EUGENE, Ore. — How great would this be for the opening of a “What I did during my summer vacation” essay?
I went to Rio and ran in the Olympics with “USA” on my chest!
That’s a possibility for high-schoolers Michael Norman, Noah Lyles and Candace Hill, all of whom are trying to make the U.S. Olympic team in the 200 meters.
Norman beat Justin Gatlin in their semifinal heat at Friday’s U.S Olympic track and field trials, edging him by two-hundredths of a second, 20.21 to 20.23. Lyles won his heat in a time of 20.26. Over on the women’s side, Hill finished second in the first heat, but her time of 22.93 matched gold medalist Allyson Felix’s winning time in the second heat. Norman and Lyles advanced to Saturday’s final in the men’s 20,0 while Hill advanced to the women’s semifinals.
“We don’t need to brag, but we’re pretty extraordinary,” said Lyles, who is from T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. “We came out here to do our best and definitely try to show off for the crowd. I love putting on shows.”
L. Merritt runs world-best 200m before rain hits
LaShawn Merritt won his 200-meter semifinal in 19.74 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year, and high-schoolers Michael Norman and Noah Lyles also made the final Friday at the trials.
A. Merritt, with new kidney, hurdles for Rio
Aries Merritt, the 2012 gold medalist and world-record holder in the 110-meter hurdles, is coming back from a September kidney replacement that kept him off the track for a couple months.
The three will all be attempting to make the U.S. Olympic team, something no high-school sprinter has done since 1976.
“I definitely thought [making the Olympics] was realistic, as long as we came in with the right plan,” Lyles said. “We’ve been training for four years. We have the right team, the right facilities, the right recovery plan. We’re coming back at it tomorrow so it’s definitely paying off because that’s two rounds won. One more to go!”
As the women’s hurdles competition showed Friday, finishing in the top three of the finals is no easy task. The high-schoolers will be racing against experienced Olympians, including LaShawn Merritt, who had Friday’s best time at 19.74, about a half-second faster than Norman or Lyles. Norman’s time was the fourth-fastest of the day, while Lyles’ was sixth, so they will have to improve.
“We came out here trying to get as far as we can and now we’re going to the finals,” said Norman, who is from Vista Murrieta High School in Murrieta, Calif. “Now it’s a race to see what happens tomorrow. It’s going to be an exciting race and I’m looking forward to it.”
While Lyles and Norman are 18 and graduated this year (they are still officially considered high schoolers by USA Track and Field), Hill is just 17 and will be a high school senior this fall. She said she can see herself competing until she is 30, or long enough to run in the 2028 Olympics.
“Being 17, I have so much potential,” said Hill, who attends Rockdale County High School in Georgia. “I have so many years to go faster and improve.”
After crossing the line in their 200 heat, Norman and Gatlin embraced. Asked what it was like to beat someone of Gatlin’s age (34) and résumé (2004 Olympic gold medalist in the 100), Young said: “I just treat him like any other competitor. I just go out there to compete and try to win.
“Running against him is a little intimidating, I’m not going to lie. He’s huge compared to me. He has man muscles and I’m just teeny. Yeah, it’s a little intimidating, but I’m just getting a little more comfortable.”
Gatlin, who also advanced to the finals, said he hopes he is an inspiration to the younger sprinters. Lyles, meanwhile, wants people to take something from their performances.
“A lot of people have been coming up and saying, ‘Hey, congrats!’ to me,” Lyles said. “I get a lot of messages on Instagram and Twitter. To them I say, ‘Thank you, and you all go out and meet your goal.’ Don’t just watch me, you can do the same thing.”