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

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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

David Boudia adjusts diving event, goal for world championships

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David Boudia earned diving medals at his last three world championships and the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, but that was on the platform. He competes on the global stage on the springboard for the first time at worlds this week.

“I don’t have a lot of high hopes,” Boudia, who is still learning the springboard after switching to it in the last year, said in a phone interview from South Korea, where he begins competition Wednesday (TV schedule here). “But I think my biggest goal is to walk away with an Olympic spot.”

An Olympic spot not necessarily for himself, but for the U.S.

Boudia, a 30-year-old father of three, and any other American will clinch 2020 Olympic quota spots by placing in the top 12 in their respective individual events this week. Those spots, and any others earned at later competitions in the next year, will be filled at trials in June in Indianapolis.

NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter believes Boudia, who left the sport to sell homes in 2017 and came back and suffered a concussion off the platform in 2018, can meet his goal of making Friday’s 12-man final in Gwangju.

“He would have to dive well, but not better than he’s been diving,” she said. “His springboard is really well-timed, rhythmic, and he’s for a long time known how to go into the water without making a splash.”

But challenging Rio Olympic gold and silver medalists Cao Yuan of China and Jack Laugher of Great Britain, plus defending world champion Xie Siyi of China would be very tough.

Boudia lacks their degrees of difficulty, for now. He hopes to switch out two of his six dives before his first competition of 2020, though he could insert one of them should he make the world final.

“I need a good six months, so from August to December is when we’re kind of really drilling the fundamentals of learning those new dives and getting them perfected,” he said.

Boudia rallied to beat Rio Olympic springboard diver Michael Hixon for the title in May at nationals, where the top two per event earned world berths. But Boudia competed there with about a month of competition dive practice, about half as long as he would prefer.

“Hix and I are going to have a lot of training to do if we want to be even close to cracking that top five,” at worlds, Boudia said in May, according to TeamUSA.org.

Boudia is the lone U.S. diver to earn an individual world medal in an Olympic diving event since 2009.

The U.S. produced breakthroughs at worlds so far. Sarah Bacon became the first American woman to earn a world title since 2005, taking the non-Olympic 1m springboard event. Murphy Bromberg and Katrina Young bagged bronze in synchronized platform, ending a decade-long medal drought in any synchro event.

But Boudia’s goal must be shared among the whole team — as many top-12 finishes individually and top three in synchro events to gobble up Tokyo 2020 quota spots. The U.S. failed to qualify full teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

“Getting in the top 12 in the four individual Olympic events is the big deal right now,” Potter said. “Whether you are on the awards stand or not, that would be icing on the cake for a lot of these divers.”

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Anita Wlodarczyk, one of track and field’s most dominant, sidelined

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Poland hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, the only woman to win the last five combined Olympic and world titles in a track and field event, will not go for a fourth straight world championship this fall.

Wlodarczyk had season-ending, arthroscopic left knee surgery on Monday, according to Polish media citing her coach.

Wlodarczyk, 33, has the top 15 throws on the IAAF’s all-time list, and 27 of the top 29. Her world record of 82.98 meters (scribbled on her leg pre-op) is 11 and a half feet farther the second-best woman in history. She originally took silver at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds but was upgraded to gold after Russian Tatyana Lysenko was stripped for doping.

Wlodarczyk won a reported 42 straight finals between 2014 and 2017, then suffered three losses in 2018 and two so far this year in three lower-level meets before the operation.

Americans DeAnna Price and Brooke Anderson rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the world this year. A U.S. woman has never finished in the top five of an Olympic or world championships hammer throw, which debuted at worlds in 1999 and the Olympics in 2000.

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