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

At U.S. Open swim meet, teens make a splash with Olympic trials on horizon

Getty Images
Leave a comment

While Olympic and world champions Katie LedeckySimone Manuel and Chase Kalisz notched expected victories at the U.S. Open on Thursday, a trio of teenagers lowered personal bests to further establish their Tokyo Olympic hopes.

At the top domestic meet of the winter, Alex WalshCarson Foster and Kieran Smith each earned runner-up finishes, but their performances stood out in the big picture: looking at June’s Olympic trials, where the top two per individual event make the team.

Walsh, a rising Nashville high school senior, took 2.23 seconds off her 200m individual medley best. She clocked 2:09.01, overtaken by .17 by Melanie Margalis, the Rio Olympic and 2019 World Championships fourth-place finisher.

Full meet results are here.

Walsh moved from fifth-fastest in the U.S. this year to No. 2 behind Margalis, passing Olympic and world championships veterans Ella EastinKathleen Baker and Madisyn Cox. Of those swimmers, only Eastin was also in Thursday’s final.

Walsh joined her younger sister, Gretchen, in Olympic qualifying position based on 2019 times. Gretchen, 16, ranks fourth in the U.S. in the 100m free this year. The top six in that event at trials are in line to make the Olympic 4x100m free relay pool.

The Walshes could become the third set of sisters to make the same U.S. Olympic swim team, and the second to do it in pool swimming after Dana and Tara Kirk in 2004.

Foster, 18, continued his ascent Thursday in taking second to Kalisz in the men’s 200m IM. The world junior champion lowered his personal best in the prelims and the final, getting down to 1:57.59. Foster passed Ryan Lochte, who is nearly twice his age, in Thursday’s final and in the 2019 U.S. rankings. Only Kalisz and Michael Andrew have been faster among Americans this year.

Foster is trying to become the youngest U.S. Olympic male swimmer since 2000, when a 15-year-old Michael Phelps made his Olympic debut. Foster, who has been breaking Phelps national age-group records since he was 10, committed to the University of Texas in March 2018, two years before he graduates high school in Ohio.

Then there’s Kieran Smith, now a prime candidate to fill a huge void in the 400m freestyle. Zane Grothe is the only American ranked in the top 20 in the world this year.

Smith, a 19-year-old from the University of Florida, took 2.29 seconds off his lifetime best on Thursday to jump from outside the top 10 to No. 2 in the U.S. on the year. Smith was already ranked No. 2 in the country in the 200m free.

Two more runners-up in the 50m freestyles — Erika Brown to Manuel and Zach Apple to Brazilian Bruno Fratus — lowered personal bests to move to No. 3 in each U.S. ranking list this year.

The U.S. Open continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBCSN and streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Dressel recalls summer tears in Golden Goggles speech

Nathan Chen distances Yuzuru Hanyu in Grand Prix Final short program

Leave a comment

A brilliant Nathan Chen outscored a flawed Yuzuru Hanyu for a fourth straight head-to-head program, taking a 12.95-point lead at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, on Thursday.

Chen, the two-time reigning world champion, tallied 110.38 points going into Saturday’s free skate. He landed a quadruple Lutz, triple Axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination.

It’s the highest short program score in the world this season, leading the American to say “wow” in the kiss-and-cry area. His coach, the often-gruff Rafael Arutyunyan, banged his knee against his pupil’s.

Hanyu, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, hit a quadruple Salchow and triple Axel but then stepped out of a quad toe landing. He therefore failed to include a required jumping combination and ended up in second place.

“I wanted to do a great performance and do a good competition against [Chen], but that didn’t happen this time,” Hanyu, who was without longtime coach Brian Orser, or any other coach, said through a translator. Hanyu said Orser was busy last week, so he chose to use his lone accreditation on another coach who had travel delays.

Hanyu is not out of title contention. His world-leading free skate score this season is 16.61 points better than Chen’s best free skate from the fall Grand Prix Series.

Chen is undefeated since placing fifth at the PyeongChang Olympics, but this is just his second head-to-head with Hanyu in that span. Chen defeated Hanyu at March’s world championships, where the Japanese megastar was likely affected by an ankle injury.

After Thursday’s program, Chen repeated what he said before the competition: he still feels like he’s chasing Hanyu.

“Yuzu is like the goat, he’s the greatest of all time, really,” Chen said. “So, to have this opportunity to be able to share the ice with a guy like that, someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, someone that I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks when I was like a baby, it’s really cool to be able see him now. It’s really cool to even just be able to see him person.”

The Grand Prix Final, the biggest annual event outside the world championships, continues Friday with the rhythm dance, women’s short and pairs’ free skate. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.

Earlier in pairs, Chinese Sui Wenjing and Han Cong took their first step toward a first Grand Prix Final title. The Olympic silver medalists tallied 77.50, leading Russians Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy by .85 going into Friday’s free skate.

Sui and Han were imperfect, with Sui putting her hand down on a throw triple flip landing. They are undefeated in this Beijing Olympic cycle and own the world’s top total score this season.

The U.S. failed to qualify a pair for the six-team Final for the 11th time in the last 12 years.

Grand Prix Final
Men’s Short Program
1. Nathan Chen (USA) — 110.38
2. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 97.43
3. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 96.71
4. Dmitriy Aliyev (RUS) — 88.78
5. Alexander Samarin (RUS) — 81.32
6. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 80.67

Pairs’ Short Program
1. Sui Wenjing/Han Cong (CHN) — 77.50
2. Aleksandra Boikova / Dmitriy Kozlovskiy (RUS) — 76.65
3. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 75.16
4. Anastasia Mishina/Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 71.48
5. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 69.67
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 67.08

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Alysa Liu, with help from Olympic medalist, challenges top Russians