Paris awaits for Sha'Carri, Lyles and dozens more, but Olympic spots must be earned at trials


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EUGENE, Ore. — The endorsement deals have been signed, the commercials have been shot. In some cases, an airline ticket — maybe for friend or a family member — has already been purchased.

There is one more item to scratch off the list before everyone from Sha'Carri Richardson to Noah Lyles to Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone embark on their trips to Paris for the Olympics — and it is not a small detail at all.

They have to make the team. No athlete, no matter how well-known or successful in the past, gets a free ride at U.S. Olympic track and field trials, which open Friday and are the only place where the 120 or so spots on the team heading to Paris can officially be earned.

The top three in every event earn places on the team, assuming they have met the Olympic standard for that event.

"I feel like trials is always a good time to figure out what the rounds look like and the fitness is at," said McLaughlin-Levrone who, even as the world-record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, still has to earn her way. "We have some time still before Paris, but it's always the hardest team to make, so obviously, got to go out there and put on a performance first."

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Christian Taylor is now 34 and no sure thing to make the U.S. team in the triple jump. It wasn't always that way. He won every gold medal at the Olympics and worlds from 2011-2019. Then, like now, nobody handed him anything when he walked into Hayward Field in Eugene with a spot on the line.

"I always felt like I had so much to lose because everyone expected it," Taylor said. "Everyone was like, 'Of course you're going to make it.' But you cannot take the U.S. team for granted."

The trials run June 21-30 on the University of Oregon campus.

A growing debate in track is whether the 100 meters, which crowns the fastest man and woman in the world, is being supplanted by the 400-meter hurdles as the most electric race on the program.

That answer might not be fully fleshed out until after the Olympics. Richardson, Lyles and McLaughlin-Levrone will all have a very big say in how things play out.

McLaughlin-Levrone has helped lift the women's 400-meter hurdles into must-watch status. She has lowered the world record four times over the past 36 months — three of those occasions came on the track in Eugene — down to a once-unthinkable mark of 50.68 seconds.

She also has a potential rival in the making — reigning world champion Femke Bol of the Netherlands, who finished second to McLaughlin-Levrone at the world championships in 2022 and third, also behind 2016 Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad, at the Olympics the year before that.

Richardson might be the biggest name in Eugene over these 10 days.

Three years after a positive test for marijuana kept her out of the Olympics (after she had won the 100 meters at trials), she is back and looks to be in top form. She'll try for the 100 and 200, and would be a shoo-in for the women's 4x100 relay team.

What transpires at Jamaica's Olympic trials from June 27-30 will dictate the story in Paris. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, the two-time defending champion at 100 and 200 meters whose health is in question, would all be considered contenders for Olympic gold if they make their team.

Lyles is headlining in a new Netflix documentary that takes an inside look at track. Like Richardson, he has also been hard to miss on NBC or anywhere an Olympic ad campaign is taking place.

The men's sprint game has struggled to stay in the spotlight since Usain Bolt left this sport after the Rio Games in 2016. Quick, name the defending 100-meter Olympic champion: It's Marcell Jacobs of Italy; American sprinter Fred Kerley finished second.

Lyles is positioning himself to be track's next big star. One way to do it would be to win three — maybe even four — medals at the Olympics. He won gold in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay last year at the worlds and has put himself in the mix — much to the chagrin of some 400-meter runners on the U.S. team — for the 4x400 relay as well.

If you haven't heard of a few of these runners yet, you will soon:

— Parker Valby, a 21-year-old junior at the University of Florida, recently broke a 14-year-old NCAA record in the 10,000 meters by 28 seconds, finishing in 30 minutes, 50.43 seconds. She is also NCAA record-holder at 5,000 meters and is entered in both events.

— Ole Miss senior McKenzie Long won NCAA titles at 100 and 200 meters; her time of 21.83 is the fastest in the world this year.

— Nico Young, a 21-year-old at Northern Arizona, shaved nearly 16 seconds off the men's 10,000-meter college record in March.

If she makes it to the starting line at trials, it will mark defending 800-meter Olympic champion Athing Mu's first race of the year.

She has been hampered by injuries. Last month, she pulled out of the Prefontaine Classic with what coach Bobby Kersee said was left hamstring soreness.

"We're in a good place," Mu said Thursday. "We're right where both Bobby and I feel confident and happy and satisfied with just being able to come here and compete."

The 22-year-old Mu looked like one of America's top stars after winning at the Olympics, then following that with a world title in 2022.

But she nearly skipped last year's worlds, then conceded she was happy to go on vacation and not have to think about track. She has not raced since winning the 2023 version of the Pre Classic last September.

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AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed to this report.

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AP Summer Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2024-paris-olympic-games

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