Track and field are some of the most exciting events in the Olympic Games, but after the weeks of hype, the events themselves are so short -- less than 10 seconds in the men's 100-meter dash -- that it seems like they're over before a casual fan has time to get a vicarious adrenaline rush. While you were still trying to figure out who is in lane six — blink! — that bunch of crouching tall ladies are now wandering around waving flags and/or crying. What happened? What's a heptathlon? Relax. Let The Atlantic Wire do your pre-race homework for you. You've been introduced to the women's Olympic gymnastics team, and their mortal enemies, through GIFs. Now it's time to meet the men and women of the track and field team.
Chaunté Lowe is going to her third Olympic Games even though she's given birth to two babies. Lowe, 28, won the Olympic trials in the high jump in February and holds the American record for indoor (2.02 meters) and outdoor (2.05 meters). After having her second child in April 2011, she explained on Facebook that, "The doctor said I should wait six weeks, but I don’t have that kind of time. However I did wait 48 hours, so that should count for something!" She's relatively short for a high jumper at 5'9", though Dick Fosbury, originator of the "Fosbury Flop" technique Lowe and most of her competitors use, says she's technically sound. But what people love about Lowe is how she's charismatic and plays to the crowd. (Still photo via Associated Press.)
Here she is flopping to win at trials, via the tumblr Bashful Hound.
Allyson Felix is going to her third Olympics, and she's only 26. Felix won silver in the 200-meters in 2004 and 2008, as well as gold in Beijing for the 4 x 400-meter relay.
Despite having the slowest reaction time out of the blocks, Felix tied for third in the 100-meter sprint with Jeneba Tarmoh, who had a much faster start. Felix and Tarmoh were going to have an unusual run off, but Tarmoh, who had originally been declared the winner of their tie, refused to take part. So, Felix got the team spot. Here's a GIF of their incredible tie:
Here is a completely gratuitous shot of her working out, via Healthy Bee, to show her amazing athleticism.
Lolo Jones runs the 100-meter hurdles. She's been training four hours a day for 12 years for a "12-second race," she says. Perhaps you have heard of her for simultaneously being a glamorous Olympian and a virgin. She's 29.
In a partnership with Red Bull, researchers are using computer modeling to figure out how to make Jones even faster. The sponsored scientists found that while Jones' hurdling technique was solid, her first eight steps before the hurdling begins had room for improvement. "What coach Shaver told us was that if she gets to the first hurdle in middle of the group, she wins the race 100 percent of the time," one such scientist reported to the Associated Press. "If she doesn't get to the first hurdle with the group, then she's got a 50-50 shot." Here's that hurdling technique in action, as captured by another sponsor.
Here's that first part of the race, which reportedly could be tweaked, via USWNTGIFS:
Here's Jones doing just your average workout, via Healthy Bee:
Brittney Reese's nickname is "The Beast." Reese got into long jumping because she wanted a delicious soda. "The school's track and field coach needed to find a long jumper, so he took the girls basketball team outside, including Reese," Sports Illustrated's Nick Zaccardi reports. "Whoever leapt the farthest would win a Coke and a spot on the track team." She won. Though she finished in fifth place in Beijing, now she dominates the long jump. Reese won gold in the 2009 and 2011 world championships as well as the 2010 and 2012 world indoor championships, the latter at which she set an American and world indoor record with a jump of 7.23 meters. That's 23 feet and 8.64 inches.
She won trials, too, via Bashful Hound:
Carmalita Jeter is "best sprinter most Americans probably haven’t heard of yet," according to NBC. Or not, as she introduced herself this way in a Washington Post profile: "My name is Carmalita Jeter, and people know me as the fastest woman alive." She won trials in June, and "was the fastest American woman three years in a row and the fastest in the world in 2009 and 2011," the New York Times explains. By the way, she pronounces Jeter like "vetter" not like "Peter," like the baseball player for the Yankees.
Here's Jeter winning the 100-meter dash at worlds in 2011:
Hyleas Fountain won the heptathlon -- a seven-event contest with 100m hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200m sprint, long jump, javelin, and an 800m race -- at trials. She's 31 and won her fifth national title in June. Fountain won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics, making her the second American woman to medal in the event. You can see her doing the high jump via AthleticsGifs
Jenn Suhr won pole vault at trials in June. She won a silver in Beijing in 2008. Though Suhr trains in an airplane hanger and has almost hit the ceiling a few times.
In college, Suhr was a basketball player, but was convinced to try pole vaulting by the man who eventually became her husband, Rick Suhr. Rick told the Associated Press that when she first started, her technique looked like a "crawfish crawling over the bar." But now she vaults gracefully. She practices her form underwater in a deep indoor pool.
Ashton Eaton has a good chance win gold in the decathlon in London, after setting a world record at trials. Eaton earned 9,039 points, destroying the American record set in 1992. (The decathlon is scored by points -- you earn more points if you clear certain benchmarks in each event. So if you run the 100-meter dash in 11.756 seconds, you get 700 points, but if you run it in 10.395 seconds, you get 1,000 points. Run faster, you get more points, throw stuff farther, get more points, jump higher, get more points.)
Eaton is very powerful, which makes him good at the 400-meters, the 100-meter dash, and the long jump.
His hurdling looks very smooth (you can see him in lane 7):
But his weakness is the throwing events, like the javelin and shot put:
Tyson Gay had aimed to win four gold medals in Beijing, but was injured not long before the games, and didn't win any. His personal best in the 100-meter dash was at the Shanghai Gold Grand Prix in 2009, when he ran the 100-meter spring in 9.69 seconds, which matched Usain Bolt's gold-medal winning time in Beijing.
You can see that race here:
Gay had hip surgery last year, and showed he was making a comeback at a meet this month in Paris. Watch how despite being slow off the blocks, Gay comes from way behind to win (he's the guy in blue in lane 5):
Gay came in second at trials. He says he thinks he'll have to have a time of 9.7 seconds or less to medal.
Justin Gatlin won the 100-meter sprint in 2004 in Athens, as well a a silver and a bronze. But in 2006, he tested positive for a banned drug, and was suspended for eight years. In 2007, that was cut down to four years. But as the Los Angeles Times's Christopher Connors explains, that still meant some of his prime running years were lost. Gatlin's now 30, and won trials with the fastest ever time for a 30-something.
Sprinting seems like an aerobic sport -- the kind that requires huge lung capacity to pump oxygen to the lungs, just like cycling or swimming. But it's not, as Time's Bill Saporito explains, it's actually an anaerobic sport, like weight lifting. That's because "the distance is too short to get oxygen pumped down from the heart. You just drain whatever’s in the leg muscles." You can see Gatlin's strength in his crazy flexing traps and chest:
Lashawn Merritt won the 400-meter race at trials on his birthday this year with a time that was the fastest in the world in 2012.
He won that race in Beijing in 2008 by an amazing margin:
And look at his smile!
He also took home a gold medal with the 1,600-meter relay in 2008. Merritt is coming back "after receiving a 21-month ban for taking the penis enlargement product, ExtenZe," Fox News reports. Let this be a lesson to us all: Even the Olympic gods among us have their own insecurities.
Note: Die-hard track and field fans are not as prolific at creating loving GIFs dedicated to the style, form, and technique of these athletes as gymnastics fans. The tumblr FuckYeahPoleVault, for example, has a single GIF, and it's of a Russian. Dear track fans: Please make more GIFs! Ones highlighting what makes these athletes special.