The more you follow track and field, the more interesting it becomes. For the merely curious and the obsessive distance fans, here are a few questions to illustrate the drama of the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships (which begin in earnest today and continue through Sunday in Des Moines, Iowa):
1) Will Ben True finish in the top 3 and make it to Worlds? True is focused on the 10,000 tonight, though he also is entered in the 5,000. True is unlike the others: Rupp, Ritz, and Chris Derrick, his primary competition in the 10,000, are sponsored by Nike and train in Oregon. True is sponsored by Saucony and runs for Mark Coogan (who also coaches Abbey D’Agostino) in Hanover, New Hampshire. True graduated from Dartmouth in 2008 after achieving All-American status in running and Nordic skiing.
2) Speaking of Dartmouth, will Dartmouth junior Abbey D’Agostino follow a dominant NCAA season with a victory in the 5,000? Jenny Simpson offers far stiffer competition than anyone D’Agostino faced in college this year. Simpson has the track speed, and given the likely heat in Des Moines, Abbey D’Ag will be hard pressed to take the race from the front from several laps out. Not to be forgotten are the other participants in last year’s dramatic Olympic Trials showdown, Julie Culley, Molly Huddle, Kim Conley, and Julia Lucas. Shalane Flanagan and Mary Cain are also entered, though it would be a surprise to see either run it in addition to the 10,000 and 1,500, respectively. If they were to run, Flanagan would be the more likely of the two to challenge for the win.
3) Will Nick Symmonds win his sixth consecutive championship in the 800 with his patented slingshot kick? Part of what makes the 800 such a thrilling race is the multitude of come-from-behind victories. Symmonds is particularly good at this. With apologies to Khadevis Robinson, he’s facing stronger competition now than he has before. Duane Solomon beat him at the Olympics last year, and Erik Sowinski beat Solomon indoors earlier this year.
4) Will Mary make Moscow? Probably. And though we aren’t rooting against her, it will also be interesting to see how she handles a disappointing race, assuming she ever runs one. Given how genuinely enthusiastic she has been while running well and how levelheaded she seems, she would likely be gracious should she underperform. One way or another, she’s got a long future in the sport.
5) Will Leo Manzano find lightning in a bottle (again) and reverse his early season slump? And if he were to win, might it be in a Nike singlet? The unsponsored silver medalist has been sporting a non-descript sea blue Nike top in races this year, and in an interview about contract negotiations with the company, noted “it is what it is.” His bargaining power would be hurt none by winning the race, though since he’s wearing Nike anyways while not under contract, he’s actually providing the company a marketing alternative to the ubiquitous powder blue tops that have sprouted this year.