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West Coast Track & Field Stars Competing in Olympic Trials

A select group of athletes hope to earn coveted spots on the USA team traveling to Paris

Posted on June 20, 2024

  By Steve Ritchie, SuperWest Sports

U.S. Olympic Trials logoThe college track and field season is in the rearview mirror for most of the athletes who competed at the recent NCAA Championships in Eugene, Oregon.

But for a small group of elite competitors from schools in the Western region, they have one more meet to prepare for—the U.S. Olympic Trials—to be held at Oregon’s Hayward Field from June 21 to June 29th.

And, if that goes well, the Olympic Games in Paris awaits in August.

Here’s a look at five men and five women who have a chance to earn coveted spots on the USA squad, along with their events and first day of competition.

Best Bets

Jaida Ross, Oregon — Shot Put  (Friday, June 28)

Oregon's Jaida Ross headshot
The Oregon junior had quite a year. She improved in the shot by five feet, from 60-foot-8 to a new collegiate record of 65-7.75, and won the NCAA title.

While she didn’t set a new personal best at the NCAA meet, any one of her six throws would have won the competition. Her record throw currently ranks her fifth in the world.

Ross goes into the Olympic Trials with the second-best season mark, just an inch behind the leader, Chase Jackson.

While there is no sure thing in an Olympic Trials competition, it helps that the Trials will be held at Hayward Field, her home shot ring, with the crowd behind her all the way.

It would be a surprise if Ross didn’t make the team.

Jasmine Jones, USC — 400 Hurdles (Thursday, June 27)

USC's Jasmine Jones
The USC senior had a similar outdoor season to the one Ross had. Jones blew away the Pac-12 400 hurdles field last month while lowering her PB by more than two seconds, although that was at altitude.

But Jones made an even bigger statement at the NCAAs when she ran the second-fastest time ever for a college woman, 53.15, and took down the favorite and the defending champion with a very impressive stretch run.

Jones will have to contend with a strong veteran field at the Trials: Olympic gold medalist and world record holder Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone; former world record holder and world champion, Dalilah Muhammad; and Olympians Shamier Little and Anna Cockrell; and NCAA favorite Rachel Glenn.

The 400 hurdles are the last event at the Trials and should offer plenty of drama in one lap.

Legitimate Contenders

Juliette Whittaker & Roisin Willis, Stanford — 800 meters (Friday, June 21)

Stanford's Juliette Whittaker - headshot
The sophomore duo from Stanford went 1-2 at the NCAA Championships, one of the most surprising results from the meet as Michaela Rose of LSU was the heavy favorite in the event.

Whittaker won convincingly though and Willis came all the way from the back of the pack in the last 100 meters, passing everyone except her teammate, Whittaker.

Whether the young collegians can match up with the strong field of veteran pros at the Trials is a major question.

Running the rounds, finding the gaps in a tightly-packed field, kicking at the right moment – none of those are easy in the pressure cooker of the Trials, especially when you are competing against Athing Mu, Raevyn Rogers, Nia Atkins, Rose, and Ajee Wilson.

On the other hand, all of the above have not been in top form this season. It will be fascinating to watch the prelims as well as the finals and some of the big names may not even make the finals.

Johnny Brackins & JC Stevenson, USC — Long Jump (Saturday, June 22)

USC's Johnny Brackins headhot
USC's JC Stevenson headshot
Brackins and Stevenson are USC teammates and have taken turns winning titles this year. Brackins won the NCAA indoor title at 27-0 and Stevenson upset Brackins to win the NCAA outdoor crown at 26-11¾.

How much closer can you get? With just one centimeter separating these two and Florida’s Malcolm Clements every jump will be a must-see in this event.

Joe Waskom, UW & Elliott Cook, Oregon — 1500 meters (Friday, June 21)

Washington's Joe Waskom - headshot
The Husky Waskom nipped the Duck Cook at the finish line at the NCAAs by a few tenths of a second.

A rematch could bring out the best in both runners, but Waskom has two NCAA titles and made the U.S. team for Worlds last year, so he does have a bit of an edge.

If both Waskom and Cook make the finals of the 1500 at the Trials, the real question will be whether it is a kicker’s race off a slow pace or a fast pace where everyone is trying to hang on.

History tells us the former, which would help Waskom and Cook. But the headliners are Yared Nuguse, Cole Hocker, and Cooper Teare, all of whom have run faster than Waskom and Cook and have much more experience.

It seems to me that one of the favorites will not let it come down to a final kick.

Long Shots

Chandler Ault, Washington — Javelin Throw (Friday, June 21)

Washington's Chandler Ault headshot
On the world stage, Americans have struggled to be competitive in javelin. The top American thrower is currently ranked 16th in the world.

But college athletes in the javelin have historically done well at U.S. Championship meets, including the Olympic Trials, because they get good coaching and have opportunities to travel to meets and compete, things unsponsored post collegians often struggle with.

Given this context, Washington’s Ault is someone to watch at the Trials. He finished his college career with an incredible two months of competition.

From April 6 to the NCAA finals on June 7, Ault set a new PB in four of his last five meets, culminating in a runner-up finish at NCAAs. His mark of 260-2 (79.31) ranks seventh among U.S. competitors.

If he can set a fifth PB at the Trials, he could have a shot to make the team.

Cheyla Scott, Oregon — High Jump (Thursday, June 27)

Oregon's Cheyla Scott - Headshot
Oregon’s Scott placed just seventh in the NCAA high jump, which was dominated by foreign collegians. With a best of 6-2, Scott is tied for fifth among U.S. Trials jumpers.

Definitely a major long shot, but if Scott could make even a small improvement, say to 6-3, and gets through the lower heights without a miss, she could make the team in the third spot.

Vashti Cunningham and Rachel Glenn are the clear favorites, but the women’s high jump is not a deep event. The third-best jumper at the Trials goes in with a best mark of 6-2¾ so Scott can’t be counted out.

—More from Steve Ritchie—