LOS ANGELES, July 24, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – The United States athletics championships are set to be the fastest show on earth this week as a new generation of sprinting stars take center stage in the battle for places at the World Championships in Doha.
With Usain Bolt’s near-decade of dominance now over, a crop of hungry young Americans are vying to fill the void left by the Jamaican’s retirement in what promises to be a new golden era for US sprinting.
American sprinters have clocked the quickest times in the world this year over 100m, 200m and 400m, and have also set the pace in the 110m hurdles.
With only the top three finishers in each event guaranteed a place on the team for Doha, the stage is set for four days of ferocious competition when the championships begin at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa on Thursday.
Leading the pack are sprinters Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles, who are developing a burgeoning rivalry over the 100m and 200m.
Coleman has the fastest 100m time in the world this year, a tidy 9.81sec set at the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League meeting in Stanford three weeks ago.
Lyles, meanwhile, whose 9.86sec in Shanghai is the second fastest time this season, has also been the man to beat over 200m, clocking a world-leading 19.50sec in Lausanne on July 5.
Lyles has decided against running in the 100m this week, meaning his duel with Coleman will most likely come in his strongest event, the 200m on Sunday.
– ‘Target on my back’ –
The rapidly maturing Coleman, a double silver medallist in the meanwhile says he is growing accustomed to being the sprinter everyone else wants to beat.
“At one time I was one of those guys looking at the guys on the top saying ‘I want to be like that’,” he told AFP.
“Now that I’m one of the guys with a target on my back I have to keep working hard to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
Coleman, a superb starter, believes his success this season can be traced back to brutal training sessions designed to help him sustain top speed once he explodes out of the blocks.
“They’re pretty hard,” Coleman said of his training sessions. “Other guys will be tired, but I’ll be throwing up.”
Lyles meanwhile will be relieved that he does not have to worry about the additional challenge of Michael Norman in the 200m.
Norman, who beat Lyles over the 200m at the Rome Diamond League meeting in early June, will concentrate on the 400m, where he has been in electrifying form since turning professional in May.
The 22-year-old from California clocked an astonishing world-leading 43.45sec in his first race since turning professional this year, the joint fourth-fastest time over the distance in history.
While the prospect of emulating Michael Johnson’s 1996 Olympic double of 400m and 200m will loom large for Norman at next year’s Tokyo Olympics, for now he is sticking on the single-lap event.
– Teen spirit –
Elsewhere this week, the men’s and women’s 400m hurdles will showcase two more of the brightest talents in US track and field.
The women’s race will see the teenage Sydney McLaughlin look to seal her place on the team in a high-quality field that also includes 2016 Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad and Shamier Little.
McLaughlin, who signalled her promise by qualifying for the US Olympic team as a 16-year-old four years ago, set a world leading time of 53.32sec in Monaco on July 12.
In the men’s 400m hurdles, the 21-year-old Rai Benjamin is the man to beat.
While the young guns take center-stage in Des Moines, the meet will also see the return to competitive action of Allyson Felix in the 400m.
Felix, 33, the only woman ever to win six track and field Olympic gold medals, will aim to grab one of the three 400m berths available in what is her first race for over a year following the birth of her daughter in December.