Team USA: Who is Medal-Ready?

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Norwood_VernonQ1-USind16.JPgVernon Norwood, photo by PhotoRun.net

One of my favorite moments last weekend at the USA Indoors had to be the men's 400 meters (heck, both 400 meters were amazing). Vernon Norwood did it all opposite of what you are told works for 400 meter runners indoors. He was behind at the break, and then, his slingshot move was amazing. In a second heat of the final, Norwood also had to run faster than 45.90 to take the win, and he did.

Flush off those two fun days of track and field, we asked David Hunter to prognositcate on how the US can fare in the World Indoors next weekend!

Tell us what you think!

March 13th, 2016

Portland, Oregon

In the afterglow of the 2016 Indoor Track & Field Championships which saw many experienced veterans perform well, several promising young athletes come of age, and a goodly number of world-leading marks produced, what can Team USA realistically anticipate when Portland hosts next weekend's IAAF World Indoor Athletics Championships?

Encouraging USATF performances combined with USA's "home track advantage" should give the Red, White & Blue an extra edge. Nobody's crystal ball is perfect, but here is how I read the tea leaves:

60 meters. The Men: The dashes - especially the shortest one - are always tough to call where the margin of error is so thin. The 60m is Marvin Bracy's specialty. And Trayvon Bromell's Beijing medal performance has proved he can shine on the big stages. Mike Rodgers knows what it takes to capture an indoor global sprint medal. Look for a medal here. The Women: The depth here makes prognostication here most difficult. Pierre's and Bowie's experience is a needed plus against top flight foreign competition [Schippers, et. al.] Pierre's #2 WL mark suggests a strong medal possibility.

400 meters. The Men: Vernon Norwood looked poised and strong last weekend winning the 400m in 45.80 - showing he can win even if he doesn't get the all-important pole on the break. If he runs like that next weekend, he's on the podium. The Women: Untested Quanera Hayes is the world leader [51.09], but the USA's reigning 400m world champion elected to pass on this global championship. Can the inexperienced Hayes step up?

800 meters. The Men: Boris Berian has 1:43 wheels, but his front-running style seldom prevails in high-quality global competitions. And he's had past challenges in the past producing in pressure packed situations. More experiended global athletes may just be too tough. The Women: The normally soft-spoken Ajeé Wilson has proclaimed her desire to perform well in these championships. She's the 800m world-leader competing on her national turf. What better stage to claim her first senior global medal?

1500 meters. The Men: Both Matthew Centrowitz and Robby Andrews have the electrifying finishes that could place either of them on the medal stand. And Centro has the global medals to prove he can get the job done. But against such a deep foreign field, the missing ingredient is a brilliant race strategy. If the coaching brain trust can map out a plan for success, one of these two just might be able to crack the East African juggernaut. The Women: Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Simpson - the two best American milers who have both won global medals - bypassed this event. And while Brenda Martinez has an 800m bronze from the '13 World Outdoor Championships, her lack of 1500m racing experience places her at a real disadvantage against the daunting foreign competition in this event.

3000 meters. The Men: Ryan Hill - a 5000m finalist in the last two outdoor world championships - has the seasoning for this indoor championship. Possessor of a potent finishing kick, he also has an Infeld-like courage to stick his nose in there, to get in the mix. Again, the field is loaded and rounds are involved, but stranger things have happened. If the final gets tactical - as it often does - this 3-time national champion has a shot. The Women: Shannon Rowbury is at the top of her game. But a fast-paced final snuffs her chances. Yet even in a tactical final in the 8:50 range, could she match the blazing finish of her foreign competitors?

60 meter hurdles. The Men: After several of America's top hurdles bypassed the USATF competition, Jarret Eaton stepped up to capture the national title. It is difficult to see either Eaton or Spencer Adams challenging the likes of Omar McLeod and Pascal Martinot Lagarde. The Women: It's a different story here. Buoyed by a new coiffure - practically a must for U.S. women hurdlers - a restored technique, and renewed confidence, American Record holder Brianna Rollins claimed the national crown with a world-leading clocking of 7.76. Kendra Harrison was just a tick behind in 7.77. Nia Ali had earlier made the USA team in this event as a wild card entrant. With these U.S. athletes possessing the #1, #2, and #4 world-leading times and no other non-American in the world list's top 10, might a sweep be possible here?

Long Jump. The Men: After Beijing, Marquis Dendy has some unfinished business to handle on the world stage. With his world-leading mark of 8.41m/27'7¼" and the recent withdrawal of Great Britain's Greg Rutherford, he should be poised to take care of business and win that medal. The Women: Brittney Reese has the #3 jump on the world leader board at 6.89m /22'7¼". With brimming confidence, familiarity with the facility, and a supportive home crowd, look for yet another global medal for Reese here.

Triple Jump. The Men: Chris Carter [#2WL] should compete for a medal, while Omar Craddock [#7WL] could surprise with a good performance. The Women: The U.S. women are outmatched here, but should gain valuable experience competing against athletes who have mastered this difficult event.

High Jump. The Men: Erik Kynard looked good last weekend - winning the HJ title and walking away with plenty of jump left in his legs. The reigning Olympic silver medalist will need that extra spring this weekend. Tied for 11th on the world list, Kynard will need a big break through to compete with the likes of Qatar's Barshim and Italy's Tamberi and Fassinotti. The Women: Are there any chapters left in Vasthi Cunningham's storybook season? The teenager is the world leader [1.99m/6'6¼"] and will certainly have roaring crowd support as she takes on the world's best. A medal of any color for the high schooler would be a sports story of global proportions.

Shot Put. The Men: Kurt Roberts will be the favorite here. But he must throw better than he did last weekend when he won his first national title. Wily veteran Reese Hoffa can never be counted out. The Women: U.S. veterans Michelle Carter [WL#1] and comebacking Jill Camerena-Williams carry the U.S. hopes. The favored Carter should be on the podium. Camerena-Williams could join her if she has a good day at the office.

The Multis. The Men: If healthy, Ashton Eaton should be the prohibitive favorite. His uneven performance in selected events last weekend - including his awkward blast from the blocks in the 60m - has some concerned. Curtis Beach - now back after resolving lingering elbow issues - should perform well indoors where the javelin and the discus are off the agenda. A medal for the likeable Beach would be a terrific feel-good story. The Women: Barbara Nwaba and Kendell Williams are both talented athletes who could be in the hunt if they can string together 5 consecutive top performances.

Pole Vault. The long-awaited St. Patrick's Day Showdown should be a colossal opener for the World Championships. The Men: Could this competition be better? A marquee battle involving, among others, WL#1 Renaud Lavillenie, the reigning Olympic champion; WL#2 Shawn Barber, the reigning world champion; WL#4 Sam Kendricks, who PR'd at 5.90m/19'4¼" to win the USATF title here last week. This field is so tough, Kendricks may have to PR yet again to get on the podium. The Women: Sandi Morris, the #3 all-time indoor vault performer, and Jenn Suhr, the indoor vault world record holder, give the U.S. a formidable 1-2 punch in this competitive event. But top flight foreign competition abounds. Managing the jump count and producing first attempt clearances will be key if the Americans are to be successful in winning a medal.

Dave Hunter

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