leads the world list at 1:56.76,

a time she ran in early July. Teammate Janeth Jepkosgei has a full set of World medals with gold in ’07, silver in ’09, and bronze in ’11; these go nicely with her ’08 Olympic silver. Caster Semenya of  South Africa, ’09 World champion and silver medalist in’11, is known for her 2nd lap strength, though Russia’s Mariya Savinova outkicked her to win in Daegu. Alysia Montano, US, runs fast times from the front and raced well in Daegu where she missed a Worlds medal by .04. But she can overdo that strategy: her Olympic Trials splits were 55.83/63.20, and this won’t work well in the London final; in Eugene, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th all closed faster than she did.

Russia’s team is impressively deep, as Yelena Arzhakova and Yekaterina Poistogova were 3rd and 4th in the Russian Championship race which saw 4 runners under 1:58. They are led by defending World champion Mariya Savinova, who won the Russian national championship race by .04. Fantu Magiso, Ethiopia, is the new star of this event; she’s won two Diamond League races, finished second in another, and been under 1:58 all three times. She’s only 20 in her first year on the international stage – her main challenge will be running qualifying rounds; her big successes this year have come in single-day, single-race meets.

  1. Mariya Savinova, Russia
  2. Pamela Jelimo, Kenya
  3. Caster Semenya, South Africa

w 4x400m relay
The last three major championships might be instructive here:

Olympics ‘08: 1. USA  2. Russia    3. Jamaica
Worlds ‘09:     1. USA  2. Jamaica  3. Russia
Worlds ‘11:     1. USA  2. Jamaica  3. Russia

Once again these three teams are very evenly matched on paper, with Russia’s composite time fractionally ahead of that of the US, and Jamaica as well-balanced as ever. Great Britain will have enormous support at home; they last medaled at Worlds in Osaka (’07), and three of those four team members will run here again, with a resurgent ’08 Olympic champ Christine Ohuruogu likely to anchor.

  1. United States
  2. Russia
  3. Great Britain

m 4x100m relay
Quick: When was the last time the United States won the Olympic gold medal in this event?

2000 in Sydney. Since then, Great Britain (04) and Jamaica (08) have won; Jamaica really has dominated this event with gold in the 09 and 11 Worlds as well. The US is challenged to get the baton around the track as they have had numerous drops in major meets.

It’s instructive to look at the PRs of the top 4 of each of the two teams:

Jamaica                                    United States
9.58 – Bolt                              9.69 – Gay
9.72 – Powell                          9.80 – Gatlin
9.75 – Blake                            9.88 – Bailey
9.78 - Carter                            9.89 – Patton

Jamaica is at least a tenth ahead per person.

Trinidad won silver in 08 and 09; last year’s World Champs results are not very instructive in terms of depth; Jamaica set the World record, but medal favorites Great Britain and the United States decided they’d rather sit on the track and chat (they collided) than get the baton around.

(When I attend the World Championships and watch the 4x100 finals with my great Track and Field News Tour crew, when the 4x100 final is announced, we shield our eyes and ask if it’s safe to look…) Holland (Holland?), France, Germany, and Great Britain all have a chance for third, but Trinidad goes in as the only one of this group to have three guys under 10.00.

  1. Jamaica
  2. United States
  3. Trinidad