Usain Bolt thinks his defense of the blue riband sprint title could be the fastest race ever and that is certainly a possibility given the quality of the potential field.
The world record holder’s most obvious challenger is training partner Yohan Blake, who benefited from Bolt’s disqualification to claim the world title last year and beat his more famous compatriot at the Jamaican trials.
Blake ran the fastest time of the year (9.75 seconds) to win that race in Kingston and is the form runner in the Jamaican team with Bolt recovering from a hamstring problem.
Asafa Powell has run more sub-10 second races than anyone ever and has the pure speed to win gold if he can only banish the psychological demons that strike when he competes on the biggest stages.
A Jamaican podium sweep is conceivable but a strong American trio, paced this year by 2004 Athens Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, will be keen to stake claims of their own.
Gatlin has hit top form again after returning from a four-year doping ban and won the U.S. trial ahead of Tyson Gay, the second fastest man of all time.
This race could become the finest 200m in the history of the Games and it is all about two Jamaican training partners; defending Olympic champion Bolt and Blake.
If Bolt wins he will become the first man to win the event twice but it will not be straightforward.
Blake has caught the world’s attention with 100m and 200m victories over Bolt in the Jamaican trials and some observers believe his explosive starts could give him the edge on the night.
Blake’s time in Kingston of 19.80 was the fastest this year but it still lags behind Bolt’s world record of 19.19, set in Berlin the year after his memorable win at the Beijing Games.
With Gay and Gatlin focusing on the 100m, America’s challenge comes in the shape of Wallace Spearmon, disqualified for running outside of his lane in Beijing in 2008.
Frenchman Cristophe Lemaitre, who ran 19.91 in London in July, is Europe’s best hope of a medal.
American LaShawn Merritt, the year’s fastest 400m runner, and Grenadian world champion Kirani James are joint favorites for gold.
Merritt, competing in London after winning an appeal over an IOC ruling to ban him from the Games as punishment for a 21-month doping ban, lost by three-hundredths of a second to the Caribbean runner at the 2011 world championships in South Korea.
The American, who has run the first and second fastest times this year, topping out at 44.12 in June’s U.S. trials, is nursing his way back from a hamstring strain in Monaco in July.
If Merritt does win in London, he will join world record holder Michael Johnson as the only man to win back-to-back 400m titles. Johnson won gold in 1996 and 2000.
As well as James, Merritt could face competition from world junior champion Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic, whose 44.45 victory in Hengelo in May was a national record and made him the second fastest man in the world this year.
Holding the world record, five of the seven fastest times of all time and the four fastest times this year over two laps, Kenya’s David Rudisha will start as overwhelming favorite for gold.
The 23-year-old missed the Beijing Games through injury before being boxed in at the 2009 world championships and it will take something similar to stop him in London.
Among those trying is Ethiopian teenager Mohammad Aman, who is one of the few runners to have beaten Rudisha and ended the world champion’s long winning streak last year.
Two other teenagers, Botswana’s world junior champion Nigel Amos and Rudisha’s compatriot Abraham Kipchirchir Rotich, have posted decent times this year but are likely to battle for the silver and bronze.
Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, the world’s fastest man this year, will have one thing on his mind in London; to win the 1,500m properly.
The 23-year-old, who won a first world championships 1500m gold for Kenya last year, has often expressed his dissatisfaction at taking Olympic gold in Beijing after Rashid Ramzi was stripped of his title for a doping offense.
Kiprop is in great form, running the first sub 3:29 performance since 2004 with a time of 3:28.88 in Monaco.
A Kenyan clean sweep could be on the cards, with Commonwealth Games champion Silas Kiplagat, runner-up to Kiprop at the world championships in Daegu, and youngster Nixon Chebseba both in with a chance of a podium finish.
Mo Farah will have already had a shot at Olympic glory in the 10,000m by the time this event starts but as favorite, the pressure will remain the same for the world champion bidding to become Britain’s first long-distance medalist.
Farah has won each of his four 5,000m outings this year, including a confidence-boosting early June 12:56.98 run in Eugene, United States, where he beat many of the world’s best.
The Ethiopian contingent will not include world record holder Kenenisa Bekele after youngsters Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet edged him out with huge times in Paris.
Gebremeskel’s world-leading 12:46:81 was also the fifth fastest of all time with Gebrhiwet’s the seventh fastest ever. The race itself saw the first 10 runners all cross the line in a quicker time than Farah has run this year.
Isiah Kiplangat Koech, 18, looks like Kenya’s strongest medal hope, while America’s Galen Rupp – Farah’s training partner – and veteran double world champion Bernard Lagat should not be discounted.
European champion Farah will bid to become the first Briton to win a long distance gold in the men’s 10,000m and settle a recent demon of having let victory in the world championships slip away in the final moments last year.
The Somali-born 29-year-old, who is enjoying a rising profile since moving to America in 2011 and switching to coach Alberto Salazar, will go up against Ethiopia’s Bekele, who is gunning for an unprecedented third successive 10,000 meters gold.
The 30-year-old, who has three Olympic golds, five world championship titles on the track and both 5,000m and 10,000m world records, has built his own softer track to try and speed up recovery from persistent calf and knee problems.
Farah did not win a medal at the 2011 world championships but bounced back with the year’s fastest time in Brussels.
Other contenders include Kenya’s world bronze medalist Moses Masai and his fellow countryman Wilson Kiprop, who set the fastest time this year (27:01.98) and was promptly catapulted to the forefront of his country’s hopes for a first 10,000m gold since Mexico in 1968.
The first 29 on this season’s marathon world list hail from either Kenya or Ethiopia, all with times of 2:07:28 or faster.
Wilson Kipsang is Kenya’s best chance of repeating his late countryman Sammy Wanjiru’s title in Beijing in 2008 – Kenya’s first ever. Kipsang, 30, won the 2012 London marathon in the second fastest time of the year, building on two wins in 2011.
Fellow Kenyan, Abel Kirui, a two-times world champion, is also a real contender.
The Kenyans will be challenged by Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero, who won in Dubai on his debut over the distance, beating a course record set by Haile Gebrselassie and setting the world’s fourth fastest ever time. Ethiopia’s Dino Sefir and Getu Feleke are strong runners.