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U.S. Olympic track and field trials: What to watch for in frantic final weekend

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EUGENE, Ore. — It all comes down to this.

The U.S. Olympic track and field trials will wrap up at Hayward Field this weekend with what promises to be an exciting stretch of finals – featuring some of the sport's brightest stars and several marquee events. All told, there will be 17 finals on Saturday and Sunday, with more than 50 spots on Team USA's roster for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics up for grabs.

Coverage will start on NBC at 9 p.m. ET on Saturday, with the men's 110-meter hurdles and women's 200-meter dash among the main events. Sunday will feature the men's 200, women's 800 and women's 400-meter hurdles – and the NBC broadcast will begin at 7 p.m. ET.

Here are five things to watch in this jam-packed final weekend of trials.

How will Noah Lyles look?

Noah Lyles has been hailed as one of Team USA's future stars on the track, but his 2021 season, including his debut at this year's trials in 100-meter dash, has been lackluster. The 23-year-old failed to make the 100 team by finishing seventh in the eight-man final Sunday, ensuring that he will not be able to fulfill his previously-stated goal of winning three gold medals in Tokyo.

This weekend, however, is the 200. And that's where Lyles dominates. He's the reigning U.S. and world champion in the event, and he's promised on Twitter that "this 200 will be disgusting." If Lyles looks invincible in the prelims and semifinals and wins the final, all of the concerns about his 100-meter showing will likely evaporate.

Noah Lyles competes in the second semi-final of the men's 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. In first notable demonstration of the track trials, Lyles made a subtle gesture, wearing a black glove -- minus the fingers on his left hand, and raising his fist when he was introduced before the race. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
Noah Lyles competes in the second semi-final of the men's 100-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Sunday, June 20, 2021, in Eugene, Ore. In first notable demonstration of the track trials, Lyles made a subtle gesture, wearing a black glove -- minus the fingers on his left hand, and raising his fist when he was introduced before the race. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

McLaughlin vs. Muhammad

If there's only one event you're going to watch this weekend, set an alarm for 7:20 p.m. ET on Sunday and check out the women's 400-meter hurdles. The final promises to feature the gold and silver medalists from the 2019 world championships: Reigning Olympic gold medalist and world champ Dalilah Muhammad and 21-year-old wunderkind Sydney McLaughlin. It's arguably the best rivalry in U.S. track and field, even if Muhammad doesn't see it as one.

"It's actually unfortunate to me that it's still looked upon that way, because it makes us seem like we're just like always going head-to-head," she said Tuesday. "In reality I definitely wish nothing but the best for Sydney. ... I think she's so talented. She's definitely done a lot in a short period of time."

Muhammad, 31, has had an injury-riddled year. She said this week that she tore a hamstring and had COVID-19. McLaughlin, meanwhile, has been competing in mostly shorter distances, like the 100-meter hurdles, to work on her form. She was just 16 when she competed in the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Athing Mu among youngsters to watch

Speaking of young stars: This final stretch of the Olympic trials will have plenty of them.

Athing Mu, 19, dominated at multiple distances in her only year at Texas A&M, setting NCAA records at both 400 and 800 meters. She won a national championship in the 400 earlier this month, and has the fastest time by an American at that distance this year, but she is instead focusing on the 800 at the U.S. Olympic trials.

Mu announced late Wednesday that she is turning pro, signing with Nike and Allyson Felix's brother, Wes, as her agent. She's a star in the making – and figures to compete not just for a spot on Team USA, but for a medal in Tokyo.

Also keep an eye on 1500-meter runner Hobbs Kessler, who just graduated high school and also turned pro, signing with adidas and agent Mark Wetmore. He has the third-fastest time by an American this year, at 3:34.36, and eclipsed the college record at 1500 meters – while still in high school. Erriyon Knighton (200 meters) is another high-schooler who could turn heads this weekend.

Texas A&M freshman Athing Mu has been one of the biggest stars in track and field this season.
Texas A&M freshman Athing Mu has been one of the biggest stars in track and field this season.

Beating the heat

It's going to be hot in Eugene this weekend. Really hot. So hot that U.S. Track and Field announced Wednesday it has altered its schedule of events, moving some of the long-distance finals to the morning hours to avoid the expected triple-digit temperatures in the afternoon. The women's 10,000-meter final will now be at 7 a.m. ET on Saturday, with the men's 5,000-meter final at 7 on Sunday.

Track and field athletes are used to dealing with the heat, but this weekend's forecasted temps could nevertheless play a role in both the track events and on the field. Take the women's pole vault final, which will be in the early evening Saturday, as one example. In an event that requires power to generate height, athletes will likely be waiting in 100-plus heat between attempts.

Jumping for joy

Don't sleep on the field events this weekend, either – particularly the men's and women's long jump. The women's field includes reigning Olympic gold medalist Brittany Reese and reigning NCAA champion Tara Davis of Texas, who has the best jump by an American so far this year. On the men's side, there's Rio gold medalist Jeff Henderson, Will Claye – who won the triple jump at trials earlier this week – and Marquise Goodwin, whose name may be familiar to NFL fans. The Chicago Bears wide receiver previously represented the U.S. at the 2012 London Olympics.

Another storyline to monitor in the jumps will be LSU's JuVaughn Harrison, who is entered in both the men's high jump and long jump – a rare double. The craziest part is that he recently won NCAA titles in both events and could very well make the finals in both this weekend, too.

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: US Olympic track and field trials: What to watch, weekend schedule