The day starts at 9:00 a.m. with the women’s 20-kilometer walk. Russian women dominate the year’s performances, led by Olga Kaniskina, the 2007 World champion and the only woman to break 1 hour 26 minutes this year. In fact, her 1:25:11 makes her more than a minute faster than anyone else in the field.
The next two fastest are also Russians, Tatyana Sibileva (1:26:16), and Tatyana Kalmylkova (1:26:34) – and they have a two-minute edge on the rest. Others to watch are Athens medalists Athanasia Tsoumeleka of Greece (gold) and Jane Saville of Australia (bronze), and 2007 World championships bronze medalist Maria Vasco of Spain. The morning session will also feature qualifications in the men’s Javelin Throw and the women’s High Jump.
There are five finals in the evening program, three of them speed-oriented races on the track.
Wariner v. Merritt...
In the men’s 400m final, if ever there was a two-man race for the gold medal, this is it. Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt of the United States are nearly half a second ahead of the field. Wariner, the 2004 Olympic champion, was expected to repeat here until Merritt beat him in the U.S. Olympic Trials. They’ve split their four meetings this season. Wariner is still a slight favorite because he has a faster PB (43.45 to Merritt’s 43.96), but the Texan will have to run a perfectly judged race to take the gold medal. Behind them – and a long way behind – Bahamian Chris Brown and Britain’s Martyn Rooney have looked good in the rounds, and you can never ignore fast-finishing Leslie Djhone of France.
On the surface, the men’s 110m Hurdles final also shapes up as a two-man contest for the gold medal, this one between world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba and David Oliver of the United States. But against Oliver’s single sub-13 performance this year (12.95), Robles is consistently under 13 seconds; in fact, in his four fastest races in 2008, Robles has averaged an astounding 12.91! Third looks like a battle among 2005 World champion Ladji Doucoure of France and David Payne of the U.S., third at the 2007 Worlds.
... and Felix v. Campbell-Brown
The women’s 200m final looks very similar to the women’s 100 final, with three Jamaicans and three Americans expected to capture all three medals between them. Pre-Games favourite Allyson Felix leads the U.S. contingent, backed up by Muna Lee and Marshevet Hooker; defending Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica is backed up by Beijing 100-metre medallists Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart, who have run very well in the 200 rounds here. Campell-Brown is very motivated, not only as defending champion, but also because she was relegated to fourth in the 100 at the Jamaican trials. Both Campbell-Brown and Felix looked sharp winning their respective semi-finals Wednesday evening.
On the infield, men’s Triple Jump and women’s Javelin
In the field, the men’s triple jump looks as if it will be the same wide-open, exciting shootout as usual. Britain’s Phillips Idowu has the year’s two best jumps at 17.58m and 17.55m, but his PB of 17.68m is inferior to the 17.81m of Romania’s Marian Oprea, who took silver at Athens in 2004 and Nelson Evora (POR, 17.74m) and Jadel Gregorio (BRA, 17.90), who finished 1-2 at the 2007 Worlds. It’s easy to spot Idowu, whose hair has been dyed bright red for the season – it’s a lucky color in China – and he’s certainly worth watching. Expect plenty of lead changes and a nail-biting final round.
The women’s javelin field is a treat, too -- with three of the four longest performers in history, and all of them throwing well this year. They’re good competitors, too; World record holder Osleidys Menendez (CUB) used the two longest throws in history to win the 2005 World Championships (71.70m) and 2004 Olympics (71.53m); Czech Barbara Spotakova (PB 69.15m) won the 2007 World championships, and Germany’s Christina Obergfoll was the World championships silver medalist in both 2005 and 2007. Two others to keep an eye on are Russia’s 22-year-old comer Maria Abakumova (PB, 67.25m) and the ageless German thrower Steffi Nerius, now 36, the silver medalist at Athens in 2004 and bronze medalist in both the 2005 and 2007 Worlds.
Decathlon gets underway
The men’s Decathlon begins today, and it should be very competitive. All three medal winners from Athens are here: gold medalist Roman Sebrle (CZE), Brian Clay (USA), and Dmitri Karpov (KAZ). Sebrle and Karpov were also 1-3 last year in Osaka, and Maurice Smith (CAN), second in Osaka, is also entered. To these four 8600-plus studs you can add a healthy Tom Pappas (USA), young (age 22) Andrei Krauchanka (BLR), even younger (age 20) Leonel Suarez of Cuba and three fast-improving 24-year-olds, Russians Aleksey Drozdov and Alexey Sysoev and American Trey Hardee. Certainly the most impressive field ever in the Olympic 10-eventer, and maybe the most impressive ever, period.
The men’s and women’s 4x100 heats will also be run his evening. In fact, they will be semi-finals, with eight men’s and eight women’s teams qualifying for the finals on Friday evening. Semi-finals will also be held in the men’s 800m and the women’s 1500.
James Dunaway for the IAAF