With high stakes and high-quality performers, the 108th edition of the U.S. Track and Field Championships opening here on Friday promises to be one of the best.
Positions in six major competitions, including the first World Track and Field Championships at Helsinki, await the top finishers here.
Aiming for four of those berths is Carl Lewis, who hopes to match in 1984 Jesse Owens' feat of winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics. Lewis plans to make the World Championships a dry run for that venture.
Trials begin Friday in the three individual events--long jump, 100 and 200 meters--and the schedule is in Lewis' favor. If he finishes among the top three in each, he would automatically qualify for a fourth at Helsinki, the 4x100-meter relay.
Not since 1886, when Malcolm Ford accomplished it, has one man won the three events in this meet.
Only a three-foul trial is likely to stop Lewis in the long jump, where he is far ahead of the opposition. The 100 is a bit tougher--Lewis has already lost one race this year to Ron Brown. The 200 will be the major challenge, with top-ranked James Butler recovered from a hamstring problem and Calvin Smith aching to make amends for his defeat by Elliott Quow in the NCAA.
Another athlete with visions of multiple medals is Mary Decker, who will contest the 1,500 and 3,000 meters. Trials tonight are set three hours apart, but between the finals on Sunday she will enjoy only a 50-minute breather.
"I want to run both against the Europeans at Helsinki, where there is plenty of time to rest between races," Decker said today.
Carl Lewis' sister Carol is the defending champion in the women's long jump, the family from Willingboro, N.J., having swept that event a year ago at Knoxville.
Evelyn Ashford is going for a sprint double here as the first step toward a pair of summer confrontations with Marlies Gohr, the East German record holder in the 100.
Trials are set Friday night in the javelin, which figures to produce some sparks between Tom Petranoff, who recently set the world record of 327-2, and Bob Roggy, No. 1 in the 1982 rankings.
The discus competition will feature Ben Plucknett, back at the peak he reached before his disqualification for steroid use.
For the first time, the U.S. Championships are being conducted as a closed meet. Only those foreign athletes affiliated with U.S. clubs may compete. Nevertheless, the quality of the field is remarkable.
"This could be our best national championships ever, or at least for a long, long time," said Berny Wagner of TAC's national coaching staff. "Everybody who is able will be here, competing for all the trips that are available this summer."
The top three finishers in each event, if they have met qualifying standards, will go to the World Championships (Aug. 7-14), as well as the U.S.-Scandinavia dual meet at Stockholm (July 26-27). The top two are eligible for the U.S.-East Germany dual at Los Angeles (June 25-26) and the Pan American Games at Caracas (track dates Aug. 21-28).
The top two, if between 17 and 28 with recent college affiliation, will be chosen for the World University Games at Edmonton (track events July 5-11). Additionally, track rosters for the National Sports Festival competition July 1-3 will be filled from the leading finishers here.