There are just four months left until the opening day of the athletics program at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, but questions remain whether some countries will make the trip. Not just one, but at least two countries, Russia and Kenya—true powerhouses of the sport—risk facing an unprecedented ban from the Games.
The fate of Russia, banned from international competition since November, will be decided in June. What are the odds of Russian athletics team staying at home? Close to, if not, 50/50. It could really go either way. For now, let’s try to see which countries would benefit the most if Russia is not in the running.
Please note: Sprints includes hurdles and relays. Field includes multievents
With Russia in
The World Championships Beijing 2015, the worst one for Russia, would be a good proxy of how the country would perform in Rio. The absence of race walkers took a toll on a medal count, as normally those medals would account for at least a third of a total tally. But Russia would get some reinforcement from decorated ladies coming back from maternity leave.
The queen of pole vault Yelena Isinbayeva can pull off a gold in a difficult situation. The 400m star Antonina Krivoshapka came back from a maternity leave with an indoor season opener of 51.70. If not an individual medal for her, then a 4x400m relay medal would be in order. Add to that Yuliya Gushchina (400m, relays), Mariya Abakumova (javelin throw) and the outlook gets even more optimistic.
This past indoor season, with domestic competition in place only, Russia put nine athletes in the unofficial world’s top-ten. That number, added to potential comebacks and some success in throws and relays means we have Russia penned for 11 medals (4 golds, 4 silvers, 3 bronzes). That is: four in sprints and hurdles and seven in field and combined events. As with the Beijing world champs, this too would represent a new low for country in terms of its total medal haul.
The US, coming off of a dominant showing in Portland at the home World Indoor Championships, is looking at as many as 24 medals total in Rio. Kenya and Ethiopia score 14 and eight potential medals in our prediction, Jamaica—nine, and Great Britain—seven.
With Russia out
If Russia was out, the biggest winners would be the US with extra podium spots in the women’s high jump, men’s 110m and 400m hurdles. Plus, potential one-two medals for Jamaica (women’s 400m or 4x400m relay, women’s triple jump), as well as Great Britain (4x400m relay, women’s long jump).
If Kenya is out, then the biggest “winner” seems to be not even Ethiopia, but once again the US, with a number of endurance events representatives having shown their best intentions last summer.
In Beijing, the Americans placed 5th-7th in the men’s 5000m, 5th-6th in the men’s steeplechase, adding to Galen Rupp’s fifth place in the 10,000m. Same on the women’s side: Shannon Rowbury’s seventh place in the 1500m, fourth and sixth places in the 10,000m by Molly Huddle and Shalane Flanagan, respectively.
Removing two top teams from the competition would open potential podium spots for a number of countries. But it seems like the States as the country with the most diversified team, is looking at the biggest advantage. Fueled by highest ambition and benefiting from a string of past and upcoming global events held in country, the Team USA is as deep as ever and ready to pounce.