Olympic betting: 12 of the most interesting track and field wagers (11 of which are good ideas)

·8-min read

Being a U.S.-based fan of international track and field involves a number of inconveniences and annoyances. For starters, you probably subscribe to six different streaming platforms, most of which have tighter login security than your bank. Also, you're no doubt accustomed to watching the sport at odd, terrible hours. And sometimes you only learn about a meet like six hours before it happens. And periodically you have to explain to friends and family that, no, in fact, Tyreek Hill and Aaron Gordon would not dominate Olympic sprinting and jumping events.

But the biggest aggravation for many of us is the fact that track and field wagering is rarely available. If you're interested in betting on, say, Middle Tennessee State to win the college football playoff, pretty much every sports book will take your money (+50000 at BetMGM). Yet if you want to place the occasional wager on the world's best athletes competing on the professional circuit ... well, good luck.

Delightfully enough, this is not an issue during the Olympics. We have no shortage of betting possibilities surrounding track and field events in Tokyo, which start Thursday. Here are a few notable wagers available right now at BetMGM (one of which you shouldn't touch).

Grant Holloway, men's 110m hurdles (-300) and new world record (+400)

Holloway is the heavy favorite, obviously, but these odds are underselling his dominance. He's not losing, people. He's the 2019 world champion and hasn't lost a race this year, indoors or outdoors. He took down the 60m indoor world record back in February, then scared the 110m record at the U.S. trials, missing it by a hundredth of a second.

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Again: He's not losing. If conditions are right, he's gonna run 12.7-something. Gimme the modest profit involved with taking Holloway for gold. You could also just bet him to break the world record and make some real money.

Kenny Bednarek, men's 200m (+550)

Noah Lyles is the reigning world champ, the favorite in the event, and he edged Bednarek in the U.S. trials in a thrilling race that delivered the two fastest wind-legal times of 2021. Lyles is also a joy, a showman, one of the brightest and most interesting stars in the sport. Still, it's pretty easy to make the case that Bednarek has had the better overall season thus far in 2021. He has multiple Diamond League wins and hasn't really had a poor race all year. Lyles, meanwhile, hasn't been in the same form he reached in 2019, when he ran 9.86 and 19.50. Bednarek is a plausible gold medalist with a long-shot's odds. That's all we can ask for.

Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi, women's 3000m steeplechase (+225)

World record holder Beatrice Chepkoech is the favorite here (+175), but she hasn't been the 2018-19 version of herself — a runner who won relentlessly and routinely broke the 9-minute barrier. Chepkoech doesn't have a first-place finish in a Diamond League meet this season, nor did she win the Kenyan trials. It seems a little odd that Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi isn't favored, as she's the Kenyan champ and has three wins over Chepkoech this year.

Also odd: Emma Coburn (+250), the nine-time U.S. champ and 2017 world champion, definitely belongs in the gold medal discussion as well. Earlier this month in Monaco, Coburn was stride for stride with Kiyeng on the final curve, but uncharacteristically stumbled in the water pit. If she'd cleared that barrier, she might have won the meet and challenged the American record. Kiyeng and Coburn both seem ready for a 9-flat race in the right conditions, which should be enough in Tokyo.

Ajeé Wilson, women's 800m (+800)

I'm pleased to report (not that it helps you in any way) that I was able to bet Wilson at +1200 before the odds moved. She opened as a curiously long long shot, despite being the American record holder (1:55.61 in 2017). Wilson just blazed a season best 1:57.85 two weeks ago, too. Athing Mu is understandably the favorite in the women's 800 after demolishing a phenomenal field in the U.S. final, a race in which Wilson surged for third...

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But Mu is also 19 and competing on a new stage after a long collegiate season. There's simply no Semenya-level lock in this race.

Rai Benjamin, men's 400m hurdles (+250)

Karston Warholm is rightly favored (-350) in the event he's ruled since winning the world title in 2019. Warholm (finally) broke the event's 29-year-old world record four weeks ago in Oslo, having spent all of 2020 chasing the mark. 

It might just require another world record to win gold, because Benjamin ran a blistering 46.83 at the U.S. trials, only 0.13 seconds off Warholm's best. These two haven't faced each other in nearly two full years, which makes the men's 400 hurdles final among the most anticipated events on the track in Tokyo. When these guys get together, incredible racing tends to happen. A win for Benjamin wouldn't be as great a surprise as these odds suggest. 

Anthony José Zambrano, men's 400m (+1800)

C'mon, it's nice to have one true lottery ticket, right? 

Michael Norman is the favorite (-145) and world record-holder Wayde van Niekerk is in the field as well, but Zambrano has been terrific this summer. He's only 23, the silver medalist at Doha in 2019, and a fantastic closer. The Colombian beat van Niekerk in Madrid in June, running 44.51. If Norman isn't at his absolute best, Zambrano is ... well, he's someone who should have much better odds than this, certainly. I'll take it. 

Brittney Reese, women's long jump (+325)

Reese is a legend, a two-time Olympic medalist (gold in 2012) and seven-time world champion, who just won the U.S. title for the zillionth time, jumping 7.13 meters. Understandably, she's eying yet another gold...

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Kinda feels like Reese should be the betting favorite, but that nod went to reigning world champ Malaika Mihambo (+300), who hasn't topped 7.00 with a wind-legal jump this year. American collegiate record holder Tara Davis (+500) is a clear contender, too — and she's a party. Worth the wager just to have another reason to root for her.

JuVaughn Harrison, men's long jump (+350) and high jump (+500)

Harrison's double is incredibly, historically, ridiculously rare, yet the Tokyo schedule makes it possible. He was the NCAA champ in both events, indoors and out, and he was the double U.S. champion this year as well. He's also the world No. 2 in each event, a threat for gold in both. Take him in these events separately and together via parlay. If he wins just one, you profit. If he wins both, time for a commemorative tattoo.

Nijel Amos, men's 800m (+200) 

Wha ...?

Amos is apparently the favorite in the 800, which is wild. This is the bet you cannot touch. If the past half-decade-plus has taught us anything, it's that someone other than Nijel Amos wins the 800 at global championships. Yes, he ran a world-leading time at Monaco earlier this summer (1:42.91), per usual. We know he can crush a one-off race on a fast track. But he's had all kinds of trouble navigating multiple rounds at the Olympics and worlds.

Donavan Brazier's absence from Tokyo leaves the 800 wide open, but, um ... probably not this open. Amos doesn't seem like the answer. Instead, if you're determined to bet this race, consider Emmanuel Korir at +600 or Clayton Murphy, the U.S. champ and Rio bronze medalist, at +800. Anyone contemplating a bet on Amos should just donate that money.

Katie Nageotte, women's pole vault (+175)

Let's close with another viable winner. Nageotte has been a machine over the past two years, piling up wins and 4.85-plus clearances. She's been remarkably consistent, to the point that it's difficult to envision a scenario in which she doesn't medal. Nageotte is the betting favorite with good reason. Sometimes, chalk is the answer. 

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