Home Sports U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials: Will Sha’Carri Richardson claim the throne?

U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials: Will Sha’Carri Richardson claim the throne?

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EUGENE, OREGON - MAY 25: Sha'Carri Richardson of Team USA wins the women's 100 meter dash during the Wanda Diamond League Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field on May 25, 2024 in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It has left potential gold medalists sobbing and heartbroken. He has reminded aging champions of their mortality. He has launched unknown young people into stardom.

Welcome to the US Olympic Track and Field Trials, a test of mettle full of pressure and nerves.

From June 21-30, America’s best runners, jumpers, jumpers and hurdlers will descend on Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, to try to secure their spot at the Paris Olympics later this summer. The top three finishers in each event will make it as long as they have achieved the Olympic “A” standard. The rest will have to wait another four years.

Other countries have grown into their hearts and inserted safety nets into the selection process. They will consider the entire season’s performance or previous Olympic or world championship results. In the United States there is no politics involved, no big names relying on past achievements. The system is brutal but honest, ruthless but fair.

Among the gold medal contenders trying to survive that pressure cooker this year are sprinters Sha’Carri Richardson and Noah Lyles, hurdlers Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Grant Holloway and throwers Valarie Allman and Ryan Crouser. Here are five stories to keep an eye on as the Trials progress:

Sha’Carri Richardson of Team USA wins the women’s 100-meter dash during the Wanda Diamond League Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field on May 25, 2024 in Eugene, Oregon. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Three years ago, Sha’Carri Richardson was one of the faces of the Tokyo Olympics without even being there. The 21-year-old sprint sensation swept the competition in the women’s 100 meters at the 2021 US Olympic Trials, only to have that result overturned weeks later when she tested positive for marijuana.

The debate over the fairness of Richardson’s Olympic ban attracted more attention than a gold medal ever would have. Richardson’s followers on Instagram surpassed two million. Beats by Dre, owned by Nike and Apple, featured her in advertising campaigns. The list of celebrities voicing their support for Richardson included everyone from Seth Rogen and Cardi B to Patrick Mahomes and Megan Rapinoe.

Richardson’s bid for redemption will make her one of the standout athletes at the Paris Games… but first she has to qualify. She will be the heavy favorite to win Saturday’s women’s 100m final and she is also a candidate to qualify for Paris in the women’s 200m.

There is a lot of pressure on Richardson to live up to expectations this summer, but he has run with his trademark confidence and swagger recently. Richardson, who competed in her first world championships last summer, took gold in the 100 and bronze in the 200. She opened her 2024 season at the Prefontaine Classic in late May by beating a strong field in the 100.

As Richardson herself said last summer: “I have not come back. I’m better.”

Noah Lyles wants to achieve something in Paris that not even the legendary Usain Bolt achieved. The American said “The Tonight Show“Earlier this month he hopes to capture Olympic gold in four different running events.

At last year’s World Championships, Lyles achieved the sprint hat trick, winning the men’s 100 and 200 meters before leading the US men’s 4×100 meter relay team to gold with a dazzling anchor leg. Lyles hopes USA Track & Field will give him the opportunity to add the 4×400 meter relay to his repertoire this summer.

“(Bolt) has already won three and has the world records when he did it,” Lyles told Jimmy Fallon. “What do you have to do to be better than that? You have to get four. Nobody has done four. Now you go to Mount Rushmore. Now you are the greatest of the greats. “That’s what I’m trying to achieve.”

Lyles comes into Trials as the favorite to win the men’s 100 and 200 meters, but the United States is loaded with sprinters capable of taking advantage if he has a bad day. Christian Coleman, Kenny Bednarek, Fred Kerley and high school phenom Christian Miller are threats in the 100. Bednarek, Kerley, Erriyon Knighton and Courtney Lindsey lurk in the 200.

Even if Lyles survives that challenge, his greatest feat could be getting permission to run a leg of the 4×400-meter relay finals in Paris. The United States has a large group of 400-meter specialists who won’t be happy to be overlooked at that distance by someone with little significant history.

Athing Mu has faced criticism before for competing so infrequently, but this season will take that to a new level. Her 2024 season opener will be the first of three rounds of the women’s 800 meters at Trials on Friday night.

Mu, now 22, has been one of the brightest stars in American athletics since before he was old enough to legally order a glass of wine at a restaurant. She broke NCAA records at Texas A&M, captured Olympic gold in the 800 and 4×400 meter relay in 2021 and validated it with a victory on American soil at the World Championships the following year.

It seemed so easy. Until it wasn’t.

Weeks before the 2023 World Championships in Budapest, Mu’s coach told the Los Angeles Times that Mu was considering competing. Mu ultimately chose to run, but she suffered a rare defeat and settled for bronze after Kenya’s Mary Moraa and Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson passed her before the finish line.

The last time he competed, Mu avenged that loss and broke his own American record at the Prefontaine Classic last September. This year, he has delayed his debut three times, reportedly due to a lingering hamstring injury.

In her prime, Mu would be untouchable in the women’s 800 meters at Trials, but it’s unclear what kind of form she’ll bring to Eugene. Other contenders in the 800 include reigning U.S. champion Nia Akins, 2021 Olympic bronze medalist Raevyn Rogers and 2024 NCAA champion Michaela Rose.

Los Angeles, CA - May 18: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone of USA wins the women's 200 meter race with a time of 22.07 while Gabby Thomas finished sixth with a time of 22.68 during the Los Angeles Grand Prix track and field meet USATF Angels at Drake Stadium on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles on Saturday, May 18, 2024. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone wins the women’s 200-meter race with a time of 22.07 during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix in May. (Keith Birmingham/MediaNews Group/Pasadena Star-News via Getty Images)

The most intriguing race of the Paris Olympics might be the women’s 400-meter hurdles. American world record holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Dutch star Femke Bol tend to produce something special every time they face each other.

At the Tokyo Olympics, McLaughlin-Levrone ran 51.46 to lower her world record and defend herself against Bol and American Dalilah Muhammad. A year later, at the 2022 World Championships, McLaughlin-Levrone recorded a stunning 50.68 to break her world record and force Bol to settle for silver.

With McLaughlin-Levrone taking a break from hurdles to focus on the open 400 last season, Bol dominated the 2023 World Championships in Budapest. McLaughlin-Levrone has chosen to focus exclusively on the 400 hurdles at Trials this year despite coincidentally missing the world’s fastest time in the open 400 in May and second-fastest in the 200 in early June.

Earlier this month, Bol claimed a victory in the 400 hurdles at the European Championships in a world-leading 52.49 seconds. How McLaughlin-Levrone responds in Eugene could foreshadow whether she arrives in Paris as a slight favorite over Bol or an overwhelming one.

College stars are always at a disadvantage in the US Olympic trials. They have beaten their running bodies in a series of championship competitions in May and early June, while the professionals can train hard for the Trials and the Games themselves.

Among the college athletes most likely to overcome those unfavorable circumstances is an Ole Miss sprinter who won the 100-200 double at the NCAA Outdoor Championships earlier this month. McKenzie Long is capable of making the US Olympic team in any of the sprint events, but her specialty is the 200 meters, where she has produced multiple performances in under 22 wind-legal seconds in his career.

Another collegiate standout to watch is Texas Tech’s Caleb Dean, the only man in NCAA Division I history to win the 60-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles in the same year. Dean’s NCAA championship time of 47.23 seconds in the 400 hurdles was the second-fastest ever achieved by a college athlete. He will push Rai Benjamin if he can double or better that time in Eugene.

Florida’s Parker Valby could be the future of distance running in America after winning a pair of NCAA doubles, the indoor 3,000 and 5,000 and the outdoor 5,000 and 10,000. He has competed in both the 5,000 and 10,000 Trials and is a threat in either race with his fearless, push-the-gas racing style.

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