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

Can we count on anyone in the men’s 800m? What happened to our men’s hurdlers? At least we have...uh...Justin Galin?

Track and Field: 122nd Penn Relays Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve already checked in with the women’s chances in the races that require less of your time to watch. Now, we turn our attention to the men, who get underway as early as tonight with first rounds in the 400 and 800m. For my money, the men’s 800m gives us the least to go off of in terms of previews out of all the events 800m and below between a flood of people who haven’t raced much, on one hand, and people whose seasons have been going on since indoors for the college folk, on the other.

In the first part of our preview, we set forth a narrative arc for the 2016 Olympic Trials—Rise of the Whippersnappers. You’ll see that we maintain consistency throughout this piece.

First Session

100m: First round: 4:01 pm, Saturday 7/2; Semifinals: 7:19 pm, Sunday 7/3; Final: 8:53 pm, Sunday 7/3

With Ameer Webb declaring only for the 200m, we’re probably looking at the closest thing to a set-in-stone top-3 that we have anywhere on the track. Justin Gatlin looks as strong as he looked last year prior to his showdowns with Usain Bolt in the finals in Beijing. Michael Rodgers continues to run mid 9.9s like a metronome and finish between 2nd and 5th of races. Trayvon Bromell hasn’t had the same season as some of the others on this list but I still like him. For one, he’s been racing as frequently as anyone, it’s just been spread over different events. Second, many of his perceived struggles have been a result of him attempting to establish proficiency at the 200m for a potential Olympic double. The 100m is his event though, and he’ll get to attack that first before deciding whether trying his hand at the 200m is smart or necessary in the second session.

400m: First Round: 8:15 pm, Friday 7/1; Semifinals: 4:46pm, Saturday 7/2; Final: 7:48 pm, Sunday 7/3

LaShawn Merritt is a lock for this team. The U.S. finds itself in an unusual nadir in 400m running, and no challengers—not a Jeremy Wariner comeback, not an emerging talent—has stepped forward to look likely to do anything to stop him from taking this. He’s over a half second faster than the next best American (Arman Hall) this season. He’s safe. The final two spots on the team will come down to David Verburg, Arman Hall, and Vernon Norwood. Between those three, I’m taking Verburg and Hall. Both are running their best in June and their season bests come from races in the last three weeks.

800m: First Round: 7:15 pm, Friday 7/1; Semifinals: 3pm Saturday 7/2; Final: 8:51 pm, Monday 7/4

I’m confessing to writing this section last because I was just completely stumped. How much will Boris Berian suffer from not being able to race in the weeks leading up to the Trials and the stress of having your livelihood threatened? Does Donavan Brazier have enough left in the tank after a long college indoor and outdoor season? For completeness, let’s ask the same of Brandon Kidder, Clayton Murphy , and Shaq Walker. Duane Solomon has been injured all season.

Here’s my hot prediction: We’re going to come away from this meet having to remind ourselves that Boris Berian has basically not raced outdoors this season. He’s going to look that good against these guys. Would a guy so new to running at an elite level have benefited from greater competition? Of course he would have, but you can turn those same doubts around and argue that, given the success he’s had without much elite experience, there’s no reason to believe he needs it to make this team. Erik Sowinski will get second because it’s the most forgettable way to make the team and he seems to seek the shadows. For third, I have an obligation for intellectual consistency that requires me to take a whippersnapper—Brazier, Murphy, Walker, Kidder. I’m going to go with Clayton Murphy because, unlike Brazier, he likely expected to be at this stage after representing the U.S. at the World Championships last summer.

Second Session

110m Hurdles: 1st Round: 6:02 Friday 7/8; Semis: 7:25 pm Saturday 7/9; Final: 8:52 pm Saturday 7/9

What an odd time for the U.S. in the 110m Hurdles. None of the guys here strikes as a no-doubt-about-it medal threat like we’ve seen for the last decade or so. You have to pick David Oliver here. He’s been consistent for years and in an event with such variance—one hit hurdle or a poor start can throw a hurdler’s nearly-synchronized rhythm off—that near assurance of certainty is one thing to hang your hat on. I also like Aries Merritt. He raced a lot early this season as he came back from kidney surgery and showed consistent and regular improvement as he continued to come back. He’s still a couple steps away, but he also could be ready for it since it’s been a while. Devon Allen has become a bit of a trendy pick for this and, I have to say, I like it. He’s raced regularly with the grueling NCAA schedule and has, obviously, beaten everyone thrown at him so far. That’s your team.

200m: First Round: 8:30 pm Thursday 7/7; Semi: 8:37 pm Friday 7/8; Final: 8:42 pm Sunday 7/9

I’ve liked Ameer Webb all year since I saw him win in Doha over Alonso Edward and Walter Dix. He’s done well in both the 100m and 200m this year, but has shown a consistent ability to notch wins against elite competition. At the same time, he’s not yet good enough to beat Justin Gatlin this time around. Were these cycles a year later, I might have a different prediction, but this is still Gatlin’s to lose. It’ll come down to Merritt and Webb in a battle for second, a battle that Merritt, slightly fatigued from the 400m of the first session, will ultimately lose.

Now we have to clean up the mess of the implications of these 100m and 200m predictions: Tyson Gay, Walter Dix, and Wallace Spearmon’s careers as Olympians and medal contenders are over. Again, the 2016 Trials are about the young dudes and dudettes. Out with the old; in with the new.

400m Hurdles: First Round: 9:53 pm Thursday 7/7; Semis: 7:47 pm Friday 7/8; Finals: 7:51 pm Sunday 7/10

Let’s not think too hard here. Michael Tinsley has been racing constantly and well, winning multiple Diamond League meets against fields that feel like Olympic-level in competition. Kerron Clement hasn’t looked overly impressive this season, recording no wins, but has looked competent every time out there. At this point, I have very little faith in Bershawn Jackson. What has he done for anyone in the last calendar year? I’m not sure if I missed anything, but his decline has felt awfully swift. By process of elimination, congratulations to Johnny Dutch for making the Rio Olympics.