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The 10 Most Endangered Olympic Records

by Jeff Hollobaugh

In Rio, we will surely see a flurry of mind-boggling performances. Which of our quadrennial records is most likely to fall? It’s a question that reflects greater trends in the sport: increased depth in some events providing better competition at the top of the pyramid, greater sharing of technical knowledge through coaching education, and—unfortunately—the rigor of the current drug testing setup.

Some marks are safe for many years to come. Don’t hold your breath to see something better than 46.78 in the 400 hurdles or 21.34 in the women’s 200. However, we should see more than a couple of new Olympic Records.

Here, in no particular order, is our forecast of the ORs most likely to tumble, starting with the only one that will require a World Record to score and finishing with the only one where the mark might be taken down by the current owner thereof:

1. Women’s 4 x 100:
40.82—United States ’12

Madison Jeter Knight Felix1 OlyGame12

If stick practice has gone well, we could see a global record by the American foursome, even though we don’t know the exact composition yet. The first 4 from the OT would be the fastest lineup ever sent to the Games: English Gardner (10.74), Tianna Bartoletta (10.78), Tori Bowie (10.78), and Morolake Akinosun (10.95).

Throw alternates Jenna Prandini (10.95) and Ariana Washington (11.01) (to say nothing of uber-vet Allyson Felix) into the rotation, and it looks even better. All that’s needed is a strong Jamaican squad to push them. That probably will happen—though a Jamaican upset is not an impossibility by any means.

2. Women’s Hammer:
256-6/78.18—Tatyana Lysenko (Russia) ’12

This all boils down to one athlete. Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk, the silver medalist in London, hasn’t lost in more than 2 years. She has 15 throws over Lysenko’s mark this season alone. Unless she has the classic terrible-horrible-no good-very bad day, her hammers should land in record real estate. Maybe even WORLD Record territory?

3. Men’s Steeple:
8:05.51—Julius Kariuki ’88

This record is waaaay overdue. To date, 29 men in world history have run faster than the Washington State alum’s 28-year-old standard; the World Champs record is more than 5 seconds faster, yet every Olympic race since Seoul has been “slow.”

Depends on how the Kenyans decide to run at the front, but one would think that if Nike has any sort of record bonus dangling in front of them—even if it’s just free pizza—the record would fall.

4. Women’s 800:
1:53.43—Nadezhda Olizarenko (Soviet Union) ’80

Anyone who watched Caster Semenya power to a 1:55.33 in Monaco after jogging the third 200 of the race knows this one could be coming. In fact, Jarmila Kratochvílová’s World Record of 1:53.28 is probably in trouble too. Because of the “intersex” debate, any Semenya record promises to be controversial, however. For many, a record here will be dreaded, not anticipated.

6. Men’s 400:
43.49—Michael Johnson (USA) ’96

After South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk surprised LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James last year in Beijing with a 43.48, expect the rematch to be even faster. Both Merritt and James have demonstrated that they could be in shape to go at least mid-43s. Some are even saying the World Record of 43.18 could be in jeopardy. Lane draw could be crucial.

6. Women’s 1500:
3:53.96—Paula Ivan (Romania) ’88

It’s all about Genzebe Dibaba here. The Ethiopian should be able to crush Ivan’s mark should she choose. The race is likely to be tactical if she allows it to be so, but that only opens the door to Faith Kipyegon and others who could possibly surprise her off a slower pace.

Just think of Dibaba’s dilemma! A fast, hard effort from the gun could guarantee the win and threaten a record, perhaps even an improvement of her World Record. However, the suspicion she will be facing from the public and the media after her coach’s potential EPO bust might influence her to slow things down a bit—and risk losing a gold medal.

7. Women’s 5000:
14:40.79—Gabriela Szabo (Romania) ’00

This record is probably past its shelf life. Just last year, Almaz Ayana took the World Champs record down to 14:26.83—and that was in a race where she didn’t even start rolling until the final 3K. This year, she has already scared the World Record of 14:11.15 with clockings of 14:16.31 and 14:12.59. Even in the likely event of a tactical race, and coming back from the 10,000, the 24-year-old Ethiopian should take Szabo’s mark down.

8. Women’s Steeple:
8:58.81—Gulnara Galkina (Russia) ’08

As with any distance event, it all depends on how the race plays out. Galkina’s World Record is now 8 years old, and there are two women who are very close to it: Ruth Chebet of Bahrain (8:59.97) and Hyvin Jepkemoi of Kenya (9:00.01).

You have to figure that Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi, the defending champion, will put some pressure to bear. And it’s quite unlikely that Emma Coburn will sit back and let it be a kicker’s race.

9. Men’s Triple Jump:
59-4¼/18.08—Kenny Harrison (US) ’96

Despite his taped-ankle loss in the Trials, we know that Christian Taylor, who stands No. 2 on the all-time world list, is in fine form. His 58-4 (17.78) in Monaco attests to that. He has also been making a lot of noises about wanting to take down Jonathan Edwards’ WR of 60-¼ (18.29).

LaVillenie Renaud1b OlyGame12aHe will need all the motivation and adrenaline that the world’s biggest stage can bring. Like all of the other events, this should be a blast to watch! One oddity he and his rivals will have to contend with: a final behind staged at 10:00 in the morning.

10. Men’s Pole Vault:
19-7/5.97—Renaud Lavillenie (France) ’12

Lavillenie is still the man to watch in this event, though either Sam Kendricks or Shawnacy Barber could challenge for the win. Whatever happens, the technical excellence of all three of these athletes means that we could finally see the OR raised into 6-meter altitudes.

August 6, 2016