8 Athletes We’re Watching This Weekend

Noah Lyles ended his ’17 campaign with a Diamond League win; can he start ’18 the same way? (GIANCARLO COLOMBO/PHOTORUN)

Sometimes we look forward to the week ahead and focus on a few great meets. Sometimes the focus is tighter—on a few great races. And sometimes we focus on people. That’s not to say that we’re ignoring everyone else in a potentially great competition. It just means—for what may be a wide variety of reasons—we’re very curious about the trajectory an athlete is on and where it will take them next.

1. Noah Lyles: Such is the case with one of America’s most promising young sprinters. Last year, in a season nearly obliterated by injury, he came back at the end to win the DL title at 200 and rank No. 2 in the world. So far in ’18, after a so-so indoor campaign, he has run only one outdoor individual race, a 9.86 boosted by a healthy 4.1 wind. In Doha he will be facing a solid crew with 4 other sub-20 types (Andre de Grasse, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, Jereem Richards and world champ Ramil Guliyev), but he’s giving off vibes that he might produce a very extraordinary furlong. Plus, he says he’ll have a surprise for Star Wars fans… and we can’t picture him going for a Jedi knight robe.

2. Jenny Simpson: One of America’s most reliable international competitors, Simpson will be coming to Doha for a 3000 race that is packed and will likely be quite fast. Quite a difference from the windy 2-mile she ran at Drake last weekend. Her time there, 9:16.78, converts to an 8:35.53. Her PR at 3000 is 8:29.58, which makes her the No. 2 American all-time after Mary Slaney’s 8:25.83. Simpson’s a competitor first, which means that trying to win the race is job No. 1. But it would be crazy to think that American Record isn’t next on her list.

3. Paul Chelimo: If there’s one thing America’s top 5000 runner has, it’s grit. He’s not afraid to mix it up with anyone, at any distance. And while he hasn’t done much career-wise at 1500—a 3:39.33 PR from ’16 doesn’t open many doors—we wouldn’t count him out in match against some of America’s best in an interesting mix-up at the Payton Jordan Invitational on Thursday. He’ll be facing Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz for the first time ever, as well as Colby Alexander (3:34.88 PR), Craig Engels (3:35.95 PR) and Norwegian 17-year-old phenom Jakob Ingebrigtsen. Also in the race is Stanford’s Grant Fisher, and a turn of speed here could give us some idea of how sharp his kick might be in the NCAA 5000.

4. Katie Mackey: One of our favorite athletes to talk to (funny and honest are always a great mix), the veteran Mackey moved up to the 3000 during the indoor season and produced an 8:43.15 PR at Millrose, a runner-up finish at nationals, and made the finals at the World Indoor. And though she’s dabbled in the 5000 in the past (15:04.74 doesn’t lie), she’s never stayed there for long. Maybe this year is different. She will be running the 5000 at Payton Jordan—that’s where she set her PR in ’14. She won’t be the only one of the Brooks Beasts moving up there. Drew Windle, the World Indoor 800 silver medalist, will be going to 1500. Henry Wynne, the ’16 NCAA Indoor mile champ, will be running his first pro 5000. Same for Izaic Yorks, who ran a 3:53.40 mile indoors this year. And 3:34/13:16 man Garrett Heath is going to the 10,000.

5. Alysha Newman: Why? She’s not the favorite in the Doha vault—that burden belongs to Sandi Morris or Katerína Stefanídi. The Canadian Newman, however, faces a bigger test. Every single one of her poles was broken in transit. She tweeted, “My heart is broken & so are all my poles thanks to AirCanada.” After winning the Commonwealth gold with a PR vault of 15-7 (4.75), Newman is ready to continue her rise in the event. We’ll be rooting for her to surprise a few folks on borrowed poles tomorrow.

6. Asbel Kiprop: Yeah, we know he’s not racing, but this conspiracy story he is spinning about his doping positive is just about crazy enough to distract us from the news in Washington for a while.

7. Devon Allen: The three-time NCAA champion hurdler will be racing his training partner Jonathan Cabral at the Oregon Twilight. He’s working on changing his approach to the first hurdle from 8-steps to 7. At Drake, his first race with the new approach, he opened up with a 13.42 win. He told the Register-Guard, “I was excited about the performance. It’s not quite as good as my eight step yet, but if I keep working on it, it will be fine.”

8. Eunice Sum: The ’13 world 800 champion has never engaged with the 1500 seriously, outside of a 4:01.54 that was good for 6th at the ’14 Prefontaine Classic. At Doha, Sum will be jumping into the deep end of the pool, in a race that features Commonwealth double champ Caster Semenya and Kenya’s Winny Chebet. Troubled by injuries in recent years, Sum says, “So far I am in top form. I have not competed anywhere this year and this will be a good start. I want to see what competition is there in the race and then I will make my judgment on how to go about it.”