By: Louis Sartori
A year behind schedule and finally the Olympics are here. Back in 2019, I naively made a series of predictions regarding the Tokyo distance events on my now defunct personal blog. Two years on and I can already tell most are going to miss the mark by a mile (pun intended). I sit here disappointed in myself; embarrassed at how poor my foresight was and amazed at how significantly the landscape of the sport has changed in just two pandemic-ridden years. In a desperate measure, designed to claw back some face, I’m about to present to you five of my hail mary predictions; hot takes if you will, regarding the next couple of weeks’ Olympic distance events. They’re all quite audacious but I’m hoping that when they all unfold as predicted, I’ll be able to claw back the respectability I lost with my 2019 predictions. Feel free to disagree with the following and leave angry comments below, just be ready with your spoon of humble pie when they come true.
Justyn Knight is a significant medal threat in the 5000m
No one is talking about Justyn Knight and I think this is a serious oversight. He doesn’t command as much reverence as other athletes of similar quality and I can’t see why. The Syracuse alum has pr’d in multiple events this year and when I say pr’d; he has run some serious times. He flies into Japan as the second fastest North American male over 5000m ever to go along with his shiny new 1500m pr of 3:33. To have run breakthrough times in both events relatively recently means he is in dangerous form, right when he needs to be. Let's look at some of the talked about medal favourites in comparison; the Ugandans in Joshua Cheptegei and Jacob Kiplimo are both slower than Knight over 5000m this year and will have 10,000m fatigue in their legs. Whatsmore, many of those faster than the Canadian this year; Solomon Barega, Jacob Ingebrigtsen, Hagos Gebrhiwet, etc. Aren’t even racing the 5000m in Tokyo. Ninth in London, tenth in Doha, Knight has performed consistently at championships before, he is now more experienced and fitter than ever. Even though no one is talking about him, I won't be surprised when he snags a medal for Canada on the 6th of August.
The women’s 800m will see an all-European podium
Yes, you heard me. The women’s 800m podium in Tokyo will be a continental affair and no one from North America, Africa, Asia, etc will be invited. Keely Hodgkinson, Gemma Reekie and Renelle Lamote will take the first three places in whatever order suits them on the day. Now, you have a right to be disgusted with this take, but your disgust isn’t going to prevent this from happening. Of course Athing Mu amongst others, will have a thing or two to say about that but in her case, she's young and inexperienced in international championship competition. I can see her being overwhelmed by the occasion and/or fatigued by the rounds. Furthermore, like all NCAA products, she has raced a lot more than many of her competitors this year. Olympic racing is more about execution than blowing the doors off of your competitors, and what she uses to win domestic races may see her undone here. Two other strong contenders in the shape of Natasha Goule and Rose Mary Almanza will also threaten my european trio, but they were both soundly beaten by Reekie at Monaco. True, they both beat Hodgkinson in Stockholm but Keely is a great tactician and I see her getting the best of both in a non time-trial style race. As for Lamote, she’s been having a great season, has just pr’d and well, I just have a hunch about her to be honest.
If you want to medal in the 1500m you’ll have to break the old Olympic record
At first glance this seems like a wild assumption. The Olympic record is 3:32.07 and hasn’t been touched in over twenty years. Heck, the last Olympic final was won in a good high school time. Nonetheless, when you consider the racing style of Timothy Cheruiyut and the fact that the record is “only” 3:32, this suggestion seems a lot less hot. The top three in Doha broke 3:32. That race showed that Cheruiyot is never afraid to run from the front, even when medals are on the line. This year, twelve men have run under the 3:32 mark so we could end up with a final wherein the whole field is capable of beating the Olympic record, imagine that. All that has to happen is for Cheriuyot to apply his trademark tactic and the rest of the guys to hop on his tail. In years gone by, Olympic final races of this speed would have been unthinkable but more and more athletes who don’t rest on a final kick to win races are coming to the fore. Guys like Stewart Mcsweyn, Jacob Ingebrigtsen, Josh Kerr and of course Cheruiyot can win races from the front off of a strong pace. I think a good chunk of the field will run under the Olympic record in the final and that those without the wheels for a sub 3:32 clocking don’t stand a medal chance in the slightest.
Tokyo is do or die for Emma Coburn’s gold medal hopes
Emma Coburn’s career stands nervously on the precipice of immortality. She is already a US distance legend but has the pedigree to be an Olympic champion and has possessed this quality for many years. I use the term nervously because she is running out of time to capitalise on this position. Should she fail to claim gold in Tokyo, she may well have missed out on her best ever chance to do so. She has been world champion before (London 2017) and an Olympic medalist, albeit bronze, in Rio. Now, she has her best ever shot at steepling immortality and she simply must take it. Multiple factors are working in her favour right now. Beatrice Chepkoech for example, the world record holder, has been solid but far from her best this season. Furthermore, Norah Jeruto, the owner of the world lead, is not running. When you add to this that Coburn herself is in lighting form, having just missed nine minutes in Monaco thanks to a fall over the penultimate barrier. You have to consider this a moment of star-alignment for the Colorado native. If she is ever going to take olympic gold this is the year. If Rio came just a year or two too early for her true prime form, Paris 2024 may come too late. It’s make or break for Coburn in the next coming weeks.
Galen Rupp needs to medal again to erase doubts over Rio performance
The shoe debate kicked off in the aftermath of the 2016 Rio Olympic marathon. It is now widely known that a select group of Nike athletes had prototypes of the sport’s first super shoes on; the Vaporfly 4%s. In fact, the top three that day, Eliud Kipchoge, Feyisa Lelisa and Galen Rupp were all wearing them. This puts a painful asterix above the trio’s performances as the effect of carbon-plate shoe technology has been proven since 2016. Vaporfly-wearers won every single marathon major in 2019. The reason I single out Rupp here is partly because I know the bulk of readership here at The Harrier is American, but also because I feel as though Kipchoge’s marathon legacy is more secure. Be it because of the Kenyan’s better and more consistent record or his part in things like breaking two, he is recognised as an indisputable marathon legend whereas Rupp still has some questions to answer. He shapes up like a good championship runner but was his one and only championship marathon performance mechanically enhanced? Time will tell and I think he needs a Tokyo medal to silence doubts over his Rio bronze.