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Two years to Rio Olympics: Track and field storylines

Aug 5, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT

Usain Bolt Getty Images

Usain Bolt is expected to bid farewell to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro by attempting to match the record for most career Olympic track and field gold medals.

Carl Lewis, who is not friendly with Bolt, won nine gold medals from 1984 through 1996. Finnish distance legend Paavo Nurmi won nine from 1920 through 1928.

Bolt would tie Lewis and Nurmi’s gold count if he matches his triple gold performance from 2008 and 2012.

But Bolt, who will be 29 in Rio, is by no means a lock for any gold medals. He has not raced against anybody in an individual event since Sept. 6, delaying his 2014 debut due to a foot injury.

Working in his favor is a lack of up-and-coming competition. His top rivals remain men who are older than him — Americans Justin Gatlin (32) and Tyson Gay (31). Countryman Yohan Blake won silver behind Bolt in both the 100m and 200m in London, but he has suffered serious hamstring injuries the last two years.

Two years out: Rio’s readiness | Storylines: Swimming | Track and Field | Gymnastics | More Sports

Allyson Felix could also sprint for history in Rio. With one title in her fourth Games, the reigning Olympic 200m champion would break the record for most career Olympic golds by a female track and field athlete. If she wins three medals, as she did in London, she will match the record for most career Olympic medals by a female track and field athlete (Merlene Ottey, nine).

Felix’s path to Rio appears tougher than Bolt’s. She suffered a torn hamstring at the 2013 World Championships and has been good but not great in her return this season. She ranks third, fourth and eighth among Americans in the 100m, 200m and 400m.

The globe’s upstart sprinter is American Tori Bowie, who was primarily a long jumper until March. The Mississippi native owns the fastest 100m and 200m times this year. The U.S. used to dominate the 100m, but no American has won the Olympic 100m title since Marion Jones in 2000 Gail Devers in 1996, the nation’s longest drought ever.

The U.S. is also home to the reigning World champions in the sprint hurdles — David Oliver and Brianna Rollins – though the events have been much more competitive than the open sprints.

Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross is working her way back from a toe problem that kept her out for most of 2013. LaShawn Merritt, beset by injury at London 2012, is the reigning World 400m champion and, with Olympic champion Kirani James, has treated crowds to several head-to-head duels the last two years.

The most electrifying athletes outside of the sprints remain reigning Olympic champions Kenyan David Rudisha (800m), Brit Mo Farah (5000m, 10,000m), New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams and men’s high jumpers from Ukraine, Russia and Qatar taking aim at a 21-year-old world record.

The multi events could be just as intriguing as London 2012. Ashton Eaton could try to become the third man to win multiple Olympic decathlon titles (Bob Mathias, Daley Thompson). He’s still the unquestioned world’s greatest athlete.

The heptathlon is more competitive, with London Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, a new mom, expected to return from more than a year away in 2015. Eaton’s wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, is the reigning World silver medalist. The favorite could turn out to be another Brit, 21-year-old Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

Major track and field events before Rio 2016:

2015 U.S. Championships — Eugene, Ore.
2015 World Championships — Aug. 22-30, 2015, Beijing
2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials — Feb. 13, 2016, Los Angeles
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials — July 1-10, 2016, Eugene, Ore.

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