The numbers were as telling as the names.
America’s Olympic mainstays, Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt and Justin Gatlin, are all on their way to Rio de Janeiro. With the best times in the world this year to boot.
Gatlin’s 100-meter run in 9.8 seconds at U.S. Olympic Trials Sunday will certainly turn the most heads.
It’s the same time he posted last year at world championships in Beijing, where Usain Bolt nudged him out by a hundredth. Bolt pulled out of this week’s Jamaican national championships and his form will be a mystery for at least the next few weeks.
Nobody needs wonder about where Gatlin stands.
“When the competition shows and the competition rises, I’ve got to rise to the occasion with it,” he declared.
Even so, he’s destined to head to his third Olympics as an underdog to Bolt, The World’s Fastest Man.
Ashton Eaton will be a favourite.
The defending Olympic decathlon champion’s score of 8,750 was nearly 300 short of his world record. A bit frustrating for Eaton, but the score was still notable because it was one point better than the personal best of anyone who can qualify for the event in Rio. And besides, there’s no such thing as perfect over a 10-event endurance test.
“As a decathlete, if you don’t leave with something (frustrating), then you should quit,” he said.
Besides Eaton, nobody has carried the flag more nobly for the USA’s track team of late than Felix, who has been to three Olympics and picked up six medals, including 200-meter gold in London.
Her quest at Olympics No. 4 is to become the first woman to win gold in both the 200 and 400 meters. That mission landed on shaky ground when she hurt her right ankle this spring while working out. It’s been a brutal comeback, she said, though the performance Sunday hardly showed it.
Pulling away late, she finished the 400-meter final in 49.68 seconds for a .26-second win over Phyllis Francis, then collapsed in exhaustion and relief.
“Two months ago, I couldn’t even walk,” Felix said. “To be here and have everything still come together, I don’t know quite how it happened.”
But Merritt surely does.
Fists pumping high down the stretch, he burst down the last 50 meters of the straightaway to finish in 43.97 – a .76-second romp over Gil Roberts. It was a clinic, reminiscent of Merritt’s .99-second blowout over rival Jeremy Wariner in the 2008 Olympics.
“People always say they look at my film to tell their athletes, ‘This is how you’re supposed to run the last part of the race,’” Merritt said. “They haven’t been looking at it lately. I had to give them something to look at.”
Merritt said he feels good enough to give it a go at 200 meters, where he also holds the world’s best time of the year.
Yet another world-best mark came from Chaunte Lowe in the high jump. Her jump of 6 feet, 7 inches beat Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall, by 1 1/2 inches.
Lowe is on the way to her fourth Olympics, seeking the medal that has always eluded her there. Stoked by her performance, and the others she saw on this breezy, sunshine-filled day in Eugene, she was thinking bigger.
Fitting on a day such as this.
“It felt so easy,” Lowe said. “I think I’ll be ready. Just keep training, fine-tuning. I think we could see a sweep of the podium.”