EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — With an eye toward this summer’s Olympic Trials, the 100m field at the Prefontaine Classic this year includes Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay.
They’ll face Jamaican Asafa Powell, the former world-record holder, in this weekend’s meet at Hayward Field, the only U.S. stop for the international Diamond League series.
For many American athletes, the Pre is part of the preparation for this summer’s trials, which will also be held at Hayward. The top three finishers at the trials will be part of the team that goes to the Rio Olympics in August.
That it’s on home soil is a bonus for Gatlin.
“We don’t get to run a lot in the U.S.,” he said. “You have to take advantage of times you run in the U.S., especially when it’s televised, for your friends and family and fans to watch.”
However, in the past week, several high-profile U.S. athletes have withdrawn from the Pre, including Allyson Felix, a three-time World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, who pulled out because of an ankle injury. She also skipped a Diamond League meet in Doha earlier this month.
Likewise, Matthew Centrowitz has withdrawn from the Pre’s Bowerman Mile while he recovers from a stress reaction in his leg. Centrowitz won the World Indoor Championships 1500m in Portland in March.
Galen Rupp, Centrowitz’s Nike Oregon Project teammate, will not run in Friday night’s 10,000m as some had anticipated, according to OregonLive.com. Rupp has already made the Olympic marathon team, and he may take aim at the 10,000m at the trials.
Ethiopian Genzebe Dibaba withdrew from the women’s 5000m because of a toe injury.
Other things to watch for during the Pre:
BERIAN V. NIKE: Boris Berian went from working at a fast-food restaurant and sleeping on a friend’s couch two years ago to World Indoor 800m title in March. He’s set to run in the 800m at Pre.
But at a meet last week in Southern California, he was served with a lawsuit brought by Nike that accuses him of breach of contract. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Oregon on April 29. Nike sponsors the Pre Classic.
VASHTI’S RETURN: The Pre brings teenager Vashti Cunningham back to Oregon, where she made a splash in the high jump earlier this year.
Cunningham, who was still a senior in high school, was the surprise winner at the U.S. Indoor Championships. She won the World Indoor title a week later.
Her busy year so far has also included prom and graduation. And she also turned pro and signed with Nike. Next up on the list is an Olympic bid.
Cunningham is the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham, her coach.
MERRITT’S COMEBACK: Aries Merritt, the world-record holder and 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 110m hurdles, will continue his comeback from a kidney transplant at Pre, where he’ll face 22-year-old Omar McLeod of Jamaica. Merritt took the bronze at the World Championships last year in Beijing before having surgery a few days later. Merritt has now set his sights on the Rio Games.
He finished sixth in Doha earlier this month.
“Every meet I run in, I’m having a new season’s best. That shows that I’m slowly reaching there,” he said. “Just being able to compete again is a huge blessing. I’m going to take it slow and steady.”
FINAL TOUR: Sanya Richards-Ross announced last month that she is retiring after this season, hoping to cap her career with a fourth Olympics.
Richards-Ross had her third foot surgery in November and is working her way back into form for the final push to Rio. She highlights a strong 400m field.
“I put my blood, sweat and tears into the career of my dreams and experienced profound growth and immeasurable rewards along the way. I am so excited to celebrate with one last lap around the world and I hope you will follow along #SRRFinalLap! Let’s do this!” she announced on social media.
HISTORIC HAYWARD: Hayward Field has become something of the epicenter of track and field in the United States. After the Pre, Hayward hosts the NCAA Championships. The stage gets bigger with the trials this July. In 2021, the venue is set to host the World Outdoor Championships.
The Prefontaine Classic is named after Oregon native Steve Prefontaine, an Olympian killed in a 1977 car accident at 24.