Bolt-Blake, Merritt-James showdowns and scramble for 1500 gold will be the highlights
Beijing is remembered for the stunning world records of Usain Bolt. The tall Jamaican caught the imagination of the world, even those who were no real followers of track and field, as he took the sprint double in world record timings of 9.69s and 19.30s. How much faster can he go, was the question that everyone asked.
The question was emphatically answered in the 2009 World championships in Berlin when he clocked 9.59s and 19.19s.
Experts, former greats and scribes ran out of superlatives just as they had in Beijing.
Bolt’s world records still stand, but he is no longer looking as invincible as he had looked all along since that August evening in 2008 in Beijing. Defeats in Kingston against training partner and world 100m champion Yohan Blake, and fitness problems have put a question mark over his ability to retain the sprint double.
Just as we were completely overpowered by the thought of a 100m dash among Bolt, his countryman Asafa Powell and American Tyson Gay in Beijing, there is the danger of focusing solely on the Bolt-Blake showdown in London and losing sight of many an interesting battle that lies ahead in athletics in the Olympics.
The 400m clash between American LaShawn Merritt, and Grenada’s Kirani James who surprisingly beat the American in the Daegu World championships should be one such contest looking forward to.
James, a former World youth and junior champion and two-time NCAA champion, will have the aspirations of the 100,000 population of his Caribbean nation to goad him on; Merritt will be keen to show what he can do after the USOC won a crucial doping legal battle against the IOC to facilitate his Olympic participation.
The expected fight among David Rudisha (Kenya), Abubaker Kaki (Sudan) and Mohamed Aman (Ethiopia) in the 800m should be worth going miles to watch and so should be the scramble for the 1500m title among Kenyans Silas Kiplagat, Asbel Kiprop and Nixon Chepseba.
Legends have to fade away at some stage. Of great interest in the 10,000 metres would be whether Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, who won the distance double in Beijing, but who is on a decline, can withstand the onslaught of Mo Farah, backed by his home fans, and the threat of the new American distance sensation Galen Rupp.
Germany should fancy its chances in throws through world champions David Storl (shot put) and Robert Harting (discus), though competition would be fierce and upsets could be possible.
Ashton Eaton, the American should start overwhelming favourite in the decathlon.
In the women’s section, the spotlight should be once again on the short sprint where American Carmelita Jeter is expected to encounter challenge from two immensely talented Jamaicans, reigning champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and world and Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown.
American Sanya Richards-Ross looks set to regain her status as the best 400m runner after having lost to Briton Christine Ohuruogu last time.
The Kenyans, as usual, look strong in the 800 with Pamela Jelimo emerging the favourite to retain her gold, though much attention could be there on South African Caster Semenya, who has not been in any form of late. World champion Mariya Savinova of Russia should be a contender, too, for top honours.
The Kenyans should have the edge over the Ethiopians in the distance events, though Tirunesh Dibaba, double gold winner last time, should be hoping to repeat her win in the longer event.
An intriguing contest should develop in women’s pole vault where Yelena Isinbayeva is poised to score a hat-trick of gold medals.
The great Russian has not been in form this season, no-heighting in Monaco, though she is being tipped to win again.