By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) – The speed show that is the backbone of the American athletics championships takes on added significance in Des Moines, Iowa this week when the United States select a team for this year’s worlds which are being held in Doha.
The year’s fastest at 100, 200 and 400 metres, as well as the 110 metres hurdles and women’s 400 metres hurdles leaders, will be on the blue track at Drake University for the cut-throat championships/world trials, which begin on Thursday.
All five athletes are under 25 years old, which is also special, said four-times Olympic sprint medallist Ato Boldon.
“Those are not times that we have seen from Americans that age before,” Boldon, an NBC analyst, told Reuters.
The headliners, of course, are 2019’s 100 metres fastest, Christian Coleman, and 200 metres wunderkind Noah Lyles.
Coleman, 23, will double up, running the 100 and 200 metres, with Lyles, 22, concentrating on the 200 where he will likely meet Coleman in the final race at the trials on Sunday.
Coleman, the world 100 metres silver medallist, has used his quickness out of the blocks to run the fastest 100 of the year (9.81 seconds) and joint 10th fastest 200 (19.91)
“Christian is going to go down as one of the best starters ever, if not the best,” Boldon said of the world 60 metres record holder.
“He has nothing to lose,” the analyst added of Coleman’s meeting with Lyles at 200.
The pair have met once this year, with Lyles taking a razor-thin victory at 9.86 seconds in Shanghai.
Their last race at 200 came in the 2015 U.S. junior championships with Lyles winning and Coleman finishing fourth.
Lyles also thought of going for two titles in Des Moines after his blazing 19.50 seconds in Lausanne made him the fourth fastest ever in the 200. He eventually decided to stick with his best event and go for his first world championship gold medal.
“Noah is almost like a throwback sprinter,” said Boldon of the indoor 300 metres world record holder.
“He’s not physically imposing but when you watch him run he has a fluidity to his movement that is very rare.”
While the pair may never chase down Usain Bolt’s 100 and 200 world records, their compatriot Michael Norman has a good shot at one day breaking South African Wayde van Niekerk’s 400 metres world record and could threaten it at the trials, Boldon said.
“Tiger Woods in track spikes. He is obsessed with perfection,” the broadcaster remarked of the 21-year-old Californian.
Already the world indoor 400 metres record holder, his outdoor season-leading 43.45 seconds is the joint fourth fastest ever.
While world records are not an everyday occurrence, the U.S. also appears to have two candidates for top marks in the 400 metres hurdles.
Strong and fluid, Sydney McLaughlin seems destined for a run at the women’s mark.
An Olympian at age 17, “she comes around once a generation,” Renaldo Nehemiah, the former 110 metres hurdles world record holder, told Reuters.
McLaughlin, now 19 and 2019’s fastest at 53.32 seconds, already has defeated U.S. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad.
Meanwhile, Rai Benjamin, 21, could well take down the men’s record, Nehemiah said.
Any race in which the joint third-fastest 400 metres hurdler meets Norwegian world champion Karsten Warholm and talented Qatari Abderrahman Samba and “the world record is a foregone conclusion,” said Nehemiah.
Collegiate champions Grant Holloway, 21, and Sha’Carri Richardson, 19, also have the potential to do well in the trials.
Holloway, pushed by Daniel Roberts, shattered Nehemiah’s 40-year-old 110 metres hurdles collegiate record with his run of 12.98 seconds.
Richardson, 19, eclipsed the IAAF Under 20 women’s 100 and 200 metres world records in winning both collegiate titles.
To advance to the Sept 28-Oct. 6 world championships athletes must finish in the top three of their event and have the qualifying standard.
The only exceptions are 37-year-old world 100 metres winner Justin Gatlin and his fellow world champions who have wild card byes.
Even new mom Allyson Felix (age 33), the 11-times world gold medallist who is running the 400 metres in her first competitive race for 13 months, must make the podium to qualify.
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)