Usain Bolt and Ashton Eaton enter the World Track and Field Championships as Olympic champions and world-record holders, but both will be under threat in Beijing next week.
Neither Bolt nor Eaton has shown championship form in the sprints or decathlon, respectively, since his 2013 World Championships triumph.
At the Bird’s Nest, their greatest competition will come from past champions.
Here’s a look at five men’s events to watch at Worlds:
Sunday, Aug. 23 — 100m — 9:15 a.m. ET
The marquee event of the meet. Usain Bolt‘s only defeat in a World/Olympic 100m was when he false started out of the final at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. But cracks have formed in the last two years. Bolt raced 400 meters in competition all of 2014, sparsely competing due to March foot surgery that year. He was unimpressive and injured again this spring and summer until his last meet July 24, when Bolt ran 9.87 twice in a little over an hour in London.
Still, that’s not nearly the fastest in the world this year.
Enter Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion and 2012 bronze medalist five years removed from a four-year doping ban. Gatlin is running the fastest of his life at age 33. Gatlin has clocked 9.80 or faster six times since the start of 2014. Nobody else in the world has done so once in that span.
The 2007 World champion Tyson Gay and former world-record holder Asafa Powell are also in the medal mix.
Bolt and Gatlin are expected to go head to head later in the 200m (Thursday, Aug. 27) and the 4x100m relay (Saturday, Aug. 29).
Monday, Aug. 24 — 3000m Steeplechase — 9:15 a.m. ET
An American has never won a Worlds steeplechase medal (the first Worlds were in 1983). The last U.S. medal in an Olympic steeplechase came in 1984.
But ponytailed Evan Jager could end that drought in Beijing. Jager, who finished sixth in his Olympic debut in 2012, broke the American record in the event on the Fourth of July in the most heartbreaking way imaginable.
Of the world’s 22 fastest times this year, 19 have been recorded among seven different Kenyans. The other three by Jager, including that American record ranking No. 2 in the world for 2015.
Kenyans have won the last eight Olympic steeplechase titles, plus the last four World Championships. The country’s star is the dancing Ezekiel Kemboi, the 2004 and 2012 Olympic champion and three-time reigning World champion.
Thursday, Aug. 27 — Triple Jump — 7:10 a.m. ET
The most exciting track and field event this season has arguably been the men’s triple jump. U.S. Olympic champion Christian Taylor and Cuban Pedro Pablo Pichardo have exchanged 18-plus-meter jumps, a threshold only three other men had ever eclipsed prior to this year.
If Taylor and Pichardo can’t live up to their 18-meter status, look out for American Will Claye, the only man to earn medals at the last two World Championships.
Friday, Aug. 28, and Saturday, Aug. 29 — Decathlon
American Ashton Eaton is the reigning Olympic and World champion and world-record holder, but he hasn’t completed a decathlon in more than two years.
Eaton, 27, took 2014 off from the decathlon since it was the one year in the quadrennium that didn’t have an Olympics or World Championships. He tested himself in the 400m hurdles, and he performed pretty well. Eaton pulled out of his only scheduled decathlon so far this season on May 30.
If Eaton is to be dethroned in Beijing, it might be at the hands of the last man to defeat him — countryman Trey Hardee. Hardee captured the 2009 and 2011 World title and overcame injuries since, emerging with his best decathlon point total in six years at the U.S. Championships on June 25-26. The total, 8,725 points, is the highest in the world since Eaton’s last decathlon, an 8,809 at the 2013 Worlds in Moscow.
Sunday, Aug. 30 — 1500m — 7:45 a.m. ET
The metric mile features two Americans with global championship medals — Leo Manzano, the Olympic silver medalist, and Matthew Centrowitz, the 2011 World bronze medalist and 2013 World silver medalist.
They will both probably be chasing loping Kenyan Asbel Kiprop on the final lap. Catching Kiprop is a tall order. Nobody could do it at the 2011 or 2013 World Championships or on July 17, when Kiprop ran the fifth fastest 1500m of all time and best in 14 years. The best bets may be countryman Silas Kiplagat and Algerian Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi.