Clayton Murphy

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Five men’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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The face of U.S. men’s track and field is changing.

Double Olympic decathlon champion Ashton Eaton retired.

The sprint leaders in the last decade — Justin GatlinLaShawn MerrittTyson GayWalter Dix — are all entered in the USATF Outdoor Championships (Summer Champions Series) in Sacramento this week. But they are all also into their 30s, twilight years for speedsters.

Nationals, which begin Thursday on NBC Sports (broadcast schedule here), will determine the team for the world championships in London in August. The top three finishers per event make the roster, should they reach the qualifying times or marks.

In addition to the top three, reigning world champions from 2015 and Diamond League champions from 2016 receive automatic byes into worlds, should they toe the start line in Sacramento.

In the year after the Olympics, many familiar stars could be on the way out. New faces could emerge.

Here are five men’s events to watch this week:

Thursday (first round)
Friday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Justin Gatlin (silver), Trayvon Bromell (8th), Marvin Bracy (15th)
2017 World Rankings: Christian Coleman (first, 9.82), Cameron Burrell (4th, 9.93), Chris Belcher (4th, 9.93), Ronnie Baker (9th, 9.98)

Outlook: The three-man team for worlds may well have zero Olympic 100m experience. That’s because Gatlin hasn’t broken 10 seconds this year, though he has only raced three times and twice into a headwind. Bromell hasn’t raced period since the Rio Olympics (Achilles surgery). And Bracy won’t race this week following surgery.

Enter Coleman, who finished sixth in the Olympic Trials 100m but on June 7 at the NCAA Championships ran the fastest-ever 100m for his age. Enter Baker, who beat the Olympic silver and bronze medalists (Gatlin and Andre De Grasse) to win the Prefontaine Classic on May 27. Baker was bounced in the semifinals of the Olympic Trials. All of the six U.S. men who have run 10.0 or faster this year are age 23 and younger.

MORE: Five women’s events to watch

Thursday (first round)
Saturday (final)
2016 Olympics: Matthew Centrowitz (gold), Ben Blankenship (8th), Robby Andrews (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Centrowitz (10th, 3:33.41), Clayton Murphy (40th, 3:36.34), John Gregorek (47th, 3:36.61), Cristian Soratos (48th, 3:36.73)

Outlook: Excitement injected this event when Olympic 800m bronze medalist Murphy announced last week he would attempt the 800m-1500m double in Sacramento. No U.S. man has competed in both the 800m and 1500m at a single worlds. While Centrowitz, the first U.S. 1500m gold medalist in 108 years, is a clear favorite, the other two world team spots are there for the taking. Murphy is a proven 1500m runner, winning the 2016 NCAA title for Akron and then turning pro before his senior season.

110m Hurdles
Saturday (first round)
Sunday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: Devon Allen (6th), Ronnie Ash (8th), Jeff Porter (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Allen (3rd, 13.11), Aries Merritt (5th, 13.13), Aleec Harris (7th, 13.18), David Oliver (28th, 13.40)

Outlook: The U.S. failed to put a man on the Olympic 110m hurdles podium in Rio for the first time at a non-boycotted Games. Jamaica is now home to the world’s best hurdlers, but the U.S. field is deep with two world champions (Jason RichardsonDavid Oliver), plus an Olympic champion and world-record holder in Merritt. But the favorite may be Allen. The former University of Oregon wide receiver came back from a second torn ACL suffered in September to top the U.S. rankings going into Sacramento.

Saturday (first round)
Sunday (semifinals, final)
2016 Olympics: LaShawn Merritt (6th), Justin Gatlin (semifinals), Ameer Webb (semifinals)
2017 World Rankings: Christian Coleman (2nd, 19.85), Noah Lyles (3rd, 19.90), Chris Belcher (6th, 20.01), Brandon Carnes (20th, 20.25)

Outlook: Like with the 100m, this could be a changing-of-the-guard weekend. Coleman, Lyles and Belcher have never raced individually at an Olympics or worlds, but they are the only American men to rub sub-20.18 this year. And they’ve each done it multiple times.

The veterans Gatlin and Merritt will make the U.S. team if they repeat their 19.75 and 19.79 times from the Olympic Trials, but that appears unlikely. Gatlin is entered in the 200m but maybe only as a safety net if he doesn’t make top three in the 100m. He hasn’t raced a 200m since Rio. Merritt’s focus may also be on another event — the 400m. He already has a world team bye in the one-lap race but must enter one nationals event to be eligible for worlds.

Long Jump
2016 Olympics: Jeff Henderson (gold), Jarrion Lawson (4th), Mike Hartfield (25th)
2017 World Rankings: Henderson (19th, 8.15m), Charles Brown (22nd, 8.14m), Jarvis Gotch (24th, 8.13m), Marquis Dendy (24th, 8.13m)

Outlook: Henderson may be the Olympic champion, but his leaps in five meets in 2017 might not be enough if repeated Sunday. Really, no American man has distinguished himself this year. The top six are within three centimeters of each other in the world rankings. Keep an eye on Gotch, who was 11th at Olympic Trials but leaped 8.37 meters (with an illegal tailwind of 2.8 meters/second) on May 27. And Lawson, who appeared to cost himself a medal in Rio by dragging his left hand in the sand behind his landing on his final jump.

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Kenya’s Rudisha runs away to win men’s 800, USA’s Murphy takes bronze

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Four years after claiming gold in the 800 in world-record time, Kenyan David Rudisha pulled away from the crowd halfway through the second lap to win his second consecutive Olympic gold medal in the event.

“King David” won in a time of 1:42.15, the fastest time in the world since he broke the world record in London. Taking silver was Algeria’s Taoufik Makhloufi, who finished the race in 1:42.61, with American Clayton Murphy taking bronze with a time of 1:42.93. The 21-year old Murphy is the first American to medal in the men’s 800 since 1992, when Johnny Gray took bronze.

WATCH: Kenya’s David Rudisha repeats gold in men’s 800

“I dreamed about a medal all night,” Murphy said according to the Olympic News Service. “Now it’s happened, I’m wondering if I’m still asleep.”

A Kenyan has won gold in the 800 in three straight Olympics, and Rudisha’s win is the fifth for Kenya in this event since the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul. Rudisha is also the first to repeat as Olympic champion in the 800 since Peter Snell of New Zealand did so in 1960 and 1964.

Five of the top six finishers posted personal best times, with Murphy’s time also representing a career best for him. The fourth and fifth-place finishers were France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Kenya’s Ferguson Rotich, who finished fifth and fourth respectively at last year’s World Championships in Beijing.

Merritt, Murphy and Berrian advance to 400, 800 finals

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The semifinal heats of the men’s 400 and 800 meter races were held Saturday night, with a total of four American runners advancing to the finals of those two competitions.

In the 400 LaShawn Merritt managed to advance, with his time of 44.21 seconds ranking second among the semifinal competitors. Only Greneda’s Kirani James, who is the reigning Olympic champion in the 400, posted a faster time than Merritt as he finished in 44.09 seconds. Greneda has five athletes competing in Rio, and two of them will be running in the 400 meter final. Joining James is first-time Olympian Bralon Taplin, who posted the fourth-fastest semifinal time at 44.44 seconds.

Americans Gil Roberts and David Verberg failed to qualify for the 400 final, with Roberts’ time of 44.69 seconds placing him ninth among semifinalists and Verberg finishing 20th at 45.61 seconds.

In the men’s 800 final the U.S. will have two competitors, with Boris Berrian and Clayton Murphy qualifying out of heats two and three, respectively. Murphy’s time of 1:44.30 placed him fourth among semifinalists, with Berrian sixth with a time of 1:44.56. The fastest qualifying time was posted by France’s Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, who finished in 1:43.85. Also in the final is Kenya’s David Rudisha, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, as he ranked third among qualifiers with a time of 1:43.88.

The 400 final is scheduled for Sunday’s evening session just before the 100 meter final, and the 800 final will be run Monday.