Feature07 Aug 2014

US team ready to make their mark at Youth Olympic Games


US sprinter Noah Lyles (© Getty Images)

After its medal table-topping display at the IAAF World Junior Championships last month, the USA once again has a variety of medal hopes at the upcoming Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, with the athletics events held between 20-26 August.

In the individual events, the US hopes are headlined by its entry in the boys’ 800m, Myles Marshall, who holds the second fastest time for a youth in 2014 at 1:48.43, trailing only Ethiopia's Bacha Morka.

His appearance at the Youth Olympics Games will be the close of a busy summer for Marshall.

He broke the US age-16 record that was actually held by his father, John, a 1984 Olympian, by .01 at the USATF Junior National Championships last month. Marshall then competed in the IAAF World Junior Championships, although he didn’t make it out of his heat.

“I never even knew there was actually a record for that (age-16),” said Marshall. “(My dad) has always been telling me that I am two seconds faster than he was at this point.”

“(The YOG) should be a good experience, should be fun, (it’s) last meet of the season so (I’m) just hoping to have fun at that meet.”

Another US hot medal prospect is sprinter Noah Lyles, who made the semi-finals of last year’s IAAF World Youth Championships as a 16-year-old but who is now a year wiser and faster.

His 20.82 in the 200m last month puts him third on the 2014 world youth list. He also ran 20.89 at the US Youth Olympic Games Selection Trials in Florida back in April, a feat that earned him the USATF Athletic of the Week accolade, a rare honour for a high school student, especially one as young as him.

On the girls’ side, Brittny Ellis is rounding into good form after she recorded her personal best of 53.49 just last week when winning at the US Junior Olympic meeting in Des Moines on 2 August.

He time puts her seventh on the 2014 world girls’ list over one lap of the track and makes up for some erratic performances earlier in the season, she even had a disappointing third-place finish in the Illinois high school championships in May after going to that meeting as the two-time defending champion in the 400m.

Another performer with the potential to make the podium is Brandeé Johnson, the US entry in the girls' 200m.

Still only 16 and with a 1998 birthday which makes her eligible for next year’s IAAF World Youth Championships, she achieved her personal-best time of 23.64 at the Virginia state high school championships, where she also won the 300m hurdles and finished second in the 100m.

"It means a lot to me,” reflected Johnson. “I was really proud of myself, and me knowing that I can accomplish things early in life lets me know that I have a bright future.”

As at the inaugural edition of this event, held in Singapore four years ago, the best chances for US athletes to make the podium appear to be on the track but the United States also boasts several very capable field event exponents among its 15-member athletics delegation.

Memories to last a lifetime

The evenly-split US team will send seven field event athletes to Nanjing, including Janae Moffitt in the girls' high jump.

Moffitt has a best jump of 1.79m. “I don’t think it has hit me yet that I will be going to a different country next month,” she joked, emphasising the fact that the majority of the athletes going to Nanjing will bring back memories that will last forever rather than medals.

Only one athlete per country earns a place in any single event, and any athlete making the team may only compete in one individual event at the Youth Olympic Games but there is a chance for a second outing on the 8x100m mixed relay team.

In those relays, athletes from the United States will potentially race with teammates from Canada, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Puerto Rico to form an Americas team competing against their continental counterparts from Africa, Europe, Oceania and Asia.

As the final event on the event schedule, the relay is the last chance for the US team to supplement its medal tally but Team USA members were part of both gold medal relay teams four years ago in Singapore.

The relays at the first Youth Olympic Games in Singapore were run in a mixed medley format rather than the 8x100m that is one the programme in Nanjing and which will test each region's depth as well as its versatility.

In 2010, Robin Reynolds returned to the United States as the star of the athletics delegation, earning gold in the girls’ 400m to go along with a relay gold.

Team USA enjoyed more individual success in the sprints thanks to Myasia Jacobs' silver in the girls’ 100m and a bronze from Olivia Ekpone in the girls’ 200m, the former also getting a gold medal in the girls' medley relay,  while Najee Glass, who finished out of the medals in the boys’ 400m, bounced back and ran a crucial leg in the winning boys’ medley relay team.

In Singapore, the US team also appeared on the podium through Devin Bogert, who picked up a silver medal in the boys’ javelin, Hannah Carson's bronze in the girls’ javelin and a bronze from Le'Tristan Pledger in the girls’ long jump.

Although the Youth Olympic Games does not have a formal medal table, that tally from four years ago gives the 15 boys and girls from the USA something to aim at in Nanjing.

Will Seymour for the IAAF