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Women’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: 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field 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 women’s event at Rio:

100m--English Gardner (USA)

English Gardner is going to be a force to reckon with in this 100m race. The six time Diamond League winner dropped a big one with a 10.74 in the Olympic Trials in Eugene. The time ranks second in the world behind Elaine Thompson. The last time these ladies met was in Rome and Thompson dominated. Since then, Gardner has clearly improved her sprinting as she netted a pair of diamond league victories in addition to her performance at the US trials.--Jeff

200m--Dafne Schippers (Netherlands)

Schippers transitioned to the sprints from the Heptathlon and it feels safe to say at this point that that was a good decision on her part. She has four of the six fastest 200m performances this season including a stiunning 21.93 second performance on a rainy and chilly day in Oslo back in June. Last year in Beijing, she won the 200m and got second in the 100m. She’ll be tough to beat in Rio without Allyson Felix to challenge her.--Eric

400m--Allyson Felix (USA)

Allyson Felix was looking to do a 200m/400m double in Rio, and the IAAF even changed the schedule around to accommodate that possibility after she didn’t attempt it in Beijing. However, she was hampered by an ankle injury at the U.S. Trials that may have contributed to her not making the 200m team. In any event, she still ran the second-fastest time in the world on that bum ankle and with an extra month of health, could claim her place at the top in Rio.--Eric

800m--Melissa Bishop (Canada)

In almost any other year, Melissa Bishop might be considered the favorite to win the Olympic 800m. Her 1:57.43 PB is head and shoulders above many of her fellow competitors. The problem is that she is lurking in the shadows of this year's Big Three - Semenya, Niyonsaba and Wambui. These ladies are over a second better over the distance - an eon in the 2 lap event. However, Bishop won't let that stop her from trying to better her runner-up fiinish at last year's world championship. The Canadian has tested her strength this year running a 4:09 1500m. Such a performance reaffirms that she will be ready to go in the final despite the hard running she will have underwent in the rounds and prelim.--Jeff

1500m--Laura Muir (Great Britain)

Laura Muir has been on a tear this year. A modest indoor season netted her a PR over 800m (2:00.70) and paved the way for the PR train this spring as she ran a stellar 3:57 1500m in London and a 4:19.12 mile in Oslo. With Dibaba's form in question, Muir looks poised to steal the show if the champion falters.--Jeff

5000m--Almaz Ayana (Ethiopia)

Within two weeks between late-May and early-June, Ayana clocked off the two fastest times in the world this year and came within spitting distance of the world record in the event with a 14:12.59 race in Rome. She surprised a lot of people (myself included) last year, when she took down Genzebe Dibaba in the 5k in Beijing and has kept rolling from there. She’s run over 15 second faster than the next-best woman this year. This race is her’s to lose.--Eric

10000m--Alice Nawawuna (Kenya)

Until this June, Alice Aprot Nawowuna would've been considered a B tier Kenyan runner. And that certainly wouldn't have been a knock as she sported a solid 15:16 5000m PB. That all changed when she stepped onto the track at the All-African championships and hammered a 5,000m PR. What made the performance all the more spectacular was that she kept going after that. For another 5000m. When Aprot stopped the clock at 30:26 a new force over 10,000m had emerged. The 22 year old will not let this race go to script when Ayana steps on the track this weekend.--Jeff

100m Hurdles--Kendra Harrison’s Absense (USA)

The 100m Hurdles was the best opportunity for a U.S. sweep in Rio and it still is, but the team will have to undertake that effort without the world record holder in the event. At the Prefontaine Classic, a month before the U.S. Trials, Harrison set the American record, continuing a trend of dominating races all season that continued until the finals in Eugene, where she finished sixth. How did she respond, you ask. Well, she set a world record in the event later that month. Missing Harrison is the risk you incur with a trials system of qualification. Luckily for the U.S., they still have the three fastest women in the event.--Eric

400m Hurdles--Sydney McLaughlin (USA)

High schoolers aren’t supposed to be this good. McLaughlin, who will be entering her senior year in high school after the Olympics burst onto the scene by setting a junior record at the New Balance high school championships and followed that up with solid performances against the best the United States had to offer at the Trials. The New Jersey native (major points in my book) is the 7th-fastest 400m hurdler this year, so has an outside shot at a medal, especially after a long season of racing--the high school season starts months before most elites start racing outdoors.--Eric

3000m Steeplechase--Emma Coburn (USA)

Coburn is the American record holder in the steeplechase, but only finished third in that record-setting race at the Prefontaine classic to the only two runners who have run faster than her this season. She remains a pretty clear tier below those two--Ruth Jebet and Hyvin Jepkemoi--but also a slight tier above the rest of the competition she’ll face in Rio. She has a good chance to improve on her fifth place finish in Beijing last summer.--Eric

High Jump--Inika McPherson (USA)

Coming off a 21-month ban for cocaine use, McPherson captured my attention at the Olympic Trials. Putting aside her tattoos, died hair, and gum piercing, McPherson still has a unique style. Her pre-approach is mesmerizing. There’s a bit of an arm-flourish and an almost zen-like slow lean back before she makes her approach to the bar. She’s fun to watch.--Eric

Pole Vault--Sandi Morris (USA)

2016 has seen Sandi Morris sail to new heights, literally. Morris set a big PB of 4.93 meters in Houston and followed that up with a second place finish at the US trials. Morris looks like a lock for the podium in Rio, the question is just which medal will she take home?--Jeff

Long Jump--Tiana Bartoletta (USA)

Bartoletta is by no means a favorite to medal in Rio. Her wind-aided jump from the Olympic Trials would still only put her fourth on the 2016 best list. What’s interesting about her, though, is that the long jump is not the only event she will be contesting in Rio as she’s also in the 100m and on the U.S. 4x100m relay team. She’s not a medal favorite in either individual event, but multi-event excellence should be recognized, espcially when the two events aren’t super similar.--Eric

Triple Jump--Catarine Ibarguen (Colombia)

In life, we are assured few things - death, taxes and oh yeah, Caterine Ibarguen's unparalleled dominance in the Triple Jump. Ibarguen has had arguably one off day in the last 3 years which brought her 34 straight win streak to an end. That fluke aside, we think she will continue her winning ways in Rio.--Jeff

Shot Put--Valerie Adams (New Zealand)

Valerie Adams may rank #2 in the world currently, but make no mistake, the two-time Olympic champ will be on the offense in Rio. She showed her form by breaking the 20 meter barrier for the first time in two years in her Monaco tune-up performance, a big up-tick in performance from her runner-up finish in Birmingham prior to that. Simple physics dictates that she has the upward trajectory going into these games, a dangerous weapon for a decorated veteran of the event.--Jeff

Discus--Denia Caballero (Cuba)

Denia Caballero made it clear last year that she not only wanted to win the Rio Games but she wanted to set a new Cuban National record in the process. While 2016 has been off to a rocky start for the 2015 World Champ, she began to find form in Poland at the end of June with a 67 meter disc toss. Don't turn your back on the 23 year old stud because she assuredly has many more great throws ahead of her.--Jeff

Javelin--Barbora Spotakova (Czech Republic)

Spotakova’s resume is littered with first place finishes in major meets, including Olympic gold medals in Beijing and London. She also has added a world gold in Osaka in 2007. She only finished 9th in Beijing last summer, but the 35-year old is back with a vengeance in 2016 with two of the four longest throws on the season with one of them coming just last week. She’s by no means a lock for gold, but she’s a relatively safe bet for a medal--Eric

Hammer Throw--Anita Wlodarczyk (Poland)

In the men’s preview, I discussed Pawel Fajdek who owned the 10 best throws on the season. Well, Wlodarczyk holds the same distinction on her side. She’s a two-time world champion (2009 and 2015) and finished second four years ago in London. Her best throw on the season is nearly five meters in the clear of her peers, if you can call them that at her level. She’ll likely only lose if she doesn’t record a legal throw.--Eric

Heptathlon--Brianne Theisen Eaton (Canada)

Brianne Theisen-Eaton has played second fiddle a few times too many for her own liking and I'm not talking about the success of her husband, Ashton Eaton. The three-time global champion runner-up took her first Global Gold at the World Indoor pentathlon. The Rio dress rehearsal saw her show some new explosiveness and she has since continued to improve her long-jump, 100mH and 200m performances in 2016. Theisen-Eaton looks poised for Olympic glory in Rio, a storybook narrative that the media will assuredly have a field-day with.--Jeff

Marathon--Amy Cragg (USA)

Much of the US attention to women's marathoning has been turned to Shalane Flanagan. But Amy Cragg's performance in the US Olympic Marathon trials have validated her move to Jerry Schumacher's group to join Shalane Flanagan. Cragg was a machine in the heat as she powered away from the field leaving studs Flanagan and Davila in her wake. If she runs the same way in the equally humid and hot Rio conditions, she will almost definitely be rewarded with a place on the podium.--Jeff