Five events to watch at U.S. Track and Field Championships
The fiercest competition for national titles, and top-three finishes to make the World Championships team, at this weekend’s USA Track and Field Championships should come in these five loaded events:
Men’s Long Jump -- Thursday, 8 p.m. ET (USATF.TV) Jeff Henderson -- 2015 world leader Will Claye -- Olympic bronze medalist Christian Taylor -- Olympic triple jump champion Ashton Eaton -- Olympic decathlon champion Marquis Dendy -- 2015 world co-No. 4 Jarrion Lawson -- 2015 world co-No. 4 Marquise Goodwin -- 2012 Olympian/Buffalo Bills WR
It’s unlikely that Eaton would compete in the long jump at Worlds if he finished in the top three in Eugene, Ore., on Thursday, since his focus at Worlds will be on defending his decathlon title. Henderson, Claye, Dendy, Lawson and Goodwin have better personal bests in the long jump than Eaton anyway.
Taylor, too, is already qualified for the U.S. team in another event, the triple jump, which at the World Championships in Beijing (Aug. 22-30) starts one day after the long jump concludes. His personal best long jump is shorter than Eaton’s.
Henderson will be favored to defend his national title. His 8.50m jump on April 18 was the farthest in the world this year and the best by an American since 2009.
Dendy and Lawson dueled at the NCAA Championships with personal bests.
Goodwin is somewhat of a wild card, given he hasn’t competed in the long jump since he finished 10th at the London 2012 Olympics. His personal best, 8.33 meters, would rank fourth among Americans this year, behind Henderson, Dendy and Lawson.
Women’s 400m -- Saturday, 5:32 p.m. ET (NBC, Live Extra (full broadcast schedule here)) Francena McCorory -- 2015 world leader Sanya Richards-Ross -- 2012 Olympic champion Allyson Felix -- 2011 World silver medalist
McCorory, Richards-Ross and Felix rank Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world this year. Felix is the slowest of the three, clocking 50.05 seconds, but that’s still a comfortable .62 faster than the No. 4 U.S. woman, Natasha Hastings.
However, Hastings and the rest of the field shouldn’t give up hope, given Felix will choose between running the 200m or the 400m at the World Championships, should she finish top three Saturday. Felix attempted the 200m-400m double at the 2011 Worlds but will not do so this year, given the 200m semifinals and 400m final at Worlds are 70 minutes apart in Beijing.
If Felix finishes top three in the 400m at nationals and drops it for Worlds, the fourth-place finisher would be in line to take her 400m spot at Worlds.
Richards-Ross will look to reclaim a national title after finishing sixth at the 2013 U.S. Championships while slowed by a right big toe injury that required two surgeries. In 2014, McCorory recorded a personal best to beat Richards-Ross in the U.S. Championships final.
Women’s 100m hurdles -- Saturday, 5:52 p.m. ET (NBC, Live Extra) Brianna Rollins -- 2013 World champion (has bye onto Worlds team) Dawn Harper-Nelson -- 2014 Diamond League champion Jasmin Stowers -- 2015 world leader Kendra Harrison -- 2015 world No. 2 Sharika Nelvis -- 2015 world No. 3 Lolo Jones -- Two-time Summer Olympian
Ten of the 14 fastest women in the world this year are Americans. The list is led by Stowers, a 23-year-old favored to qualify for her first global championship. Stowers has run 12.40 or better three times this year. Only one other American has done that over an entire career -- three-time World 100m hurdles champion Gail Devers.
The 2008 Olympic champion Harper-Nelson would have a bye onto the Worlds team because she won the 2014 Diamond League season title, but the single automatic spot available goes to Rollins for her 2013 World Championship. If Rollins finishes in the top three Saturday, the fourth-place finisher is in line to join the U.S. team, too.
Then there’s Jones, one of 10 Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, who is coming off an April torn hamstring. She ranks No. 29 in the world this year and will need to improve upon that greatly to have a shot to make Worlds for the first time since 2007.
Men’s 5000m -- Sunday, 1:45 p.m. ET (moved from 4:27 p.m. ET) Galen Rupp -- Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Bernard Lagat -- Three-time World 5000m medalist Ben True -- Adidas Grand Prix 5000m winner
Every member of this trio enters Eugene with a question mark.
How will Rupp fare amid the scrutiny of a recent investigative report of former teammates accusing his longtime coach of cheating?
Does Lagat, at age 40, have enough gas left in the tank to make a fifth straight World Championships 5000m team since switching from Kenya to the U.S.? Lagat is the only American man to win a World Championships 5000m medal (gold in 2007 and silver in 2009 and 2011).
True became the first U.S. man to win a Diamond League 5000m on June 13, but how will he handle the pressure of a U.S. Championships? In 2012, he finished sixth in the 5000m and 12th in the 10,000m at the Olympic trials, impacted by Lyme Disease. In 2013, he finished fourth in both the 5000m and the 10,000m at the U.S. Championships, just missing Worlds.
Women’s 800m -- Sunday, 4:48 p.m. ET (NBC, Live Extra) Ajee’ Wilson -- 2014 world leader Brenda Martinez -- 2013 World bronze medalist Alysia Montano -- fourth or fifth at 2011 Worlds, 2012 Olympics, 2013 Worlds
Wilson, 21, is the top threat to dethrone Kenyan Eunice Sum as World champion in August. It would be a stunner if she didn’t finish in the top three on Sunday to make her second straight Worlds team.
Martinez, who in 2013 became the first U.S. woman to win a Worlds 800m medal, has been the second-fastest U.S. woman each of the last four years (behind Wilson in 2014 and 2015 and Montano in 2012 and 2013).
Then there’s Montano, who competed in the 2014 U.S. Championships seven weeks before giving birth to daughter Linnea. Montano has catching up to do, as she ranks No. 63 in the world in the 800m this year, finishing fifth at the Drake Relays on April 24 and 10th at the Prefontaine Classic on May 30.