As if fighting to be national champion wasn’t enough, the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships this year doubles as the World Championship trials. With places in Moscow at stake, it’s one of the highlights of the track and field calendar. Here are ten massive questions that will be answered over the next four days in Des Moines, Iowa.
1. Which 100m sprinters will take on Bolt et al in Moscow?
So far this season it is the US athletes who have most impressed over 100m. Leading the world is the freshly-beardless 2007 world champion Tyson Gay (9.86), while number two Justin Gatlin (9.91) has won five out of his six 100m starts this summer, beating Usain Bolt in Rome. The best of the rest include Michael Rodgers and the 36-year-old Darvis ‘Doc’ Patton.
2. Women’s 400m: can Sanya Richards-Ross answer the doubters?
Another Olympic champion whose season is on the line is Sanya Richards-Ross. As neither defending world champion nor 2012 Diamond League winner, the glam and gold trackstar has no wildcard for Moscow, and will have to place in the first three to qualify for the US team.
The Texas-based athlete underwent an operation on a troublesome big toe in the winter, and in her one and only outing this summer she finished eighth, more than five seconds down her PB. Smelling blood will be the likes of Olympic 400m finalist Francena McCorory, Natasha Hastings and the promising Ashley Spencer.
3. Men’s 110m hurdles: might Merritt miss out on Moscow?
Could the Olympic champion and world record holder Aries Merritt really miss out on a place in the US team for the World Championships? As a 2012 Diamond League winner, Merritt earned a wild card for Moscow. However, his compatriot Jason Richardson also banked a wild card as defending world champion. As IAAF rules prevent more than one wildcard per country in each event, the USATF gave Richardson the nod.
Merritt’s form has been wobbly this season and in his last appearance, more than a month ago, he DNF’d in Shanghai. Merritt may have enjoyed a perfect 2012 but his entire 2013 season hinges on his performance at the Drake Stadium.
4. Is 100m hurdler Brianna Rollins the real deal?
Perhaps in no other event are the US stocked with such world-class talent. They occupy the top six places on the world lists this year. Look out for mega talented Brianna Rollins, who blitzed to the top of the 2013 world lists and catapulted to joint ninth on the all-time lists with a 12.39 to land the NCAA title.
Harper (now Harper-Nelson) vs. Rollins at the 2012 Olympic Trials
In the battle for the US title and a place in Moscow Rollins will face fierce battle-hardend competitors like 2012 Olympic silver medallist Dawn Harper-Nelson (who already has a wildcard); bronze medallist Kellie Wells; two-time world indoor 60m champion Lolo Jones AND the very talented Queen Harrison, who is world number three this year in 12.64.
5. Can Kori Carter back up her NCAA performance in the 400m hurdles?
Another emerging star who could make a real impact in Des Moines is Kori Carter, 21, who blitzed to the NCAA title in a world leading mark of 53.21. Carter proved her incredible versatility by finishing second in a handy 12.79 behind Rollins in the 100m hurdles. She’ll be keen to beat reigning world champion and world championships wild card holder Lashinda Demus.
6. Is 5000m veteran Bernard Lagat about to be surpassed by the young pretender?
The indefatigable veteran Bernard Lagat takes on the young, well young-ish pretender Galen Rupp, 27. The 38-year-old Lagat, world 5000m champion six years ago, finished fifth at the Eugene Diamond League – one place ahead of Rupp, the Olympic 10,000m silver medallist. Rupp is also entered in the 10,000m but should he attempt the double, very few would predict the outcome over 12-and-a-half laps with any great confidence.
7. Women’s pole vault: can Jenn Suhr recapture her indoor form?
Since setting the world indoor record in the winter, the Olympic champion’s outdoor form this summer has been patchy at best. Cuban Yarisley Silva has been the world’s most consistent performer, so Suhr will be keen to put down a good marker in Iowa. Her rivals are not insignificant, with Mary Saxer and Kylie Hutson also vaulting well.
8. Who’s joining Brittney Reese on the long jump team?
As defending world champion Reese takes up a wildcard spot, leaving a raft of world-class jumpers scrambling for the remaining three spots. With the US occupying four of the top five places on the world lists, expect Janay DeLoach-Soukup, Funmi Jimoh and Tori Bowie to be right up there. The overall quality of the event should be top drawer.
9. Which shot put #frival will reign supreme?
The world leading one-two Ryan Whiting and Reese Hoffa (above, in Des Moines in 2010) are the best of frivals, and clash again in what should prove a heavyweight contest to savour. Whiting, the world indoor champion, leads the way with a personal best 22.28m in Doha. Hoffa, who has a wild card entry for the World Championships as reigning Diamond League champion, has a season’s best of 21.71m. He’ll be desperate to retain his US title.
10. Can Ashton Eaton avoid the decathlon pitfalls?
Ashton Eaton may be world record holder and Olympic champion (and the greatest all-round athlete we’ve ever seen) but if he slips up – and history has been littered with no-marks in key competitions for prominent decathletes – then there’s a chance the multi-event demigod will miss out on Moscow.
A and B standards might come into play should such a scenario occur but for the good of the sport we wish him well. Defending world champion Trey Hardee is also entered, but he has the luxury of a wildcard spot.
11. BONUS QUESTION: Will it be all Dwight on the night?
Sorry, we just can’t help ourselves. We all know that Dwight Phillips is desperate to make history and win world his fifth word long jump gold in Moscow. He has a wildcard as champion, but has struggled since his post-Olympics comeback.
Here’s hoping that a battle for the US title, against the likes of Mike Hartfield, Tyron Stewart, Will Claye and Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor (all at least 12 years his junior), will spark the long jump legend back to form.