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10 Storylines To Follow At USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships

By Karen Rosen | June 20, 2017, 5:57 p.m. (ET)

The forecast for the 2017 USATF Outdoor Championships, part of the Team USA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast, is hot, hot, hot, with the projected temperature a scorching 108 degrees when competition begins Thursday in Sacramento, California. Competition will also be heated, with Team USA spots at the IAAF World Championships in London at stake. Here are 10 storylines to follow:

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1) Taylor And Claye Renew Their Storied Rivalry

Can Christian Taylor hold off Will Claye in the triple jump and get the world record?  Taylor is the two-time Olympic gold medalist in the event and the American-record holder, while Claye the two-time Olympic silver medalist, is nipping at his heels. At the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon, on May 27, Claye went 17.82 meters (58 feet, 5 ¾ inches) on his fourth attempt – which was the longest jump in the world this season. It didn’t hold up for long. Taylor answered by uncorking the longest jump on U.S. soil and the third-longest jump in history at 18.11 (59-5). His American record is 18.21 (59-9), just over 3 inches shy of Jonathan Edwards’ world record of 18.29. Claye’s next attempt was a wind-aided 18.05 (59-2 ¾).

When: Final, Friday, 6 p.m. PT.


2) Gabriele Grunewald Won’t Let Cancer Slow Her Down

How will Gabriele Grunewald fare in the women’s 1,500-meter? Fighting cancer for the fourth time since 2009, Grunewald will compete between chemotherapy infusions. Although she did not meet the automatic qualifying time of 4:09.50, Grunewald ranked high enough in the U.S. standings (4:11.86) to secure an invitation to the championships. Her fastest time this season has been 4:12.29. Four days after her first chemo treatment, she clocked 4:28.88. “It was truly a disaster in terms of running fast,” she posted on Instagram, “but I feel satisfied in giving it a shot.” Grunewald, who missed the 2012 Olympic team by one spot, will resume chemotherapy after nationals.

When: First round, Thursday, 8:05 p.m. PT.


3) Christian Coleman Goes For Glory In The 100-Meter

Will this year mark a changing of the guard in the men’s 100-meter? Justin Gatlin, who has won Olympic gold (2004), silver (2016) and bronze (2012) medals in the 100-meter is now 35 years old. American-record holder Tyson Gay is 34. Earlier this month, Christian Coleman, 21, of the University of Tennessee became the first athlete to sweep the NCAA 60 and 200 indoors and the 100 and 200 outdoors since another Tennessee sprinter named Justin Gatlin way back in 2002. Coleman has run a world-leading 9.82 this season, while Cameron Burrell (the 22-year-old son of Olympic gold medalists Leroy Burrell and Michelle Finn-Burrell) clocked 9.93. Ronnie Baker, 23, is another contender, winning the Prefontaine Classic in a wind-aided 9.86 and running a legal 9.98 in a meet in Jamaica.

When: First round, Thursday, 5:35 p.m. PT.


4) Bartoletta And Reese Face Off In The Long Jump

Tianna Bartoletta vs. Brittney Reese in the women’s long jump: Bartoletta is the reigning Olympic and world champion who won her first world title back in 2005. Reese has the 2012 Olympic gold medal and six world championships titles (three indoor and three outdoor since 2009). Reese posted the top three performances in the world this year, topped by her leap of 7.13 (23-0) on her second attempt at the Prefontaine Classic. Bartoletta was second in that meet at 6.83 (22-5), making her the fourth-best performer this season. Bartoletta is also entered in the 100-meter in hopes of competing in that event individually and also in the 4x100-meter.

When: Final, Saturday, 12:45 p.m. PT.


5) Shot Put Heavyweights Throw For All The Marbles

Ryan Crouser vs. Joe Kovacs in the men’s shot put: This event is definitely a clash of the titans. Kovacs is the reigning world champion, but settled for silver at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 behind Crouser, who won the gold. Kovacs threw a personal best of (22.57 meters, 74 feet, ¾ inches) at the Tucson Elite Classic in May that was not only the longest throw in the world this season, but also the best throw in the last 14 years. Crouser has the second, third, fourth and fifth best throws in the world this season, led by his 22.43 meters (73-7¼) to win the Prefontaine Classic. Kovacs was third at Pre. Kovacs simply has to compete – placement doesn’t matter – to claim his wildcard into worlds based on his 2015 title, but pride is also on the line.

When: Final, Sunday, 11:55 a.m. PT.


6) Does A Shakeup Loom In A Stacked Women’s 100-Meter Hurdles Field?

After Team USA went 1-2-3 in the 100-meter hurdles in Rio, will the 2017 world team be completely different? The United States dominated the world rankings in this event last year, making a Rio sweep a possibility no matter who qualified for the team at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials for Track and Field. However, Olympic champion Brianna Rollins is currently serving a suspension after missing doping tests, silver medalist Nia Ali is struggling to regain her form and bronze medalist Kristi Castlin is tied for No. 15 in the world this season. World-record holder Keni Harrison broke her left hand warming up for the Diamond League race in Doha, Qatar, on May 5 and still won the race with a time of 12.59 seconds before being rushed to the hospital. Harrison, who placed a surprising sixth at the Olympic trials, has a wildcard into worlds based on her status as reigning Diamond League champion. She can seek a medical waiver if she cannot compete in Sacramento. Sharika Nelvis is the top Team USA performer this season after Harrison, with a best of 12.58 seconds. Jasmin Stowers, Queen Harrison and two-time Olympic medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson are also ranked in the top 10 in the world and hope to make up for their disappointment at not making the Olympic team last July.

When: First round, Friday, 4:50 p.m. PT.


7) Aries Merritt Is Back… With A New Kidney

Can Aries Merritt make another world team in the 110-meter hurdles after his kidney transplant? Merritt made the shocking disclosure prior to racing at the 2015 world championships that he would be competing with under 20 percent kidney function. “I achieved a bronze medal and no one even thought I would make the final,” said Merritt, the 2012 Olympic champion and world-record holder. “Because once they knew the story, they were like, ‘Oh, well, we’re going to write him off.’ But for me, telling my story was such a huge weight lifted off my shoulders to just be able to express what I’ve been going through over the last couple of years.” Four days after the final, on Sept. 1, 2015, he underwent a kidney transplant. His older sister, LaToya, donated the kidney. On June 8, Merritt won his first Diamond League race since the transplant, clocking 13.13 in Rome. His time trails only 2016 Olympian Devon Allen (13.11 seconds) among Team USA performers.

When: First round, Saturday, 11:20 a.m. PT.


8) Alysia Montano Runs With A Baby On Board

Alysia Montano is running the women’s 800-meter while pregnant – again: Montano made headlines around the world in 2014 on the same Hornet Stadium track when she ran the 800 while 34 weeks pregnant. Montano became the first athlete to earn a standing ovation by finishing dead last in her heat. Her time of 2:32.13 was 35 seconds slower than her personal best of 1:57.34. Montano joked that she didn’t want to be “the first person to get lapped in the 800.” She said her doctor gave her the green light to run, adding, “That took away any fear of what the outside world might think about a woman running during her pregnancy.” After Montano’s race on June 27, 2014, her daughter, Linnea, was born on Aug. 20. Montano’s second child is not due until November. Although she has not raced since February and has no hope of making the world team, Montano is also expecting two bronze medals in addition to a baby. Russia’s Mariya Savinova was stripped of her medals from the 2011 and 2013 world championships due to doping violations, moving Montano up to third.

When: First round Thursday, 4:25 p.m. PT.


9) Twice As Nice For Clayton Murphy

Clayton Murphy attempts a grueling 800/1,500 double: Murphy, the 22-year-old Olympic bronze medalist in the 800, will try to become the first man in 84 years to win the 800 and 1,500 at the national championships. Glenn Cunningham last accomplished the feat in 1933. Rick Wohlhuter won both races at the 1976 Olympic trials, which was not considered the national championships. That schedule was also more spread out and the events did not overlap.  Murphy will run both races on Day 1, with the 800 and 1,500 less than four hours apart. He has the 800 semi on Day 2, the 1,500 final on Day 3 and the 800 final on Day 4. Murphy should have duels lined up in both events. He posted the world-leading time in the 800 meters of 1:43.60 in April, while Donavan Brazier is ranked third at 1:44.63. In the 1,500, the fastest American is Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz, who clocked 3:33.41 to beat Mo Farah of Great Britain at the USATF Distance Classic in May. Centrowitz has not competed since.

When: First round 800, Thursday 4 p.m. PT; First round 1,500, Thursday 7:44 p.m. PT.


10) The Sky’s The Limit For Tori Bowie

 How fast can Tori Bowie go in the women’s 200-meter? Bowie, who claimed a full set of medals in Rio – gold in the 4 x 100 relay, silver in the 100 and bronze in the 200 – stormed to victory in the 200 at the Prefontaine Classic with a world-leading time of 21.77 seconds. She chopped .22 off her personal best while calling it a “training” race. Bowie also took down a Who’s Who of Olympic and world champions: Olympic 400-meter champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas, Olympic 200 champ Elaine Thompson of Jamaica, 2015 world champ Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands and nine-time Olympic medalist Allyson Felix of Team USA. Kyra Jefferson is the next-best American at 22.02, followed by Deajah Stevens at 22.09.

When: First round, Saturday, 12:15 p.m. PT.


Related Athletes

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Christian Taylor

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Will Claye

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Christian Coleman

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Tianna Bartoletta

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Brittney Reese

Track and Field
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Ryan Crouser

Track and Field
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Joe Kovacs

Track and Field
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Nia Ali

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Kristi Castlin

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Queen Harrison

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Dawn Harper-Nelson

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Aries Merritt

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Alysia Montano

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Clayton Murphy

Track and Field
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Tori Bowie

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Kyra Jefferson

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Deajah Stevens