Bolt’s triple title defence bid tops Rio 2016 track and field bill
Usain Bolt will have star billing when the Rio 2016 track and field events get under way at the Olympic Stadium on 12 August. The Jamaican sprinter will be aiming to defend all three of the titles he won in London four years ago: the men’s 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay.
The “Lightning Bolt”, who is now 29, has said these will be his last Games, and he can expect some stiff opposition in his bid for glory, with Justin Gatlin of the USA leading the challengers. The Athens 2004 Olympic champion, Gatlin has run faster than the Bolt this year (9.80).
Also looking to make a piece of Olympic history is British distance champ Mo Farah, who has 5,000m and 10,000m titles to defend in Rio. Only Finland’s Lasse Viren has won a consecutive double at both events, at the Munich 1972 and Montreal 1976 Olympic Games.
The 33-year-old Somalia-born Farah is the first man to win both races at three consecutive global championships: the 2013 and 2015 world championships and London 2012. The Briton will not have things easy, however. Kenyan trio Geoffrey Kamworor, Paul Tanui and Bedan Karoki are among those aiming to unseat him in the longer of the two distances, while the likes of Caleb Ndiku of Kenya and Hagos Gebrhiwet of Ethiopia are looking to do likewise in the shorter.
Ethiopian sister act
Two more Ethiopians, Tirunesh Dibaba and her younger sister Genzebe, will be looking to make the women’s middle-distance events a family affair. The older sibling is aiming to become the first woman to win three 10,000m titles in a row, while the younger one – who is reigning 1,500m world champion and world record holder – arrives in Rio as hot favourite to win gold over her preferred distance, and will be keen to make up for the disappointment of London 2012, when injury forced out of the competition during the heats.
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has an opportunity to become the first woman to win three successive 100m titles. The 29-year-old has been struggling with injury this season, however, and faces fierce competition from compatriot Elaine Thompson, the Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers and Tori Bowie of the USA.
Striving for longevity and legacy looks to be something of a theme in Rio, with decathlon world record holder Ashton Eaton of the USA also eyeing double glory, as he aims to become the first man to win back-to-back titles in the event since Great Britain’s Daley Thompson at the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games.
Meanwhile, his Canadian wife and fellow multi-event specialist, Brianne Theissen-Eaton will be hoping that there will be celebrations all around in the household, as she goes into the heptathlon as one of the favourites for gold.
Among those standing in her way, of course, will be London 2012 champion Jessica Ennis-Hill (GBR), who has become a mother since winning gold four years ago, but who will be keen to emulate the USA’s Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the last women to defend the heptathlon title, at Barcelona 1992.
Felix going for high five
American sprinter Allyson Felix is one gold medal away from becoming the first woman to win five in athletics, and she will have two chances to do so in Rio, in the women’s 400m and 4x400m relay.
Among the most eagerly awaited events on the track is the men’s 400m, where defending Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada, reigning world champion Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa, the USA’s LaShawn Merritt and Botswana’s Isaac Makwala will all go for gold.
Off the track, French pole vault king Renaud Lavillenie is seeking to become the first man since the USA’s Bob Richards 60 years ago to retain the Olympic men’s title. The world record holder has been in regal form of late and is a strong favourite in an event that could give the home fans plenty to cheer about, with former world U-20 champion Thiago Braz hoping to build on some fine performances this season.
In the women’s high jump, meanwhile, experience will be to the fore as 37-year-old Ruth Beitia of Spain aims to become the oldest ever winner of an Olympic jumps medal – of either gender. The in-form Spaniard has yet to grace an Olympic podium, a record she is determined to set straight in Rio, where fellow 30-somethings Chaunté Lowe of the USA and Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic are also harbouring genuine medal hopes.
Another doyenne of the field events, New Zealand shotputter Valerie Adams, will be aiming to win her third consecutive Olympic gold. She arrives in Rio as hot favourite, though will be looking over her shoulder at China’s Lijiao Gong, who has posted the best throw of 2016, and German stalwort Christina Schwanitz.