Last weekend, the collegiate track season came to a close and with it emerged a handful of NCAA stars that showed serious potential to earn podium spots on the world stage. Based on their season’s best performances, including an NCAA record, these athletes are now ranked among the fastest ever.
A number of athletes will have a shot at earning a medal at the World Athletics Championships, which begin on July 15 in Eugene, Oregon. For the American athletes, the first step will be qualifying for worlds by earning a spot on the team at this weekend’s USATF Championships, also in Eugene.
Here are the seven NCAA standouts to keep an eye on over the next month.
In May, Anna Hall scored 6,458 points in the heptathlon to win the national title at the USATF Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Her point total is currently No. 2 in the world behind Anouk Vetter of the Netherlands.
At the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, Hall continued her winning streak by sweeping three events and the overall heptathlon crown. In the same competition, the Florida Gator finished second in the 400-meter hurdles final, which contributed significant points towards the program's team title.
The performances mark a comeback for Hall, who crashed to the track during the 100-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials last summer. The fall resulted in a broken Navicular bone in her left foot and dashed her Olympic dreams. After recovering from surgery and transferring from Georgia to Florida, Hall returned stronger than ever.
“I definitely felt a little bit of redemption,” Hall told FloridaGators.com after winning the U.S. title this spring. “I think knowing how young I was, people knew I would be back eventually. But not the following year. That motivated me to do extra things.”
Born into a family of track royalty, Talitha Diggs is now poised to make her own mark on the world stage. To win the 400 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, the daughter of four-time Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs and niece of three-time Olympians Hazel Clark and Jearl Miles-Clark ran a personal best of 49.99, the fourth-fastest time in the world so far this year.
Only four collegiate athletes—collegiate record-holder Athing Mu, Courtney Okolo, Lyanna Irby, and Charokee Young—have run faster than the Florida Gator while in the NCAA system. The outdoor title adds to Diggs’s growing collection, which already includes the 2022 NCAA indoor crown.
Despite rainy conditions at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Abby Steiner ran 21.80 in the 200 meters, a world lead that broke the collegiate record in the event. The University of Kentucky junior beat former collegiate record-holder Favor Ofili of LSU, who finished second at Hayward Field.
“We just took what’s happened this whole season as learning experiences,” Steiner told NBC Sports. “Every race is an opportunity to learn from it, and fix certain parts of my 200. So, I think it all came together at the right moment.”
Last year, Steiner missed the U.S. Olympic Trials due to injury, but she is considered a medal contender at the USATF Outdoor Championships and the World Athletics Championships later this summer.
In decisive victories, Joseph Fahnbulleh won the 100 and 200-meter double, securing critical points for NCAA champions Florida. The 200-meter performance was especially impressive given that his time of 19.83 is tied with Olympic champion Michael Norman for No. 5 in the world behind world leader Erriyon Knighton, world champion Noah Lyles, Olympic silver medalist Fred Kerley, and South Africa’s Luxolo Adams.
Last summer, Fahnbulleh was the Liberian flag bearer during the opening ceremony at the Tokyo Games. Despite being 19 years old at the time, the sprinter raced beyond his years on the Olympic stage. “If I’m intimidated by them, then that means they have already won,” Fahnbulleh told the Star Tribune. “I’m not going to just roll over.”
He finished fifth in the 200-meter final and set a Liberian national record in the process. Now even faster, Fahnbulleh appears ready to earn a spot on the world championship podium this summer.
Randolph Ross continued his winning streak with a season’s best of 44.13 to claim the men’s 400-meter crown at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. The North Carolina A&T sprinter is currently ranked No. 3 in the world behind Norman and Olympic champion Kirani James.
Last year, Ross qualified to represent Team USA in the 400 meters at the Tokyo Games, where he finished fourth in his heat during the first round. With more high-level victories and global championship experience to lean on, Ross looks ready to improve on the performance at the world championships in Eugene.
After running a then-world leading time of 1:43.69 in April, Moad Zahafi secured his place at the top of the collegiate ranks by winning the men’s 800 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
The outdoor title signified redemption for the Texas Tech runner, who got sick before the NCAA Indoor Championships and was pushed off the track in the 800-meter final. He was ranked No. 2 heading into the March race. But at the outdoor championships in Eugene, Zahafi ran away from the field, winning decisively with a kick in the last 200 meters.
“I came to this meet with only one goal, like everyone else, is to win,” Zahafi told Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “So after the fall in the indoor season, I wanted revenge. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to go back and finish my season with Texas Tech with a win.”
Zahafi will represent his native country of Morocco at the World Athletics Championships.
Collegiate competitors couldn’t come close to Trey Cunningham at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. The Florida State standout won the NCAA 110-meter hurdles title in 13.00, the second-fastest time in the world. Only two-time Olympian Devon Allen has run faster so far this year.
Last summer, Cunningham finished fourth in the final at the U.S. Olympic Trials and barely missed a spot on Team USA. Though he’ll have to contend with Allen and Olympic silver medalist Grant Holloway, among other top hurdlers, Cunningham looks ready to medal in Eugene.