(Reuters) - The U.S. track and field nationals are always one of the eye-catching events of the athletics calendar but the meeting will offer even more this week as the Americans select their team for August’s world championships in London.
“I think this is going to be an ushering in of the new guys,” four-times Olympic sprint medallist Ato Boldon told Reuters.
Long the domain of Olympians Justin Gatlin, LaShawn Merritt and just a few others, U.S. men’s sprinting is about to undergo a major change at the Thursday-Sunday meeting in steamy Sacramento, California.
“There will be new guys in the 400, the 200 and in the 100,” said Trinidadian Boldon, an analyst for NBC television.
Both he and Track & Field News’ Dave Johnson say newcomers Christian Coleman (100), Noah Lyles (200) and Fred Kerley (400) are the men to beat in heat set to top 109 degrees Fahrenheit (42 Celsius).
“The U.S. has found its next 100 metres star. And the good news, it has also found its next 200 metres star,” said Boldon of Coleman and Lyles.
Sunday’s 200 metres final could be the race of the meet, Boldon said, as Coleman, who is also running the 100, goes against Lyles, whose only event will be the 200.
Coleman, 21, rocketed to the year’s fastest 100 (9.82 seconds) during the U.S. collegiate championships and has the second-fastest 200 (19.85).
Lyles, 19, ranks third-fastest at 200 metres after a record-breaking indoor season.
Kerley, 22, also has come into his own with the three fastest 400 metres of the year, including a breakthrough 43.70 seconds.
U.S. indoor champion Ronnie Baker, 23, is another who could challenge the 35-year-old Gatlin for a spot in the 100 metres.
Gatlin, the Olympic silver medallist who has been hampered by injuries, must finish in the top three at the cut-throat championships to make the U.S. team for London.
He told Reuters he is still the man to beat.
“When it comes to trials and nationals I usually step up and am the dominant sprinter,” he said.
Merritt is assured a London berth in the 400 metres as the Diamond League champion. He is entered in the 200 at Sacramento.
More stability exists in the women’s sprints as double Rio medallist Tori Bowie is having the kind of year that could produce double gold at the Aug. 4-13 competition.
Collegiate record holder Kyra Jefferson, 22, also is a 200 metres contender.
America’s most decorated female sprinter, Allyson Felix, will run both the 100 metres and 200, her coach told Reuters.
She has a wildcard to London in the 400 metres as world champion - one of eight Americans guaranteed slots as Diamond League or world champions.
The United States dominated in Rio and gold medallists Matthew Centrowitz (1,500), Kerron Clement (400m hurdles), Jeff Henderson (long jump), Christian Taylor (triple jump), Ryan Crouser (shot put), Dalilan Muhammad (women’s 400m hurdles), Tianna Bartoletta (women’s long jump), Michelle Carter (women’s shot put) will be in Sacramento.
Editing by Louise Ireland