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On track? How the speed kings and queens of 2012 are set for Rio

At least three of our favourite events in London will usher in new champions in Rio.

FOUR YEARS IS a long, long time to wait on a sporting event. And it’s even longer when compared to the average life cycle of an elite athlete.

Pushing the body to be the fastest in the world at four year intervals is what marks the great ones apart from the simply incredible racers.

This year, many of the stand-out performers from London are aiming for a back-to-back (-to-back, in some Jamaicans’ cases) victories on the track and some who have already fallen well short of that goal. Here’s a reminder of some of the more memorable performances from London and and how those champs are set this time around.

Usain Bolt

Champion in both the one and two hundred metres in London, Bolt gave sprint lovers an awful fright last month when he withdrew from the Jamaican national championships with a hamstring injury.

London Olympics Athletics Men Source: Matt Slocum

Thankfully, the fastest man in history got back to the blocks and back to winning ways with a season’s best in the 200 metres at the London Diamond League meet on 22 July.

He wasn’t happy with his form on that day, but hopes to build his way into the Games and overhaul in Justin Gatlin, whose 100m and 200m seasonal bests are 0.08 and 0.14 quicker than Bolt’s respectively.

Shelley Anne Fraser-Pryce

Like Bolt, SAFP is chasing back-to-back-to-back sprint golds in the 100m and this time she too must do it from a little further back down the form book than usual.

The five-foot phenom is only the third-fastest Jamaican in her event, a SB of 10.93 putting her behind Veronica Campbell Brown (10.83) and Elaine Thompson (10.7). Worldwide, seven women have been faster than Fraser-Pryce this season with USA’s English Gardner (SB 10.74) looking the most likely to break the Jamaican hold on sprint gold.

Allyson Felix

Felix was untouchable in London four years ago as her white socked-blur stormed around the track to beat Fraser-Pryce and Carmelita Jeter to 200m gold. But this is another discipline where the crown is possibly being prepared for a new head.

Belgium Athletics Van Damme Schippers racing Felix in a Brussels Diamond League meet last year. Source: AP/Press Association Images

An ankle injury in the spring, combined with some extra time and focus spent on the 400m, has left the 30-year-old reigning champ well down the list of season’s best times in the 200m. Only Florence Griffith-Joyner and Marion Jones have run faster than Dafne Schippers 21.63 last year and the Dutch woman led the way again this year with a time of 21.93 – a full .61 seconds quicker than Felix’s best mark this year.

Sally Pearson

New world record holder Kendra Harrison won’t be there to challenge for the women’s 100m hurdles and neither will the reigning Olympic champion.

Source: Mikey Sammy/YouTube

Pearson shattered her wrist when she fell at an event in Rome last summer and that setback proved too much to earn her a place in Rio. The 29-year-old insists she will continue to compete and aims to be at the 2020 Games, but until then Australia’s only hurdle hope is Michelle Jenneke.

US Track Trials Athletics Brianna Rollins celebrates beating Kristi Castlin at the US trials. Source: Marcio Jose Sanchez

Otherwise, the season’s best board is dominated by star-spangled banners. Harrison ran six of the fastest seven times this year, but failed at national trials, so Brianna Rollins, Kristi Castlin and Nia Alli will be the women to beat.

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Aries Merritt

You have to feel for 110m hurdle champion Aries Merritt. The American went under the knife 11 months ago for a kidney transplant and he looked in shape and on course to go and defend his title. But the US Nationals are an unforgiving place and Merritt was pipped to the third and final place by 0.01 seconds.

Devon Allen, Ronnie Ash and Jeff Porter take the American spots in his place, with Jamaica’s Omar McLeod the clear world leader as he has run five of the top seven times this year, with the May mark of 12.98 being the best of the lot.

Kirani James

London Olympics Athletics Men Source: Martin Meissner

The Granadian is probably in the best form of all the returning champion sprinters on this list. Still just 23, James is the second-fastest man this year over 400 metres, his mark of 44.08 only bettered by LaShawn Merritt’s 43.97.

David Rudisha

Unquestionably one of the highlights of London 2012 was the sight of Rudisha majestically gobbling up 800 metres in world record pace.

China Athletics Worlds Source: David J. Phillip

Four years on and it appears there is still no touching Rudisha as head leads the seasonal standings with many of the nearest challengers failing to make the Olympic grade.

Mariya Savinova

The women’s 800m winner from London probably doesn’t need an introduction if you’re interested enough in athletics to have read this far, but the New York Times put the long story short best when they called her ‘the face of Russia’s doping scandal’.

There will be a different look to the podium in the event this time around with Russia banned.

Savinova beat Caster Semenya to gold in Queen Elizabeth Stadium and Ekaterina Poistogova came in third.

Semenya has come back into flying form this year, recording three of the top four times around two laps with a low mark of 1:55.33. Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba and Canada’s Mellissa Bishop have come closest to matching the South African this year.

Mo Farah

Before he was mired in controversy with Alberto Salazar, Mo Farah gave the Olympics a second iconic celebration to copy. The Mobot was unleashed to celebrate golds in both the five and 10 thousand metres to an ecstatic London crowd.

Athletics - 2015 Morrisons Great North Run - Newcastle Source: Owen Humphreys

Now 33, Farah is well positioned to dominate the distance events on track again. In London late last month, he recorded the fastest 5,000m of the year – 12:59.29. Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris and Dejen Gebremeskel aren’t far off that mark, however, and Farah’s 10k SB of 26:53.71 is 2.6 seconds slower than Ethiopa’s Yigrem Demelash. They’re long races though, and experience counts for a lot.

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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