400 METERS: ARMAN VS. ALDRICH -- If you love great sprint matchups with plenty of history and potential drama, it doesn't get much better than this. Arman over Aldrich? Aldrich over Arman? Who ya got? To demonstrate why this battle of senior prep 400 stars has so much appeal, you really have to go over more than a year of history.
As a junior, Arman Hall (St. Thomas Aquinas, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.) ruled the 400 (and to a slightly lesser extent the 200) for most of 2011, through New Balance Outdoor Nationals. But then at the World Youth Trials, Aldrich Bailey (Timberview, Mansfield, Texas) stunned Hall and the prep track world with a sweep of the long sprints. In France, however, it was Hall again, winning the World Youth 400 title, while both ran on the winning medley relay.
This past winter indoors, Bailey got off to a spectacular start, before suffering narrow losses to New Jersey star Najee Glass at the Brooks PR meet and New Balance Nationals Indoor. But Hall lagged far behind both. Outdoors, Bailey in April made huge headlines with a 45.19, while Glass struggled with injury and Hall ran 46s. Then at Great Southwest, Hall finally dashed his 46.01 PR from 2011 with a 45.59, the same time Bailey ran to win the Texas state meet.
So right now, the general sense is that these guys are about as even as could be, both having ups and downs. Hall has the momentum of a recent PR, but Bailey still has the edge on him for the year, both on the watch and in terms of creds. They'll go at it like a pair of classic heavyweight fighters against a field with no other sub-46s and with both having a great chance to go to Barcelona. The drama will be in who crosses the line first.
100 METERS: IS BRACY READY? -- Five weeks ago, he won the Florida 4A state 100, but dropped out of the 200 final with hamstring issues. Three weeks ago, he was slated to run Golden South, but scratched a few days before. Last weekend, he went to New York hoping to defend his adidas Dream 100 title, but scratched out again. The big question in the 100 is: Will Marvin Bracy be able to compete
The Boone (Orlando, Fla.) senior is unbeatable at the prep level when he's on, even with the recent sub-10.20 exploits of Tyreek Hill and Abraham Hall. He has a wind-aided 10.06 to his credit this year, and two windy sub-10.10s from last year, when he won both USATF and Pan-Am Junior titles. But to fulfill his goals of being the best junior in the world and also competing in the upcoming Olympic Trials, the hamstring – with a day-to-day status – has to be ready.
MORE 100: CAN HILL BOUNCE BACK? -- Imaging coming all the way to New York City for the first time in your life from rural south Georgia. Imagine your first chance against a national class field in a race of 11 seconds, then only to have it vaporized by a false start. That was the fate Coffee County (Douglas, Ga.) senior Tyreek Hill suffered after he lined up for the adidas Dream 100. All he could then do was watch as Levonte Whitfield, the same guy who edged him in the Golden South 100 final, won the day at 10.43 seconds.
Thankfully, Hill has another chance, and if he's steady and smart, he'll have a trip to Barcelona that will help him forget about New York. The thing is, even if Bracy doesn't run, making Team USA will be no cakewalk. Not only will fellow 10.19 performer Abraham Hall (Texas) be in the field, also wanting to show he's better than his third-place finish in New York, but young collegiate stars like Aaron Ernest of LSU (10.23, 10.17w) and Arthur Delaney (10.24) will be in the field.
POLE VAULT: BIG THREE TRY AGAIN -- Remember the national boys' pole vault scene as it stood back in February? Seniors Shawn Barber (Kingwood Park, Texas), Reese Watson (Spring, Texas), and Jacob Blankenship (Lincoln, Gahanna, Ohio) had all vaulted 17-6 or better, all moving into the top five all-time, and it was still not March yet. Surely we were going to see one of the greatest seasons ever in the event, with possibly three preps over 18 feet.
Well, as we've discovered, it doesn't always work out that way and early-season heroics don't always translate to a continued progression. None of the three has PR'd since Barber's 17-8 on March 2. Not that they've lacked success, though. Barber – who is a Canadian dual citizen who is also jumping at NBNO and whose ultimate goal is that country's Olympic Trials – recently won Great Southwest at 17-5.5, beating Watson. And Watson, who battled an early spring injury, managed to get back to 17-0 to win the 5A state meet before 16-11.5 at GSW. Blankenship, who represented Team USA at World Youths last year, won NBNI and has gone 17-2 outdoors.
Blankenship and Watson, even if they do well, have no easy road to get a Team USA spot. Collegians J.J. Juilfs (Washington) and Nikita Kirillov (Georgia Tech) have both gone 17-10 or better, though Kirillov – like Barber – may be vaulting for another country at Worlds (Kyrgyzstan).
110H/400H: HURDLE WARS FOR ROBERTSON AND CO. -- In no men's event in Bloomington are the top preps better represented than the 110 hurdles. Other than injured US#1 Artie Burns, the next five hurdlers on the legal DyeStat TFX list will be here: Martin Luther King (Atlanta, Ga.) senior Jordan Moore, Berea (Ohio) senior Donovan Robertson, Brophy Prep (Phoenix, Ariz.) senior Devon Allen, Grandview (Mo.) senior Dapo Akinmoladun, and Potomac (Md.) senior Dondre Echols – plus Trenton Central (N.J.) senior Jermaine Collier, who ran 13.67w Monday. Most of these guys clashed either at NBNI or Brooks indoors and with victories in each, Robertson is the favorite.
With his new 35.96 300H PR from state, Robertson looks tough to beat in the 400H as well – though his last time at that distance was a humbling 11th at NBNO last June. Perhaps just as tough to beat or tougher will be US#1 and Penn Relays champ Eric Futch (Penn Wood, Lansdowne, Pa. senior) and collegian Greg Coleman of Texas A&M, the leading entrant at 51.01.
1500: DREAM MILE BOUNCE-BACK -- The top prep contenders in the men's 1500 represent a partial list of those who waged the epic adidas GP Dream Mile last weekend. No, there's no Bernie Montoya trying to make it a double, or Ed Cheserek trying to rebound (he's in Greensboro), but the quartet of standouts is pretty impressive, starting with Mansfield (Mass.) senior Josh Lampron, who was third in New York at 4:02.98. Lampron has a bit of an extra edge among his peers, having raced competitive 1,500s as part of the New Balance series in Boston, with a best of 3:45.74.
Also in the field are Washington senior stars Marcus Dickson (White River, Buckley) and Izaic Yorks (Lakes, Lakewood), who while "just" fifth and eighth in in the Dream Mile, ran super times of 4:03.18 and 4:04.28. Then there's Cypress Woods (Cypress, Texas) senior Craig Nowak who was a disappointing 14th in New York, but still sports a 4:06.65 1,600 PR that cannot be ignored.
All that said, the top preps will have no easy time with the collegians entered in this event. University of Wisconsin's Austin Mudd – who ran 4:01 in the Dream Mile as a prep senior last year and has hit 3:40.87 for 1500 – and Penn State frosh star Robby Creese (sub-4:00 mile) have to be considered the favorites to make it to Barcelona.
HORIZONTAL JUMPS: LAYING DOWN THE LAW(SON) -- By this time of year, the horizontal jumps lists are full of a heady mix of outstanding marks, but most of them without the benefit of wind gauges to give them credibility. Even at many state meets, wind gauges are not available for the long and triple jumps. Other times, windy conditions spoil in many cases what might be an only chance for a good jumper to get a wind-legal mark. But for Liberty-Eylau (Texarkana, Texas) senior Jarrion Lawson, a grand opportunity to get in wind-legal jumps came at his 3A state meet, and he took it with US#1 marks of 25-8 (+0.8w) and 51-10.25 (-0.9w). Five weeks later, those are still national leaders, making Lawson the prep to beat in Bloomington.
Not that he won't be severely tested. Mississippi State frosh Jarrett Samuels has a legal 25-8.25 and a windy 26-2.25 as the top collegiate and overall entrant, and then there's prep indoor US#1 Devin Field, the Texan who won NBNI and Simplot, but was ineligible to compete for his high school and battled injury this spring. At Great Southwest two weeks ago, he showed the springs, but did not get a legal mark due to fouls. He represented Team USA and was victorious last summer at Pan Am Juniors.
In the triple jump, Lawson will face US#2 Franklin (El Paso, Texas) senior and Great Southwest champ Felix Obi at 51-05.75, California state champ Klyvens Delaunay (Claremont senior) at 51-7w and 2011 NBNO champ/World Youth team member Imani Brown (Reading, Pa. senior), among others.
JAV/HAMMER: LITMUS TEST FOR ALL-TIMERS -- Javelinist Sean Keller and hammer-thrower Rudy Winkler have this in common: There's no prep close to them entered in either event and they stand alone as potential prep qualifiers for Team USA. Beyond that, however, their storylines are different.
For Keller, it's a shot at redemption. He made the US team last summer for Pan Am Juniors, but was ultimately disappointed in his performance. This spring he has improved to 244-11, US#2 and #3 all-time, and is in a great position to make some noise internationally at his best. US#1 Billy Stanley, by the way, is not entered either here or in Greensboro. Keller also plans to compete in the Olympic Trials.
Winkler, on the other hand, is a clear US#1 at 251-1 – good for #4 all-time. Unlike in the javelin, the Averill Park (N.Y.) junior must adjust to the heavier junior implement. But wait, he's already done that as he's whirled a super 237-3 with the 6k ball and chain already, just 11 feet off Conor McCullough's USR.
800: SORK STANDS ALONE -- Less than a month ago, it would have been unimaginable to think of Tanner Sork being the country's #1 800-meter runner, let alone the top prep contender to make Team USA for the World Junior Championships. But then the Union (Camas, Wash.) senior lowered his PR from 1:52.26 to a nation-leading 1:48.74 in one fell swoop at the BorderDuel in Portland, beating fellow sub-1:50 talent Marcus Dickson, and his life changed. He backed it up at the Portland Track Festival with a 1:49.10 and another win.
Almost as surprising is the fact that while 11 preps have broken 1:50 this spring, only one of them will be in Bloomington. NBNO has the lion's share of half-mile talent, while other athletes are doing other events or have shut it down for the season. In fact, of the top 16 entrants in the Junior 800, all under 1:52, Sork is the only high schooler. The top seed is collegian Joe McAsey of U. of Illinois at 1:48.62 and three other collegians are under 1:49, leaving Sork right in the middle of things. If he can show the same finish he's had the past two meets, he'll be in excellent shape to go from unknown to Team USA in three weeks.
3K ST/5K: FAHY'S REDEMPTION -- Though he hasn't garnished the headlines of some of his fellow national-class distance peers, La Costa Canyon (Carlsbad, Calif.) senior Darren Fahy has quietly had an excellent spring after his Foot Locker Finals disappointment. Despite twice running 4:08 1,600s, winning a rare state meet distance double, and hitting 8:54 for 3,200 at Arcadia, Fahy didn't get a Dream Mile invitation.
But maybe bigger things are in store for him. More significant than his flat race marks was the eye-popping 9:03.15 3k steeple Fahy ran in an open meet at UCSD in April. It was his first try at the distance and only six preps have ever run faster. One of those, Princeton frosh Ed Owens, is entered in the field, as well. Fahy is also entered in the 5,000. Last winter, Fahy just missed making Team USA for the NACAC cross-country meet. Maybe this is his time.