By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) - Olympic veterans and hopefuls alike collide in Eugene, Oregon, this week as America's top athletes vie for a spot on Team USA, after a nerve-fraying year of coronavirus delay that posed challenges on and off the track.
"Learning how to cope and learning how to get the best out of yourself over the most extreme pressure is part of our selection process," said three-times Olympian Jenny Simpson, who picked up bronze in the 1500m in Rio five years ago.
"We’re going to take the most capable athletes to the Games this year."
Six-times Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix, expected to compete in both the 400m and 200m, is among the marquee names who must fend off new talent as the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials kick off Friday. Sha'Carri Richardson, the 21-year-old dynamo who clocked an impressive 10.72 seconds in the 100 metres this year, is America's latest star in that event.
Among those angling for their first Olympic berth is five-times Diamond League winner Ronnie Baker, who faces a stacked field that includes world leader Trayvon Bromell and five-times Olympic medallist Justin Gatlin. [
"Just to kind of use a metaphor from the sport, I want to be able to be able to stay in my own lane, really stay focused," Baker told reporters.
"(I'm) trying to use those coping mechanisms that I have learned over the last few years and apply them to hopefully make this team."
Starting his quest for triple gold in Tokyo is sprinter Noah Lyles, who at 23 is already a star in his own right, sitting atop the world rankings in the 200m after wining two world championship gold medals in Doha.
For some, the thrill of competing again - in front of a limited, "physically distanced" crowd inside the newly renovated Hayward Field - is reward in itself.
"I remember in April last year when people were like, 'Oh, let's watch marbles race across ESPN, that's sport'," said reigning world champion pole vaulter Sam Kendricks, who picked up bronze in Rio.
"It almost feels like you're held hostage as an athlete when you sit at home and say, 'I want to give you something to watch'."
A trio of must-watch shot put athletes are also ready to unleash their power, with reigning Olympic champion Michelle Carter, who picked up the Stars and Stripes' first-ever gold in the women's event in Rio, and Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, the reigning Olympic and world champions respectively.
The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials begin on Friday.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery, additional reporting by Gene Cherry, editing by Ed Osmond)