With less than 40 days until the start of the Olympic Games, two titans of world athletics, Jamaica and the United States, will begin their track and field trials for Rio 2016 this week.
Olympic heavyweights such as the USA’s Allyson Felix and Justin Gatlin, and Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and, of course, Usain Bolt, will all be among those vying for a spot in Rio.
Jamaica’s trials will begin first, with the first heats taking place on Thursday (30 June) at Kingston’s National Stadium. Bolt – who is aiming to defend the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay titles he won at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games – is hoping to qualify in style for what will be his last Olympic Games.
The signs are promising for Bolt as the 29-year-old ran a blistering 9.88 seconds in the 100m at a track meet in Kingston on June 11. Only Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut has run faster this season, with a wind-assisted time of 9.86 earlier in June.
But Jamaica is nation of sprinters and Bolt will have stiff competition from the likes of Yohan Blake, who beat him at the trials for London 2012, and Nickel Ashmeade, both of whom have run sub-10 seconds this season. Asafa Powell and Kemar Bailey-Cole round-off the main contenders for Jamaica’s three berths in the 100m.
Bolt is yet to run his favoured 200m this season, but will remain favourite to win gold in Rio. Ashmeade has been the fastest Jamaican this season clocking an impressive 20.07 while the likes of Commonwealth Games champion Rasheed Dwyer as well as Julian Forte and Warren Weir should ensure Bolt does not take his seat on the plane to Rio for granted.
In Jamaica’s women’s trials, 2008 and 2012 Olympic 100m champion and reigning world champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce hopes to turn her back on a difficult season, which has been blighted with injury, going after a spot in the 200m as well.
Veronica Campbell-Brown is attempting to qualify for her fifth Olympic Games. The 100m and 200m veteran has a haul of eight Olympic medals and at 34 years old is Jamaica’s leader in the 100m this season, while Elaine Thompson, silver medallist at the 2016 world indoors, leads the 200m rankings. The Jamaican trials run until 3 July.
The US track and field trials kick off this Friday (1 July) in Eugene, Oregon and will continue until 10 July. Competition promises to be fierce, as you would expect from the most successful nation in track and field at the Olympics.
However, the United States have not been able to claim the title of ‘fastest man of the planet’ since Justin Gatlin won the 100m at Athens 2004. Gatlin, who finished just one hundredth of a second behind Bolt at the 2015 world championships, represents the Jamaican’s biggest threat in Rio.
The American, who also lost to Bolt in the 200m at last year’s worlds, has vowed not to get ‘sucked into the hype’ against the Jamaican superstar at Rio 2016.
Gatlin will have to perform well within pool of sprinters that includes Tyson Gay and 20-year-old Trayvon Bromell to ensure he gets his chance against Bolt in Rio.
Sprinter Allyson Felix and decathlete Ashton Eaton are the other main gold medal hopes for the Americans in Rio.
Felix is the Olympic champion and a three-time world champion in the 200m and last year she became the world champion in the 400m. She also won gold in the women’s 4x400m (2008 and 2012) and another as part of the world-record 4x100m team at London 2012.