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Doug Robinson: London Olympic track meet finally here

Published: Thursday, Aug. 2 2012 11:32 p.m. MDT

Since 2008, he has surpassed the Olympic qualifying standard, and at last year's world championships he advanced to the semifinals of the 400-meter dash and earned a silver medal in the 4x400 relay. This year Pistorius has run 45.20. That isn't good enough to rank among the top 30 in the world, but that doesn't mean he won't be the source of much interest in London.

Olympic Gold At Last?

American sprinter Allyson Felix has been an international star since winning an Olympic silver medal in the 200-meter dash at the age of 18. Her improvement has been steady, and earlier this summer, at the age of 26, she produced one of the greatest performances ever by a sprinter by winning the Olympic Trials 200 in 21.69. At 5-foot-6, 125 pounds, she has a slender build yet she reportedly can leg press 700 pounds and sprints with the long graceful strides of a thoroughbred.

A three-time world champion at 200 meters, she has won silver in her two Olympic appearances, losing to Jamaican Veronica Campbell. She looks ready to reverse the trend this time.

Too Tall and Now Too Good

Two-time Russian Olympic pole vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva is one of the most dominant athletes of her time, but few Americans know it. A gymnast from age 5 to 15, she switched sports because, at 5-8½, she was considered too tall. She has set 27 world records indoors and outdoors and won gold medals in 2004 and 2008, before slipping into a slump that saw her no-height in the 2009 world championships and place sixth in the 2011 world championships. She returned to her youth coach and broke her own indoor world record.

Isinbayeva is so good that she doesn't even enter the competition until the bar reaches heights (15 feet sometimes) few of her rivals can clear. She wraps herself up in towels and a sleeping bag and waits it out. She took only two jumps to win the gold in Beijing. She owns the 14 best jumps in history, including the world record of 16-7½. She's so dominant that Track and Field News includes a list of "non-Isinbayeva performances" to get some other names on its top-40 list.

In London, she will try to become the first woman to win three consecutive Olympic gold medals in the same event.

World's Greatest Athlete

Imagine an athlete who jumps 27 feet — a mark good enough for a bronze medal in the last Olympics — runs 100 meters in 10.21 and 400 meters in 45.68, throws the shot put 48 feet and the javelin 202 feet, leaps 6-foot-8¾ in the high jump and 17-4½ in the pole vault, and covers the 110 hurdles in 13.34 seconds — a time that would have placed fifth in the Beijing Olympics. There are athletes who can produce one of those marks, but only one athlete can produce all of them — 24-year-old American decathlete Ashton Eaton. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, he set a world record in the decathlon at the Olympic Trials. A gold medal in London would continue an American tradition in the event, following the likes of Jim Thorpe, Bob Mathias, Milt Campbell, Rafer Johnson, Bill Toomey, Bruce Jenner, Dan O'Brien, Bryan Clay and others.

Too Fast for the Hurdles

Although it isn't getting the attention of the 100-meter dash, the 110-meter high hurdles offers another great showdown, matching the last two Olympic champions and world record holders — China's Liu Xiang (2004, 12.88) and Cuba's Dayron Robles (2008, 12.87), as well as last year's world champion, Jason Richardson. And they might not even be the favorite. American Aries Merritt has the fastest time in the world (12.93) and has had the good fortune to hit peak form in the Olympic year.

Curiously, while the 100-meter record has fallen an average of every other year for two decades and improved .34 of a second, the world record in the hurdles has been broken only five times and improved a mere .06 of a second in 31 years — from Renaldo Nehemiah's 12.93 to Robles's 12.87. My theory: Today's athletes have simply outgrown the high hurdles. They're too big, powerful and fast for 10 42-inch hurdles spaced 9.14 meters (10 yards) apart. Watch the race and note how many of the hurdlers have to chop their strides between the hurdles to keep from overrunning the next hurdle.

Athletes in the Zone

Never mind Bolt. The most dominating athletes heading into the track and field portions of the Games are David Rudisha and Sally Pearson.

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