Athing Mu wins the 800m ahead of Ajee Wilson at the 2022 US Championships (© Getty Images)
Some of the United States’ biggest track and field stars showed Sunday they’re ready to take on the world on home soil in three weeks at World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
Three athletes turned in world-leading performances Sunday, a fourth set a meet record, and a number of others successfully defended their titles on the final day of the U.S. Track and Field (USATF) Outdoor Championships at the reimagined Hayward Field at the University of Oregon.
Now, the likes of Noah Lyles, Athing Mu, Rai Benjamin, Emma Coburn, and Grant Fisher are ready to welcome the world to the first World Athletics Championships on U.S. soil from July 15-24, also at Hayward Field.
“This is just a little taste of what we’re going to get in three weeks,” said Mu, the 2020 Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 800m, who won Sunday in 1 minute, 57.16 seconds, just off her world-leading time of 1:57.01. “The crowd was amazing here. I’m excited just to have that home-field advantage. Having worlds here is definitely awesome. It’s good for America and track and field. Excited to have good races and good competition."
Mu got a good race and a good competition from indoor World Athletics Championships gold medalist Ajee Wilson, who passed Mu on the homestretch before Mu responded and won with Wilson second in 1:57.23, a season best. Raevyn Rogers, the 2019 World Athletics Championships silver medalist, was third in a 1:57.96, also a season best.
“I just wanted to keep my composure, and when I felt Ajee kick a little bit, I just wanted to win so I got it,” Mu said. “I definitely love being pushed, especially toward fast times. I’m happy I reacted the way I did, and I got the win.
Lyles, the defending World Athletics Champion in the men's 200m, should be favored to repeat at WCH Oregon22. He won in 19.67 seconds Sunday, coming from behind to beat teenager Erriyon Knighton, who ran 19.69. Fred Kerley, who set a world-leading time of 9.76 seconds in the 100m on Friday, was third in 19.83, and Kenny Bednarek, the silver medalist in the 200m at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, was fourth in 19.87 to complete the team for Eugene.
“This is just a message to let them know,” Lyles said. “I didn’t have to run today but I did, and I showed them that I’ll always come out and defend my title.”
Coming from behind to win 200m races is nothing new for Lyles, who isn’t the best starter, but closes quickly. On Sunday, he was able to run down Knighton, who has the world lead at 19.49 seconds, making him the No. 4 performer in history. Lyles is right behind with a 19.50 PR and has run 19.61 seconds this season.
Lyles had a bye into WCH Oregon22, but tested positive for COVID-19 on June 13, the day after he ran 19.61 in New York. He said he felt he needed to run all three rounds at the U.S. Championships.
“I came out here knowing that I didn’t have as many 200s under my belt as I normally do, so running all three rounds was definitely going to get me all the rounds I needed,” he said. “Now I’m consistently dropping 19.6, so the more 19.6s I see, the more times it’s going to be like, all right, something big is going to happen.”
Benjamin, the 2019 World Athletics Championships silver medalist and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics silver medalist, entered the U.S. meet having run only one 400m hurdle race all season after testing positive for COVID-19 and suffering from hamstring tendonitis. His only previous race before coming to Eugene was a 47.49-second runner-up performance on May 13 in Doha, Qatar, where he finished behind Brazil’s Alison Dos Santos, the Olympic bronze medalist, who has run 47.23 and 47.24 this season.
“It was a scary one out there,” said Benjamin, who won this third straight national title in a world-leading 47.04 seconds. “I felt it coming off (hurdle) two, I had to back off of my pace. I knew where I was in the race, all those guys were screaming by me.
“So, I just had to really trust my race plan and run hard. A weight off my shoulders, honestly. It was good today, I got on the team, it was only 47 flat but I made it. It’s a good confidence boost, I know I can run a lot faster because it felt like I could have gone 46 low today had I been healthy with how I’ve been practicing. But I got the job done and that’s all that matters.”
At the World Athletics Championships, Benjamin will meet Dos Santos again, but whether he sees two-time World Athletics Championship gold medalist and Olympic champion Karsten Warholm of Norway is questionable. When they met in the Olympics last year, they produced a race for the ages with Warholm winning in 45.94 seconds, and Benjamin was second in 46.17 as both shattered Warholm’s world record of 46.70 seconds. But in his only meet this season, Warholm pulled up early on in a June 5 race with an injury and hasn’t competed since.
“All I know is that I’m on home soil and I’ve got the home crowd,” Benjamin said, “and it’s going to be special.”
Trevor Bassitt, who was second in the 400m at the indoor World Athletics Championships in March in Belgrade, Serbia, was second in the 400m hurdles in a personal-best 47.47 seconds that moves him into third on the world list, and Khallifah Rosser was third in 47.65 seconds, also a personal best, to remain fourth on the world list.
The other world-leading time of the day was turned in by Abby Steiner, who won the 200m in 21.77 seconds. Steiner set the collegiate record of 21.80 in winning the NCAA title for Kentucky 15 days earlier at Hayward Field, and that was the world’s previous fastest time. She equaled that 21.80-second clocking in winning her semifinal heat and was even faster in the final. That world lead only held up for a few hours as Shericka Jackson ran 21.55 later Sunday at the Jamaican championships.
“I think the biggest thing was just taking it one round at a time and executing each race and not getting too far ahead of myself,” Steiner said. “I think the biggest thing is to not put limitations on yourself, and I completely trust my coach so I know that his training cycles will have me ready for these meets. Making some new goals for worlds.”
Tamara Clark was second in the 200m in a personal-best 21.92 seconds, and Jenna Prandini made another major global championship team by finishing third in a season-best 22.01. Brittany Brown, the silver medalist at the 2019 World Athletics Championships, was fifth in 22.22 seconds, and Gabby Thomas, the Olympic bronze medalist from Tokyo, was a surprising eighth in 22.47 seconds.
For Steiner, this season has been about fulfilling her promise as a sprinter after being beset by injuries in the past.
“I’m excited to be on a world stage for the first time and being able to represent my country, it’s really special,” Steiner said. “We always said after the way last year ended that delay doesn’t mean denial. Although last year was the end of a chapter, it wasn’t the end of my story.”
Coburn won her 10th 3,000m steeplechase U.S. title in 10 tries in a season-best 9 minutes, 10.63 seconds. Coburn won the 2017 World Athletics Championships gold medal and was the silver medalist in Doha in 2019. She also won the Olympic bronze medal in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, but struggled in last year’s Olympic final in Tokyo and was later disqualified for an infraction.
Coburn said “this might be my favorite,” U.S. title because of what happened in Tokyo.
“I don’t know how many of these my mom is going to see, and she was here. That’s just really, really sweet,” Coburn said. “I was on my victory lap, and I saw my sister and she was crying, and I made fun of her. I was like ‘why are you crying?’ and she’s like, ‘it's such a big deal, 10 (titles).’ That was my intention coming in, a lot of swagger, I’m going to win my 10th. Qualifying for a world team on U.S. soil, doing it in front of my mom, winning my 10th title after a really crummy experience at my last big race in Tokyo, this is pretty great.”
Courtney Wayment, who set the collegiate record of 9:16.00 in winning the NCAA title 15 days ago for Brigham Young University, was second in 9:12.10, and Courtney Frerichs, the American record-holder and 2020 Olympic silver medalist, was third in a season-best 9:16.18.
In the men’s and women’s 5,000m races, the Bowerman Track Club of Portland had the top two finishers in each race. In the men’s race, Grant Fisher ran 4:03 over the final mile to set a meet record of 13 minutes, 3.86 seconds with teammate Woody Kincaid second in 13:06.70. Northern Arizona’s Abdihamid Nur, who set the collegiate record earlier this year, just missed making it three runners under Paul Chelimo’s meet record of 13:08.62 when he ran 13:08.63. In the women’s race, Elise Cranny successfully defended her title in 15:49.15 with teammate Karissa Schweizer second in 15:49.32. Schweizer was the U.S. 10,000m winner in May and was fourth in Saturday’s 1,500m final. The third spot went to Emily Infeld, the 2015 World Athletics Championship bronze medalist at 10,000m, who ran 15:49.42 after being sidelined with injuries the past few years.
“Hayward has been good to me,” Fisher said. “I love coming here. It will be like home track advantage a little bit at Worlds. It’s nice having family and friends make it out. Last year in Tokyo (at the Olympics), no family and friends and no spectators, so this will be fun, and it will be fun to see the stadium full.”
In the women’s shot put, Chase Ealey, who was ranked third in the world at 20.13m, won with a world-leading throw of 20.51m that moved her into No. 2 on the all-time U.S. list behind only Michelle Carter (20.63m), the 2016 Olympic gold medalist. Ealey broke the meet record of 20.24m set by Carter in 2013, and the Hayward Field record of 20.15m set in 2013 by New Zealand’s Valerie Adams, who won four straight World Athletics Championships gold medals from 2007-13 and was a four-time Olympic gold medalist, including golds in 2008 and 2012.
Adelaide Aquilla of Ohio State, who set the collegiate record in winning the NCAA title earlier this month, was second at 19.45m, and Jessica Woodward had a big personal-best of 19.40m for third.
In other finals Sunday:
• Daniel Roberts won the men’s 110m hurdles in a season-best 13.03 seconds after Grant Holloway, the 2019 World Champion, chose not to run in the final after winning his semifinal heat earlier in the day. Trey Cunningham was second in 13.08, and Devon Allen, the world leader at 12.84, was third in 13.09 and made the team by three-thousandths of a second over Jamal Britt.
• Bryce Hoppel, third at the indoor World Athletics Championships, won the men’s 800m in a season-best 1:44.60 with Jonah Koech second in 1:44.74, a personal best, and Brandon Miller third in 1:45.19.
• Shelby McEwen equaled his personal best of 2.33m to win the men’s high jump, with JuVaughn Harrison, the defending U.S. champ, second at a season-best 2.30m, and Dontavious Hill third at 2.22m. McEwen moved into a tie for second in the world rankings and is only 1 centimeter off the world lead. After two misses at 2.36m, he took one unsuccessful attempt at equaling Charles Austin’s American record of 2.40m.
• In the men’s triple jump, Donald Scott won with a season best of 17.07m, followed by four-time World Athletics Championships medalist Will Claye at 16.93m, a season best, and Chris Benard at 16.83. American record-holder and four-time World Athletics Championships gold medalist Christian Taylor, who has a bye into WCH Oregon22 as the defending champ, was fifth at 16.54m as he continues his comeback from Achilles surgery.
• Ethan Dabbs won the men’s javelin on his final throw with a heave of 81.29m, and was followed by Curtis Thompson (80.49m), and Marc Anthony Minichello (79.05m), the NCAA champion for Pennsylvania.
By Ashley Conklin