What to Watch on Saturday at the USATF Championships
Today is the third day of the USATF Championships, and national champions will be crowned in thirteen events. Here’s your quick-and-dirty guide to the action.
TV coverage will be live on NBC from 4:00 to 6:00pm (EDT).
Online coverage will be via NBC Sports Gold, with separate feeds for field events (beginning at 11:00am EDT) and track events (2:00pm EDT)
Women’s Hammer (3:20pm EDT)
I’m sorry if I come across like the annoying hipster of track, but this is the event of the day, period, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It is the only event at the USATF Championships in which the top two in the world are going head-to-head.
Four weeks ago Deanna Price (New York AC) surprised herself with an American record throw of 77.65 meters (254′ 9″) at a small meet in Idaho. It shouldn’t have been a surprise because twice in May she came within spitting distance of the record.
Just six days later, Gwen Berry (NIKE) shocked the hammer throw community by defeating World and Olympic champion Anita Wlodarczyk and breaking Price’s record in the process.
This sets up a long-awaited showdown. It’s not the first meeting between Price and Berry this year – Price beat Berry at the Jamaica International Invitational – but it’s for all the marbles. And it’s not just these two athletes; seven of the top ten in US history are throwing today.
USATF is making a real effort to support field events with a field-only stream on NBC Sports Gold. Watch it if you can — but with six field events going on simultaneously, I fear this event will get swallowed up and not get the attention it deserves.
Women’s 1500 meters (4:46pm EDT)
Many established stars are skipping these championships, but not Jenny Simpson (New Balance). She’s facing Shelby Houlihan (NIKE/Bowerman AC), who outkicked her to win the Prefontaine Classic. Kevin Liao has the story about how it’s the ultimate battle of the weekend.
Men’s Pole Vault (2:30pm EDT)
The pole vault starts at 2:30pm but won’t get down to the nitty-gritty until 4:30 or later. Last year Sam Kendricks (NIKE) put together the first undefeated season by a pole vaulter in a generation. He’s lost a few times this year but remains a strong favorite. Chris Nilsen (South Dakota) has gotten better and more consistent as the season has gone along and could give Kendricks a challenge.
Women’s Steeplechase (4:20pm EDT)
It’s understandable if you think this will be a walkover for Emma Coburn (New Balance). After all, she’s the reigning World Champion and has run nine of the ten fastest times in US history. And maybe it will be. But I’d keep my eye out for Courtney Frerichs (NIKE/Bowerman AC). She won Worlds silver behind Coburn last year and seems to be rounding into top shape.
Men’s 400 Hurdles (4:20pm EDT)
Can 35-year-old Bershawn Jackson (NIKE) come back and win one more championship? Probably not, and it’s because any of a number of young guys are running very well. No one noticed that Kenny Selmon (North Carolina) went to #5 on the all-time collegiate list two weeks ago because he was so far behind Rai Benjamin’s stunning record. TJ Holmes (NIKE) was fifth at last year’s Worlds, and this might be the first time all year that David Kendziera (Illinois) does not have to run multiple events in a single day.
Women’s 400 meters (5:08pm EDT)
This looks like a three-way battle between Shakima Wimbley (adidas), Kendall Ellis (USC), and Courtney Okolo (NIKE).
Men’s 400 meters (5:30pm EDT)
Once again, this is a final that does not feature well-known names but whoever wins is a name you’ll need to know going forward. Nathan Strother (Tennessee) bombed at the NCAAs but ran 44.34 to finish second at the SEC Championships, so he has both a chip on his shoulder and real talent. The other major contender is Paul Dedewo (unattached), a former D3 runner at the City College of New York who has worked his way up to being a national-class runner.
Men’s 1500 meters (5:40pm EDT)
All eyes are on Matthew Centrowitz (NIKE/Oregon Project), the reigning Olympic champion. Drew Hunter could win his first USATF Outdoor title at 20 years old.
Women’s 100 Hurdles (5:52pm EDT)
Even without world leader Brianna Rollins, this will be a Diamond League-quality race. Finalists will be determined by semis earlier in the afternoon, but it will likely include the world record holder (Keni Harrison) among other stars.
Other Field Events
It would be a total shock if anyone but Ryan Crouser wins the men’s shot put. His worst result this year is better than anyone else’s best.
Despite the vertical jumps being known as events plagued by inconsistency, Vashti Cunningham might be a lock to win the women’s high jump. She won silver at the World Indoor Championships and hasn’t lost to an American all year.
The well-established stars, Brittney Reese and Tianna Bartoletta, are skipping the women’s long jump — which is a tacit admission that they’re old and don’t have many top efforts left in them. This opens the door for up-and-comers like Quanesha Burks, Taliyah Brooks, and Kylie Price. None have sponsors and a win could help them get one.
The men’s javelin is wide open. The top American of 2018, Michael Shuey, is 56th on the 2018 world list. But you never know what can happen; five years ago Riley Dolezal added a massive nine meters to his PR and won the championship out of the first flight.