With a roster filled with experienced internationalists, including seven previous IAAF World Junior or World Youth medalists and seven more previous finalists, Team USA is in a word, loaded, going into the 14th IAAF World Junior Championships which begin Tuesday. There are arguably at least a dozen medal contenders competing (plus the relays), all of whom could help the U.S., combining with the men, to break its all-time championship best of 21 medals.
It’s good to start with the sprints, because therein lies Team USA’s true gold favorites: U. of Illinois frosh Ashley Spencer and both relays. A year ago, Spencer was a 42-second 300 hurdler from Warren Central HS in Indiana and had almost no experience running the 400 as a prep. Over the course of an incredible freshman year, she became the country’s top junior 400 runner and an NCAA champ with a 50.95 PR. She’s #1 in the world with that mark and, having run low-50-points for relay splits, she should be able to back up her talented teammates and bring home the gold on the anchor of the 4x400 to help the Americans defend their title.
The short sprints should be nearly as good, with 2011 World Youth champ and Texas prep Jennifer Madu and 2010 4x100 relay gold medalist and World #2 Dezerea Bryant of Clemson leading the way in the 100 and on the 4x100 relay – hoping for another title defense in the latter. Preps Shayla Sanders and Kali Davis-White, both from Boyd Anderson in Florida, will help take the stick around. Bryant and fellow collegian Olivia Ekpone are medal threats in the 200.
Injury-plagued 2011 World Youth champ and CA prep Trinity Wilson did not make Team USA, but collegian Morgan Snow and young gun Dior Hall – who claimed the New Balance Nationals Indoor 60H – lead 100H hopes. Illinois prep Shamier Little and collegian Kaila Barber should both make the final in the longer hurdles and contend.
In the 800, NJ prep Ajee Wilson is another returnee from the 2010 WJ squad, where she was fifth, and is now the reigning World Youth champ. With tougher competition this year, she is World #5 going into Barcelona. Unranked Danielle Aragon, a fast-improving Montana prep, should not be discounted, either. Other distance hopes for Team USA ride primarily on the shoulders of NY prep Mary Cain in the 1,500 (where she’s #2 all-time HS), 2011 World Youth steeplechase finalist Brianna Nerud (also of N.Y. and #2 in prep history), and very experienced Stanford frosh Aisling Cuffe in the 3,000 – though others could contend, as well.
Prep throws USR-holders Shelbi Vaughan, Haley Crouser, and Shelby Ashe (now post-HS) lead a superlative Team USA contingent on the field. Former GA prep Ashe is World #2 in the hammer, having set the American Junior record of 223-6 at the Trials, and returns from the 2010 WJ squad. Vaughan, who was fourth in the Olympic Trials discus and has thrown 198-9, trails only two on the World Junior list and won bronze in Lille last summer. Oregon prep Crouser was fourth at 2011 WY in the javelin, set her mark with 181-2 in March, was seventh at the Trials and is ninth on the WJ list.
Javelinist Brianna Bain (Stanford), 2009 WY discus medalist Alex Collatz (USC), and World top ten putters Christina Hillman (Iowa State) and GA prep Tori Owers (another 2011 WY finalist) will also support the American cause as likely finalists and possible medalists.
Among the jumpers, U. of Florida triple jumper Ciarra Brewer (seventh in 2009 WY Champs) is World #4 and U. of South Dakota vaulter Emily Grove is World #5. But don’t forget about preps like Madu in the TJ, Robin Reynolds FL in the LJ, and 2011 WY eighth-place finisher Sydney White NC in the PV.
And while Mississippi State’s Erica Bougard and GA prep Kendall Williams are not high on the heptathlon lists, both could threaten American junior or high school records.
How many medals can Team USA women win in Spain? How about at least 10? In terms of golds, expect a relay sweep and one from Spencer, plus at least one more in the sprints, hurdles or throws. For additional overall medals, plan on 2-3 more from the sprints/hurdles, one from the distances, and one or two in the throws.