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Which U.S. athlete will be the breakout star in Rio?

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Young athletes often utilize the platform of the Olympic stage to become household names. 


Usain Bolt was only 21 when he electrified the track by winning three gold medals at the 2008 Olympics. Four years later, 24-year-old Ashton Eaton captured the hearts of the nation by running over to hug his mother after claiming the Olympic decathlon gold medal.



Several track and field experts responded to the following question via email from NBCOlympics.com: Which U.S. athlete will be the breakout star in Rio?


This is the second in a three-part series. 



Joe Battaglia (FloTrack)


I am going to say pole vaulter Sandi Morris. 


There have been changing of the guard moments over the course of history in this event. Stacy Dragila pioneered vaulting onto the Olympic stage in Sydney. Yelena Isinbayeva usurped the throne in Athens and took the sport to even greater heights in Beijing. Jenn Suhr reclaimed the crown for America in London. I think that crown will be passed to Morris in Rio.


With the IOC and CAS upholding the IAAF’s ban on Russian athletes competing in Rio, we have seen the last of Isinbayeva on this stage, which is unfortunate given she has never committed a doping offense and jumped 4.90m in June, indicating she would have likely contended for a third gold.


Injuries have kept Suhr from looking like the dominant force she is capable of being outdoors in 2016. Her outdoor season consists of a 4.82m, a 4.75m and a 4.80m. It makes that 5.03m indoor world record in January seem much longer ago than it really was.


Morris seems to be building toward something. She jumped 4.83m in Doha, 4.40m in terrible conditions in Ostrava, 4.75m at the Trials and an American record 4.93m this weekend in Houston. 


If conditions are favorable and Morris can battle her emotions, look for her to win the mind game against Suhr and local favorite Fabiana Murer for the title.


Chris Chavez (Sports Illustrated)


Tori Bowie may not be a household name in the U.S. but if she can pull off two medals in the 100 and 200 in Rio, I think she will start to receive the eyes and attention that she deserves. Her backstory from being a Southern girl and having focused on the wrong event for so long is the type of story that Americans look for during the Olympics. She's been blossoming since 2014 and America will take notice.



Nick Zaccardi (NBC OlympicTalk)


Tori Bowie. Though to many she broke out last year with 100m bronze at the world championships, she is unknown to the once-every-four-years viewer. And to the casual viewer, it’s unlikely anybody can break out in this sport outside of the sprints. Since the top men’s sprinters are more defined – Bolt, Gatlin – I’ll take a shot with Bowie. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s form is more questionable than Bolt’s. The fastest woman in the world this year, Elaine Thompson of Jamaica, has never raced the 100m at a global championship.


 



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