Five takeaways from U.S. Track and Field Championships
1. The U.S. could have its best World Championships ever
The U.S. would win 36 medals at Worlds (Beijing, Aug. 22-30) if the results mirror the current world’s best lists for 2015, counting only U.S. athletes who qualified for Worlds, plus relays.
It’s not close to a sure-fire prediction gauge, but it’s the most objective option available right now and would have to be way off for the U.S. not to have a historically strong meet.
The U.S.’ previous best for medals at a single World Championships was the 26 won in 1991, 2007 and 2011.
The thread linking 1991, 2007, 2011 and 2015? Those are the only times the World Championships have been held in East Asia.
2. The U.S.’ biggest strength is in the hurdles
Many point to the U.S.’ surge in middle-distance races. No U.S. man or woman has won Olympic gold in a track event longer than 400m since Dave Wottle‘s 800m title while wearing a cap at Munich 1972. And that may change with Ajee’ Wilson, Jenny Simpson and Matthew Centrowitz, among others, in the early conversation for medals in Rio.
But, going by the world’s fastest times this year, the U.S. is most dominant in the hurdles. The U.S. has the three fastest in the world in the 100m hurdles and men’s 400m hurdles, plus the top two in the women’s 400m hurdles and the second fastest in the 110m hurdles. That’s nine potential medals over four events right there.
3. The track veterans are still leading the way
The U.S.’ best sprinters? Justin Gatlin, 33, and Allyson Felix, 29, whose Olympic debuts were in 2004. Tyson Gay, 32, won the 100m in Eugene. LaShawn Merritt, 29, didn’t win the U.S. 400m title, but the Beijing Olympic champion and reigning World champion is probably still the top challenger to Grenada’s Kirani James.
The highly anticipated 800m finals were won by Nick Symmonds, who contemplated retiring at 30 last year, and Alysia Montano, a six-time U.S. champion who had a baby in August.
The U.S.’ best distance runners? Jenny Simpson, 28, and Galen Rupp, 29.
The U.S. champions in the hurdles? Three of the four won medals at the Olympics, the 2008 Olympics -- David Oliver, Dawn Harper-Nelson and Bershawn Jackson.
4. The NCAA system is producing the next wave
Texas A&M’s Shamier Little is world No. 1 in the 400m hurdles.
Baylor’s Trayvon Bromell was the breakout in the sprints, firing the fastest wind-legal 100m time at Nationals, albeit in the heats.
Kentucky’s Keni Harrison took second to Harper-Nelson in the 100m hurdles, arguably the U.S.’ deepest event.
Florida’s Marquis Dendy made the World Championships team in both the long jump and the triple jump.
Oregon’s Jasmine Todd made the Worlds team in both the 100m and the long jump.
5. Big names will be absent from Beijing
Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross and the fastest 400m woman in 2014 and 2015 Francena McCorory failed to qualify individually for Worlds.
McCorory ran the fastest lap in the world this year at the U.S. Championships, but she did so in the semifinals and was 1.03 seconds slower in the final to finish fourth and miss the World Championships team by .21 (she can still go for the relay and may make it individually if Allyson Felix drops the 400m).
Both Richards-Ross and McCorory have shown great form in the last year, and with the lack of international threats in the event, are still Olympic medal contenders -- should they make the Olympic team next year.
Almost as head-turning was Jasmin Stowers’ fifth-place finish in the 100m hurdles, after she had run 12.40 or better three times this year. Only one other U.S. woman had run 12.40 or better three times in a career -- Gail Devers. Stowers’ training partner, Summer and Winter Olympian Lolo Jones, also won’t be making the trip to Beijing.
Similarly, Olympic silver medalist and 2011 World champion Jason Richardson was an odd man out in a deep 110m hurdles field, finishing sixth.
Also missing out -- Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team at age 17, finished eighth in the 1500m final Sunday. Cain’s struggled this season, and in an event where the U.S. could win two medals at Worlds, her absence is not a shock.
Ryan Whiting and Duane Solomon were more surprising misses, but not too surprising. Whiting, the 2013 Worlds shot put silver medalist, and Solomon, the 2012 Olympic 800m fourth-place finisher, haven’t shown international medal-contending form in 2014 or 2015.
Then there are the veterans slowing with age. Carmelita Jeter, 35, suffered what she believed to be a torn left quad in the 100m final, ending a bid to win a Worlds 100m medal for a fifth straight time. Olympic 400m hurdles silver medalist Lashinda Demus, 32, missed making her fifth Worlds team by .03. The 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner, 31, finished 13th in the 400m, and Angelo Taylor, a two-time Olympic 400m hurdles champion, did not finish at all in the event. Bernard Lagat, 40, was 10th in the 5000m and will not compete at Worlds for the first time since 2005.