By PAT GRAHAM
DES MOINES, Iowa — Just 21 years old, Brianna Rollins is already running faster than some of the best hurdlers in history.
Rollins set an American record in the 100-meter hurdles at the U.S. track championships on a sweltering Saturday, one of several big performances by less-than-familiar names.
Rollins, a standout at Clemson before turning pro this month, finished in 12.26 seconds to break the mark of Gail Devers in 2000. It is also the fastest time in a 100 hurdles race in 21 years.
“I don’t think about records,” Rollins said. “I came out here and did what I have to do.”
Not to be outdone, 17-year-old Mary Cain finished second in the 1,500 meters to earn a spot at the world championships in Moscow in August. She was edged at the line by training partner Treniere Moser.
Cain is the first high-schooler to make the world team since Allyson Felix nearly a decade ago. Cain could hardly contain her enthusiasm after a nearly flawless race.
This after being petrified at the prospect of running against an elite field with so much at stake.
“I called my mom the other day crying and was like, ‘I’m just a little kid. I’m so scared,’” Cain said, holding a stuffed yellow duck for comfort. “She’s like, ‘Mary I know you. If I could take you away right now, I would. But you would be kicking yourself for the rest of your life if you weren’t in that final.’ I let the nerves take over me for a minute. Then, I pushed them out.
“Getting to wear a Team USA uniform is amazing. I really wanted to get a uniform.”
Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross was slowed by a surgically repaired right big toe and didn’t qualify for worlds.
There were plenty of big names that shined, though, as LaShawn Merritt captured the 400 crown, and Olympic champion Ashton Eaton took the decathlon title.
“It was an OK two days,” Eaton said. “It’s very difficult to compete in the heat.”
Yet in the heat, there were three new American records. Michelle Carter set a mark in the shot put with a throw of 66 feet, 5 inches on her way to the title.
Later, Amanda Bingson broke the U.S. mark in the hammer throw with her toss of 248-5.
On a busy day at nationals, other winners included Nicole Bush (3,000 steeplechase), Brigetta Barrett (high jump), Janay DeLoach Soukup (long jump, Matthew Centrowitz (1,500), Maria Michta (20,000 race walk), Michael Tinsley (400 hurdles) and Natasha Hastings (400).
One thing is for sure: The world team will definitely have a different look. Quite a few of these athletes are hardly household names.
“In the U.S., someone is always up and coming,” said Merritt, who won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games.
A world away, Rollins grabbed the attention of reigning Olympic champion Sally Pearson of Australia, who posted on her Twitter account: “Looks like I am bringing my A++ game to worlds this year with Brianna Rollins just running 12.26.”
Also, Tyson Gay and Felix looked solid in their opening rounds of the 200.
Gay tossed and turned all night, replaying his electric win in the 100 meters.
Now, the race is completely out of his mind, and he’s ready to start all over again.
Gay showed no signs of fatigue as he comfortably advanced out of his opening heat. He was in control the whole way as he won his heat in 20.14 seconds, the third-fastest overall time on a hot afternoon.
His surgically repaired hip was feeling good, too. Sure, it was a little sore after holding off Justin Gatlin for the 100 title the night before, but not enough to keep him out of the 200 competition.
“I’m healthy, that’s the key,” Gay said. “I’m not trying to be Superman, if my body is really fatigued. … When you’re injury-free, it makes a world of difference.”
Gatlin skipped the 200 because of a tweaked right hamstring, an injury he hid throughout the 100 rounds. Gatlin said in a text that running “9.8 on a bum (hamstring) twice is my limit of luck.”
Isiah Young had the fastest time in the first round of the 200, finishing in 20.09. Wallace Spearmon, one of the 200 favorites, also advanced.
In the opening round of the women’s race, Felix, the Olympic champion, definitely was hard to miss in her bright pink calf sleeves. She stood out for her performance, too, taking almost a leisurely stroll as she finished in 22.44.
“It was good,” said Felix, who sat out of the 100 to concentrate on her signature event, the 200. “Just wanted to get out there, control the race.”
David Oliver had the top time in the opening round of the 110-meter hurdles, while Olympic champion Aries Merritt ran a smooth race to advance. Merritt hasn’t competed all that much this season due to a nagging right hamstring injury.