The last day of action at USA Championship Track and Field (US trials) delivered with all the expected drama. From both 800 meters, the men’s 110 hurdles, to the men’s 200, it was close finish after close finish. Aside from photo finishes, youthful excellence also seemed to be the theme of the Sunday afternoon (26 June).
The Men’s 200-meter final was billed as reigning World Champion Noah Lyles versus the world-leading teenage sensation, Erriyon Knighton. It definitely delivered. From the gun, Knighton got the quickest start and lead the adjacent Lyles and the rest of the finalists off the curve.
Just when the world junior record holder appeared about to win his first senior title, the trademark top-end presence of Lyles asserted itself in the final 25 meters. Lyles ran down, caught, passed and taunted his younger competitor across the line, 19.68-19.69.
“Erriyon got the best of me on the turn, I ain’t worried about that. I saw he reached his top speed and I said mine is faster,” said Lyles.
When asked to respond, Knighton replied, “just come back and win,” referring to his chance for revenge at Worlds in July. “Job is not finished, it’s never finished,” said Knighton, as he headed back under the stadium.
Fred Kerley completed his attempt to qualify in multiple sprint events by making the team in third at 19.83, while Tokyo Olympian Kenneth Bednarek also made the team – despite finishing in fourth at 19.87 – on account of Lyles’ automatic bid.
The pace of the men’s 800 was driven by Texas A&M’s Brandon Miller, as he attempted to turn NCAA bronze into USA gold.
The action really amped up around 220 meters to go as Olympic finalist Bryce Hoppel showed his experience and produced a successful kick, placing him square in the lead by the time the race entered the home stretch. By this point, the Aggie had faded to third as Jonah Koech had passed him as well in a futile attempt to track down Hoppel, who would win in 1:44.60 to Koech’s 1:44.74.
Miller faded to outlean two-time Olympian Clayton Murphy for another third-place finish and a spot on the team in 1:45.19 to 1:45:23.
Athing Mu kept her win streak of three years alive in thrilling fashion as Ajee Wilson pushed her all the way to the finish line in 1:57.16 to 1:57:23 in the women’s version.
Although Mu had the lead for a majority of the race (as expected), at approximately 120 meters to go, Wilson began her kick and put pressure on Mu. By the 720-meter mark, Wilson was really tracking her down. With 50 meters to go, Wilson had pulled even with Mu and slightly passed her. The last 30 meters was a dogfight, with Mu revealing her champion class to retake the lead in the final meters.
“It was a fast field throughout the race, and I kind of felt we would still be together the last 100 (meters) and I just wanted to finish strong,” said Mu. “Since Ajee was right on me, I had to push a little harder to get to get to the line.”
Fellow Tokyo 2020 Olympian Raevyn Rogers finished third in 1:57.96 to round out the returning trio.
At the other end of the spectrum, in the 110-meter hurdles final, Daniel Roberts ended the win streaks of Devon Allen and Trey Cunningham with an upset win of 13.03 seconds to take his first US title.
The Tokyo Olympian made another team by getting the best start and maintaining the rhythm long enough to out-lean surging collegiate champion, prodigy Cunningham and 2022’s fastest 110-meter hurdler Allen (who narrowly made the team over Jamal Britt’s 13.09), 13.08 and 13.087, respectively.
“It’s one of those things, when you’re a competitor and you know you have great competition, you live for things like this,” said Roberts.
Allen, a former Oregon Duck, commented on the brief trip back for Worlds: “ I’m just happy to be on the plane which is a short ride for us back home in Eugene and we will get after it again”.
All three will join defending champion Holloway on team USA back in Eugene in three weeks.
The men’s 400-meter hurdles turned out like many would’ve expected, however like the 800-meter races Sunday, the route there was not. Rai Benjamin prevailed in 47.04, but didn’t even take the lead until a quarter of the way through the homestretch, overtaking Kallifah Rosser who would ultimately fade to third behind Trevor Bassit’s efforts in the last 50 meters, 47.47 to 47.65 seconds.
Benjamin’s 47.04 is a new world lead and it gave him a third consecutive national championship. “I knew it was going to be fast today,” he said.
The only real sure race from start to finish was the women’s 200-meter final. The University of Kentucky’s Abby Steiner improved upon her NCAA record (21.80) time a couple weeks ago to win in a dominant 21.77.
“Coming off a collegiate season, a lot of people want to put limitations on you and say you are going to be burnt out,” said Steiner. “But me and my coach trusted the process, and I couldn’t be more excited.”’
Tamara Clark finished second in 21.92, while Jenna Prandini held on to make another US team in 22.01 for third. The 2021 US Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Gabby Thomas finished last in 22.47.
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