A prevailing storyline in track and field for the last two years has been this: the U.S. men could win every Olympic gold medal from 100m through 800m.
An American is either the reigning world champion or the fastest man in 2021 in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 110m hurdles and 400m hurdles.
Those runners are expected to be tested to varying degrees at the Olympic Trials, which start Friday at the new Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
Some, like Grant Holloway (world 110m hurdles champion) and Rai Benjamin (400m hurdles world leader), are significant favorites in events where the top three clinch spots on the team for Tokyo.
Others face deep fields, where it’s possible that Olympic medal contenders are left home.
The U.S. also boasts medal favorites in field events, though its most accomplished man, two-time Olympic champion Christian Taylor, is out after rupturing an Achilles last month.
That in mind, five men’s events to watch at the Olympic Trials …
Shot Put (Trials final June 18)
2016 Olympics: Ryan Crouser (gold), Joe Kovacs (silver), Darrell Hill (qualifying)
2019 Worlds: Kovacs (gold), Crouser (silver), Hill (fifth)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Crouser (23.01), Kovacs (22.72), Hill (22.34), Josh Awotunde (21.68)
There’s not much debate about who will make up the three-man Olympic team, but this event could produce fireworks nonetheless. Crouser, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound NFL tryout invitee, built his own shot put ring when facilities closed last spring, threw behind an elementary school and tossed medicine balls under a bridge. It paid off. This year, he upped personal bests, breaking the world indoor record and becoming the third man in history to launch the 16-pound ball 23 meters (more than 75 feet). Kovacs, who is coached by his wife and considered retirement in early 2019, won the world title later that year in the greatest shot put competition in history. Crouser and Kovacs have the talent to challenge the 31-year-old world record of 23.12.
100m (Trials final June 20)
2016 Olympics: Justin Gatlin (silver), Trayvon Bromell (eighth), Marvin Bracy (semis)
2019 Worlds: Christian Coleman (gold), Gatlin (silver), Mike Rodgers (semis), Chris Belcher (heats)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Bromell (9.77), Bracy (9.85), Isiah Young (9.89), Fred Kerley (9.91)
After Usain Bolt retired in 2017, Coleman became the clear Olympic favorite. But Coleman is banned through Tokyo for missing drug tests (though never testing positive). Re-enter Bromell, a former teen prodigy who was an afterthought at this time last year. Bromell’s career is resurrected, and he is now favored for gold. The first six men on the world rankings list are American. Trailing them are Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist and 2017 World champion who is still a contender at age 39. And Noah Lyles, arguably the favorite after Coleman was first banned, but whose 100m has been slow to come along this year.
Long Jump (Trials final June 27)
2016 Olympics: Jeff Henderson (gold), Jarrion Lawson (fourth), Mike Hartfield (qualifying)
2019 Worlds: Henderson (silver), Steffin McCarter (12th), Trumaine Jefferson (qualifying)
2021 U.S. Leaders: JuVaughn Harrison (8.44), Henderson (8.39), Marquis Dendy (8.29), Corey Crawford (8.29)
Intriguing for the spectrum of participants: Henderson, looking to become the first man to repeat as Olympic champ since Carl Lewis won four in a row from 1984-96. Lawson, who cost himself a Rio Olympic medal (perhaps gold) by dragging his left hand in the sand behind his landing on his final jump. Lawson was banned four years in 2018, then exonerated in 2020 over tainted beef. Harrison was the male revelation of the NCAA season, posting long jump and high jump results that rank second in the world in both events. Don’t forget Marquise Goodwin, who jumped in the 2012 Olympics, then went to the NFL. In 2016, he returned to long jumping and went into the Olympic Trials with the world’s top two jumps for the year. But Goodwin failed to qualify for the Rio team. He went back to the NFL, then proclaimed in April 2019 that he would win the Tokyo Olympic long jump. After nearly five years between meets, including a one-year ban for not filling out drug-testing forms while focused on football, he ranks eighth among Americans this year.
1500m (Trials final June 27)
2016 Olympics: Matthew Centrowitz (gold), Ben Blankenship (eighth), Robby Andrews (semis)
2019 Worlds: Centrowitz (eighth), Craig Engels (10th), Blankenship (semis)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Engels (3:33.64), Henry Wynne (3:34.08), Hobbs Kessler (3:34.36), Vincent Ciattei (3:34.57)
Americans haven’t contended internationally since Centrowitz broke a 108-year Olympic title drought in Rio. But the crowd recently bunched in the race for three Olympic spots. Centrowitz, after health setbacks early in this Olympic cycle, showed form last month and goes into Trials as the favorite. Behind him are veterans such as Engels, known for his mullet, and Josh Thompson. And collegians — rising Oregon sophomore Cole Hocker and Yared Nuguse, who just finished his senior year at Notre Dame. And then 18-year-old Kessler, who broke Alan Webb‘s high school mile record.
200m (Trials final June 27)
2016 Olympics: LaShawn Merritt (sixth), Justin Gatlin (semis), Ameer Webb (semis)
2019 Worlds: Noah Lyles (gold), Rodney Rowe (heats), Kenny Bednarek (heats)
2021 U.S. Leaders: Terrance Laird (19.81), Bednarek (19.88), Lyles (19.90), Joseph Fahnbulleh (19.91)
Lyles, Bednarek and Laird are the only Americans who are expected to go for the Olympic 200m team who have broken 20 seconds in the last three years. And each comfortably did so already this season. Fahnbulleh beat Laird at NCAAs last week but didn’t enter Olympic Trials. Michael Norman, the Olympic 400m favorite, entered the 200m at Trials, too, but is not expected to see it all the way through given the 200m and 400m overlap in Tokyo. But the 200m got a little more interesting last Sunday when Fred Kerley, the 2019 U.S. 400m champion, announced he’s focusing on the 100m and the 200m at Trials. Kerley’s 200m personal best is 20.24.
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