Led by Oregon native Ashton Eaton, Team USA boasts its biggest ever roster for an IAAF World Indoor Championships when it competes this week at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland.
Eaton, the defending Olympic decathlon champion and world-record holder, is among 58 men and women on the U.S. track team — topping the previous high tally of 56 at the 1993 edition in Toronto. The meet returns to U.S. soil for the first time since 1987, when the first IAAF world indoor meet was at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.
Team USA is by far the largest unit — ahead of Jamaica’s 25 entries and Great Britain/Northern Ireland’s 24. Russia would have brought a sizable team as well, but it’s under an IAAF ban for its doping scandal.
The four-day meet starting March 17 has a $2.5 million total purse, with $40,000 to gold medalists (and money for the top six) and a $50,000 bonus for those setting world records on the 200-meter banked, bright-green track or dark-green infield. Some 600 athletes from 154 nations are expected.
The meet will air on NBCSN with USATF.TV’s “The Cool Down” following daily NBCSN coverage. The NBCSN broadcasts begin Friday at 9:30 p.m. PT, Saturday at 6:30 p.m. PT and Sunday at 1 p.m. PT.
Drama fills every event, but here are the top 10 events to watch for:
10. Women’s High Jump
High school sensation Vashti Cunningham — the daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham — turned 18 in January and cleared an American junior record 1.99 meters (6-6 1/4) last week at nationals. She didn’t have a qualifying mark by the March 7 deadline, but the IAAF extended an invitation anyway. The Las Vegas resident will face European champion Ruth Beitia of Spain, twice Vashti’s age, and Kamila Licwinko of Poland, the defending champion with a season best of 1.97 meters (6-5 1/2).
9. Men’s 1,500-Meter
Americans Matt Centrowitz and Robby Andrews have high hopes in the metric mile. Centrowitz, the 2013 world outdoor silver medalist who trains in Portland, has dominated the indoor season, burning a mile in 3:50.63 to edge New Zealand’s Nick Willis in the Millrose Games. “Centro,” as he’s known, nipped Andrews for the national 1,500-meter title, 3:44.33 to 3:44.40. All three medalists from the 2014 world indoor meet in Poland return, with Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider (2012 winner) boasting the year’s best time: 3:34.94. Willis, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist, will vie as well.
8. Men’s 60-Meter
Usain Bolt won’t be in Portland, but Jamaican teammate and former 100-meter world-record holder Asafa Powell (6.49 season best) will. The trio of Marvin Bracy (6.51), Trayvon Bromell (6.51) and Mike Rodgers (6.52) will lead Team USA. Returning to the world indoor meet for the first time since 2008 is Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis, who turns 40 in April and has a season best of 6.51.
7. Men’s Long Jump
With the best mark in the world this year (27-7 1/4), national champ Marquis Dendy is the favorite, especially after 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2015 world champion Greg Rutherford of Great Britain withdrew with a muscle tear. Dendy, with six NCAA titles at Florida, will be joined by fellow American Jeff Henderson, who jumped 26-5 last week.
6. Women’s Long Jump
American record-holder Brittney Reese won indoor world titles in 2010 and 2012. Olympic bronze medalist Janay DeLoach gives Team USA another contender. The best from abroad include Germany’s Alexandra Wester, with a 2016 world-leading 22-9 3/4, and Britain’s Lorraine Ugen, who was an NCAA champion at TCU and recently spanned a personal indoor best of 22-3 1/4.
5. Women’s 60-Meter Hurdles
Three Americans are entered and have a good chance to sweep, with defending champion Nia Ali getting a wild-card entry as IAAF World Indoor Tour winner. She’ll be joined by 2013 outdoor world champion Brianna Rollins, whose 7.76-second winning time at nationals last week is the fastest time in the world for four years. A hair’s breadth behind Rollins was Kendra “Keni” Harrison in second in 7.77, however. Britain’s Tiffany Porter, bronze medalist in 2014, has a season best of 7.89.
4. Men’s and Women’s 4x400s
Indoor relay world-record holders Kyle Clemons and Calvin Smith will be joined by a relay pool consisting of Patrick Feeney, Vernon Norwood, Chris Giesting and Elvyonn Bailey. The women’s pool, led by U.S. 400-meter champion Quanera Hayes, includes Kendra Chambers, Phyllis Francis, Natasha Hastings, Courtney Okolo and Ashley Spencer. They’re favored to defend Team USA’s 2014 title, when a foursome ran 3:24.83. Jamaica’s team includes Stephenie Ann McPherson, part of the unit that took gold at last year’s outdoor championships in Beijing.
3. Women’s Pole Vault
Jenn Suhr and Sandi Morris have been soaring of late — with London Olympic champ Suhr breaking her own world indoor record with a 5.03-meter (16-5 1/2) leap in January and Morris clearing a winning height of 16-2 3/4 inches at last weekend’s national championships. The field includes 2010 world indoor champion Fabiana Murer of Brazil and Greek national record holder Ekaterini Stefanidi, who topped 16 feet to win the Millrose Games.
2. Men’s Heptathlon
Ashton Eaton of Bend, Oregon, wasn’t shy in January as he looked toward winning a third straight world title. “I’ll try to break the world record,” Eaton told the IAAF’s Spikes magazine, referring to his own world best in the two-day, seven-event grind of 6,645 points (set in 2012). An IAAF preview says Eaton’s biggest threat may come from U.S. teammate Curtis Beach, a two-time NCAA indoor champion with a recent score of 6,075. Ukraine’s Oleksiy Kasyanov (2012 world silver) has a season best of 5,979.
1. Attendance and Attention
Led by 2016 U.S. Olympic men’s coach Vin Lananna, TrackTown USA is the organizer of IAAF worlds. The former Oregon track coach hopes the biennial event elevates the sport in America and keeps it burning until 2021, when Eugene, Oregon, hosts the IAAF world outdoor championships. With seating for 7,000, the convention center aims to show the world a packed and passionate house. The Oregon Sports Authority puts the economic impact of this week’s event at $25 million.
“I think the facility is obviously ready for big performances, the crowds are ready to see them and … we’re going to create a new day for track and field in the United States,” Lananna told the Eugene Register-Guard.