These are exciting times for USA Track and Field. With the Olympic games just around the corner this summer, the United States is coming off a 23-medal performance at the Indoor World Championships. We knew this sort of renaissance was coming, but still, we couldn't help but be disappointed after the team's across-the-board failure at the Outdoor World Championships last summer.
With US track as strong as it has been in recent memory, it is tempting to look forward at what American Records might be most vulnerable as the current crop of athletes start to peak for the Olympic year. So let's give in to that temptation and check out six records that could be in trouble in order of likelihood. We won't look at records where the current record-holder could improve upon his or her own record, so Shannon Rowbury's 1500m record, Evan Jager's steeple record, and Michelle Carter's shootout record are not gong to be considered here, even though they are all, of course, vulnerable.
6. Men's 800m--1:42.60 by Johnny Gray
Boris Berian is the obvious candidate here. He's the indoor World Champion and ran 1:43.34 last year. Dropping three-quarters of a second in the 800 is no easy task, which is why this seems like the least likely of the six records to be broken this year. But, would we really be surprised by Berian breaking it this year? He won indoors leading from the gun. At the very least, it would be fun to watch him in a race he doesn't have to lead from the gun.
5. Women's 400m--48.70 by Sanya Richards
At last year's World Championships, Allyson Felix ran 49.26 seconds to win gold. That's not particularly close to Richards' record. But, in the 4x400m at that same meet, Felix ran a sub-48 second split. That doesn't mean she'll actually take down the record--you get a running start in relays and she had competitors to run down. But it does indicate that the ability is there, more than her current .56 second deficit suggests.
4. Men's 1500m--3:29.3 by Bernard Lagat
Last year, Matt Centrowitz nearly came within a second of that record with a 3:30.40 performance at the Monaco Diamond League meet. I almost bumped this down a spot both out of respect for Lagat and for Felix's 4x400m split, but I decided to put it here because of Centro's world championships performance in which he showed off a solid kick to take down Nick Willis. We're still dealing in the realm of unlikelihoods here, so we'll defer to the more recent world champion to break this near-tie.
3. Women's 100m Hurdles--12.26 by Brianna Rollins
It's possible Rollins is the one with the best chance to break this record, but the availability of two other hurdlers--Keni Harrison and Shakira Nelvis--merits inclusion. At last year's USATF Outdoor Championships, Nelvis ran 12.34 to win and she holds the fastest time recorded by an American in the last calendar year. But, she's not my pick to break this record. Already this outdoor season, Keni Harrison has run 12.36 in the event. It came last week against no real competition at the Towns Invitational. A tenth of a second is a lot to ask in a 100m race, but as the weather gets warmer--it was a high of 64 in Athens, GA that day--some of that time could come off without any real improvement on the part of Harrison. It's also early in the season, so improvement is likely.
2. Women's High Jump--2.05m by Chaunté Howard-Lowe
Vashti Cunningham captured attention at the Indoor Championships, not only because her father was a star NFL quarterback, but because of her 1.99m jump to win. She's only 18 years old, so she's likely far from her peak. We're already not that far off then and this could easily be one spot higher on a different day. If she does set the record, this could be the sort of boost in broader cultural appeal that USATF desperately needs.
1. Men's High Jump--2.40m by Charles Austin
The second longest-standing record on this list--only Johnny Gray's 800m record is older--might be the most likely to fall. Erik Kynard has been stuck in the 2.32-2.34 meter range in the high jump since 2012, so it's very possible that that's what he is, especially as he ages into his late-20s. However Charles Austin was still jumping within half an inch of his American record at age 29, so Kynard isn't likely cooked. He jumped 2.37m at last year's USATF Championships and followed that with a 2.33m clearance for a bronze medal at the most recent Indoor Championships. Kynard has been doing this for longer than Cunningham, which is either a point in his favor or a point against him depending on your perspective. In these rankings, it's a point in his favor. At the very least he has shown the ability to sustain near-American-Record level performance for some time.