Athletics: Strong U.S. world team could match Rio success

Track and Field: USA Championships

By Gene Cherry

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) – A world-class group of jumpers, shot putters and women’s hurdlers should have American athletes heading to the podium often at August’s world championships in London.

Double Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor and fellow Rio gold medalists Ryan Crouser, Dalilah Muhammad and Tianna Bartoletta, plus hurdles world record holder Keni Harrison and Aries Merritt, all qualified at the cutthroat U.S. championships that concluded on Sunday.

“It looks entirely possible that Team USA could match its impressive Rio (Olympic) tally in August,” international athletics expert Mel Watman told Reuters.

The Americans won 13 gold medals in Rio after underperforming at the last world championships in Beijing two years ago with just six.

One-two punches in the triple jump, men’s and women’s shot put, women’s long jump and women’s 400 meters hurdles plus strong showings in the relays could all produce gold for the U.S. in London, Watman said.

But the Americans, who love their sprints, will likely face major roadblocks in the men’s events even though they have the year’s fastest at 100 meters (Christian Coleman, 9.82 seconds) and 400 (Fred Kerley, 43.70).

World record holders Usain Bolt, who is retiring after the London 100, and Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa in the 400 will be the fans’ favorites.

Olympic silver medalist Justin Gatlin, winner of the U.S. 100 over Coleman, also should be a contender in the London race as he faces Bolt for the last time.

Rio medalist Tori Bowie highlights the U.S. women’s sprints, but must again face Jamaican double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson in the 100.

The U.S. should gain medals in many of the same events where they made the podium in Rio, with 22 of the 29 individual medalists qualifying for London.

Defending triple jump champion Taylor and Olympic silver medalist Will Claye again rank 1 and 2 in the world with Crouser and Olympic runner-up Joe Kovacs sharing similar honors in the men’s shot put.

Taylor is approaching Jonathan Edwards’ triple jump world record, and Crouser delivered the longest shot put in 14 years at 22.65 meters on Sunday.

Bartoletta and Olympic silver medalist Brittney Reese, who has the top jump in the world this season, will be tough to defeat in the women’s long jump with Raven Saunders and Danie Bunch the best two women’s shot putters of 2017. They will be joined by Olympic gold medalist Michelle Carter.

No event was more impressive in Sacramento than the women’s 400 meters hurdles, though, with Olympic gold medalist Muhammad leading three women under 53 seconds for the first time ever in the same race.

All three could claim medals in London.

Watman, the co-editor of Athletics International, also was impressed by Olympic bronze medalist Sam Kendricks, who provided the first six meters pole vault of the outdoor season and the U.S. 4×400 meters relay’s chances.

“In Sacramento four men ran 44.50 or quicker in the 400m final didn’t include vastly experienced LaShawn Merritt who has a wild card,” he said.

Rio Olympic pole vault silver medalist Sandi Morris also could be in the mix for medals, Watman said

World 400 meters champion Allyson Felix also is moving into contention after working on her speed in the 100 and 200 at Sacramento.

Gold medalists Matthew Centrowitz (1,500m) and Kerron Clement (400m hurdles) also qualified.

(Editing by Hugh Lawson)