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Meredith Rainey Valmon
Meredith Rainey  Valmon
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The USA Track & Field Olympic Trials - Part II: Athletes to Watch

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I absolutely love the excitement and drama of the Olympic Trials. In every Trials there are surprises whether it's the athlete who comes out of nowhere to make the team or the heavy favorite who has a bad day and heartbreakingly misses earning her spot. For me it is far better than any reality show. The Olympic Trials are a great chance to get to know the athletes that you'll be seeing in Beijing, and learn some of the interesting stories about their journey to this date with destiny. It is also invaluable for young athletes to watch these athletes at their best to see technique, racing strategy and how they handle the intense pressure of attempting to make the Olympic Team. Here are some athletes to watch for when you tune in to the Olympic Trials on television between Friday, June 27th and Sunday, July 6th.

1. Lashinda Demus (400 meter hurdles) - One of the best in the world over the past several years. She enters the trials in a familiar position...as the year's top competitor in the world.

2. Allyson Felix (100 meters, 200 meters) - It's not overstating things to call her the most graceful and elegant runner out there these days. It is astonishing how effortless her speed appears. As the reigning world champion in the 200 meters, Felix is the heavy favorite in that event and having put up top times in both the 100 meters and 400 meters she has already made a great case to be included on both the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relays for Beijing. She is a gorgeous runner and a real treat to watch.

3. Shalane Flanagan (5000 meters & 1000 meters) - America's most exciting young distance runner. She is a 5000 meter specialist who broke the American record in the 10000 meters this spring in her first attempt at the distance.

4. Kara Goucher (5000 meters & 1000 meters) - At last year's World Championships she became the first American to medal in the 10000 at Worlds. It will be exciting to watch her and Flanagan battle it out at the trials in both distance events.

5. Chaunte Howard (High Jump) - Her elegant jumps belie the speed and power she possesses to get that high in the air. Already a medalist at the world level, watching her makes you forget how hard it must be to jump nearly 6'6".

6. Sanya Richards (400 meters) - She is the class of the field in the 400 meters when she's healthy. She will be one of the favorites for Olympic gold in August.

7. Jennifer Stuczyinski (Pole Vault) - Hands down, she's the best female pole vaulter in America and one of the top contenders to win gold in Beijing. The only expected drama will be watching to see if she takes down the world record.

8. Women's 100 meter hurdlers- There are just too many fast women to pick one. Reigning Olympic Champion Joanna Hayes, reigning World Champion Michelle Perry, 2008 list leader Damu Cherry and top performer Lolo Jones are only some of the women who have great chances of going to Beijing...but only three can go.


9. Kerron Clement (400 meter hurdles)- With Americans holding seven of the top ten spots on the performers' list for 2008 being this is going to be one of the toughest tickets to earn in Eugene. But Clement is #1 in the world this season and, despite the tough competition, it would be a surprise if he doesn't come in the top three.

10. Tyson Gay (100 meters & 200 meters) - In contrast to some of the outsize personalities that we've seen over the years, Tyson is quiet and unassuming and lets his feet do the talking. America's best male sprinter, he holds the top times in the country for both events but he'll be challenged in Eugene. Don't blink during the 100 meters.

11. Bernard Lagat (1500 meters and 5000 meters)- After winning double gold at last year's World Championships in the 1500 and the 5000 Lagat aspires to duplicate that feat on the Olympic track. A savvy veteran, he glides around the track seemingly without tiring. You'll enjoy watching him run. Kids can learn from a master tactician.

12. Adam Nelson (Shot Put) - The shot putters put (no pun intended) on one of the best shows at national meets. Now a veteran, Nelson is one of a crew of throwers who know how to get the crowd, and themselves, pumped up. Along with Christian Cantwell and Reese Hoffa he is part of a formidable threesome that has held on to the top spots in the U.S. for years. Going in to the trials they also have the top three spots in the world locked up. Our shot put cohort will be one of the strongest units the U.S. team sends to Beijing.

13. Dwight Phillips (Long Jump) - Already considered one of the best long jumpers in U.S. history, Phillips will be going for his sixth consecutive national title at the trials, and second consecutive Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing.

14. Wallace Spearmon (200 meters) - Holds one of the top times in the world in this event and has medaled in the last two World Championships. A late closer, Spearmon's strongest part of his race is at the end, which is perfect since that's where the finish line is. If he and Gay meet in the finals of the 200m it will be one of the Trials' best races.

15. Brad Walker (Pole Vault) - The world's #1 vaulter and World Champion in 2007, Walker has picked up where he left off in 2008 and has the highest jump in the world right now.

16. Jeremy Wariner (400 meters) - The dominant 400 meter runner of his time, his combination of speed and strength make him almost unbeatable in this event.

Enjoy the show these and all of the other thletes will put on.  It only comes around every four years.