Americans usually celebrate with fireworks on 4 July, their Independence Day. In Eugene on Sunday (3), the fireworks came a day early.
The US Olympic Trials were so eventful on Sunday that LaShawn Merritt’s time of 43.97 in the 400m or Vashti Cunningham becoming USA’s youngest Olympian in 36 years did not even merit headlines. Six of seven finals produced the best marks in the world this year.
Allyson Felix stayed on course for a 200m/400m Rio double that was once imperilled by an ankle injury. The 30-year-old Felix, who was fourth coming out of the last bend, burst down the stretch to win the 400m in 49.68. It was the fastest time since her 49.26 in winning the world title in Beijing last year.
Phyllis Francis was second in 49.94, taking half a second off her PB. Courtney Okolo came to the trials as the world leader (49.71) and finished sixth in 50.39. Times for third through sixth were the fastest ever at the US Trials.
“It’s been a tough year, and it was a relief,” Felix said. “I have put in so much work, and to see it all come together when two months ago I was barely walking.”
Henderson and Gardner top ground-breaking competitions
Jeff Henderson won one of the greatest long jump competitions of all time, and his one-centimetre victory over Jarrion Lawson was closest in the history of the US Trials.
Henderson’s 8.59m (2.9m/s) was wind-aided, but Lawson’s 8.58m (1.8m/s) was legal. The helpful wind certainly contributed to the results, but never before had more than five men jumped beyond 8.30m in the same competition, and six did so on this day – all of them farther than the 8.31m that Greg Rutherford jumped in winning Olympic gold in 2012.
Olympic bronze medallist Will Claye finished third on countback with 8.42m because of a better second jump than Marquis Dendy, whose 8.42m was wind legal. But the same wind (5.0m/s) that pushed Claye invalidated the mark for entry into the Olympic Games. Because Claye has no legal jumps meeting the standard of 8.15m – his best within the qualifying period is 8.14m, just one centimetre short – Dendy will take the third spot on the team for Rio.
To rub salt in the wounds, though, all five of Claye’s measured attempts had illegal following winds; his one foul in the series had a legal wind of 1.5m/s, so he missed a perfect opportunity to record a qualifying distance. Dendy, meanwhile, picked up an injury during the competition and his fitness is now in doubt.
Distances for fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh were the longest ever for those respective places in any conditions. Marquise Goodwin, who came to the trials as the world leader, jumped a wind-assisted 8.25m. That got him seventh, so he will report to the Buffalo Bills for preseason football camp instead of to Brazil.
English Gardner led three women under 10.80, unprecedented in any 100m race. She was first in 10.74, climbing to seventh on the world all-time list. She was followed by Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie, both in PBs of 10.78. Jenna Prandini, who ran wind-aided times of 10.81 and 10.86 in the rounds, was fifth in 10.96.
This was the only final in which there was no world-leading mark. (Elaine Thompson clocked 10.70 at the Jamaica Trials.) No one except Florence Griffith Joyner in 1988 has ever run faster at the US Trials. Gardner, 24, was seventh in 2012. She said she sat in her car then and cried.
“I cried my eyes out and came to the realisation that I never wanted to feel that feeling again,” she said. “And so when I crossed the line and saw the results, I didn’t really care if I came in first, second or third. I was just excited that I made the team.”
Lowe secures Olympic berth
Chaunte Lowe made her fourth Olympic team in the high jump, tying her US Trials record with a world-leading 2.01m. Cunningham, the world indoor champion, was second at 1.97m. At 18, she is the youngest to make a US Olympic team in athletics since 16-year-old long jumper Carol Lewis in 1980.
“God blessed that girl, that little tall girl,” said Cunningham’s father, Randall, a former pro football quarterback. “She stayed so calm out there. She listens, and she wants it just as much as Allyson Felix.”
Justin Gatlin won the 100m in 9.80, the fastest time in the world since last year’s IAAF World Championships in Beijing. 20-year-old Trayvon Bromell was second in 9.84 and 22-year-old Marvin Bracy third in 9.98. Gatlin and Bromell won silver and bronze behind Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in 2015.
Roy Jordan for the IAAF