Olympians shine at USATF LA Grand Prix

LOS ANGELES — Scintillating performances from an array of the world’s top track and field athletes cemented the elite status of the USATF LA Grand Prix Saturday at Drake Stadium on the UCLA campus, highlighted by a pair of stunning wins by Team USATF stars.
 
No one knew quite what to expect as the Olympic and world champion and world record holder in the women’s 400 hurdles, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, stepped down to the 200 against a star-studded field.

A sizzling PB 22.07 didn’t just make her an easy winner but also emphasized just how fit she is heading into the Olympic Trials. Coming into the meet with a 22.39 personal best time from 2018, McLaughlin-Levrone slingshotted off the bend with a noteworthy lead and she didn’t lose much ground, if any, to 2022 USATF champion and collegiate record holder Abby Steiner, who took second in 22.32.

Rai Benjamin takes command in the men’s 400 hurdles race during the USATF Grand Prix held at Drake Stadium in Los Angeles, California. Benjamin recorded an easy victory with a time of 46.6. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

2019 World Championships silver medalist Brittany Brown was third in 22.35, while Olympic bronze medalist and World Championships silver medalist Gabby Thomas was sixth in 22.68.
 
Laying down a time that makes him the man to beat heading into Paris, American record holder Rai Benjamin made the men’s 400 hurdles his plaything, rolling to a world-leading 46.64 for the fourth-fastest time ever by an American and the No. 9 all-time world performance.

Only Kyron McMaster of the British Virgin Islands, the World Championships silver medalist in 2023, provided any kind of early challenge for Benjamin, but he faded down the stretch and yielded second to Jamaica’s world U20 record holder Roshawn Clarke, who finished in 48.11.

Twice a world champion and the second-best thrower in world history, Joe Kovacs had a superb series with five throws of 22.00 or better that included a 22.93/75-2.75 in round three to win the men’s shot put.

Michael Norman gets out of the blocks in the men’s 400 meters during the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix held at UCLA’s Drake Stadium on May 19, 2024. Norman beat back a talented field with a time of 44.5. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Kovacs, throwing in the same ring that saw Ryan Crouser set the world record at this meet last year, opened with a 22.29/73-1.75 to take the lead, and he added a couple big tosses either side of his winning effort. Roger Steen claimed the runner-up spot with a season best 21.78/71-5.5.
 
World indoor champion Bryce Hoppel sprinted past frontrunning Brandon Miller to win the men’s 800 in a season best 1:43.68, leading five other men under 1:45 in the process.

Miller had the lead just after the bell and was running in tandem with Kenya’s Noah Kibet coming off the final bend, but as the pack hit the straight it was Hoppel who sped past that duo and won by almost a half-second. 

Isaiah Jewett, an Olympian at Tokyo, also had great finishing speed to take second in a season best 1:44.02, with Britain’s 2022 world 1500 champion Jake Wightman third in 1:44.10. Miller held on for fourth in a season best 1:44.24, and Isaiah Harris was fifth in 1:44.58, also a season best.
 
Anna Cockrell held off Jamaica’s Andrenette Knight in the women’s 400 hurdles, winning in a season best 53.75, The two were even through the first eight barriers but Cockrell started to pull away off the final hurdle and Knight fell back to second in 54.69. Cassandra Tate was third in season best 55.02, and former world record holder Dalilah Muhammad placed fourth in 55.78.
 
After a false start by Olympic champion Jasmine Camacho-Quinn of Puerto Rico in the women’s 100 hurdles, Tonea Marshall blasted out of the blocks on the second time of asking and raced to a 12.55 to hold off a fast-closing Alaysha Johnson, who was second in 12.57, a season best.

Former USC Trojans star Anna Cockrell sprints to the finish line ahead of the field in the women’s 400 hurdles race at the USATF Los Angeles Grand Prix held at UCLA’s Drake Stadium on May 19, 2024. Cockrell posted a winning time of 53.7. Photo credit: Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Taking it relatively easy through the first half of the men’s 400, 2022 world champion Michael Norman turned on the jets in the final half-lap to win in 44.53. Grenada’s Kirani James was second in 44.85, and Vernon Norwood was third in 44.86. Reigning USATF champion Bryce Deadmon also went sub-45 with a 44.92 in fourth.
 
Running into a stiff 2.4 m/s wind, 2022 USATF champion Melissa Jefferson overcame a mediocre start and won the women’s 100 in 11.27, just ahead of Morolake Akinosun, who powered through to an 11.28 in second.

World champion Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic was an easy winner in the women’s 400 with a comfortable 50.27 ahead of Kenya’s Mary Moraa, the world champion at 800, who took second in 50.56. USATF indoor champion Alexis Holmes was third in 50.73, and Shamier Little garnered a season best of 51.27 in fourth.
 
Uganda’s Halimah Nakaayi, the 2019 world champion, set a national record of 1:57.56 to edge World Indoor Championships gold medalist Tsige Duguma of Ethiopia in the women’s 800 by .006 seconds.

Duguma had the lead most of the final circuit, but Nakaayi found some daylight on the rail and had just a tad more get-up-and-go as both women were awarded the same time, which is a world-leading mark in 2024. Sage Hurta-Klecker was the top American, placing third in a season best 1:58.98.

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