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2016 USATF Indoor Championships Day 1: Three Races to Watch

The first of two days is heavy on preliminary rounds, but there is still plenty of intrigue with the men's 3000m highlighting the night.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The next two days figure to be busy for track fans across America with two major championships taking place concurrently. Caleb already previewed tonight's action at the collegiate level, so if that is more up your alley, be sure to check that out. But that is not the only meet of note this weekend; the U.S. Championships are taking place in Portland, where the top two finishers with the requisite qualifying standards in each event will earn spots on the team that competes at next week's World Championships.

All events will be streamed live on USATF.tv and there will be tape-delayed coverage on NBCSN in the sub-prime slot of 11:30pm - 1:30am EST slot tonight/tomorrow morning.

As usual, the first day features a number of preliminary rounds, which lowers the stakes a bit. Still, there always seem to be upsets in preliminary rounds and a "real contender" fails to advance to the final. Here are three events you should tune in for Friday evening.

Women's 800m Prelims (6:55pm EST)

While the men's race features a clear favorite in Boris Berian, who has over a second on the field in both personal and season bests, the women's race figures to be a bit more competitive. Three women--Ajee Wilson, Laura Roesler, and Treniere Moser--have the World Indoor standard, so the team will consist of some combination of those three. Which two remains a bit uncertain.

Ajee Wilson is the clear favorite as she seeks to bounce back from an injury that sidelined her for the World Championships this past summer. She's won each of her three 800m races in 2016. It would be an upset if she didn't win and something bordering on catastrophe if she doesn't make the team.

The battle for second is between Laura Roesler and Treniere Moser. Roesler has been rounding into form this entire season, running faster each time out, and seems poised to continue that trend this weekend. Moser has age working against her--she's 34--but, although she's also entered and has the standard in the 1500m, the 800 is her best chance to compete at Worlds. She hasn't finished a race in over a month and would probably be the underdog here regardless.

Women's 3000m Final (8:35pm EST)

Though both Emily Infeld and Shelby Houlihan are two of the bigger names in the field, they will not make the US team in this event as they have not run the qualifying standard this season. They both ran personal bests in the Millrace 5k (15:00 and 15:09, respectively), so they could be in the mix to win a US Championship. That's intriguing in it's own right as they could both be in contention for the win.

In terms of representing the United States in the 3k next weekend, however, only Shannon Rowbury, Marielle Hall, and Abbey D'Agostino (Lauren Paquette ran the 9:00 standard, but on a 300m track, so it doesn't count) have the requisite qualifier. Rowbury is also entered in the 1500m final on Saturday, so it is unclear whether she will run the 3k at all let alone go all out to claim a top-2 finish.

The U.S. 3k team will likely be Hall and D'Agostino, then. D'Agostino is the U.S. leader in the event this season, but Hall seems to have the advantage after beating her by nearly 20 seconds in the 5k at Millrose. The composition of the U.S. team is not what makes this event a highlight though. Rather, the presence of six possible contenders should make for an exciting race.

Men's 3000m Final (8:50pm EST)

This will be the most exciting event of the night, and maybe the weekend. A full 11 men are qualified to make the US team, which should make for a wild and competitive race. Galen Rupp is the biggest question mark in this event. He won the U.S. Marathon trials less than a month ago and, given the tough conditions in L.A. that day, it is anyone's guess how much he has recovered from that in such a short time. It is entirely justified to be skeptical he'll have the gear needed to grab a spot in the 3k after months of focused marathon training and less than a month after a tough race.

Bernard Lagat is also entered, and, although he is 41 and has not raced this year, one has to be cautious in discounting his chances in a tactical race. The easy approach is to pick two of Ryan Hill, Hassan Mead, Eric Jenkins, and Evan Jager. I don't want to discount Andrew Bayer, Lopez Lamong, and XC-specialist Garrett Heath's chances, but they form a second tier behind those top-4.

We can reluctantly eliminate Evan Jager from contention as he's coming off an injury and was a bit behind the other three at Millrose. Between Jenkins, Mead, and Hill, then, I'm going to take Hill and Jenkins to make the team. Mead looked good at Millrose to take second, but I still have doubts that a 10k guy will consistently be able to out-kick the field in a much shorter event. Hill has the kick to win a tactical race, but I'm going to go with Jenkins beating him out for first. Jenkins admittedly allowed too much of a gap to form at Millrose, leading to his 3rd place finish, so he knows better than to let that happen again. I'm calling Jenkins and Hill to finish 1-2, in that order.