The U.S. Track & Field Team Heads To Budapest Worlds With Lots Of Star Power
by Chrös McDougall
A year ago, the golden hour sun shined down on Ryan Crouser as he stood atop the medals podium, flanked by a pair of U.S. teammates, and celebrated his first world title, which he won in his home state of Oregon.
Though the setting won’t be quite so familiar this week, Crouser and the U.S. men’s shot putters appear primed for more big performances when the World Athletics Championships kick off Saturday in Budapest, Hungary.
Crouser, the two-time defending Olympic champion who won the world title last year in Eugene, Oregon, continues to be on his own planet in the event. The 30-year-old, originally from Boring, Oregon, improved upon his own world record in May, giving him the three farthest throws of all time, and comes into Budapest undefeated in 2023.
Joining him in Hungary will be Joe Kovacs, the world’s all-time No. 2 shot putter who finished second last year, as well as 2022 bronze medalist Josh Awotunde. And because Crouser earned an automatic spot in Budapest as the defending champ, Team USA will have a rare foursome in the event, with 2020 Olympian Payton Otterdahl rounding out the group.
All four are among the top eight in the world this season, with Crouser and Kovacs holding their familiar spots at first and second.
The shot putters were responsible for one of three Team USA podium sweeps last year in Eugene, which marked the first time the sport’s premier standalone event had been held in the United States. In total, Team USA won 13 gold, nine silver and 11 bronze medals across 22 events last year.
The world championships, typically held in odd-numbered years, are being contested in back-to-back years as the sporting calendars continue to work through the pandemic-related postponements. At this year’s championships in Budapest, which run Aug. 19-27, the U.S. is bringing 138 athletes, including 10 who, like Crouser, qualified as wild cards by merit of being defending world or Diamond League champs.
Though this year’s team won’t include one of the biggest U.S. stars from Eugene — Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone announced her withdrawal on Friday, citing a “minor knee issue” — the U.S. team comes packed with star power and potential.
Of the 44 individual winners in Eugene, 37 are in Budapest, including eight from Team USA.
Besides Crouser, that group includes Brooke Anderson (women’s hammer throw), Chase Ealey (women’s shot put), Grant Holloway (men’s 110 hurdles), Fred Kerley (men’s 100), Noah Lyles (men’s 200), Katie Moon (women’s pole vault) and Athing Mu (women’s 800).
Michael Norman (men’s 400) and McLaughlin-Levrone (women’s 400 hurdles) were the other individual U.S. champs last year.
The 24-year-old McLaughlin-Levrone, who is also the reigning Olympic champ and world-record holder in that event, had been racing the 400 flat this season and holds the world’s fastest time of 2023.
“After consulting with my doctors and coaches, I need to take care of a minor knee issue so that I can be fully healthy for next years’ Paris Olympics,” McLaughlin-Levrone posted to an Instagram story. “I look forward to seeing everyone back on the track soon!”
Norman, who had been racing the 100 this season but a wild-card spot in Budapest in the 400, announced this week he wouldn’t compete, saying on social media that it had been an “extremely frustrating season” and he was refocusing on Paris 2024.
Team USA also won three relay world titles in Eugene, including both on the women’s side.
In addition to Crouser’s world record, six other all-time marks have already been set this season.
Budapest could be primed for more.
Crouser, who has 10 of the 14 best throws ever, is likely Team USA’s best hope for a new world record here, with help from his new “Crouser Slide” technique. His May throw improved his previous record by 19 centimeters to 23.56 meters — putting him just 44 cm from the mystical 24-m milestone.
Lyles, meanwhile, has declared his intention to take on two of the most iconic records — Usain Bolt’s 9.65 in the 100-meter and 19.19 in the 200-meter, both set at the 2009 world championships.
Lyles, the defending champ in the 200, sits third all-time in that event with a best run of 19.31. In the 100, which he’s running for the first time this year at a global championship, he faces a steeper task with a personal best of 9.86, set in 2019.
“They say if they don’t know your dreams then they can’t shoot them down,” the 26-year-old posted to his personal Instagram. “But I have always been more of a guy who loves to hear the screams from the heaters, got a nice ring to it.”
Short of breaking Bolt’s records, Lyles has a slightly more attainable opportunity to match Bolt this month. If he pulls off wins in both the 100 and 200, he’ll become the first to do so at the world championships since Bolt in 2015. He’ll come in as the favorite in the 200, while 13 men have run faster this year in the 100.
Not all of the star power on Team USA comes from the vets.
One of the brightest up-and-comers on the U.S. team is a teenager who’s been there before. The youngest U.S. athlete in Budapest, 19-year-old sprinter Erriyon Knighton, is already an Olympic finalist and won the bronze medal in the men’s 200 last year as part of the U.S. podium sweep with Lyles and Kenny Bednarek.
Knighton, like Lyles, has his sights set on all-time greatness, telling Olympics.com that he aims to someday break the 19-second barrier in the 200. His personal best is 19.49, set in 2022, which makes him the fifth fastest man of all time in the event. Bolt holds the world record at 19.19.
Another bronze medalist from last year, heptathlete Anna Hall, 22, has the best score in the world this season — and it’s not close.
Keep an eye out for fellow 22-year-old Jasmine Moore as well. The 2020 Olympian made her world championships debut last year as a long and triple jumper, but she’s still seeking to make her first championships final. That could change this year, as she comes to Budapest with the world’s second best triple jump and third best long jump of 2023 (both were set indoors).
Some of Team USA’s 45 world championships debutants could in position to shine this month as well.
Coming out of Pitt State, an NCAA Div. II school in Kansas, hurdler Cordell Tinch has the second fastest time of the year so far in the 110-meter event, clocking in .02 faster than defending world champ Holloway.
On the women’s side, sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson is already one of the most recognizable American track and field athletes but has yet to compete at a global championship meet. She’ll come into the women’s 100-meter with four of the seven fastest times of the year, and could also be a contender in the 200.