Rory Jiwani looks ahead to the athletics at Tokyo 2020, where he has a strong fancy in the men's 1500m and is looking to oppose favourites elsewhere.
1pt Akani Simbine to win men’s 100m at 10/1 (Unibet)
1pt Shericka Jackson to win women’s 200m at 7/1 (BetVictor)
2pts Steven Gardiner to win men’s 400m at 7/2 (Unibet, William Hill)
5pts Timothy Cheruiyot to win men’s 1500m at 4/5 (Ladbrokes, Coral)
1pt Sandi Morris to win women’s pole vault at 6/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral)
2pts Mariya Lasitskene to win women’s high jump at 6/1 (Ladbrokes, Coral)
1pt Wojciech Nowicki to win men’s hammer at 6/1 (BetVictor)
For many people, including myself, athletics is the highlight of any Olympic Games. There’s also plenty to look forward to on the betting front with a number of short-priced favourites to take on. Mondo Duplantis, Yulimar Rojas and Ryan Crouser are not among them.
I didn’t have a strong view on the men’s 100m for a long time. Trayvon Bromell has been the standout this season and he should be favourite. While I’d really like to see him win after his stunning comeback from injuries and mental health issues, I think he can be beaten.
Bromell has the two best times of the year but they have both come on fast tracks. His 9.77 in Miramar, Florida can’t be taken at face value as Marvin Bracey, who clocked a PB of 9.85 in the second heat, hasn’t broken 10 seconds anywhere else this season. Kyree King ran a PB of 9.97 that day and hasn’t gone sub-10 before or since. Similar can be said of the US Trials where the sprint times for men and women were clearly quicker than average.
He’s odds-on in most places with a bit of even money about. Ronnie Baker was second in the trials and a general 5/1 which isn’t a bad price. But I’m really taken by AKANI SIMBINE who has drifted to a very backable 10/1. The South African has been consistently quick this season and won at this month’s Gyulai István Memorial in Hungary, pulverising a decent field in 9.84. It was only when I saw those odds on offer with Unibet that I really started to delve into the race properly.
He was beaten by Baker in Monaco three days later with Bromell suffering his first defeat of the season. What puts me off Baker is that he has never previously run in a major global competition while Simbine has just missed the podium at the last two Worlds and at Rio 2016 where he was fifth. Most of the runners who have finished in front of him - Usain Bolt, Christian Coleman, Justin Gatlin - aren’t about. One who has, Andre de Grasse, hasn’t been in great form over 100m. I think Simbine will be right in the mix and he’s a big price to take gold.
The women’s 200m is a very interesting race and there’s always the chance of withdrawals with Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce and reigning champion Elaine Thompson-Herah running the 100m. So is Dina Asher-Smith but her best chance is in the 200m where she is, of course, the current world champion.
Six months ago I’d have said Shaune Miller-Uibo was a cert for this but she hasn’t been at her best over this distance this term and I suspect she’ll opt to defend her title in the 400m which looks an easier race. The warm favourite is Gabby Thomas who came from nowhere to win the US Trials in a new world lead although bear in mind what I said earlier about those times.
Thomas had not even looked like a contender to make Tokyo at the start of the season and her second fastest time in history in Eugene was something of a shock. She is seriously lacking in big-race experience and has only competed a handful of times abroad including just one Diamond League meeting. At 6/4, she has to be taken on.
For whatever reason, Asher-Smith has run just twice over 200m and this puts me off backing her for gold. But SHERICKA JACKSON has run consistently well this season with her only defeat over half a lap coming to Fraser Pryce in the Jamaican trials. Jackson won 400m bronze at Rio 2016 and two other bronzes from the World Championships over one lap, but concentrating on the shorter sprint has really paid dividends.
She clocked a personal best in the Jamaican trials and backed that up with victory in the Stockholm Diamond League followed by a second sub-22 run to beat Miller-Uibo in the aforementioned Gyulai István Memorial. At 7/1 with BetVictor, I’m definitely a backer.
Michael Norman is odds-on for the 400m but that was also the case at the 2019 World Championships where he tamely went out in the semi-finals. Maybe it was down to fatigue in an unusually long season or injury, but it was a strange turn of events and one which would make you think more than twice about backing him at a short price.
STEVEN GARDINER took advantage in Doha and I think he’s primed to win another major global title and perhaps complete a Bahamian 400m double. He was quite superb at the Worlds and I’m not even sure Norman at his best would have beaten him that day.
Norman has run some quick times this season but the fastest man in the world this year is Randolph Ross who clocked an incredible 43.85 at the NCAA Championships a week before the US Trials held on the same track. Ross was third at the trials having not had too much time to recover from his stellar performance, and that will surely be a factor in Tokyo. Bryce Deadmon is the other American qualifier but I don’t think the US trio is as strong as it looks. Reigning champion Wayde van Niekerk has been troubled by injuries all season, while London 2012 hero Kirani James doesn’t look the force of old.
Apart from a DNF in May in Texas, Gardiner is unbeaten this season over 400m and has had two fine mid-44s in the past month or so. He has the experience and I think he has the speed to add Olympic gold to his world crown. And 7/2 with Unibet is fair.
I’m not usually one for odds-on shots but I will make an exception for TIMOTHY CHERUIYOT in the men’s 1500m. He goes to Tokyo despite finishing fourth in the Kenyan trials, his first defeat at the distance in over two years, with the 18-year-old runner-up not taking enough doping tests previously to take an Olympic place. Cheruiyot was helped away after that race but whatever ailment he had is a memory now after two wins in Europe this month.
The second was in a very rapid time ahead of Spain’s new sensation Mo Katir and Jakob Ingebrigtsen who must be sick of the sight of Cheruiyot’s backside by now. I don’t know why the Norwegian hasn’t switched to 5000m where he would surely have a stronger chance of gold.
I’ve watched a lot of 1500m greats down the years and Cheruiyot is right up with them. He has incredible tactical speed and always seems to be in the right place no matter how the race is run. I would have him priced up at 1/3 (he does win more than three races in every four) so the 4/5 with Ladbrokes and Coral is well worth taking.
Moving to the field events and the women’s pole vault looks open with reigning Olympic champion Ekaterini Stefanidi out of sorts and world champ Anzhelika Sidorova below her best. The favourite is Katie Nageotte who won the US trials in a sparkling PB of 4.95m.
At 30, Nageotte is something of a late bloomer having only moved into world class a couple of years ago. She finished seventh at the 2019 World Championships and there would have to be some doubt over her repeating that Eugene form with Olympic medals up for grabs.
Her compatriot SANDI MORRIS started the season with some excellent indoor performances but then struggled with her run-up and confidence. On her blog - vaulthigh.tumblr.com - she admits she was lucky to make it through the trials having ripped off some skin on her hand days before the competition.
Then came Monaco where she had to borrow poles from London 2012 gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie after hers failed to arrive. But she returned to winning ways in Gateshead this month and says she’s feeling good again. Morris is a fine seasoned competitor and has taken silver in the last three major global events including at Rio. This could be her time and the 6/1 is a nice price.
The women’s high jump has a short-priced favourite in Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh who is trading around even-money. It is hard to knock the 19-year-old’s form this season and she has does have experience of big competitions having won silver at the last World Championships.
The athlete who beat her in Doha was the great MARIYA LASITSKENE who claimed her third consecutive world crown. She would surely have won gold at Rio 2016 were it not for Russia’s near-blanket ban in athletics but gets her chance in Tokyo.
After a couple of defeats early in the season, including in horrible conditions at May’s Gateshead Diamond League, the 28-year-old has returned to form in the last month and cleared two metres in Finland fortnight ago. While she hasn’t been in the form to challenge Stefka Kostadinova’s world record of late, she is still a formidable jumper, and 6/1 is too big.
My last bet comes in the men’s hammer where four-time world champion Pawel Fajdek is the even-money favourite. The Pole has the three best throws of the year - going close to 83m - but has been beaten in his last two competitions, failing to exceed 80m on both occasions. He also missed out on the final on both previous Olympic appearances: no-marking at London 2012 and inexplicably managing just 72.00m in Rio.
Fajdek and Rudy Winkler each have four of the top eight distances in 2021 with the latter having a spectacular year. The American reached the 2019 World Championship final thanks to a personal best of 77.06m in qualifying but has improved his PB by over 5m since then. He was well short of a place in the Rio final and this is the first time he goes to a global competition as a genuine challenger, where he’s up against some talented and very experienced rivals. I’m just not tempted by quotes of around 3/1.
The next two in the betting are around the 5/1 mark. Ukrainian teenager Mykhaylo Kokhan broke 80m for the first (and only) time to win the Gyulai István Memorial in Hungary where Fajdek was third. The runner-up that day was compatriot WOJCIECH NOWICKI who has taken bronze at the last three World Championships, all behind his compatriot Fajdek, and bronze at Rio 2016.
With no one else going over 80m this season, the winner should come from these four. Nowicki has never really gone into those previous competitions in 80m+ form, but in 2021 he has achieved it five times and beat Fajdek last time out in Wladylawowo with a season’s best of 81.36. That isn’t as far as Fajdek or Winkler, but his big-meet experience makes BetVictor’s 6/1 a generous price.
Posted at 1725 BST on 27/07/21
We are committed in our support of safer gambling. Recommended bets are advised to over-18s and we strongly encourage readers to wager only what they can afford to lose.
If you are concerned about your gambling, please call the National Gambling Helpline / GamCare on 0808 8020 133.