U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Preview: Sprint and Field Events

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EUGENE, Ore. – Track and field returns to Eugene, Ore., for the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials on Friday. The trials serve as the selection meet for the U.S. team for the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo. The top three finishers with their respective qualifying marks in each event will be named to the national team.

Below are the key storylines to watch in each respective sprint and field event. To view the preview for the distance events, click here.

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Men’s 100 Meters: Trayvon Bromell’s Remarkable Comeback

The United States' men’s 100-meter picture was fairly wide open after reigning world champion Christian Coleman was suspended for 18 months for missing three drug tests within a 12-month span. His suspension ends in November and he plans on returning in 2022 to defend his world championship title. So who has stepped up in his absence? Enter Trayvon Bromell. He ran 9.84 at 19 years old in 2015 and went on to make the Olympic final a year later. However, achilles and leg injuries hindered him from looking anywhere near his top form until 2021. The year delay allowed him extra time to come back and he’s now the fastest man in the world for 2021 with a season’s best of 9.77. Bromell has not lost a 100-meter race all year.

Behind him, fellow 2016 U.S. Olympian Marvin Bracy (9.85), Isaiah Young (8.9), Fred Kerley (9.91), Ronnie Baker (9.94) and JoVaughn Martin (9.94) own the next five-fastest times of the world for the year and there’s only three coveted spots heading to Tokyo, where they look to become the first American to win gold in the event since Justin Gatlin in 2004. Oh, and he’s competing, too, at 39 years old.

Women’s 100 Meters: The Sha’Carri Richardson Show

Sha'Carri Richardson rose to stardom with her 10.75 collegiate record as an LSU freshman, which led her to turn professional shortly thereafter. She failed to crack the top three of the 2019 U.S. Championships and didn’t make the national team for the world championships. This will be her first championship to reverse her luck. On April 10, she ran 10.72 and told the media, “My season is going to be unbelievable.” Richardson presents the United States’ best hope of a gold medal in the 100 meters in Tokyo.

USC star Twanisha “TeeTee” Terry is the next-fastest American woman with a season’s best of 10.89. However, she was upset at the NCAA Championships when North Carolina A&T’s Cambrea Sturgis pulled off the 100/200 meters double and won in a wind-aided 10.74.

Men’s 200 Meters: Is Noah Lyles’ Winning Streak in Trouble?

Five years ago Noah Lyles missed out on his first Olympic team as a high school senior placing fourth in the Olympic Trials 200-meter final. He’s since become a world champion and the fourth-fastest man of all-time behind Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake and Michael Johnson. Lyles’s electric personality coupled with pre- and post-race antics are the closest thing the U.S. has had to its own Bolt in the past decade. Lyles has only lost one outdoor final since those trials when he ran 19.72 but was beaten by Michael Norman on June 6, 2019 at the Rome Diamond League. (Norman is also entered for the 200 meters.)

This season, he’s only raced the 200 meters outdoors once and won in 19.90. Instead, he’s raced the 100 meters seven times so we’ll see what he pops off in his specialty event.

Lyles’s competition does seem tougher than recent years. Terrance Laird of LSU currently owns the fastest time in the world with a 19.81 from the Texas Relays in March. He won the 100-meter NCAA title and took second in the 200-meter final to Joe Fahnbulleh, who is running for Liberia. Matthew Boling is also a familiar name to sports fans for his fast times as a high schooler

22-year-old Kenny Bednarek turned pro in 2019 after competing at the JUCO level for Indian Hills Community College in Iowa and went on to make the world championships for Doha. He’s ranked No. 2 in the world for the 200 meters and owns a personal best of 19.80 from August 2020.

Women’s 200 Meters: Will There Be as Many Dramatics as the 2016 Finish?

The women’s 200-meter final in 2016 provided dramatics with Allyson Felix falling .01 second short of making the team to try and double with the 400m at the Olympics and former Oregon Duck star Jenna Prandini making the team. The women’s 200 meters will feature many of the same stars as the 100 meters with Richardson (22.11) and Sturgis (22.12) as the top two seeds.

Alabama’s Tamara Clark and USC’s Anglerne Annelus have run 22.13 and 22.16, respectively.

Another professional to watch will be Gabby Thomas, who has a degree in neurobiology and global health and health policy from Harvard. She had a health scare when doctors discovered a tumor in her liver last month but then later learned it is benign. She has run 22.17 on the year and is the fourth-fastest American woman in the world for 2021.

Men’s 400 Meters: Can Randolph Ross Go Faster Against Pros?

North Carolina A&T sophomore Randolph Ross had a statement win at the NCAA Championships, where he won the national title in 43.85 for the third-fastest time in collegiate history and the fastest time in the world for 2021. Ross chose to run for his father, 2004 Olympian Duane Ross, at the HBCU school over several Power Five programs. Can the 20-year-old go even faster in his first race against professionals? He has the field to do it.

Ross is .42 seconds faster on the year than Michael Norman, who is the indoor 400-meter world record holder and owns a personal best of 43.45. Norman represented the U.S. at the 2019 world championships but was injured in the semifinals. Behind Norman, Noah Williams, Michael Cherry and Bryce Deadmon have all run under 44.50 on the year.

Fred Kerley, who earned a bronze medal at the 2019 world championships in the 400, has interestingly opted to try for the 100 meters and 200 meters instead of his specialty event.

Women’s 400 Meters: Allyson Felix Aims to Make the Olympics as a Mom

Allyson Felix is looking to make her fifth Olympic team and her first as a mother when she gets in the blocks for the 400 meters. On May 18, she ran 50.88 for her fastest time since 2017 and sits in the top 15 in the world heading into these trials. Texas A&M freshman phenom Athing Mu’s 49.57 is the fastest time by an American in 2021 but she has elected to run the 800 meters and helps Felix’s chances.

Felix would need to finish within the top six to be named to the Olympic team for Tokyo since the team takes people outside of the top three for the women’s 4x400 meters and the newly-added mixed-gender 4x400. Felix was sixth at the 2019 U.S. Championship final and went on to compete in the 4x400 relay at the world championships in Doha.

Men’s 110-Meter Hurdles: Grant Holloway’s Time to Shine

Five years ago Grant Holloway was still competing against high schoolers in the hurdles, high jump and long jump. His personal best was just 13.37 at the time. He went on to win three NCAA titles in the 110-meter hurdles while at Florida and was crowned the 2019 world champion. He’s gotten his personal best down to 12.98 and broke the 60-meter hurdles world record this past winter. It’s safe to say that he has stamped himself as the best American in the event.

Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world record holder, will miss the Olympics Trials due to a torn calf. 2016 Olympians Jeff Porter and Ronnie Ash have not competed since 2017 and 2019, respectively, so Devon Allen, the former Oregon wide receiver who decided to focus on track, may be the only possible back-to-back Olympian in the event. He has not missed a U.S. national team since winning the 2016 trials. He was fifth in the final at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Daniel Roberts, who was Holloway’s biggest rival in college, has run 13.23 on the season and looks to make his first Olympic team.

Women’s 100-Meter Hurdles: Redemption for World Record Holder Keni Harrison

The United States swept the medals in this event at the 2016 Olympics with Brianna Rollins-McNeal, Nia Ali and Kristi Castlin going 1-2-3. It was arguably one of the most unpredictable events at the last trials due to the country’s depth. Keni Harrison was sixth at the Olympic Trials and rebounded by breaking the world record two weeks later with a 12.20 run at the London Diamond League. She has had to wait five years to make her first Olympic team and heads into competition with the fastest seed time.

LSU’s Tonea Marshall did not contest the 100-meter hurdles at the NCAA Championships due an aggravated hamstring but still ranks No. 2 in the world this season with a 12.44 personal best.

Rollins-McNeal has been banned for five years for tampering with the doping control process but is appealing the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Due to the active appeal, she will be allowed to compete at the trials but a decision from CAS is due before the Tokyo Olympics. If she occupies one of the top three spots and the ban is upheld, the fourth-place finisher could possibly take her place.

Men’s 400-Meter Hurdles: It’s All About Benjamin

Rai Benjamin is the best U.S. 400-meter hurdler since the '90s and is the fourth-fastest man of all-time with a 46.98 personal best. He won a silver medal in the event at the 2019 world championships and didn’t hurdle at all in 2020 when the pandemic wiped away the entire outdoor season. He has not lost a step and opened up his hurdle season with a 47.13 for the fastest time in the world for 2021. Barring a clipped hurdle disaster, he’s the United States’ best chance to try and upset Norway’s Karsten Warholm for the gold medal in Tokyo.

19-year-old Sean Burrell, an LSU freshman, ran a U-20 record with his 47.85 to win the NCAA title.

Women’s 400-Meter Hurdles: Muhammad vs. McLaughlin

Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin will meet again for the first time since the 2019 world championships in Doha, where Muhammad broke her own world record in 52.16 seconds. McLaughlin is the second-fastest woman of all-time with her 52.23 for silver. At the 2019 U.S. Championships, Muhammad broke a world record that stood for 16 years but with McLaughlin continually improving at 21 years old, these two could end up trading the record for the next few years.

McLaughlin owns the fastest time in the world for the year when she opened up her hurdle campaign with a 52.83 on June 6.

The Best of the Jumps

– The United States suffered a major blow in the triple jump when two-time Olympic champion and four-time world champion Christian Taylor ruptured his Achilles at a meet in the Czech Republic in late May. Will Claye, who has been the runner-up to Taylor at the last two Olympics and world championships, now gets his best chance to take the U.S. trials crown and possibly gold in Tokyo.

– Learn JuVaughn Harrison’s name. The LSU star cleared 2.36 meters for the high jump on May 14. Last year, he became the first man in 98 years to win the high jump and long jump at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

– Vashti Cunningham, the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, made her first Olympic team in 2016. She has since added world championship bronze and silver medals and heads into the trials as the top high jumper in the world.

– 22-year-old Tara Davis has emerged as a rising star in the long jump while competing at Texas. She notched a 7.14-meter mark in March, which puts her at No. 2 in the world. She won the NCAA title in June.

Best of the Pole Vault

– 2016 Olympic silver medalist Sandi Morris has been America’s best pole vaulter since the last Olympics and has added two more world championship silver medals to her collection. However, she faces a strong challenge from Katie Nagoette, who missed the 2016 Olympics with a fifth-place finish at the last trials, but is now the world leader with a 4.93 season's bests.

– Chris Nilsen, who competed at the Olympic Trials as a high schooler in 2016, now has a chance to capture his first U.S. title since he owns the second-best mark in the world with a 5.91-meter clearance. He’ll have to upset nine-time U.S. champion, two-time world champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sam Kendricks.

Best of the Throws

– There is a good chance Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs could set the first world record at the newly-renovated Hayward Field. The duo took gold and silver at the Rio Olympics. Their battle at the 2019 world championships is the best shot put competition in history, where Kovacs won by a centimeter with a 22.91-meter heave. Crouser roared back in 2021 by breaking Randy Barnes’s world indoor record from 1989 with a 22.82-meter toss in January. On May 22, he became just the third person in history to throw farther than 23 meters with a 23.01 toss at a competition in Tucson. Barnes’s 23.12-meter world record is on watch.

– Reigning world champion DeAnna Price broke her own American record this spring with a 78.60-meter toss and looks to qualify for her second Olympics, where she can improve upon her eighth place finish from 2016.

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