US National Championships: Breathtaking excitement, by James Dunaway

Will Claye, Triple Jump champion, photo by

In James Dunaway's Friday night review, he reminds us why the American national championships are one of the most exciting and best track meets, year after year, in the world. 

Sacramento, June 27 -- For more than half a century, the American national championships have been one of the most exciting, most important track meets in the world each year.  Each year you'll see world record holders and Olympic and World champions past and present fighting to maintain their reputations -- or establish them -- in a no-holds-barred fight to stay on top, or get there.  

This year's championships will be no exception. Today's first day of action certainly provided breathtaking excitement for me. In the women's 100-meter hurdles heats 2013 World Champion Brianna Rollins, who also set a new American record of 12.26 seconds last year, amazingly had a tough time qualifying for the semifinals of the event she owned last year.

She started off like she might set a new national record -- firing out of the  blocks and looking like an easy winner. But wait! Here come Queen Harrison and Jasmin Stowers, sailing past Rollins as if someone had just handed her an anvil. And wham! Suddenly Rollins was fighting for a lane in the final. As to what had happened, Rollins had nothing to say right after the race.

Perhaps there's a cautionary tale there. In 2008, Lolo Jones was favored to win the Beijing Olympic 100 hurdles. She was running 12.30s and a windy 12.29. I thought she couldn't miss winning that Olympic gold medal. For the first 8  hurdles of the final, she was running at a sub-12.20 pace, two meters ahead of the rest of the field. Then she clipped the ninth barrier, lost her rhythm and stumbled over the last two hurdles to crawl across the finish line seventh.

Lolo never complained about her bad luck, and I've always thought well of her for that. She kept on racing and fought her way back, and actually came back well enough to win her heat today and make the semis here. Maybe Rollins and Jones will end up in the same semi; if they do, I'll be holding my breath.

But shucks -- that was just one of a number of highlights today. In the men's triple jump Will Claye and Christian Taylor continued the rivalry that began when they were Florida Gator freshmen and has won them Olympic and World Championships medals Some of these have been classic confrontations, and today's triple jump`was another.

Came down to the last two jumps of the last round. Claye was leading, 57-11 to Taylor's 57-0. Taylor launched another massive leap -- but it fell short, just another 57-0 jump. But trust these two: they are competitors. Claye put it out there 58-3! 

One heart-stopper after another. Inthe women's 5,000 meters, Molly Huddle pushed the pace and found herself hooked up with Shannon Rowbury, the two of them well ahead of the field with two laps to go. Rowbury, a formidable kicker, launched her attack with200 meters to go and led Huddle by a couple of meters coming in to the final straight. Somehow, though, Huddle found a tinybit of something extra, and rushed past at the line. Result, Huddle 15:01.56, Rowbury 15:01.71. Six inches,maybe, for the National Championship, and a day Molly Huddle,and a few thousand fans, will long remember.

Ho-hum,just another day at the Olympics.

Huddle and Rowbury battle over 4,999 meters, photo by

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