DES MOINES, Iowa — The 2019 Toyota USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the Team USA Champions Series, presented by Xfinity, concluded with 17 finals on Sunday. In 11 of those finals, Olympic and world championships medalists competed for another chance to represent Team USA on an international stage.
For most, the goal was to make the 2019 world championships roster (by finishing top three in their event).
Here’s how those 17 medalists fared in the day’s events.
Women’s Pole Vault
Jenn Suhr does not know how many U.S. teams she has made. But the 37-year-old pole vaulter with 10 national titles — as well as Olympic gold and silver medals (from 2012 and 2008) and the 2013 world outdoor silver medal — has made another. Unable to compete much this season (she suffered a back injury this spring), she could not surpass Sandi Morris, the American record holder and 2016 Olympic and 2017 world silver medalist. But Suhr was still happy with her performance.
“No matter how old you get or how many times you’ve done it, U.S. nationals is always cutthroat,” she said, adding that she gets out of bed like Frankenstein due to her stiff back.
Morris vaulted a season’s best 4.85 for her third national title. It’s 0.15 meters shy of her American record set in September 2016. Runner-up Katie Nageotte reached 4.80 meters. Suhr rounded out the podium and world championships roster with a vault of 4.70.
Men’s Long Jump
Will Claye is a versatile jumper. In fact, he wants to be “the greatest horizontal jumper of all time.” To date, the 28-year-old two-time Olympian has won three Olympic medals — two in triple jump (silvers in 2012 and 2016) and one in long jump (bronze in 2012).
But his world championships medals have all come from triple jump.
At 2019 U.S. outdoor nationals, Claye followed up his second place in the triple jump with another runner-up finish in long jump. It was good enough to give him worlds slots in both events.
“I want to come out here and show that I can compete with the best in the world,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I had the triple jump a couple days ago. I’m fit for it. I’m built for it. This is a blessing that God gave me, and I’m going to use it to the fullest. I would do myself, my family, my God, my wife and my friends a disservice if I didn’t do both because that’s what I was made to do.”
His longest jump today was 8.06 meters, 0.06 meters behind winner Ja’Mari Ward.
Three-time national triple jump champion Jeff Henderson, 30, the reigning Olympic champion, finished fifth at 8.00 meters.
Women’s Shot Put
Michelle Carter is a shot put legend. The 33-year-old is a three-time Olympian, defending Olympic gold medalist and the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic shot put gold since the event debuted at the Games in 1948, and she has two world medals, both bronze from 2015 and 2017.
This season, she is continuing a comeback from knee surgery performed on her left knee at the end of 2017. Surgeons cleaned up the wear and tear of 20 years of throwing, she said. She also got married in January 2019.
With a throw of 18.69 — a season’s best— she finished second behind Chase Ealey (19.56) and qualified for her sixth world championships roster.
“I’m just grateful to make the team this year, that was the goal,” she said. “I have two more months to fine tune to get ready for world championships.”
What keeps her in the sport after so many years?
“The fact that I know I can be better,” she said. “I have a number in my head that I want to hit, so that’s what keeps me going, a lifetime PR. I haven’t hit it yet, even though I had a great throw at the Olympics, I know I have so much more to give. Now I’m trying to maximize the time I have and fine-tune my technique.”
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 (1:43.63), a good sign that he has recovered from last year’s Achilles injury. In the men’s 800 final, he held the lead through to the end, holding off a charging Murphy. The two men finished in 1:45.62 and 1:46.01, respectively.
“I wanted to run for the win,” said a disappointed Murphy. “Probably didn’t run the smartest race for the win, but top three and going to Doha, still got plenty of time.
“The goal here is to be top three,” he reiterated.
Good friends, Murphy was disappointed to lose the national title that he won last year. But he was happy for Brazier, his friend and training partner.
“I said yesterday, if there’s one guy that would be OK losing to it would be Donavan,” said Murphy. “Obviously still disappointed that I lost. But to look up and see Donavan in front of me, I know he’s in really good shape right now and we’re both running really well right now.”
Women’s 3,000-meter Steeplechase
Not much can stop Emma Coburn. The reigning world steeplechase champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist won her eighth overall steeplechase title and sixth in a row in 9:25.63.
Her biggest challenge was running a slower pace than what she is accustomed to. She hung back in the pack, then accelerated with 950 meters to go. Fortunately, the rain held off until events later in the evening.
“It worked out,” she said. “It was great weather. A little windy but surprisingly good weather, and I’m glad how it played out.”
Courtney Frerichs, who won silver at worlds in 2017 behind Coburn when no American had never before medaled in the event, briefly led during the U.S. championships final for the first time ever, though she remarked she wished she had been more aggressive.
With the bye to world championships for Coburn, the next three women in the race earned world championship berths: Frerichs (9:26.61), Colleen Quigley (9:30.97) and Allie Ostrander (9:38.52).
“It’s great, I love that Team USA gets to have more athletes,” Coburn said of her bye allowing 22-year-old Ostrander a spot on the team. “We do have a camaraderie and we truly support one another and believe that together we’re better than alone, and even though we don’t train together it’s always so exciting to represent Team USA in such a strong way. I know Allie will make plenty more teams to come and to have her to experience that is going to be really special.”
Paul Chelimo, 28, came to Des Moines as the defending national champion and with the fastest time in the field. He’s also the 2016 Olympic silver and 2017 world bronze medalist in the 5,000.
From the gun, he pushed the pace. Only Lopez Lomong, who won the 10,000 title on Thursday night, and Woody Kincaid hung with him. Chelimo did not want the race to come down to “a kicker’s race.” But Chelimo also knew that Lomong had not yet met the world standard time for the 5,000, and this was his last chance. So Chelimo stopped pushing the pace. By the end of the race, Lomong won in 13:25.53 to Chelimo’s 13.25.80. Kincaid rounded out the podium in 13:26.84.
Fourth- and fifth-place finishers Hassan Mead and Drew Hunter will join Chelimo on the world team, as they had the standard.
“Just coming in and making the team is enough,” Chelimo said. “World championships is the most important thing.”
He will “go back to the drawing board” and work on his strength and tactics for the worlds 5,000, and hopefully bring home another medal.
Team USA’s undisputed star in the 800, American record-holder Ajeé Wilson won her fourth national 800 title in dominant fashion. She never relinquished the lead and crossed the line in 1:57.72.
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.
“Since ‘17 I’ve finally been coming into my own,” she said. “I think I’ve finally mastered training. Mentally, I think I’ve matured so much. I think personally I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. I’m ready to keep doing well.”
Matthew Centrowitz, 29, came to Des Moines as the defending national champion in the 1,500. But he could not quite get by Craig Engels, the flashy middle-distance runner with the mullet and ‘stache.
Engels won his first national title — and first trip to a world championships — in 3:44.93 to Centrowitz’s 3:44.97.
“No one likes to lose, but Craig is in phenomenal form,” said Centrowitz. “I think would put him as the favorite coming into this meet just with how his outdoor season is going compared to mine. I’m definitely happy to be on another team. I am more excited where I am right now and giving myself another two months to really prepare.”
In addition to his Olympic gold medal in the 1,500 from 2016 – the first by an American in 108 years – Centrowitz has world championships hardware: a bronze from 2011 and silver from 2013.
Tori Bowie, 28, who won the bronze medal in the 200 at the 2016 Olympic Games, did not compete in the 200 at the U.S. outdoor nationals. Nor did she compete in the 100, where she’s the defending world champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist, because she has a bye in that event. She tore her quad a year ago and only began competing again last month, but instead of the 100 and 200 she will be performing a different double at this year’s worlds: 100 and long jump.
She competed in the long jump — what she called her first love — in Des Moines, finishing fourth. National champion Brittney Reese has a bye in the event as defending world champ, so Bowie also made the team.
Women’s 400-meter Hurdles
In the most loaded field of the night, four past world or Olympic medalists – plus a rising superstar who made the Olympic team at age 16 – competed for three spots on the world team.
The results showed how talented the line-up was as it was the only event in which a world record was set at this meet.
Dalilah Muhammad, who won Olympic gold in 2016 and world silvers in 2013 and 2017, lowered a world record that stood for 16 years to 52.20 seconds. She was followed by now-19-year-old Sydney McLaughlin in a season’s best 52.88 and Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer in a personal best 53.11.
2015 world silver and bronze medalists Shamier Little and Cassandra Tate were fourth and fifth, missing the world team.
Missing from the final was Kori Carter, who didn’t race in Des Moines since she already has a bye to Doha as the 2017 world champion.
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn has covered five Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.