Team USA likely to dominate in track and field

Ashton Eaton competes in the decathlon during the

Ashton Eaton competes in the decathlon during the NCAA Track and Field Championships in Eugene, Ore. Photo Credit: AP, 2010

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Team USA traditionally has dominated Olympic track and field action and figures to do so again in London.

The Americans are a balance of battle-tested, veteran talent and young athletes relatively new to the international center stage. Many of them did big things at the 2011 world outdoor championships in Daegu, South Korea, and the 2012 world indoor championships in March in Istanbul, Turkey, and plan to keep on rolling.

If there's a single most-likely-to-succeed American in London, it's Ashton Eaton, at 24 the new world record-holder in the decathlon, and sure to get far better. His top challenger is teammate and two-time world champion Trey Hardee.

Four Americans who won gold at Beijing in 2008 return to defend: LaShawn Merritt in the men's 400 meters; Angelo Taylor in the 400 hurdles; Dawn Harper in the women's 100 hurdles and Stephanie Brown-Trafton in the discus.

Merritt, back in action after a 21-month suspension (after alleged inadvertent use of a male enhancement product), is on target to become just the second man (after 1996-2000 winner Michael Johnson) to claim consecutive 400 crowns. He leads the 2012 world list with his 44.12 clocking.

Merritt has even bigger responsibility riding on his shoulders. The USA has taken the men's Olympic 400 title an eye-opening seven straight times, dating to Alonzo Babers' win at Los Angeles in 1984.

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In another notable Olympic fact, the U.S. has taken six of the last seven 400-meter hurdles titles (including Malverne High alumnus Derrick Adkins' win at Atlanta in 1996) with the seventh going to New York-born Felix Sanchez running for the Dominican Republic in 2004.

Just two men, Americans Glenn Davis (1956, '60) and Edwin Moses (1976, '84) had won a pair of Olympic 400 hurdles crowns until Taylor joined the list in Beijing. Standing directly in his way, however, are Javier Culson, the current world leader at 47.78, who hopes to make Olympic history of his own as Puerto Rico's first track gold medalist, and David "Dai" Greene, the Welshman who won the 2001 world title.

Oh, and there's Michael Tinsley, who edged Taylor, 48.33 to 48.57 in the Olympic trials.

Harper came on to win the women's 100 hurdles title at Beijing in 2008 -- after teammate Lolo Jones, in the lead and en route to an apparent victory, clipped the ninth hurdle and struggled home a disconsolate seventh. But the London hurdles favorite remains Australian Sally Pearson, who has dominated the past two years, and has a 2012 best of 12.40 seconds.

Brown-Trafton was completely overlooked as a podium candidate in 2008 but stunned with her first-round discus whirl that took the lead and was never surpassed. Four years later, she's still high on few lists -- despite winning the U.S. trials at 213-10, more than a foot longer than her Beijing win.

The long relays -- the 4x400s, men and women -- always have been a strong suit for Team USA. The men have won it six times in the last seven Games, the women four in a row since 1996. With traditional depth and such talent as Merritt (expected to anchor the men) and Sanya Richards-Ross (the probable women's anchor), USA's continued reign in these events looks probable.

The "sprint relays," of course, have been a different story. With some flawless baton-passing, the Americans would be at least silver-medal picks in the men's 4x100 behind Jamaica, and gold medal likelies in the women's 4x100.

Other Americans who could make it to the podium include:

Sprinters Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay in the 100 and Wallace Spearmon Jr. in the 200 are tracking the footsteps of the celebrated, dashing Jamaicans.

Matthew Centrowitz is a strong medal candidate in the 1,500. Right in there with him will be trials winner Leonel Manzano.

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Galen Rupp is rated perhaps a serious challenger to the usual Kenyan and Ethiopian dominators of the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.

Hurdlers Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson figure to give favored Chinese star Liu Xiang all he can handle in the 110 highs.

Christian Taylor and Will Claye went 1-3 in the triple jump at Daegu last year and their careers continue on the upswing. Claye doubles in the long jump.

Jesse Williams took the 2011 world high jump title, but barely squeezed on to the London team at the trials.

USA shot putters Christian Cantwell (silver in Beijing), Reese Hoffa and Ryan Whiting -- on paper, anyway -- are the best trio at the Games.

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For the U.S. women:

The hyphenated Jamaicans, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (100) and Veronica Campbell-Brown (200) showed their heels to the world at Beijing but USA's Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix figure to be more than their match. Campbell-Brown also won the 200 in 2004 so she is running for an unprecedented Olympic three-peat. But Felix is at the top of her game.

Russian Antonina Krivoshapka (49.16 this year) and Olympic defender Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain pose major threats in the 400. But Richards-Ross, U.S. trials winner in 49.28 and the bronze medalist in 2008, seems ready.

The 2011 world champion Lashinda Demus (American record-holder at 52.47) could give the U.S. its first Olympic 400 hurdles gold.

Look for big things from pole vaulter Jenn Suhr; long jumpers Brittney Reese, Janay DeLoach and Chelsea Hayes, each a 23-foot-plus performer, and high jumpers Chaunte Lowe and Brigette Barrett, who are medal contenders.

Not since Earlene Brown (bronze medalist in 1960) has an American woman stepped on to the shot-put podium. In Jill Camarena-Williams and Michella Carter, however, there's a good chance of that changing in London.

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