World champs could preview names to watch in Rio

Hard as this is to believe, there was a time when no one knew of Usain Bolt.

The 6-foot-5 Jamaican exploded on the scene shortly before the 2008 Beijing Olympics and changed the sprinting game forever. He’s set and reset the world records in the 100 (9.58 seconds), 200 (19.19) and the 4×100 relay (36.84). He’s had fun every step of the way, too, entertaining fans not only with his blistering times, but his theatrics after he’s crossed the line. That bow-and-arrow pose remains epic.

Could the next Bolt be lurking at world championships next week in Beijing? Or watching at home on television?

A look at some athletes who could be names to know a year from now at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro:

BOLT’S PROTEGE: How about having the one and only Bolt as a mentor? British sprinter Zharnel Hughes trains with Bolt’s group in Jamaica and the 20-year-old is keeping up just fine. Born in Anguilla, Hughes is eligible to compete for England since the British overseas territory is not recognized by the International Olympic Committee.

SCHOOL DAYS: Two of America’s rising sprinters, Baylor’s Trayvon Bromell and Oregon’s Jenna Prandini, are coming off splendid college campaigns. Bromell finished his sophomore season by winning an NCAA indoor crown and earning a spot on the U.S. 100-meter team for worlds. Although a good eight inches shorter than Bolt, the 20-year-old scoffs at the height difference. ”To me, height is nothing,” Bromell said. Prandini won the 100 at the NCAA championships and then carried her speed over to nationals two weeks later, taking the title in the 200 to earn a spot to Beijing.

MO FARAH MOMENT, BRAZIL STYLE: One of the iconic images from the 2012 London Games was British distance runner Mo Farah capturing the 5,000 and 10,000 titles and celebrating in front of a roaring crowd. That could happen in Rio, too, with Brazilian pole vaulter Fabiana Murer. The 34-year-old Murer lives in Sao Paulo and won the event at the 2011 worlds championships.

TEAM EATON: No doubt you know about Olympic decathlon champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton. His wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton of Canada, will be the favorite in the heptathlon in Beijing for worlds and again in Rio a year from now. The couple went to Oregon and married in 2013.

ON THE HORIZON: Longtime NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham has two children reaching new heights in the high jump. Teenager Vashti Cunningham set an American junior record as she cleared 6-5 (1.96 meters) to win gold at the Pan American junior championships earlier this summer. Her brother, Randall, a soon-to-be sophomore at the University of Southern California, also took first. The siblings won’t compete in Beijing, but Rio may be a different story.