Home Sport What to Watch For in the U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials

What to Watch For in the U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials

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For months, they have trained in relative isolation. They have triple jumped in empty stadiums and chased qualifying standards on high school tracks. You may have heard this before, but the pandemic created challenges for American track and field athletes.

For those who managed to push through the long delay, a meet five years in the making has finally arrived: The U.S. Olympic track and field trials are set to start on Friday afternoon at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field, a freshly renovated stadium that — barring something else unforeseen — will also host the world championships next year.

But first come the trials. As athletes from across the country bid to compete at the Tokyo Games this summer, here is a look at what to watch over the coming days:

What’s the schedule?

Glad you asked. It is a long meet — 10 days, with two rest days built in the middle — running from Friday through June 27. There are 40 events in all (20 for the women, 20 for the men), with preliminary rounds for most of them. On Friday, for example, there are preliminary rounds in events ranging from the women’s discus to the men’s 800 meters. There are also two finals scheduled for the first day, in the men’s shot put and the men’s 10,000. On Sunday, eight more champions will be crowned, including in the men’s 100. (More on that later.)

So who gets to go to the Olympics?

The top three finishers in each event qualify, provided they have reached the Olympic standard. If not, they have until July 1 to attain it.

Who are some of the most compelling athletes to watch?

Any list like this has to start with Allyson Felix, the nine-time Olympic medalist who is aiming to compete in her fifth and final Olympic Games. A one-time prodigy who is entered in the 200 and 400 meters, Felix, 35, long ago secured her place as one of the sport’s most revered and respected figures. She has advocated for gender equality since giving birth to her first child in 2018.

Felix’s retirement will leave a void among the American women, and Sha’Carri Richardson seems prepared to help fill it. In April, she ran the sixth-fastest 100 in history. Richardson, just 21, is unapologetically brash while consistently coming through with fast times and big performances. She is easy to spot, too: Just look for her colorful hair.

In the women’s 1,500 meters, Elle Purrier St. Pierre is the favorite after a string of convincing victories this season. She grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont, where she would train by running to the Quebec border and back. Her sponsors include Cabot Cheese.

Donavan Brazier is the American record-holder and reigning world champion in the men’s 800. He seems determined after failing to qualify for the Olympics in 2016.

And Sam Kendricks, who has won back-to-back world men’s pole vault championships, is the heavy favorite in Oregon. His toughest competition figures to be in Tokyo, where Mondo Duplantis, who grew up in Louisiana but competes for Sweden, will be waiting. Duplantis, 21, already owns the world record but is seeking his first Olympic gold.

How about a few must-see events?

No, we didn’t forget about Noah Lyles, the world champion in the men’s 200 meters. Lyles wants to double in the 100 and 200 meters in Tokyo, and his 100-meter form has been coming along slowly. He will face a loaded 100-meter field in Eugene, Ore., headlined by the likes of Trayvon Bromell, who has run the fastest time in the world this year, and Justin Gatlin, the five-time Olympic medalist who has twice been suspended for doping. Americans have the six fastest 100-meter times in the world this year — and Lyles is not among them.

The field in the men’s 1,500 is also competitive. Matthew Centrowitz, the 2016 Olympic champion, was injured last year and benefited from the postponement. Craig Engels is the 2019 national champion, but he is equally renowned for his mullet. There is also a group of up-and-comers headlined by Cole Hocker, fresh off an N.C.A.A. title at Oregon, and Hobbs Kessler, the fastest high school miler ever.

The most anticipated showdown, though, could materialize in the women’s 400-meter hurdles. At the 2019 world championships, Dalilah Muhammad, 31, had to break her own world record to outrun Sydney McLaughlin, one of the sport’s rising stars. Muhammad, the Olympic champion in Rio, has been working in recent weeks to return to form after injuring her hamstring. McLaughlin, 21, spent much of the spring fine-tuning her speed and technique while competing in the 100-meter hurdles. If both athletes are healthy, their final — held on the final day of the meet — should be a highlight.

Who’s missing?

The trials got a harsh dose of reality this week when Shelby Houlihan, the American record-holder in the women’s 1,500 meters, was suspended from competing for four years after she had tested positive for an anabolic steroid. Houlihan has maintained her innocence, claiming she had eaten tainted pork from a food truck, and there is a chance she still makes the starting line in Eugene. As of Thursday, she was listed as an entrant in both the 1,500 meters and the 5,000 meters. A spokeswoman for U.S.A. Track and Field said in a statement that an athlete can “continue competing” while appealing a suspension.

Speaking of suspensions, that deep field in the men’s 100 meters is missing an important name: Christian Coleman, who won the 2019 world championship under a cloud of suspicion, and was subsequently suspended for missing a series of drug tests.

Also absent will be Christian Taylor, the two-time Olympic champion in the men’s triple jump. Taylor ruptured his Achilles’ tendon at a meet last month and underwent surgery. He has vowed to make a comeback in time for next year’s world championships.

On the bright side, several American runners will not be at the trials — but only because they have already punched their tickets for Tokyo. We are referring, of course, to the marathoners, whose trials were staged allllllll the way back in the prepandemic era, in February 2020. Galen Rupp, Jacob Riley and the seemingly ageless Abdi Abdirahman, 44, qualified for the men, while Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego made the women’s team. (Rupp, a two-time Olympic medalist, is expected to compete in the 10,000 on Friday, though he told OregonLive.com last month that he would treat the race as a rigorous training run and appears to have no intention of running the track event in Tokyo.)

Is it on television?

NBC and NBCSN will provide live daily coverage of the meet. A full schedule can be found here.

Will fans be allowed?

The state of Oregon recently relaxed its coronavirus restrictions, but capacity at the 12,650-seat stadium will be capped at around 9,000, according to event organizers.