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Men’s Olympic Track and Field Preview: Who to Care About in Rio

Don’t know much about track? Here are some people to care about in Rio and an explanation of why you should care about them.

Track and Field: IAAF World Championships in Athletics Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

With so many viewers watching track and field for the first time—or at least the first time in the four years—at the Olympics, we decided to do something a little different with our preview. Instead of a full round-up of each event and all the major athletes in the field, we decided to give you someone to care about in each event.

The purpose here is twofold. For the newcomers, you can learn a little bit about athletes who are compelling in one way or another and impress all your friends with your knowledge about this sport that no one else knows about. You can also develop some sort of rooting interests that make sports fun. The second purpose is self-serving: To galvanize support around the athletes Jeff and I like.

Below you will find short blurbs on a notable athlete in each men’s event at Rio:

Men’s 100m--Trayvon Bromell (USA)

Brommel is the reigning co-bronze medalist in the 100m from last year’s World Championships after a tie with Andre De Grasse. He’s a good pick to cheer for in the 100m if you’re looking for an alternative to the Bolt/Gatlin rivalry and all the doping stuff you have to get into with the latter. Perhaps more compelling is that he is younger (21) than Bolt (29) and Gatlin (34), so this is a chance to get in on the ground floor of fandom for an athlete who is as good a bet as any to dominate this event in a couple years. He has the second-fastest time in the event this season after coming in second to Justin Gatlin at the U.S. Trials in a time of 9.84.

Realistic Finish: 2-4—Eric

Men’s 200m--Andre De Grasse (Canada)

While all eyes will be focused on the show down between 2 time defending champion Usain Bolt and arguable rival Justin Gatlin, Andre Degrasse of Canada will be nipping at their heels and should be considered a real threat. The 9.92 and 19.88 man is only 21 years old and has racked up wins in Oslo and Birmingham this season in addition to the hardware he took home at last year's world championship where he placed 3rd in the 100m. He appears on track for yet another stellar global appearance.—Jeff

Men’s 400m--Wayde Van Niekerk (South Africa)

Van Niekerk announced his arrival at last year’s World Championships when he took gold. Every athlete pushes themselves to the limits, so it’s usually lazy analysis to say things like “he wanted it more” or “he dug deeper than his competitors,” but for Van Niekerk, those statements ring a bit truer. He had to be taken off the track on a stretcher after his World Championship win and running himself to the limit of his capabilities has become something of a trademark for him. He has real competition in the 400m with LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James, but another medal seems likely in his future.—Eric

Men’s 800m--David Rudisha (Kenya)

For years, the 800m has been Rudisha’s and his alone and he’s not afraid to make that dominance obvious, running from the front and challenging anyone who wants to take the lead from him. No one does because, well, he’s been much better than everyone else. He won the last Olympics in London with a world record time or 1:40.91.

That wouldn’t make him all that interesting here, but he’s looked vulnerable this year, even though he does have the fastest time in the world of 1:43.35. The world has gotten a little closer to Rudisha, or, he’s gotten a little closer to the rest of the world, depending on how you want to see it. Game of Thrones is a compelling story because the king is always vulnerable, and Rudisha is in that position for the first time in 2016.

Realistic Finish: Medal—Eric

Men’s 1500m--Ronald Kwemoi (Kenya)

On paper this appears to be a showdown between defending champion Taoufik Makhloufi and Beijing Champ Asbel Kiprop. The latter being the strong favorite. However, 18 year old Ronald Kwemoi has made himself known leading into these games. In Monaco he stole the show and ran a strong 3:30 for the win over what could've been argued was an Olympic preview as the field boasted everyone in the world top 10 except World Indoor champion, Matthew Centrowitz. Kwemoi proved that his showing Monaco was no fluke as he repeated the feat in the Kenyan trials where he stormed to victory over Kiprop.—Jeff

Men’s 5000m--Caleb Ndiku (Kenya)

When you have a song written about you, you are going to appear on this list, which is why I made sure to draft Ndiku before Jeff could get his filthy hands on him. Ndiku even appears in the video of the wrap written about him. Fun is what sports are all about, and it’s clear that he’s having fun both on and off the track.

He came in second in Beijing last summer, and although he hasn’t set the world on fire in 2016, Ndiku should still be solidly in medal contention in the power vacuum in the event after Mo Farah.—Eric

Men’s 10000m--Goeffrey Kamworor (Kenya)

The Double Olympic champion Mo Farah recently showed his strength with an impressive show of front-running in the London DL 5000m where he ran 12:59. For good reason, too - Geoffrey Kamworor. If anyone is going to up-end Farah, it is Kamworor. At the world half-marathon championships in Cardiff, Kamworor fell at the start and still managed to win the race. Importantly, he broke Farah who ended up 50 seconds back. Kamworor will surge and run hard from the gun to play to his strength and take the kick out of Farah.—Jeff

110m Hurdles--U.S. Sweep

What’s interesting about a U.S. sweep in the event is that it seems like such a remote possibility. A year ago, we were talking about a sweep at the World Championships as more an eventuality than a possibility, but now, a year later with Aries Merritt (kidney surgery) and David Oliver (age) not making the team, the U.S. is left without the clear firepower to take down a Jamaican arrival in the event led by Omar McCleod. Who has the only sub-13 time on the season. Still, with Ronnie Ash, Devon Allen, and Jeff Porter, the U.S. fields a team of three medal contenders, which, by definition, puts a sweep in the conversation.—Eric

400m Hurdles--Yasmani Copello Escobar (Turkey)

Yasmani Copello Escobar took the European championships in style as he powered through the line to take the race in a nice PR after having run rounds and semis. Clearly he is Rio-ready and with momentum on his side, he should be considered a favorite for gold.—Jeff

3000m Steeplechase--Evan Jager (USA)

Flash back a year and Evan Jager was the world’s hope to break up Kenya’s dominance of the steeplechase. He nearly broke 8:00 in the event--the round-number barrier for true excellence in the steeple--while tripping over the final hurdle. He went to Beijing as not only a medal contender, but with a realistic chance at winning. Then, well, it wasn’t a realistic possibility any more:

We haven’t seen much of Jager this year, so no one knows what quite to expect out of him, but he still has to be considered in contention for a medal, even if that excitement is tempered some by the finish in Beijing.

Realistic finish: 3-6—Eric

High Jump--Donald Thomas (Bahamas)

Donald Thomas erupted onto the scene in 2006 when in his first high-jump competition ever, he cleared 2.23 meters and with in a couple months managed second at the US NCAA Championships. Thomas was just warming up as he continued his meteoric rise with a world title in 2007. Since, Thomas has struggled but he is fresh off a 2.37m PR and seems poised to chase a global title.—Jeff

Pole Vault--Sam Kendricks (USA)

There are only four names you really need to know in pole vault: Renaud Lavillenie, Shawnacy Barber, Thiago Da Silva, and Sam Kendricks. Kendricks is the one getting a blurb because he’s in the middle of a breakout season. Well, it’s hard to say that a guy who finished 9th at the World Championships is breaking out, but after a second place indoors, Kendricks is the second-highest vaulter outdoors. He’s improved by 0.1 meters over last year and is firmly in the medal conversation now.

Realistic finish: 2-4th—Eric

Long Jump--Jarrion Lawson (USA)

Jarrion Lawson has spent all season splitting his energy between the 100m and the LJ. The jack of all-trades doubled with a 8.58 m LJ and a 10.07 100m at the trials, the former netting him a spot on the US team. Now that Lawson can focus his energy into one event, it seems likely he may make good on the promise he showed with his bronze at the WJC in 2013.—Jeff

Triple Jump--Christian Taylor (USA)

The defending Olympic and World Champion missed setting a world record by eight centimeters in Beijing last summer. He has the best two jumps on the year and no one has even come within .1 meters of his second-best jump. Anything lower than second place in Rio would be considered a disappointment.—Eric

Shot Put--Joe Kovacs (USA)

Joe Kovacs comes in with the 2015 world championship title behind him and has thrown further than anyone since 2010. Unless he falters in Rio, he should have the title nicely locked up.—Jeff

Discus--Piotr Malachowski (Poland)

Piotr Malachowski won silver in Bejing but went home empty handed in London. The 68 meter man struggled to find former following his Olympic glow in 2008 but the past two years have seen him return to the 67 meter range. A win at last year's world champs and this year's European champs show he is on track to get back on the podium this year.—Eric

Javelin--Julius Yego (Kenya)

The Kenyan came out of nowhere to win the World Championships last summer with a 92.72 meter throw, his best throw ever and an eight-meter improvement over what he had done in years past. This season, he’s back to what he was before Beijing, but it will be interesting to see if he can bring another big performance to the world stage. His throw from Beijing last year would be tops in the world this year.

Realistic finish: non-medal—Eric

Hammer Throw--Pawel Fajdek (Poland)

Take away Fajdek’s nine best throws in 2016, and he still has the best throw in the world. He didn’t record a mark in the London Olympics, fouling out of the qualifying round, but has responded by winning World Championships in 2013 and 2015. The Polish have complete dominance up top of the Hammer on both the men’s and women’s side and figure to get two golds out of Rio.

Realistic Finish: 1st—Eric

Decathlon--Aston Eaton (USA)

Eaton has won the last three indoor world championships in the Heptathlon and the last three outdoor championships in the Decathlon, setting World Record (breaking his own) on the way to winning last summer in Beijing. He’s dominated this event for years and he’s still only 28. He’s going to win gold in Rio as long as he records marks in every event. —Eric

Marathon--Mebrahtom Keflezighi (USA)

Editor’s Note: Check out our interview with Meb discussing his training and build-up to Rio.

If there is any marathoner you should never rule out in a championship race, it's Meb Keflezighi. At 41 years old, Meb may seem past his 2004 Silver medal peak but his 4th place finish in London olympics, win at Boston in 2014 and runner-up finish at the US Olympic trials have shown that Keflezighi has aged like a fine wine. Make no mistake, Meb will be well prepared for Rio and on a good day could end up on the podium.—Jeff