OlympicTalk takes a look back at the year in Olympic sports this week. Today, we review summer sports.
They called it the “fallow year” in track and field. Summer Olympic sports took a backseat in 2014 compared to the other three years in the Olympic cycle.
Track and field, aquatics and beach volleyball do not hold World Championships in even-numbered years. Two of the most stunning summer sports performances in 2014 — French pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie breaking a 21-year-old world record and U.S. wrestler Jordan Burroughs‘ 69-match winning streak ending — occurred during the Winter Olympics in February and thus received far less attention.
Once the Sochi Olympics ended, the focus began turning to preparation for the Rio Olympics in 2016.
Track and Field
Usain Bolt underwent foot surgery in March and ran a total of 400 meters in competition this year — two relay legs at the Commonwealth Games, a Brazilian beach race and the rare indoor 100 meters, after entering a Warsaw stadium in a Humvee with Polish basketball player Marcin Gortat.
If Bolt lined up against top-level competition this season, in particular the undefeated American Justin Gatlin, even the great Jamaican admitted he probably would have lost.
Gatlin, four years removed from a four-year doping ban, set personal bests in the 100m and 200m at age 32, emerging as the biggest threat to Bolt since Yohan Blake swept the 100m and 200m at the 2012 Jamaican Olympic trials.
The Olympic women’s 100m and 200m champions also had injury-affected seasons. Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce struggled with a leg problem and fell off the map entirely after mid-July.
Allyson Felix needed nearly one year to fully recover from a torn hamstring at the 2013 World Championships. She allayed concern in the final Diamond League meet, Sept. 5, by running the fastest 200m in the world since the London Games.
David Rudisha wasn’t at his record-breaking best in return from a knee injury. Jenn Suhr took a backseat in the pole vault to Brazil’s best Rio medal hope in track and field, Fabiana Murer. Mo Farah debuted in the marathon. That didn’t go well, either.
Meb Keflezighi became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years in April, a victory with greater meaning given the twin bombings of 2013. In September, Kenyan Dennis Kimetto shaved 26 seconds off the marathon world record in Berlin.
American Tatyana McFadden recorded her second straight wheelchair marathon Grand Slam at the New York City Marathon in November, after winning a Sochi Paralympic silver medal in cross-country skiing.
Ashton Eaton took a break from the decathlon and focused on the 400m hurdles. He clocked a time that would have made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in the non-decathlon event. Expect him to return full-time to 10-event competition in 2015.
Eaton’s wife, Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, won the Commonwealth Games heptathlon title. They’ll aim for matching gold medals at the 2015 World Championships.
Swimming turned into a story of the Big Four in 2014.
Michael Phelps returned from a 20-month competitive retirement in April and was nearing his London Olympic form four months later. In September, Phelps was pulled over driving 84 mph in a 45 mph zone and arrested on DUI charges. He was suspended for six months by USA Swimming, plus the 2015 World Championships, and spent 45 days seeking help in a program in Arizona.
Ryan Lochte returned too quickly from tearing an MCL in a November 2013 run-in with a fan. He retore his knee in April. Lochte won zero individual titles at the Pan Pacific Championships in August, his worst performance at a major international meet since he emerged as a threat to Phelps.
Missy Franklin completed her freshman year at California with an NCAA title in March. Out-of-nowhere back spasms derailed her at the Pan Pacific Championships.
Nobody impressed more than Katie Ledecky, who broke world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles before starting her senior year of high school. Ledecky was also the second-fastest woman in the 200m free in 2014, as she adds shorter distances to her repertoire, expanding medal possibilities at the 2015 Worlds and 2016 Olympics.
Internationally, Japan’s Kosuke Hagino, 20, emerged as the world’s best all-around swimmer, beating Phelps and Lochte in the 200m individual medley at Pan Pacs. Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu routinely won several events at two- and three-day meets, earning her “Iron Lady” nickname.
Texan Simone Biles continued her march toward Rio with the most successful single Olympics or World Championships ever by an American woman. Biles, 17, won four gold medals and one silver medal at Worlds in Nanning, China, in October. She was also scared off the podium by a bee.
On the men’s side, Japan’s Kohei Uchimura boosted his argument as the greatest of all time with his fifth straight World all-around title.
One member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic women’s team competed in 2014 — Kyla Ross, who took all-around bronze at the World Championships.
Gabby Douglas moved from California back to Iowa, then left coach Liang Chow for a second time, moved to Ohio and opted not compete in 2014. She hopes to return in 2015.
McKayla Maroney underwent knee surgery in March, due to coming back too early in 2013 from September 2012 surgery to repair a fractured tibia. She said she needed to have this year’s operation if she wanted to go to the Rio Olympics.
Aly Raisman attended her first U.S. national team camp since the Olympics in October.
Jordyn Wieber, who also hasn’t competed since the Olympics, said in July she’s “still deciding” if she will return to competition.
Basketball: The U.S. men and women swept the FIBA World Cup/World Championships, going undefeated through the tournaments and qualifying both teams for the Rio Olympics. The men, coached by Mike Krzyzewski, won without LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who could rejoin the squad in Rio. The women, coached by Geno Auriemma, included superstars such as Brittney Griner, Maya Moore and Diana Taurasi.
Beach Volleyball: Three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings and Olympic silver medalist April Ross won four FIVB World Tour events in their first full year together. Brazil’s Larissa and Talita partnered midway through the year and experienced greater success, setting up a potential two-team race for the 2015 World title. Americans Phil Dalhausser and Sean Rosenthal won three FIVB World Tour events and finished second in the year-end rankings.
Boxing: Claressa Shields, the 19-year-old who won the first U.S. Olympic women’s boxing gold medal in London, steamrolled to her first World Championship. Marlen Esparza joined her in winning gold.
Triathlon: Gwen Jorgensen completed the greatest season in the six-year history of the World Triathlon Series, winning five straight events, including the season-ending Grand Final in August.
Volleyball: The U.S. women upset top-ranked Brazil and then defeated China in the World Championships final to capture the biggest title in program history in Milan in October.
Olympic Year in Review: Winter Sports