Commentary

Who to watch at 2009 track worlds

Updated: August 14, 2009, 3:23 PM ET
By Luke Cyphers | ESPN The Magazine

Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay aren't the only runners to keep on your radar during the world track and field championships. Here are more athletes to watch as the meet kicks off Saturday in Berlin:

Women

Kara Goucher, United States, marathon: The 2007 world championship bronze medalist in the 10,000 could break out as a superstar with a win in Berlin. She finished third in the New York marathon last fall, third in Boston this spring and she has a sense of humor, starring in her shoe sponsor's naked running ads.

Veronica Campbell-Brown, Jamaica, 200 meters: This one isn't just about Campbell-Brown, the reigning Olympic champ who has had a slow start this year; it's about her showdown with Allyson Felix, who is back to her 2007 world-championship form with a world-best 21.88 in Stockholm this summer. This Jamaica-U.S. tilt could prove as exciting as the Usain Bolt-Tyson Gay showdown.

Stephanie Brown Trafton, United States, discus: From fluke to favorite in a single year, Brown Trafton shocked the world in Beijing when she won America's first gold medal in the event since 1932. The affable Californian, who goes hunting with her husband in the offseason, finds herself the hunted in this meet. She owns the world's best throw (217 feet, 2 inches) this season.

Sanya Richards, United States, 400 meters: Richards may be the best track and field performer never to have won the big one: an individual Olympic or world-championship race. The top-ranked 400 runner the past four years, she settled for bronze last year in Beijing, upset by the Britain's Christine Ohuruogu. This should be Richards' year.

Yelena Isinbayeva, Russia, pole vault: The diva of the vault is vulnerable here, having lost her first competition in 19 meets last month. But without injured American Jenn Stuczynski to spice things up, it's likely Isinbayeva will be vamping all by her lonesome. Which is still fun to watch.

Men

LaShawn Merritt, United States, 400 meters: No country does one lap better than the Americans, who dominate this event and the 400 hurdles (see below). And, right now, no American runs one lap better than Merritt, the Olympic champ who unseated his countryman and rival, 2007 world champ Jeremy Wariner. Merritt has twice run a season's best 44.5 this year, while Wariner has only managed a 44.66. The two will race against each other for the first time this season in Berlin.

Dwight Phillips, United States, long jump: One of the most disappointing aspects of the Americans' dreary performance at Beijing was being completely shut out in the jumping events. But Phillips, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist hampered by injuries last year, is once again ready for takeoff. His leap of 28 feet, 8¼ inches in June at the Prefontaine Classic was the eighth-best outdoor jump ever.

Angelo Taylor, United States, 400-meter hurdles: Again, this isn't about just the 30-year-old Taylor, who picked himself off the track scrap heap to claim gold in Beijing; it's the possibility of a U.S. sweep. Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson, who took silver and bronze, respectively, in 2008, are back and in top form; but they could all be challenged by South Africa's LJ van Zyl, who has the best time in the world this year (47.94 seconds).

Abubaker Kaki, Sudan, 800 meters: The 20 year old set tracks ablaze in Europe last year before bombing out at the semifinals in Beijing. This year, he's dominating again, running a season's best 1:43.09 and 1:43.10. Chasing Kaki will be a trio of Kenyans, led by wily vet Asbel Kiprop, who is attempting an 800-1500 double.

Kenenisa Bekele, Ethiopia, 10,000 meters: The most dominant track athlete in any event right now (yes, including Bolt), Bekele hasn't lost a race at this distance, including two Olympics and a world championship. Not ever. The world-record holder (26:17.53) makes running 6.2 miles look like a stroll to the mailbox. The only suspense here is whether he'll try to double in the 5,000.

Luke Cyphers is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

Luke Cyphers is a former senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.