It’s finally here – the Olympic Trials. The biggest meet outside of the Games themselves. And with the first half of the Diamond League and the NCAA Championships concluding this past weekend, I think I’ve seen enough to stick my neck out there and make my predictions on the crap shoot that is the Trials.
The toughest road to London may be the one taken by those still in college. College athletes are part of programs that compete for indoor titles, and outdoor titles before they finally get to line up to take their shot at making the Olympic team. So while the elite athletes get to take their time preparing for the Trials – many not taking to the track to compete until late April/early May – the collegians have been at since January.
I’m not sure if their path is a blessing or a curse. Does competing more make them sharper? Will competing in a high level meet like the NCAA Championships so close to the Trials make them sharp or weary?
We’ll find that out shortly, especially for fourteen young people that I think have a good shot at making this year’s Olympic squad – a much more difficult feat for college students in this age of professionalism in the sport than say 30 or 40 years ago. So before I put my projected Olympic squad out there here is the Baker’s Dozen (plus 1) of collegiate athletes that I think will be in strong contention in Eugene.
Tony McQuay – 400 Meters
The NCAA champion has been here before, winning last year’s national title. Last year defending Olympic champion and current world leader LaShawn Merritt was not in the race – although McQuay went head to head with former champion Jeremy Wariner and came away with the win. With his PR (44.58) victory in Des Moines Merritt is the only American ahead of him on the clock right now – giving McQuay a solid shot at a ticket to London.
Mike Berry – 400 Meters
The 400 seems to explode in Olympic years and it’s not unusual to see an unknown make the Olympic team in this event. Of course, Berry wouldn’t be a total unknown having made the relay squad last year and performing relay duty in Daegu – running the fastest split by any American at the World Championships. Berry seems to once again be on a rill heading into Eugene where he’ll be running at “home” before a crowd sure to be dominated by Duck fans.
Kimberlyn Duncan – 200 Meters
Duncan has led the world at this distance for most of the spring and just seems to have her race dialed in. Last year Duncan was 5th at Nationals behind Felix, Jeter, Solomon and Knight. This year she enters with the two of the top three times in the world, just being surpassed for the top spot by a PR run by Sanya Richards Ross. The way this young lady is running it’s going to be hard for three women to get in front of her this time around.
Maurice Mitchell – 200 Meters
Like Duncan, Mitchell just missed making the team in this event last year, placing 4th at Nationals. He’s looked awfully good this year dominating his collegiate competition and improving his PR to 20.13. Heading into the Trials, only Wallace Spearmon has been more consistent among Americans. In what may be a wide open event Mitchell has a better than average shot at London.
English Gardener – 100 Meters
At the NCAA Championships Kimberlyn Duncan entered with a 10.96 best and favorites status. nailing one of her blitzkrieg starts, Ms. Gardener got out in front and refused to relinquish the lead to the stronger Duncan. The field in Eugene will add Carmetlita Jeter, indoor champ Tianna Madison, and potentially Allyson Felix – a very formidable group indeed. But if Gardener can hit that start and get out in front, she could find her way to an upset ticket to London.
Erik Kynard – High Jump
This young man showed his talent last year by making the Daegu squad – not making the final in spite of clearing 2.28m/7’ 5.75”, the highest non qualifier ever at the World Championships. Kynard is even better this year, coming off a PR 2.34m/7’ 8” win at the NCAA Championships – making him #4 in the world. The high jump can be a tricky event with misses at low heights often determining place, but I give Kynard a better than average chance to get to London.
Brigetta Barrett – High Jump
Barrett is another high jumper that’s near the top of the heap. Barrett has been extremely consistent with six meets between 1.93m/1.95m (6’ 4’/ 6’ 4.75”) and currently sits =5th in the world – only Chicherova, Lowe, Shkolina, and Hellebaut have jumped higher! Two other Americans share her 1.95m SB, but Barrett is far and away the most consistent. It will be difficult to stop her from booking a flight across the pond.
Jack Whitt – Pole Vault
Whitt became the #3 American vaulter on the season with his 5.65m/18’ 6.5” victory at the NCAA meet. That that puts him in contention is surprising in a country that has produced many many 19 foot plus vaulters. But that’s where Whitt sits, and he seems to be peaking at the right time. I’m still waiting for some of the vets to step it up, but if they don’t this young man is sitting in the shadows waiting for his shot.
Whitney Gipson – Long Jump
Gipson is a tremendous talent, if not inconsistent. Despite her inconsistencies she’s twice pulled it together to win NCAA titles, leaping 6.91m/22’ 8” indoors and 6.80m/22’ 3.75” just this past week. Typically that’s good enough to earn a spot on the Olympic squad – and given that only Brittney Reese has jumped farther among Americans, I would say her chances are good at making a flight to London.
Charles Jock – 800 Meters
This is an event that’s waiting for someone young to take over. Nick Symmonds is still our #1 guy, but it’s a crap shoot after him – and it would be nice to see someone emerge and get into that 1:42 zone. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a dominant type 800 man – ever since the retirement of Johnny Gray. With his big time front running ability Jock reminds me a lot of Gray. And I’m hoping that this year is the year that he begins that transformation. 1984 saw a huge Trials race with four men getting under 1:44 (with two pairs of photo finish identical times) and some new talent emerging. I would love to see something like that happen again, and I think Jock is capable of leading the way.
Christina Manning – 100 Hurdles
The women’s hurdles is going to be very crowded, with several women with 12.4x PRs taking to the track. While Manning’s PR 12.68 is not quite in that class, many of our best hurdlers are, can I say this, aging. Manning meanwhile is running on young fresh legs, and looks to be very hungry this year. I’m thinking that mid to high 12.5x will make the squad, and this young woman is capable in the right race. She’s not a lock to make the team, but funny things happen in the hurdles. Manning could be one of those surprises that come up every Trials.
Marquis Goodwin – Long Jump
Goodwin is another youngster that made the Daegu team last year. And like Kynard, he failed to make it out of the qualifying rounds. The thing about Goodwin is that he’s a tremendous physical talent. One of those jumpers that I think with more focus could be a very good long jumper in the mold of Mike Conley, and Eric Metcalf. Still he’s among the best of the current crop in spite of splitting his time with football. And in an event that hasn’t seen a new star emerge in about a decade now, Goodwin is good enough to earn another global bid.
Now don’t think by any means that I believe that these are the only kids with a shot at an Olympic berth. These are just the one’s I feel have the best shot. Several others could easily slip in there given the strength of the event they compete in. For example, someone like Omar Craddock in the triple jump, or Diamond Dixon in the 400 could nail it on the day and be on their way. But in the dog fight that is the Olympic Trials the above will be the best dogs in the fight for berths to London.
Next I’ll give you my list of how I expect the US team to look after the dust settles. Then I’ll take a look at a few other events at other Trials, as well as continue to look at the state of the sport since that’s really a hot topic these days. I want to look at Marketing and Presentation. Might as well have some fun these next couple of weeks while waiting for the gun to go off for the Trials.