The most unpredictable races at the world champs, part 2

3 Aug 2017

The world champs are set to kick off in London this Friday, and the sport’s star will be out in force. Even though it’s always a treat to watch true greatness, the most compelling races are those where the outcome is in doubt. Below we rank each of the ten women’s individual track events in terms of predictability—based on the odds from the bookmakers—from the free-for-alls to the foregone conclusions.

% Win probabilities: men’s least to most “predictable” races

Aggregated odds from Paddy Power, Bwin and Skybet on 1 August

1. Men’s 400m hurdles

Final: Wednesday, 9 August
Favourite: Kerron Clement (36%)

Olympic champion Clement comes in as the slight favourite despite a very inconsistent season. In fact, due to his seventh-place finish at the US trials, he only gets to attend the meet because he was the Diamond League champion last year. Eleven years his junior, Karsten Warholm will be hoping to continue his undefeated season, while the even younger Kyron McMaster comes in as the world leader. Those three are the main contenders, but this is anybody’s race.

2. Men’s 1500m

Final: Sunday, 13 August
Favourite: Elijah Manangoi (40%)

Two Olympic champions come in as underdogs after disappointing seasons, but Asbel Kiprop and Matthew Centrowitz should not be counted out in what promises to be a wild event. Manangoi has established himself as the favourite after a stellar Diamond League season punctuated by a world-leading win in Monaco, but these tactical championship races always have some fireworks in the final lap.

3. Men’s 800m

Final: Tuesday, 8 August
Favourite: Nijel Amos (53%)

With Olympic champion David Rudisha pulling out due to injury, things look to be falling right into the lap of a resurgent Amos. Kenyan and NCAA champion Emmanuel Korir will look to play spoiler in an event where chaos often reigns.

4. Men’s 200m

Final: Thursday, 10 August
Favourite: Wayde van Niekerk (58%)

With Bolt focusing only on the 100 in his final championship performance, this is the most up-for-grabs sprint race in over a decade. World leader Isaac Makwala and Olympic champion van Niekerk will be stepping down in distance, while budding superstar Andre de Grasse (update: de Grasse has now pulled out with injury) and US champion Ameer Webb have had successful seasons on the Diamond League circuit. Add in the resurgence of Yohan Blake, and there are a bona fide five contenders for the half-lap crown.

5. Men’s 100m

Final: Saturday, 5 August
Favourite: Usain Bolt (67%)

Bolt is the biggest name and the brightest star in the sport, but he’ll face his biggest test yet before he can ride off into the sunset. He has only the fifth fastest time coming in, and though he is undefeated, he has not faced top competition this season. In his final race before the world championships, he beat the eighth-place finisher at the US trials by a scant 0.03. Perennial rival Justin Gatlin along with Andre De Grasse (update: de Grasse has now pulled out with injury) and Christian Coleman seem ready to dethrone the king, despite what the bookmakers say.

6. Men’s 110m hurdles

Final: Monday, 7 August
Favourite: Omar McLeod (71%)

High hurdles always cause a bit of uncertainty, but McLeod is as big of a favourite as possible in such an event. He is the defending Olympic Champion and has run the three fastest times on the year. Though it would certainly be a feel-good story if world record holder Aries Merritt could pull of the upset after undergoing a kidney transplant, don’t expect any surprises.

7. Men’s 3000m steeplechase

Final: Tuesday, 8 August
Favourite: Evan Jager (72%)

The last time a non-Kenyan-born athlete won a gold medal in the steeplechase was 1987, two years before Jager was born and nine years before top challenger Soufiane El Bakkali was born. Though Jager’s fitness cannot be questioned, his odds have improved due to an injury suffered by Olympic champion Conseslus Kipruto.

8. Men’s 5000m

Final: Saturday, 12 August
Favourite: Mo Farah (73%)

By the time the gun goes off for the 5000m, we should know which has the upper hand: age or experience. Bolt will have run his final race, and Farah will have had to face yet another challenge in the 10,000m. If Farah shows that he still has that patented kick, then a fifth consecutive double is all but guaranteed.

9. Men’s 10,000m

Final: Friday, 4 August
Favourite: Mo Farah (77%)

Will it be different this time? Since 2011, the same basic storyline repeats itself. First, there is talk about how Farah might be vulnerable. Then, Farah unleashes a ferocious kick to win gold. True, Farah is beginning to show signs of slowing down, but he won comfortably against his top rivals at the Prefontaine Classic in late May.

10. Men’s 400m

Final: Tuesday, 8 August
Favourite: Wayde van Niekerk (90%)

Though Isaac Makwala has been emerging as a challenger in recent months, van Niekerk has shown no real vulnerability. The world record holder and Olympic champion is the championship’s heaviest favourite and a virtual lock to add a third straight gold medal to his trophy case.


Note that the favourites and accompanying percentages were calculated using an average of betting odds on PaddyPower, Bwin, and Skybet as of 1 August. Obviously bookmakers don’t want you to make money, so the odds for the favourites are inflated somewhat (for example on one site the combined winning probability for three athletes in the women’s 200m exceeds 100%). This inflation is reflected in the numbers above. The actual predicted win probability by those bookmakers is therefore a bit lower.

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