The men’s sprint scene, clearly defined with favorites in each event two years ago, has since complicated. It’s most crowded in the 400m, where the U.S.’ two fastest men face off in a Diamond League meet in Doha on Friday.
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Michael Norman and Fred Kerley lead a list of anticipated head-to-heads — also Sha’Carri Richardson vs. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the 100m, Rai Benjamin vs. Abderrahman Samba in the 400m hurdles and Emma Coburn vs. Beatrice Chepkoech in the 3000m steeplechase.
Norman and Kerley may well enter the Tokyo Olympics as favorites, in either order. Even though neither owns an individual gold or silver medal from a global championship.
South African Wayde van Niekerk, who broke Michael Johnson‘s world record in Rio, has been largely absent since tearing an ACL and meniscus playing celebrity tag rugby in late 2017. Last Sunday, he eased up in a race due to tightness in the hip area of the same leg.
Bahamian Steven Gardiner, the 2019 World champion, fell to the track while straining in the final meters of a 400m on May 18. He received treatment on his right ankle area.
Norman was the Alpha in the 400m at this time two years ago after running 43.45 seconds at an early season meet. That made him the joint-fourth-fastest man in history. But injuries followed. He was beaten by Kerley at the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships and eased up in the semifinals of the 2019 World Championships, where Gardiner won in 43.48.
Kerley, second-fastest in the world in 2017, took bronze behind Gardiner in Doha two years ago. This year, he impressed over 100m, clocking 9.91 seconds to rank second in the world, but remains focused on the 400m for the Olympic Trials next month.
The U.S. went one-two in the men’s 400m at the Olympics in 2000, 2004 and 2008, sweeping the medals in ’04 and ’08. Then a single bronze between 2012 and 2016, when the U.S. won zero Olympic men’s sprint titles overall.
American men could win every Olympic track event from 100m through the 800m (and boast the defending Olympic champion in the 1500m). Whether Norman or Kerley is the one to watch in the 400m is to be decided. The faster man on Friday in Doha stakes an early claim.
Here are the entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):
10:58 a.m. — Women’s Pole Vault
11:18 — Women’s Discus
11:38 — Women’s Triple Jump
12:03 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
12:05 — Men’s High Jump
12:14 — Women’s 800m
12:28 — Men’s 1500m
12:37 — Men’s Shot Put
12:42 — Men’s 200m
12:53 — Women’s 3000m Steeplechase
1:14 — Men’s 800m
1:26 — Men’s 400m
1:38 — Women’s 100m
1:48 — Women’s 3000m
Here are five events to watch
Women’s Triple Jump — 11:38 a.m.
Deepest field event of the meet. The top four from both the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 World Championships. That includes Venezuelan Yulimar Rojas, who last Saturday recorded the second-farthest jump in history — 15.43 meters, matching her indoor world record and just seven centimeters off the 26-year-old outdoor world record. Plus Keturah Orji, who in Rio recorded the best Olympic triple jump finish for an American woman — fourth.
Men’s 400m Hurdles — 12:03 p.m.
A matchup including the joint-third-fastest men in history — American Rai Benjamin and Qatari Abderrahman Samba. Benjamin, Samba and Norwegian Karsten Warholm (second-fastest in history) are expected to deliver fireworks at the Tokyo Olympics, but Friday will mark the first time that two of them are in the same race since they made up the podium at the 2019 World Championships, also in Doha. Benjamin, who took silver at worlds after spending days on crutches with a heel bone bruise, clocked 47.13 seconds on May 9, the fastest-ever time that early in a year. Samba raced twice since his 2019 World bronze, a pair of flat 400m on March 31 and last Saturday.
Women’s 3000m Steeplechase — 12:53 p.m.
American Emma Coburn races her first steeple since winning her third consecutive global championships medal at 2019 Worlds (silver). She faces an Olympic-caliber field including world-record holder and world champion Beatrice Chepkoech of Kenya, plus the rest of the top five from 2019 Worlds.
Men’s 400m — 1:26 p.m.
Americans Michael Norman and Fred Kerley may well be the favorites once Tokyo rolls around. They meet here for the first time since September 2019. Norman owns the world’s fastest time in this Olympic cycle (43.45), but he was injured in the summer of 2019, beaten by Kerley at those USATF Outdoor Championships and eased up in the 2019 Worlds semifinals. Kerley took bronze at 2019 Worlds and last month clocked 9.91 for 100m, ranking second in the world this year in that event. Kirani James, the 2012 Olympic champion from Grenada, and Anthony Zambrano, the 2019 World silver medalist from Colombia, are also in the field.
Women’s 100m — 1:38 p.m.
American Sha’Carri Richardson, after taking her first 100m defeat in nearly two years on a blustery Sunday in Great Britain, continues her busy spring of racing. She won’t get another crack at Brit Dina Asher-Smith here, but does face two-time Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica. Richardson has shown the ability to break 10.7 seconds this season if the wind is on her side. No active woman has run that fast.
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