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The Weekend's Best Matchups: USATF Championships

The Weekend’s Best Matchups: USATF Championships

| On 11, Mar 2016

The Oregon Convention Center in downtown Portland is ready for action. (Photo courtesy Track Town USA)

The USATF and NCAA Championships will both be held this weekend. Yesterday I told you about the best matchups at the NCAAs, and earlier this morning I told you how to watch both of the meets. Now it’s time to look at the best matchups of the USATF Championships, being held in Portland’s convention center.

This is a national championship meet in its own right, but also a qualifying round. The top two athletes in each event* will qualify for next week’s World Indoor Championships, which will be on the same track in downtown Portland, Oregon.
(*provided they have the necessary qualifying marks)

Your key links…
Our guide on how to watch the meets
Meet home pages: USATF | Track Town USA
Live results: via
Webcasts: via from 2:30pm Friday and 5:30pm Saturday (Eastern time)
TV coverage: Friday at 11:30pm on NBCSN (tape-delayed) and Saturday at 8:00pm on NBCSN (LIVE)
Portland Oregonian coverage

The best single matchup of the USATF Championships features a Portland native against a ton of Oregon-based runners.

Rupp vs everyone

Men’s 3000 meters, Friday at 5:50pm local time (8:50pm ET)

Let’s Run calls this an absolute must-watch race and I agree. Galen Rupp has been the USA’s dominant long-distance runner for almost a decade — he’s won the last nine national titles at 10,000 meters — but the task set before him tonight seems almost impossible.

The 3000 is on the short end of Rupp’s range, and in fact he’s never won the USA indoor title at this distance. He was second in 2010, ’11, and ’14 and third in ’12, and his foil each time was Bernard Lagat. Time may have finally caught up with Lagat, and although he is slated to compete it will be his first race of the year. But there are plenty more challengers to Rupp. Serious contenders for the win include:
Ryan Hill (Bowerman Track Club), the reigning US champ at 5k (outdoors) and 2 miles (indoors) and Millrose 3k champion;
Evan Jager (Bowerman Track Club), by far the fastest steeplechaser in American history;
Hassan Mead (Oregon Track Club), a surprise runner-up at the Millrose 3k, just 0.03 behind Hill;
Garrett Heath (Brooks Beasts), a giant-killer and Mo-Farah-beater in cross country;
Eric Jenkins (Nike Oregon Project), last year’s NCAA 3k champion.

Adding another level of complexity is Rupp’s short turnaround from winning the Olympic Trials marathon just four weeks ago. Is he really ready to race again so soon? And is his kick sharp enough to win, or at least be in the top two and earn a spot on the US team for next week’s World Championships?

The best of the rest, in chronological order…

Michael Lihrman vs A.G. Kruger

Men’s weight throw, Friday at 11:30am local time (2:30pm ET)

This peculiarly American event, the 35-pound weight throw, will not be part of the World Indoor Championships. Kruger has won the US indoor title nine times in his career, but he’s up against his toughest competition in a long time. While throwing for Wisconsin last year, Lihrman came within eleven inches of the now 21-year-old American record. More importantly for this competition, it was well over a foot further than Kruger has ever thrown. It’s going to be a big battle, but unfortunately the scheduling means that almost no one will see it.

Goodwin vs full-timers

Men’s long jump, Friday at 4:10pm local time (7:10pm ET)

Marquise Goodwin has made a return to long jumping, yet is still playing wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. I’m not sure anyone has ever competed on a national-class level in between NFL seasons, but Goodwin came back last year to finish fourth at the US Championships and just barely miss a spot on the team for the World Championships. He was a standout jumper at Texas and made US teams for the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics before giving it up for pro football. Now he’s back.

Unfortunately it looks like he’s not going to have a chance to jump at the Worlds next week no matter what happens this week, since he doesn’t have the necessary qualifying mark and the cutoff date for qualifying was last week. Marquis Dendy and Jeff Henderson do have the qualifier and will almost assuredly be on the US team. That Goodwin, who only does this part-time, has a chance against those two full-time stars is a testament to his talent.

Suhr vs Payne vs Morris vs Saxer

Women’s pole vault, Saturday at 4:10pm local time (7:10pm ET)

Jenn Suhr broke the world indoor record six weeks ago, so that means she’s about unbeatable, right? No, the pole vault doesn’t work like that. Consistency escapes even the greatest competitors. I do think it’s safe to say that the USA’s two representatives at the Worlds will come from the four vaulters I listed.

Demi Payne and Sandi Morris had some epic battles during last year’s collegiate season and each has upped their PRs again this year. Mary Saxer hasn’t gone anywhere near as high as the other three, yet she always seems to come up big at the championships — and has tied her PR too. No matter how it turns out, the USA will have a gold medal contender at the Worlds, and likely a favorite.

Young vs Old

Women’s high jump, Saturday at 4:25pm local time (7:25pm ET)

The two favorites to win the women’s high jump are Chaunte Lowe and Vashti Cunningham. Lowe just turned 32 years old, while Cunningham is an eighteen-year-old high school senior. They have identical season’s best marks (1.95 meters, or 6′ 4¾”).

Kurt Roberts vs Reese Hoffa vs Jonathan Jones

Men’s shot put, Saturday at 4:35pm local time (7:35pm ET)

The IAAF wants finals-only competition in the field events at the World Indoor Championships, which means the qualifying marks are about impossible to achieve. Just these three American men’s shot putters have hit it, so one of them won’t make it onto the US team for the Worlds. Roberts has put up the best marks this winter, but Hoffa is a proven big-meet performer. Jones is the long shot, but is just a year out of college and could surprise.

Ajee Wilson vs Laura Roesler

Women’s 800 meters, Saturday at 5:24pm local time (8:24pm ET)

Just three women have achieved the Worlds qualifying marks, the above plus Treniere Moser, and the latter has had a rough 2016 indoor season. Wilson and Roesler will likely be on the US team for next week’d World Championships, but who will win? Wilson is a smart runner who always seems to be in just the right place at just the right time, and she’s undefeated in three races this season. Roesler is coming back from a 2015 injury and has improved in every race this year.

Shannon Rowbury vs Brenda Martinez or Marielle Hall

Women’s 3000 or 1500 meters, Friday at 5:35pm local time (8:35pm ET) or Saturday at 5:42pm local time (8:42pm ET)

Which race will Shannon Rowbury choose? Doubling seems unlikely. While she’s best known as a miler, the Oregonian’s Ken Goe thinks she’s opt for the 3000. Either way, she’s one of the favorites to win.

If she opts for Friday’s 3000 meters, she’ll be one of just three entries who has achieved the Worlds standard. The other two are Marielle Hall and Abbey D’Agostino, and Hall appears the stronger of the two based on taking second at last year’s USA outdoor championships and her indoor 5k PR last month. Another contender for the win is Emily Infeld, who just barely came up short of winning the Millrose Games 5k, but she admits the 3000 is a bit too short of a race for her skills.

In the 1500 it’s a different picture, as only two entrants have not achieved the Worlds standard. Still, two athletes stand out as the favorites: Rowbury, who does nothing but win, and Martinez, who more than held her own against Dawit Seyaum (who holds the world’s best time in 2016) at Boston’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix.

Cory Leslie vs Robby Andrews vs Ben Blankenship

Men’s 1500 meters, Saturday at 6:11pm local time (9:11pm ET)

Portland-based Matthew Centrowitz will almost assuredly win this race. I don’t think there’s a stronger favorite in any running event. The real drama will come in the battle for second, because the runner-up will also make the US team for next week’s Worlds. Only Centrowitz and the three above have the necessary qualifying mark.

Blankenship was on fire last year, when he got his qualifier, but has been pretty quiet this year. Leslie and Andrews have both had their best indoor seasons in quite a while, and in fact both ran mile PRs this year. Leslie is a good kicker, but Andrews is a legendary one.

Kendra Harrison vs Nia Ali

Women’s 60 hurdles, Saturday at 6:24pm local time (9:24pm ET)

Nia Ali topped the standings in the hurdles for this year’s first-ever World Indoor Tour, which won her a “wild card” bid to the World Championships. This means the USA will get to enter her plus two more hurdlers. Harrison finished second in the hurdle standings because she ran only two of the tour’s meets, but she won both and recorded four of the year’s five fastest times. Harrison has clearly had the best season of any hurdler.

Two more hurdlers have realistic shots at the win, Janay Deloach Soukup (winner at the Millrose Games) and Brianna Rollins (winner at Boston’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix). I love the high hurdles because anything can happen and usually does.

Aries Merritt vs comeback

Men’s 60 hurdles, Saturday at 6:33pm local time (9:33pm ET)

Track and field is not looking good these days. I mean, catching people using PEDs is one thing, and there’s plenty of that in part because our sport is more interested than most in trying to catch them. But we now know about institutional corruption that makes FIFA look good by comparison.

And then someone like Aries Merritt comes along and reminds you why you care about track and field. The Olympic champion and world record holder suffers from a genetic disorder that required a kidney transplant last fall. Here he is, not only back on the track and racing but with the top seed time.

Barbara Pierre vs the field

Women’s 60 meters, Saturday at 6:42pm local time (9:42pm ET)

Tianna Bartoletta, the 2014 US indoor champion and two-time World indoor bronze medalist, is the #2 seed with a time of 7.20. Barbara Pierre has beaten that five times this year, which makes her a fairly strong favorite. Tori Bowie, Alex Anderson, and Jenna Prandini are proven sprinters too, while Pierre has made only one US team (for the 2012 indoor Worlds). Is this her moment?

Mike Rodgers vs Trayvon Bromell

Men’s 60 meters, Saturday at 6:52pm local time (9:52pm ET)

While still good outdoors, Rodgers is a bit of an indoor specialist. He’s a two-time US champion in the 60 and won silver at the 2010 indoor Worlds. As 60 meter champion of the World Indoor Tour, he’s already punched his ticket to next week’s World Championships. Bromell is America’s best young sprinter in about two decades — he’s already an outdoor Worlds bronze medalist and is still just 20 years old — but he’s more than beatable indoors. This indoor season is all part of his progression to bigger and better things. Maybe this young gun can keep improving and beat the old pro, but it’s going to take his best race.

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