Americans rush for gold

Norman Fox looks at Britain's medal possibles and podium probables
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The Independent Online
As with many things American, the US Olympic athletics team will produce results in the events that take no time at all and not be concerned all that much with anything that requires staying power. A considered estimate is that they are about to win a total of 14 or 15 golds and not one of them taken by anyone running further than 400 metres.

Although the African nations remain the kings of distance, the United States men are going to dominate within the distance of a single lap. Meanwhile, Britain and the rest of Europe will have to feed off one or two special talents and a lot of hope that, even in the oppressive conditions, they may cause some surprises.

Britain expects one gold and a modest scattering of silver and bronze. Only Jonathan Edwards is clearly superior to the rest of the world. His triple jumping this season may not have been as dreamlike as it was last summer but there is no reason for him to worry that it may take another world record to become champion. Probably only Yoelvis Quesada, of Cuba, can capitalise if Edwards has a nightmare.

With Sally Gunnell having been set back by another injury, Steve Backley still trying to catch up for lost training time after an Achilles tendon operation, Colin Jackson in the sort of form that is going to mean he ends his illustrious career without an Olympic gold, and Linford Christie regularly beaten this season, possibly the best of the British hopes apart from Edwards is Liz McColgan, whose maturity as a tactical marathon runner has been brought about by the advice of the former world champion Greta Waitz.

Christie could yet defy his decline but Frankie Fredericks, of Namibia, who has yet to confirm his 100m place, is in formidable form, and Ato Boldon, of Trinidad, and Donovan Bailey, of Canada, have been hardly more than a footstep behind. Indeed, a personal hunch is that Bailey could be the one for the occasion although Fredericks is favourite. On the other hand, a 200m final between Fredericks and Michael Johnson would be a highlight not to be missed. By the time of that race Johnson should be the winner of the 400m in which Roger Black has a chance of a bronze.

The decision of Wilson Kipketer to opt out of political wranglings between his adopted country, Denmark, his country of birth, Kenya, and the International Olympic Committee and not run at all has deprived the 800m of a badly needed boost. Even so a Scandinavian, Vebjorn Rodal, of Norway, could be a surprise winner.

For a real surprise , however, nothing would be better than seeing Noureddine Morceli beaten in the 1500m. Superb athlete though he is, the Algerian world record holder's almost tedious grand prix victories behind his brother's pacemaking have become too predictable and there are rumours that he has been avoiding Hicham El Guerroudj, of Morocco; but not here, and it should be a real race.

Little has been heard recently of the 5,000 and 10,000 metres world record holder Haile Gebrselassie, of Ethopia, but he remains capable of a double. The Mexican Dionicio Ceron has made the London Marathon his own with victories in the last three years, but he may have run a race too far leaving an outsider, perhaps the Korean Lee Bong-Ju, to challenge him and the Spanish world champion, Martin Fiz.

Few world records are likely to be broken in the heat here but Moses Kiptanui may have to secure one to hold off his fellow Kenyans in the steeplechase. The US are predicting wins for Derrick Adkins in the 400m hurdles and their teams in the relays, and there is no reason to argue.

As for the field events, Britain's Steve Smith and Dalton Grant have outside medal hopes in the high jump, whilst in the pole vault Sergei Bubka must surely make up for no-heighting four years ago.

Having failed to qualify for the US team in the 100 and 200m, Carl Lewis needs to win the long jump to obtain his ninth gold but beating Jamaica's James Beckford could be beyond even him.

Randy Barnes (US), allowed back after a positive drugs test, should win the shot, Lars Riedel, of Germany, the discus, and Balazs Kiss (Hungary) the hammer. Jan Zelezny is erratic with the javelin yet is these days 10 metres better than Backley, while Dan O'Brien is back to top form in the decathlon after overcoming his alcohol problem.

The US are less dominant in the women's events. Nevertheless they have justifiable hopes of winning the 100m, in which Gwen Torrence should add to her world title, and the 400m hurdles, because Tonja Buford-Bailey is quicker this year than Sally Gunnell and the world record holder Kim Batten.

There is no clear favourite in the 200m, although the experience of Irina Privalova and Merlene Ottey points to medals. Similarly Marie-Jose Perec of France, can fall back on Olympics success and win the 400m.

Little is known of the Chinese challenge, which makes several races difficult to predict. If they prove an idle threat, Maria Mutola and Ana Quirot will fight out the 800m with Kelly Holmes not far behind, while in the 1500m Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland could start having already won the 5,000m for which she is favourite.

Tessa Sanderson says she believes that a throw of around 67 or 68 metres could win the javelin. The fact that the best of her efforts on her comeback at 40 have been around 64 metres suggests a bronze medal is the best she can achieve. Even so a British medal in a women's field event would be a throw-back to the past.

Otherwise, Eastern Europe will dominate the field events apart from the long jump for which Jackie Joyner-Kersee, of the US, is the likely winner. If Joyner-Kersee also wins the heptathlon she will finish the Games with a career total of five golds.

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