Nineteen veterans of Team USA, including nine Rio Olympians, compete this weekend at the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships. For many, it’s a return to familiar ground. The University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, site of the NCAA meet yearly since 2013, hosted last year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials as well.
At least eight of the Olympic, Youth Olympic or Pan American Games team members are favored to claim titles. In fact, Track & Field News predicts Oregon’s Deajah Stevens – who made the final of the 200-meter in Rio – doubling in the women’s 100- and 200-meter races, with Tennessee’s Christian Coleman — who ran in the 4x100-meter heats for Team USA in Rio — winning the men’s 100 and 200.
Others Team USA’ers topping the latest form sheets are Quanesha Burks (women’s long jump) and Olympians Keturah Orji (women’s triple jump), Byron Robinson (men’s 400-meter hurdles), Raven Saunders (women’s shot put), Lexi Weeks (women’s pole vault) and Kendell Williams (heptathlon).
Ariana Washington, seeded fourth and fifth in the women’s 100 and 200, and Rudy Winkler, eighth in the hammer throw seeding, round out the nine U.S. Olympians competing.
Six entrants at Eugene competed at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, including Burks, Kyra Jefferson (silver in the women’s 200), Sha’Keela Saunders (bronze in the women’s long jump), Shakima Wimbley (silver in the women’s 400) and Kendal Williams (gold in the men’s 4x100).
Four collegians competed in the Youth Olympic Games. Three gained experience at the 2014 event in Nanjing, China (hurdler Amere Lattin, high jumper Janae Moffitt and long jumper Rhesa Foster) and shot putter Sarah Howard took part in the inaugural 2010 meet in Singapore.
The NCAA meet begins Wednesday with men's events. The women start Thursday.
Quanesha Burks, Alabama senior
The 2015 NCAA outdoor and 2016 indoor long jump champion will be busy in Eugene. She’s set to compete in her school-record event, but also the 100 and 4x100, where she recently helped set a school record of 42.91. The Alabama native qualified for her fourth visit to the NCAA outdoor meet with a leap of 6.68 meters (21-11). In the 100, she’s in the top 15 with a time of 11.32.
Marcus Chambers, Oregon senior
The local favorite will try to make his third straight NCAA final and seek to improve on his fourth-place finish last year. The native of Tacoma, Washington, also is set to anchor the Ducks’ record-setting 4x100 team, which hasn’t made the NCAA final since 2006. Despite having a season best of 45.03, the presence of six rivals under 45 doesn’t faze Chambers. “I ain’t scared of nobody,” he told the Eugene Register-Guard.
Christian Coleman, Tennessee junior
The SEC Outdoor Runner of the Year won NCAA indoor titles in the 60 and 200 in March, with his 6.45-second mark in the shorter event tying the collegiate record. In May, the Rio Olympian became the first collegiate athlete to go sub-10 seconds in the 100 and sub-20 in the 200 on the same day. His season bests: 9.96 and 19.85.
Rhesa Foster, Oregon freshman
The Pac-12 long jump champion with a season best of 6.39 (20-11 1/4) has track in her DNA. Her father and longtime youth coach, Robert, was a Jamaica Olympian in 1996 and 2000 as a hurdler. Rhesa won bronze at the Youth Olympics. Despite injuries in high school, Rhesa was the California prep champion in 2016. “As soon as I got to Oregon, the doctors identified the weaknesses I have and we worked on them and strengthened them,” she said.
Sarah Howard, North Carolina senior
Experience is her asset. Howard was a 2009 youth world championship team member as well as 2010 Youth Olympian. With a seed mark of 16.62 (54-6 1/2) in the shot put, she’ll try to make the most of her final appearance in the NCAAs. Valedictorian of her graduating class as a Georgia prep, she’s a perennial Academic All-American in the ACC and nationwide.
Kyra Jefferson, Florida senior
The daughter of Thomas Jefferson, bronze medalist in the 200 at the 1984 Olympics, is the 2015 indoor national champion at 200. Also holder of NCAA titles in relays, she became the only collegian in history to break 11.20 in the 100, 22.25 in the 200 and 51.51 in the 400. A hamstring injury sidelined her from last year’s NCAA meet, but she reached the Olympic trials semifinal in the 200.
Amere Lattin, Houston sophomore
The Youth Olympian also hurdled in the 2016 under-20 world championships in Poland, where he was silver medalist in the 110-meter event. He swept the 110- and 400-meter hurdles titles at his conference meet. But he’ll focus on the 110s at Eugene, where the native of Missouri City, Texas, has a seed time of 13.86.
Janae’ Moffitt, Purdue sophomore
The daughter of former Green Bay Packers tight end Michael Moffitt returns to the NCAA meet with a high jump qualifying mark of 1.79 (5-10 1/2) and a shot at a medal. (The top seeds are at 1.82.) She was last year’s Big Ten Freshman of the Year and first-team All-Big Ten for the indoor season, as well as second team All-America.
Keturah Orji, Georgia junior
The triple jump favorite missed a bronze at the Rio Games by 3 centimeters when she jumped 14.71 (48-3 1/4). Her consolation was setting an American record. She hopes to add to her three NCAA titles at Eugene. Twice named SEC Women’s Field Athlete of the Year, the native of Mount Olive, New Jersey, owns five of the top nine triple jumps in NCAA history.
Byron Robinson, Texas sophomore
At Rio, he missed the 400-meter hurdles final by 0.01 seconds. But at Eugene, his NCAA-leading seed time of 48.58 is three-tenths better than No. 2 — and ranks fourth in the world this season. The native of Chesapeake, Virginia, was a 2014 transfer from Penn State (he wanted to be somewhere warmer). He helped Texas’ 4x400 team take fourth at the 2016 NCAA indoor championships.
Raven Saunders, Mississippi junior
Fifth in the shot at Rio — with a personal-best of 19.35 (63-6) on her last attempt — she had the 10 best marks by an NCAA woman in 2016. The collegiate record-holder aims to add a fourth NCAA title at Eugene. Before the Olympics, the native of Charleston, South Carolina, won silver for Team USA at the 2014 world junior championships (also in Eugene) and gold at the 2015 Pan American Junior Championships in Edmonton, Alberta.
Sha’Keela Saunders, Kentucky senior
Only 1 1/4 inches short of making the Rio team in the long jump, she’s hoping to cap her collegiate career with an NCAA title. Picked for second, she already owns three NCAA silvers and one bronze. The eight-time All-America from Suffolk, Virginia, has a qualifying mark of 6.62 (21-8 3/4).
Deajah Stevens, Oregon junior
With the Ducks favored to win the team title at home, she’s expected to pile up points in the 100 and 200, where she leads the fields at 10.89 and 22.16. The Pac-12 Women's Track Athlete of the Year helped Oregon set collegiate records in the 4x100 and 4x200. At Rio, the native of Bayside, New York, took seventh in the 200 at 22.65.
Ariana Washington, Oregon sophomore
An alternate for the 4x100 team at Rio, she’s the defending NCAA indoor champion at 200 and outdoor champion in the 100 and 200. Even so, she’s picked by T&FN to finish fourth in the 100 and 200, her qualifying times being 11.08 and 22.44. The native of Signal Hill, California, was a 2014 world junior gold medalist in the 4x100. She won 100 silver medal and 200 bronze medal at the 2013 world youth championships in Ukraine.
Alexis “Lexi” Weeks, Arkansas sophomore
The defending indoor and outdoor NCAA pole vault champion has a lot on her plate. In two months, she weds Derek Jacobus, a teammate and decathlete also competing in Eugene. Topping that is her twin sister, Tori — also qualifying for Eugene with a 4.30/14-1 1/4 vault — is getting married this summer as well. (The natives of Cabot, Arkansas, will be each other’s maids of honor.) The Razorbacks are the defending NCAA team champions. No pressure.
Kendal Williams, Georgia sophomore
The T&FN pick for third in 100, fourth in 200 was an Olympic trials finalist at Eugene in the 200. In 2014, he beat the reigning NCAA champion in the 100 final at the world junior championships in Eugene, and took silver in the 200. He also helped Team USA take gold in the 4x100. The native of Jacksonville, Florida, has qualifying times of 10.14 and 20.38.
Kendell Williams, Georgia senior
Unrelated to Georgia teammate Kendal, the Marietta native was 17th in the Rio heptathlon and is a big favorite to win in Eugene — her 6,354 points more than 250 points ahead of the No. 2 qualifier. She was the 2014 world junior champion at 100 hurdles. Already a two-time NCAA champion at the hep, she holds the collegiate record in the indoor pentathlon.
Shakima Wimbley, Miami senior
Fifth at the Olympic trials last year, she’s picked to finish second in the 400 in her return to Eugene. The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native posted a world leading indoor 400 time earlier this year of 51.28. Her 50.40 season best is No. 2 in the United States and No. 4 in the world. She’ll also run legs on the Hurricanes’ 4x100 and 4x400 teams.
Rudy Winkler, Cornell senior
The 2016 Olympic trials champion in the men’s hammer throw, Winkler earned his third consecutive berth to the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene. Having recently been named the 2017 USTFCCCA Northeast Regional Men's Field Athlete of the Year for a second time in as many years, Winkler is currently ranked second nationally in the event. He is a two-time First Team All-American after national finishes of eighth in 2015 and second in 2016. He also competed for Team USA at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where he finished 18th.
Ken Stone is a San Diego-based writer who has covered track and field for more than 40 years and blogs at masterstrack.com. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.