2012 medal projections: Old Cold War battles, Jamaica heat up women’s running

Olympic athletes don’t just show up out of nowhere in an Olympic year, except maybe in a few secretive nations. Next year, we’ll have world championships in virtually everything, giving us a good chance to project what might happen in 2012.

We’re not waiting until then. We’re setting up some projections now, then revising as new results come in. It’s FiveThirtyEight with less math and no Rasmussen.

Today, it’s …

ATHLETICS: Women’s running events

We’re not Eurosnobs. Really. But isn’t “athletics” less awkward than “track and field”?

Besides, the marathon uses neither a track (except at the very end) or a field. And the shot put can be held anywhere.

The year’s top performances for each athlete are given in parentheses, but remember that some top athletes (Usain Bolt springs to mind) didn’t put much emphasis on running in a year with no Olympics or World Championships. (Source: IAAF)

We’re going to split this into running events and non-running events, then split it further by gender. We have a lot of ground to cover.

Women’s 100: Jamaica has been dominant, sweeping in 2008 (Shelly Ann-Fraser gold, Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson silver) and nearly sweeping the 2009 world championships (Fraser, Stewart). They had three of the six fastest runners of 2010 in Veronica Campbell-Brown (10.78), Fraser (10.82) and Stewart (10.96). The USA put four under 11 seconds in 2010 – 2009 third-place finisher Carmelita Jeter (10.82), Shalonda Solomon (10.90), LaShauntea Moore (10.97) and Marshevet Myers (10.97). The only outsiders threatening to break through the Big Two here are a handful of Caribbean sprinters led by Trinidad and Tobago’s Kelly-Ann Baptiste (10.84), plus young Nigerian Blessing Okagbare (11.00). But expect the European media to fawn over anyone from the continent who makes the final — perhaps Belarus’ Alena Neumiarzhitskaya (11.05), Germany’s Verena Sailer (11.10) or Britain’s own Laura Turner (11.11).

2008: Shelly Ann-Fraser (Jamaica), Kerron Stewart (Jamaica)/Sherone Simpson (Jamaica, tied for silver).

Projection: Jamaica, USA, Jamaica.

Top Americans: see above. Olympic finalists Lauryn Williams, Muna Lee and Torri Edwards were barely active in 2010.

Women’s 4×100 relay: Not contested often, at least not with actual national teams, but Ukraine (42.29) posted the fastest time of 2010. The USA pledges once again to avoid fumble-itis this time around.

2008: Russia, Belgium, Nigeria.

Projection: USA, Jamaica, Ukraine.

Women’s 200: Better chances for the USA, thanks to 2008 silver medalist/2009 world champ Allyson Felix (22.03) and Consuella Moore (22.40). Europe also has a few hopefuls: France’s Myriam Soumare (22.32), Ukraine’s Elizaveta Bryzhina (22.44) and the Russian duo of Aleksandra Fedoriva (22.41) and Anastasiya Kapachinskaya (22.47). But the gold should be a duel between Felix and Jamaica’s Campbell-Brown (21.98), the 2008 champion/2009 runner-up, with any other Jamaican or American qualifiers contesting the bronze along with the Europeans.

2008: Veronica Campbell-Brown (Jamaica), Allyson Felix (USA), Kerron Stewart (Jamaica).

Projection: USA, Jamaica, USA.

Top Americans: Felix, Moore, LaShauntea Moore (22.46), Shalonda Solomon (22.47)

Women’s 400: 2009 world champion/2008 bronze medalist Sanya Richards missed much of the year, but fellow American Debbie Dunn (49.64) was well out in front with the two fastest times of 2010. Fellow American Allyson Felix (50.15), best at 200 but emphasizing the 400 as well, took the Golden League title despite failing to break the 50-second mark. Russia has four solid contenders led by Tatyana Firova (49.89), Jamaica has a capable duo of 2009 runner-up Shericka Williams and Novlene Williams-Mills (both 50.04), and Botswana’s Amantle Montsho (49.89) was consistent through the season. Britain’s Christine Ohuruogu won gold in 2008, but injuries have slowed her.

2008: Christine Ohuruogu (Britain), Shericka Williams (Jamaica), Sanya Richards (USA).

Projection: USA, Russia, USA.

Top Americans: Richards, Dunn, Felix, Francena McCorory (50.52), Natasha Hastings (50.53), Keshia Baker (50.76). Hurdler Lashinda Demus may join the relay squad.

Women’s 4×400 relay: Could be a good three-way thriller in 2012 as it was in 2008. We’ll pick the same order of finish.

2008: USA, Russia, Jamaica.

Projection: USA, Russia, Jamaica.

Women’s 800: The wild card here is South Africa’s Caster Semenya (1:58.16), who won the 2009 world championship amid questions about her gender. She has finally been cleared to run. While she spent time away from the track, the top times were split between the USA’s Alysia Johnson (1:57.34), Russia’s Mariya Savinova (1:57.56) and Kenyans Nancy Jebet Langat (1:57.75) and Janeth Jepkosgei (1:57.84). Jepkosgei was second in 2009 behind Semenya and took silver in 2008 behind fellow Kenyan Pamela Jelimo, who is young but has struggled since.

2008: Pamela Jelimo (Kenya), Janeth Jepkosgei (Kenya),  Hasna Benhassi (Morocco).

Projection: Kenya, South Africa, USA.

Top Americans: Johnson, Phoebe Wright (1:58.22), Morgan Uceny (1:58.67)

Women’s 1,500: The top 10 times of 2010 were posted by 10 different runners, seven of them in two races. The top nine hailed from nine different countries. In top meets, this is generally a tactical event, so times can be deceptive. In other words, this event is nearly unprojectable. Kenya’s Nancy Jebet Langat (4:00.13), the 2008 gold medalist, had a terrific season without breaking the four-minute mark. Three countries — Bahrain, USA and France — had two runners in the top 12, and Ukraine took silver and bronze in 2008. Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal faltered in Beijing but has won the last two world titles.

2008: Nancy Jebet Langat (Kenya), Iryna Lishchynska (Ukraine), Nataliya Tobias (Ukraine).

Projection: Kenya, Bahrain, USA.

Top Americans: Christin Wurth-Thomas (3:59.59), 2009 third-place finisher Shannon Rowbury (4:01.30)

Women’s 5,000: The greater the distance, the more the Olympics will start to resemble a Kenya-Ethiopia dual meet. Elvan Abeylegesse, born in Ethiopia but competing for Turkey, broke up the party in 2008 with silver at 5,000 and 10,000 behind Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba. Kenya had the edge in 2010 — world-leader and 2009 champion Vivian Cheruiyot (14:27.41), No. 3 Linet Chepkwemoi Masai (14:31.14), No. 6 and 2009 runner-up Sylvia Jebiwott Kibet (14:31.91) and two more of a distinct top 12. Ethiopia counters with No. 2 Sentayehu Ejigu (14:28.39), No. 5 Meselech Melkamu (14:31.91), No. 7 Dibaba (14:34.07) and No. 11 Meseret Defar (14:38.87). That leaves two spots for Turkey (one for Abeylegesse) and one for Portugal.

2008: Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia), Elvan Abeylegesse (Turkey), Meseret Defar (Ethiopia).

Projection: Kenya, Ethiopia, Kenya.

Top Americans: Molly Huddle (14:44.76), Shalane Flanagan (14:49.08), Lisa Koll, Amy Begley, Shannon Rowbury, Lauren Fleishman, Jen Rhines

Women’s 10,000: This one is harder to read from off-year times because it’s not contested as often as the 5,000, and the contenders are likely to be the same. Two wild cards for the USA: Lisa Koll (31:18.07) was No. 5 on the 2010 list, and Shalane Flanagan took bronze in 2008. Flanagan is working up to marathon distance now. Kenya’s Linet Chepkwemoi Masai won the 2009 world title ahead of Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu and Wude Ayalew.

2008: Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia), Elvan Abeylegesse (Turkey), Shalane Flanagan (USA).

Projection: Ethiopia, Kenya, Turkey.

Top Americans: Koll, Flanagan, Desiree Davila, Amy Begley (sixth in 2009), Amy Hastings

Women’s marathon: Comparing times is more or less irrelevant at this distance given the varying difficulty of courses, but it’s hard not to notice that Russia’s Liliya Shobukhova won Chicago (2:20:25) and London (2:22:00) in the two fastest times of the year, with fellow Russian Inga Abitova (2:22:19) just behind her in the latter. Other major winners in 2010: Ethiopia’s Atsede Baysa (Paris, 2:22:19), Kenya’s Sharon Jemutai Cherop (Toronto, 2:22:43), Kenya’s Caroline Cheptanui Kilel (Frankfurt, 2:23:25), Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat (New York: 2:28:20), Ethiopia’s Teyba Erkesso (Boston, 2:26:11 and Houston, 2:23:53). The reigning world champion is China’s Bai Xue.

2008: Constantina Dita-Tomescu (Romania), Catherine Ndereba (Kenya), Zhou Chunxiu (China).

Projection: Russia, Ethiopia, Kenya.

Top Americans: Shalane Flanagan moved up to marathon for New York and finished second.

Women’s steeplechase: Kenya’s Milcah Chemos Cheywa (9:11.71) and Gladys Jerotich Kipkemoi (9:13.22) are on another level, with the top two from 2009 — Spain’s Marta Dominguez (9:17.07) and Russia’s Yuliya Zarudneva (9:17.57) — in pursuit. Russia’s Gulnara Galkina, who set the world record in Beijing 2008, had no listed times in 2010.

2008: Gulnara Galkina (Russia), Eunice Kepkorir (Kenya), Yekaterina Volkova (Russia).

Projection: Kenya, Kenya, Russia.

Top Americans: Lisa Aguilera (9:24.84)

Women’s 100 hurdles: The first half of the season belonged to American Lolo Jones (12.55), who’s haunted by her stumble in Beijing. The second half belonged to Canadian Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (12.52), the 2008 bronze medalist. With Canadian vet Perdita Felicien (12.58) and several Americans in the mix, this could be a North American sweep, particularly if you extend “North America” to include Jamaica and world champ Brigitte Foster-Hylton. Australian Sally Pearson (12.57), who took silver in Beijing under her maiden name McLellan, is the most likely spoiler.

2008: Dawn Harper (USA), Sally Pearson (Australia), Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (Canada).

Projection: USA, Canada, USA.

Top Americans: Jones, Queen Harrison (12.61), Ginnie Crawford (12.63), Damu Cherry (12.65), 2008 gold medalist Dawn Harper

Women’s 400 hurdles: Shaping up as another USA-Jamaica showdown, this time with two clear leaders — American Lashinda Demus (52.82) vs. Jamaica’s Kaliese Spencer (53.33). Those two and Russia’s Natalya Antyukh (52.92) posted 18 of the top 21 times of 2010. Jamaica’s Melaine Walker, the reigning world and Olympic champion, ran little in 2010.

2008: Melaine Walker (Jamaica), Sheena Tosta (USA), Tasha Danvers (Britain).

Projection: USA, Jamaica, Russia.

Top Americans: Demus, 2008 silver medalist Sheena Tosta (54.52), Queen Harrison (54.55), young phenom Ti’erra Brown (54.74).

Women’s 20k walk: Perhaps the event least likely to be aired in any form on NBC’s networks and the event most likely to feature a Russian sweep.

2008: Olga Kaniskina (Russia), Kjersti Platzer (Norway), Elisa Rigaudo (Italy).

Projection: Russia, Russia, Portugal.

Top Americans: Joanne Dow (30th, Beijing) will be 46 in 2012. Teresa Vaill won 2010 U.S. grand prix.

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