EUGENE - The 2011 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Eugene this week will feature, between the junior and senior events, about 40 hours of track and field action in four days. That is a heavy dose of athletics, so I tried to narrow it down a bit for those with shorter attention spans. Here is a list of five can't-miss events, along with my predictions.
Men's 100 meters (finals at 6:20 pm PDT Friday)
This high-profile event is always laced with drama and 2011 will be no different. Tyson Gay is a sure thing, if fully healthy. No one else is a lock to make the world championship team. Former NAIA sprinter Michael Rodgers has been solid, with three sub-10 second 100s already. Justin Gatlin, returning from a four-year doping suspension, has looked surprisingly good, while Walter Dix has not been totally convincing in his races. Doc Patton, even at age 33, still looks like he could make the team. Emerging collegians Mookie Salaam and Maurice Mitchell will contend but the vets will prevail.
Men's 800-1500 meters (800 finals at 2:27 pm PDT Sunday, 1500 finals at 2:50 pm Saturday)
| Nick Symmonds in the 800
I'm cheating with two events, but the mid-distance races are where the local favorites have shined brightest. Andrew Wheating will wisely stick to the 1500, where he will be the odds-on favorite, unless Bernard Lagat runs. The 800 is loaded - 9 athletes have already run faster than the A standard of 1:45.40. Can the collegians continue to run fast? Yes. Can Nick Symmonds rebound from a disappointing race at Pre? Yes. Can UO and OTC pull off another 1-2-3 Eugene sweep? I think so, but it will be in the 1500. With Leo Manzano and Lopez Lomong off their form so far this season, David Torrence has the best chance to break up the Eugene group in the 1500.
The 800 picks:
2. Khadevis Robinson
3. Robby Andrews
The 1500 picks:
2. Russell Brown
3. Matthew Centrowitz
Men's Decathlon (Thursday and Friday)
The decathlon will be missing some of its luster, as defending world champion Trey Hardee has an automatic berth at the world championships and won't compete in the decathlon in Eugene (though he will compete in the long jump and high hurdles). But former UO star Ashton Eaton will put his talents on display against Olympic gold medalist Bryan Clay, and all multi-event fans will be watching to see how much Eaton has improved in the throws, which are the only things standing between him and a gold medal. That alone makes this a compelling event, but it will also be interesting to watch the battle for third place and check out the continued, remarkable development of young Curtis Beach, the freshman from Duke.
3. Jake Arnold
Women's Pole Vault (12 noon PDT Sunday)
U.S. women have struggled to be competitive internationally in most field events, but have a good track record in the pole vault. High school and collegiate vaulters are improving dramatically - when will it carry over to the elite level? Jen Suhr has battled injuries lately, but is the class of this field. Given Hayward's swirling winds, any two of six other vaulters have a legitimate chance to make the US team for worlds, including Oregon's NCAA champion Melissa Gergel. Gergel went 4.45 (14-07.25) at the NCAAs but she will be battling a group who have all cleared 4.50 (14-09).
2. Kylie Hutson
3. Lacy Janson
Women's 100 meter Hurdles (finals at 2:37 pm PDT Sunday)
| Lolo Jones in the 100 m hurdles
Like the pole vault, the short hurdles race can be unpredictable - and cruel. Remember Lolo Jones' fall when leading in the 2008 Olympics? This is a very deep field and the top nine hurdlers are separated by only .16 seconds. Every round should be compelling to watch. Kellie Wells and Danielle Carruthers are favored, but only by a hair over Lolo, 2008 gold medalist Dawn Harper, Ginnie Crawford and Nia Ali of USC.