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June 21, 2017

2017 USATF Outdoor Championship: High jump, long jump, triple jump, pole vault previews

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Women’s High Jump

The state of the event since Rio

Olympic champion Ruth Beitia finished off the year in fine form with two Diamond League wins. The indoor season was ruled by Lithuania’s Airinė Palšytė, who won the European indoor championship.  The best jumper of the 2016 season has been Maria Lasitskene (nee Kuchina), the Russian whose application to compete as a neutral athlete was accepted. She has two Diamond League wins and the year’s three best jumps.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Vashti Cunningham (Nike) won the US indoor championship, was the top American at the Prefontaine Classic, and has the year’s two best jumps by an American.  She has also been the rare field event athlete to get star treatment by NBC.

Dark horse pick:

Brigetta Barrett (unsponsored) won Olympic and World silver medals in 2012 and 2013 but retired early last year due to injuries.  She started a comeback in April.

Fun fact/stat:

Co-favorite Chaunté Lowe (Nike) made her first US national team (’03 Pan-Am Junior Championships) before Cunningham entered kindergarten.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Cunningham, Lowe , and NCAA indoor and outdoor champion Mady Fagan (Georgia).

Women’s High Jump

The state of the event since Rio

Sandi Morris (Nike) won last year’s Diamond League final in Brussels with 5.00 meters, becoming only the third woman to ever clear that height.  The 2016 indoor and outdoor seasons have been dominated by Morris and Olympic champion Ekaterini Stefanidi (Greece), with Stefanidi winning her two Diamond League competitions.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Morris is as strong a favorite to win as a pole vaulter can be, given the unpredictable nature of the event.  Jenn Suhr (adidas) is still capable of some tremendous vaulting, though, but injuries seem to come up with increasing regularity.

Dark horse pick:

I’m not sure if someone who finished fourth at the Olympic Trials qualifies as a “dark horse”, but Morgann LeLeux (adidas) has had a long strange trip. The former national high school record holder started at Georgia and twice had major setbacks due to injury, once for a detached retina.  She eventually transferred to Louisiana-Lafayette where she was (and still is) coached by her father, and broke her PR three times last year.

Fun fact/stat:

Based on what she’s posted on social media, Morris is head-over-heels in love with Bermudan long jumper Tyrone Smith.  It seems to be working out well for him; at age 32 he’s established new indoor and outdoor PRs this year.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Morris obviously, and if healthy then Suhr is going to make the team as well.  I think LeLeux, three times an NCAA runner-up and once in the dreaded fourth position at the Trials, finally makes her breakthrough.

Women’s Long Jump

The state of the event since Rio

Brittney “The Beast” Reese (Nike) won the Diamond League final in Zürich to finish out last year, then won this year’s Prefontaine Classic with the only 7-meter jump of the outdoor season so far.  Serbian Ivana Španović dominated the indoor season and won the European Indoor Championships with 7.24 meters (23′ 9″), a mark that no one in the last 13 years has beaten save Reese.  Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta (Nike) won one Diamond League meet this year and finished second to Reese at the Pre Classic.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Most of the last few US Championships and World and Olympic finals have been titanic battles between Reese and Bartoletta that bring up memories of some of the classic Lewis-Powell and Lewis-Myricks long jump wars.  Bartoletta may or may not hold up her end of it; as a wild card qualifier to the Worlds she need only compete in a single round at the USATF meet, and not necessarily in this event.  

Dark horse pick:

California high schooler Tara Davis really could make the team. She broke the national high school indoor record back in March and went 6.73 meters (22′ 1″) at the California state championships.

Fun fact/stat:

Between the two of them, Reese and Bartoletta have won seven of the last nine Olympic and World gold medals.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Reese and Bartoletta for sure, and Bartoletta has a “wild card” entry which means there are two more spots available. College seniors Sha’Keela Saunders (Kentucky) and Quanesha Burks (Alabama) inexplicably finished fifth and eleventh at the NCAA Championships but I think they will rebound and take the last two spots.

Women’s Triple Jump

The state of the event since Rio

Last year Colombia’s Caterine Ibargüen suffered her first loss since 2012 (to Olga Ryapkova) and she lost once again this year (to Yulimar Rojas). Rojas is eleven years younger than Ibargüen and may be the new star.

Star/Favorite to watch:

The triple jump is not a young woman’s event, but 21-year-old Georgia junior Keturah Orji is already the greatest American triple jumper of all time. She tied the best US finish ever at the Olympics (fourth) and has the three longest jumps in US history. She’s never lost to a collegiate competitor. Her worst meet this year (13.95m, in January) is better than any other American has jumped all year. She’s as safe a bet as there is in a field event at the US Championships.

Dark horse pick:

Danylle Kurywchak was an unremarkable triple jumper at U-Mary (Ca.) and Baylor who has added a remarkable 75 cm (2½ feet) to her triple jump PR in her first post-collegiate season. She was runner-up at the USATF Indoor Championships.

Fun fact/stat:

The women’s triple jump is one of only two standard track or field events in which the USA has never won an Olympic or Worlds medal. The other is the women’s hammer throw.

Predictions of who makes the team:

As with many of the field events, the team qualifiers are likely to be determined by whose mark is good enough for Worlds qualification.  Orji has already achieved the automatic qualifier of 14.10 meters. The only other Americans who have jumped even remotely close to what it will take to get an “at-large” bid to fill out the Worlds field of 32 jumpers are Andrea Guebelle (unsponsored) and Tori Franklin (unsponsored).

MEN’S HIGH JUMP

The state of the event since Rio

Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim has been head and shoulders above the rest of the world. He’s won both of the Diamond League events this year, both with heights as good or better than anyone else in the world has jumped anywhere this year.  Erik Kynard (Brand Jordan) won last year’s Diamond League finale and high jump Diamond Race, and is the only American to make a Diamond League appearance either last year or this.

Star/Favorite to watch:

As the reigning Diamond Race champion, Kynard has a wild card to the Worlds but must compete in at least one round at the US Championships in order to claim it.  If he jumps with the intent to win, he’ll likely pick up his fifth consecutive national title.

Dark horse pick:

Vernon Turner of Yukon (OK) High School has been flirting with the national high school record and is only behind Kynard in terms of consistency.

Fun fact/Stat:

Kynard first cleared 7 feet at the age of 15.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Only four Americans have achieved the Worlds standard (2.28m/7′ 5¾”): Kynard, Turner, Jacorian Duffield (Nike) and Tequan Claitt (Eastern Kentucky). Since  Kynard has the wild card, the USA can send four to the Worlds.  So unless someone else makes the standard by the July 21 deadline, that’s the team.

Men’s Pole Vault

The state of the event since Rio

Sam Kendricks (Nike) picked up two post-Olympic Diamond League wins, including the Zurich Weltklasse, plus the first two Diamond League events this year.  Poland’s Piotr Lisek put together the most outstanding indoor season and is just now ramping up his outdoor season. Renaud Lavillenie was hampered by injury early in the year but the world record holder is always a threat to win any meet he enters.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Kendricks would be considered a virtual lock to win if the pole vault wasn’t such an inherently inconsistent event. Even so, he’s among the safest bets in the USATF Championships.

Dark horse pick:

NCAA champion Matthew Ludqwig should not be underestimated. His team, Akron, produced the World pole vault champion two years ago (Shawn Barber) and last year’s Olympic bronze medalist at 800 meters (Clayton Murphy), so learn the word “MACtion”.

Fun fact/Stat:

Only twice in the last 40 years has a collegian won the US pole vault title: Kendricks (Ole Miss, 2014) and Lawrence Johnson (Tennessee, 1996).

Predictions of who makes the team:

After Kendricks and Ludwig, the next best US vaulter this year has been South Dakota freshman Chris Nilsen.  He broke the national high school record last year and won the NCAA indoor title.

Men’s Long Jump

The state of the event since Rio

South African Luvo Manyonga has gone on a streak of huge jumps this year that rivals or surpasses anything Carl Lewis or Mike Powell ever did: four consecutive meets beyond 8.60m (28′ 2¾”), although it should be noted that half of those were at high altitude.  His closest meet was a one-foot victory.  As far as US jumpers go, the top American so far this year is just 17th on the world list.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Jeff Henderson (adidas) is the reigning Olympic gold medalist but hasn’t yet shown stellar form this year. Still, he’s the Olympic gold medalist.  That tends to make you the favorite.

Dark horse pick:

Marquis Dendy (Nike) had a nasty ankle injury last year but looks to be healthy again. He can jump a long way when he hits a good one.  He won the 2015 US title with 8.68m (28′ 5½”) and made the Olympic team last summer but had to withdraw due to that injury.

Fun fact/Stat:

Four current or former Florida jumpers are realistic threats to make the team: Dendy, Will Claye (Nike), KeAndre Bates, and Grant Holloway. The latter two went 1-2 at the NCAAs this year.

Predictions of who makes the team:

When at their best, it’s going to be hard to pick against Henderson, Dendy, and Jarrion Lawson (Asics).  All have PRs of 28 feet or further.

Men’s Triple Jump

The state of the event since Rio

The Nike Prefontaine Classic perfectly captured the men’s triple jump on both the global and domestic fronts.  Christian Taylor (Nike) and former Florida teammate Will Claye (Nike) staged yet another titanic battle.  Taylor came out ahead with the #3 mark in world history, Claye was just 6 cm behind, and everyone else was in another zip code.

Star/Favorite to watch:

There’s Taylor and Claye, and then everyone else.  Taylor has a wild card entry to the Worlds and only has to compete in one round to claim it; no word yet on whether or not he’ll go full-bore for the win.

Dark horse pick:

Donald Scott (unsponsored) has been quietly but steadily improving since ending his days as an Eastern Michigan wide receiver and solely concentrating on jumping.

Fun fact/Stat:

Willie Banks’ USA Championships meet record of 17.97m (58′ 11½”) has stood since 1985 and stood as the world record until 1995, but two men are more than capable of breaking it this week.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Due to Taylor’s wild card, the USA gets four entries. Taylor and Claye are no-brainers. Omar Craddock (adidas) and Chris Benard (Nike) are America’s next two best but far from secure.

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