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March 11th-12th, 2016
Portland, Oregon

As track & field fans who packed the Portland Convention Center watched the 2016 USATF Indoor Championships unfold on a gleaming emerald green track under brilliant lighting, they did more than just enjoy spirited competition. They searched for clues as to whether or not this national meet – in essence a dress rehearsal for Portland’s hosting of the World Indoor Championships the following weekend – would signal a long-awaited reversal of the U.S. women’s medal count slippage in recent global gatherings.

The Day One performances offered several encouraging clues which augur well for the U.S. women’s performances not only for next week’s World Championships but also for Rio’s Summer Games. Shot put veteran Michelle Carter uncorked a world-leading heave of 19.49m/63’11½” to claim the national crown. And defending champion Shannon Rowbury added luster to her already-shining indoor season in displaying impressive finishing speed in her final 400m [61.51] to capture the 3000m championship in 8:55.65.

Day Two offered perhaps the biggest insight: a changing of the guard is underway. 18 year old high jumper Vasthi Cunningham authored a performance for the ages. The Las Vegas high schooler – daughter of retired NFL quarterback star Randall and former professional ballerina Felicity – captured the national title, set a new U.S. high school indoor record, and a new world junior indoor record with a world-leading clearance of 1.99m/6’6¼”. So dominant was her high jump mastery that her day’s work included the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 7th highest high school clearances of all time. At the conclusion of her historic performance, the lasting image of the congratulatory embrace she shared with 32 year old 3rd-place finisher Chaunté Lowe is the picture that is worth a thousand words. “She gives me words of wisdom,” noted the new champion of the American indoor record holder. “This gives me a lot of confidence. I knew I had that in me.”

Other upstarts tasted success as well. 23 year old Sandi Morris – clearing 4.95m/16’2¾” to make her the #3 all-time indoor performer – outplayed 34 year old Jenn Suhr and fellow youngster Demi Payne in an intriguing pole vault chess match. "Sixteen feet has always been this number that I've been chasing since I first started pole vaulting,” Morris stated. “Once I made 4.90 today the pressure was just lifted off of my chest.”

Confident 24 year old Quanera Hayes produced a wire-to-wire 400m victory in a world-leading time of 51.09 to upset an experienced, veteran field that included Natasha Hastings. "I'm still just trying to process everything and take a deep breath and see what can I do better next week at world championships,” offered the new champion. “It comes down to who wants it, and I wanted it."

Exhibiting the hurdle form that earned her the 2013 world outdoor championship, 24 year old Brianna Rollins grabbed the 60H title in a world-leading time of 7.76. “The pressure is always on,” declared Rollins in noting the U.S. women’s hurdle depth.

And 21 year old Ajeé Wilson captured her 3rd indoor 800m championship as the world leader ran a savvy, negative split 2:00.87. With an eye to next week’s world championship gathering, Wilson later stated, "I wanted to make sure this one was convincing.”

Veteran athletes excelled as well. Former world championship 800m meter bronze medalist Brenda Martinez moved up to the 1500m and used a punishing kick over the final 300 meters to win her first national championship in a tactical 4:08.37. Experienced sprinter Barbara Pierre [7.00] easily prevailed over veterans Tori Bowie [7.15] and Tianna Bartoletta [7.17] to win the 60m. And wily jump queen Brittney Reese’s early-round leap of 6.89m/22’7¼” was never headed as the indoor American record holder went on to capture yet another national long jump championship. Afterward, the multiple-time global gold medalist confided, “I felt really, really well out there.”

As the meet concluded and fans scampered to the Pearl to grab a microbrew, they were left to wonder. Might the combination of world class performances by both promising youngsters and experienced veterans they had witnessed over the past two days be a prelude to an even more magnificent outing by the U.S. women when they take on the world’s best next weekend?

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Dunaway AwardAt the 2019 annual meeting of the Track and Field Writers of America, Dave was presented with the James Dunaway Memorial Award “for track & field journalism excellence.”

Dave Hunter

Dave HunterDave Hunter is a track & field journalist, announcer, and broadcaster.  Dave reports on the premier track & field gatherings around the globe, frequently serves as an arena or stadium announcer for championship events, and has undertaken foreign and domestic broadcast assignments in the sport.


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