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TOKYO — Tokyo's Olympic Stadium will host one of the marquee Olympic sports, track and field, from Thursday to Aug. 7.
There won’t be any spectators in the stands at Tokyo's Olympic Stadium, however, there’s still plenty of anticipation surrounding this year’s track and field competition.
At the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. led all countries with 32 track and field medals. Kenya was the runner up with 13 medals and Jamaica’s 11 overall medals was third.
Will the United States win the track and field medal count again? Is the absence of fans going to affect athletes? How will Jamaica fair without the fastest man of all time, Usain Bolt?
USA TODAY Sports examines eight track and field storylines as the Olympics are set to commence.
Who will win gold in men’s 100 meters?
Usain Bolt’s reign in the short sprints is over, which means the crown for the fastest man alive is up for the taking.
U.S. sprinter Trayvon Bromell is the favorite to win the men’s 100 meters in Tokyo. Bromell owns two of the four fastest times in the world since the 2016 Olympics. He ran a 9.80 to win the U.S. Olympic trials in the 100 meters.
Bromell should face heavy competition from teammate Ronnie Baker, Akani Simbine of South Africa and Andre De Grasse of Canada.
A U.S. sprinter hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters since Justin Gatlin did it at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Bromell is hungry to get the U.S. back on top of the podium.
“We get so complacent with who we are. For me I'm constantly diving into knowledge about how I can get better not only as a human but as an athlete,” Bromell said. “I feel with confidence sometimes comes complacency. I come from the hood, nothing was easy for me, and so every time I go to training, I feel I have everything to lose. I look at it like getting out of the situation I used to be in.”
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could make history
Sha’Carri Richardson’s one-month suspension due to testing positive for marijuana lessened the hype around the women’s 100 meters. However, the Dallas, Texas, native wouldn’t have been the favorite even if she was participating. That distinction belongs to two-time 100-meter Olympic gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica. Fraser-Pryce, 34, enters the Tokyo Olympics with a world-leading time of 10.63.
Fellow Jamaican and 2016 Olympic champion in the women’s 100 meters, Elaine Thompson-Herah, upset Fraser-Pryce in a showdown at the Gyulai István Memorial in Hungary in early July.
Fraser-Pryce, who is already one of the most decorated sprinters in history, could put herself in rare air. No woman in history has won three Olympic gold medals in the women’s 100 meter.
Fraser-Pryce and Thompson-Herah are the headliners in the women’s 100 meters.
What does shot put Ryan Crouser do for an encore?
Crouser tossed a massive 76 feet, 8¼ inches throw at the U.S. Olympic trials to break a 31-year-old world record previously held by former U.S. thrower Randy Barnes in 1990 (Barnes later received a lifetime ban after failing multiple doping tests).
Crouser is looking to become Team USA’s first back-to-back Olympic champion in the shot put since Parry O'Brien (1952 Helsinki, 1956 Melbourne), and simultaneously, improve on his world record.
“It’s always about going out and trying to further my PR… I think I can go farther. I think 77 is definitely possible,” Crouser said. “If we can move up to 77 (feet) or even just higher in the 76s then I'll be happy.”
On the women’s side, the competition for three medals should be fierce. U.S. shot putters Jessica Ramsey and Raven Saunders, China’s Lijiao Gong and two-time Olympic gold medalist Valerie Adams are the favorites in the event.
Athing Mu enters her first Olympics with plenty of expectations
NBC track and field analyst Ato Boldon called Athing Mu track’s next superstar at the U.S. Olympic trials. The middle-distance sensation could officially become superstar status at the Tokyo Olympics.
After breaking numerous collegiate records during her freshman year at Texas A&M, Mu turned pro during the trials. The 19-year-old then proceeded to win the women’s 800 meters by running a world-leading 1:56.07.
Mu’s rise to the top of the women’s 800 meters has been rapid. She could solidify herself as one of the faces of women’s track and field at the Tokyo Olympics. The 19-year-old is confident heading into her first Olympics.
“Gaining confidence has contributed to my dominance thus far in the 800. Being good at it, knowing it's my event,” Mu said.
World record watch in the hurdles
Grant Holloway came close to breaking Aries Merritt's 110-meter hurdles world record in his U.S. Olympic trials semifinal heat, finishing one-hundredth of a second behind the all-time mark with a time of 12.81 seconds. The 23-year-old went on to win the final with a time of 12.96.
The men’s 110-meter hurdles world record could fall in Tokyo. Holloway is in excellent form.
On the women’s side, Keni Harrison clinched an Olympic berth at the trials winning the women’s 100-meter hurdles in a season-best time of 12.47. The women’s 100-meter hurdles world-record holder is aiming for her first Olympic gold after failing to make the team in 2016.
The men’s 400-meter hurdles features a showdown between Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin. Warholm broke Kevin Young's 29-year-old 400-meter hurdles world record by eight tenths of a second when he ran a lifetime best of 46.70 on July 1.
In the women’s 400-meter hurdles, Sydney McLaughlin is coming off her own world-record performance. The Kentucky product ran a blistering 51.90 to become the new world-record holder. The previous owner of the record will be McLaughlin’s toughest competitor in Tokyo, fellow U.S. teammate Dalilah Muhammad. Muhammad is also the reigning Olympic champion and 2019 world champion in the event.
“It definitely pulls the best out of everybody’s competition when we are out there on the track,” McLaughlin said. “It’s awesome.”
Allyson Felix and Brittney Reese’s final Olympics
Two of the most decorated Olympians of all time will take the Olympic track and field stage for the final time.
Both Felix and Reese are retiring from Olympic competition following the Tokyo Games.
Felix is the only female track and field athlete to win six Olympic gold medals. The veteran sprinter’s nine overall Olympic medals are tied with former runner Merlene Ottey for most ever by a female Olympian in track and field history.
The 35-year-old is set to compete in the women’s 400 meters and 4x400-meter relay.
Reese is one of four women in American history to qualify for the Olympics in the long jump four times, and she’s one of 16 women in history to make Team USA four times in track and field.
Reese, 34, won the U.S. trials in the women’s long jump. She currently has the third best jump in the world this year.
Reese won the women’s long jump at the London 2012 Olympics. She got a silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The veteran long jumper is determined to get back on top of the podium.
“I’m trying to end on a positive note.” Reese said. “I definitely want to end my last Olympics with a bang and come home with a gold.”
Young stars take centerstage
Team USA’s track and field team possesses many budding stars on the verge of winning their first Olympic gold medal.
Trayvon Bromell could be the first American man to win an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters since 2004.
In hist first Olympics, Noah Lyles is the frontrunner in the men’s 200 meters after running a world-leading 19.74 at the U.S. trials.
Grant Holloway is the clear-cut favorite in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, furthermore he’s on the cusp of breaking a world record in the event.
USC products Michael Norman and Rai Benjamin are among the fastest at running one lap around the track. Norman posted the second fastest time in the world this year in the 400 meters while Benjamin’s personal best of 46.83 in the men’s 400-meter hurdles is thirteen-tenths of a second off Norway’s Karsten Warholm’s world record.
Bromell is the elder statesman of the group and he’s just 26. Bromell, Lyles, Holloway, Norman and Benjamin could be stars in track and field for a while.
On the women’s side, Harvard graduate Gabby Thomas is fresh off running the third fastest 200 meters time in history. Thomas’ 21.61 in the 200 meters broke a U.S. trials record. Her time trails only Florence Griffith Joyner, who went 21.34 and 21.56 in 1988.
World-record holder Keni Harrison is out for redemption after failing to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. Harrison has the third fastest time in the world this year, but the 100-meter hurdles runner is in excellent shape to take home the gold.
Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad are headed toward a showdown in the 400-meter hurdles. McLaughlin broke the world record at the trials and is in excellent shape. But Muhammad, the 2016 gold medalist, could stand in the way.
Emerging star Athing Mu, 19, won the trials in the 800-meter.
All of the women have the ability to bring home the gold.
“It’s really entertaining for people on the outside to watch but also us to know that we are able to take this to a new level,” McLaughlin said. “As somebody who is a part of it, it pushes us to be the best that you can be.”
COVID-19 looms large
The coronavirus pandemic is the commanding storyline over the entire Olympics.
Athletes from various sports, including track and field, have admitted to feeling nervous about the ongoing pandemic.
On Thursday, two-time world champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks tested positive for COVID-19 and had to withdraw from the Olympics. Kendricks was part of a single-day high for coronavirus cases with organizers announcing 24 new positives on Thursday, three of which were athletes.
Leading up to the track and field competition, many athletes said they are trying to do whatever they can to minimize the risk of exposure. However, the dark cloud of COVID-19 will hang over Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium for the duration of the track and field competition.
Mixed relay makes its Olympic debut
The 4x400 mixed relay will make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The event drew a lot of praise and excitement after it was first trialed in 2017.
During the event’s earlier stages, the U.S. established supremacy when they set the world record (3:09.34) at the 2019 world championships.
The U.S. is bringing some of the best middle-distance runners in the world to Tokyo and should be in contention to break its own world record.
Bragging rights in the event are on the line in Tokyo. The first Olympic champion mixed relay team will be crowned.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tokyo Olympics: Track and field storylines; how many medals for USA?