July 02 2022 – Evan Reed
This past weekend saw the US Track and Field Championships held at the newly renovated Hayward Field. The University of Oregon successfully fused together a track known for prestigious history with state-of-the-art modern stadium design and has been introducing the world to it this track season. Along with the US Championships this weekend, Hayward Field hosted the NCAA Division I National Championship meet, and it will host the World Championships in just a few weeks’ time. What better place to decide who will represent the United States than at the same track those competitors will lineup against the best in the world? 35 competitions took place over the weekend so this will not be able to cover all the action, but this recap will be perfect for those who missed the most important story lines from an exciting weekend.
Fred Kerley is a man on a mission. Last summer many thought him foolish to drop down from the 400m to instead try to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in the 100m. He was considered a heavy favorite to finish top 3 and make the Olympic team in the 400m but bet on himself in the more prestigious and financially lucrative 100m. Kerley not only made the team, but wound up earning himself a silver medal while in Tokyo. (Don’t tell Wikipedia however as they still describe him as a “sprinter known primarily for competing in the 400 meters distance.”) He has kept the momentum rolling from the Olympics and put together an incredible weekend. Kerley somehow ran 9.83 and 9.76 in the qualifying rounds before winning the finals in 9.77. Oh yeah, these three races also happened over a two-day time span. That 9.76 places him in a tie as the 6th fastest man on the all-time list. He will be joined in Eugene next month by runner-up Marvin Bracy-Williams, third place finisher Trayvon Bromell (tied with Kerley on the all-time list), and Christian Coleman who has an automatic bid into the world championships as the reigning champion and did not compete in the US finals. Make no mistake, this US field is very deep.
Many can remember during the 2016 Rio Olympics when a high school girl made the US squad in the 400m hurdles. If you are wondering how she has panned out 6 years later, Sydney McLaughlin is doing alright for herself. This weekend she set the World Record in the event running 51.41. This time bettered the previous World Record of 51.46 set only last August in the Olympics by (who else?) Sydney McLaughlin. This was McLaughlin’s third time breaking the World Record. However, she is not the only active US athlete who has laid claim to this record during their career. Dalilah Muhammad won gold in Rio, then followed her achievement the following year setting the World Record at the US Championships. Sound familiar? If so, that should bring a smile to McLaughlin’s face because Muhammad bettered her time at the World Championships running 52.16. These two women are in a class to themselves at the world stage currently. Muhammad won the silver medal in Tokyo last summer, doing so in a time that would have been the World Record if not for McLaughlin finishing ahead of her. Unfortunately, we missed out on the chance to see these two heavyweights go head-to-head. Muhammad is the defending World Champ with an automatic qualification and elected not to compete in the US Champs to rest a hamstring injury. If Muhammad is healthy, there should be some fireworks next month and we might see another new World Record set by one of these two standouts.
Not all of Team USA was selected this weekend. The 10,000m finals were held during the Pre Classic at Hayward Field at the end of May. Allowing a month between the 10,000m championship and the rest of the meet allowed the distance runners a chance to double dip in some events that they aren’t always able to. Champion Karissa Schweizer and runner-up Alicia Monson were able to run away from the rest of the field that night, with a 38-second gap between second and third. The difference between third (the final World Championship qualifying spot) and fourth was much closer. 0.24 seconds if we are to be exact. Natosha Rogers was able to outlast Emily Infeld by the slimmest of margins for a race covering over six miles. Luckily, Infeld was able to take advantage of the new qualifying schedule and compete in the 5,000m, where she finished third earning her fifth opportunity to represent Team USA, doing so last time for the 2017 World Championships. In the years since, Infeld has battled numerous injuries, undergone a team and coaching change, and experienced a dangerous stalking situation. Seeing her back competing against the best in the world again is a welcome sight. She will compete alongside former teammates Elise Cranny (US Champ) and Schweizer (runner-up). All three are talented and have a chance to medal, but Infeld is the only one with a global medal (Bronze at the 2015 World Championships). Now this isn’t to say it’s all due to her experience shopping at Second Sole Lyndhurst while growing up, it just seems that’s a point worth considering.
World standards always seem to come into consideration in the men’s 1500m at the US Championships. Cooper Teare, former Oregon Duck and crowd favorite this weekend, won the tactical race by running the final lap in under 52s. Following him was Jonathan Davis and Josh Thompson for the top three spots. However, neither Davis nor Thompson have run the world standard during the qualifying period. When that happens, the new US system turns to the international rankings. Thompson will finish with the necessary ranking to qualify for the World Championship, but it looks likely that Davis will not. Davis runs for the University of Illinois and, as a collegian, hasn’t run in many competitions that allow him to rank highly in the international ranking system. This means that sixth place finisher Johnny Gregorek is likely to round out the 1500m team since he has run the world standard this year. Despite all this confusion, the biggest story from this event is Cole Hocker failing to make it out of the first round of the qualifying heats. Hocker is the reigning US Champ and finished sixth in the Olympics last year. He did not compete in the 5,000m later in the weekend after failing to qualify in the 1500m, likely indicating he’s dealing with some sort of injury. Hocker is only 21 and has tons of upside so this is likely going to be an outlier when looking back on his career 20 years from now but it’s still a huge shock.
Emma Coburn, American steeplechase royalty, won her 10th US title running a season’s best of 9:10.63, 2 seconds shy of her US Championship record time. This might not feel like much worth writing about because she’s done this nine times before, but 10 different years Coburn has proved to be the best in the US. That consistency and dominance does not come around very often. After the race, she claimed that this was her favorite title during a post-race interview. Coburn emotionally reflected on the win following such a poor showing at the Tokyo Olympics last summer. Coburn finished 14th before being disqualified for touching the inside rail after tripping over a barrier. This is not the showing you expect from somebody who has won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, a gold medal at the 2017 World Championships, and a silver medal at the 2019 World championships. In that same race, American Courtney Frerichs won the silver medal and there appeared to be a passing of the torch in the event. Despite the adversity, Coburn battled back and proved to everyone that she is still ready to compete with the best in the world. Frerichs competed amidst a challenging season as she was recently diagnosed with Celiac’s disease. While battling with that change and a torn-up spike, Frerichs finished third and will have a chance to add a global medal in back-to-back years.
Speaking of American steeplechase royalty, American Record holder Evan Jager is not finished quite yet. While Jager has not won as many US titles as Coburn, he did win 7 straight titles from between 2012 and 2018. He turned those national championships into six top-6 finishes at World competitions, winning an Olympic Silver medal in 2016, a World Championship silver medal in 2014, and a World Championship bronze medal in 2017. Jager picked up an injury last summer and was unable to compete at the US Trials and has had a relatively pedestrian outdoor season. Coming into this weekend without the World standard and a season’s best of just 8:27, Jager was going to have to run a quick race and finish in the top 3 to earn his spot on the team. He accomplished that with an 8:17.29 runner-up finish. Defending US Champ Hillary Bor proved to be too much for the field running 8:15.76. Questions still remain as to whether Jager will ever be able to pursue 8:00 steeplechase times again, but the emotion on his face after running his fastest steeplechase since 2018 was enough for now.
Abby Steiner is something else this year. After a great indoor season for the University of Kentucky last year, Steiner was unable to compete for a spot on the Tokyo Olympic team due to a torn Achilles. That has not slowed her in the slightest this year. She was able to set the NCAA record in the 200 on the way to winning the NCAA title in 21.80. Coming into the US Championships, Steiner sat fifth in the world. She left this weekend with a new personal best of 21.77, a world leading time this season. This lasted as the world lead for just a few hours. Jamaica’s Shericka Jackson ran 21.55 to take that spot later in the day at the Jamaican Championships. It will be interesting to see Steiner compete with all of the top women at the highest level the sport has to offer. As the competition has gotten better progressing through the NCAA season this year, Steiner has continued to run even faster. Can she do it again at the premier event of the year?
It is impossible not to root for Athing Mu. Seriously, watch one post-race interview with her infectious personality and you’ll become a life-long fan. Add on top of that her gold medal in Tokyo last summer and then try to wrap your mind around the fact that she is 20 years old. She pulled off another big win by running 1:57.16. We’re accustomed to seeing Mu pull away from everybody the final straightaway without much of a threat to her. However, World Indoor Champ Ajee Wilson was in this race and showed why she has that gold medal. Not only did she put a scare into Mu running 1:57.23, but she even passed her at one point in the final 50 meters before Mu pulled ahead for good. Joining these two at the World Championships is Raevyn Rogers, who also finished under 1:58 and won the bronze medal in Tokyo. It’s not unreasonable to think the US women have a chance to win all 3 medals next month, especially considering the advantages of running on home soil.
Remember how crazy it was in 2008 when Usain Bolt let the world know who he was at the Beijing Olympics? He created a lasting impression on the world by setting the World Record in the 100m while celebrating before crossing the finish line. When you win a 10 second race by 0.20 seconds, you have created enough separation to celebrate before reaching the line. So imagine the shock when Noah Lyles gave the cameras a smile and point as he approached the line in a race twice the distance where he won by one-tenth the time Bolt did. His 19.67 beat Erriyon Knighton’s 19.69 by just the slimmest of margins. This kind of excitement is #GoodForTheSport. A close race between these two was expected as they entered the weekend having run the two fastest times in the world this season. Knighton leaves the weekend still with the fastest time in the world having run 19.49 earlier in the season and will look to come out on top against Lyles, reigning World Champ and bronze medalist in Tokyo last summer, at the World Championships. Something to keep in mind, Knighton is only 18 years old, is the second fastest American and fourth all-time in the 200m, and has run faster than Bolt did at this age. The future is bright.