Five events to watch at U.S. Track and Field Championships

Leave a comment

The fiercest competition for national titles, and top-three finishes to make the World Championships team, at this weekend’s USA Track and Field Championships should come in these five loaded events:

Men’s Long Jump — Thursday, 8 p.m. ET (USATF.TV)
Jeff Henderson — 2015 world leader
Will Claye — Olympic bronze medalist
Christian Taylor — Olympic triple jump champion
Ashton Eaton — Olympic decathlon champion
Marquis Dendy — 2015 world co-No. 4
Jarrion Lawson — 2015 world co-No. 4
Marquise Goodwin — 2012 Olympian/Buffalo Bills WR

It’s unlikely that Eaton would compete in the long jump at Worlds if he finished in the top three in Eugene, Ore., on Thursday, since his focus at Worlds will be on defending his decathlon title. Henderson, Claye, Dendy, Lawson and Goodwin have better personal bests in the long jump than Eaton anyway.

Taylor, too, is already qualified for the U.S. team in another event, the triple jump, which at the World Championships in Beijing (Aug. 22-30) starts one day after the long jump concludes. His personal best long jump is shorter than Eaton’s.

Henderson will be favored to defend his national title. His 8.50m jump on April 18 was the farthest in the world this year and the best by an American since 2009.

Dendy and Lawson dueled at the NCAA Championships with personal bests.

Goodwin is somewhat of a wild card, given he hasn’t competed in the long jump since he finished 10th at the London 2012 Olympics. His personal best, 8.33 meters, would rank fourth among Americans this year, behind Henderson, Dendy and Lawson.

Marquise Goodwin petitions into U.S. Championships

Women’s 400m — Saturday, 5:32 p.m. ET (NBC, Live Extra (full broadcast schedule here))
Francena McCorory — 2015 world leader
Sanya Richards-Ross — 2012 Olympic champion
Allyson Felix — 2011 World silver medalist

McCorory, Richards-Ross and Felix rank Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in the world this year. Felix is the slowest of the three, clocking 50.05 seconds, but that’s still a comfortable .62 faster than the No. 4 U.S. woman, Natasha Hastings.

However, Hastings and the rest of the field shouldn’t give up hope, given Felix will choose between running the 200m or the 400m at the World Championships, should she finish top three Saturday. Felix attempted the 200m-400m double at the 2011 Worlds but will not do so this year, given the 200m semifinals and 400m final at Worlds are 70 minutes apart in Beijing.

If Felix finishes top three in the 400m at nationals and drops it for Worlds, the fourth-place finisher would be in line to take her 400m spot at Worlds.

Richards-Ross will look to reclaim a national title after finishing sixth at the 2013 U.S. Championships while slowed by a right big toe injury that required two surgeries. In 2014, McCorory recorded a personal best to beat Richards-Ross in the U.S. Championships final.

Sanya Richards-Ross seeks revenge in 2015, history in 2016

Women’s 100m hurdles — Saturday, 5:52 p.m. ET (NBC, Live Extra)
Brianna Rollins — 2013 World champion (has bye onto Worlds team)
Dawn Harper-Nelson — 2014 Diamond League champion
Jasmin Stowers — 2015 world leader
Kendra Harrison — 2015 world No. 2
Sharika Nelvis — 2015 world No. 3
Lolo Jones — Two-time Summer Olympian

Ten of the 14 fastest women in the world this year are Americans. The list is led by Stowers, a 23-year-old favored to qualify for her first global championship. Stowers has run 12.40 or better three times this year. Only one other American has done that over an entire career — three-time World 100m hurdles champion Gail Devers.

The 2008 Olympic champion Harper-Nelson would have a bye onto the Worlds team because she won the 2014 Diamond League season title, but the single automatic spot available goes to Rollins for her 2013 World Championship. If Rollins finishes in the top three Saturday, the fourth-place finisher is in line to join the U.S. team, too.

Then there’s Jones, one of 10 Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, who is coming off an April torn hamstring. She ranks No. 29 in the world this year and will need to improve upon that greatly to have a shot to make Worlds for the first time since 2007.

Undeterred Lolo Jones’ outlook not good to make World Championships

Men’s 5000m — Sunday, 1:45 p.m. ET (moved from 4:27 p.m. ET)
Galen Rupp — Olympic 10,000m silver medalist
Bernard Lagat — Three-time World 5000m medalist
Ben True — Adidas Grand Prix 5000m winner

Every member of this trio enters Eugene with a question mark.

How will Rupp fare amid the scrutiny of a recent investigative report of former teammates accusing his longtime coach of cheating?

Does Lagat, at age 40, have enough gas left in the tank to make a fifth straight World Championships 5000m team since switching from Kenya to the U.S.? Lagat is the only American man to win a World Championships 5000m medal (gold in 2007 and silver in 2009 and 2011).

True became the first U.S. man to win a Diamond League 5000m on June 13, but how will he handle the pressure of a U.S. Championships? In 2012, he finished sixth in the 5000m and 12th in the 10,000m at the Olympic trials, impacted by Lyme Disease. In 2013, he finished fourth in both the 5000m and the 10,000m at the U.S. Championships, just missing Worlds.

Galen Rupp talks training with Mo Farah, marathons, weird drug test story

Women’s 800m — Sunday, 4:48 p.m. ET (NBC, Live Extra)
Ajee’ Wilson — 2014 world leader
Brenda Martinez — 2013 World bronze medalist
Alysia Montano — fourth or fifth at 2011 Worlds, 2012 Olympics, 2013 Worlds

Wilson, 21, is the top threat to dethrone Kenyan Eunice Sum as World champion in August. It would be a stunner if she didn’t finish in the top three on Sunday to make her second straight Worlds team.

Martinez, who in 2013 became the first U.S. woman to win a Worlds 800m medal, has been the second-fastest U.S. woman each of the last four years (behind Wilson in 2014 and 2015 and Montano in 2012 and 2013).

Then there’s Montano, who competed in the 2014 U.S. Championships seven weeks before giving birth to daughter Linnea. Montano has catching up to do, as she ranks No. 63 in the world in the 800m this year, finishing fifth at the Drake Relays on April 24 and 10th at the Prefontaine Classic on May 30.

Alysia Montano reflects on running very pregnant at 2014 U.S. Championships

French Open: Karolina Pliskova, top player sans Slam, again exits early

Karolina Pliskova
Getty Images
Leave a comment

No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova exited yet another Grand Slam in the early stages, falling to 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the second round at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Ostapenko, whose only match wins at the French Open before this week came in her title run three years ago, bounced the big-serving Czech 6-4, 6-2.

Pliskova put fewer than half of her first serves in play, while Ostapenko fired 27 winners to 19 unforced errors. Pliskova was on the ropes in her first round, too, needing three sets to get past an Egyptian qualifier.

“Maybe same level as the match before, but of course [Ostapenko] is much better player,” Pliskova said. “Not much to say about this match.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women | TV Schedule

Later Thursday, top-ranked Novak Djokovic had a second straight win ceding just five games, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2 over Lithuanian Ricardas Berankis. Djokovic undefeated in 2020 save his U.S. Open default for smacking a ball that inadvertently struck a linesperson, next gets Colombian lucky loser Daniel Elahi Galán.

Nobody else in Djokovic’s half of the draw at the start of the tournament made a French Open semifinal before.

Pliskova is the highest-ranked player of either gender (No. 4) without a Grand Slam title, yet hasn’t made it past the fourth round at a major since the 2019 Australian Open.

She’s played six Slams as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed, one shy of Caroline Wozniacki‘s total before she broke through at the 2018 Australian Open and two shy of Simona Halep‘s total before she won the 2018 French Open.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, is having a very different career.

She won the 2017 Roland Garros title, two days after turning 20, while ranked 47th. She hasn’t gotten past the third round of a major since 2018 Wimbledon, including first-round French Open exits the last two years, and is back down to No. 43 in the WTA rankings.

“It’s hard to compare with 2017. As I said, it was like three years ago, and I was much younger, and also I was fearless. Nobody knew me,” Ostapenko said. “The world doesn’t stop with winning only one Grand Slam. Of course I want to achieve more, and I want to be back in top five, top 10.”

She dropped just nine games in four sets this week.

Ostapenko gets 87th-ranked Spaniard Paula Badosa in third round. Badosa dispatched 2018 French Open runner-up Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

MORE: Serena Williams ‘struggling to walk’

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Figure skating’s Grand Prix fields look very different this season

Nathan Chen
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Before Nathan Chen is expected to go for a historic fifth straight U.S. figure skating title in January, he will, in a first, compete against most of his top countrymen later this month.

Fields for the Grand Prix Series, figure skating’s autumn international circuit, were published Thursday. As expected, every top skater entered will compete in his or her home country, or nearest to where he or she trains, and in one of the six events.

Traditionally, skaters compete in two of the six events and are scattered among competitions in the U.S., Canada, France, Russia, China and Japan based on world rankings.

But the International Skating Union restricted travel this season due to the coronavirus pandemic. Skaters are limited to compete locally. And the Grand Prix Final at the conclusion of the Grand Prix Series has been postponed from its scheduled December setting in Beijing.

That means that Chen vies for a record-tying fourth straight Skate America crown in Las Vegas in three weeks against a field mostly made up of countrymen, including Olympic teammate Vincent Zhou and U.S. bronze medalist Tomoki Hiwatashi.

In all, there are eight U.S. men entered in Skate America, 11 women (including past national champions Bradie Tennell and Gracie Gold), six pairs and nine ice dance couples (including U.S. champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue), plus some skaters from other nations who train in the U.S.

Traditionally, a country has no more than three entries per discipline at a Grand Prix event.

GRAND PRIX FIELDS: Men | Women | Pairs | Ice Dance

Sochi Olympian Jason Brown, who trains in Toronto, is entered in Skate Canada the week after Skate America.

Two-time U.S. women’s champion Alysa Liu will not be old enough for the Grand Prix Series until the 2021-22 Olympic season.

All of the reigning Olympic champions are absent from the series.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan previously announced he wouldn’t compete due to virus-related travel risks. Russian Alina Zagitova extended her indefinite break from competition dating to last autumn, rather choosing to participate in a skating-themed TV series.

Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada retired. The German pairs’ team of Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot last competed in the 2018 Olympic season.

Instead, the headliners include Chen, the two-time world champion undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang. And a deep crop of Russian teenage women, all of course entered in the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow in November.

MORE: Brian Orser reacts to Yevgenia Medvedeva’s coaching switch

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!