Stars Richardson and Lyles among the track athletes looking for their first gold medals in Paris


There are big races, and then there are the Olympics.

When Sha’Carri Richardson, Noah Lyles and all the other fastest runners and best jumpers and throwers of 2024 line up for the Olympic track and field meet, little of what they’ve done on the road to Paris will mean much. What will matter is how they respond to pressure when the spotlight is on.

Will they end up shining as brightly as a Usain Bolt or Carl Lewis, whose knack for performing when Olympic gold medals were at stake turned them into larger-than-life icons?

Or will they be more like Jamaican sprinter Shericka Jackson and American hurdler Grant Holloway, among the best performers of their generation but still looking to parlay all that talent into a spot at the top of the Olympic podium?

“Right now, I do not hold a gold medal in the Olympics,” said Lyles, who counts the bronze medal he won in the 200 meters at the Tokyo Games among his biggest disappointments. “I have multiple world championships, and national championships, as well. The only one that’s missing from the list is an Olympic gold. And I’m planning on leaving with a lot of those.”

The dramas involving Richardson, Lyles and everyone else will play out in 48 events spread over 10 days, with most of the action taking place at the Stade de France, starting Aug. 2. As an added bonus, there will be a bonus: a first-of-its-kind $50,000 payout to all 48 gold medalists, courtesy of World Athletics, the organization that runs global track.

The near 2,200 athletes competing in the Olympics’ biggest sport are well aware that the money is great, but the gold medal brings an air of immortality that only an Olympic title can.

“The moment only comes once every four years,” Holloway said. “If you’re not training to be an Olympic gold medalist, then what the hell are you doing? That’s my mentality.”

Richardson makes her Olympic debut after her much-discussed absence from the last Olympics due to a positive marijuana test.

Her current form, her status as the reigning world champion, along with the absence of two-time defending champion Elaine Thompson-Herah, all make Richardson the sprinter to beat in the women’s 100. But it won’t be a gimme.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is heading to her fifth (and final) Olympics and has won this race twice. Jackson is a 200 specialist (see below) but also one of the fastest in the world at this distance.

Lyles attributes a lot of his bad finish in 2021 to depression that kept him from focusing . That race is the only 200-meter sprint he’s lost at a major championship.

By the time the 200 final comes around on Aug. 8, the 100 will be in the rearview mirror and we’ll know if Lyles has a chance to complete a sprint double, a la Bolt, and Lewis before him. Lyles is the reigning world champ at 100, but he’s less seasoned at that distance.

Just last month, another Jamaican, Kishane Thompson, ran 9.77 to head into his first Olympics with the world’s best time. Also, Jamaica’s Oblique Seville beat Lyles head-to-head at a meet in Kingston in June. But a tune-up in Kingston and the Olympics in Paris are two different animals.

In Tokyo, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands pulled off one of the most amazing feat s in Olympic history by winning medals in the 1,500 (bronze), 5,000 (gold) and 10,000 meters (gold).

She’s coming back for more, and has even floated the idea that she might do those three, then add the marathon, which takes place on the last day of the Olympics, to her schedule.

“I will decide a week before,” Hassan said in a recent interview. “Maybe I’m gonna have great training somehow, somewhere.”

As always, Hassan, and her quest for medals, will face a stern challenge Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, who is the reigning world champion at 1,500 and 5,000 meters. Kipyegon broke her own world record at 1,500 in an Olympic tune-up this month, finishing in 3:49.04.

Holloway is a three-time world champion in the 110 hurdles, and a favorite to win on Aug. 8. He was a favorite three years ago in Tokyo too, but weakened down the stretch, and fell to Hansle Parchment of Jamaica.

Holloway is 9-3 in head-to-head matchups with Parchment, and even 2-1 against him at the Olympics. But the two victories came in preliminary rounds and that loss came with the gold medal on the line.

Jackson is the only woman other than the late Florence Griffith Joyner to run the 200 meters in 21.48 or faster. So, why hasn’t most of the world heard of her?

At the last Olympics, she put on the brakes too early in her opening heat, finished fourth and never even got to race in the final for the gold. It’s a mistake she called the most devastating of her career, and one that has fueled her run to Paris.

Now, more trouble. She failed to finish a July 9 tune-up race in Hungary, and it was unclear if she is healthy going into the Olympics. If Jackson isn’t in the lineup, American Gabby Thomas, who comes in with this year’s fastest time (21.78) and a bronze medal from Tokyo, would be the clear favorite.

Anyone who says sports and politics do not intersect might want to tune in Aug. 4, when Ukrainian high jumper Yaroslava Mahuchikh takes the field.

Mahuchikh is coming in just a few weeks after breaking a 37-year-old world record in her event, jumping 2.10 meters at an Olympic tune-up in Paris.

World Athletics has not allowed Russians in international meets since the war with Ukraine broke out. It means Maria Lasitskene will not be on hand to defend her Olympic title. Lasitskene also wasn’t present last year when Mahuchikh won the title on an emotional closing day at world championships.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games



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