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Top of the Grandstand - USA Outdoor Edition

Published by
RunnerSpace.com/Pro   on Jun 25 2014, 09:26 PM

Five Smart Guys Answer Five Good Questions

The USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships take place this week in Sacramento, California. With loaded fields and many lingering questions, we turn to five of the best voices in the sport of track and field, asking a few questions that have been rattling around our brains this week. 

The Five Guys:

George Perry, Kevin Liao, Jesse Squire, Chris Nickinson and Scott Bush

Q1. Sacramento is going to be hot the next few days and not just the temperature. What event are you most excited for?

George Perry (GP): Men's Shot Put is the Group of Death for track & field in the US right now. On any given day, any of the top 5 or 6 athletes could be the national champion. We're going to find out who can do it on the particular day that has the title riding on it. I also love the idea of heaving large metal balls in the general direction of politicians and legislatures, so I can't wait to see how it works on the state capitol lawn.

Chris Nickinson (CN): It's almost a shame that it's the first event of the week because the men's shot put is going to be awesome. As far as depth, it's our equivalent to the 100m in Jamaica and we don't even get to see indoor world champ Ryan Whiting throw this week because of an injury. The atmosphere at the capitol should add a new level of excitement to the championship.

Kevin Liao (KL): The women's 800 meters, by far. It's partly because all of the top athletes have actually shown up to race, and partly because America's best female half-milers also happen to be some of the best in the world. Not only is the battle between the big guns Martinez, Wilson and Price going to be intriguing, but there are two more women in Maggie Vessey and Molly Beckwith who have broken two minutes this year, plus NCAA champ Laura Roesler who hasn't been tested outside the collegiate scene. So many good story lines.

Jesse Squire (JS):  I am most excited about the women's 800 meters.  The USA has suddenly become one of the world's best nations in this event--maybe the best--and virtually every top American is competing.  Of the eight Americans who have broken 2:00 this year or last, the only ones missing are Alysia Montano (pregnant), Kate Grace and Mary Cain (both opting for the 1500).  The 800 is always an unpredictable event anyway, but I rate as many as five different women--Brenda Martinez, Ajee Wilson, Chanelle Price, Maggie Vessey and Laura Roesler--as having a real chance at winning.  Just getting to the final of this event will not be easy.

Scott Bush (SB): The shot put at the Captiol definitely gets me excited, but I’ll go with the women’s 100m hurdles. Between Rollins, Harper-Nelson and Harrison (and a few others), this event is wide open. Next up would be the men’s 1,500m, which is WIDE OPEN. Manzano is probably the favorite, but with no Centrowitz I really consider this race a crap shoot.

Q2. The women's 100m hurdles is loaded, to say the least. Dawn Harper-Nelson, Brianna Rollins, Queen Harrison and the always-entertaining Lolo Jones could all take the crown. Rounds are a little different than what they have all been racing this season. Who takes the title?

JS: I have to go with Brianna Rollins.  She has lost just once this year, getting nipped at the line in her season opener, and no American can match her when she's at her best.  She's proven she can run rounds quite well at last year's NCAA, USATF and World Championships.  After last year's marathon season she's starting this one much later and I expect her to start producing very fast times in the next month or so.

KL: So far this year, Rollins beat Harper-Nelson and Harrison in Rome, Harrison beat Harper-Nelson in New York, and they were all beaten by Kristi Castlin at Drake. In other words, this event is incredibly unpredictable. Rollins having not raced since early June is a little concerning, so I'll go with the veteran savvy of Harper-Nelson for the win, but I certainly wouldn't lay money on it.

SB: I am going to go with Queen Harrison. She’s been getting better seemingly each week this season, beat Harper-Nelson at the adidas Grand Prix and comes in with really not much to lose (Rollins is the American Record Holder and Harper-Nelson owns Olympic gold and silver). Harrison is taking her game to a new level this year, and at 25 years old, has the experience, but not the wear and tear to get through the rounds.

GP: I'm going with Brianna Rollins. She has all the momentum coming off of her break-out year, where she demonstrated that she knows how to win and doesn't get cowed by the size of stage she's on. This year has given no indication of a sophomore slump. I think the podium will look like Rome's Diamond League last month, which will mean a USA repeat for Rollins.

CN: Six months ago Brianna Rollins appeared to be an easy pick but then former heptathlete Nia Ali went & won the world indoor title. Ali's late start to the outdoor season due to an injury probably means a lack of race fitness the others won't be missing. Rollins lowers her world best to 12.37, me thinks.

Q3. The men's shot put is arguably the best event at USAs, and...it's going to be held at the state capitol! How awesome is it that USATF is holding an event in such a prominent landmark and who do you have winning?

KL: I can't think of a better way to feature the unique attributes of different cities than having events outside the traditional track stadium, whether it be the train station shot put in Zurich or mall pole vault at Drake. The fact that I was a Capitol staffer in Sacramento makes the venue for this competition even more exciting.

I'm going with Christian Cantwell for the win as he's been the most consistent thrower at the big meets thus far in 2014, though I'll be the first one handing Reese Hoffa a celebratory turkey leg if he's able to pull off the victory.

CN: Dang it, I can't gush more about this event, can I? The setting is going to make for some cool photo ops (Hello, Instagram!) Seriously, though, we'll see the top 3 ranked throwers on the Diamond League circuit. It's really nice to see Christian Cantwell return to form this year but this will be the Joe Kovacs show. 

GP: "If you build it, they will come" might work when you're hoping to attract the ghosts of long-dead baseball players to a cornfield in Iowa, but it's not going to cut it with teenagers, millennials or working adults. I'm not in Sacramento so I just have to hope that the local marketing and activation has been in motion for the last few months. We need people walking past the capitol after work to at least say to themselves "Hey, there's that thing I heard about. Let's check it out!" and not "I'm already late picking up my kids. Why are these tents blocking the parking lot?" Oh, and I think Joe Kovacs is bringing this one home.

JS: It remains to be seen if the event will draw attention and I hope it does.  Creative planning needs to be supported by promotion.  As far as who wins, you can bet the farm on Michelle Carter in the women's shot.  The men's side is a lot less clear.  Veterans Christian Cantwell and Reese Hoffa are the favorites, but Joe Kovacs can beat both of them.  All three have Diamond League wins to their credit.  I'm going to pick Hoffa but I'm far from confident.

SB: Avoiding the question for a second, I can’t wait to see Michelle Carter really go for it. She popped a big mark for really the first time this season for a runner-up effort at the adidas Grand Prix and she has to be feeling good heading into Sacramento.  I’ll go with Hoffa in the men’s event, simply for the fact that I feel a veteran is going to win among the distraction of having fans surrounding the ring and being outside a stadium. Personally, I give USATF mad props for putting the event in the Capitol. The sport needs to bring itself to the people!

Q4. What one athlete is poised to breakout and surprise? Surprise us!

SB: While Devon Allen got all of the publicity at the NCAA Championships, Aleec Harris of USC nearly bested the Oregon frosh. Harris is one of only three Americans to go 13.35 or faster four times in 2014 thus far (David Oliver and Ronnie Ash are the other two) and I think finishing second by .02 will light a fire under him that he’ll carry over into Sacramento. I don’t know if he’ll win, but he’s got to be a serious threat.

GP: Would we consider Joe Kovacs to be a surprise? I'm putting him down as my breakout and semi-surprise. In most other years, and any other country, he'd be a lock. He's the Andy Murray of American shot-put (not sure if that would mean Reese Hoffa is Federer or Nadal). But with Whiting a scratch and the build-up JoeKo (not to be confused with tennis's Djoko) he's had the last few months I think he's going to pounce on the opportunity and squeeze a title away from the veterans.

JS: This depends on what you call a "breakout", but I'm looking at two athletes with whom I'm very familiar.  The men's hammer throw in the USA has been a two-man affair for a very long time, but I think Ohio-based collegians Matthias Tayala and Justin Welch could break into the top three and make their first splash at a USATF Championships.  Both have made huge improvements this year and both won collegiate titles (D-I for Kent State's Tayala and D-II for Findlay's Welch).  And both are fairly young; Tayala is gunning for a spot on the US team at the NACAC U-23 Championships, and Welch is just a few months too old to qualify.

KL: I've mentioned Roesler a bit earlier so I'll focus on Marielle Hall, my other choice for breakout athlete. Hall looked so effortless in pulling away from Aisling Cuffe and Abbey D'Agostino to win her first NCAA title a few weeks ago. She may not be ready to challenge Molly Huddle for the win in the 5000, but I could see her contending with the remainder of the field for a top three finish.

CN: Is it possible to say that someone who's been top 3 at USA's in the past is going to have a breakout race? Stephanie Garcia has been quiet the last 2 seasons but has had a solid first half of 2014. She's coming off a big steeplechase PR and she be in contention this weekend to reclaim her status as one of the USA's top steeplechasers.

Q5. With no Justin Gatlin in the men's 100m, who takes home the "Fastest Man in America" title?

CN: This event would be a lot more interesting if Travvon Bromell was running but rest after the NCAA season is understandable. Mike Rodgers has shown the best, consistent form amongst the US pros not named Gatlin. Dentarius Locke has shown he can close races but he needs to get a better start than he had at NCAAs. This is Rodgers's race to lose.

JS: This all depends on who's healthy.  I think it's Walter Dix if he is at or near 100% healthy. If not--and I don't think he is—then the best man in the field is Mike Rodgers.  I think the next best American after Gatlin is NCAA champion Trayvon Bromell, and he's also skipping this to prepare for the US and World Juniors.

KL: Veteran Mike Rodgers would be the wise selection, but I'm going with World Indoor silver medalist Marvin Bracy. He hasn't busted out yet this outdoor season (just a 10.08 season's best and sixth place finish in New York), but look for him to be rounding into form this weekend. 

GP:  Even if Gatlin was in it, I still have a hard time thinking that Walter Dix isn't the most consistent threat in any field he lines up against. He's been off the podium for awhile, and I think we're going to see him back on it.

SB: I really, really wish Gatlin was running this one. Of course he ran at Pre, but he didn’t run the adidas Grand Prix and American track and field fans won’t have a chance to see him in person the rest of the season. Bummer! With no Gatlin (or Gay), Mike Rodgers is clearly the man to beat. He’s been crazy consistent this year and brings a wealth of experience that’ll serve him well.

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History for USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships
YearResultsVideosNewsPhotosBlogs
2014 1 646 25 686  
2013 1 754 38 942  
2012 1 1009 63 3500  
2011 1 1298 36 1777 1
2010 1 928 16 938  
2009 1 446 4 875  
2008 1 138 51 961  
2007 1 27 2 295  
2006 1   2 341  
2005 1   1 433  
2004 1   1