Perhaps no team in the world is so difficult to make.

“All you get is a bib and a lane,” says Ato Boldon, NBC Olympics broadcast analyst and four-time Olympic medalist. “It doesn't matter who you are. You’re guaranteed drama. It's the toughest team in the world to make. And it’s unlike any other Olympic team on Earth.”

The U.S. Olympic track and field team showcases the elite of the elite, and its Trials are often more competitive than Olympic finals later in the summer.

Trials will be held from June 21-30 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, featuring eight days of competition, with all finals airing live on NBC in primetime and all competition streaming on Peacock,, and the NBC/NBC Sports apps.

As Trials approach, I sat down with three of NBC’s track and field broadcast analysts: Boldon, Sanya Richards-Ross and Trey Hardee.

Like Boldon, Richards-Ross and Hardee aren’t just broadcasters. They’re Olympians in their own right. Richards-Ross has four Olympic gold medals and one bronze, in the 400m and 4x400m relay. Hardee is one of America’s great decathletes — he earned a silver medal in the event at the 2012 London Games.

In the unedited conversation below, I dive deep with Boldon, Richards-Ross and Hardee about their expectations, possible surprises and more entering the 2024 U.S. Trials and Paris Olympics.


Sam Brief: When I say U.S. Olympic Trials, what's the first memory that comes to your mind?

Sanya Richards-Ross: I have a lot of incredible memories, and ironically, the one that came to the forefront of my mind first was the first time that I tried out for a team and didn't make it.

It was in 2016, and I was trying to make my final Olympic team and had hoped to go to Rio. I remember I had been struggling with an injury to my toe, and I hurt my hamstring right before the Trials. I remember getting in the blocks and still having this hopeful feeling, because I feel like when you go to Olympic Trials, you feel like you can pull a rabbit out of the hat. You're like, 'I can do this.' No matter what training's telling you, you're just going to find something to do it. So, I was still optimistic as I lined up.

And I remember running to about the 200-meter mark and realizing that I didn't have enough to finish. I was hurting, so I stopped running at 200m and was so disappointed. It was the first time in my career starting a race and not finishing. I was like hanging my head down in disappointment.

Then, the Hayward Field crowd literally stood to their feet, because it was my last race. I had been announcing this final tour, and they gave me a standing ovation. It was like a 'great job for your whole career.' And it was one of the most special moments of my career, because it really reminded me that this race wasn't how my career was going to be remembered. I had done so much up to that point, and it was just a bittersweet moment for me to be acknowledged in that way. 

And then, I ended up going to Rio anyway with NBC.

Trey Hardee: The first one that comes to mind is 2004. I showed up in Sacramento [for Trials] just weeks after realizing, 'Oh, I qualified for the Olympic Trials?' I got my [butt] handed to me by Olympic medalists, world champions, future Olympic gold medalists.

The conversations I had the night the decathlon ended with my coach and my family was when the engine started, and it was like that ignition switch of, 'I can do this. Those guys aren't going to beat me ever again.' That just started that whole 15-year journey to where I ended up.

Ato Boldon: Trials are a bit different for me. I've been going to them since ‘96, but I never participated in them. But because I get to see them from 30,000 feet, the U.S. Olympic Trials are magical.

First of all, everybody's crying. If you made the team, you're crying. If you didn't make the team, you’re also crying, probably even louder. The Trials are like if you could watch somebody try out for the Lakers or the Kansas City Chiefs, or whatever your favorite sporting organization is. This gets forgotten by a lot of people, but not by me.

The United States track and field team is the No. 1 track and field team in the world. It's the hardest team to make, and yet you get to see these people who are famous names and not-so-famous names. So it could be a Sanya Richards-Ross. It could be a Trey Hardee. It could be a Noah Lyles, but it could also be a Mckenzie Long from Ole Miss. The more I look at her, I think she's got a good chance to make this team in the same way that Anavia Battle from Ohio State beat Allyson Felix in 2021 to make the Tokyo Olympic Games.

The thing that I love the most about the Trials is all you get is a bib and a lane, and it doesn't matter who you are.

SRR: Oh, yeah.

AB: And of course, I've lived through some of the disasters, right? Like Sha’Carri Richardson not making it all the way because of her issues (note: Richardson was ruled ineligible for the Tokyo Olympic 100m due to a suspension for cannabis use). You’re guaranteed drama. It's the toughest team in the world to make. And it’s unlike any other Olympic team on Earth. It’s the most diplomatic. If you finish in the top three and have the qualifying standard, you go. If you don't, you're home.

Other countries, like England or Jamaica, it’s the first two across the line, and then there's a “discretionary pick.” That's how Bolt got to the Olympics in Rio. Everybody forgets that. He never competed at the Olympic Trials. Well, if Bolt was an American in that year, he would have been at home.

So if you love sport and if you love competition, it's the most profound example of one person, one shot, one day.

SB: It's ruthless in that way, right? It doesn't matter who you are.

AB: Yes, and it makes for good viewing. It's like getting to watch an NBA Finals or a World Series Game 7, because you either bring it that day, or you remain at home.

SB: The good news is, we have Olympic Trials starting soon in Oregon. So, telling you all as the experts, pick an event that you’re especially intrigued to follow at Trials.

TH: Men's shot put. It's been a feature. It's been a marquee event, and it’s been a one-man show. But Ryan Crouser is hurt (note: Crouser was a late scratch for the Prefontaine Classic on May 25). We don't know how badly he's hurt. We don't know what kind of guy is going to show up, and this is Joe Kovacs’ last Olympics to take him down.

Crouser is trying to do something that no one's ever done. He's trying to win three gold medals in three consecutive Olympic Games. But Joe Kovacs is throwing like a man possessed, and that's the battle. We know that Ryan can throw far, even if he's hurt. He had blood clots and still threw 23 meters.

But Joe is healthy, and he hasn't been able to take him down. This is Joe's last shot.

AB: I think it's the women’s 100m hurdles, because you have such a collection of stories. You have Nia Ali, who was a world champion but has never been Olympic champion and would desperately want to get that on her way out. She's not a spring chicken. She's got three kids. She doesn't know how much longer she's gonna stick around.

You have Keni Harrison, who has done everything except stand at the top of a podium in a major. She's had the world record. She's done quite a bit, but she's never won the Olympic title.

And then you have a whole bunch of young girls that are like, “When are these senior ladies gonna ever give us a chance?”

So on the one hand, you have these established veterans who have made every team they've tried out for in Nia and Keni, and then you have these youngsters who have literally spent their entire careers, and they look up and are like, “Oh, we're 25 or 26, and we still haven't been able to move these established hurdlers out of the way.”

I think Eugene could be a real changing of the guard. We could see three women make a team that have never made it to the Olympics before and are going to represent the United States for the first time.

SRR: I'm gonna go with with Sha’Carri. I'm excited to see how she handles everything. Because we saw her at [Prefontaine], and she showed out, right? Obviously, she's going into the Olympic Trials with this memory of what happened to her last time. Is she going to be able to step on that line and really deliver?

I'm rooting for her. I want to see her overcome all that she's been through, including being the face on the women's side. I want to see if Sha'Carri Richardson can live up to the hype and show up as the world champion wanting to make her first team and deliver for Team USA.

SB: Team USA has so many superstars. Sanya, you mentioned Sha’Carri. Trey brought up Crouser. I’ve heard Noah Lyles’ name. So it could be one of those three, or it could be someone else, but who is a superstar who needs to be on high alert at Trials?

AB: Fred Kerley

SRR: Oh, yeah. Good one.

SB: Why Kerley?

AB: Because the 200m is gone. I don't think he has any chance in the 200. Two years ago, he was riding high. He was running 9.7. He was the 100-meter champion. He silenced all his critics.

But I don't have Fred Kerley making the team in either event [the 100m or 200m], and I think if you told somebody who knew who Fred Kerley was or who casually followed the sport. 'Hey, Fred Kerley's going to leave Eugene not having made any team,' they'd be like, 'What?'

I don't see a scenario where Fred Kerley makes one of those teams, and he's thinking he's gonna make both.

TH: On the field side of things, I think we haven't seen Katie Moon jump enough to know what she's capable of. She just got beat at Prefontaine. She didn't jump well.

This could be the first time where not only could she find herself not winning the Trials, but possibly be slid down off the team. That would be a surprise, but it also would just be one of those things where you wake up and are like, 'What just happened?'

But that's a stretch. The field events are still pretty level. There's not a ton of drama. The victors will be the victors.

SB: Moon has been bothered by an Achilles injury this year. It feels like there have been a ton of injuries floating around this year. Is that a trend you all have noticed?

SRR: Yes, we were talking about that as a group. With having no year off because of COVID, I think it's put such a strain on the athletes, because they've gone back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Peaking at this level for four consistent years is not usually what's required from athletes at this level. So we think that's playing a part in it.

And that may impact the person that I was going to say, which is Athing Mu. I think even at 80%, she could be in the top-three, but we do know that she has a hamstring injury. It would be a major shocker and a huge disappointment from where she has been, being the youngest ever to win the 800 and to be head-and-shoulders above everyone. It would be really, really sad for her to miss this Olympics because of a late injury.

SB: You bring up a great point, Sanya, on Mu and the crazy, hectic schedule from the start of COVID to now. Any other thoughts on the recent rash of injuries?

AB:  As a coach, I can say that some of what happens during the Olympic year is that coaches push a little harder. It's not an accident why you see this many athletes who are hurt. But it's human nature, right? When there's more on the line, you want to feel like you've done everything that you possibly can, and sometimes it's too much.

SB: Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone is one of those athletes. She’s been battling a knee injury. We just learned that she's going to compete in the 400m hurdles this year, not the flat 400m, an event you used to dominate, Sanya. So what are your expectations for Sydney this year?

SRR: She's a very unique talent. Outside of an injury, nothing seems to faze her, you know? You just can't put anything past her. She's that good.

So, seeing her go back to the 400m hurdles means to me that she feels like she's not done. I think that she feels like ​​Femke Bol is putting together a body of work this season that could allow her to dip under 51 seconds the way she's been running really, really fast. So, I think that Sydney wants to kind of stamp that event. I think that she thinks she can go even faster, which must be more alluring to her than going into the unknown of the 400.

So, what could we see in Paris? It could be mind-blowing.

SB: McLaughlin-Levrone vs. Bol is potentially an epic showdown. I’ll pivot now to a great battle within the U.S: Valarie Allman, the defending Olympic champion, and Laulauga Tausaga-Collins, defending world champ. Going to you here, Trey, what's your read on women's discus entering Trials?

TH:  There's a bad taste in the mouth for Allman’s training group, with how things ended for her last season (note: Allman finished second to Tausaga-Collins at 2023 Worlds). She was visibly very upset, and that's what this season has been about for her, being as consistent as she can be.

And actually, I saw Lagi [Tausaga-Collins] and her coach after [the Prefontaine Classic] and just asked, 'How's it going? How are you feeling?'

Last year, she wasn't even gonna make the final at the U.S. championships, and it took a third-round season’s best throw to just make that final. Then, she just made the team [for Worlds], and it was left up to the very end.

They're really not thinking about anyone else except for inside their own camp and trying to right that ship. And so, while I don't think that those two women are best friends, I think that they’ve both got blinders on. They're both so much in their own lanes, and I think they're driving each other to be like two of the best in American history. That's what everybody is watching, and I can't wait to see what happens at Trials.

SB: A lot of eyes on that event. We saw at worlds this year that Lagi is one massive throw from making something magical happen, right?

TH: Exactly, and that's what makes the long throws exciting. It's just one throw. It’s one, and you can witness magic.

SB: We have to talk about Noah Lyles now. He says he plans to win four Olympic gold medals this year, in the 100m and 200m, plus the 4x100m and 4x400m relays. What’s a realistic expectation for him?

AB: For Noah, we always talk about confidence. Since Noah got that bronze in 2021 [at the Tokyo Olympics, in the 200m], you know what he's done? He hasn't lost a single 200-meter race. None.

He's also improved the 60m to the point where he's a half step behind Christian Coleman. He’s the 100-meter world champion. He’s like, 'I'm still m-fing Noah Lyles, and I will figure it out.' He is so supremely confident, and he has such a phenomenal track record when it counts. I'm not betting against him. I don't care what it looks like the day before the Trials start. That is one person I am not betting against. I'm betting against Sha’Carri before him.

SRR:  I would echo that sentiment. The only thing that I would say is I think it's going to be a tall order for Noah is to be on that men's [4x400m relay]. I think that three gold medals are definitely possible, but I do think that Team USA has enough men in the 4x4. You include Rai BenjaminMichael Norman, and there are just so many people. I think that unless Team USA decides that they want him to get that next medal, he did not prove to me this season that he is one of the four fastest 400m men on Team USA.

But that's my only knock on him. I think Ato said it perfectly. I think he's gonna kill it.

AB: I've been around long enough to know that if Noah Lyles wins the 100m in dramatic fashion, then wins the 200, and the U.S. 4x100m team is standing on top of that podium for the first time since 2000 because of Noah's fantastic anchor leg, they will find a leg for him to run on one of those relays somewhere.

So, I guess I'm a little bit more ready to accept that Noah is not going to be sitting in the stands eating popcorn during the 4x100. Like Sanya said, I don't think he's proven that he’s earned a spot on that team, and maybe it becomes a political thing. But why is anybody going to care when you show up on the TODAY show with your four gold medals from Paris hanging around your neck? You think that Dorothy in Kansas gives a s***?

You're a four-time Olympic gold medalist, and you have now become one of only two men in history, joining Carl Lewis and Jesse Owens. That is a very small club.

SB: Before we go, I want to get any burning thoughts from you all. What should a casual fan, say Ato’s Dorothy in Kansas, know before Trials?

AB: I think no matter, the star of our show is now Sha’Carri.

Sha’Carri is going to make our jobs so much easier, and she's going to wake America up so much to track and field. If she wins the Olympic Trials and gets back to right where she was when America and the world fell in love with her three years ago, and rides that to Olympic gold in Paris, and then it’s four years of talking about Sha’Carri defending her title in Los Angeles in 2028, it’s going to be the second coming of [Florence Griffith Joyner].

SRR: I think Gabby Thomas and her story of being a Harvard grad, and doing everything that she did in not coming from the traditional path, America should be rooting for her. So we should continue to highlight her. I trust that she's going to be ready to run at Trials. Gabby Thomas is someone that “Dorothy in Middle America” can fall in love with because I think she's a great ambassador for the sport.

SB: It's an Olympic year, and she still spends hours every week volunteering at a healthcare clinic. It’s amazing.

AB: She's different. She's special.

TH: Anna Hall is a superstar. 

SRR: Yes, Anna Hall!

TH: Anna Hall is fantastic. She carries herself well. She's well-spoken. She's tough as nails, and that's kind of thing the American public is endeared to.

Harkening back to Bruce Jenner running for the world record the way he did it, that's how Anna Hall's going to do it. She runs the heck out of the 800m, and she's figuring out some of the events in the middle. The women's heptathlon is strong right now, so she's up against it, but we need a superstar — like a superstar — and I think she can do it.

SB: Well, I know Dorothy in Kansas is ready to watch these athletes run down the yellow brick road to the Olympics. Thank you all for your time and expertise!