Teenager Vashti Cunningham Sits At No. 2 In The World
In 2016, Vashti Cunningham emerged as one of the youngest medalists in history when she won World Indoor Championship gold in a world junior record of 1.99m. The 19-year-old daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham continued the momentum by qualifying to represent the United States at the Olympic Games, where she finished 13th overall. This year, Cunningham is back on top after winning the USATF Outdoor Championships in an American junior record of 1.99m. The outdoor personal best landed Cunningham at No. 2 in the world this year behind 2015 world champion Maria Lasitskene. As one of the youngest athletes competing at the world championships in London and with recent momentum on her side, Cunningham has the potential to earn her first outdoor world championship medal.
Learn more about Vashti's story by watching the FloFilm documentary "Vashti Cunningham: Driven."
WATCH: EPISODE ONE | EPISODE TWO
Sam Kendricks Looks To End U.S. Gold Medal Drought, But Watch Out For Super Teen Mondo Duplantis
It would be fitting for Sam Kendricks to close his undefeated 2017 campaign with a gold medal at the IAAF World Championships, not only because it seems to be the 24-year-old's natural progression since his bronze medal in Rio, but also because this year also marks exactly 10 years since the United States' last gold medal at a world championships in the men's pole vault. That feat came by the skills of Brad Walker, whose 6.04m best from 2008 still stands as the American record in the event.
The Mississippi native Kendricks has had a truly unblemished year. With wins at the Shanghai, Eugene, Paris, and Lausanne Diamond League meets, he has taken down every athlete who would pose a challenge in London, including the likes of Rio Olympic champion Thiago Braz da Silva of Brazil, world record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France, defending world champion Shawn Barber of Canada, and Rio's fourth placer, Piotr Lisek of Poland. En route to winning his fourth straight U.S. outdoor title, Kendricks cleared 6.00m for the first time, the best mark in the world this year.
Only two other athletes have jumped higher than 5.90m this year: Pawel Wokciechowski of Poland and Mondo Duplantis of Sweden. The U.S.-based Duplantis is a real wildcard here, as he is still only 17 years old. London will be his first global senior level championship, though he has gotten some high-level practice at the Eugene and Lausanne Diamond League meetings. He most recently won the European U18 Championships and has declared his intent to compete for a medal in London.
Learn more about Mondo's story by watching the FloFilm documentary "Mondo Duplantis: Prodigy"
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Who Will Win The Eaton-less Decathlon?
Ashton Eaton retired in January, leaving this event wide open. The last time someone not named Ashton Eaton won the decathlon global championship was six years ago back in 2011 when Trey Hardee -- also an American -- won the world title in Daegu, South Korea. The last time a non-American won the global title was ten years ago back in 2007 when Czech Republic's Roman Sebrle won the title in Osaka, Japan. Needless to say, the decathlon has been dominated by Ashton Eaton and his fellow Americans for a while.
During the past four global championships in which Eaton was victorious -- 2016, 2015, 2013, and 2012 -- five of the six men who stood on the podium with Eaton have entered this year's competition.
- Canda's Damain Warner (1 silver, 2 bronze)
- USA's Trey Hardee (1 silver)
- France's Kevin Mayer (1 silver)
- Cuba's Leonel Suarez (1 bronze)
- Germany's Rico Freimuth (1 bronze)
After the final event is finished we either will see a first-time gold medalist finally break through or America continue their ten year streak with Trey Hardee back on top after dealing with injuries over the past few years.
Ekaterini Stefanidi, Sandi Morris, Jenn Suhr Headline Tight Top Six In Women's Pole Vault
As the reigning U.S. outdoor record-holder and Olympic silver medalist in the pole vault, Sandi Morris is probably liking her chances heading into the 2017 IAAF World Championships. As of the end of the qualification period, she owns the second-best performance of the season, 4.84m, which just trails the season's top mark of 4.85m set by Greece's Ekaterini Stefanidi, who won the 2016 Olympics with a jump at the same height. Historically, Stefanidi hasn't been able to vault much higher than that -- 4.86m is her best -- so if Morris ends up reaching for her 5.00m PR, she could secure the international gold that eluded her at the 2016 World Indoor Championships and in Rio. But indoor world record-holder Jenn Suhr, who leaped 5.03m to set the standard in 2016, is right behind her. Suhr struggled with a respiratory infection during the Olympics last year that kept her from competing for hardware, but she's been showing good form this season. In April, she opened her outdoor season strong with a 4.83-meter vault, which still stands as the third-best mark in the world this season. With only .04m separating the top six vaulters in the current world standings, they could certainly push each other to new heights.
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Morris after securing the 2017 USATF outdoor pole vault title in Sacramento:
Inika McPherson Competes With Remarkable Comeback Story
Inika McPherson has one of the most remarkable comeback stories of any athlete competing at the world championships. Growing up in a crime-ridden area of Port Arthur, Texas, McPherson taught herself how to high jump as her own personal outlet. She quickly became one of the best youth high jumpers in history when she broke the freshman high school record and eventually accepted a scholarship to compete for UC Berkeley where she earned multiple All-American honors. But when her college career ended abruptly due to injury, McPherson was devastated and "went into the dark," where she entered a world of partying and drugs.
Through the help of her mother, McPherson emerged from the darkness and returned to high jumping. While working odd jobs like driving a cab to pay the rent, McPherson started training again in 2010. In her first meet back, she jumped the world championship standard and later finished third at the 2011 USATF Outdoor Championships. She competed for her first senior international team at the world championships in Daegu. Since 2011, McPherson has qualified to represent Team USA at five international championships.
In 2014, McPherson spent 30 days in jail prior to competing at the USATF Outdoor Championships. She was released a few days prior to the competition and went to a party where she ingested cocaine. She competed and won the championship, but tested positive for the banned substance Benzoylecgonine, a derivative of cocaine. As a result of the positive test, McPherson was served with a 21-month ban from competition.
Despite the devastating news, McPherson continued to train and returned in April 2016. Almost exactly two years after being served with the ban, McPherson finished third at the Olympic Trials and accomplished her lifetime goal of becoming an Olympian. She finished 10th at the Olympic Games.
This year, McPherson qualified for her fifth world championship team after finishing third at the USATF Outdoor Championships. Since USATF, McPherson has tied her personal best with a clearance of 1.96m to win the Meeting Madrid on July 14. She is currently ranked No. 8 in the world heading into the world championships in London.
Learn more about McPherson's story by watching the latest FloFilm documentary "Inika McPherson: It's Not Over."
WATCH: EPISODE ONE | EPISODE TWO
The Reigning World And Olympic Champs Have Dominated The Shot Like No Other Duo This Year For Team USA
The men's shot put will be a real treat for Americans. On the one hand, you've got the experienced reigning world champion and Olympic silver medalist in Joe Kovacs. And on the other, you've got the Rio gold medalist and all-time Olympic recordholder Ryan Crouser, who only converted to full-time training for the first time this season. But here's the kicker -- both of them are throwing much better in 2017 than when they earned their respective world titles.
Crouser is one of the most unconventional throwers on the circuit -- among his accomplishments are an Oregon state title in the triple jump from his high school days, and despite his six-foot-seven stature, at 275 pounds he still stands significantly lighter than his shorter competitors. But he holds the best mark of 2017 with a 22.65m heave at US nationals -- the farthest since 2003, and the farthest by anyone not convicted of a doping offense since 1988. Kovacs has thrown sparingly this year but the few competitions in which he has participated have all ended well for him, including a 22.57 PR of his own in Arizona early this season (which was also the farthest by a non-doper since 1988, before Crouser took that away from him).
Of course, there are other athletes in the field as well. New Zealand's Tom Walsh earned the bronze in Rio and looks set to repeat with his 22.04m SB, but he'd need a miracle to break up Crouser and Kovacs as together they hold all nine of the yearly marks ahead of him. Tomáš Staněk of the Czech Republic has gone from 20th at the Olympics last year to fourth on the 2017 World list as the only other performer over 22 meters with a huge PB, so he'd be a decent dark horse pick as his upside is a big unknown.
Crouser thinks the world record of 23.12m will go down before 2020. With all the talent we've been seeing this season, might it go down before 2018?
Watch Crouser after his #7 all-time mark at USAs:
USA Tries For A Squeaky Clean Sweep Of The Women's Shot Medals, But Maybe Not In The Order You Thought
Michelle Carter left our jaws on the floor last year when she popped a 20.63m American record final throw to become the unlikely Olympic champion. But what if I told you that in 2017, she hasn't even been the top American, or the second best? That's not a knock on Carter -- the U.S. women have been on fire this year, led by Raven Saunders coming off a grueling collegiate season and world lead of 19.76m, and Dani Bunch with her own 19.64m PB at nationals to claim the World No. 2 spot.
The fact is that the women's shot put is a very different event than it was twenty years ago. While the men have been setting top-ten marks of all time, no woman in the world has broken the top 1,500 this year due to some unbelievable throwing in the 70s and 80s. But that makes Wednesday's final all the more interesting: it's such a wide-open field that truly any of the finalists could steal the thunder with just one bazooka throw -- even more so, with the reigning Olympic silver medalist Valerie Adams on maternity leave this year. The top international contender would be Anita Márton of Hungary, who threw 19.63m way back in April and could be poised to defend her bronze medal position from Rio last year.
Carter, who calls herself the "Shot Diva," lived up to her nickname following her Rio gold, applying lip gloss in the mixed zone to demonstrate that women can be who they want to be no matter their size. Her father and coach, Michael Carter, has an Olympic silver of his own in the shot put along with three Super Bowl titles to his name with the San Francisco 49ers, but he's enjoyed taking a back seat to Michelle's accomplishments the past few years. "You have to go do this day-in and day-out with no one watching," he remarked after that amazing day in Rio. "You can throw far. How far is up to you."
Watch a freshly lip-glossed Carter after qualifying for Team USA: