New Jersey's biggest stars made their presence felt in a huge way by delivering several breathtaking and electrifying performances at the USA Track and Field National Championships, which concluded on Sunday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
Sydney McLaughlin smashed her own world record in the women's 400 hurdles, Keturah Orji broke the meet record in the women's triple jump, and Athing Mu won a dramatic duel with fellow NJ star Ajee' Wilson to capture the women's 800 to lead the charge for the Garden State.
The top three finishers in each event qualified for the U.S. National Team (as long as they've met the World Athletics standard), and will represent the U.S. at the World Championships back at Hayward Field July 15-24.
A total of seven athletes who graduated from NJ high schools made the U.S. National team.
SYDNEY STRIKES AGAIN
The incomparable McLaughlin, a 2017 graduate of Union Catholic High, blitzed the competition in the 400 hurdles with another jaw-dropping performance as she broke her own World Record with a time of 51.41 in the 400 hurdles!! That broke the world record of 51.46 that she ran to win the gold medal at the Olympics in Tokyo last summer!!
The 22 year-old McLaughlin has now broken the World Record in the 400 hurdles three times in the last year. She broke it for the first time at the Olympic Trials last July when she ran 51.90, and then lowered to 51.46 in Tokyo.
McLaughlin won the race on Saturday by more than 1.5 seconds over Britton Wilson, second in 53.08. Dalilah Muhammad, the 2016 gold medalist in the 400 hurdles who was second to McLaughlin in 51.58 (the third fastest time ever run) at the Olympics in Tokyo, didn't compete due to a hamstring injury. But since Muhammad won the 400 hurdles at the 2019 World Championships, she received a waiver from USATF to compete in July's World Championships as a defending champion.
McLaughlin, who also also earned a gold medal in Tokyo on the 4x400 relay, said she had no idea what to expect as she cleared the last hurdle.
"I was just gonna finish the race. You know anything is possible," she said. "I'm just really grateful for it."
Orji, a 2014 graduate of Mount Olive High, led through each round of jumps, and leaped a meet record and wind-legal 48-6.25 on her fourth attempt to win her sixth U.S. outdoor title and eighth national title overall in the triple jump. Orji broke her own meet record of 47-10.50 that she set at the 2018 U.S. National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Tori Franklin finished second with a 47-10.50.
The jumps by Orji and Franklin place them No. 2 and No. 3 in the world this year.
Orji, a two-time Olympian and the American record holder in the triple jump, won the TJ at the Olympic Trials last year before placing seventh at the Tokyo Games and seventh at the World Indoors Championships in March.
The Bowerman Award winner in 2018 while she was a senior at Georgia, Orji owns nine of the 10 farthest outdoor jumps ever by an American woman, topped by her American record of 48-11.50.
The women's 800, one of the most anticipated races of the meet and race dominated by NJ, was an instant classic between Trenton native Mu, the reigning Olympic 800 champion, who graduated from Trenton High in 2020, and Neptune native Wilson, who won the World Indoor Championship in the 800 in March.
The 20 year-old Mu, who turned pro last year after a one and done year at Texas A&M, led the race through 400 meters in 57.25, and she came off the final turn with about a one-step lead over Wilson. Wilson pulled even with Mu with less than 20 meters to go and even had a slight edge for an instant, but Mu, was able to dig down deep and find just enough to edge just ahead of Wilson right before the line to win in 1:57.16. Wilson was second in 1:57.23. Remarkably, all eight finisher ran under 2:00 in a race that was run with the temperature reading 93 degrees!!
Mu, who ran 1:57.01 earlier this month in Italy, and Wilson (1:57.23) now own the two fastest times in the world this year.
"It kind of went the way I thought it would go," Mu said to a pool of reporters. "I personally ran the race the same way I've been running since rounds. I'm always going to go out fast. That's just how I run.''
Wilson, who has won four USA outdoor titles, was pleased with how she raced, but felt she should have waited a little longer to start her kick.
"The way the race went is exactly what I wanted to do," said Wilson, "who graduated from Neptune in 2012,. "The only part I messed up was that I kicked a little too early. You know, I could have waited for the last 30, 40 meters."
Raevyn Rogers finished third in 1:57.96, so the same three runner who represented the U.S. in the 800 at the Tokyo Games, will compete in next month's World Athletics Championships. Mu won the gold last summer, Rogers earned the bronze, and Wilson didn't make it past the semis.
Allie Wilson, a 2019 graduate of Monmouth University, placed fourth in 1:58.35. Olivia Baker, a 2014 graduate of Columbia High in NJ, finished fifth in 1:58.63, and Sage Hurta, who grew up in Moorestown, placed seventh in 1:59.43.
Baker was proud of the way she competed.
"I put myself in a position to do well," said Baker, who gradated from Stanford in 2018. "I put everything out there."
Woodard, Mattis, and Awotunde all came up with big throws with the pressure on to earn spots on the U.S. National Team.
Woodard, a 2013 graduate of Cherokee High, came up with one of the most clutch performances of the meet when she unloaded a monster throw of 63-7.75 on her 5th attempt to move up from fourth to third to secure the final qualifying spot on the U.S. Team!!!
Woodard's 63-7.75 is No. 14 in U.S. history, No. 8 in the world this year, and it broke the all-time NJ alumni record of 62-7.75, which was set in 1979 by two-time Olympian Maren Seidler, a graduate of Gov. Livingston High School. Seidler's 62-7.75 stood as the U.S. record for six years.
The 27 year-old Woodard, who came into the competition with a PR of 62-3.50, was in fourth place with a 61-7.75 until her massive 63-7.75 put her ahead of Raven Saunders, the 2021 Olympic silver medalist. Saunders, who was sitting in third with a 62-2.25 before Woodard's clutch bomb, fouled on her fifth attempt and had a 61-5 on her final throw.
Chase Ealey, the World Indoor silver medalist, won the competition with a world-leading 67-3.50, and Olympian Adelaide Aquilla was second with a 63-9.75. Mattis, a member of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team in the discus, also had to rally on his fifth throw to make the U.S. Team. The 2012 graduate of East Brunswick High was in fifth place before he sent the saucer 204-2 to move into second place. Dallin Shurts of BYU threw 204-5 on his final attempt to bump Mattis to third. Mattis edged Reggie Jaggers, fourth with a 203-11, for the third and final qualifying spot. Andrew Evans won the discus with a 207-8.
Mattis came into the competition with a personal best of 225-4, which he threw at the USATF Throws Festival on the campus of the University of Arizona last month. That was a lifetime best by more than three feet and the best throw by an American since Jagers hit 225-1 to win the USATF Championships in 2018. Mattis is currently ranked No. 1 in the U.S. and No. 6 in the world this season.
At the Olympics Games in Tokyo, Mattis, who set the still-standing NJ high school discus record with a 218-4 in 2012, finished his amazing run in the circle by placing a very strong eighth in the men's discus with a 209-7. The finish by Mattis, a 2016 graduate of UPenn, was the best in the event by an American man since Casey Malone finished sixth in Athens in 2004.
Mattis, the only American to make the discus final, is the first graduate from UPenn to compete for the U.S. at the Olympics since current Princeton University head coach Fred Samara competed in the decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
Awotunde, a 2013 graduate of Delsea High and an All-American during his days at the University of South Carolina, made the U.S. team when he finished third in the shot put with a 70-7, three and a quarter inches ahead of Tripp Piperi of Texas for the final qualifying spot. Andrew Liskowitz, who starred at Christian Brothers Academy, placed eighth with a 67-2.25, and Jordan West of the University of Tennessee, a graduate of Rahway High, was 10th with a 66-1.75 Awotunde, was in his fourth place before throwing the 70-7 on his third attempt. Piperi, the NCAA champ, made things interesting when he threw 70-3.75 on his final attempt. Awotunde finished behind the two best shot putters in the world, world record holder Ryan Crouser, first with a world-leading 75-10.25, and Joe Kovacs, second with a 75-0.50, which is No. 2 in the world this season. Crouser, the world record holder indoors and outdoors, won the gold at the last two Olympic Games. Kovacs won the gold medal in the shot at the 2019 World Outdoor Championships, and won the silver medal at both the 2016 and 2021 Olympic Games.
This is the second U.S. National team that Awotunde has made. This past indoor season he placed fifth at the World Indoor Championships with a 71-2.25. Awotunde owns a PR and the NJ alumni record of 72-2, which he set at the Meeting Città di Padova, Stadio Colbachini in Padovad, Poland last September. Awotunde, ranked No. 9 in the world this year, threw 71-8 when he finished fifth at the U.S. Olympic Trials last year.
MORE NJ HIGHLIGHTS
Defending champion and Olympian Curtis Thompson (Florence High Class of 2014) finished second in the men's javelin with a throw of 264-1.
Thompson didn't make the U.S. National team because he didn't meet the World Championship standard, was leading until Ethan Dabbs of Virginia, the NCAA runner-up this year, unloaded a 266-8 on his final attempt. Dabbs was the eighth and final qualifier to advance to the final round.
Thompson threw 271-7 to win the Olympic Trials last year before placing 22nd at the Olympic Games.
A'nan Bridgett of Rutgers (West Windsor South Class of 2018) had the best performance of his life, soaring a PR of 26-5 to place fifth in the men's long jump!! Bridgett took down some of the best jumpers in the country, including two-time Olympian and 2016 World Indoor champion Marquis Dendy, 10th with a 25-10), and 2021 Bowerman Award winner JuVaughn Harrison (11th with a 25-9.50). Harrison won the gold medal in both the long jump and high jump at the 2020 Olympic Trials last year, and was fifth in the long jump and seventh in the high jump at the Tokyo Olympics. Olympic gold medalist English Gardner (Eastern High Class of 2010) ran 11.32 in the opening round of the 100 dash and failed to advance. Gardner ran a leg on the U.S. 4x100 that captured the gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, and was in the relay pool for the U.S. at the Olympic Games last summer.
Josette Norris (Tenafly High Class of 2014) finished ninth in the 1500 in 4:10.15, and 12th in the 5,000 in 16:06.83. Norris finished 5th in the 1500 at the World Indoor Championships in March. Alyssa Wilson (Donovan Catholic class of 2017), finished sixth in the hammer throw with a 235-4 and seventh in the discus with a 183-3.
Earlier this month, Wilson produced the greatest performance ever by a U.S. collegiate in the women's hammer throw when she unloaded a massive 245-4 to place second at the NCAA Championships at Hayward. Wilson, who was competing for Texas State as a graduate transfer from UCLA, is now ranked No. 8 on the U.S. all-time list, No. 41 on the all-time world list, and is ranked No. 7 in the world this season.
Sean Dolan of Villanova (Hopewell Valley Class of 2019) advanced to the semifinals of the 800 where he ran 1:47.25 to place seventh in his heat. Travis Mahoney (Old Bridge High Class of 2008) finished eighth in the men's steeplechase in 8:30.79. He ran 8:29.10 in the qualifying round.
Nia Ali (Pleasantville High Class of 2006) ran 12.49, No. 8 in the world this year, to win her semifinal heat of the women's 100 hurdles, but she didn't run the final. Since Ali won the high hurdles at the 2019 World Championships in 12.34, the 7th fastest time ever run in the world, she automatically qualified for the World Championships. Ali also won the silver medal in the 100 hurdles at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.