We are less than a month away from the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials that will decide who will represent the United States at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Americans currently hold the world-leading marks in nine track and field events (five by the men, four by the women).
Athletes must hold their event’s respective Olympic standard and finish within the top three at the trials in order to punch their ticket to the Summer Games. The outdoor season is in it’s third month, which presents a good time to look at who has been hot and who has been struggling before one of arguably the biggest meets of their career takes place at Hayward Field:
English Gardner and Tori Bowie
As noted last week, Gardner is off to a strong start and building a case to be a gold-medal contender at the Olympics. No American woman has won the 100 at the Summer Games since Marion Jones, which was later vacated. Gardner has the potential to put the red, white and blue atop the podium.
Bowie is the only woman that has run faster than Gardner on the year at 100 meters. She holds the 100 and 200 world leads at 10.80 and 21.99, respectively.
Harrison set an American record of 12.24, just .02 off the world record, at the Prefontaine Classic two weeks ago. She should be a lock for the Olympics, right? Wrong. There is arguably no event in which it’s tougher to make the team than the women’s 100 meter hurdles. In addition to a deep field that boasts nine of the 10 fastest times in the world, a single clipped hurdle can crush those Olympic dreams. The U.S. did not come away with any medals at last year’s world championship despite the likelihood of sweeping the medals. Harrison and other Americans can make the podium in Brazil. Just getting there is the tougher task.
Merritt should contemplate running the 200 in addition to the 400 at the Olympic Trials. He is already a medal contender in the 400 with his 44.22 from April. His 19.78 for the 200 from the same month also remains world-leading mark. There are two more medals up for grabs in Brazil. He has a chance to claim both of them.
Emma Coburn and Leah O’Connor
Becoming the No. 1 and No. 3 all-time American steeplechasers is a good sign heading into the Olympic Trials.
Last year’s world champion sits atop the world list with his 22.13-meter throw at the Pre Classic. Keep your eyes on a great storyline of a fourth-place finisher from 2012 making the 2016 Olympic team.
The Buffalo Bills may be represented at the 2016 Olympics as Goodwin still holds the farthest mark of the season in the long jump. This could be a fun event to watch in Eugene as the U.S. has five of the top 12 jumpers in the world and only three spots for Rio.
Last year’s loss to Usain Bolt did damage to Gatlin as his best chance of beating the world’s fastest man at the world championships slipped away. An ankle injury in the off-season set back his training for a bit and he has not taken a more conservative, yet still dominant, approach to the season. His times of 9.90, 10.02, 9.94, 9.94, 9.88 and 9.93 are nowhere near his 9.74, 9.75, 10.02, 9.75, 9.78 and 9.83 to open 2015. Gatlin remains the top American in the 100 and may have no problem making the team for Rio. Beating Bolt does not appear as likely.
He gets creativity points for winning a 100 over a lake in Rio de Janeiro this weekend.
Coming back from a kidney transplant and running 13.24 for the 110-meter hurdles deserves an A. Merritt is in solid shape but has been beaten on several occasions, which hurts his grade. The world record holder is just behind David Oliver for the fastest Americans of the year, which bodes well for him heading to the trials for a chance to defend his Olympic gold.
U.S. women’s high jumpers
American record holder Chaunte Lowe holds the world lead with her 1.96 set in Rio de Janeiro. Teen star Vashti Cunningham, who was profiled in last week’s Sports Illustrated by Tim Layden, is tied for the No. 4 spot with a 1.94 clearance. With the possibility of no Russians in Rio de Janeiro, their medal hopes are alive and well.
Men’s middle distance running
At the moment, only eight men have the Olympic standard of 3:36.20. Of those eight, two are injured and two may choose to compete in the steeplechase. There is still time for more qualifiers but the clock is ticking and a distance in which the Americans have recently fared well (two silver medals in the last four years and three finalists last summer) does not look as deep or competitive in 2016.
Boris Berian, a former McDonald’s employee turned indoor world champion, has established himself as the favorite for the U.S. title at 800 meters. Behind him, there are plenty of question marks with no clear-cut contenders for the second and third spots, which should benefit Olympians like Nick Symmonds and Duane Solomon.
Women’s 800 meters
Only one American woman has broken two minutes for the 800. Chrishuna Williams, a woman that did not make it out of the first round of last year’s U.S. championships, is the fastest American at the moment. Just two years ago, she held a personal best of 2:06.48 and is now down to 1:59.89. The 23-year-old could make some noise in Eugene.
Ajee Wilson, once considered among the favorites for gold, opened her season with a 2:03 for last place at the Rome Diamond League meet. She improved to 2:00.81, good for seventh in Birmingham on Saturday.
Nike Oregon Project
Aside from American record holder Shannon Rowbury, who is currently the sixth fastest American at 1,500 for 2016, the rest of the training group is either banged up or not in top shape:
- Matthew Centrowitz may be the favorite for the men’s 1,500 but he has yet to race outdoors due to a calf injury.
- Galen Rupp has not been in action since winning February’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials but still intends to double and run the 10,000 meters at the trials.
- Treniere Moser has a season best of 4:07.04 for 1,500 but there were four other Americans ahead of her in that race.
- Former teen star Mary Cain has been missing since a sub-par 800 in early May.
- Eric Jenkins, a former NCAA champion from Oregon, is a bright spot with his 13:24.67 win over 5,000 meters last month.
Coach Alberto Salazar has always been able to get his athletes to peak at the right time. Unlike in 2013, when he put six athletes on the U.S. team for the world championships, he may just have Rupp, Centrowitz and Rowbury in Rio.
Some members of the training group will open their season at the Portland Track Festival next week.
The reigning 400-meter Olympic champion is in her final season and her plan is to retire in Rio. Those plans may need to be revisited, as it’s looking more likely that she will not make the women’s 400-meter squad. Richards-Ross needed to be carried off the track this past weekend with what appeared to be a hamstring injury that she sustained about 50 meters into a 100-meter dash. She could make the relay pool for the Olympic 4x400-meter relay but she may not even be able to make the finals at the trials to be in consideration.
The reigning 200-meter Olympic champion will have a lot of eyes on her in Rio as she attempts the 200 and 400 double. Michael Johnson’s 1996 double in Atlanta is the last time an American has won gold in both. The bad news for Felix is that she has been dealing with an ankle injury that has wiped out her season thus far. Strong early runs by compatriot Tori Bowie, 200-meter world champion Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands and Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas most likely means Felix will need to be 100% healthy to win.
The two-time Olympic hurdler was supposed to open her season last week in Atlanta but was scratched from the race because she did not feel comfortable competing so soon after an injury. She’s been banged up before the trials and pulled off a miracle to make two teams but making a third will be extremely tough given the depth of this year’s field.