Five women’s events to watch at USATF Outdoor Championships

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As always, there are Olympic champions competing at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships this week. There are world-record holders, too. But the woman with the most buzz this season has neither of those accolades. Or even a single U.S. title.

She is Sydney McLaughlin, an 18-year-old who just turned professional after her freshman season at the University of Kentucky. McLaughlin’s breakout came in 2016, when she became the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete at an Olympics in 44 years, making the 400m hurdles semifinals.

McLaughlin dropped to sixth at the 2017 U.S. Championships in perhaps the greatest 400m hurdles race ever. While three women in one race went sub-53 for the first time, McLaughlin lowered her personal best by .21. Her star did not fade as she moved from New Jersey to Lexington.

This year in NCAA competition, McLaughlin lowered her personal bests in the 200m, 400m and 400m hurdles (all by more than a second). The 400m hurdles time, fastest in the world this year by nine tenths, would have won the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World Championships.

She now ranks Nos. 54, 26 and 5 all time in the U.S. in those events. Perhaps the woman who reached anywhere near that versatility was Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who ranks No. 37 in the 200m and No. 43 in the 400m hurdles but never ran the 400m at her peak.

McLaughlin had her choice of events this week, and her decision might surprise. Five women’s events to watch in Des Moines:

USATF Outdoors: TV Schedule | Entries | Women’s Preview | Men’s Preview

10,000m (Thursday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold)
American record holder Molly Huddle eyes her fourth straight national title in the 25-lap race, but the more intriguing entrant is Gwen Jorgensen. The Olympic triathlon champion announced in November that she was switching to the marathon with the ultimate goal of gold in Tokyo. Jorgensen, a 32-year-old mom, has yet to announce her first marathon since the switch (though she was 14th in the 2016 NYC Marathon on triathlon training). In her first outdoor track race in eight years, Jorgensen set a personal best in the 10,000m on March 30 in a time that would have ranked eighth among Americans last year. Reason to believe that another strong effort on Thursday could confirm that she is ready for a fall marathon.

1500m (Final — Saturday, 4:46 p.m. ET, NBC)
A strong field is headlined by a rematch between Jenny Simpson and Shelby Houlihan. Simpson, an Olympic medalist and world champion in the 1500m, saw the Olympic 5000m runner Houlihan pass her in the final strides of the Pre Classic 1500m on May 26. Simpson eyes her fifth straight national title in the 1500m. Houlihan is also entered in Sunday’s 5000m. Other contenders include Olympians Brenda Martinez and Kate GraceSara Vaughn, the mother of three who made the 2017 Worlds team, and Alexa Efraimson, a former high school phenom who turned pro at age 17 in 2014.

400m (Final — Saturday, 5:08 p.m. ET, NBC)
Sydney McLaughlin chose not to race her trademark 400m hurdles this week. Instead, she takes on a burgeoning crops of one-lap sprinters in her first race since turning pro. There’s Kendall Ellis, who ran that incredible 4x400m anchor leg at the NCAA Championships. Shakima Wimbley, a 23-year-old who took third at the Pre Classic behind the Olympic and world champions. And Courtney Okolo, who entered the 2016 Olympic Trials as the fastest American for the year and NCAA champion (and finished sixth) and won the world indoor title on March 3. The last two world champions, Allyson Felix and Phyllis Francis, are not entered.

100m Hurdles (Final — Saturday, 5:52 p.m. ET, NBC)
The U.S. is so deep in this event that it’s one of the headline acts despite lacking the women who swept the Rio Olympic medals (Brianna McNeal, Nia Ali, Kristi Castlin). This field still has a world-record holder (Kendra Harrison, the favorite), an Olympic champion (Dawn Harper-Nelson from 2008 in her last nationals before retirement) and a world champion (Kori Carter, gold medalist in the 400m hurdles last year).

Pole Vault (Sunday, 2:55 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold)
So long an event dominated by one vaulter. Not so much anymore. Olympic champion Stacy Dragila won nine of 10 national titles between 1996 and 2005. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr won 10 of 11 between 2006 and 2016. Sandi Morris since ascended with Olympic and world silver medals, plus her first national title in 2017. Suhr, 36, considered retirement last year but came back and cleared a personal-best outdoor height on April 14 and broke the Pre Classic meet record on May 26. Morris was third at Pre after missing training due to injury, then won the next two Diamond League meets. But Suhr still has the top clearance in the world this season.

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Chicago Marathon features Emily Sisson’s return, Conner Mantz’s debut, live on Peacock

Emily Sisson
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At Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, Emily Sisson makes her return, nearly three years after Olympic Trials disappointment. Conner Mantz makes one of the most anticipated U.S. men’s debuts in 26.2-mile racing.

It is not the norm, but an American will be one of the spotlight runners in both the men’s and women’s elite races at a major marathon. Peacock airs live coverage at 8 a.m. ET.

Sisson, 30, starts her first mass marathon since dropping out of the Olympic Trials on Feb. 29, 2020, her legs “destroyed” on the hilly Atlanta course where she started as arguably the favorite. She ran the virtual New York City Marathon later in 2020, but that was solo (and not in New York City). Her 2:38:00 isn’t recorded in her official results on her World Athletics bio.

Since, Sisson won the Olympic Trials 10,000m on the track and was the top American in Tokyo in 10th place. She moved back to the roads, winning national titles at 15km and the half marathon and breaking the American record in the latter.

Sisson vaulted into the elite group of U.S. female marathoners in 2019, when she clocked the second-fastest debut marathon in American history, a 2:23:08 on a windy day in London, where the early pace was slow.

At the time, it was the 12th-best U.S. performance all-time. In the last two years, Keira D’Amato, 37, and Sara Hall, 39, combined to run seven faster marathons. At Chicago, a flat course that produced a world record three years ago, Sisson can answer them and perhaps get close to D’Amato’s American record 2:19:12.

“I’m hoping sub-2:20,” coach Ray Treacy said, according to LetsRun.com. “With the [super] shoes and the training behind her, I would think that’s [worth] at least three minutes.”

It is less likely that Sisson can challenge for the win on Sunday given the presence of Kenyan Ruth Chepngetich, the 2019 World champion and defending champion in the Windy City. The 28-year-old mom is the fifth-fastest woman in history with a personal best of 2:17:08. And Ethiopian Ruti Aga, a podium finisher in Berlin, New York City and Tokyo with a best time of 2:18:34, though she has one marathon finish since the pandemic (a seventh place).

Like Sisson, Mantz has shown strong recent road racing form. The American men’s debut marathon record of 2:07:56 (Leonard Korir) is in play. If he can break that, Mantz will be among the five fastest U.S. marathoners in history.

Rarely has a U.S. male distance runner as accomplished as Mantz moved up to the marathon at such a young age (25). At BYU, he won NCAA cross-country titles in 2020 and 2021 and placed fifth in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, then turned pro and won the U.S. Half Marathon Championships last December.

“If everything goes as planned, I think sub-2:08 is realistic,” Mantz said in a Citius Mag video interview last month. “If everything goes perfect on the day, I think a sub-2:07, that’s a big stretch goal.”

The men’s field doesn’t have the singular star power of Chepngetich, but a large group of East Africans with personal bests around 2:05. The most notable: defending champion Seifu Tura of Ethiopia and 2021 Boston Marathon winner Benson Kipruto of Kenya.

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Alpine skiing to test new format for combined race

Alpine Skiing Combined
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Alpine skiing officials will test a new format for the combined event, a race that is under review to remain on the Olympic program.

French newspaper L’Equipe reported that the International Ski Federation (FIS) will test a new team format for the combined, which has been an individual event on the Olympic program since 1988. L’Equipe reported that a nation can use a different skier for the downhill and slalom in the new setup, quoting FIS secretary general Michel Vion.

For example, the U.S. could use Breezy Johnson in the downhill run and sub her out for Mikaela Shiffrin in the slalom run, should the format be adopted into senior competition.

The format will be tested at the world junior championships in January in St. Anton, Austria, according to the report.

In response to the report, a FIS spokesperson said, “Regarding the new format of the combined is correct, and our directors are working on the rules so for the moment the only thing we can confirm is that there will be this new format for the Alpine combined that has been proposed by the athletes’ commission.”

Some version of the combined event has been provisionally included on the 2026 Olympic program, with a final IOC decision on its place coming by April.

This will be the third consecutive World Cup season with no combined events. Instead, FIS has included more parallel races in recent years. The individual combined remains on the biennial world championships program.

L’Equipe also reported that the mixed team parallel event, which is being dropped from the Olympics, will also be dropped from the biennial world championships after this season.

“There is nothing definitive about that yet, but it is a project in the making,” a FIS spokesperson said in commenting on the report.

Vion said the mixed team event, which debuted at the Olympics in 2018, was not a hit at the Beijing Games and did not draw a strong audience, according to L’Equipe.

The World Cup season starts in two weeks with the traditional opening giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.

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