By Gene Cherry
DESMOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – The United States, loaded with talented hurdlers and top men’s sprinters, will head to September’s world athletics championships with another powerhouse team.
The Americans, with a number of impressive performances in their national championships, showed they could again top 30 medals in the global meeting.
None was bigger than Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad’s stunning 400 metres hurdles world record.
“It’s a strong team,” BBC analyst and former double record holder Michael Johnson told Reuters before Muhammad smashed Russian Yuliya Pechonkina’s 16-year-old record by more than a tenth of a second with her run of 52.20 seconds.
“The men’s side certainly looks much, much better (than the women). There are some really good women who are outside the U.S.,” said the former world 200 and 400 metres record holder who still has the American marks in both events.
The Americans will be sending eight men who currently have yearly leading performances, and could claim sprint titles in the 100, 200 and 400 metres, win the 110m hurdles and possibly the 400m hurdles and add gold medals in pole vault, triple jump, shot put and both relays.
Johnson was impressed with all three sprint leaders – Christian Coleman (100m), Noah Lyles (200m) and Michael Norman (400m).
“Christian has shown himself to be a really consistent, a fantastic sprinter,” Johnson said of Coleman, the U.S. champion in the 100m and runner-up in the 200.
“There doesn’t seem like to be any fluff there. He’s all business. He would have to go into Doha as the favourite in the 100.”
Reigning world champion Justin Gatlin also could be a factor, Johnson said.
His gold medal pick in the 200 is Lyles.
“What he has been able to do over 100 and 200, I think he is the dominant 200m runner for sure right now,” the BBC analyst said.
“Lyles is the only American I’ve seen that I believe can surpass 19.32 (Johnson’s U.S. 200m record),” Johnson added on Twitter. “However he’s probably more appropriately focusing on 19.19 (Usain Bolt’s world record).”
In the 400, U.S. champion Fred Kerley and Norman, the year’s fastest, appear headed for a Doha showdown, Johnson said.
“I don’t think there’s anybody else out there that can compete with them,” he said.
“Before this championships, I would have said Norman. He’s been fantastic all season.
“Then you have got Kerley, who is just coming along and reasserting himself as a consistent 43 low 44 (second) 400 metres runner.”
Gold could also be on offer for American high hurdlers Grant Holloway and Daniel Roberts. Holloway won the U.S. collegiate title and runner-up Roberts gained revenge in the U.S. championships.
Rai Benjamin also has gold medal ambitions in the 400m hurdles.
“That is certainly one of the events I am looking forward to in Doha,” said Johnson. “When you think about (Norwegian world champion) Karsten Warholm and how consistent he has been. Then you have got Abderrahmane Samba of Qatar, and that is going to be a great race to watch.”
The Americans could also reap gold in the pole vault where Sam Kendricks soared 6.06 metres at the championships for a national record.
Olympic champion Christian Taylor and silver medallist Will Claye in the triple jump and shot put gold medallist Ryan Crouser are other strong candidates for gold.
The U.S. women could sweep the 400m hurdles and take more than one medal in the 100m hurdles with world record holder Keni Harrison, Nia Ali and Olympic champion Brianna McNeal.
Muhammad said on Sunday the 400m hurdles record also will be at stake on Doha with teenager Sydney McLaughlin, Ashley Spencer and world champion Kori Carter all in the chase.
World 3,000m steeplechase champion Emma Coburn, pole vaulter Sandi Morris and hammer thrower DeAnna Price also should be in the hunt for top podium spots along with world champion long jumper Brittney Reese.
Before Muhammad’s record, Johnson’s surprise of the championships was not another mark but the disappointment of young U.S. sprinters.
The failure of collegiate champion Sha’Carri Richardson, who has run 10.75 in the 100, to make the team was particularly disappointing, he said.
(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)