US Championships 07 preview

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana, June 18, 2007 (AFP) - In a city known for speed, American athletes will determine their World Athletics Championships lineup starting here Thursday at the US national championships.
The path to Osaka, host of the World Championships on August 25-September 2, leads through Indianapolis, where Britain’s Lewis Hamilton won Sunday’s US Grand Prix race and Indy-car drivers annually chase oval glory.
The US Championships is one of the greatest events in the world,'' said Pat Henry, who will coach the US men's squad in Osaka. Nobody has ever failed to be impressed by the championships.’’
Three top finishers in each event of the four-day US meet qualify for the US team, although some stars have already booked their trip to Japan.
Already on the men’s team are Jeremy Wariner at 400m, Bershawn Jackson in the 400 hurdles, long jumper Dwight Phillips, triple jumper Walter Davis, shot putter Adam Nelson and decathlete Bryan Clay - automatically invited to the World Championships as defending champions from the 2005 event in Helsinki.
The women’s team for Osaka has three members set: 2005 world champions Allyson Felix at 200m, Michelle Perry in the 100 hurdles and long jumper Tianna Madison.
Henry, who coaches at Texas A and M University, says it is tough to project who will make the trip to Japan beyond the defending champions.
A lot depends on everyone's health,'' he said. I think we just have to wait and watch what happens at the trials.’’
Henry predicts the US squad will be strong in its usual events.
It will be basically like other US teams in the past,'' he said. We’ll be strong in the sprints and the relays, and our hurdlers are a big strength. The shot putters are going to be very good too.’’
The men’s 200 figures to be one of the top US events, where a sub-20-second performance may not be good enough to qualify for Sunday’s final.
The field includes Walter Dix (19.69), Wallace Spearmon (19.82), Tyson Gay (19.97), LaShawn Merritt (19.98), Xavier Carter (19.63 last year), Shawn Crawford (19.79 in 2004) and Jordan Vaden (19.98 in 2006).
Crawford is the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, while Gay, Carter and Spearmon were ranked 1-2-3 in that order among the world’s best for 2006. Dix is the newly-crowned 100 and 200 US college champion.
Wariner, the reigning world 400 champion, and top-eight 2006 runners Kelly Willie and Rodney Martin are also in the mix. With only eight qualifiers, at least two of the contenders will be watching the final from the stands.
US men figure to have little impact beyond 400m with Khadevis Robinson at 800m and Kenyan-born Bernard Lagat, who runs the 1,500 and 5,000, the only serious medal contenders in the longer events.
The women’s best bets are Felix, Perry, Sanya Richards at 400m and Jenn Stuczynski in the pole vault.
Among those not entered in the meet was Maurice Greene, a three-time world 100m champion and Sydney Olympics gold medal winner. He could still be named to a US relay team but otherwise would not qualify for the US squad.
US athletes will struggle to match their 25-medal performance (14 gold, eight silver, three bronze) from the 2005 world meet in Helsinki.
At the 2006 World Cup meet in Athens, the American men finished second in the team standings to Europe. The American women placed fourth behind Russia, Europe and the Americas team.
We saw at World Cup last year there's definitely a lot of talent throughout the world,'' Henry said. And they’re getting better.’’