2016 IAAF World U20 Champs 7/23 Preview: Vaulters, relays lead medal hopes

by Steve Underwood

Here is our preview of key finals for Team USA in the Saturday events (7/23) at the 2016 World U20 Championships, July 19-24, in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

Those key events today for Team USA, as it hopes to increase its total of 13 medals, are the men’s pole vault with Chris Nilsen and Deakin Volz, the women’s TJ with Bria Matthews, women’s 5k with Anna Rohrer, men’s 400H with Taylor McLaughlin, and both 4x100 relays.

Men’s Pole Vault – US-based trio primed for medal battle

Meet: 5.71m, German Chiaraviglio ARG 2006
WJR: 5.80m, Maksim Tarasov URS 1989
AJR: 5.72m, Andrew Irwin 2012

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best; plus additional U.S.)
1. Kurtis Marshall AUS 5.70m
2. Christopher Nilsen USA 5.60m
3. Emmanouil Karalis GRE 5.55m
4. Vladislav Malykhin UKR 5.55m
5. Adam Hague GBR 5.53m

6. Armand Duplantis SWE 5.51m (U.S. prep)
7. Deakin Volz USA 5.46m (5.47m in ’15)

UPDATE (after qualifying):  Things went pretty much to form in qualifying.  Australian favority Kurtis Marshall was the only vaulter who went 5.30, while everyone else qualified at 5.20m.  Those qualifiers included Americans Chris Nilsen and Deakin Volz, as well as Team Sweden’s U.S. prep Mondo Duplantis.  Greece’s Emmanouil Karalis, the World Youth record-holder, needed 3 tries at 5.20 to get in, though, so he may not be in top form.

Original analysis: You could say this meet will be about rivalries old and new, when it comes to the two U.S. entries and Swedish team member Armand Duplantis.  As a U.S. prep freshman prodigy in ’15, Duplantis won Millrose indoors, but then passed up NBNI as Deakin Volk set the HSR.  They would later battle behind Paulo Benavides at NBNO, then in the summer, Duplantis won the World Youth title for his native country.  This year, Duplantis broke the graduated Volz’s record indoors, then saw Chris Nilsen’s stunning improvement take him beyond and up to an outdoor HSR 5.60m.  Nilsen beat Duplantis at both Great Southwest and NBNO, then won Juniors. 

Of course, now Volz is a college frosh and took 2nd behind Nilsen in Clovis.  Meanwhile, Duplantis PR’d (5.51m) in a small meet in Sweden to get some momentum back and set up a great 3-way clash, here.  However, they’ll hardly have the stage to themselves or even be favorites.  That role goes to Australia’s Kurtis Marshall, who has gone 5.70, just a centimeter off the meet record.  Another contender is Greece’s Emmanouil Karalis, like Duplantis a prodigal talent.  He’s just ahead of the Swede on the all-time U18 list at 5.55.

Team USA History: Amazingly, the only American medalist ever in this event had been Rocky Danners in Santiago in 2000 – the year the meet was in October.  Devin King nearly got USA on the podium again two years ago in Eugene, but finished 4th on misses despite clearing 18 feet.

Men’s 400m hurdles – Hyde looks to defend

(qualifying was 7/21 and semis 7/22, final 7/23)
Meet: 48.51, Kerron Clement USA 2004
WJR: 48.02, Danny Harris USA 1984
AJR: 48.02, Danny Harris 1984

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best; plus additional U.S.)
1. Jaheel Hyde JAM 48.81
2. Mikeal De Jesus BRA 49.62
3. Taylor McLaughlin USA 49.73
4. Yoshiro Watanabe JAP 49.76
5. Victor Coroller FRA 50.47

18. Justin Alexander USA 50.47

UPDATE (after semis):  The outlook remains the same, at least at the top.  The 3rd semi saw favorite Jaheel Hyde of Jamaica record the fastest time of the semis at 49.77, with American Taylor McLaughlin looking solid in 50.25, 2nd overall.  49.62 performer Mikeal De Jesus of Brazil needed a time qualifier to make the final.  McLaughlin should get silver or bronze, as long as he can run low 50 or high 49.

UPDATE (after qualifying):  The top contenders generally advanced easily yesterday, with favorite Jaheel Hyde winning heat 4 in 51.28.  The top qualifier was Kefilwe Mogawane of South Africa in 50.53, with American Taylor McLaughlin 2nd in that heat and 4th overall with 51.28.  Second American Justin Alexander was DQ’d in his heat.

Original analysis: Jaheel Hyde falls in the category of rare and special defending champs, having won in Eugene at age 17 after his ’13 World Youth title at 110H.  He’s also made the Jamaican team for the Rio Games, but he’s still on the start lists here.  His 48.81 is well clear of the field. 

Three others have broken 49, including U-M frosh Taylor McLaughlin, who had a great campaign after a star-studded career at Union Catholic, NJ – producing many winning and All-American relay and individual finishes in NBN meets.  While not quite as talented as sister Sydney, Taylor is already one of the top NCAA hurdlers and will likely contend to win there in ’17.  Meanwhile, he did look a little off form at the USA Juniors in Clovis, suggesting normal effects of the long NCAA season. But if he can get back under 50, he could medal.  Justin Alexander had been 3rd there, but was picked over runner-up Amere Lattin, since Lattin is in tonight’s 110H final.

Team USA History:  Americans have five golds here, including meet record-holder Kerron Clement in ’04, Chris Carter in ’06, Eric Futch in ’12 and a 1-2 sweeps in ’08 with Jeshua Anderson and Johnny Dutch. 

Women’s 4x100m relay – Hill hopes to lead USA to 7th straight

(qualifying was 7/22, final 7/23)
Meet: 43.40, Jamaica 2002
WJR: 43.29, USA 2006
AJR: 43.29, 2006

Top 5 Entries
(based on 2016 times)
1. Germany 44.25
2. Jamaica 44.30
3. France 43.68
4. Great Britain 44.56
5. Netherlands 44.72

UPDATE (after qualifying): Team USA has had to adjust to the loss to injury of 3-time NBN champ Jayla Kirkland, who originally was going to double the 100 and 200, but hurt her hamstring before the meet. She was pulled out of the 100, but still tried to do the 200 Friday before pulling up.  In the prelims, 400 silver medalist Lynna Irby, hurdler Tia Jones and Kaylor Harris got around the track pretty well, but the final exchange was slow and Candace Hill had to really rip it to get USA into the final.  Hard to predict the finals lineup other than Hill at the anchor, but with good passes, USA should still roll.

Analysis:  With last night’s 100 meter champ Candace Hill planning to anchor in the final, the USA should extend its string of six straight wins in this meet.  Jayla Kirkland and Celera Barnes are likely to run here, too, and there are a few possibilities for the other leg – most likely Taylor Bennett or Alexis Duncan.  As always, it’s all about the exchanges and not dropping the stick – something the Juniors have done better than the Seniors.  Jamaica, Poland and Trinidad & Tobago are some likely contenders..

Team USA History:  The Americans have won the last six titles here and eight overall, though Jamaica holds the meet record from 2002.

Men’s 4x100m relay: USA has some question marks

(qualifying was 7/22, final 7/23)
Meet: 38.66, USA 2004
WJR: 38.66, USA 2004
AJR: 38.66, 2004

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best)
1. Chinese Taipei 39.51
2. Australia 39.62
3. Jamaica 39.74
4. Germany 39.74
5. South Africa 39.88

UPDATE (after qualifying):  Similar to the women’s 4x1 prelims, Team USA’s anchor – in this case Noah Lyles – had to go all out just to qualify.  In this case, it wasn’t one slow exchange, but generally shaky handoffs and simply not as much firepower in the first three legs as they would have liked from hurdler Amere Lattin, Brandon Taylor and Hakim Montgomery.  Michael Norman, who cruised through two prelims before ripping his 200 final last night, should amp things up, but Micaiah Harris (#2 200 man) is reportedly injured and the other two legs are somewhat in question.  Good exchanges should earn a medal, but it will take a special performance to win gold.

Original analysis / Team USA History:  Although Usain Bolt-led Jamaican teams are perennial favorites at the Senior men’s level, the Juniors have still been dominated by Team USA.  The Americans have won six of the past seven titles, including the ’14 edition in Eugene at 38.70.  That was just .03 off the 2012 winning performance, which was in turn just .01 of Team USA’s WJR from 2004 of 38.66.  This U.S. team obviously has some great prep talent in Lyles and Norman (a 10.20+ man in his 3rd best event), but not a truly fearsome collegian on there, as well – so getting that WJR might be hard.  Based on individual times, Jamaica looks like the 2nd-best team, at least, even though they are 3rd on the current World list. 

Women’s Triple Jump: Matthews’ second medal shot

(qualifying was 7/22, final 7/23)
Meet: 14.62m/47-11.75, Tereza Marinova BUL 1996
WJR: 14.62m/47-11.75, Tereza Marinova BUL 1996
AJR: 14.15m/46-5.25, Keturah Orji USA 2015

(qualifying 7/22, final )
Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best; plus additional U.S.)
1. Davisledis Velazco CUB 46-2.5
2. Bria Matthews USA 45-0.5
3. Mariya Ovchinnikova KAZ 44-7.5
4. Ting Chen CHN 44-5.25
5. Yanis David FRA 44-1.25

18. Chinne Okoronkwo USA 42-11.75i

UPDATE (after qualifying):  Bria Matthews (Georgia Tech) didn’t fare quite as well as she’d have liked in the long jump Friday, taking 5th behind France and U. of Florida jumper Yanis David, but she’ll have another chance here.  In qualifying, earlier Friday, she was 3rd overall at 43-9.25, while teammate Chinne Okoronkwo was a non-qualifying 17th after suffering two fouls on jumps that would have placed her higher.  It will probably take mid-44s to medal, within Matthews’ range.  Cuba’s favorite, Davisledis Velazco, didn’t look great in qualifying and we’ll see if she can regain 46-foot form in the final.

Original analysis:  Davidledis Velazco, the Cuban who won the Barrientos Memorial during Team NSAF’s Caribbean trip back in May, is the favorite with her world-leading mark from that meet.  If she’s in the 46-foot range again, it will be hard for anyone to stop her.  Bria Matthews, as in the long jump, is a strong medal contender if she can overcome the fatigue of a long collegiate season and replicated her 45-foot form from earlier in the spring.  Mariya Ovchinnikova is one of very few who also jumped at WY (7th) last year, while Yanis David will be trying to medal in both horizontals. 

The NSAF Project Triple Jump’s Chinne Okoronkwo has competed for Team USA in three successive years now: The Youth Olympics in ’14, Pan American Juniors last year (bronze) and now here.  Obviously, this competition will be the toughest yet and she’ll probably need mid-43s – well within her capabilities – to make the final.

Team USA History: The USA has never medaled in this event, with the previous best being a 6th-place finish by Ciarra Brewer in 2012.  NSAF Project Triple Jumper Keturah Orji – a bronze medalist in ’13 at WY and an Olympian now – was 9th in the ’14 final and CSI alum Marshay Ryan was 7th.

Women’s 5,000m – Burundi pair the ones to beat

(straight final)
Meet: 15:08.06, Genzebe Dibaba ETH 2010
WJR: 14:30.88, Tirunesh Dibaba ETH 2004
AJR: 15:43.31 Lauryenne Chetelat 2009

Top 5 Entries
(plus additional U.S.)
1. Dalila Gosa BRN 15:10.79
2. Bontu Rebitu BRN 15:25.12
3. Anna Rohrer USA 15:32.03
4. Emmaculate Chepkirui KEN 15:42.4
5. Catherine Mwanzau KEN 15:44.0

16. Bella Burda USA 16:25.67

Analysis:  Burundi’s Gosa and Rebitu have to be considered favorites based on their times among the leading entries.  Both are Ethiopian-born and, interestingly, Ethiopia itself has not sent its four highest-ranked Juniors, but rather an inexperienced pair with times slower than 15:45.  Kenya’s two entrants, Chepkirui and Mwanzu, will undoubtedly run faster at low altitude.  Team USA’s Anna Rohrer has a PR fast enough to contend for at least a bronze medal, which would be a first for Team USA.

200m dash – Bennett still has medal shot

(qualifying and semis were 7/22, final 7/23)
Meet: 22.53, Anthonique Strachan BAH 2012
WJR: 22.18, Allyson Felix USA 2004
AJR: 22.18, Allyson Felix 2004

Top 5 Entries
(based on ’16 best times; plus additional U.S.)
1. Sada Williams BAR 22.61
2. Taylor Bennett USA 22.71
3. Jayla Kirkland USA 23.15
4. Mercy Ntia-Obong NGR 23.17
5. Edidong Ofonime Odiong BRN 23.18

UPDATE (after semis):  Team USA medal contender Jayla Kirkland went down with injury, but there’s still an American medal shot with Taylor Bennett.  She qualified 6th into the final, though, and needs to regain her hi-22/low-23 form to have a shot.  Top-seeded Sada Williams qualified 2nd into the final, while Burundi’s Edidong Ofonime Odiong was fastest at 23.19.

Original analysis:  Sada Williams of Barbados has had a handful of sub-23s this year, both earlier in the spring during the Caribbean season and more recently in her national championships.  American Taylor Bennett is the only other entry in that range, but her best time was early in the spring and in the USA Juniors, she was 2nd at 23.20 to Jayla Kirkland.  Kirkland, in turn, has been in the 23.1 range consistently in recent weeks and has repped Team USA before – earning bronze in the World Youth 100 last spring.  Kirkland is one of three, actually, who has run between 23.15 and 23.20.  Candace Hill, had she chosen to double at US Juniors, would have been a likely favorite since she won World Youth last year and would have been the fastest entrant. 

Team USA History:  Two years ago, American prep Kaylin Whitney captured the title in Eugene, the 3rd gold for Team USA in the event – preceded by Shalonda Solomon in ’04 and Stormy Kendrick in ’10.

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