Five takeaways from U.S. Track and Field Championships


1. The U.S. could have its best World Championships ever

The U.S. would win 36 medals at Worlds (Beijing, Aug. 22-30) if the results mirror the current world’s best lists for 2015, counting only U.S. athletes who qualified for Worlds, plus relays.

It’s not close to a sure-fire prediction gauge, but it’s the most objective option available right now and would have to be way off for the U.S. not to have a historically strong meet.

The U.S.’ previous best for medals at a single World Championships was the 26 won in 1991, 2007 and 2011.

The thread linking 1991, 2007, 2011 and 2015? Those are the only times the World Championships have been held in East Asia.

U.S. qualifiers for World Championships

2. The U.S.’ biggest strength is in the hurdles 

Many point to the U.S.’ surge in middle-distance races. No U.S. man or woman has won Olympic gold in a track event longer than 400m since Dave Wottle‘s 800m title while wearing a cap at Munich 1972. And that may change with Ajee’ WilsonJenny Simpson and Matthew Centrowitz, among others, in the early conversation for medals in Rio.

But, going by the world’s fastest times this year, the U.S. is most dominant in the hurdles. The U.S. has the three fastest in the world in the 100m hurdles and men’s 400m hurdles, plus the top two in the women’s 400m hurdles and the second fastest in the 110m hurdles. That’s nine potential medals over four events right there.

Kara Goucher: ‘People have been threatened’ at U.S. Championships

3. The track veterans are still leading the way

The U.S.’ best sprinters? Justin Gatlin, 33, and Allyson Felix, 29, whose Olympic debuts were in 2004. Tyson Gay, 32, won the 100m in Eugene. LaShawn Merritt, 29, didn’t win the U.S. 400m title, but the Beijing Olympic champion and reigning World champion is probably still the top challenger to Grenada’s Kirani James.

The highly anticipated 800m finals were won by Nick Symmonds, who contemplated retiring at 30 last year, and Alysia Montano, a six-time U.S. champion who had a baby in August.

The U.S.’ best distance runners? Jenny Simpson, 28, and Galen Rupp, 29.

The U.S. champions in the hurdles? Three of the four won medals at the Olympics, the 2008 Olympics — David OliverDawn Harper-Nelson and Bershawn Jackson.

Justin Gatlin sets another PR, but 800m finals shine Sunday

4. The NCAA system is producing the next wave

Texas A&M’s Shamier Little is world No. 1 in the 400m hurdles.

Baylor’s Trayvon Bromell was the breakout in the sprints, firing the fastest wind-legal 100m time at Nationals, albeit in the heats.

Kentucky’s Keni Harrison took second to Harper-Nelson in the 100m hurdles, arguably the U.S.’ deepest event.

Florida’s Marquis Dendy made the World Championships team in both the long jump and the triple jump.

Oregon’s Jasmine Todd made the Worlds team in both the 100m and the long jump.

5. Big names will be absent from Beijing

Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross and the fastest 400m woman in 2014 and 2015 Francena McCorory failed to qualify individually for Worlds.

McCorory ran the fastest lap in the world this year at the U.S. Championships, but she did so in the semifinals and was 1.03 seconds slower in the final to finish fourth and miss the World Championships team by .21 (she can still go for the relay and may make it individually if Allyson Felix drops the 400m).

Both Richards-Ross and McCorory have shown great form in the last year, and with the lack of international threats in the event, are still Olympic medal contenders — should they make the Olympic team next year.

Almost as head-turning was Jasmin Stowers‘ fifth-place finish in the 100m hurdles, after she had run 12.40 or better three times this year. Only one other U.S. woman had run 12.40 or better three times in a career — Gail Devers. Stowers’ training partner, Summer and Winter Olympian Lolo Jones, also won’t be making the trip to Beijing.

Similarly, Olympic silver medalist and 2011 World champion Jason Richardson was an odd man out in a deep 110m hurdles field, finishing sixth.

Also missing out — Mary Cain, who in 2013 became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to make a World Championships team at age 17, finished eighth in the 1500m final Sunday. Cain’s struggled this season, and in an event where the U.S. could win two medals at Worlds, her absence is not a shock.

Ryan Whiting and Duane Solomon were more surprising misses, but not too surprising. Whiting, the 2013 Worlds shot put silver medalist, and Solomon, the 2012 Olympic 800m fourth-place finisher, haven’t shown international medal-contending form in 2014 or 2015.

Then there are the veterans slowing with age. Carmelita Jeter, 35, suffered what she believed to be a torn left quad in the 100m final, ending a bid to win a Worlds 100m medal for a fifth straight time. Olympic 400m hurdles silver medalist Lashinda Demus, 32, missed making her fifth Worlds team by .03. The 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner, 31, finished 13th in the 400m, and Angelo Taylor, a two-time Olympic 400m hurdles champion, did not finish at all in the event. Bernard Lagat, 40, was 10th in the 5000m and will not compete at Worlds for the first time since 2005.

Bernard Lagat emotional after missing first Worlds since 2005

Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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