2016 US Olympic Track and Field Trials: The Most Exciting Events to Watch

Beau Dure@duresportFeatured ColumnistJune 30, 2016

2016 US Olympic Track and Field Trials: The Most Exciting Events to Watch

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    Ashton Eaton broke his own decathlon world record at the World Championships last year.
    Ashton Eaton broke his own decathlon world record at the World Championships last year.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    The USA Track and Field Olympic trials are generally simple—as long as athletes have met the Olympic qualifying standards, then the top three finishers in each event go to Rio. FloTrack has a list of athletes who’ve met the standards—it’s long in the sprints and short in some field events.

    You may already know the men’s 100 meters will be a scorcher, and you might watch the distance events to see if 41-year-old Bernard Lagat can make it one more time. You may also keep an eye on the decathlon just to be sure "Earth’s Greatest Athlete," Ashton Eaton, doesn’t mess up the pole vault and miss out on a trip to Rio.

    But several events have star power and intensive competition that make them must-see TV. NBC and NBCSN will have coverage most evenings. The rest will be on USATF.TV.

    Here are eight of the events you don't want to miss…

Men's Shot Put

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    Joe Kovacs with the 2015 World Championship gold and some sort of...owl?
    Joe Kovacs with the 2015 World Championship gold and some sort of...owl?Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Team USA always has the strength to sweep in this event, but it never quite pulls it off. This year, it has the top three performers on the IAAF list—reigning world champion Joe Kovacs (22.13 meters), Ryan Crouser (21.85) and Kurt Roberts (21.40).

    Three guys, three places, right? Not so fast. Three more Americans are in the top 10 this year, including World Indoor champion Ryan Whiting (21.06).

    Then we have the grizzled veterans. Reese Hoffa won the 2007 world championship and bronze at the 2012 London Olympics. And don’t count out 40-year-old Adam Nelson (41 shortly after his event at trials), who has won multiple world and Olympic medals in his career and finally received a belated 2004 Olympic gold when Ukraine’s Yuriy Bilonog failed a retest of his Olympic doping sample in 2012.

    Little wonder this event has marquee status on opening night, sharing the Friday night lights with the men's 10,000 meters.

    Qualifying: July 1, 11 a.m. PT
    Final: July 1, 5:40 p.m. PT (NBC broadcast starts at 6 p.m. PT)

Women's High Jump

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    Vashti Cunningham. Remember the name.
    Vashti Cunningham. Remember the name.MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

    A classic veterans versus phenoms contest. Chaunte Lowe first jumped two meters in 2005 to take second in the World Championships, she won the World Indoors in 2012 and she’s bidding for her fourth visit to the Olympics. Amy Acuff, who’ll turn 41 soon after the trials, is making a comeback bid for her fifth trip to the Games, including a fourth-place finish 12 years ago in Athens, Greece.

    But the highest U.S. jump of the year (1.99 meters) belongs to 18-year-old World Indoor champion Vashti Cunningham. She’s coached by her father, a good jumper in his day but better known as Randall Cunningham—the Pro Bowl quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings.

    It’s not the USA’s deepest event—FloTrack only counts four Americans who’ve beaten the Olympic standard of 1.93 meters—but the three big names at different career stages will be worth watching.

    Qualifying: July 1, 4:15 p.m. PT
    Final: July 3, 3:15 p.m. PT (NBC broadcast starts at 4 p.m. PT)

Men's 800 Meters

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    Yes, that's an American winning a middle-distance race, as Boris Berian races to the World Indoor title this spring.
    Yes, that's an American winning a middle-distance race, as Boris Berian races to the World Indoor title this spring.MARK RALSTON/Getty Images

    Not usually a strong event for Team USA, but the middle-distance runners are now poised to improve on taking fourth (Duane Solomon) and fifth (Nick Symmonds) in London. Donovan Brazier ranks third on the IAAF list this year (1:43.55); Boris Berian (1:44.20) is fourth this year but went even faster last year (1:43.34).

    This is also the marquee event for agents and lawyers. Symmonds has had some skirmishes with USA Track and Field over sponsor issues and skipped last year's World Championships. He resolved his issues in plenty of time to compete at the Olympic trials, but he told KTVB sports director Jay Trust that an injury leaves him only a 10 percent chance of running. But whether he runs or not, he'll be visible in Eugene leading an athlete protest, per Chris Chavez of Sports Illustrated.

    Berian, who won the World Indoor Championship in Portland, Oregon, this spring, nearly missed out on the trials in a dispute with Nike that his agent likened to David vs. Goliath, reported Sean Ingle of the Guardian. As in the original David vs. Goliath, David won. Now Berian just needs to hold off either Brazier, Solomon or Symmonds to make it to Rio. If they all run, of course.

    First round: July 1, 4:15 p.m. PT
    Semifinals: July 2, Noon PT
    Final: July 4, 5:51 p.m. PT (NBCSN)

Women's 100-Meter Hurdles

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    Unofficially, we could call this the Chicago White Sox's "Bring Two Olympic Medals, Throw Out the First Pitch" promotion, which Dawn Harper Nelson enjoyed very much.
    Unofficially, we could call this the Chicago White Sox's "Bring Two Olympic Medals, Throw Out the First Pitch" promotion, which Dawn Harper Nelson enjoyed very much.Brian D. Kersey/Getty Images

    We will not see hurdler/bobsledder/Twitter sensation Lolo Jones in this event. She has been scratched from the trials after coming agonizingly close to the medals twice. In 2008, she was leading until she stumbled late in the race. In 2012, she finished fourth behind teammates Dawn Harper (now Dawn Harper Nelson) and Kellie Wells.

    Harper Nelson is one of those U.S. track stars who deserves more fame. She has Beijing gold, along with her London silver. She's back for another run at the podium, but first, she has to get through a trial that includes the top five hurdlers on the 2016 IAAF list.

    The leader on that list: Kendra Harrison, whose time of 12.24 seconds earlier this year is the best since 1988—four years before she was born. Then it’s 2013 world champion Brianna Rollins, who has run a 12.53 this year and a 12.26 in the past. Next: Jasmin Stowers, Sharika Nelvis and Kristi Castlin. 

    Harper Nelson will need to turn back the clock at least as far as 2015, when she ran a 12.48.

    First round: July 7, 5:02 p.m. PT
    Semifinals: July 8, 3:58 p.m. PT
    Final: July 8, 5:54 p.m. PT (NBC)

Men's Triple Jump

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    Christian Taylor hits the sand in Beijing after another duel with gravity.
    Christian Taylor hits the sand in Beijing after another duel with gravity.ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

    In some countries, an athlete who wins Olympic gold and a world championship while posting the best measurement in his sport in 20 years would be honored with statues. Or maybe knighthood.

    In the USA, Christian Taylor is still curiously anonymous, even as he stakes his claim for GOAT status. His jump of 18.21 meters in Beijing last year was the best in the world in 20 years. Only four other men have ever beaten the 18-meter mark.

    Getting to Rio will be at least a four-way fight. Taylor has the best jump (17.76) in the world this year. London silver medalist Will Claye (17.56) is second. Also on the IAAF list: Chris Benard (17.19, fourth) and Omar Craddock (17.15, sixth).

    Claye is also entered in the long jump, where he's the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, but Marquise Goodwin, the Buffalo Bills wide receiver and best jumper in the world this year, could upstage him.

    Qualifying: July 7, 4:45 p.m. PT
    Final: July 9, 4:15 p.m. PT (delayed on NBC, 5 p.m. PT)

Men's 110-Meter Hurdles

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    Aries Merritt shows off his world record in September 2012 in Brussels.
    Aries Merritt shows off his world record in September 2012 in Brussels.Didier Messens/Getty Images

    A traditional U.S. stronghold, and one in which the team should be even deeper than it was when Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson finished one-two in London. Back in Beijing, David Payne and David Oliver took silver and bronze.

    All four of those guys are still running, though their fortunes have diverged in recent years. Payne is on a long comeback trail from a broken femur, as detailed in Track and Field News. Merritt, who holds the world record of 12.80 seconds, told Rick Maese of the Washington Post he “had to pretty much Netflix it up” after receiving a kidney donation from his sister, but he ran a solid 13.24 last month. Richardson was a sub-13 hurdler in 2012 but hasn't been in that form since.

    That leaves Oliver, who ran a 12.98 last year and is the second-fastest hurdler in the world on the IAAF’s 2016 chart (13.09). He's the clear favorite, but the other two spots are a free-for-all between the Olympic veterans and a younger contingent led by Ronnie Ash.

    First round: July 8, 3:02 p.m. PT
    Semifinals: July 9, 4:25 p.m. PT
    Final: July 9, 5:52 p.m. PT (NBC)

Women's 1500 Meters

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    Jenny Simpson adapted from steeplechase to a shorter, flatter race quite well.
    Jenny Simpson adapted from steeplechase to a shorter, flatter race quite well.Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports

    Remember when Mary Cain was everywhere from the New York Times to Seventeen magazine? She ran a 4:04.62 just after her 17th birthday in 2013 and finished 10th in the World Championships later that year, but her best time in the last two years is 4:09.08.

    London Olympic finalist Morgan Uceny also went backward for a couple of years—4:00.06 in 2011, rarely under 4:05 since—but she has posted a strong 4:03.94 this year.

    The two dominant Americans over the past few years are converted steeplechaser and 2011 world champion Jenny Simpson and two-time Olympic finalist Shannon Rowbury. They’re the only U.S. women to beat the four-minute mark in the last two years. But the 1500 is often a tactical race with runners taking it out slowly and betting on a strong kick, making it one of the least predictable races on the schedule.

    First round: July 7, 6:26 p.m. PT
    Semifinals: July 8, 5:03 p.m. PT
    Final: July 10, 5 p.m. PT (NBC)

Women's 200 Meters

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    Allyson Felix might not be THAT far in front against the loaded field in the 200 meters, but she'll still look like a blur.
    Allyson Felix might not be THAT far in front against the loaded field in the 200 meters, but she'll still look like a blur.Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Sure, the 100 meters will be another fast one. But the 200 has the added drama of the top 100-meter sprinters (Tori Bowie, Jeneba Tarmoh, Jenna Prandini) facing off with Allyson Felix, who is going for the rare 200-400 double this year. Felix isn’t just hype—she’s the reigning Olympic champion in the 200 and the reigning world champion in the 400.

    Bowie has the second-fastest time (21.99) on the 2016 list. Then it’s a parade of U.S. sprinters—10 of the top 15 in the world. And that doesn’t include Felix, who hasn’t competed much this year but ran a 21.98 last May. Candyce McGrone ran a 22.01 in last year’s World Championship, finishing fourth.

    The top question: What kind of form will we see from Felix? But even if she and Bowie cruise to a one-two finish, the race for Rio will be a wild one.

    First round: July 8, 3:30 p.m. PT
    Semifinals: July 9, 5:03 p.m. PT
    Final: July 10, 5:11 p.m. PT (NBC)

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