The United States would love to reclaim the Olympic 1,600-meter gold medal that eluded the American men four years ago in London. The team from the Bahamas, who ended a U.S. win streak in the event in 2012, would like to make it two in a row.
Either way, a former Texas Tech star could directly influence the outcome.
Gil Roberts will be trying to win his first Olympic medal for the U.S., and the Bahamas’ Michael Mathieu will be trying to medal for the third Olympics in a row when the two-night 1,600 relay competition gets under way Friday in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’m going to be really disappointed in the American team if we don’t have a great chance of getting the gold medal,” Tech coach Wes Kittley said Thursday, “because there’s some outstanding people on that relay.”
The top star for the U.S. is LaShawn Merritt, the 2008 gold medalist in the 400, but he settled for bronze on Sunday when South Africa’s Wayde van Niekirk set a new world record in 43.03 seconds. Roberts was ninth in the 400, but Kittley said Roberts is scheduled to run in both rounds of the relay.
“Gil’s 44.6,” Kittley said. “He ought to give us a low-44 split, no matter what leg they decide to put him on.”
The U.S.’ other possible choices include David Verburg, who joined Merritt and Roberts as Team USA’s 400-meter men, former Florida stars Tony McQuay and Arman Hall and Kyle Clemons, a former Texas state champion at Rowlett who ran collegiately for Kansas.
Verburg, McQuay and Merritt ran on the U.S.’ gold medal-winning team at last year’s IAAF World Championships. This is the 27-year-old Roberts’ first Olympics, but he anchored the U.S.’ 1,600 relay that won the world title in 2012 at Istanbul.
The men’s first round is at 7:10 p.m. Friday, the finals at 8:35 p.m. Saturday.
Four years ago, the Bahamas won the gold in a national record 2 minutes, 56.72 seconds, using four men who ran collegiately in the U.S. One was Mathieu, an all-American on three Texas Tech relays in 2005 and 2006.
Now Mathieu’s 32 and trying to add to his Olympics medals collection that also includes the Bahamas’ relay team’s silver in 2008.
“Three Olympics in a row, that’s incredible,” Kittley said. “The Bahamas, it’s not as hard to make that team, in all honesty, but to stay healthy that long, just to be able to run, is impressive.”
More incredible is Bahamas stalwart Chris “Fireman” Brown, who turns 38 in October. He’s back from the gold medal team in London, as is former Texas A&M standout Demetrius Pinder and Ramon Miller. The Bahamians are boosted by 20-year-old Steven Gardiner, who last year broke Brown’s national record in the 400, running 44.27.
Also looking for medals will be a pair of former South Plains College standouts — Renny Quow and Jereem Richards — in the relay pool for Trinidad & Tobago.
Quow, who turns 29 next week, has a world championships bronze medal in the 400 from 2009 and a world championships silver medal last year with his country’s 1,600 relay.
The 2012 loss in London was the first for the U.S. men on the track since 1972. The U.S. boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980 and was disqualified after winning the gold in 2000 at Sydney.