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2008 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Track & Field

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The United States has dominated the track & field events through the majority of Olympic history, but will that supremacy translate to a another big summer at the Beijing Games?

The U.S. has garnered a total of 713 medals in track & field or more hardware than the next five biggest winners combined. Yet, the rest of the world has made strides in many events recently, especially in the field portion where international competitors have begun to dominate in the jumping events after years of controlling the throwing competitions.

There will be medals awarded in 47 track & field events during the Summer Games, including 26 in running, 16 in field events, three in walking and one medal each in the decathlon (men) and heptathlon (women).

In 2004, a group of young, relatively unknown Americans competed in track & field at the Olympic Games and although medal-count expectations were low, the group brought home 25 medals, the greatest medal tally in a decade.

As the reigning world champion in both the 100 and 200 meters, Tyson Gay was supposed to be competing for two individual medals in Beijing, but an injury at the U.S. Olympic trials in Eugene, Oregon will force him to focus on the 100 in China. Gay suffered a mild hamstring strain in qualifying for the 200m and was not able to finish the race.

Fortunately, Gay had already made the grade in the 100 meters, as he won the event earlier at the trials with a wind-aided time of 9.68 seconds. Gay also set an American record in the 100 by clocking in at 9.77 seconds in the semifinal round at the trials.

Gay's main competition in the 100 will come from Jamaica, as both Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell try to grab gold. Bolt defeated Gay in a meet in New York on May 31, running the 100 meters in 9.72 seconds to break the world record held by Powell for nearly three years.

Even with Gay limited to just the 100 meters, the United States has an abundance of sprinters ready to compete and hopefully medal in Beijing.

Walter Dix, last year's NCAA Outdoor champion in both the 100 and 200 meters for Florida State, qualified for the Olympics in both of those events at the trials by finishing second to Gay in the 100 and edging out Shawn Crawford to win the 200.

The U.S. also has a healthy rivalry developing in the 400 meters between Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt, two of the top runners in the world at the distance. The runners finished 1-2 in last year's world championships in Osaka and are hoping to repeat that success in Beijing.

Wariner is the defending gold medalist and two-time world champion in the 400, but Merritt surprised some with a win over Wariner at the track trials.

"I think I'm still the favorite (at the Olympics). I've been there before and I know what it takes to win," claimed Wariner.

Allyson Felix won a silver medal for the U.S. in the women's 200 meters four years ago in Athens and is also the defending world champ at the distance.

"I think that, you know, you kind of feel the added pressure, but I think we can be proud of where we came from, the people who have come before us," said Felix. "We don�t want to let anyone down. I think that will motivate us more, because we know our reputation is on the line."

Muna Lee is running in both the 100 and 200 meters for the United States, while Sanya Richards is America's leading candidate for gold in the 400.

The Americans can almost always be counted on to medal in the relay events as the rest of the world has a difficult time challenging the level of depth found on the U.S. squad.

The U.S. is also expected to have a good shot at medals in the men's distance category now that Bernard Lagat is competing for the Stars and Stripes. The Kenyan-born Lagat, who became an American citizen in 2005, won the 1,500 and 5,000 meter races at the 2007 world championships and will compete in both events in Beijing.

David Oliver is the best hope for the U.S. in the 110-meter hurdles, but he will have to defeat defending world champion Liu Xiang on his home turf.

"It wasn't my time to do big things last year. I believe I have gotten stronger and will really be able to make some improvements in Beijing," stated Oliver.

Also in the field will be Dayron Robles of Cuba, who is the current world record holder in the event after having bested Xiang's former all-time mark in June.

Reese Hoffa is the biggest star for the United States in the throwing events, having won the world championships in the shot put in 2007. Adam Nelson will be back for a third straight Summer Games after taking the silver in the shot put in Sydney and Athens.

""It's all about who's going to be ready for that competition and who's going to be able to deal with all the forces that put pressure on you while you're there," said Nelson.

The U.S. women didn't fare well at the 2007 world championship field events, as not a single American was able to medal off the track.

Jennifer Stuczynski hopes to change that at the Olympics as she has an excellent chance to medal in the pole vault. However, winning gold could be another matter with world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia standing in the way.

Track & field events will take place at Beijing National Stadium or "The Bird's Nest" as it's come to be known.

07/17 14:18:33 ET


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