At the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, the most exciting events don’t always include the biggest stars. That’s because third place is as sufficient as first when three Olympic spots are at stake.
Yet the leading American women are, for the most part, in the most anticipated events in Eugene, Oregon.
Sha’Carri Richardson, the 21-year-old phenom looking to bring the U.S. its first Olympic women’s 100m title in 25 years, is one of the biggest favorites to qualify for the team. But what time can she produce in the 100m to answer Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce? Fraser-Pryce, a 34-year-old mom and 2008 and 2012 Olympic 100m champion, two weeks ago clocked the world’s fastest 100m in history outside of Florence Griffith Joyner.
Allyson Felix, a 35-year-old mom, has to like her chances to qualify at least for 4x400m relays. But can she mow down higher-ranked women to reach the top three in either the 200m or the 400m?
Dalilah Muhammad and Sydney McLaughlin are in a class of their own in the 400m hurdles. But the field is so deep that an Olympic or world medalist is guaranteed to not make the team.
In field events, veteran Olympic champions like Tianna Bartoletta and Brittney Reese (long jump), Michelle Carter (shot put) and Jenn Suhr (pole vault) look to hold off youngsters to return to the Games in their 30s.
That in mind, five events to watch at the Olympic Trials …
100m (Trials final June 19)
2016 Olympics: Tori Bowie (silver), English Gardner (seventh), Tianna Bartoletta (semis)
2019 Worlds: Teahna Daniels (seventh), Morolake Akinosun (semis), Gardner (semis), Bowie (semis)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Sha’Carri Richardson (10.72), Twanisha Terry (10.89), Aleia Hobbs (10.91), Cambrea Sturgis (10.92)
Bowie converted to long jump after winning the 2017 World title and didn’t enter Trials in any event. Enter a new generation. All but two of the 11 fastest Americans this year are 25 and younger, led by Richardson, who turned pro after one season at LSU. In April, she clocked the fastest 100m in the world in nearly 10 years and looked like the Tokyo favorite until Fraser-Pryce went 10.63 on June 5. But at Trials, Richardson doesn’t have to worry about Fraser-Pryce or Rio gold medalist Elaine Thompson, also of Jamaica. After Richardson, the next six fastest Americans this year are separated by .08.
400m (Trials final June 20)
2016 Olympics: Allyson Felix (silver), Natasha Hastings (fourth), Phyllis Francis (fifth)
2019 Worlds: Wadeline Jonathas (fourth), Francis (fifth), Kendall Ellis (semis), Shakima Wimbley (semis)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Athing Mu (49.57), Shamier Little (49.91), Quanera Hayes (49.92), Lynna Irby (50.28)
Mu and Little aren’t entered in the 400m at Trials, focusing on the 800m and 400m hurdles, respectively. The U.S. has none of the world’s top five since the start of 2019. So there’s an opening for the Felix, even if she has yet to come within a second of her 2016 Olympic time since returning from life-threatening November 2019 childbirth. Jonathas just missed the medals at worlds at age 21, but she ranks 10th in the U.S. this year. Remember, it’s expected that at least the top six at Trials make the team for the 4x400m and mixed-gender 4x400m relays.
400m Hurdles (Trials final June 27)
2016 Olympics: Dalilah Muhammad (gold), Ashley Spencer (bronze), Sydney McLaughlin (semis)
2019 Worlds: Muhammad (gold), McLaughlin (silver), Spencer (sixth), Kori Carter (first round)
2021 U.S. Leaders: McLaughlin (52.83), Shamier Little (53.12), Muhammad (54.50), Anna Cockrell (54.68)
The strongest event. The U.S. boasts the six fastest women in this Olympic cycle. Four of them are entered at Trials, including the two fastest women in history in Muhammad and McLaughlin. An Olympic medal contender will be left off this three-woman team. Little, the 2015 World silver medalist, missed the 2019 World team by one spot but on May 31 ran her fastest time in four years. Spencer is the third-fastest American since the start of 2019. Cockrell just won NCAA titles in the 100m hurdles and 400m hurdles for USC.
Long Jump (Trials final June 26)
2016 Olympics: Tianna Bartoletta (gold), Brittney Reese (silver), Janay DeLoach (13th)
2019 Worlds: Tori Bowie (fourth), Sha’Keela Saunders (ninth), Reese (13th), Jasmine Todd (14th)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Tara Davis (7.14 meters), Kendell Williams (7.00), Saunders (6.90), Malaina Payton (6.89)
Reese and Bartoletta combined to win all but two of the 10 Olympic and world titles between 2005 and 2017. This year, Reese ranks seventh among Americans. Bartoletta is outside the top 20. Davis, the NCAA champion from Texas with 167,000 Instagram followers, fulfilled potential and then some this season by upping her personal best from 2017 by more than a foot. The 2015 World Youth champion ranks second in the world this year. Bowie didn’t enter Trials.
800m (Trials final June 27)
2016 Olympics: Kate Grace (eighth) Ajee’ Wilson (semis), Chrishuna Williams (heats)
2019 Worlds: Raevyn Rogers (silver), Wilson (bronze), Ce’Aira Brown (eighth)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Athing Mu (1:57.73), Sabrina Southerland (1:58.82), Wilson (1:58.93), Grace (1:59.04)
Mu, 19, broke NCAA records in the 400m and the 800m as a freshman in what will likely be her only season for Texas A&M. She ranks Nos. 4 and 2 in the world this year in the 400m and 800m, respectively, and chose the two-lap event for her first Olympic Trials. How will she navigate three rounds over four days against the top pros? With that question out there, the American record holder Wilson may well be the favorite. Rogers, whose likeness is on a 188-foot-tall tower overlooking Hayward Field, ranks seventh in the U.S. this year.
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