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Eight key takeaways from the U.S. Olympic track and field trials

It's clear Team USA will be expected to exceed the 32 medals earned on the track during the 2016 Rio Games.

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EUGENE, Ore. — There were star turns and teary farewells. Athletes breaking or flirting with world records. And, as expected, a few surprises.

But now, the U.S. Olympic track and field trials at Hayward Field are in the books. Team USA's roster for the Tokyo Olympics will be finalized in the coming days, as some of the athletes who qualified in multiple events decide whether to compete in both.

It's unclear how many Olympic medals the U.S. track and field team will win in Tokyo, but it's clear this group will be expected to exceed the 32 medals that Team USA earned on the track in Rio in 2016.

Here are eight key takeaways from the past 10 days in Eugene, Oregon — with an eye toward Tokyo, where the first track and field medals will be awarded July 30.

Felix's farewell

Allyson Felix takes a victory lap after placing second in the women's 400-meter dash during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. Felix qualified for her fifth Olympic Games.
Allyson Felix takes a victory lap after placing second in the women's 400-meter dash during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. Felix qualified for her fifth Olympic Games. Kirby Lee, USA TODAY Sports

There was a touching scene on the track Saturday, about an hour after Allyson Felix ran her final race ever at an Olympic trials – Felix's 2-year-old daughter, Camryn, running gleefully on the track in a near-empty stadium, with Mom not far behind.

The competitor in Felix would have surely preferred to qualify for Tokyo in both the 400 and 200. But realistically speaking, her Olympic trials farewell couldn't have gone much better.

The 35-year-old placed second in the women's 400, using an inspiring final surge down the stretch to secure an individual place on her fifth Olympic team. She got to celebrate with Camryn on the track. Then, a few days later, Felix came back with another strong performance in the 200, even though she fell short of making that team.

One of the most decorated Olympic track and field athletes ever, Felix now appears in position to add to the nine medals she's won. Even if she falls short of the podium in the 400 in Tokyo, her performance at trials will make her a strong candidate to make the 4x400 relay team, which will be favored to medal.

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A hurdles sweep?

After a string of steller performances at trials, it appears the question isn't whether the U.S. will win Olympic medals this summer in the four hurdles events — the men's and women's 110 and 400 — as it did at the 2012 London Games. The question is whether all of those medals will be gold.

In one of the overlooked redemption stories from Eugene, Keni Harrison came back from a disastrous collapse at the 2016 trials to dominate the women's 110-meter hurdles and put herself in contention for a medal in Tokyo. Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad likely will be duking it out for gold in the women's 400-meter hurdles. And following their respective brushes with world records, Grant Holloway and Rai Benjamin will be the clear-cut Olympic favorites in the men's 110 and 400 hurdles, respectively.

Holloway, in particular, now looks primed for stardom. The gregarious 23-year-old is the reigning world champion in his event and finished just one-hundredth of a second off the world record Saturday night.

Richardson a sprinting sensation

Sha'Carri Richardson celebrates after winning the women's 100 in 10.86 during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field.
Sha'Carri Richardson celebrates after winning the women's 100 in 10.86 during the US Olympic Team Trials at Hayward Field. Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A sprinting star was born in Eugene and her name is Sha’Carri Richardson.

A photo of Richardson pointing at a digital clock as she approached the finish line in the women’s 100-meter semifinal went viral. She followed that performance by winning the final with a time of 10.86

Richardson, who later withdrew from the 200 to focus on her primary event, came into the U.S. trials as a known entity in track circles. But she’s now elevated herself into one of the faces of the U.S. Olympic team. Her electric performance even drew praise from former First Lady Michelle Obama.

A U.S. woman hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal in the 100 since Gail Devers in 1996. (The International Olympic Committee stripped Marion Jones’ gold medal in 2000 after she admitted to taking steroids.)

Bowerman Track Club in spotlight

The biggest story line heading into the trials was the absence of distance runner Shelby Houlihan, who was banned four years for ingesting an anabolic steroid that she believes came from pork in a burrito.

Her coach, Jerry Schumacher, and teammates from her training group – the Bowerman Track Club – offered a vociferous defense of Houlihan, who has denied doping. And in the opening days of competition in Eugene, Bowerman runners were asked about their banned teammate repeatedly in news conferences.

As time went on, though, the spotlight shifted away from Houlihan's case and Bowerman's team proceeded to dominate the distance events. Three of the club's runners – Grant Fisher, Woody Kincaid and Karissa Schweizer – qualified for Tokyo at both 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Elise Cranny won the women's 5,000 and barely missed out on the double, placing fourth in the 10k. And then there was Matthew Centrowitz, who placed second in the men's 1,500, and Courtney Frerichs, who finished second in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase.

Historically, the U.S. has not been as competitive in the long-distance events as it has been in the sprints. It hasn't won gold in the 5,000 or 10,000 since 1964. But if that changes in Tokyo, there will likely be a Bowerman Track Club runner behind it.

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Here come the young guns

The Olympic trials served as a coming-out party of sorts for a new generation of American talent, even outside of the aforementioned hurdlers and Richardson.

Athing Mu, 19, completely controlled a women's 800-meter final that featured established veterans and world championship medalists Ajee' Wilson and Raevyn Rogers. Cole Hocker, 20, used a furious kick to beat Centrowitz, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, in the men's 1,500. And 17-year-old sprinter Erriyon Knighton became the youngest American man to qualify for the U.S. in track and field since Jim Ryun in 1964.

While some of the youngsters will vie for medals right away (see Mu, Athing), all of them will simply benefit from the experience and confidence of competing at the Olympics. And the fact that the U.S. is sending so many teens and recent college students to Tokyo is a terrific omen for the 2024 Paris Games and 2028 Games in Los Angeles, when the members of this young core will still be in their primes.

Record-breaking shot putters

Ryan Crouser competes during the finals of men's shot put at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Friday, June 18, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Ryan Crouser competes during the finals of men's shot put at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Friday, June 18, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) The Associated Press

Ryan Crouser broke a 31-year-old world record to win the men’s shot put final on the opening night of trials.

The reigning Olympic champion recorded a monster throw of 76 feet, 8¼ inches to break the previous record, set by former U.S. thrower Randy Barnes in 1990. Barnes later received a lifetime ban after failing multiple doping tests.

Crouser wasn't the only shot putter to put up an impressive performance. On the women's side, Jessica Ramsey broke a meet record with a throw of 66-0 ¼ on her way to winning the event and earning a trip to Tokyo. Her meet record and personal best 66-foot throw is the No. 2 ranked mark in the world this year.

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Chasing world's fastest man title

Usain Bolt went undefeated in the 100 and 200 meters in three consecutive Olympics, but his reign in the events is over after he retired in 2017. And that means the title of "world's fastest man" is up for the taking.

Trayvon Bromell could take that crown after winning the men’s 100 in 9.80 seconds at the Olympic trials. He owns two of the four fastest times in the world since the conclusion of the 2016 Olympics — and the man who owns the other two, fellow American Christian Coleman, will miss the Games after receiving a ban for whereabouts violations.

It's been a difficult road back for Bromell, who turns 26 on July 10. He underwent two Achilles surgeries after Rio, then injured an adductor muscle. The injuries hampered him in training and competition: In a three-year span, he ran just three competitive races.

The U.S. hasn't won a gold medal in the men’s 100 meters since Justin Gatlin did it at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

Leaping into contention

The Olympic trials showed that the U.S. has a nice mix of youth and experience in the jumps.

JuVaughn Harrison, 22, pulled off a historic double, winning the men's high jump and long jump on the same day with leaps of 7 feet, 7 ¾ inches and 27 feet, 9 ½ inches, respectively. He is expected to compete in both events on alternating days in Tokyo, becoming the first American man to do so since Jim Thorpe in 1912.

Meanwhile, Vashti Cunningham, 23, continues to improve in the women's high jump and will be a medal threat. And in the horizontal jumping events, don't sleep on the veterans. Two-time Olympic silver medalist Will Claye won the men's triple jump and will be favored to win his first gold in the event. And women's long jumper Brittney Reese won her 13th career national title, with nine of those coming outdoors.

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad. Follow Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.

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