by Nick Dahl
August 22nd can’t come fast enough for these athletes.
Following the conclusion of the 2015 USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships, the American team is set to chase down golds in Beijing for the IAAF World Championships. This year’s roster is stuffed with front-running contenders, all looking to cash in on the months of training that have brought them to peak fitness form just a year before the Olympics. With a few late season surprises, including injuries to star athletes, the field of competitors is entirely different than it was in earlier season predictions, and young newcomers are getting their first taste of true competition. Below are our predictions for the weeklong meet, ranging from tested veterans to brand new phenoms.
Evan Jager takes home Gold
Jager is angry. Coming off of what could have been the greatest race of his life, a sub eight minute attempt in the Men’s 3k Steeple where a brief lapse of attention on the last wooden barrier caused him to catch his foot and trip, he wants first place more than ever. Despite this mishap, Jager still managed to run a 8:00.45, setting the North America record and a time second best in the world only to Jairus Birech, a Kenyan. Any man who can trip, get back up, and finish a race with a national record is freaky fit. Only 26 years old, Jager has a shot at going after the world record time of 7:53.63 minutes in his lifetime. A World Title is a pretty good first step along the way.
Justin Gatlin Dominates the Field
Whether you like him or hate him, Gatlin is doing one hell of a job this year on the track. His recent suspension for doping has turned the majority of his fanbase away, but after serving his time, he’s back and better than ever. After setting a world-leading time in the 200 meter at 19.57 seconds (the 5th fastest race in history behind such names as Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson), Gatlin looks like he’s in prime form to take first place for the American Squad. His win at the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships guaranteed him a prime spot on the line in Beijing, where a dejected Bolt looks to reclaim his title. Bolt, who has only run a 20.13 second 200 meter race this year, has been building all year to what he believes will be an “explosive showdown” in Beijing.
Trey Hardee Begins his pursuit of Eaton’s Decathlon Record
After Hardee’s impressive world-leading score of 8,725 in the Men’s Decathlon, an IAAF Combined Events Challenge in which one athlete over the course of the meet takes on 10 separate events, it’s natural to hope that he takes a shot at Eaton’s national and world record. Eaton, who set his mark in the Eugene Olympic Trials in 2012 with a score of 9,039, has declared that 2015 will be a rest year for him, competing only in individual events throughout the year. Eaton is currently working with the IAAF on a youth scholarship program to promote sportsmanship and athletic excellence. This leaves his previously unquestioned spot on the team open for the young Hardee, who hopes to fill Eaton’s big shoes and take his world-leading score all the way to a Gold in Beijing. His major competition will be Kevin Mayer of France, who has scored an 8,460 this year, and Kai Kazmirek of Germany, who has scored 8,462.
Omar McLeod Emerges as the Next Superstar
Sure, McLeod’s name might not have achieved household status just yet, but soon, everyone will know him. This University of Arkansas student became the first man to run under 13 seconds in the 110 meter hurdles this season in a winning and world-leading time of 12.97 seconds. McLeod looks to be peaking in fitness just in time to make a huge debut and put himself on the public radar. His records of 10.28 in the 100m and 20.27 in the 200m were second to only Johan Blake in the 100 (the man that beat Bolt in 2011) and Bolt himself when they were his age. Is he fit enough to rattle Gatlin’s lead? Not quite yet. But will he in a few years, assuming he stays injury free? Absolutely.