The 2012 season of track and field should be one in which, as any Olympic year, athletes can show their top form and regain their stardom. My picks for this resurgent career year are four individuals who have of late been either missing from the international stage or who hit difficult times in their progress. On the men’s side I see Wallace Spearmon and Dathan Ritzenhein having returns to high levels of competition and on the women’s half I think Yelena Isinbayeva and Tirunesh Dibaba will make triumphant comebacks to dominance.
For the past six years and since his days as a Razorback at Arkansas, Wallace Spearmon has been one of the most consistent and prolific 200 meter runners in the world. Known for his stunning speed on the homestretch, Spearmon has a lifetime best 19.65 seconds which ranks him as one of the fastest men ever at the event. However after a DQ’ing in Beijing in 2008 due to a lane violation and an Achilles tendon injury that kept him from top shape before worlds this summer, Wallace has looked shaky but has been quoted as saying, “If I can stay healthy, I’ll be right up there with the best of them.” Despite not making the finals at U.S. champs and the growing field of top flight times from the likes of Yohan Blake and Walter Dix, watch for this man to be a world beater come Olympic time and for him to make an impact.
The high school and college superstar has been plagued by a rash of injuries in his professional career. When healthy there are few in America and for that matter in the world that can match the strength and ability of this man at the long distances. His breaking 13 minutes in the 5k stands as one of the three fastest Americans to race at the event and his move to the marathon in 2008 led him to be the first American finisher in the Olympics. His talent however has been dampened by repeated injuries. After being held out all of 2011 with injury look for him to be leading the charge of Americans in the marathon. His streak of serious health problems is only matched by his improbable ability to recuperate and perform better than before. He should contend as one of the men to beat on a strong U.S. marathon squad. With his post surgery training going well with near maximum volume of workouts a healthy Ritzenhein is threat in any race.
The undisputed queen of the pole vault has of late seemed all too human in the past year. After taking a year away from the sport she returned to competition at this year’s World Championships in Daegu. As two-time Olympic gold medalist and world record holder, few questioned Isinbayeva’s chances of success. Her sixth place finish, however, was unlike her normal level of success and belies the fact that she has had significant coaching changes and a long break from competition. With a year before the 2012 Games, look for Isinbayeva to straighten out the wrinkles in her performances which appeared to be more mental than physical and settle down as the favorite going into the Olympics. As having been the face of the event for almost a decade, the time off may start to pay dividends come the big show in London where she can put aside the disappointments that followed her from the 2009 season. When prepared there are no peers for Isinbayeva and that may be proven true again over the next year’s circuit.
Famous for the ability to outpace all competitors at the end of races, Dibaba has been one of the greatest distance runners of all time. As the only female 5000 and 10,000 meter double champion in the Olympics and the youngest medalist at the Games in Ethiopian history, Tirunesh has already accomplished a significant amount at a very young age. Her rivalry with countrywoman Meseret Defar has given spectators a gift in recent years despite its rarity. Though almost without equal, she has faced hard times recently with not competing at the last two world championships due to injuries. Her victory at the African Games 10,000 in 2010 was her last significant race and has left her without opportunities to race with a growing list of challengers from home in Ethiopia and from Kenya, mostly notably Vivian Cheruiyot. This though should not be considered the end of her racing, with an upcoming chance to use her amazing finishing speed and prowess over the next year look to Dibaba to be a key player in the debate on who will be favored over the women’s distances. Her return will most assuredly be cause for consternation on the part of those who must contend with her fierce racing strength.