By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published July 27, 2016, in the Jamaica Observer
Here are a few young non-Jamaican Olympians (foreigners) that are expected to produce jaw-dropping performances during the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The 2016 Olympics will see the world’s best athletes converge on the city of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to compete in 306 events over 42 disciplines in 28 sports. Legends such as Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps are expected to add to their already legendary careers. From a Jamaican standpoint, several of the new and upcoming athletes are expected to do well. However, during the 2016 Olympics, several up-and-coming non-Jamaican athletes are expected to perform exceptionally well, scaling new heights of athletic achievement.
GENZEBE DIBABA – Athletics
The Dibaba name and lineage has a deep and a superb athletic history in middle-distance running. Ejegayehu Dibaba was the 10,000m silver medallist at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Tirunesh Dibaba, the younger sister of Ejegayehu, came after and became a three-time Olympic gold medallist, a five-time World Champion and the world record holder in the 5000m. Nonetheless, it’s Genzebe of Ethiopia, the younger sister of both Ejegayehu and Tirunesh, that has the potential to not only outshine her older sisters’ careers, but to also become a mega female superstar of athletics, on par with the likes of Jesse Owens and Usain Bolt from the male side. From 2014 to 2015, Genzebe set indoor world records or indoor world best times in the 1500m, the mile, the 3000m, the two-mile and the 5000m events. In addition, in 2015, she broke the 22-year-old 1500m outdoor world record and was later crowned outdoor world champion of the said event. The belief is that this 25-year-old youth phenom could stun the world at Rio in the 1500m and 5000m with not only gold medals but also world record performances.
KATIE LEDECKY – Swimming
Though Alia Atkinson is the darling of swimming in Jamaica, the darling of world swimming and the woman many consider the female equivalent of Michael Phelps is American Katie Ledecky. At age 15, at the 2012 London Olympics, she produced a bombshell when she won the 800m freestyle in what was the second fastest time ever. Since then, she has won 14 more gold medals in international competitions, four at the 2013 World Championships, and five each at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships and the 2015 World Championships. She is the current world record holder in the 400m, 800m, and 1,500m freestyle events and in the past three years, she has set world records a combined 11 times over these three events: twice in the 400m, four times in the 800m and five times in the 1500m freestyle. At the 2016 Olympics, she will participate in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 4x200m freestyle events. The expectation is that in each event she’ll make a ginormous splash as she treads the waters for gold medals and world record performances. If she does, the 19-year-old will certainly win her fourth consecutive Swimming World Swimmers of the Year Award.
WAYDE VAN NIEKERK – Athletics
The South African gazelle, Wayde van Niekerk, is tipped to create history on the track at the 2016 Rio Olympics over the 400m. The current 400m World Champion has the fourth-fastest time over the 400m, 43.48s, which he set in Beijing last year. His toughest challenge in the quest for Olympic gold will come from former World and Olympic Champion LaShawn Merritt and current Commonwealth and Olympic Champion Kirani James. All three men created history last year when they ran sub-44 seconds in the 400m final at the 2015 World Championships. Van Niekirk, who is the first man to run collectively sub-10 seconds over the 100m, sub-20 seconds over the 200m and sub-44 seconds over the 400m, will have the 20-year-old Olympic record, 43.49s, and the 17-year-old World record, which are both held by Michael Johnson, in his sights. As the 100m and 200m world record holder, Usain Bolt attested to recently, “He has some speed. I must say, he does have some speed.” In the 400m, the expectation is nothing less than a speedy flurry by van Niekirk to track and field Nirvana.
DAFNE SCHIPPERS – Athletics
Netherland native Dafne Schippers is the poised to be the macushla of female athletics. The former European and World junior champion in the heptathlon and the former heptathlon bronze medallist at the 2013 World Championships has been superb since making the switch to the sprints. At last year’s World Championships, she won a silver in the 100m and gold in the 200m. Her time of 21.63s in the 200m final last year has her ranked as the third-best female over the distance behind Florence Griffiths-Joyner and Marion Jones. For 2016, she has the fastest time in the 200m but only the sixth-fastest time over the 100m. Though she lies outside of the top-5 for this season and the top-20 all-time best times in the 100m, she will be hard to beat. In the 100m, her main challenge should come from Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce while over the 200m, it should come from Thompson, who has the fifth fastest time over the 200m, which she did in the same World Championship final last year. In the past two seasons, Schippers has dismantled the US-Jamaican dominance in the sprints and it wouldn’t be surprising if she leaves Rio as a double Olympic champion or even pushing it, a world record holder.
FERNANDO GAVIRIA – Cycling
Twenty-one-year-old Fernando Gaviria might hand himself an early birthday present if he wins the Men’s omnium event at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Gaviria, the reigning two-time world champion in the event, is the heavy favourite to win the multi-race event, which determines the best all-around cyclist in the world. Four years ago, the Columbian won the omnium at the Junior World Championships and since then he has won the omnium at seven different events: the 2013 Pan American Track Championships, the 2014 Central American and Caribbean Games, the 2015 South American Games, the 2015 World Cup, the 2015 Pan American Games, and the 2015 and 2016 World Championships. At the Olympics, the young, fresh, belligerent and alarmingly gifted Gaviria storming around the track in search of gold should be a sight to see and this is an event that cannot be missed.
CASTER SEMENYA – Athletics
South African athlete, 25-year-old Caster Semenya has been through a lot during her seven-year senior career. At age 18, she became the world champion in the 800m and was submerged in a gender test row that almost broke her mentally. Having no longer to take hormones to decrease her naturally high testosterone levels, she has emerged stronger with three of the four best times this year in the 800m, including her personal best of 1:55.33s. Even though this time puts her 12th on the all-time list for the 800m, at the Olympics, she is expected to improve her overall rank in the event and is the prohibitive favourite to win gold. Furthermore, she will also be contesting the 400m at the Olympics and it is this event, in which she ran a personal best in earlier this year, that she’s expected to pull a few surprises if she medals, and much more wins the event.
Even though all these athletes are non-Jamaicans and are all 25 years and younger, they should star at this and possibly future Olympic Games. Seeing their potential world record and/or breathtaking performances at Rio will certainly enhance your viewership pleasure of this year’s Olympics.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is a freelance sportswriter and sports columnist.
This blog article was also published in the Jamaica Observer on July 27, 2016.