Matthew Centrowitz

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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:

100m
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

1500m
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.

200m
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
Sunday
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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Watch Matthew Centrowitz outkick Mo Farah for 1500m win

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Matthew Centrowitz notched his first win over Mo Farah on Thursday night, then looked ahead to an American record attempt this summer.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first U.S. Olympic 1500m champion in 108 years, ran away from his training partner Farah in the final 200 meters of a 1500m heat at the USA Track and Field Distance Classic in Los Angeles.

Centrowitz clocked 3 minutes, 33.41 seconds, his best time since July 2015, in his first 1500m since Rio. Farah crossed in second in 3:34.19 in the opener for the final outdoor track season before he converts to marathon running.

“I just asked [Farah before the race] if you’re going for the win, or are you going for a fast time,” Centrowitz told media afterward. “He said, I’m going for a fast time. That’s all I needed to hear. I was like, I’m just going to sit on him.”

Farah, who swept the Olympic 5000m and 10,000m in 2012 and 2016, still owns a faster 1500m personal best than Centrowitz — 3:28.81 to 3:30.40. Farah beat Centrowitz in their two previous head-to-heads, both 1500m, in 2013 and 2015.

Centrowitz has stated his eyes are on the American record in the 1500m — 3:29.30 held by Bernard Lagat. Centrowitz currently ranks third behind Lagat and 1980s runner Sydney Maree (3:29.77).

The U.S. record in the mile is a bit more ambitious, given nobody has come within three and a half seconds of Alan Webb‘s 3:46.91 since he set it in 2007.

“I’m probably focused and eyeing more the 15 because we have more opportunities at it,” Centrowitz said Thursday, according to the Orange County Register, which added that he specifically listed a Diamond League meet in Monaco on July 21. “I think that 3:46, there’s a reason no one’s run faster in the last 10 years. It’s a hard time to beat and, there’s not really many opportunities.”

Centrowitz headlines the field for the Bowerman Mile at next weekend’s Pre Classic, which will air live on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

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Matthew Centrowitz beaten at Millrose Games; American records fall

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NEW YORK — Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz felt heavy and sluggish. Rio teammates Courtney Okolo and Ajee’ Wilson were anything but, breaking American records at the Millrose Games on Saturday evening.

Centrowitz, who in Rio became the first American to win an Olympic 1500m since 1908, finished seventh in a two-mile race at the historic indoor meet in Manhattan. He never challenged for the lead in an event won by veteran Ben True.

“I felt pretty heavy; I felt pretty sluggish,” Centrowitz said. “I think it was maybe 4:08, 4:09 at the mile, and it felt like we were going a lot faster than that.”

Afterward, Centrowitz’s coach, three-time New York City Marathon winner Alberto Salazar, told the runner that he might have worked him too hard in training the last week.

“I’m not out of shape,” said Centrowitz, who clocked 8:21.07 after winning the mile race at Millrose the previous two years. “Maybe coming back from Rio, or maybe I’m sort of tired from the workouts in my legs the past week and a half.”

Meanwhile, True clocked 8:11:33 to notch one of the biggest wins of his career and complete a unique New York trifecta. In 2015, True became the first American man to win a Diamond League 5000m, at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York. He also won the 2015 Healthy Kidney 5K road race in Central Park.

“It’s something special,” said True, a Maine native. “I’m a New England and a Boston fan for cities, but I’ve had some incredible luck down here in New York City for races.”

Full Millrose Games results are here. Americans are preparing for the U.S. Indoor Championships in three weeks (with coverage on NBC Sports).

In other Millrose events, U.S. Olympians Okolo and Wilson broke the American indoor records in the 500m and 800m, respectively.

American Eric Jenkins and the Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan won the meet’s prestigious mile races.

In the pole vault, Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi held off American Sandi Morris to repeat their Rio one-two finish.

Shaunae Miller, the Bahamian who dived at the finish line and beat Allyson Felix in the Olympic 400m, won the women’s 300m against a field that included U.S. Olympians Ashley SpencerNatasha Hastings and Sydney McLaughlin. Miller then said she still hopes to race both the 200m and the 400m at the world championships in London this summer.

In the 60m hurdles, Olympic champion Omar McLeod of Jamaica prevailed in his first competition since Sept. 1. McLeod said one of his goals this year is to enter the same 100m race as countryman Usain Bolt for the first time. McLeod’s personal best in the 100m is 9.99 seconds.

Canadian Olympian Phylicia George won the women’s 60m hurdles, edging American Sharika Nelvis.

Rio long jump gold medalists Jeff Henderson and Tianna Bartoletta each finished sixth in 60m sprints won by Dezerea Bryant and Clayton Vaughn.

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