The numbers were as telling as the names.
United States Olympic mainstays Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt and Justin Gatlin are all on their way to Rio de Janeiro. With the best times in the world this year to boot.
Gatlin’s 100-metre run in 9.80 seconds at the US Olympic Trials on Sunday will certainly turn the most heads.
It’s the same time he posted last year at the Athletics World Championships in Beijing, where Usain Bolt nudged him out by a hundredth of a second. Bolt pulled out of this week’s Jamaican national championships and his form will be a mystery for at least the next few weeks.
No one needs wonder about where Gatlin stands.
“When the competition shows and the competition rises, I’ve got to rise to the occasion with it,” he declared.
Even so, he’s destined to head to his third Olympics as an underdog to Bolt, the “World’s Fastest Man”.
Ashton Eaton, meanwhile, will be a favourite.
The defending Olympic decathlon champion’s score of 8,750 was nearly 300 short of his world record. A bit frustrating for Eaton, but the score was still notable because it was one point better than the personal best of anyone who can qualify for the event in Rio. And besides, there is no such thing as perfect over a 10-event endurance test.
“As a decathlete, if you don’t leave with something (frustrating), then you should quit,” he said.
Besides Eaton, nobody has carried the flag more nobly for the USA’s track team of late than Felix, who has been to three Olympics and picked up six medals, including 200-metre gold in London.
Her quest at Olympics No 4 is to become the first woman to win gold in both the 200 and 400 metres. That mission landed on shaky ground when she hurt her right ankle this spring while working out. It’s been a brutal comeback, she said, though the performance Sunday hardly showed it.
Pulling away late, she finished the 400-metre final in 49.68 seconds for a .26-second win over Phyllis Francis, then collapsed in exhaustion and relief.
“Two months ago, I couldn’t even walk,” Felix said. “To be here and have everything still come together, I don’t know quite how it happened.”
Merritt certainly does.
Fists pumping high down the stretch, he burst down the last 50 metres of the straightaway to finish in 43.97 – a .76-second romp over Gil Roberts. It was a clinic, reminiscent of Merritt’s .99-second blowout over rival Jeremy Wariner in the 2008 Olympics.
“People always say they look at my film to tell their athletes, ‘This is how you’re supposed to run the last part of the race’,” Merritt said. “They haven’t been looking at it lately. I had to give them something to look at.”
Merritt said he feels good enough to give it a go at 200 metres, where he also holds the world’s best time of the year.
Yet another world-best mark came from Chaunte Lowe in the high jump. Her jump of 6ft, 7ins (2 metres) beat Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall, by 1 1/2 inches.
Lowe is on the way to her fourth Olympics, seeking the medal that has always eluded her there. Stoked by her performance, and the others she saw on this breezy, sunshine-filled day in Eugene, she was thinking bigger.
Fitting on a day such as this.
“It felt so easy,” Lowe said. “I think I’ll be ready. Just keep training, fine-tuning. I think we could see a sweep of the podium.”
Other happenings from the trials
• English Gardner ran a personal best 10.74 seconds in the 100m to put herself on a list of Olympic athletics newcomers that now numbers 25. She edged out Tianna Bartoletta, who will be going for a sprint-long jump double, and another first-timer, Tori Bowie, the bronze medalist at last year’s world championships. Bartoletta and Bowie both finished in 10.78 and, according to a statkeeper for the IAAF, this was the first wind-legal women’s 100m with three times of under 10.8.
• Marquise Goodwin’s dream of skipping NFL training camp with the Buffalo Bills is over. The receiver/long jumper finished seventh and didn’t qualify for the Olympics. He said he strained his hamstring during qualifications Saturday and couldn’t recover in time for the final. Now, he takes a few days off and gets ready for camp. “Just a switch. Got to hit it,” he said about the quick changeover.
• Tyson Gay’s chances of making a third Olympics now rest in either the 200 metres or a slot as part of the relay pool. Both Gay and Mike Rodgers got beat for the third spot in the 100m by Marvin Bracy, a three-time national indoor champ at 60 metres who also used to be a wide receiver at Florida State University. Bracy is an Olympic newcomer, as is second-place finisher Trayvon Bromell, who finished second to Gatlin in 9.84s.
• Qualifying for long jump were 2014 national champion Jeff Henderson and Jarrion Lawson. Will Claye, the bronze medalist at the London Games, finished third but did not have a non-wind-aided Olympic qualifying standard. The other two will make their Olympic debuts. Finishing in the two spots behind Eaton were Jeremy Taiwo and Zack Ziemek.
• “The one thing I love about the athletes I coach, they love running for the United States. She wants to make this Olympic team. That was something that, like you saw, she was willing to pull every muscle in her body.” – Allyson Felix’s coach, Bob Kersee.
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