Five takeaways from U.S. Track and Field Championships

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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

Mondo Duplantis, Sandi Morris miss attempts at pole vault records

Mondo Duplantis
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Sweden’s Mondo Duplantis and U.S. athlete Sandi Morris took turns attempting world records in the pole vault Wednesday at the Meeting d’Athlétsime Hauts-de-France Pas-de-Calais meet at Arena Stade Regional in Liévin, France, but both were unable to clear the bar.

Duplantis, aiming to set the world record for third time in February, had no misses leading up to his record attempts. U.S. vaulter Sam Kendricks, who has won the last two world championships, cleared 5.90m but dropped out after one attempt at 5.95m. Duplantis passed on that height, then cleared 6.07m to warm up for his shot at 6.19m, just shy of 20 feet, 3 3/4 inches.

Morris’ attempt to tie Jennifer Suhr‘s world indoor record of 5.03m from 2016 was more of a surprise. Morris holds the U.S. outdoor record at 5.00m but had never done better than 4.95m indoors. She won Wednesday’s competition with a clearance of 4.83m and asked to go immediately to 5.03m, or 16 feet, 6 inches.

Yelena Isinbayeva still holds the outdoor record of 5.06m, set in 2009. Morris is second on the all-time list and is the only athlete other than Isinbayeva or Suhr to clear 5 meters either indoors or outdoors.

In the men’s pole vault, Duplantis’ clearance of 6.18m Feb. 15 in Glasgow is the best vault indoors or outdoors.  Sergey Bubka still has the highest clearance outdoors at 6.14m. Bubka also held the indoor record of 6.15m for more than 20 years, finally losing it to Renaud Lavillenie in 2014. Duplantis cleared 6.17m Feb. 9 in Poland, then added another centimeter last week in Glasgow.

READ: Duplantis raises record in Glasgow

Duplantis, Lavillenie and Bubka are the only vaulters to clear 20 feet. Kendricks cleared 6.06m, or 19-10 1/2, last summer, the highest outdoor clearance by anyone other than Bubka.

Duplantis grew up in Louisiana and attended LSU for one year, setting the NCAA indoor (5.92m) and outdoor (6.00m) before turning pro, though he was upset in the NCAA final by South Dakota junior Chris Nilsen.

Also at Wednesday’s meet:

Ronnie Baker ran 6.49 seconds in the 60m semifinals and lowered that to 6.44 in the final, second only to Christian Coleman this season. Demek Kemp finished second and tied his personal best of 6.50.

Nia Ali and Christina Clemons finished 1-2 in the women’s 60m hurdles with identical times of 7.92. Ali is the reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in the 100m hurdles. She also won world indoor titles in 2014 and 2016.

Two Ethiopian runners set the fastest times of the season Samuel Tefera in the 1,500m (3:35.54) and Getnet Wale in the 3,000m (7:32.80). Wale was fourth in the 3,000m steeplechase in the 2019 world championships.

Pascal Martinot-Lagarde, racing in his home country of France, won the 60m hurdles in 7.47, second this season to Grant Holloway‘s 7.38 last week.

The World Athletics Indoor Tour ends Friday in Madrid. The world indoor championships originally scheduled for March in Nanjing, China, have been postponed a year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

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Susan Dunklee extends decade of surprises for U.S. biathletes

Susan Dunklee
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When Susan Dunklee‘s time held up for second place in Friday’s 7.5km sprint, she became the first U.S. biathlete to win two world championship medals in her career and earned the sixth medal for the U.S. in world biathlon championship history.

Four of those medals have come in the past eight years.

First was Tim Burke, who had gained some fame among biathlon fans with his three World Cup podiums in the 2009-10 season and his relationship with German biathlete Andrea Henkel, who would win two Olympic gold medals and eight world championships before retiring and marrying Burke.

In that season, Burke led the World Cup briefly but faded and didn’t do well in the Olympics. But in 2012-13, he finished 10th in the World Cup overall and ended the American drought in the world championships, finishing second in the individual behind dominant French biathlete Martin Fourcade, who won his 11th non-relay world title Wednesday in the individual.

In 2017, Dunklee became the first U.S. woman to win a non-relay medal, taking the lead in the mass start after quickly knocking down all five targets in the last shooting and holding on for second. She didn’t come out of nowhere, having taken a few World Cup medals. That season, she ranked 10th overall in the World Cup.

Then came the stunner. Lowell Bailey, who had just one World Cup podium in a long career coming into the 2016-17 season, had bib 100 in the individual, a spot usually reserved for non-contenders. But he hit all 20 targets, always important in a race that penalizes athletes one minute per miss, and gutted it out through the last lap to keep a 3.3-second advantage and win the first world championship for a U.S. biathlete.

Like Dunklee, Bailey earned his medal in the midst of a strong season. The individual was won of his four top-10 finishes in the world championships, including a fourth-place finish in the sprint. He wound up eighth overall in the World Cup.

Bailey and Burke each stuck it out to compete in their fourth Olympics in 2018, then crossed the finish line together in their final race at the U.S. championships.

This season is their first in management. Bailey, also a bluegrass musician, is now U.S. Biathlon’s director of high performance. Burke is director of athlete development.

Dunklee, on the other hand, isn’t done. Her results slipped a bit after her 2017 breakthrough, but she has had some top 10s. When she shoots clean, as she did Friday, she’s a contender.

The first U.S. medal was in the first women’s world championship in 1984, when Holly Beatie, Julie Newman and Kari Swenson bronze in 3x5km relay. Swenson also finished fifth in the individual that year and returned to compete in the next two world championships after a harrowing experience in which she was abducted and shot, a story that inspired a film starring Tracy Pollan.

The only other U.S. medal in the world championships before Burke, Bailey and Dunklee was Josh Thompson‘s individual silver in 1987. The only athletes other than Burke, Bailey, Dunklee and Thompson to have World Cup podiums (excluding relays) are Jeremy Teela in 2009 and Clare Egan, who was third in a mass start last spring and is competing in the world championships this year.

U.S. Paralympians broke through with two gold medals on the first day of competition in the 2018 Paralympics.

READ: Kendall Gretsch, Dan Cnossen take gold

Wednesday saw another surprise finish for a U.S. biathlete. Leif Nordgren, whose career-best finish outside the relays is 16th, was the only athlete to go 20-for-20 on the shooting range and placed eighth in the individual.

The championships continue through through Sunday with the single mixed relay on Thursday, the men’s and women’s relays on Saturday, and the men’s and women’s mass starts on Sunday.

WATCH: World biathlon championships TV schedule

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