The world’s fastest women go toe-to-toe: What to watch in track and field

Want to be inspired by the fastest, toughest women in the world? Watch the Olympic track and field events, and pay special attention to these record-breaking athletes.

Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands in action during the Womens 4x100m relay Final during day five of the 23rd European Athletics Championships on July 10, 2016 in Amsterdam. Matthew Lewis | Getty Images

At the gym, laboring on the treadmill during an unusually tiresome day, I watched a nearby TV intently as Amy Cragg and Desiree Linden sprinted toward the finish during the Olympic Trials marathon in Los Angeles. For 26.2 miles, their strong legs pumped with a cadence totally unique to their physiologies, bringing them to victory after just 2:28:20 and 2:28:54, respectively. I thought about the years of training that these women have endured to achieve something so amazing … and I bumped up my speed. Okay, sure, not to the pace of my dreams, which would be a five- or six-minute mile, but to a more sedate nine-and-a-half-minute mile. But it didn’t matter—I felt powerful as I adapted my stride to the pace.

This year in Rio there are a wealth of women’s track and field events to captivate and motivate—no matter whether you’re training for a marathon or just trying to fit in a 20-minute walk. Highlights include runs by Beyonce-fueled American sprinter Alysson Felix, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce (who might just be the fastest woman in the world) and the encouragement gained by watching some of the world’s most talented go toe-to-toe on the starting line.

Friday, August 12: watch for the combo of speed and stamina in the 10K

Molly Huddle, first place, and Emily Infeld, fourth place, compete in the Women’s 5000m Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 10, 2016 in Oregon

Molly Huddle, first place, and Emily Infeld, fourth place, compete in the Women’s 5000m Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 10, 2016 in Oregon. Patrick Smith | Getty Images

In the first track and field medal event of the Rio Olympics, the qualifying athletes will line up for the 10,000m final (roughly 6.2 miles). Runners will likely include two young American women—Emily Infield and Molly Huddle. Huddle set the American record for the 5,000m in 2014. Long-distance runners will appreciate the speed and stamina of these 10K wonder women.

Saturday, August 13: watch for a history-making dash by Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica winning gold in the Women’s 4x100m Relay final during the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2015 in Beijing

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica celebrates after winning gold in the Women’s 4x100m Relay final during the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships in 2015 in Beijing. Andy Lyons | Getty Images

Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce is often called the world’s fastest woman. Her impressive bursts of speed have earned her the nickname of “the Pocket Rocket.” In 2008 and 2012 she took home gold in the 100m race, and this year she’s going for her third consecutive first place finish in the event—a feat no woman has ever achieved in Olympic history. She’ll likely be challenged in the event by her Jamaican countrywomen Elaine Thompson, the U.S.’s English Gardner and Dutch track superstar Dafne Schipper.

Monday, August 15: watch how the right song revs up Allyson Felix

Allyson Felix and Natasha Hastings in the Women’s 400m Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 3, 2016 in Oregon.

Allyson Felix runs to victory ahead of Natasha Hastings in the Women’s 400m Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 3, 2016 in Oregon. Andy Lyons | Getty Images.

American Allyson Felix gets pumped up before a race by listening to “Diva” by Beyonce. “That song brings me out of my laid-back calm nature and gets me hyped and ready to race,” she told ESPN. It’s likely she’ll be channeling her inner diva once again on the tenth day of the Olympics in the 400m finals. This is her first time running this distance in the Olympics—her forte is the 200m—but in the trials she finished .01 seconds away from securing the final team slot. Regardless, she is a favorite in the 400m distance after clocking 46.68 seconds at trials, though a right ankle sprain has affected her starts.

Tuesday, August 16: watch a family hat trick

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia gold in the Women’s 1500m Final during the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships 2015 in Beijing on August 25, 2015

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia celebrates after winning gold in the Women’s 1500m Final during the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships 2015 in Beijing on August 25, 2015. Alexander Hassenstein | Getty Images for IAAF

After breaking a world record that stood for 22 years, Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba will try for a medal in the women’s 1,500m. Winning seems to run in her family—Genzebe’s sister and cousin have both medaled in long-distance track events.

Wednesday, August 17: watch these ladies catch air

Brittney Reese performs in the Women’s Long Jump Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 2, 2016 in Oregon

Brittney Reese performs in the Women’s Long Jump Final during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 2, 2016 in Oregon. Patrick Smith | Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but jumping is not my forte. Watch in awe as reigning Olympic champ Brittney Reese and reigning world champ Tianna Bartoletta square off in the women’s long jump final. After you’ve been thoroughly impressed with the distance these women can leap, get a load of the incredible height the women in the 1,000m hurdles final achieve.

Thursday, August 18: watch a baby streak by in the 400m hurdles

Sydney McLaughlin competes in the Women’s 400m hurdles during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 7, 2016 in Oregon

Sydney McLaughlin competes in the Women’s 400m hurdles during the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 7, 2016 in Oregon. Patrick Smith | Getty Images

Sydney McLaughlin is the youngest U.S. Olympic track and field competitor since 1972. Despite being just 16, McLaughlin has won fame for her skill in the 400m hurdles. She passes in a blur, but her technique and form are both effortless and precise. It’s quite possible she’ll be up for a medal in this event—and even if she doesn’t make it to the finals, she’s a rising star to watch in her first Olympic showing.

Friday, August 19: anything could happen on the pole vault

Jenn Suhr, USA, at the Diamond League Adidas Grand Prix on Randall’s Island in New York

Jenn Suhr, USA, at the Diamond League Adidas Grand Prix on Randall’s Island in New York. Photo Tim Clayton Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

2004 and 2008 Russian Olympic champion Yelena Isinbayeva’s exclusion from the 2016 competitions makes Rio’s pole vault finals a real wild card—all the more reason to watch! 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jenn Suhr is favored to take gold this time around, but another U.S. native, Sandi Morris, who holds the American record in the sport, may shake things up.

Saturday, August 20: a viewing marathon

Sandi Morris of the United States Women’s Pole Vault final 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015

Sandi Morris of the United States competes in the Women’s Pole Vault final during day five of the 15th IAAF World Athletics Championships Beijing 2015 at Beijing National Stadium on August 26, 2015, China. Christian Petersen | Getty Images for IAAF

Round out your Olympic track and field viewing with three events squeezed in near the end of the games. Women’s high jump final, women’s 800m final and the 4x400m relay are lined up nearly back-to-back in this final marathon of a viewing day.

After the fanfare and applause have died down, you may just find your self sustained by what you’ve seen and be able to translate these lessons of endurance to your real, everyday life—running faster, jumping higher, going further—just as these Olympians have illustrated.

Maggie Grimason
Maggie Grimason
Maggie Grimason is a writer and editor living in the high desert of New Mexico. She is an athlete, a conservationist and aspiring birder. Follow her adventures on Twitter at @MaggieGrimason.

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