Let’s get this out of the way now: an “off-year” USATF Championships is not going to be as good as a Trials, of either the OG or WC variety. We get that. With no international team on the line, save for a limited number of spots at the World Cup (distance runners need not apply), there is no terrific incentive for every top U.S. athlete to go to Des Moines this weekend.
But consider: everyone who is competing is doing so to prove something. Maybe it’s the freshly-signed pro who needs to impress their sponsor. Or the athlete who is desperately looking for a sponsor. Or the veteran anxious to show they still have what it takes.
Never underestimate hunger. Plenty of athletes hungry for success will be in Des Moines this weekend, and that means plenty of great competitions for fans to watch. Here’s our top 10, in no particular order, based on the start lists as issued the day before the meet:
1. Men’s 110 Hurdles
Here’s an event where we get to see the Old Guard (Aries Merritt, Devon Allen, Aleec Harris, Jarret Eaton) take on the NCAA 1-2, Grant Holloway and David Kendziera. Holloway will need to make a big performance jump to race with the vets, and he’s probably motivated to have a better weekend than he did in Eugene. But don’t discount experience, which can be a big deal in a technique event. Merritt has run faster than Holloway’s 13.15 PR an astounding 25 times (legally). Can he do it again? Will he need to?
2. Women’s Hammer
DeAnna Price and Gwen Berry just broke the American Record within 6 days of each other. The two have climbed into the world’s all-time top 10 and currently hold the top 2 positions on the world list. Their battle should be an epic one as American women’s hammer throwing has become something the rest of the world is watching very carefully.
3. Women’s 400
It’s a young field, with the vets basically absent. Yet throw in Sydney McLaughlin against Kendall Ellis, Shakima Wimbley and Courtney Okolo, and you have an event that should be very fun to watch. What can a fresh McLaughlin run? And what pro singlet will she show up in?
4. Men’s 800
A packed field features Penn State’s impressive NCAA champion, Isaiah Harris, measuring himself against the likes of World Indoor silver medalist Drew Windle, Donavan Brazier and Erik Sowinski. Some of these vets such as Brazier have kept a low profile this spring. Others, such as Boris Berian and Clayton Murphy, are still working their way back from injury. Will be fun to watch it play out.
5. Women’s TJ
Ever since Tori Franklin broke Keturah Orji’s American Record—and Orji responded the next day with a Collegiate Record—we’ve been itching to see this head-to-head matchup. Suddenly Orji, who has been the future of U.S. triple jumping since she was in high school, has company. It may be just what we need to see Americans push toward the 50-foot barrier.
6. Men’s 100
Cameron Burrell wants to prove he is more than just an NCAA champion. Noah Lyles wants to prove he is more than just a 200 runner. Mike Rodgers, with a world-leading 9.92, wants to prove he can go even faster. Ronnie Baker, fresh off 2 Diamond League wins, wants to prove that he is the fastest man in the world right now. And the heat of Des Moines should prove friendly to fast times.
7. Women’s Shot
Raven Saunders opened up with a big 64-2¼ (19.56) this season. Maggie Ewen beat Saunders’ outdoor CR with a 63-10¼ (19.46). They have met before—5 times at 5 NCAA championships—but every time Saunders has come out on top. Ewen is aiming to change that. But don’t forget Olympic champion Michelle Carter, in only her second meet of the year.
8. Men’s 200
Michael Norman. After the collegiate half-career that the USC soph just finished, all eyes will be on him for the half-lap here. World leader Noah Lyles, though declared and on the start lists, apparently won’t be running this one, according to a recent interview. Can Isiah Young and Ameer Webb push Norman?
9. Women’s 1500
In general, the women’s distances feature solid fields, but the 1500 looks very tough. Jenny Simpson will be making the most of her native Iowa cheering section. However Shelby Houlihan, the Prefontaine winner at 3:59.06, will perhaps line up with the favorite’s mantle. Brenda Martinez ran a 4:02.65 at Pre, not shabby by anyone’s standards. The tactics should be fun. Simpson likes to go hard to set herself up for the kick while sapping everybody else’s, but is there any pace that can take the kick out of Houlihan?
10. Men’s Shot
Ryan Crouser reportedly threw a 23m-plus (75-5½) foul recently. The World Record is 75-8 (23.06). That’s enough reason to watch, even if the Olympic champ’s biggest rival, Kiwi Tom Walsh won’t be in the meet.