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Best bets to see records fall, stars rise at USA Track finals in Sacramento

Sydney McLaughlin competes in the 400-meter hurdles heat during the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Sydney McLaughlin competes in the 400-meter hurdles heat during the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Associated Press file

Fast times, tough competition and blazing temperatures are expected for the USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships at Sacramento State, as some of the nation’s best fight for a chance to compete in London at the world championships. Here are five story lines to follow at the meet, which runs Thursday through Sunday.

How will Sacramento’s team fare?

You might not know it, but Sacramento has its own professional running team. The NorCal Distance Project is sending Olympians Kim Conley and Kate Grace, and middle-distance standout Lianne Farber to the meet. Conley, who went to UC Davis, is a former national champion in the 10,000 meters and is sharp in the 5,000, having qualified twice for the Olympics in the event. Grace, who will be competing in the 1,500, is one of the sport’s fastest-rising stars. After surprising some an 800-meter win at the U.S. Olympic Trials, she made the final in Rio and finished in eight place. She has since joined Nike’s elite group of middle-distance runners. Farber is not a favorite in the 1,500, but is looking for a strong finish. Who knows, maybe the home-track advantage will carry the team to a string of upsets. Other local rooting interests include Galt’s Stephanie Brown-Trafton (shot put) and Cameron Park’s Danylle Kurywchak (triple jump).

High schoolers vs. pros

It’s rare for a high school athlete to compete among professionals, but it’s even more unusual when they actually have a shot at a medal. Sydney McLaughlin, who just graduated high school, is among the favorites in the 400 hurdles. At just 17, she has already qualified once for the Olympics in the event and shattered the world junior record (athletes younger than 20). Vernon Turner of Yukon, Okla., is looking to break the high school high-jump record of 7 feet, 7 inches. His best is 7-6. To put that into perspective, Turner can jump over Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein with several inches to spare.

New world record?

Two-time Olympic champion Christian Taylor and Will Claye, former teammates at Florida, will vie for triple-jump gold and perhaps an all-time best. Taylor already holds the world’s second-best mark at 59-9, just shy of the record 60-0 1/4. At the Prefontaine Classic in May, Claye cleared a wind-aided 59-2 2/3 – inches from Taylor’s 59-5. Maybe the heat will add an extra spark to their jumps. Pole vaulter Stacy Dragila set the last world record in Sacramento at the 2000 Olympic Trials.

Middle-distance clash

Clayton Murphy skipped his senior year at Akron and signed a professional contract with Nike after taking Olympic bronze in the 800, the first American to medal at the Games in that event since 1992. This weekend, Murphy will attempt to win both the 800 and the 1,500, running in at least one race a day. In the 1,500, Murphy is the underdog. He’ll be joined by Matthew Centrowitz, the first American to win the 1,500 in the Olympics since 1908. Expect a gutsy race as the temperatures reach triple digits. In the 800, Murphy faces Donovan Brazier, who left Texas A&M after his freshman year to sign with Nike. After failing to qualify for the Olympics, Brazier has rebounded and enters with the second-best qualifying time at 1:44.63, about a second slower than Murphy’s.

New era of American sprinters

The United States has produced some of the world’s best sprinters – Carl Lewis, Florence Griffith Joyner, Jesse Owens, Tyson Gay – but there’s a changing of the guard and Sacramento will be a proving ground for a group on the rise. Americans have run some of the world’s leading times this year, among them Christian Coleman in the 100 (9.82) and 200 (19.85), Noah Lyles in the 200 (19.90), and Fred Kerley in the 400 (43.70). All are 22 or younger. Lyles, the youngest, is 19. While some might choose to avoid the pressure of being the America’s sprinting future, U.S. indoor champion Ronnie Baker, who qualified sixth in the 100, is embracing it. “I’ve thought a lot about that and it feels really good to be recognized as one of those up and coming guys,” he said. “It’s really an honor to be in that conversation.” To advance the conversation, these young sprinters will have to get through Olympic champions Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt.

Jacob Sweet: 916-321-1052, @_jacobsweet

Off and running

What: USA Track & Field Outdoor Championships

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Sacramento State

Tickets: $18-$25 daily; $65-$145 four-day pass; sacsports.com or at the box office

TV: Friday, 7:30 p.m., NBCSN; Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m., Ch. 3

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