2024 Prefontaine Classic preview: World’s track stars meet for Olympics prep

We’re just two months away from the start of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, France. While track and field may not hold mainstream popularity compared to other sports, it’s always one of the most anticipated Olympic events, and it’s where the likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Johnson, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, and Carl Lewis (among countless others) broke through as crossover stars.

There are so many interesting events to choose from that it’s hard to exclude any. With that said, here are five of the top races to watch at the picturesque Hayward Field, as well as the best athletes in those competitions.

Men’s 110-meter hurdles

Notable names to watch: Grant Holloway (USA), Hansle Parchment (Jamaica)

What does Grant Holloway have in common with NFL stars DK Metcalf, A.J. Brown, and Michael Pittman Jr?

They were all part of the 2016 high school wide receiver recruiting class. 247Sports’ composite ranking had Holloway at No. 77, well below those three, but Holloway nevertheless was recruited by Clemson and Georgia to play football. He opted for the Florida Gators to pursue his dreams of becoming an Olympic champion. Football’s loss has been track’s gain.

With his unique blend of speed, power, and technique to consistently clear those 42-inch barriers, Holloway has won countless NCAA indoor and outdoor titles, three World Athletics outdoor championships, and two indoor world titles. He also holds the world record in the indoor 60-meter hurdles, and is the second-fastest ever outdoors at 12.81 seconds. Holloway has won virtually everything there is to win in his discipline… except Olympic gold.

Hansle Parchment pulled off one of the big shocks of the Tokyo Games when he chased down Holloway and handed him his only loss of 2021. After coming in second to Holloway in the 2023 Worlds, the Jamaican responded by winning last year’s Prefontaine Classic and Diamond League title.

This is one of the most compelling rivalries in all of track and field, and this race could be another Olympic final preview, one with unfinished business for Grant Holloway.

Women’s 100-meter hurdles

Notable names to watch: Jasmine Camacho-Quinn (Puerto Rico), Danielle Williams (Jamaica), Devynne Charlton (The Bahamas)

Unlike the men, the women’s competition is much more unpredictable. In fact, there’s never been a repeat Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 100-meter hurdles.

The current Olympic champion is Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn, fifth-fastest all-time at 12.26 seconds and sister of former NFL star Robert Quinn. The reigning world outdoor champion is Jamaica’s Danielle Williams, an incredible eight years removed from her previous gold medal. Bahamian Devynne Charlton is the 2024 world indoor 60-meter champion and newly established world record holder in the event, but she’s yet to win an Olympic or world outdoor medal.

There are four Americans slated to compete, including 2019 world champion Nia Ali. We know we won’t be seeing that many Americans in Paris; only a maximum of three entrants per race are allowed at the Olympics.

You can always expect the unexpected in the sprint hurdles, where even one marginal clip of the barrier could prove calamitous.

Women’s 100 meters

Notable names to watch: Sha’Carri Richardson (USA), Elaine Thompson-Herah (Jamaica), Julien Alfred (Saint Lucia)

After a controversial removal from the Tokyo Olympic team and an underwhelming 2022, Sha’Carri Richardson reminded everyone last year that she’s a uniquely gifted sprinter. The former LSU star won the 100m world title in a thriller over Jamaican legends Shericka Jackson and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, captured bronze in the 200 meters, and anchored the Americans to gold in the 4x100m relay. If you’ve been following NBC’s promos, you’ll recognize Richardson is one of the faces of Team USA.

While Jackson and Fraser-Pryce won’t be in Eugene, their fellow countrywoman is making her 2024 outdoor debut. Two-time Olympic champ Elaine Thompson-Herah was beset by injuries last year and missed most of the season. Now fully recovered, the 31-year-old is looking to recapture the form that saw her run 10.60 to win gold in Tokyo and the second-fastest time in history (10.54 seconds) at the 2021 Prefontaine Classic.

Jamaica doesn’t have a Caribbean monopoly on elite 100m sprinters. Saint Lucia’s Julien Alfred is in her first full year as a professional after an amazing collegiate career at Texas. A national champion at indoor 60 meters, as well as outdoor 100 and 200 meters, Alfred made history at the World Indoor Championships in Scotland in March by becoming the first Saint Lucian to win any track and field medal. The 22-year-old’s goal for Paris is to be the Saint Lucian Olympic medalist, and on current trajectory she’s poised to be a perennial medal contender.

It doesn’t get much more exciting than the 100-meter dash, and with these three in tow (plus Ivorian perennial contender Marie-Josee Ta Lou-Smith and Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith), this is the most compelling sprint race of the meet.

Women’s 800 meters

Notable names to watch: Keely Hodgkinson (Great Britain), Mary Moraa (Kenya)

Unfortunately, this race took a major hit with the late injury withdrawal of Olympic champion Athing Mu, who’s erring on the side of caution ahead of next month’s U.S. trials. On the plus side, it’s still an elite group of two-lap specialists.

Great Britain’s Keely Hodgkinson has almost been like the 1990s Buffalo Bills over the last three years. She finished with a silver in Tokyo behind Mu, then again at the 2022 Worlds, and after placing ahead of Mu in last year Worlds, it was Kenya’s Mary Moraa (and her unique, almost lean-backward running style) who bested them in the home stretch to take gold.

At just 22 and 23 respectively, Hodgkinson and Moraa represent the present and future of the 800 meters, and they’ll both be eager to make an early statement of intent that they’re aiming to unseat Mu atop the podium in Paris.

Bowerman Mile

Notable names to watch: Jakob Ingebrigtsen (Norway), Yared Nuguse (USA), Josh Kerr (Great Britain), Jake Wightman (Great Britain)

The mile is not an Olympic event, but most of the entrants will be competing in the 1500 meters in Paris. This is the traditional final race of the program and the organizers have truly saved the best for last.

Jakob Ingebrigtsen has emerged as the sport’s premier middle-distance runner and enters the Paris Games as the incumbent Olympic champion at 1500. However, he suffered upset losses to Great Britain’s Josh Kerr (2023) and Jake Wightman (2022) over the last two world championships and had to settle for silver. This will be the first time Ingebrigtsen has raced Kerr since last year’s championships, during which time Kerr won world indoors gold in the 3000m in his native Scotland. With Ingebrigtsen recently claiming he could beat Kerr blindfolded, a heated rivalry is already brewing that will be one of the main storylines in Paris.

The top American in the field is Yared Nuguse, who at just 24 is already the fastest American miler in history. In last year’s Bowerman Mile, Ingebrigtsen edged out Nuguse in a blazing time of 3:43.73, narrowly missing out on Hicham El Guerrouj’s now 25-year-old world record by just 0.6 of a second.

Middle and long-distance running is typically much more about tactics than fast times, so don’t anticipate a world record attempt here. It should nevertheless be an epic race given the caliber of competition.

The Prefontaine Classic airs live on NBC and streams on Peacock at 4 p.m. Eastern/1 p.m. Pacific. A full timetable of events (including pre-television events such as the Kenyan, yes, Kenyan Olympic trials in the men’s and women’s 10k) and the startlists can be found here.

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