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Some interesting match-ups, and Gatlin of course - USATF Championships PREVIEW
Tuesday 20 June 2006

Indianapolis, USA - With neither a World Championships nor an Olympic Games on the year’s calendar, some top athletes will skip this week’s 2006 AT&T USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships (21 – 25 June) for competition in Europe or an easy summer before the rigours of 2007 and 2008.

But making the U.S. team for the IAAF World Cup (16-17 September, Athens, Greece) is a major goal for quite a few top American athletes, and there will be plenty of intriguing match-ups and excellent performances, plus the usual surprises, and of course, Justin Gatlin.

Sanya Richards in Oslo
(Getty Images)

The ‘new’ Marion Jones is entered in both the women’s 100m and 200m here, but the suspicion is that if she does really well in the 100 she’ll skip the 200. With 2005 winner Me’Lisa Barber not entered and World Champion Lauryn Williams recovering from a virus, Jones task will be made easier. But her best of 11.06 this year doesn’t herald a blowout against LaTasha Colander and Torri Edwards (both 11.06), Muna Lee and Sholanda Solomon (both 11.07), and newly-turned-pro Marshavet Hooker (11.09), the 2005 NCAA champion.

If Jones does tackle the 200m, her opposition will be tougher. She hasn’t run a 200 since 2004, and she’ll be facing the 1-2 finishers in last year’s USATF 200 (also 1-2 in the Worlds in Helsinki), namely Allyson Felix (22.14) and Rachelle Boone-Smith (22.22) and newcomer to the 200m, Sanya Richards (22.25).

Obviously, Jones has found new strength since her disappointing 2005 season, but is it enough to hold up through six rounds of sprinting?

Virginia Powell of USC wins 100m Hurdles in collegiate record 12.55
(Kirby Lee)

Sanya Richards, the World Championship silver medallist at 400m has declared for both the 200 and 400, and that may pose a problem: the first round of the 200 is scheduled less than an hour before the 400m final on Saturday. Once the declarations are closed, if she withdraws from the 200 she’ll be ruled out of the 400m final. Yet of course with coach Clyde Hart’s strength-based training programme perhaps a nice sub-23 200m heat would be a perfect warm-up for the 400m final.

Leaving personalities out of it, the most intriguing women’s match-up is the one between Virginia Powell, who ran 12.55 and then 12.48 winning the NCAA 100-metres Hurdles two weeks ago, and World champion Michelle Perry, whose best was a 12.43 won winning her semi at last year’s edition on this meet.

One of the highlight of the men’s track competition could well be the one-lap races. The 400m flat race doesn’t have Jeremy Wariner (he’s running the 200 here), but it does have at least 11 entrants with PBs under 45 seconds. Everyone is wondering what Xavier Carter will do: he is entered in all three sprints. In the NCAAs he won the 100m and 400m and ran on both winning relays. Now that he’s proved he’s strong, it would be interesting to see what he can do if he competes only in the 200m (his PB is 20.02) or the 400m (44.84). I’m not one who believes that sport is primarily entertainment, but seeing what Carter might do when concentrating on the 200 or the 400 would sure entertain me!

Bershawn Jackson winning the men’s 400m Hurdles in a time of 47.60 - OSAKA
(Getty Images)

The other one-lap race - the one with barriers - doesn’t have the depth of field that the flat race does, but it does have quality at the top. At last year’s nationals, it was Kerron Clement, 47.24, Bershawn Jackson 47.80 and James Carter (48.03). In Helsinki (in the rain), it was Jackson (47.30), Carter (47.43) and Clement (fourth in 48.18). Lucky us – we get to see them again. Reminds me of Rome in 1987 and the Moses, Schmidt and Harris classic.

Yet it of course isn’t all about track. The men’s Shot Put pits four of the five best athletes on this season’s world list together in what should at least be a 21m epic. World season leader Christian Cantwell, World champion Adam Nelson, and World Indoor gold medallist Reese Hoffa are respectively also the three highest IAAF World Ranked shot putters, and there is also the season’s revelation Dan Taylor (21.59m) to be considered.

World champions also are aplenty across the rest of the infield – Dwight Phillips (LJ), Walter Davis (TJ), Bryan Clay (Dec), and Tianna Madison (women’s LJ).

Adam Nelson in action
(Sean Wallace-Jones)

But of course, of the many other stars on show this week, there is one name which could not be overlooked, Justin Gatlin!

The joint World record holder for the men’s 100m (9.77) has run since his 9.87 clocking in New York on 3 June. The World and Olympic champion has been talking up fast times in the Indianapolis local press, and there is little doubt that he will want to answer Jamaican Asafa Powell’s second 9.77 career sprint which he delivered in Gateshead on 11 June.

The outright World record will surely be in Gatlin’s sight. Yet the dramatic competitive plot which has developed between Powell and Gatlin seems to have more twists than a Hitchcock thriller. Anything is possible. Who’d even bet against a fourth 9.77 World record clocking in the pace of a year?!

Gatlin equals World 100m record in Doha
(AFP / Getty Images)

James Dunaway for the IAAF

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the X-man will be there just on 100?or 200?
or 400?
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