What To Watch For In Eugene

Jenny Barringer will double in the 3000m steeplechase and 5000m at the 2009 USATF Championships in Eugene. Photo: Victah Sailer

Jenny Barringer will double in the 3000m steeplechase and 5000m at the 2009 USATF Championships in Eugene. Photo: Victah Sailer

With every event scheduled to be shown either on the internet or on television, you have no excuse not to watch.

The 2009 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships promise to be among the most competitive track meets ever held in this country. The sprints and field events are always loaded with talent, but what’s different this year is the talent level in the middle-distance and distance events, especially on the women’s side. If you’re a fan of American running, you owe it to yourself to put your job and your family and your own training on the back burner for four days and watch how the world’s best do it. Here are the athletes, match-ups and races we’re most excited to see.

Jenny Barringer

Still a student at the University of Colorado, Jenny Barringer plans to compete in the 3000m steeplechase, an event in which she holds the American record, and the 5000m. It will be thrilling to see this generational talent, who recently ran the fourth-fastest 1500m in US history (3:59.90), go toe-to-toe with Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan (see below) in the 5000.

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German Fernandez

Eighteen-year-old Oklahoma State University student German Fernandez is declared in the men’s junior 5000m, the men’s 5000m, and the men’s 1500m. We doubt he’ll actually run all those races, but whatever he winds up running, we want to see it. Fernandez is the most exciting junior runner in America today, having set a world junior indoor mile record (3:55.02) this year and having won the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships 1500m last week.

Tyson Gay

While he may not be quite as genetically gifted or cocksure as his Jamaican rivals Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay is arguably a better competitor. He has a way of rising to the occasion and running his best when it really counts. After suffering through a frustrating sequence of injuries over the past nine months, Gay is healthy again and determined to rise to the challenge presented by Powell and especially Bolt through their recent performances. Although, as the reigning world champion, Gay is not required to qualify in the 100m, he has stated that he will run at least the first round in pursuit of a fast time. He will also race the 200m, an event in which he ran the third-fastest time in history (19.58) last month.

Kara Goucher vs. Shalane Flanagan

There is nothing like a rivalry between two titans of athletic greatness at the height of their careers. Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan are the Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraser (we won’t say which is which) of American distance running in our time. Who could ever forget their epic battles at 5000m and 10,000m in last year’s Olympic Trials? Goucher came out on top in the former while Flanagan was victorious in the latter. As a great gift to fans of American distance running, both runners have chosen to double in Eugene. The rubber match, the 10,000, takes place Thursday night. The rubber rematch, the 5000, is Friday night.

Dathan Ritzenhein

Although he has been somewhat overshadowed by his fellow Class of 2001 member Ryan Hall in recent years, Dathan Ritzenhein is no less gifted. After a personally disappointing PR performance of 2:10:00, well short of his 2:07 goal, at the London Marathon in April, Ritz has made a coaching change and recommitted himself to his mission to become one of the best distance runners in the world. Expect the two-time Olympian to run very well in the men’s 10,000m final Thursday night.

Galen Rupp

Having just completed the most dominant year ever by an American collegiate distance runner, winning the cross-country championship last fall, two individual events and a relay at indoor nationals, and both the 5000m and 10,000m at last week’s outdoors championships, Galen Rupp is scheduled to compete against America’s best in the men’s 10,000 final in Eugene. Rupp was America’s top performer in that event in Beijing and has never been more confident.

Women’s 1500

The finals of the women’s 1500m on Saturday afternoon could be the most memorable event of the entire meet. Never before has there been so much US talent at this distance. Among those who should breeze through the rounds to compete for the national championship title are Shannon Rowbury, a finalist in Beijing last year; Anna Willard, who recently posted a sizzling PR of 4:01:44 at the Prefontaine Classic; Christin Wurth, who was right behind her in 4:01.72 in that race; and 2008 Olympian Erin Donohue.

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