6:58 PM EDT, August 23, 2011
How's this for a doomsday scenario:
The U.S. men could come home without a single gold medal from the World Track & Field Championships that begin Saturday in Daegu, South Korea.
Yes, that's pretty unlikely for a country whose men never have won fewer than three golds in the 12 previous outdoor world meets and have won fewer than six only twice. (The best effort in the biennial event was 10 golds in 2007, but that dropped to 6 in 2009.)
Why could it happen this time?
No U.S. athlete is an odds-on favorite in the 22 individual events.
Only three U.S. men, high hurdler David Oliver, high jumper Jesse Williams and decathlete Ashton Eaton, arrived in Daegu with the 2011 world-leading performance in his event.
Both Oliver, who looked like a heavy favorite earlier in the season, and Williams have lost in their last three Diamond League meets. But Williams' chances for gold improved when defending champion Yaroslav Rybakov of Russia said Tuesday a lingering foot injury had forced him to withdraw.
Relays? With Tyson Gay injured and Michael Rodgers withdrawn after a doping violation, the only chance for the men's sprint relay would be if Jamaica drops the baton. (Of course the U.S. didn't have much of a chance even with Gay and Rodgers, the two fastest U.S. men in the 100 this year.)
With veteran Jeremy Wariner injured and four world meet debutants among the six runners in the 4 x 400-meter relay pool, there is a chance the U.S. will not be able to hold off the Bahamas in an event U.S. teams have won in every world meet but 1991 (silver) and 1983 (dropped baton). Wariner may have struggled this season, but he was a key part of the gold-medal relays in two Olympics and two worlds.
Best bet for an individual U.S. men's gold? Decathletes Eaton, 18th at the 2009 worlds or Trey Hardee, the defending world champion. They rank 1-2 on the 2011 world list.
What happens in the decathlon, which ends Sunday, could set a tone for the rest of the team.
Those who also have a gold chance, other than Oliver and Williams, include 2007 world champion Bernard Lagat (5,000 meters); Jeshua Anderson, Bershawn Jackson, and Angelo Taylor (400 hurdles); defending champion LaShawn Merritt and Tony McQuay (400 meters); Adam Nelson, Reese Hoffa and defending champion Christian Cantwell (shotput).
With all those potential gold medalists, it seems impossible none will stand atop the awards podium.
But I'm thinking the U.S. men will take fewer than a handful of gold medals, if a handful means one for each finger.
It would be hard to give a thumbs-up to that.
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