What To Watch For At This Weekend’s USATF LA Grand Prix
by Ken Stone
Valarie Allman poses following the women's discus throw finals at the 2022 World Athletics Championships on July 20, 2022 in Eugene, Ore.
Five years before the Olympic Games return to Los Angeles, UCLA’s Drake Stadium will play host to some of the biggest stars in track and field when the USATF LA Grand Prix comes to town this weekend.
The event, which is new this year, begins Friday night and runs through Saturday, with a star-studded international field that is expected to include reigning U.S. Olympic gold medalists Valerie Allman, Ryan Crouser and Katie Moon, plus several others who won medals at last year’s world championships in Eugene, Oregon.
“USATF is thrilled to be returning in such a big way to LA, with the Olympics on the horizon,” said Max Siegel, CEO of USATF, adding, “We’re back in L.A. to stay in a big way.”
Here’s what to watch for at the LA Grand Prix.
The site of the 1932 and 1984 Olympics, Los Angeles once featured major collegiate duals such as UCLA vs. USC and a series of indoor events such as the Sunkist Invitational. The nearby Mt. SAC Relays — in the suburb of Walnut — has attracted world-class athletes for decades.
“LA used to be the pinnacle of the track and field world — and we intend to reignite that passion in one of the largest and most successful running communities in the world,” the noted coach Bobby Kersee told USA Track & Field.
Kersee gets credit for reviving the city’s track fortunes with the Grand Prix, the latest event of the 2023 World Athletics Continental Tour Gold.
He also continues to develop some of the country’s brightest talent in the City of Angels, with some of them set to compete this weekend. The ex-UCLA coach, who is married to Olympic legend Jackie Joyner-Kersee, is sending former world record holder Kendra “Keni” Harrison to the starting line of the 100-meter hurdles Saturday. Her new “Formula Kersee” teammate Jenna Prandini, a world champion last year in the women’s 4x100 relay, will race the 200.
Other Kersee recruits include women’s 400-meter hurdles world-record holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone and Athing Mu, the Olympic and world champion at 800 meters. However, they won’t compete in Westwood, and his superstar sprinter Allyson Felix has retired.
Keni Harrison Joins Star-Studded 100 Hurdles Field
Two months ago, Keni Harrison performed a backflip in an Instagram video introducing her as a new member of coach Bobby Kersee’s “Formula Kersee” training group in Los Angeles. The reigning Olympic and world championships silver medalist will have an opportunity to show off in her new training base this weekend.
How tough is Harrison’s challenge? The former NCAA champ out of the University of Kentucky is expected to go up against Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico and Tobi Amusan, the Nigerian star who lowered Harrison’s world record from 12.20 to 12.12 at last year’s world championships. Counting Jamaica’s Danielle Williams, and the LA field includes half of the finalists at last year’s world meet.
Sam Kendricks competes during the men's pole vault at the 2021 ISTAF athletics meeting on Sept. 12, 2021 in Berlin.
Fellow Americans Sam Kendricks and Chris Nilsen have established themselves as medal contenders in any global men’s pole vault competition. Kendricks has two world titles and an Olympic bronze medal to his name, while Nilsen won silver medals both in Tokyo and last year in Eugene.
Lately, though, everyone is looking up at Armand “Mondo” Duplantis.
Seven months after clearing a record 6.21 meters to win his first world title in Eugene, the Swede raised the global standard to 6.22 meters at a French indoor meet in February. For those keeping track, that means Duplantis holds the Olympic gold medal, world title and world record.
But in his 2023 outdoor debut Saturday, he’ll face American record holder Kendricks, returning from injury, and Nilsen, two competitors who have handed the American-born Swede rare losses — Kendricks at the 2019 world championships and Nilsen in 2021 at a Diamond League meet in Switzerland.
Two-time Olympic champion Ryan Crouser, who began experimenting with a new spin technique this season, used his old style in February to throw 23.38 meters at an indoor meet in Idaho. At first glance that appeared to be an improvement on his own world record of 23.37, set in 2021 in Eugene; however, the Idaho record was later disallowed due to an issue with the ring. Either way, it was a sign that Crouser is ready to throw far again this season.
If anyone can press the University of Texas alum at the Westwood meet, it’s New Zealand’s Tom Walsh, the 2017 world champion with bronze at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. His best is 22.90 meters. Also in the field American Josh Awotunde, formerly of the University of South Carolina, who won bronze at Eugene worlds.
At 2:45 p.m. local time Saturday, fans might see a preview of the women’s 100-meter finals at this summer’s world championships. Sha’Carri Richardson, the former NCAA champion out of LSU, leads the world with a 10.76 clocking on May 5 in Doha, Qatar.
Her top U.S. rival Saturday is fellow LSU Lady Tiger alum Aleia Hobbs, who set an indoor American record at 60 meters this season (6.94) and has the fifth best time so far this outdoor season at 10.86. Also in the hunt is Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast, who equaled her best of 10.78 in Clermont, Florida, on May 14.
Other names to watch Friday and Saturday include 2019 world champ Christian Coleman in the men’s 100, defending Olympic champ and American record holder Valarie Allman in the women’s discus, Olympic and world champ Katie Moon (née Nageotte) in the women’s pole vault, 2016 Rio Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz in the men’s 1,500, reigning world champs Brooke Anderson in the women’s hammer throw and Chase Ealey in the women’s shot, and Olympic medalist Gabby Thomas in the women’s 200.
As of Wednesday, 96 percent of U.S. athletes entered in the LA Grand Prix competed collegiately — led by Oregon (seven athletes), the University of Southern California (six) and LSU (five athletes). Thirty-three Tokyo Olympians who previously competed collegiately are also expected to be competing at Drake Stadium this weekend.
Ken Stone has covered track since the early 1970s, including for Track & Field News, and won TAFWA’s inaugural award for excellence in blogging in 2009. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial.