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PRE CLASSIC - Flawless Harrison Leaves Hayward with an American Record
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Local Athletes Go for Gold at the London Olympics
By Steve Ritchie / Special to the Statesman Journal
July 27, 2012

Ashton Eaton
Salem, OR - Set your DVR, prepare to be sleep-deprived, or figure out how to register with nbcolympics.com so you can watch live. The long wait is finally over. The Summer Olympics officially get underway today.

For all of us who enjoy watching local athletes compete on the biggest of stages, this is going to be a treat. No fewer than 45 athletes with close ties to the state of Oregon will be competing in various sports at the London Olympics.

Nearly two-thirds of those Oregon athletes will be participating in track and field, which for many (myself included) is the main dish of the Summer Olympic smorgasbord. Track and field won't start until a week from today, so until then swimming, gymnastics, volleyball, cycling, soccer and basketball will have to suffice.

Ten of the 27 local track and field athletes are former University of Oregon standouts, while 15 are transplants who live and train in Oregon. Sprinter Ryan Bailey and 800 meter runner Nick Symmonds are of special interest to Salem-area fans, having attended McKay High School and Willamette University, respectively.

Here's a closer look at some of the local athletes who have the best chance to medal.

Ashton Eaton, Decathlon. Competition begins August 8th, concludes August 9th. With his new world record at the Olympic Trials in June, Eaton is a strong favorite to win gold. The former Mountain View HS and UO star has had a meteoric rise to the top in this event. Only 24, Eaton is already a veteran of three major international competitions, and he won the silver medal at the 2011 World Championships.

Barring a disaster like the infamous Dan O'Brien pole vault no-height in the 1992 Trials, it is tough to see Eaton losing. He is sensational in the running events and the long jump, and continues to improve in the more technical throwing events, as well as the pole vault and high jump. Prediction: Gold.

Galen Rupp at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, the University of Oregon

Galen Rupp, 5,000 and 10,000. Competition begins August 4th (10K final). The American record-holder in the 10,000, Rupp is still young by elite distance runner standards - he will turn 26 the day after the 10K final - but this is his second Olympic team, along with three outdoor world championship appearances. Rupp's finishes in these meets have steadily improved, and he was seventh in the 10K at last year's world meet.

Rupp's superlative performance at the US Olympic Trials, where he won both races in meet record times, confirmed that he is a legitimate medal contender, especially in the 10,000. Prediction: 10K - Bronze; 5K - 7th place.

Nick Symmonds, 800 meters. Competition begins August 6, 800 final is August 9. Is there any American track star who has gotten more pub than the former Willamette Bearcat? On-line sponsorship auctions, temporary tattoo ads, dates with Paris Hilton - Symmonds, 28, is becoming a master of self-marketing. But can he deliver on the track in the Olympics?

Athlete of the Year David Rudisha of Kenya is a lock for the gold, but Symmonds should contend for a medal. Fifth in last year's world championship 800, Symmonds will handle the preliminary rounds like the savvy veteran he is and get to the final. But with Rudisha going out fast in the final, Symmonds has to stay close to the leaders to have a chance. His preferred racing style is to lay off the pace on the first lap and mount a late charge, but it won't work if he is too far back. Prediction: Close but no medal.

Ryan Bailey, 100 meters, 4 x 100 relay. Competition begins August 4, 100 meter final is August 5, 4 x 100 relay final is August 11. The McKay High School star and former state champion was one of the best stories of the Olympic Trials, as he surprised many by taking 3rd place in the 100 meters in a time of 9.93 to earn a spot on the team. Just getting to the Olympic 100 meter finals could be challenging. If the six-foot four-inch Bailey can get out of the blocks well, and keep his nerves under control, he could make some waves and, perhaps, make the final.

Bailey's best medal chance will come in the 4 x100 relay, though. Following a recent relay camp in France, the 23-year-old ran the anchor leg on the U.S. "A" team that took first at the Monaco Herculis meet on July 20th. If the US team of Trell Kimmons, Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay and Bailey can pass the baton - always a big "if" given the recent history of baton drops and collisions - Bailey could find himself head-to-head with Usain Bolt for the gold medal in the relay. Talk about must-see TV! Prediction: 100 - 6th; 4 x 100 - Silver.

Matthew Centrowitz and Andrew Wheating, 1500 meters. Competition begins August 3, 1500 final is August 7. The two former Ducks, who both won NCAA championships in the 1500 while at Oregon, should be praying that, without a "rabbit" to set the pace, the 1500 meter final will once again be a slow, tactical race. Centrowitz is an astute tactician who always seems to find the small gaps and stay out of trouble in races. Plus, he has the speed to stay with nearly anyone in a fast finish - at last year's world championships he closed with a 51.6 last lap, coming from ninth place to steal the bronze medal.

Ashton Eaton at the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field,UO

With his long, loping stride, the much taller Wheating has trouble negotiating a tightly-bunched field in the 1500. But he has learned to run on the outside of the pack, and with a slow pace, the extra meters he has to run don't matter all that much. Wheating's strong finishes are his trademark, but, like Symmonds, the question is whether he can be close enough to the leaders to pull it off. Prediction: Both will make finals, but neither will medal.

Brianne Theisen, Heptathlon. Competition begins August 3, concludes August 4. The seven-time NCAA champion in multi-events for UO, Theisen will compete for her native Canada in the Olympics. Theisen was 15th in the heptathlon at the 2009 World Championships, but has improved her PR by nearly 500 points since then. Prediction: Top ten but no medal.

Other local athletes who are medal contenders in London include high jumper Jesse Williams of OTC Elite - Eugene, steepler Evan Jager of OTC Elite - Portland, and marathoners Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher (both OTC Elite - Portland).

Williams, the 2011 world champion who has a best of 7-9.75, will battle Russians Andrey Silnov and Ivan Ukhov in what should be a very tight high jump competition. Jager, who set the American record in the 3000 meter steeplechase earlier this month in just his fifth-ever steeple competition, will try to break through against the overwhelming dominance of Kenyan runners in the steeple.

Flanagan and Goucher are not among the favorites in the marathon, but both women have shown that they can compete successfully against the world's best. Flanagan, despite a severe stomach illness, won the bronze in the 10,000 meters at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.


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