EUGENE, (Oregon): For world and Olympic champions to unheralded newcomers, stars who served doping bans and rivals making comebacks from injury or retiring, the moment of truth has arrived in American athletics.
The 2012 US Olympic trials begin a 10-day run at Eugene’s Hayward Field on Friday, although two rest days are set in the middle of the event and hammer throwers will stage their competition a day earlier at Nike’s headquarters.
“I feel confident. I’m more than ready for our ‘first’ Olympics,” said Sanya Richards-Ross, the 2012 world leader in the women’s 200 and 400 meters.
“I want to make the team, for sure in the 400 and if I can in the 200. That would be icing on the cake. I just want to make the team safely and really put on a great show in London.”
Three top finishers in each final qualify for the London Olympics while the dream ends for those who fail, no matter how strong the performances or how great the achievements coming into the meet.
“The process is fair but it is cut-throat,” US 100 hurdler Ginnie Crawford said. “Sometimes it can be heart-breaking. It’s not about how well you have run or run later, it’s all about how well you run on the day.”
“It’s the most fair way,” US 100 hurdles champion Kellie Wells said. “There are so many who could be in the spots. At the Olympics, there are no do-overs.”
US men, coming off their worst Olympic track and field showing at Beijing, will try and answer the sprint challenge of Jamaica, led by world record-holder and defending 100 and 200 meter Olympic champion Usain Bolt.
Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100 champion who returned in 2010 after a four-year doping ban, has the best US 100 time this year at 9.87 seconds from his victory last month at Doha, where he edged Jamaica’s Asafa Powell.
“Whatever time we’ve served, innocent or guilty, we’ve served that time,” Gatlin said after the win. “I have a lot of grit and a lot of competition still left in these old legs.
“I want everyone to know Justin Gatlin is back and I want the Olympic title.”
Tyson Gay, who underwent right hip surgery last year, ran for the first time in nearly 12 months at New York earlier this month and went 10.00 into a strong headwind, serving notice he could be ready for a run at London.
“It feels good to be back,” Gay said. “My confidence is OK.”
Walter Dix, third in the 100 and 200 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and second in the events at last year’s worlds, is also in the mix.
Reigning Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt, who served a 21-month doping ban before the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled last October that he could run at London, has the 2012 400 meter world best of 44.19 from a victory in May at Doha.
Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 Olympic 400 champion, and Angelo Taylor, the 2008 400 hurdles Olympic champion, could test Merritt’s supremacy at the trials.
Richards-Ross is a 200 and 400 favorite with world bests of 22.09 and 49.39 from victories earlier this month.
“When my 200 is so fast, I feel much more comfortable my first 200 of 400 — that’s really my secret,” Richards-Ross said. “If I can get on an easy pace then the last 200 I can really run well.
“I know I’m in the best shape of my life.”
Allyson Felix, a 200 runner-up at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and three-time 200 world champion, was second in the 400 and third in the 200 at last year’s worlds and is expected to focus on qualifying in the 100 and 200 for London.
That puts her on a collision course with reigning 100 world champion Carmelita Jeter, who owns the 2012 100 world best of 10.81 and was second at last year’s worlds in the 200.
The year’s five top women’s 200 performers are Americans.
The 110 hurdles, where China’s Liu Xiang owns the year’s best time of 12.97, offers US 2012 leader Arie Merritt (13.03), world champion Jason Richardson and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist David Oliver.
Taylor and Bershawn Jackson are 400 hurdles favorites, as is reigning world champion Lashinda Demus on the women’s side.
Another tough fight for London will come in the men’s shot put, where four of the year’s five top performers are US throwers, paced by 2007 world champion Reese Hoffa at 21.81m and 2008 Olympic runner-up Christian Cantwell.
A decathlon showdown looms Friday and Saturday featuring world champion Trey Hardee, world runner-up Ashton Eaton and Olympic champion Bryan Clay.
World triple jump champion Christian Taylor, this year’s world leader, is a favorite to reach London, as are women’s world long jump champion Brittney Reese, also a 2012 world leader, and world high jump champion Jesse Williams.