1. Will the hometown crowd help Matthew Centrowitz win his first gold medal?
Centro won bronze and silver in the 2011 and 2013 World Outdoor Championships, and there could be no better setting to win his first world gold than Portland, where he has lived and trained for the past four years. A capacity crowd will be urging him on, but he faces a stiff challenge in this high-quality field. Defending champion Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti is in top form, having set a new world indoor record in the 1000 meters (2:14.20) last month in Stockholm. Savvy Kiwi vet Nick Willis would no doubt love to erase the memory of his disqualification in the last world indoors, as well as his close losses to Centrowitz in the past two Millrose Games mile races. Aman Wote of Ethiopia and Kenyan Vincent Kibet are always dangerous, and Centro knows fellow American Robby Andrews has a lethal kick, with last week’s very narrow win over Andrews still fresh. The one safe prediction is that the crowd will be at fever pitch for this race.
2. Will Genzebe Dibaba remain head and shoulders above the world’s best female distance runners?
Simply put, Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia is distance running royalty. At the still-young age of 25, Dibaba holds the world outdoor record in the 1500, and indoor records in the 1500, mile, 3000 and 5000. In setting the new indoor mile record of 4:13.31 last month, she knocked four seconds off the previous record which had stood for 26 years. It seems unlikely she will be seriously challenged in this race, but her compatriot Meseret Defar will certainly give it her best shot. Now 32 and coming off an extended break after the birth of her daughter in 2014, Defar showed she is fit in her one 2016 outing. American Shannon Rowbury, who trains under Alberto Salazar in Portland, is moving up from the 1500 and her closing speed will give her a good shot to medal in this race.
3. Will youth trump experience in the women’s high jump?
Ruth Beitia of Spain will be competing in her ninth World Indoor Championship meet, which ties her with Maria Mutola for most appearances in the meet. Beitia, 36, will be seeking to break her own record as the oldest woman to earn a high jump medal at the world championships. Gold would, of course, be especially sweet, as no Spanish woman has ever claimed a world title in athletics. At the other end of the age spectrum is Vashti Cunningham, who is 18 and has not yet graduated from high school. At last week’s U.S. Indoor Championships in Portland, Cunningham sailed over 1.99m (6-6¼) to set new high school, U.S. junior and world junior records. That height is also the world-leading mark in 2016, by just a single centimeter over Beitia’s 1.98m. This is not likely to be a two-woman contest either, as Lithuania’s Airine Palsyte and Poland’s Kamila Licwinko have season bests just two centimeters behind Cunningham.
4. African dominance again in the men’s 3000? And who is the favorite anyway?
Unlike the women’s 3000 meter race, there is no heavy favorite in the men’s 3000. In fact, only one of the top eight men from the 2014 World Indoor Championships is even in the final: Caleb Ndiku of Kenya, who won a slow race in 7:54.94 two years. Ndiku has not been as impressive this season as countryman Augustine Choge, a 29-year-old veteran without many major titles to his credit. Morocco’s Abdalaati Iguider brings his impressive racing skills to the 3000 over the 1500, and must be considered at least one of the favorites. Projecting a winner is as difficult as predicting how the pace will go out in this race. Will it be a slow pace, leading to congestion with a 12-man field, or will a brave soul string out the pack by setting an honest pace? And does someone like American Ryan Hill, yet another Portland-based runner, stand a chance in what seems to be a very evenly matched group.
5. Can Marquis Dendy win gold and make long jumping cool again in the U.S?
The last medal won by an American long jumper in the World Indoor Championships was way back in 2004 when Savante Stringfellow took home gold. That is a very long drought for a country that used to dominate the event. But Marquis Dendy comes off an outstanding collegiate career at the University of Florida and brings a world-leading mark of 8.28m (27-2) into this competition. The 23-year-old Dendy will be joined by Jeff Henderson of the U.S. in the quest to make America relevant again in the long jump.