Kerron Clement in the 400m hurdles at the London 2012 Olympic Games (© Getty Images)
Could Kerron Clement return to the top of the podium at a major championship after a seven-year absence?
It certainly seems like Rio could be the place where the 2007 and 2009 world champion will have the spotlight shone on him again after a long hiatus.
He goes to Rio as the fastest entrant, having run a season’s best of 48.40 in his last outing, a victory at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London last month.
Into the bargain, after fading badly in the final at the US Olympic Trials where Clement won, world leader Johnny Dutch did not make the US team for Rio.
The stars seem to be aligning further in Clement’s favour as the three men who finished in front of him and got on the podium at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 don’t look anything like medal contenders so far this summer, or are absent.
Kenya’s surprise world champion Nicholas Bett has been unconvincing this year, with a season's best of 49.31, and Bahamas’ world bronze medallist Jeffrey Gibson has gone under 49 seconds with a 2016 best of 48.96 but lies down in equal-18th place on the world list. World silver medallist Dennis Kudryavtsev is missing due to the sanctions against Russian athletes.
The biggest danger to Clement’s gold medal hopes, in what has been a modest year for the event, may come from Turkey’s Cuban-born Yasmani Copello.
Copello was sixth in Beijing, two places behind Clement, but he reduced his national record to 48.42 in the European Championships semi-final before going on to win the gold medal in more difficult conditions in Amsterdam.
Traditionally, all three men who wear the US vest at a major championship can be considered medal prospects but that might not be the case this time.
Behind Clement at the US Olympic Trials was the unheralded University of Texas student Byron Robinson, who clocked 48.79, after having not even made the NCAA (US collegiate) finals the previous month.
Michael Tinsley, the Olympic silver medallist in 2012, was third at the US Trials after good wins at the IAAF Diamond League meetings in Shanghai and Eugene but trailed home a poor eighth in London so there has to be some concerns over his shape.
Culson's big chance as well
By contrast, Javier Culson was third in London four years ago and got silver medals at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. This year the Puerto Rican lies fourth on the 2016 world list with his 48.63, clocked when finishing second behind Clement at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London and appears to be rounding nicely into form at the right time.
Immediately behind Culson on the world list are Jamaica’s Annsert Whyte and Japan’s Keisuke Nozawa, who have almost identical bests of 48.66 and 48.67. However, it will be intriguing to see how this pair perform as neither of them have made the final of a major championship final before.
Jaheel Hyde is the two-time world U20 champion and won his second title in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz just a few weeks ago.
It will be a tall order for the Jamaican to win in Rio – although nobody needs much reminding of Keshorn Walcott’s back-to-back javelin triumphs in 2012. No teenager has ever won the 400m hurdles Olympic title but qualifying for the Olympics alone in such a hotly-disputed event for Jamaica shows that he has prodigious talent that is coupled with competitive maturity.
South Africa’s LJ van Zyl is also running well and, in a year when no one really stands out form the crowd, he could also surprise.
Van Zyl is not back to his 2011 best, when he rattled off a string of runs below 48 seconds and took the World Championships silver medal, but with a season’s best of 48.67 and some solid performances on the international circuit, it would be unwise to bet against him raising his game in Rio.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF