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SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - A world-class group of jumpers, shot putters and women's hurdlers should have American athletes heading to the podium often at August's world championships in London.
Double Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor and fellow Rio gold medallists Ryan Crouser, Dalilah Muhammad and Tianna Bartoletta, plus hurdles world record holder Keni Harrison and Aries Merritt, all qualified at the cutthroat U.S. championships that concluded on Sunday.
"It looks entirely possible that Team USA could match its impressive Rio (Olympic) tally in August," international athletics expert Mel Watman told Reuters.
The Americans won 13 gold medals in Rio after underperforming at the last world championships in Beijing two years ago with just six.
One-two punches in the triple jump, men's and women's shot put, women's long jump and women's 400 metres hurdles plus strong showings in the relays could all produce gold for the U.S. in London, Watman said.
But the Americans, who love their sprints, will likely face major roadblocks in the men's events even though they have the year's fastest at 100 metres (Christian Coleman, 9.82 seconds) and 400 (Fred Kerley, 43.70).
World record holders Usain Bolt, who is retiring after the London 100, and Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa in the 400 will be the fans' favourites.
Olympic silver medallist Justin Gatlin, winner of the U.S. 100 over Coleman, also should be a contender in the London race as he faces Bolt for the last time.
Rio medallist Tori Bowie highlights the U.S. women's sprints, but must again face Jamaican double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson in the 100.
The U.S. should gain medals in many of the same events where they made the podium in Rio, with 22 of the 29 individual medallists qualifying for London.
Defending triple jump champion Taylor and Olympic silver medallist Will Claye again rank 1 and 2 in the world with Crouser and Olympic runner-up Joe Kovacs sharing similar honours in the men's shot put.
Taylor is approaching Jonathan Edwards' triple jump world record, and Crouser delivered the longest shot put in 14 years at 22.65 metres on Sunday.
Bartoletta and Olympic silver medallist Brittney Reese, who has the top jump in the world this season, will be tough to defeat in the women's long jump with Raven Saunders and Danie Bunch the best two women's shot putters of 2017. They will be joined by Olympic gold medallist Michelle Carter.
No event was more impressive in Sacramento than the women's 400 metres hurdles, though, with Olympic gold medallist Muhammad leading three women under 53 seconds for the first time ever in the same race.
All three could claim medals in London.
Watman, the co-editor of Athletics International, also was impressed by Olympic bronze medallist Sam Kendricks, who provided the first six metres pole vault of the outdoor season and the U.S. 4x400 metres relay's chances.
"In Sacramento four men ran 44.50 or quicker in the 400m final didn't include vastly experienced LaShawn Merritt who has a wild card," he said.
Rio Olympic pole vault silver medallist Sandi Morris also could be in the mix for medals, Watman said
World 400 metres champion Allyson Felix also is moving into contention after working on her speed in the 100 and 200 at Sacramento.
Gold medallists Matthew Centrowitz (1,500m) and Kerron Clement (400m hurdles) also qualified.
Editing by Hugh Lawson