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Women’s U.S. Olympic Trials Preview: Sprints and 800m

Is Allyson Felix healthy enough to make teams? What’s the deal with all these 800m runners? All that and more in the first installment of our four-part Olympic Trials preview series.

Olympic Preview: Team USA Media Summit Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trails begin this afternoon in Eugene, Oregon, better known to marketing professionals as Track Town, USA. There’s probably not a better place to hold the Olympic Trails for the United States (though Frankin Field, home of the Penn Relays, would be cool too) and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to take it all in in-person as a spectator. I’ve never been to Eugene and, as of this writing, I still haven’t. Stay tuned throughout the week with updates from the meet including recaps, reviews of bars, trails, etc, and maybe some video.

Anyway, back to the track. These trials feel special because the United States figures to be stronger on the track in Rio than they have been on the international stage in quite some time. We got a taste of that potential success at the Indoor World Championships in Portland, but the few of us reading this site were the only ones who saw that. These Trials and the Olympics will be a chance for us to field questions and wonder from our co-workers and family as they are confused, amazed, and no longer oblivious to the strength of our country on the track.`

Stay tuned throughout the day today for previews of the next 10 days of action. We’ll hit the sprints and 800m this morning and follow the morning rush with distance previews from Jeff Duncan in the afternoon.

First Session

100m: 1st Round: 3:33 pm EST, Saturday 7/2; Semifinals: 7:02pm, Sunday 7/3; Final: 8:44 pm, Sunday 7/3

All the top women have been making the rounds in the first half of the Diamond League and should come in in good racing shape. English Gardner and Tori Bowie have been in a different class than the rest of the field, so we can safely consider them locks to the make the team. The third trip to Rio is wide open between a couple of runners, but I’m going to go with Jenna Prandini. Though she hasn’t exactly blown anyone away in her performances, she also hasn’t dropped any races that raise red flags.

400m: 1st Round: 8:45pm, Friday 7/1; Semifinals: 4:30 pm, Saturday July 2; Final: 7:38 pm Sunday, July 3

Yes, I know Allyson Felix is injured and is yet to do anything on a track outdoors this season, but recall for a couple seconds (you can close your eyes if you need to) her leg of the 4x400 in Beijing last summer. After that performance, I don’t care how shredded the ligaments in her ankle are, she has a lot of time to give back before she becomes vulnerable. I don’t think she’ll give back enough. If the 2016 outdoor season has narrative theme at all, it’s as the year of the whippersnapper. Donavan Brazier, Vashti Cunningham, and Sydney McLaughlin have, rightly, gotten the headlines, but Courtney Okolo has set a NCAA record in the 400m of her own and took home the national championship. She’s going to assert the theme of the 2016 outdoor season early in this competition. for the third spot, I’m turning to Francena McCorory. She finished second at the Pre Classic ahead of Natasha Hastings and Stephanie Ann McPherson. I haven’t seen quite as much of McCorory as I would like leading up to the Trials, but what I have seen has been impressive enough for a spot here.

800m: 1st Round: 7:45 pm EST Friday 7/1; Semifinals: 2:43 pm Saturday, 7/2; Final: 8:42 pm Monday, 7/4

This is just stupid. The 11 fastest women in the field have all run between 1:59.72 and 2:00.82, so there’s no way we can really say with any confidence who will make this team. There are some things we might speculate on though. First is that I don’t like Alysia Montano to make the team, not with a field this strong and deep. She’s had success in the past in U.S. championship meets by running away from less talented fields early and hanging on for the win. She doesn’t have any room for error on this field even in a perfectly-run race. Her go-out-hard-and-hold-on style won’t play this weekend. Admittedly, this is a controversial pick: Montano has beaten elite fields before and there’s no real reason why this will be the time her tactics don’t work.

With so many women in this field rounding into strong form, most notably Brenda Martinez, Ajee Wilson, Molly Ludlow (all sub-2:00), Raevyn Rogers, and Kate Grace, you could probably pick this team just as well by spinning a roulette wheel as by hosting a trial race. So, that’s basically what we’ll do here. Wilson, Rogers, Martinez.

Second Session

100m Hurdles: 1st Round: 8:02 pm, Thursday July 7; Semifinals: 6:58 pm, Friday July 8th; Final: 8:54 pm, Friday July 8

This is American Record holder Kendra Harrison’s to lose. No one has looked particularly close to even making her struggle for a win this season. We’re at the point where, unless she trips or false starts, she’s going to make the US Team. Even if she does false start, they’d do well to force her through however flimsy or narrow a loophole they can find. The next two spots come down, mostly, to some combinations of Queen Harrison, Dawn Harper-Nelson, Brianna Rollins, Nia Ali, and Jasmin Stowers. I usually default in the sprints to who has raced more, but it feels like every top runner is racing at every major meet, so we’ll have to default to gut feelings. I’m going Brianna Rollins and Nia Ali.

200m: 1st Round: 6:30, Friday 7/8; Semifinal: 8:03pm Saturday 7/9; Final: 8:11pm Sunday July 10th

Before late last night’s news that Allyson Felix was suffering from a Grade 2 ankle sprain—torn ligaments—this was another race for third place with Felix and Bowie looking like the class of the field. It certainly is concerning that Felix hasn’t raced this season and it makes it very difficult to pick her in fields that are reasonably competitive. Still, I can’t get the memory of Beijing out of my mind, and, therefore, can’t bring myself to go against Felix. On her best day she makes the rest of the world look like clowns. On her worst day, she should be good enough to eek out a third place in a national meet. I’m going to take Prandini for the second spot to make her second team of the weekend. The homefield advantage of Hayward Field will give her two chances to medal in Rio.

400m Hurdles: First Round: 8:58 pm Thursday 7/7; Semifinal: 7:31 pm Friday 7/8; Final: 7:03 pm Sunday 7/10

Year of the whippersnapper is what we’re going with here and it’s important to be consistent so we’ll take both Shamier Little—who I’d be shocked if she doesn’t make the team—and Sydney McLaughlin—I feel less secure with this one—to make the trips to Rio. McLaughlin ran away from the field at New Balance High School Nationals two weeks ago, but, the competition in Eugene is going to put up a bit better fight, I suspect. It’s all going to come down to who she gets placed with in the first round next Thursday. The easier the heat, and the longer she can stick around, the more she’ll start to believe she’s not a flash in the pan. If she gets a tough first round, I rescind this pick.

My last pick is going to be Cassandra Tate because she has spent 2016 racing frequently and racing well. As best I can tell, she hasn’t lost to an American all year, and while that may change over the course of the next week or so, she won’t just start losing left and right.