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June 21, 2017

2017 USATF Outdoor Championship: Throws & Multi-events preview

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Women’s Shot Put

Olympic champion Michelle Carter finished out last year with a win at the Diamond League final in Brussels. Six-time Olympic/World gold medalist Valerie Adams announced her pregnancy earlier this year, which removed Carter’s chief rival. Carter won the first Diamond League meet of the year in Doha, but lost the next DL meet to China’s Gong Lijao.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Carter appears to be a lock to win her seventh US outdoor championship and fifth in a row.

Dark horse pick:

Can someone be a dark horse pick if she finished fifth in the Olympic final last year? Because that’s the situation Ole Miss junior Raven Saunders finds herself in.  As usual she dominated the collegiate indoor season and posted the world’s leading mark. But she missed almost all of the outdoor season for an undisclosed violation of team rules, is very short on competition, and at the NCAAs she finished fifth and looked like a shell of her former self.  If she comes anywhere near to her indoor form then no one save Carter can beat her, but that may be a big if.

Fun fact/stat:

Last year Carter became the first American woman to be the #1 shot putter in the annual Track and Field News world rankings since Earlene Brown in 1958. After her throwing days were over, Brown became better known to the American public through Roller Games, a “sport” whose style and authenticity made it more or less the pro wrestling of its day.  Her nickname was “747” due to her 6-foot height and ever broader wingspan.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Unlike many other field events, qualifying marks aren’t going to be in play here since sixteen Americans have thrown past the IAAF standard (17.75 meters).  Carter is a lead pipe cinch. Dani Bunch (unsponsored) has a pair of runner-up finishes in Diamond League competition and should take the second spot. Felisha Johnson (Nike) appears to be the best of the rest.

Women’s Discus Throw

On Sunday, Croatia’s Sandra Perković suffered her first loss in 23 months.  She had a marginal foul that looked to be in the 70 meter range, so suffice it to say that it’s still news when Perković does not win.  The defeat came to Cuba’s Yaimí Pérez, the only thrower in the world whose best mark in 2017 is better than Perković’s worst.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Either Whitney Ashley (Nike) or Gia Lewis-Smallwood (Nike) has won the last four US championships.

Dark horse pick:

Stanford’s Valarie Allman redshirted the outdoor season and broke her PR by nearly 10 feet at the Cardinal Classic in late April.  Reproducing that in a championship setting is another kettle of fish.

Fun fact/stat:

Allman was a dancer before she got into track, and started off as a sprinter/jumper. She only started throwing the discus so she could go to the annual spaghetti dinner for her high school team’s throwers.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Four Americans have achieved the Worlds standard of 61.20 meters: Lewis-Smallwood, Ashley, Allman, and Liz Podominick (Chula Vista Elite).  Youth is rarely served in this event, so I think the odd woman out will be Allman and the other three will make the team.

Women’s Hammer Throw

Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk now has a 36-meet winning streak and not only holds the world record but all of the 21 longest throws in world history.  The second-furthest mark of the last two years is Gwen Berry’s new American Record, set in early May—but she’s about twenty feet behind Wlodarczyk’s best.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Berry not only set the American hammer throw record this year but the indoor weight throw record as well.  So if it’s got a handle and you throw it, she’s the one to beat.

Dark horse pick:

Amanda Bingson (unsponsored) held the record that Berry broke. She’s been in a three-year funk since winning back-to-back US titles in 2013 and ’14 and did not make the Olympic team last year. It she can rediscover that form she’ll be on the team.

Fun fact/stat:

Despite putting up great marks for many years, Berry has never won a US championship and never made a national team until finishing second at last year’s Olympic Trials.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Berry and Deanna Price (NYAC) look solid. Third should be a great battle between veteran Amber Campbell (Nike) and Arizona State senior Maggie Ewen, who broke the collegiate record at the NCAA Championships two weeks ago.

Women’s Javelin

Croatia’s Sara Kolak won the Olympic gold medal in a shock upset and has come back down to Earth since then.  Latvian Madara Palameika ended the 2016 season well with Diamond League wins in Lausanne and Brussels. The best thrower of the 2017 season is Belarus’ Tatsiana Khaladovich, who is undefeated in seven meets.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Kara Winger is about twenty feet better than any other thrower in the USA. She is a six-time national champion and, despite tearing an ACL in 2012, hasn’t finished out of the top three since 2007. Aside from 2013, when she was recovering from surgery, she’s thrown beyond 60 meters every year since 2008 and only one other American has done it this year.

Dark horse pick:

LSU’s “The Outlaw” Rebekah Wales had a bad meet at the NCAAs but otherwise didn’t lose to a collegian all year.

Fun fact/stat:

“The Outlaw” Josey Wales, as portrayed by Clint Eastwood, carried two Colt Walker 1847 revolvers in twin holsters as his primary sidearms.

Predictions of who makes the team:

The IAAF marks-based qualification system means that any American who makes the team will probably have to throw 61 meters or more. Winger has thrown 64.80 and will make the team no matter what.  Hannah Carson (unsponsored) threw that far last year and Ariana Ince (unsponsored) has come close this year.  I’m picking Winger and Ince.

Women’s Heptathlon

Belgium’s Nafi Thiam won Olympic gold and started 2017 with a bang. She won the Götzis heptathlon with a score of 7013, which puts her at #3 on the all-time world list. Bronze and silver medalists Jess Ennis-Hill and Brianne Theisen-Eaton both retired, but Olympic fourth- and fifth-place finishers Laura Ikauniece-Admidina (Latvia) and Carolin Schäfer (Germany) made huge advances on their PRs at Götzis this year with scores that would have won Olympic gold last year.

Star/Favorite to watch:

The co-favorites are Eric Bougard (Chula Vista Elite) and Kendell Williams (Georgia). Bougard achieved a new PR of 6502 at Götzis, which puts her at #6 in US history.  Williams’ PR of 6402 was set at last year’s Olympic Trials, and she’s at the end of a long collegiate season.

Dark horse pick:

Lindsay Lettow has been flying under the radar…well, I suppose nearly all heptathletes go unnoticed…and has made steady improvement over several years since graduating from Central Missouri.

Fun fact/stat:

Kendell Williams and her brother Devon are both favorites to make the Worlds. I’m not sure if any brother-sister pair have competed for the USA in the same event at the Worlds since long jumpers Carl and Carol Lewis in 1983.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Again, IAAF qualifying standards cut down the possibilities.  Only three Americans who are entered into the meet have achieved the 6200 point automatic qualifier, and they are the favorites: Bougard, Williams, and Sharon Day-Monroe (Asics).

Men’s Shot Put

Ryan Crouser broke the Olympic record last year and has been en fuego this season with five wins in as many meets and four of them over 22 meters.  In mid-May, Joe Kovacs put up the longest throw since the advent of random out-of-competition testing, but ten days later finished third at the Prefontaine Classic.  Olympic silver medalist Tom Walsh of New Zealand has lost to no one this year but Crouser.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Crouser is a beast and, at age 24, is just entering what is usually a shot putter’s peak age. As always the USA has incredible depth in this event.

Dark horse pick:

Jon Jones trains at the Olympic training center in Chula Vista, California. The 2015 NCAA champion broke his PR in late May and appears ready for a breakthrough.

Fun fact/Stat:

Crouser was the youngest Olympic shot put champion in 24 years.

Predictions of who makes the team:

As defending World champion, Joe Kovacs (Nike) has a wild card entry and that opens up a fourth spot on the US team. Crouser will doubtlessly make the team, and Darrell Hill (Nike) has thrown consistently far. The last spot seems wide open; 2013 World champ Ryan Whiting has the ability but hasn’t shown it in the last two years. I’m going to pick 29-year-old journeyman Kurt Roberts to make his first outdoor national team.

Men’s Discus Throw

The 2016 season was the same as it has been in the discus – Germany’s Harting and Poland’s Malachowski were the best of the year – except that this time it was Christoph Harting, the younger brother of the four-time Olympic/World champion.  Two other young throwers have come to the fore, Sweden’s Daniel Ståhl and Austria’s Lukas Weisshaidinger. 2017 has seen the rise of an even younger thrower, Jamaican Fedrick Dacres.

Star/Favorite to watch:

There is no clear favorite. Four different men won each of the last four US titles and no one has stood out in the early US season.  Mason Finley (unsponsored) is the defending champion and the only American who made the Olympic final.

Dark horse pick:

Kent State’s Reggie Jagers was second at the NCAA Championships and could be ready for the upset. But he has not yet achieved the Worlds standard of 65.00 meters and, should he finish in the top 3, has to achieve it by July 21.

Fun fact/Stat:

Sam Mattis (Garage Strength) graduated from Penn’s prestigious Wharton School of Business last year and has an investment banking job waiting for him at J.P. Morgan.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Finley, Andrew Evans (Nike), and Jared Schuurmans (unsponsored) are the most consistent of the six Americans who have achieved the Worlds standard.

Hammer Throw

Poland’s Pawel Fajdek posted the 17 longest throws of 2016 and went undefeated save one meet…the Olympics, where he didn’t even make the final.  So far in 2017 he has the year’s seven longest throws and is again undefeated.  On the domestic front, surprised Olympic trials champion Rudy Winkler (Cornell) was slowed by back problems through the early collegiate season but hit stride at the NCAAs where he won with the third-longest throw of his career.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Winkler and four-time US champion Kibwe Johnson (New York AC) are the clear favorites. Johnson is a consistent veteran but it’s been five years since he threw further than Winkler’s PR set at the Trials last year.

Dark horse pick:

Alex Young (Southeast Louisiana) scored a big PR to get second at the NCAA Championships and doesn’t have to throw much further to have a shot at winning.

Fun fact/Stat:

Winkler was the first collegian to be US hammer throw champion since Kent State’s Al Schoterman in 1972. The only one who has done it in back-to-back years was Rhode Island State’s Irvin Folwartshny in 1937-38.  Winkler could join him this year.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Qualifying standards are a big part of who makes the team in all the field events, but especially in the hammer.  The automatic standard is 76.00, but the IAAF will take as many nonqualifiers as it takes to fill the field to 32 throwers.

As noted above, I feel confident that Johnson and Winkler will be the top two finishers this weekend, and if they can throw 75.00 or more by July 21 then they’re more than likely headed to London.  Sean Donnelly (Iron Wood TC) is most likely to get the third spot if he also throws far enough to qualify.

Men’s Javelin

Czech Jakub Vadlejch made up for his 8th-place Olympic finish with a pair of Diamond League wins to close out his 2016 season.  Olympic champion Thomas Röhler of Germany is the tops of the 2017 season with three wins and the year’s two best marks, including the longest throw in the last 20 years.

Star/Favorite to watch:

Cy Hostetler (unsponsored) is the defending champion and the only American who qualified for the Olympics, but has not thrown particularly well this year.

Dark horse pick:

Former Rutgers-Camden thrower Tim VanLiew (Iron Wood TC) has a year-old PR of 79.62 meters and could win if he matches or exceeds it.

Fun fact/Stat:

Riley Dolezal (Nike) had a massive breakthrough at the 2013 US Championships when he won out of the B-flight. His PR entering the meet was 74.22 and he improved on that four times in the championship, ending up with a Worlds qualifying mark of 83.50.  He has been in the top three at the US championships every year since.

Predictions of who makes the team:

It’s entirely possible that no Americans make the Worlds. The qualifying standard is 83.00 meters and that’s a rare distance for Americans these days.  The IAAF will take the top non-qualifiers to fill a field of 32 throwers and it looks like the cutoff might be around 82.00. My pick to win is Dolezal, but he’ll have to put up his best mark in the last four years in order to get to London.

Men’s Decathlon

The retirement of Ashton Eaton has left a huge hole in the decathlon.  The heir apparent is France’s Kevin Mayer, whose silver medal total of 8834 is the best non-winning score ever.  Bronze medalist Damian Warner of Canada won the Götzis decathlon in late May with the best score of 2017 (8591).  Grenada’s Lindon Victor twice broke his own collegiate record for Texas A&M but has to take it up another notch in order to compete with the world’s best.

Star/Favorite to watch:

For the first time in a long time, there is no US decathlon star.  Zach Ziemek (adidas) finished seventh in Rio and, since Jeremy Taiwo (Brooks Beasts) is out with injury, he is the only Olympic decathlete from last year competing in Sacramento. Trey Haree is also in the field.

Dark horse pick:

Georgia senior Devon Williams was fifth at last summer’s Olympic Trials and has improved since then.  He room to improve even more in the throwing events, so he could win if he’s hitting on all cylinders.

Fun fact/Stat:

Trey Hardee is the lone global championship medalist in the field. Without him, this would have been the first US decathlon championship since 1998 not to feature an Olympic or Worlds gold medalist.

Predictions of who makes the team:

Ziemek and Williams have the all-important Worlds qualifying mark which make them safe bets to make the team.  If a third can qualify, it might be Stanford’s Harrison Williams who redshirted the outdoor season.

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