2016 IAAF World U20 Champs 7/24 Preview: Medal records within reach on final day

by Steve Underwood

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

The final day begins with Team USA having a chance to tie or surpass its all-time best medal total from this meet – 21 in 2014.  They have 17 now with chances to win both 4x400s (women stronger than men) and medal in the women’s 1500 (Alexa Efraimson) and 100 hurdles (Tia Jones and/or Alexis Duncan).  A second medal in the 100H or a surprise elsewhere could set the new mark.  The record of 13 gold medals from 2004 might be out of reach, with the U.S. possessing 9 right now.

Women’s High Jump: Hruba, Levchenko step in for Cunningham

(qualifying was 7/22, final 7/24)
Meet: 2.00m/6-6.75, Alina Astafei ROM 1988
WJR: 2.01m/6-7, Olga Turchak RUS 1986 and Heike Balck GDR 1989
AJR: 1.97m/6-5.5, Vashti Cunningham USA 2016

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best; plus additional U.S.)
T1. Michaela Hruba CZE 6-4.75
T1. Yuliya Levchenko UKR 6-4.75
3. Lada Pejchalova CZE 6-2.75
4. Ximena Lizbeth Esquival MEX 6-2.75
5. Salome Lang SUI 6-1.5

10. Nicole Greene USA 6-0.5

UPDATE (after qualifying):  The qualifying round didn’t really tell us anything as all the favorites made it through with modest clearances of 1.80m/5-10.5.  That included Nicole Greene, the lone American, who had one miss at that bar, but made it on her 2nd attempt.

Original analysis: With World Jr leader Vashti Cunningham having moved to Senior and Olympic competition, Michaela Hruba and Yuliya Levchenko are the co-favorites.  Cunningham only attempted to compete in one Youth or Junior IAAF meet before turning pro, but Hruba has been a force the past three years, winning WY gold in Cali last year after WJ silver and Youth Olympic bronze in ’14.  She hasn’t matched her PR yet outdoors, but has to be the fave.  Levchenko will be formidable, too, though: She was the YOG champ in ’14. 

Two other eligibles who have jumped 6-3 or better – Alina Skukh and ’14 WJ champ Morgan Lake – are also not here for various reasons.  For Team USA, 2015 NBN double in/out champ Nicole Greene won USA Jrs after her frosh year at UNC and while she’s seeded 10th based on her seasonal best of 6-0.5, her career best of 6-1.5 puts her on the cusp of medal contention.  She was the only American entered in Clovis to make the standard.

Team USA History:  One American has medaled in this event at WJ: Sharon Day in ’04 with a bronze.  Rachel McCoy just missed in ’14, taking 4th on a countback, while Hanna Willms was 5th in ’10.

Women’s 100m hurdles – Four for the medals

(qualifying and semis were 7/22-23, final 7/24)
Meet: 12.89, Kendell Williams USA 2014
WJR: 12.83p, Oluwatobiloba Amusan NIG 2016
AJR: 12.84, Tia Jones 2016

Top 5 Entries
(based on ’16 marks, plus additional U.S.)
1. Oluwatobiloba Amusan NIG 12.83
2. Tia Jones USA 12.84
3. Elvira Herman BLR 13.03
4. Alexis Duncan USA 13.04
5. Laura Valette FRA 13.19

UPDATE (after qualifying and semis): The final is shaping up as an epic 4-woman battle between athletes with PRs between 12.83 and 13.03 – any of them capable of winning and/or breaking the World U20 record.  Oluwatobiloba Amusan of Nigeria (and UTEP) beat the USA’s Alexis Duncan in one semi, 12.99 to 13.02.  American Tia Jones (13.09, but with 12.84 PR) and Elvira Herman (PR 12.97) won the other two semis.  Jones winning at 15 (she doesn’t turn 16 for several more weeks) would be remarkable; she’s probably the most talented, but is occasionally inconsistent.  If she brings her ‘A’ game, she could take the gold and the record.

Original analysis:  With 9 of the top 12 Juniors in the world, it’s a shame anyone had to stay home for Team USA.  Three sub-13.10 girls were left in the carnage of the US Juniors.  But the storylines of those who made it are rich.  Tia Jones was a Youth age-group phenom for some years before she showed up at NBNO in ’15 and won as an 8th-grader.  Her inconsistencies showed up in Greensboro this year as she was 4th (though 13.14 is still good!), but then in the semis at Juniors she freaked everyone out with her jaw-dropping 12.84. 

Then Alexis Duncan, with motivation of her own, nipped Jones in the final, 13.04-13.05.  Jones had been within .01 of the World Youth record at Cali last summer, before self-destructing in the final.  Then beating Jones in Clovis was the culmination of her work to get back to that level. Bottom line: It could be a Jones-Duncan or Duncan-Jones 1-2 finish, but both are still inconsistent.  UTEP collegian Oluwatobiloba Amusan of Nigeria also has a super-fast time this year (12.83, altitude aided) and 13.03 performer Elvira Herman of Belarus could also contend.

Team USA History:  Americans have won five golds here and some lesser medals, as well.  Topping the podium have been Joyce Bates in ’96, Ronetta Alexander in ’04, Teona Rodgers in ’08, Morgan Snow in ’12 and Kendell Williams two years ago in Eugene.

Men’s Discus: Germans hope for sweep

(qualifying was 7/22, final 7/24)
Meet: 67.32m, Margus Hunt EST 2006
WJR: 70.13m, Mykyta Nesterenko UKR 2008
AJR: 65.34m, Mason Finley 2009

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best; plus additional U.S.)
1. Clemens Prufer GER 66.27m
2. Merten Howe GER 63.44m
3. Jakob Gardenkrans SWE 62.58m
4. Konrad Bukowieckie POL 62.20m
5. Mohamed Ibrahim Moaaz QAT 62.13m

Analysis: Coming into the meet as favorite was Clemens Prufer, the World U20 leader by nearly 3 meters and consistent at a high level, with his teammate Merten Howe positioned to give them hopes of a 1-2 sweep.  Nothing happened in qualifying to alter that notion, as they qualified 2-3.  Konrad Bukowieckie, the wildly popular host nation hero with a World U20 record and shot put gold already in hand, delighted the crowd by making the final after two fouls.  The main casualties of qualifying were 3rd-seeded Jakob Gardenkrans of Sweden and Americans Bronson Osborn and Connor Bandel, who finished 19th and 25th.

Men’s 3,000m steeplechase – Several East Africans in the hunt

(qualifying was 7/21, final 7/24)
Meet: 8:06.10, Conseslus Kipruto KEN 2012
WJR: 7:58.66, Saif Saaeed Shaheen KEN 2001
AJR: 8:33.8h, John Gregorek 1979

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best; plus additional U.S.)
1. Yemane Haileselassie ERI 8:22.52
2. Vincent Kipyegon Ruto KEN 8:22.7
3. Mohamed Ismail Ibrahim DJI 8:23.77
4. Amos Kirui KEN 8:27.4
5. Albert Chemutai UGA 8:41.29

13. Dylan Hodgson USA 8:50.04
16. Kai Benedict USA 8:52.68

UPDATE (after prelims):  The key contenders all advanced into the final with relative ease, while the Ethiopian pair Kidanemariam Dessie and Getnet Wale made it know they will be in the hunt, as well.  American Kai Benedict qualified 11th into the final with a PR 8:51.37, while Alex Rogers – in for Dylan Hodgson, ran 8:59.00 and missed the top 12.

Original analysis: There are four runners that range from 14 to 19 seconds better than the rest of the field, and they are all East Africans.  Kenyans have won all 14 of the Junior champs since the distance was increased to 3k and many of the lesser medals, as well.  The Kenyans don’t have the fastest times on the list, but they haven’t raced yet at low-altitude, while the contenders from Eritrea and Djibouti have done so.

As a senior at Washington Co., KS, Dylan Hodgson was a late bloomer, hitting an under-the-radar 8:56 3,200 at the very end of his senior year.  At U. of Kansas, he blossomed into an 8:50 steepler as a frosh before winning USA Juniors, suggesting he could compete well in the 2nd group, as Bailey Roth did two years ago (see below).  Former McQueen, Nevada prep Kai Benedict has done nearly as well at Cal.

Team USA History:  The best-ever finish by an American here is 5th, by Chris Dugan in 1998.  Bailey Roth impressed two years ago when he followed a 7th-place finish in the ’13 World Youths with another 7th in the Eugene World Juniors with an 8:48.60 national prep record – less than two seconds out of 4th.

Women’s 1500m run – Efraimson’s unfinished business

(qualifying was 7/22, final 7/24)
Meet: 4:04.96, Faith Kipyegon KEN 2012
WJR: 3:51.34, Yinglai Lang CHN 1997
AJR: 4:03.39, Alexa Efraimson 2015

Top 5 Entries
(based on ’16 marks, plus additional U.S.)
1. Adanech Anbesa ETH 4:05.22
2. Fantu Worku ETH 4:05.84
3. Alexa Efraimson USA 4:06.38 (4:03.39 in ’15)
4. Konstanze Klosterhalfen GER 4:06.91
5. Beatha Nishimwe RWA 4:08.75

6. Christine Aragon USA 4:09.27

UPDATE (after qualifying):  The prelims were good for the U.S. duo of Alexa Efraimson and Christine Aragon.  Efraimson, the Nike-sponsored pro, was 2nd in the 2nd heat at 4:13.12, while Aragon was 4th in the 1st heat at 4:18.93.  The highly-seeded Ethiopians also qualified easily, while the Kenyans – including Winfred Nzisa Mbithe, who won Efraimson’s heat – established that they will be factors. 

Original analysis: It’s plain and simple, Alexa Efraimson wants another shot at this.  She was 4th in the ’13 World Youth 1,500 – the first USA runner to ever medal there – but then 6th (behind teammate Elise Cranny’s 4th) in her first World Junior meet two years ago in Eugene.  Efraimson would turn pro and then while still in HS last spring, break Mary Cain’s American Junior record in the event.  Now in 2016, she’s good enough that she was a serious contender at the Olympic Trials for the U.S. before fading to 6th.  She’s 3rd on the entry list based on ’16 best times, but her 4:03.39 from last year is faster than anyone else here has run.

Ethiopians Adanech Anbesa and Fantu Worku are the top two for the year.  Their countrywoman Gudaf Tsegay, who won silver in ’14, is still eligible but is focusing on Rio.  Also watch for Germany’s Konstanze Klosterhalfen, who has run 4:06.91 – but was already 3rd in the 3,000 this week.  Kenyan’s Winifredah Nzisa and Joyline Chepkoech aren’t as high on the list, but will be running at sea level for the first time here.  Christina Aragon, the #2 high schooler this year with a 4:09.27 PR that would have been considered unthinkable for a prep not too many years ago, should make the final and could be top six or better.

Team USA History:  The U.S. has never medaled in this event, with the best finishes being 4th and 6th by Jordan Hasay and Alex Kosinski in ’08, then the same 4-6 by Elise Cranny and Alexa Efraimson two years ago.  Also, Hasay was 4th again in ’10 and Mary Cain was 6th in ’12. 

Men’s 800m run – Bett and Smaili look the best

(qualifying and semis were 7/22-23, final 7/24)
Meet: 1:43.79, Nigel Amos BOT 2012
WJR: 1:41.73, Nigel Amos BOT 2012
AJR: 1:43.55, Donavan Brazier, 2016

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best; plus additional U.S.)
1. Willy Kiplimo Tarbei KEN 1:44.84
2. Mostafa Smaili MAR 1:45.05
3. Kipyegon Bett KEN 1:45.80
4. Jesus Tonatiu Lopez MEX 1:46.57
5. Robert Farkan GER 1:46.65

7. Vincent Crisp USA 1:46.97
10. Brian Bell USA 1:47.18

UPDATE (after qualifying):  Kenyans Kipyegon Bett and Willy Kiplimo Tarbei were 2nd and 3rd semifinal winners, while Morocco’s Mostafa Smaili won the 1st.  Riadh Chninni of Tunisa, Jesus Tonatiu Lopez of Mexico and Robert Heppenstall of Canada also looked good.  Team USA’s Brian Bell was 4th in the 1st semi, but he grabbed the last time qualifier spot when the other semis were slower.  Vincent Crisp was also 4th in the 2nd semi, but not fast enough to get in.

Original analysis: Fans can only wish that Texas A&M frosh Donavan Brazier had chosen to go for the U.S. Junior team in addition to – or even instead of – the Olympic Trials, where he missed advancing beyond the first round.  Brazier, after a fine prep career than included an NBNO title, broke the American Junior record at NCAAs with his 1:43.55, then turned pro.  He would definitely have contended for a medal here if he’d been on his game.  As it is, the Kenyans are in good shape for a shot at repeating their gold-silver finish of 2014 in Eugene, with Willy Kiplimo Tarbei and Kipyegon Bett ranking 1-3 among entrants this time.  Both of them also contested last summer’s World Youth champs in Cali, with Tarbei prevailing for gold. 

Mostafa Smaili of Morocco has been impressive indoors and out this year, having placed 6th at World Indoor in Portland in March, then nearly breaking 1:45 in June outdoors.  American entrants Vincent Crisp and Brian Bell impressed with their stretch battle at Juniors in Clovis and each has shot at making the final.  Bell anchored the Dayton Dunbar team that set an indoor national sprint medley mark at NBNI in ’15.

Team USA History:  The high-water mark for Americans came in 2010, when Cas Loxsom and Robby Andrews won silver and bronze for Team USA.  Tre’Tez Kinnaird was 6th in ’14.

Men’s 4x400m relay: Team USA here, too – but watch out for Botswana

Meet: 3:01.09, USA 2004
WJR: 3:01.09, USA 2004
AJR: 3:01.09, 2004

Top 5 Entries
(by ’16 best)
1. Germany 3:08.52
2. Trinidad and Tobago 3:10.42
3. Jamaica 3:10.55
4. Kenya 3:11.04
5. Thailand 3:11.59

UPDATE (after qualifying):  Beating Botswana will be a brutal task for the USA, or anyone else.  400 favorite (44.22 PR) Baboloki Thebe was DQ’d in the semis of that event, and is running with a vengeance for Botswana now.  They also have 400 bronze medalist Karabo Sibanda to go with a few 47-second types.  They ran 3:03.75 in qualifying, the best by four seconds.  The US counters with 45-second talent in Will London III and Kahmari Montgomery, but the other two legs could be from the qualifier – Ari Cogdell and Champ Allison – or could be drawn from 400H silver medalist Taylor McLaughlin or 200 champ Michael Norman, though Norman has said he was pretty sure he wouldn’t be running it.

Original analysis / Team USA History:  As is the case with the 4x100, current lists are barely relevant since the USA and some other powers have not raced their national teams.  The Americans have been even more dominant here, winning 15 of the past 17 meets, including ’14 in 3:03.31.  Perhaps moreso than in the 4x1, it’s possible to imagine the WJR of 3:01.09 going down – if Norman joins London and Montgomery and is not too fatigued.  Botswana, with Thebe and Kirabo Sibanda, is a legit threat as long as they have a few other sub-47s.  The US will have to have a decent lead before the final handoff.  Jamaica, starring ’15 WY champ Christopher Taylor, and Trinidad and Tobago are among others to watch.

Women’s 4x400m relay – Team USA over Jamaica

Meet: 3:27.60, USA 2004
WJR: 3:27.60, USA 2004
AJR: 3:27.60, 2004

Top 5 Entries
1. Jamaica 3:34.84
2. Germany 3:36.69
3. USA 3:40.56
4. Bahrain 3:42.87
5. India 3:43.57

Analysis: Team USA has won 7 straight World titles here and there’s a good chance the streak will continue here.  The Americans lost a potential 50-second leg when Sydney McLaughlin opted out of the team for the Olympics, but still have 400 silver medalist Lynna Irby and other legs that should be able to do 52-53 splits in Karrington Winters, Sammy Watson, Anna Cockrell and Aaliyah Miller.  Winters and Watson had strong legs as the U.S. qualified 2nd overall into the final.  Jamaica, with its 3:33.18 top qualifier, is pretty loaded, too, and could present a stiff challenge.

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