A viewer’s guide to the first week of U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials
After thousands of miles, hundreds of repeats, countless splits and years of preparation, the best American athletes descend on Eugene, Ore. for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field held July 1–10. The top three finishers in each event with the Olympic qualifying standard will represent the U.S. at the Summer Olympics this August in Rio de Janeiro.
Familiar faces with Olympic legacies like Allyson Felix and Ashton Eaton return looking to add hardware in Brazil. Fresh faces like Donovan Brazier or Trayvon Bromell seek a top-three finish in Eugene to add to their already booming careers. For many athletes, this is their one shot at Olympic glory, and there’s no doubt the trials will be packed with emotions.
In a time when doping scandals and corruption are crippling the sport, fans can sit back and enjoy 10 days of athletes looking to live out their Olympic dreams. Here is a spectator’s guide to the first half of the trials—July 1–4 before a break:
Men’s Olympic stars to watch
Events: 100 meters (2004 Olympic gold medalist, ’12 bronze medalist) and 200 meters (2004 bronze medalist)
Achievements since London: 2013, ’15 100-meter world championship silver medalist
Gatlin looked ready to dethrone Usain Bolt as world champion in 2015 after putting up a season-best 9.74 at the Diamond League meet in Doha, but the world’s fastest man edged Gatlin by the slimmest of margins at the IAAF World Championships in Doha (9.79 to 9.80). This year, Gatlin has remained undefeated, with a season’s-best time of 9.93, and he hasn’t lost to an American in the 100 meters since Sept. 2013. At 34, he appears to be a lock to make his third Olympic team and possibly become the oldest 100-meter medalist in Rio.
Event: 10,000 meters (2012 Olympic silver medalist)
Achievements since London: 2013 and ’15 U.S. 10,000-meter champion, fifth at ’15 world championships in 5,000-meters and 10,000 meters
Rupp’s ticket to Rio is already booked since he won February’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:11:13—also, the first time he’d ever raced 26.2 miles—but he’ll attempt to clinch his second Olympic spot in the 10,000 meters. Since the London Games, he has primarily focused on the 5,000- and 10,000-meter double, but after several missed podiums at the world championships, his focus has shifted to the longer distances for a medal. He could be the first American to attempt the 10,000 and marathon double since Dan Browne in 2004.
Event: 400 meters (2008 Olympic gold medalist)
Achievements since London: 2013 world championship gold medalist, ’15 world championship silver medalist
At last summer’s world championships, Merritt ran a personal best of 43.65 to take silver behind South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk. This outdoor season, he’s run a personal best of 19.78 seconds in the 200 meters and a season’s best of 44.22 for 400 meters. He is heavily favored to win at the Olympic trials, which will set up a rematch with Van Niekerk and 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James in Rio, where they’ll all take a crack at Michael Johnson’s world record of 43.18.
Events: 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters (2000 Olympic bronze medalist and ’04 silver medalist in 1500 meters)
Achievements since London: Sixth at the 2013 world championships in 5,000 meters
Lagat has the chance to become the oldest distance runner on Team USA. A two-time Olympic medalist in the 1500 meters while representing Kenya (he became an American citizen in 2004, but raced for Kenya at the ’00 and ’04 Games), Lagat’s 10th place finish in the 5,000 meters at last year’s national championships was the first time he didn’t make the U.S. national team since he began representing the U.S., but Lagat remains in good position to qualify for Rio. He won his first 10,000-meter race in 27:49.35 at Payton Jordan Invitational in May. If he does not make the Olympic team, Lagat’s next move will be road racing.
Event: 800 meters (Fifth place at 2012 Olympics)
Achievements since London: 2013 world championship silver medalist (800 meters); 2013 and ’15 U.S. champion
Symmonds and Hayward Field have been good to each other since he made his first Olympic team in 2008’s epic 800-meter final. Symmonds ran 1:42.95 for fifth place at the 2012 Olympics in London, making him the third fastest American at the distance. He won a silver medal at the 2013 world championships before injury struck and he missed a majority of the 2014 season.
He remains one of the most vocal U.S. athletes against sponsorship rights and as he skipped the 2015 world championships to protests a controversial statement of conditions. Symmonds has gotten off to a slow start to the season and also nagged by slight injuries but if history has taught us anything, it is not to count out Symmonds in front of a Hayward crowd.
Event: Decathlon (2012 Olympic gold medalist)
Achievements since London: 2013 and ’15 world championship gold medalist
The world’s greatest athlete returns to the Olympic Trials just four years after setting his previous world record of 9,039, which he improved upon at last summer’s world championships to 9,045. Do not expect a world record in Eugene this time, but Eaton remains the favorite for gold at the Olympics and will certainly be entertaining to watch in Eugene. He could become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic titles since Great Britain’s Daley Thompson did so in 1980 and ’84.
Women’s Olympic stars to watch
Events: 200 meters (2012 Olympic gold medalist, ’04 and ’08 silver medalist), 400 meters
Achievements since London: 2015 world champion in 400 meters
Felix is already the most decorated U.S. sprinter in world championship history and six-time Olympic medalist (three individual, three with relays), but the IOC and IAAF changed the schedule of events in Rio so that she could chase history and race both the 200- and the 400-meter events. No American has won gold in both since Michael Johnson in 1996. Felix had a slight setback this season with an ankle injury and the early races should be a quick indicator of her current fitness. Her ultimate goal is peaking in Rio, where more history awaits.
Event: 800 meters (Fifth at 2012 Olympics)
Achievements since London: Fourth at the 2013 world championships, ’13 and ’15 U.S. champion
Montaño finished fifth at the 2012 Olympics, but with the doping scandal that has ravaged the sport (featuring the Russians), she could someday see a medal. Aside from speaking out against doping, Montaño is also best known for racing at the 2014 U.S. championships while pregnant. To top it off, she returned a year later to take the U.S. national title. The women’s 800 meters is one of the deepest events for the U.S., but Montano will rely on her experience to try and make her second Olympic team.
Molly Huddle, 2012 Olympian and 5,000-meter American record holder
Events: 5,000 meters (11th at 2012 Olympics), 10,000 meters
Achievements since London: Sixth at the 2013 world championships in 5,000 meters, fourth at the 2015 world championships in 10,000 meters
Huddle has established herself as one of the premier U.S. distance runners with a range that will soon extend to the marathon (she plans to run in the New York City Marathon after Rio). Huddle seeks her second U.S. title at 10,000 meters and redemption at the international stage after getting nipped at the finish line of the world championships due to a premature celebration. Huddle’s 67:41 NYC Half win and her 14:48.14 run for 5,000 meters at the Pre Classic prove she will be hard to beat.
Event: 5,000 meters (semifinalist at 2012 Olympics), 10,000 meters
Achievements since London: 2014 U.S. champion in 10,000 meters
Conley may have the best chance of beating Huddle as she mixed speed and strength well in her prep races of 2016. Conley made the U.S. Olympic team at 5,000 in a dramatic Olympic Trials final. Injuries forced her to miss last outdoor season but the 2014 U.S. champion is back in form at a great time.
Event: Long jump (gold medalist at 2012 Olympics)
Achievements since London: 2013 world championship gold medalist
The 2012 Olympic champion is back in form after recovering from a torn hip labrum in 2013 and failing to make the world championships final last year. Reese won gold at the 2016 world indoor championships in March and her 7.04-meter season’s best puts her third in the world for the event.
Potential new men’s Olympians to watch
Event: Shot put
Achievements since London: 2015 world championship gold medalist
At the 2012 trials, Kovacs fell just one place short of making the Olympic team, but he returns to Eugene as a world champion and an apparent lock to make it to Rio de Janeiro. Last summer, he launched the shot put 22.56 meters for the longest throw since 2003, making him the eighth best thrower of all-time. Kovacs current sits atop the 2016 world list with his 22.13-meter throw at the Pre Classic.
Event: 800 meters
Achievements since London: 2016 NCAA champion
Brazier may have the most eyes on him during the U.S. Olympic Trials; fresh off an NCAA title in which he broke Jim Ryun’s 50-year-old collegiate record of 1:44.3, turned professional at just 19 years old. He showed he can handle the rounds of a championship, but how will he fare against senior athletes?
Event: 100 meters, 200 meters
Achievements since London: 2015 world championship bronze medalist (100 meters)
Bromell, who has the potential to be the next U.S. sprinting star, suffered an Achilles injury at the Birmingham Diamond League and has not raced since June 2. He tied for the bronze medal at last summer’s world championships and appeared to be a favorite to make the Olympic team. Overcoming this injury would be impressive, because it would be a huge blow if he missed the Olympic team.
Event: 10,000 meters
Achievements since London: 15th at the 2015 world championships in 10,000 meters
Many of the U.S. middle distance runners have struggled to start the season. Mead continues to fare well since making his first U.S. national team at last summer’s world championships, where he finished 15th overall. Mead has an interesting background as his family emigrated from his native Somalia to the U.S. when he was young. He was a standout at Minnesota, where he missed the 2010–11 season due to a collapsed lung, yet he managed to still be an eight-time All-American.
Potential new women’s Olympians to watch
Events: 100 meters, 200 meters
Achievements since London: 2015 world championship bronze medalist in 100 meters,
Bowie did not compete at the 2012 Olympic Trials as she was still finding her event in the sport while sprinting and long jumping, the event in which she won the 2011 NCAA title. Now, she has a chance to introduce herself to a nationally-televised audience before she contends for gold at the Olympics. Bowie earned a bronze medal in the 100 meters at last summer’s world championships and is the second-fastest woman at 100 and 200 for the year, respectively. Say hello to a new American star.
Event: 100 meters
Achievements since London: Fourth in the 100 meters at 2013 world championships
Gardner falls into the same category as Bowie as they usher in the new era of U.S. sprints. Gardner was a finalist at the 2012 trials but failed to make the team. She has not missed a national team since then as she won the U.S. 100 meter crown in 2013 and finished second in ’15. The former Oregon Duck knows how to make national teams.
Event: 800 meters
Achievements since London: Sixth at the 2013 world championships, 2014 U.S. national champion
Wilson is the fastest American woman in 800 meters this year, which speaks to her talent in a deep event. The former high school phenom has continued to run well in her early 20s; she finished sixth at the 2013 world championship final before winning her first outdoor national title in 2014. She clinched a spot for last year’s world championships but withdrew due to injury.
Event: High jump
Achievement since London: 2016 world indoor gold medalist
The daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham won her first global championship gold medal in the high jump before graduating high school, claiming the world indoor title in March. She turned professional and signed a contract with Nike after setting a personal best of 1.99-meters to set a world junior record for the event. If healthy, she could make her first Olympic team at 18.
Event: 10,000 meters
Achievement since London: 2015 world championship bronze medalist in 10,000 meters
Since graduating from Georgetown, Infeld’s professional career never fully blossomed due to a series of injuries. A full healthy season paid dividends as she won a world championship bronze medal in the 10,000 meters in just her third race at the distance. She has not raced in 2016, but if she is healthy, she can potentially push for one of the three Olympic berths.
Five must-watch races
Men’s 100-meter final—Sunday, July 3, 8:53 p.m. EST
Justin Gatlin leads the charge of U.S. sprint stars that will set up a date with Usain Bolt in Brazil. Trayvon Bromell leads the youth movement in the event but enters banged up. Controversy may also arise if all three U.S. Olympians have previously served suspensions for banned substances and due to the sorry state of the sport, it is likely.
Women’s 100-meter final—Sunday, July 3, 8:44 p.m. EST
A fresh batch of new stars may emerge led by Tori Bowie and English Gardner that can put the U.S. back on top of the medal stand in Rio. Does “the fastest woman alive”, Carmelita Jeter, have it in her to make a final Olympic team?
Men’s 10,000 meters—July 1, 9:15 p.m. EST
Galen Rupp goes for his eighth U.S. title at the distance. Bernard Lagat makes one last attempt at making the Olympics at 41 years old. In a 25 lap race, the final mile will test the kicks and patience with spots for Rio on the line.
Men’s 800-meter final—Monday, 8:51 p.m. EST
After a legal battle with Nike, Boris Berian returns to the track looking to make his first Olympic team just two years after flipping burgers as a McDonald’s employee. The fresh faces continue to roll in with NCAA stand-outs Donovan Brazier and Clayton Murphy in the mix. Nick Symmonds seeks more Hayward Field magic as he tries to make a third Olympic team. A lot can happen in just over 100 seconds.
Women’s 800-meter final—Monday, 8:42 p.m. EST
This may be the best event of the first half of the trials. Last year, 2:00.48 did not make the U.S. final. Performances have not been as fast in 2016 but with multiple world championship caliber athletes like Montano, Wilson, Brenda Martinez, Molly Ludlow and younger stars like Laura Roesler, Shelby Houlihan and other, predicting a hurricane is easier.