2012 medal projections, men’s track: Bolt, then who?

The typical trend for men’s running events: The Americas (USA, Jamaica, other Caribbean) battle in the sprints, African nations split the distance events, and British hearts slowly break until they all watch Chariots of Fire and reminisce.

No real reason so far to think that’ll change, but the World Championships (Aug. 27-Sept. 4, Daegu, South Korea) might unearth some talented runners who haven’t earned Diamond League slots.

ATHLETICS: Men’s running events

Good sources for 2010 performances are the ever-handy list of top performances, this terrific chart of Diamond League performances and the Diamond League site’s event recaps. The Diamond League launched last year, combining the Golden League and a few other top meets, filling the gap between World Championship years.

Men’s 100: Usain Bolt looked mortal in 2010, struggling with his Achilles and his lower back, but unless he tries and fails to rebound for the World Championships this year, the Jamaican is still racing history rather than his contemporaries. The USA’s Tyson Gay beat an 85-percent Bolt last year and will again be poised to win if Bolt isn’t quite himself. Gay also tied Jamaica’s Nesta Carter for the fastest time (9.78) of 2010, though Gay ran into a slight headwind. Jamaica’s Asafa Powell also won a few races in Gay and Bolt’s absence, then joined Bolt in shutting down his season early. 2008 silver medalist Richard Thompson (T&T) finished second to Gay in the overall Diamond League standings, and may be the only man who can break up the USA-Jamaica stranglehold.  Yohan Blake showed Jamaica’s depth by finishing third.

2008: Usain Bolt (Jamaica), Richard Thompson (Trinidad and Tobago), Walter Dix (USA).

Projection: Jamaica, USA, Jamaica.

Top Americans: Gay and Dix have the resumes. Ryan Bailey and Ivory Williams broke 10 seconds in 2010. Watch Jeffery Demps, who ran 10.06 and still has one more year of football at Florida.

Men’s 4×100 relay: The USA (37.45) beat Jamaica (37.76) in the one big showdown of 2010, with Gay joining Trell Kimmons, Wallace Spearmon and Mike Rodgers to beat Blake and three lesser-known Jamaicans. Britain was a distant third. That really doesn’t tell us much. This event tends to be all or nothing — the USA and Jamaica will medal as long as they can get the baton around the track without fumbling, which is no sure bet. We’ll give Britain a home-track boost in the projections for now.

2008: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan.

Projection: Jamaica, USA, Britain.

Men’s 200: Still Bolt’s event, but the USA’s depth is better here. Dix dominated the Diamond League with four wins but couldn’t run the final, opening the door for Wallace Spearmon to win the season title. Bolt’s times, both his world record (19.19) and 2010 best (19.56), are untouchable. Dix, Gay, Blake and Spearmon all broke 19.80. 2008 silver medalist Shawn Crawford ran little in 2010.

2008: Usain Bolt (Jamaica), Shawn Crawford (USA), Walter Dix (USA).

Projection: Jamaica, USA, USA.

Top Americans: Dix, Gay, Spearmon.

Men’s 400: With fellow American LaShawn Merritt in doping-suspension limbo, with the penis-enlargement drug ExtenZe taking the blame, Jeremy Wariner owns this event almost as certainly as Bolt owns the 100 and 200. Wariner was healthy in 2010, winning every Diamond League race he entered. Jamaica’s Jermaine Gonzales was a consistent runner-up and won the race Wariner skipped. Fellow Jamaican Ricardo Chambers was third-fastest in 2010. Belgium’s Jonathan Borlee and Britain’s Michael Bingham have the best hopes of upsetting the USA-Jamaica sprinting machines for a medal.

2008: LaShawn Merritt (USA), Jeremy Wariner (USA), David Neville (USA).

Projection: USA, Jamaica, Jamaica.

Top Americans: Wariner, Angelo Taylor, Greg Nixon.

Men’s 4×400 relay: The USA’s not-so-secret weapon here is the battalion of 400-meter hurdlers who can take a fast lap in the relay. That makes them virtually unbeatable here, but the host country will surely give it a brave effort.

2008: USA, Bahrain, Russia.

Projection: USA, Jamaica, Britain.

Men’s 800: Add a lap, and the balance of power shifts from the Americas to Africa. Since 2008, the names have changed but not the nationalities. Young Kenyan David Rudisha posted eight of the 11 fastest times of 2010 and won the Diamond League, with Sudanese youngster Abubaker Kaki in pursuit. Kenya’s Boaz Lalang is next fastest, but Poland’s Marcin Lewandowski gives Europe some hope. American Nick Symmonds is often finishing in the thick of things as well.

2008: Wilfred Bungei (Kenya), Ismail Ahmed Ismail (Sudan), Alfred Yego (Kenya).

Projection: Kenya, Sudan, Kenya.

Top Americans: Symmonds, Leo Manzano, Andrew Wheating.

Men’s 1,500: Like World Cup soccer finals, elite 1,500-meter races tend to be cautious affairs, with everyone waiting for someone else to make the first move. If we see that in London, the door may be open for some inspired British hopeful to win with a strong kick. Alas, Britain really doesn’t have any such hopefuls. The USA does — Leo Manzano finished third in the Diamond League last year, and Andrew Wheating had a few fast runs. Bernard Lagat could have another fast mile left in his legs, while on-again, off-again prodigy Alan Webb may also gear up for another good season. Kenyan Asbel Kiprop, who inherited the 2008 gold medal after a drug test took down Bahrain’s Rashid Ramzi, dominated the Diamond League, with fellow Kenyan Augustine Choge second and young countryman Silas Kiplagat winning the season’s fastest race in Monaco.

2008: Asbel Kiprop (Kenya), Nicholas Willis (New Zealand), Mehdi Baala (France).

Projection: Kenya, Kenya, USA.

Top Americans: Manzano, Wheating, Webb, Lagat.

Men’s 5,000: Little separates the top Kenyan and Ethiopian runners at this distance, though a couple of Americans are trying to break through. Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele, younger brother of 2008 5,000/10,000 gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele, finished the season on a tear but took second in the Diamond League behind countryman Imane Merga. Next came the Kenyans — Vincent Kiprop Chepkok, Eliud Kipchoge and Mark Kosgei Kiptoo — and American Chris Solinsky, who figured in the finish of several top races. The Kenyan contingent edged the Ethiopians on the top times list, with American veteran Bernard Lagat also in the mix.

2008: Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), Eliud Kipchoge (Kenya), Edwin Soi (Kenya).

Projection: Ethiopia, Kenya, Ethiopia.

Top Americans: Solinsky, Lagat, Galen Rupp.

Men’s 10,000: Not contested in the Diamond League and therefore largely ignored in 2010 by the gaggle of 5,000-meter contenders who can also cover this distance with ease. But the USA’s Chris Solinsky had a fantastic win in a race in Palo Alto that accounted for Nos. 2-5 on the list of top times — Solinsky (26:59.60), Kenya’s Daniel Lemashon Salel (27:07.85), Kenya’s Samuel Chelanga (27:08.39) and American Galen Rupp (27:10.74). The fastest time (26:56.74) belonged to Kenya’s Josephat Kiprono Menjo, who showed up to a meet in Finland to race the clock, winning by more than five minutes.

2008: Kenenisa Bekele (Ethiopia), Sileshi Sihine (Ethiopia), Micah Kogo (Kenya).

Projection: Ethiopia, Kenya, USA.

Top Americans: Solinsky, Rupp.

Men’s marathon: Patrick Musyoki and Geoffrey Mutai finished 1-2 in the year’s fastest marathons, Rotterdam and Berlin. Wilson Kiprotich joined them in breaking the 2:05 mark by winning in Frankfurt. Robert Cheruiyot won the slower Boston Marathon. Olympic champion Samuel Wanjiru won in Chicago. Know what all these marathoners have in common? Yes, they’re from Kenya. Ethiopian world record-holder Haile Gebrelassie is still active and won in Dubai. The top 53 times in 2010: Kenya 32, Ethiopia 19, Morocco 2. Then, for sake of variety, we have one from Eritrea. Get the picture?

One sad update: Wanjiru died in May after falling from a balcony.

2008: Samuel Wanjiru (Kenya), Jaouad Gharib (Morocco), Tsegay Kedebe (Ethiopia).

Projection: Kenya, Kenya, Kenya.

Top Americans: Ryan Hall (fourth in Boston), Meb Keflezighi (2004 silver medalist).

Men’s steeplechase: Kenyans won all the Diamond League races, took the top three on the time list (2008 gold medalist Brimin Kipruto, Ezekiel Kemboi, Paul Kipsiele Koech) and took the top three in the Diamond League standings (Koech, Kemboi, Kipruto). But France at least has a couple of contenders in 2008 silver medalist Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad and Bouabdellah Tahri. Ethiopia isn’t as much of a factor with the hurdles and water on the track.

2008: Brimin Kipruto (Kenya), Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad (France), Richard Mateelong (Kenya).

Projection: Kenya, Kenya, France.

Top Americans: Daniel Huling, Ben Bruce, two-time Olympian Anthony Famiglietti.

Men’s 110 hurdles: Want an old-school Cold War rivalry? This is your race. Cuba’s Dayron Robles holds the world record (12.87) but missed part of 2010 with injury. David Oliver beat Robles head-to-head in Daegu, swept through the Diamond League and had the only five times under 13 seconds, coming within 0.02 seconds of Robles’ record in Paris. China’s Liu Xiang, who had to walk away from the Beijing 2008 starting line with an injury that kept him out through much of the next 12 months, posted a 13.09 in his one solid race, trailing only Oliver and Robles. Surprise world champion Ryan Brathwaite of Barbados suffered a hamstring injury in 2010.

2008: Dayron Robles (Cuba), David Payne (USA), David Oliver (USA).

Projection: USA, Cuba, USA.

Top Americans: Oliver, Payne, Ryan Wilson, Ronnie Ash.

Men’s 400 hurdles: This one is more of an intramural, with Diamond League champion Bershawn Jackson and world champion Kerron Clement dueling throughout 2010 and Olympic champion Angelo Taylor not far behind. Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson and Britain’s David Greene placed second and third in the Diamond League. New Yorker-turned-Dominican Felix Sanchez is showing signs of age but could still put together a fast finale.

2008: Angelo Taylor (USA), Kerron Clement (USA), Bershawn Jackson (USA).

Projection: USA, USA, USA.

Top Americans: see above, plus Johnny Dutch.

Men’s 20k walk: 50k gold medalist Alex Schwazer (1:18:24) was far ahead of second-place Jared Tallent (1:19:15), himself a double medalist in Beijing, on the 2010 list. The top six on the list were from six different countries and six different races, so this is a tentative projection until we see the World Championships.

2008: Valeriy Borchin (Russia), Jefferson Perez (Ecuador), Jared Tallent (Australia).

Projection: Italy, Australia, Russia.

Top Americans: John Nunn.

Men’s 50k walk: World record-holder Denis Nizhegorodov is only his early 30s and could contend for a gold medal to go with his silver (Athens) and bronze (Beijing). Frenchmen Yohan Diniz was a convincing winner in the fastest race of 2010. China had three of the top 10 times of the year, though this race isn’t exactly a priority in a non-championship year.

2008: Alex Schwazer (Italy), Jared Tallent (Australia), Denis Nizhegorodov (Russia).

Projection: Russia, China, France.

Top Americans: Stephen Quirke won the 2010 title in 4:23:02, 13 seconds ahead of Jonathan Matthews.

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