The young upcoming track and field stars stole the headlines throughout the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials, which took place in Eugene, OR from July 1 to 10. The biggest achievements came from Sydney McLaughlin and Vashti Cunningham who earned their tickets to Rio. However, several other high schoolers also had impressive outings at the trials.
16-year-old, high school senior from Dunellen, NJ, world junior record holder, McLaughlin finished third in the 400m hurdles with a time of 54.15. This finish punched her ticket to Rio, where she will compete against the top hurdlers in the world, many of whom are twice her age. She will be the youngest U.S. track athlete competing in the Olympics since 1972.
McLaughlin told reporters that she almost didn’t toe the line during the first round, due to a mental breakdown. She said, “Just realizing sometimes you have to lose in order to get better, it’s a big thing for me.” In fact, McLaughlin has not lost a race since 2014.
Despite the nerves, McLaughlin’s competitors were complimentary of her skill and poise. Kori Carter, U.S. bronze medalist, said, “I was in every single heat with her and she carries herself like a pro and I know she will represent the USA amazingly.”
Cunningham was not as nervous as McLaughlin for the trials; she is the reigning indoor world champion. She turned pro recently. By doing so, the 18-year-old decided to forego her high school and NCAA eligibility.
At the trials, she finished second in the high jump with 6-4 ¾. Chaunte Lowe won the competition by clearing 6-6 ¼. During world indoors, Cunningham cleared 6-6 ¼ and set a world junior record.
Similar to McLaughlin, Cunningham was praised by her competitors. Lowe likened her to Usain Bolt, “She’s breaking barriers down. I like to compare her to the Usain Bolt of high jump. He started out doing things that nobody had ever done before.”
Cunningham has a winning mentality and she looks forward to breaking down more barriers at the Olympics.
Noah Lyles and Michael Norman finished fourth and fifth, respectively in the 200m final during the trials. Lyles and Norman recently finished their high school careers as two of the best sprinters the U.S. have ever witnessed. Despite the disappointing outcome, Lyles and Norman have lots to look forward to. During the race, Lyles broke the national high school record by running a time of 20.09.
Justin Gatlin who won the 100m and 200m races at the trials called the young sprinters, “giant killers.” While they didn’t take down 31-year-old Gatlin this time, Gatlin will have to watch his back or else he will be looking at their backs. Be sure to check out these two, as they will most likely be rivals during the NCAA Championships in the upcoming years.
Kate Murphy and Christina Aragon both competed in the 1500m. They advanced to the semifinal, but the older tacticians didn’t let the younger runners dominate. Aragon is set to run for Stanford and Murphy still has a year left of high school.
Candace Hill, another professional athlete who is still in high school, competed in the 100m and 200m events. She advanced to the semifinals in each event. Hill is the American junior record holder in the 100m, 10.98.
Joining Hill in the 100m and 200m semifinals was fellow high school star, Kaylin Whitney. When Whitney was 16-years-old she ran the fastest 100m and 200m times for an under-18 woman in the U.S. Whitney also decided to turn pro, when she turned 17.
Sammy Watson ran in the 800m prelims, she finished fourth in her heat so she narrowly missed out on advancing. However, she remains upbeat and positive. Watson is a versatile runner and with one year of high school left she aims to improve her times and set more records.
Other high schoolers include: Tara Davis, Samiyah Samuels, Elena Bruckner, Anna Cockrell, Chanel Brisset and Chris Nilsen also competed against their role models during the trials. Davis and Samuels took on the long jump. Their jumps did not qualify them for the next round. Bruckner threw the discus, but she too was eliminated during the first round. Cockrell advanced to the 400m hurdle semifinals, but she didn’t move on to the final. Brisset qualified for the 100m hurdle semifinals. Nilsen did not clear the opening height in the men’s pole vault.
The list of high schoolers that competed in the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials is long and impressive. While some did better than others, they all gained a valuable learning experience. The names mentioned above may become the stars of the 2020 Olympics.