- Luke Cyphers
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At the U.S. Olympic track and field trials this weekend, all eyes will be on Allyson Felix. Nothing new. The track world has been staring at the 22-year-old for most of the past decade, ever since she started rewriting high school record books in California. Felix dominated last year's world championships in Osaka, Japan, running away with the 200-meter gold and leading the U.S. to relay wins in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
Still, she's no lock in her quest to double in the 100 and 200 in Eugene, Ore. She'll have to contend with a typically deep American sprinter pool and with fact that the stress of the trials does weird things to people.
That applies to all the athletes, of course, and Felix won't be the only woman to keep an eye on.
Event to watch: 100 meters; Ht: 5-2; Wt: 127 pounds; Age: 24; Residence: Miami
Breakdown: She hasn't broken 11 seconds this year, but the tiny dynamo brings it in big races. Williams broke out in 2004 with an Olympic silver medal in the 100 and won the worlds in 2005. Last year, in one of the most exciting sprint races ever, she narrowly lost gold to Jamaica's Veronica Campbell in a five-way photo finish at the worlds. Though past performance is no guarantee of future results, expect Williams to be in the thick of things again, along with Marshevet Hooker, Torri Edwards, and, yes, Felix.
Event to watch: Pole vault; Ht: 6-0; Wt: 138; Age: 26; Residence: Churchville, N.Y.
Breakdown: Meet the natural. The first American woman to clear 16 feet and the holder of the U.S. record (16-0 3/4), Stuczynski didn't concentrate on vaulting until four years ago. She was a basketball player at tiny Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y., where she averaged 24 points and six boards a game to lead the team to the NAIA national-title game. Now, Stuczynski trains through the upstate New York winters in a steel building with no heat -- unless you count the propane warmers near the landing pit. Her Siberia-style regimen has the silver medalist from Osaka poised to take on Russian world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva in Beijing.
Event to watch: 100-meter hurdles; Ht: 5-9; Wt: 130; Age: 26; Residence: Baton Rouge, La.
Breakdown: The Iowa native hopes to reap a bountiful harvest in Eugene. Fresh off an All-American career at LSU, Jones crashed over a hurdle in the 2004 Olympic trials, but kept grinding and won this year's indoor world title in the 60-meter hurdles. Her performance in five big early-season European meets (three firsts, a second and a third) shows she's held her form. Bonus reason to watch: Jones, Damu Cherry and Queen Harrison make women's hurdles the event with the coolest names.
Event to watch: 1,500 meters; Ht: 5-5; Wt: 115; Age: 23; Residence: San Francisco
Breakdown: Rowbury is one of a rising crop of American distance runners -- including Kara Goucher, the Osaka bronze medalist in the 10,000, and Shalane Flanagan, the U.S. record holder in the 5,000 and 10,000 -- with a chance to make the podium in Beijing. This Renaissance woman (Duke grad, documentary filmmaker, Irish step dancer) is in the midst of a breakout year. Her 4:01.61 at the Adidas Classic in L.A. in May ranks third in the world this year and fifth-best all time by an American. More impressive? She ran the first two laps to the non-rockin', dance-proof Colbie Caillat song "Bubbly" ("It starts in my toes, makes me crinkle my nose "), which for some reason was pouring out of the loudspeakers. She easily would have broken four minutes with "Welcome to the Jungle." Or any song from The Pogues.
Event to watch: 400 meters; Ht: 5-8; Wt: 136; Age: 23; Residence: Austin, Texas
Breakdown: At the beginning of last year, Richards looked poised, along with Felix, to be the "It" girl for Osaka and Beijing. But the 2006 IAAF Athlete of the Year succumbed to a rare illness, Behcet's disease, which causes fatigue and mouth ulcers. Her 2007 training calendar was ruined, and so was most of her season. Now she's fit again and running well, with the second-best U.S. 400 time this year (50.04 seconds, .21 behind, you guessed it, Felix). And she says her struggles last year only made her hungrier. One other thing in her favor: Her coach is Clyde Hart, the legendary Baylor coach who helped guide Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner to Olympic gold.
Luke Cyphers is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
3dScott Burnside and Craig Custance