We’re accustomed to hearing “US Nationals” and immediately thinking Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix, Christian Cantwell, David Oliver and a host of other US “stars” of the sport. Such is rarely the case these days however when the word “nationals” is preceded by the word “indoor”.
Most global track and field stars use this time of year to establish their base training, and avoid the indoor season with a vengeance. Most prefer to wait until the early meets down under in Australia in March, or elsewhere in April. Making this year’s version of the US Championships like a cloudy night sky – with very few visible stars.
But like a cloudy night sky, just behind those clouds lurk several stars just waiting to emerge and be seen. And it is with that apprehension that I will watch this year’s meet. Because as I scan the entry list for this weekend’s event I see a half dozen names that I think have an opportunity to prove themselves ready to make a run at the team for Daegu come June.
Michael Rodgers – 60 meters (100 meters)
Outdoors the men’s 100 is one of the marquee events, and the US has one of the world’s marquee performers in Tyson Gay. But we’ve been looking for “backup” for Tyson over the past few seasons. One of those in the running is Michael Rodgers. Rodgers currently co-leads the world over 60 meters and is the favorite entering this meet. If he is to become more of a force outdoors, however, he needs to start by showing some dominance here. Without Tyson Gay, Walter Dix, Ryan Bailey, Ivory Williams or Trell Kimmons to contend with, Rodgers needs to emerge as an “Alpha Male” and stake his claim as one of the nations best.
Ryan Whiting – Shot Put
Whiting is embarking on his first season as a professional after dominating the collegiate ranks last year. He’s had a good start indoors as he leads the world in the event. Cantwell won’t be competing – though Whiting does have a victory this year – but he will face Adam Nelson, himself a former World champion and the reigning Olympic champion. So this will be good test for Whiting in a championship setting before the big one in June. Taking a scalp here could go a long way towards securing a berth for Daegu come early summer.
Jenny Simpson – 3000 meters (1500 meters?)
Jenny is on the comeback trail having missed most of last season due to injury. In 2009 however, she was one of our top break out athletes scorching 3:59.90 (1500), 15:05.25 (5000) and 9:12.50 (steeple). She has a 4:28.60 mile and an 8:5078 3000 to her credit so far in her return this winter. Jenny is entered in both events in Albuquerque and I expect to see her improve in both. Where really looking forward for her to shine is the mile as I think she can be among the best in the world here, and some combination of Simpson, Pierce, Wurth Thomas, and Rowbury could be quite formidable.
Tavaris Tate – 400 meters
The 400 is one of those events where there is a lot of opportunity. With defending World and Olympic champion Merritt suspended until mid season, the only proven US “stud” out there is Jeremy Wariner – leaving at least two spots open in the race for the Daegu team. Tate is one of the young guns who began to emerge early last year – though we didn’t see him in Europe. Tate was a member of last year’s World Indoor Champs team and earned a gold medal in the relay. He has an opportunity to make a statement here and separate himself from athletes like Calvin Smith and Jordan Boase who have shown similar talent.
Phoebe Wright – 800 meters
Phoebe is one of the group of emerging female middle distance runners on the US scene. She won last year’s NCAA championships before running in the Diamond League and other European races and ended the season with a 1:58.22 PR. Wright is a gutsy, front runner – a style well suited to indoor racing. She should be the class of the field in Albuquerque and I wouldn’t be surprised if she notched her first indoor sub 2:00. If she can do this I think she sets herself up nicely for the outdoor season and a run at the Daegu squad.
Galen Rupp – 3000 meters (5000 meters)
Galen Rupp has been groomed to be a US distance star since his high school days. Though he was the “big name” in wait however, he had to watch as guys like Ritzenhein, Tegenkamp, and Solinsky blew by and became the new crew in US distance running. Rupp’s time may be upon us however, as he broke through strongly with a 13:11.44 AR in the 5000 just last week. This weekend will be Rupp’s chance to show that his breakthrough was no fluke. Rupp will be the big name in this race and it will be interesting to see how he performs in this setting. He needs to win and win big to begin to stake his claim to be named with Solinsky, Lagat and the others come time to battle for the three available spots for Daegu.
These are the budding stars that I think could emerge in Albuquerque. With so many stars missing from the starting line, these individuals will have a chance to hog the spotlight on their own. Instead of a meet devoid of stars this will turn out to be a coming out party for a group of new stars.