Many of the next generation of American and international stars will be among the competitors Wednesday-Saturday in the NCAA track and field championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.
Some already have arrived.
A handful will hit the finish line on their collegiate careers, including some high-profile underclassmen who have shown the ability and marketability to make it now on the next level. (If only they could sign endorsement deals and still compete in college. Alas.)
The non-seniors could decide to keep racking up NCAA titles for as long as possible. Or they could move on. To be safe, catch these college stars while you can:
Michael Norman: The USC sophomore, who set a world record in the 400 meters at the NCAA indoor championships in March (44.52), suggested to FloTrack that it will take a sub-44 to win the 400 this week. Norman does not have the fastest collegiate time (44.40), but he should be the favorite.
Also worth watching: Nathon Allen of Auburn (44.28) and Nathan Strother of Tennessee (44.34).
*One of Norman’s high school rivals, Noah Lyles, chose the pro route out of high school, and he is hitting his stride this spring (19.69 to win the 200 at the Prefontaine Classic on May 26). Norman, if he chooses to, appears ready to challenge for titles on the pro circuit.
Sydney McLaughlin: The Kentucky freshman, already an Olympian, is unchallenged in her signature event, the 400 hurdles. At the SEC championships. when she set a collegiate record (52.75), it was as if she was running on a different racetrack than her competition.
She should capture her first NCAA championship without much of a challenge — she is three seconds faster than her next-closest competitor. But the hurdles can be tricky, as McLaughlin showed in the NCAA East prelims, where she hit the next-to-last hurdle and nearly came to a stop to keep her balance. (She still won easily.)
*Considering that McLaughlin is a second faster than the No. 2 runner in the world in the event, she will make major noise, and money, internationally whenever she is ready. Though she has said she is enjoying her time at Kentucky — and she keeps getting better under the coaching of Edrick Floreal — major sponsorship dollars are only a phone call away.
Grant Holloway: The Florida sophomore is the world leader in the 110 hurdles (13.15) and an overwhelming favorite to claim his fourth hurdles title (indoor 60 in 2017 and 2018, outdoor 110 in 2017). He also is a contender to win the long jump, and he most likely will run on the Gators’ 4×100 and 4×400 relays. If Florida wins the men’s title as expected, Holloway will be the driving force.
*Holloway looks like the USA’s next great hurdler, and he is coming along at the right time: Americans did not win a medal in the 110 hurdles at the most recent outdoor global championships (2016 Olympics, 2017 worlds).
Karissa Schweizer: The Missouri senior will try to put a cap on her spectacular track season by attempting a very difficult double: 10,000 and 5,000. “A challenge I’m ready for,” she says. Schweizer, a five-time NCAA champ in cross country and track, completed the double at the NCAA West prelims two weeks ago. She is a tough competitor, but it’s a tall order. The 10,000 is Thursday (9:38 p.m. ET) and the 5,000, in which she is the defending champ, is Saturday (8:35 p.m. ET).
*Schweizer closes out her collegiate career this week and will move on to the pros and the paychecks, reappearing June 21-24 at the U.S. championships in Des Moines (just minutes from her home in Urbandale, Iowa) after picking her training team/sponsorship.
Other story lines
A handful of collegiate records already have fallen this spring … could more records be in jeopardy? Here are some notable races and story lines to watch:
—Women’s 4×100: LSU lowered the NCAA mark to 42.05 (pending ratification) at the SEC championships in May. How low can the Tigers go? The quartet features senior Aleia Hobbs, who will be favored in the 100 (10.90).
—Women’s 100 hurdles: Kentucky junior Jasmine Camacho-Quinn ran 12.40 at the SEC championships, .01 off the NCAA record (Brianna Rollins). She, too, looks ready to be a contender on the world stage.
—Women’s 400 hurdles: McLaughlin’s 52.75 is ridiculously out of reach … for everyone but McLaughlin. But to get there she would have to let it all out in the final.
—Women’s 200: The NCAA record, 22.02, was set a year ago by Kyra Jefferson — and it is an outstanding mark — but whoa what a field: Gabrielle Thomas of Harvard (a junior and the NCAA indoor recordholder), freshman Lynna Irby of Georgia, Ashley Henderson of San Diego State, Shania Collins of Tennessee.
—Men’s 4×400: The collegiate record (2:59.59) will be hard to reach, but this race very well could be the highlight of the meet (Friday, 10:51 p.m. ET), led by USC, Texas A&M and Florida (which has the top time 3:01). The Trojans, it should be noted, ran 3:00.77 indoors, which is faster than Poland’s recently ratified world indoor record. Sub-3:00 certainly looks likely.
Other races to watch
—Men’s 800: Michael Saruni of Texas-El Paso (and Kenya) has the top time in the world, 1:43.25, which once ratified will be the collegiate record. Isaiah Harris of Penn State and Devin Dixon of Texas A&M could challenge.
—Women’s 800: Oregon’s Sabrina Southerland has the top time (2:00.72). Chasing her will be Avi’Tal Wilson-Perteete of UNLV and Sammy Watson and Jazmine Fray of Texas A&M.
—Men’s 1,500: Senior Josh Kerr of New Mexico (and Scotland), the reigning champ, also has won back-to-back NCAA indoor mile titles. His top time this year, 3:35.01, set a collegiate record.
—Women’s 4×400: If Kentucky has any chance of claiming the team title, the Wildcats most likely will need to win the meet’s closing event.
The team titles
Florida is a comfortable favorite on the men’s side, if all goes to form. The women’s title will very much be up for grabs. Track and Field News projects Georgia, narrowly, ahead of USC, Oregon, Kentucky and Stanford.
The Bulldogs will pile up points in the field, particularly in the triple jump (Keturah Orji is a big favorite) and long jump (Orji, indoor champ Kate Hall and Tara Davis should score). The Bulldogs also will need big points from Irby at 200 and 400. The Trojans will score in the sprints, led by 400 favorite Kendall Ellis, and hurdles. For the Ducks, sprints, relays and middle distances will be key.
(Orji, by the way, will be going for her fourth consecutive NCAA outdoor title in the triple jump — in addition to her three indoor titles.)
Oregon’s iconic track hosts its last major meet before it closes down for significant renovations to get it in shape for the 2021 world track and field championships. Expect the already-packed Hayward highlight reel to add a few more memorable moments.
►The NCAA track and field championships will stream live on ESPN3.