Ajee' Wilson runs to victory in the semifinals of the women's 800-meter at the 2018 USATF Outdoor Championships on June 22, 2018 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Coming to Des Moines this week: the world’s fastest men — Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin and Noah Lyles; upstart hurdler Sydney McLaughlin against Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad; and can nine-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix qualify for her eighth world championship team, this one as a mother?
The 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships open on Thursday at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa. The championships are part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, and these are just a few of the stories to follow as American track and field athletes try to qualify for world championships. The competition will be broadcast on NBC (4 p.m. ET on July 27, 8 p.m. ET on July 28) and NBCSN (7 p.m. ET on July 26, 7 p.m. ET on July 27).
The top three in each event qualify for the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, from Sept. 28 through Oct. 6.
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Men’s 100-Meter Showdown
Since Jamaican legend Usain Bolt retired from sprinting, the men’s 100-meter has become a who-will-win nail-biter. And leading the charge are two U.S. men: Christian Coleman and Justin Gatlin.
Coleman, 23, is hoping to reverse the medal order from the 2017 world championships, when he claimed the silver behind Gatlin’s gold (both men defeated Bolt in his final meet). Coleman has run the fastest 100 so far this season (9.81 in the Prefontaine Classic on June 30).
At the Prefontaine, Coleman beat defending world champion Gatlin for the first time, nipping the three-time Olympian by 0.02 seconds. But Gatlin, who’s now 37, has not slowed with age. His 9.87 at the Prefontaine is the fourth fastest 100 this season and was two-hundredths faster than the time he ran at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, where he won an Olympic silver medal. Gatlin is aiming for his fourth Olympic Games in 2020.
Coleman, however, is not undefeated in the 100 this year. At the Shanghai Diamond League meet in mid-May, Lyles nipped him by six-thousandths of a second, running the second-fastest time in the 100 this season. But Coleman found revenge at the Monaco Diamond League meet on July 12, beating Lyles in the 100 by 0.01 seconds in 9.91.
Men’s 200-meter: Lyles vs. Norman
Lyles, 22, likely will not race the 100 at the U.S. championships (he has said he will only run the 100 if he is confident he can win it). His marquee event is the 200, where — so far — he holds the fourth-fastest time ever. But he has faced stiff competition from Michael Norman. At the Rome Diamond League meet in June, Norman beat Lyles in the 200 and set the then-world-leading time for 2019 (19.70). It was the first time that Lyles lost the event since the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, where he was fourth and missed the team. Then at the Lausanne meet in early July, Lyles ran a blistering 200, dropping the world-leading time to 19.50 and besting Bolt’s meet record by 0.08 seconds.
At USATF Outdoor Championships, Lyles will face Coleman in the 200 as well. But Norman will focus on the 400. The 21-year-old sprinter has not lost a 400-meter event for over two years and, going into the outdoor championships, he has run the fastest time so far in the world this year.
Women’s 400: Allyson Felix Back On Track
The most decorated female track athlete in Olympic history, Allyson Felix is aiming for her fifth Olympic Games in 2020. But this time, the 33-year-old track legend is returning from a long hiatus. She gave birth to daughter Camryn by emergency C-section on Nov. 28, 2018, and the USATF Outdoor Championships will be Felix’s first competition in over 13 months.
Should she qualify for the 2019 world championships in the 400, Felix can extend her record as the most dominant athlete in IAAF world championship history. She already has 16 world championship medals — two more than Jamaicans Usain Bolt Merlene Ottey.
If Felix qualifies for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and wins a medal there — adding to her record six Olympic gold medals and three silvers — she would tie Carl Lewis for the most Olympic medals won by a U.S. track athlete (10). If she wins three in Tokyo, she would tie the legendary Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn” who dominated distance running in the 1920s and claimed 12 Olympic medals between the 1920 and 1928 Games.
Missing from Felix’s trophy cabinet is Olympic gold in the 400-meter. At the 2016 Rio Games, she was competing as the reigning world champion in the 400 and was on her way to her seventh Olympic gold medal when Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller-Uibo dove across the line and bumped Felix to silver.
Felix would face stiff competition in the 400 this year. Miller-Uibo holds the 2019 world leading time in 49.05. Felix has not run a sub-50 race time in three years. The top Americans in the event so far this season are 400-meter hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, the only U.S. athlete to reach the podium in the 400 in Diamond League competition this season. McLaughlin finished second in the 400 in Shanghai in May in 50.78. Phyllis Francis, the reigning world champion in the event (and thus, she has a bye to the 2019 world championships), ran a 50.76 at the Rabat Diamond League meet but finished fourth.
Women’s 100: Who’s In The Mix?
In the women’s 100, Aleia Hobbs has consistently finished on the podium in Diamond League competition this season, winning in Shanghai in May, taking third in Rome in June, then crossing the line as the runner-up at the Prefontaine Classic on June 30. Hobbs is trying to make her first world championship team and defend her national title from 2018.
She will likely be challenged by 19-year-old Sha’Carri Richardson. As a freshman at Louisiana State University this year, Richardson dusted the field in the 100 at 2019 NCAAs in 10.75, which broke a 30-year-old collegiate record. It was also the third fastest time run so far this season. By comparison, Hobbs’ fastest time this season is 11.03.
Kayla White, who finished second to Richardson at the 2019 NCAA championships, could be in the mix too. The 22-year-old from North Caroline A&T State has seen a steady decline in her times over the past four years, running two sub-11-second 100s this season.
Rio silver medalist and defending world champion Tori Bowie, 28, also hopes to be in the mix. But the 28-year-old tore her quad a year ago and only began competing again last month. As the defending world champion in the 100, she has a bye for the Doha worlds team.
Men’s 110-meter Hurdles: Grant Holloway or Daniel Roberts?
The 110-meter hurdles could be a replay of the 2019 NCAA championships, where Grant Holloway ran 12.98, breaking a 40-year-old collegiate record — and setting a world-leading time that’s still holding. It was his third outdoor NCAA title in the event. Close behind, rival Daniel Roberts finished in 13.00, tying Renaldo Nehemiah’s longtime collegiate record set in 1979. The two 21-year-olds — Holloway representing the University of Florida, Roberts the University of Kentucky — both turned pro after this historic race.
The two could restore the United States’ dominance in men’s 110 hurdles. Until the Rio, American men had won at least one medal in the event at every Olympic Games since 1896 (excluding the 1980 boycott). And the same goes for world championships — a U.S. athlete had stood on the 110 hurdles podium until the 2017 meet.
With their times set at 2019 NCAAs, both Holloway and Daniels are now listed in the top 25 fastest times in the 110 hurdles. American Aries Merritt, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, still holds the world record at 12.80. Merritt had competed at every nationals since 2005 but is missing this year’s.
At the Lausanne Diamond League meet in early July, Roberts finished the 110 hurdles in 13.11 for second place behind 2016 Olympic silver medalist Orlando Ortega.
Women’s 400 Hurdles: Is Sydney McLaughlin The Heir Apparent?
The women’s 400-meter hurdles should come down to a battle between reigning Olympic gold medalist Dalilah Muhammad, 29, and Sydney McLaughlin, who at age 19 is trying to make her first world championships team. At the 2016 Olympic Games, McLaughlin was the youngest U.S. track and field athlete to compete in 44 years. She was 16 at the time and finished 16th.
Until this spring, McLaughlin had never beaten Muhammad. But at the Oslo Diamond League meet on June 13, McLaughlin overcame a slow start to beat both Muhammad and reigning world champion Kori Carter, also from the U.S. It was McLaughlin’s first time running the event as a professional.
Then at the Monaco meet a month later, McLaughlin beat Muhammad’s world-leading time, dropping it from 53.61 to 53.32.
Shamier Little — 24, the world championship silver medalist in 2015 and reigning national champion — won the 400 hurdles at the Lausanne Diamond League meet in early July and could also be in the mix.
Men’s 800: Clayton Murphy vs. Donavan Brazier
Clayton Murphy, 23, has an Olympic bronze medal in the 800. But Donavan Brazier, 22, holds the fastest 800-meter time so far in the world this year, finishing in 1:43.63 at the Rome Diamond League meet in early June — a good sign that he has recovered from last year’s Achilles injury. In that same race, Murphy crossed the line in fifth, almost one second back. Murphy’s best Diamond League result this year is third in Rabat, Morocco, in June.
The two men now compete together as teammates —for Nike’s Oregon Project. Brazier, who raced the 800 at the 2017 world championships (but did not move beyond the semifinals), could finally show the promise he displayed in 2016 when, as a freshman at Texas A&M, he broke Jim Ryun’s junior record in the 800 at NCAAs — a record that had stood for 50 years.
Men’s Shot Put: Olympic Gold Medalist vs. Olympic Silver Medalist
Olympic champ Ryan Crouser, currently ranked second in the world, is the man to beat for the U.S. outdoor shot put title. The 26-year-old shot putter was undefeated this season until the Prefontaine meet where Brazilian Darlan Romani set a Diamond League record at 22.61 meters (Crouser threw 22.17 for second place). But Crouser still holds the world standard this year at 22.74 — a personal best and a farther mark than his Olympic-winning distance of 22.52, which set at Olympic record. Of note, Crouser has never won a world championship medal.
Joe Kovacs, 30, will look to win his third national title. The 30-year-old is the 2015 world champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist. His 2019 season’s best is 21.46 meters.
Reigning national champion and 2016 Olympian Darrell Hill, 25, could throw a wrench in the Crouser/Kovacs duel. Hill finished second to Kovacs’ fourth at the Rome Diamond League meet in early June and holds a season best of 21.72.
Women’s Long Jump: Is Brittney Reese On Track To Win Fifth World Title?
Brittney Reese, 32, has won everything there is to win in women’s long jump. She has four world titles, two Olympic medals (gold in 2012, silver in 2016), and seven national outdoor titles (the most recent in 2016). But the three-time Olympian wants more, specifically a fifth world title.
Her world title in 2017 gives her a bye to this year’s world championships. But look for her to push the 7-meter mark in Des Moines — to show that she’s on track to vie for that fifth world crown. Only Malaika Mihambo from Germany has jumped farther than seven meters this season.
Age is not on her side though. Reese’s personal best is 7.31 meters, set at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. But she has not jumped over seven meters since the 2017 season. To date, her 2019 season’s best is 6.95 (June 29).
Who Are Clear Favorites?
Women’s 800: Team USA’s undisputed star in the 800 is American record-holder Ajeé Wilson. The 2017 world bronze medalist, Wilson, 25, has stood on the podium in every 800 she has entered this season, including finishing second to Olympic champion Caster Semenya at the Prefontaine Classic on June 30. Three-time NCAA champion (2015-2017) Raevyn Rogers has shown potential too, finishing just over a quarter-second behind Wilson at the Prefontaine.
Men’s Pole Vault: Until recently, Olympic bronze medalist and 2017 world champion Sam Kendricks was undefeated this season in the pole vault. Then at the Prefontaine on June 30, he lost to Swedish pole vaulter Armand Duplantis. Six days later, despite vaulting to his season’s best at 5.95, Kendricks lost again, this time to Poland’s Piotr Lisek, who holds the world-leading height of 6.02. But the 26-year-old American should have no problem claiming his fifth national pole vaulting title in Des Moines.
Men’s 400 Hurdles: Racing in his first official season as an American athlete, Rai Benjamin (who formerly represented Antigua) dominated the 400-meter hurdles at the Prefontaine Classic in late June. The 21-year-old won in 47.16, setting the world-leading time for 2019. It was the eighth-fastest time ever, and Benjamin was almost two seconds clear of the rest field.
Women’s 3,000-meter Steeplechase: Also at the Prefontaine, reigning world steeplechase champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn showed that she is in form again. The 28-year-old Coloradan fell during the race but still finished in second place (to the current world record holder Beatrice Chepkoech from Kenya) in 9:04.90, disrupting what would have been a Kenyan podium sweep.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.