USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships: Top athletes to watch at the games

It’ll start with a spin, a heave and a landing thud, and then take off from there.

The USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships start Wednesday at the steps of the California state Capitol for the shot put, the first non-stadium setting for a national championship that will allow fans to see the country’s top throwers with a backdrop of the Capitol dome, Capitol Mall and Tower Bridge, all iconic images of Sacramento.

From Thursday through Sunday, the meet will be at Sacramento State’s Hornet Stadium, the sixth time the national championships have been in the region, including the Olympic Trials in 2000 and 2004.

Among the athletes competing this week will be top sprinters Walter Dix and Allyson Felix; LaShawn Merritt, the reigning world champion in the 400 meters; Evan Jager, the American record-holder in the 3,000-meter steeplechase; Leo Manzano, the 2012 Olympic Trials winner in the 1,500 meters; seemingly ageless 5,000-meter runner Bernard Lagat, 39; Michelle Carter, the American record-holder in the shot put and daughter of 1984 Olympic silver medalist and former 49ers defensive lineman Michael Carter; and Shalane Flanagan, the American record-holder in the 10,000 meters.

Here are the athletes to watch at this week’s USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships



100 and 200 meters

Dix, the NCAA record-holder in the 200, won the U.S. outdoor championship in both of the marquee events in 2011, and won the 100 in 2010. The 2008 Olympic Trials champion has the second-fastest American time in the 200: 19.53 seconds.


3,000-meter steeplechase

Jager holds the American record of 8 minutes, 6.81 seconds, and he came close to matching it earlier this month with an 8:06.97 in Norway. He is the 2013 U.S. outdoor champion and he won the 2012 Olympic Trials.


5,000 meters

Lagat, 39, a sentimental favorite, had the fastest time in meet history when he won the 3,000 meters at this year’s U.S. indoor championship, and he holds seven American records. A five-time U.S. outdoor champion in the 5,000 meters, he was second in the 2012 Olympic Trials and won medals in the 2000 and 2004 Games while running for his native Kenya.


400 meters

Merritt won his event at the world championships in August in Russia in 43.74 seconds, the fifth-fastest 400 time in history, and the 2008 Olympic champion has six of the eight fastest times in the world this season.


Shot put

In March, Whiting won his second indoor world championship with a toss of 72 feet, 4 1/4 inches, and he was second at the 2012 Olympic Trials.


200 meters

The University of Florida sprinter won the NCAA Outdoor championship in 19.91 seconds – the fourth-fastest time in a title meet and the second time he’s gone below 20 seconds this season.



Hardee, a two-time world champion and the NCAA Division I record-holder, won the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics. He was second in the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials.


High jump

Kynard is one of the best U.S. high jumpers in recent history; he was a two-time NCAA champion at Kansas State, and he won the 2013 U.S. outdoor and the 2014 U.S. indoor titles. Kynard, who has eight siblings, lists a David Letterman appearance as a personal highlight.


1,500 meters

Manzano charged late at the 2012 Olympics in London to take silver and become the first American to medal in the race since Jim Ryun also took silver in 1968. Manzano, a four-time NCAA champion at Texas, won the 2012 Olympic Trials and has a lifetime best of 3 minutes, 32.37 seconds.


Triple jump

The reigning Olympic gold medalist heads a dynamic field that includes Olympic silver medalist Will Claye, who also won Olympic bronze in the long jump.



High jump

Barrett, a three-time NCAA champion at Arizona, was the 2012 Olympic Trials runner-up and the silver medalist at the 2012 Olympics and the 2013 world outdoor event. She writes poetry and sings, including the national anthem for the 2013 Fiesta Bowl.


Shot put

Carter, who holds the American record of 66 feet, 5 inches, is the daughter of 1984 Olympic silver medalist and former 49ers defensive lineman Michael Carter, who might be best remembered here for setting the national high school record at the Golden West Invitational at Sacramento State in 1979.


400 meters

Felix is one of the most accomplished sprinters in history and is back in form after a torn hamstring sidelined her for the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. She has four Olympic gold medals and a record eight World Championship gold medals.


10,000 meters

Flanagan is an accomplished runner at all distances. She’s the American indoor record-holder in the 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters and the American outdoor record-holder in the 10,000 meters, and she won the bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics. Her parents were successful runners, too, with mother Cheryl Treworgy once holding the world record in the marathon.


100-meter hurdles

Rollins won at the 2013 USA Track & Field Championships in 12.26 seconds, the fourth-fastest time in history, then won the world championship. She has the top time in the world this year at 12.53.


800 meters

Martinez, who grew up as a sprinter, is the favorite in this event after winning a bronze medal at the 2013 World Championships and a silver at the 2013 U.S. outdoor event.


Long jump

Reese revels in big meets, with three world outdoor titles, two world indoor championships and the 2012 Olympic gold medal. Her best jump is 23 feet, 9.5 inches.


400 meters

Richards-Ross, the U.S. record-holder in 48.70 seconds, has recovered from an injury-riddled 2013 after winning the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. And she knows Hornet Stadium; she won the NCAA title there in 2003 for Texas.


1,500 meters

Simpson, a three-time NCAA champion at Colorado and the American record-holder in the steeplechase, won a gold medal in the 1,500 at the 2011 World Championships and was second last year.



Lewis-Smallwood, the 2014 American leader with a best throw of 215 feet, 9 inches, won the 2013 U.S. outdoor title after finishing second in 2010 and third in 2011.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly called Gia Lewis-Smallwood the American record holder in the discus. She has made the best throw in 2014 but does not hold the American record.

Joe Davidson,