* Drew Johnson from Charlotte, NC will look to win titles in the 14yo Boys 800m, 1,500m and 4x800m at the AAU Junior Olympics.
Photo Credit: Dan Loughlin/MileSplit North Carolina
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Now just a few days out from the AAU Junior Olympic Games, we're likely to see breakout performances from young distance athletes as they take to the track.
This year's distance events will feature a deep field of talented athletes vying for personal bests, first AAU titles and potentially some national age group records.
Which athletes and events could potentially make for impressive showings?
Ahead of the highly-competitive distance events at the AAU Junior Olympics, we preview which athletes and matchups to keep an eye on as the long-anticipated meet commences on Saturday.
WATCH LIVE: THE 2022 AAU JUNIOR OLYMPIC GAMES
BEGINS AIRING JULY 30 - AUG. 6
Five Athletes To Watch
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Victor Jaimez-Solorio, Compton (CA); 11yo Boys 800, 1,500m & 3,000m: He's been one of the top names in the AAU circuit since he began competing as an 8-year-old. This year, Jaimez-Solorio plans to add more titles to his young resume. Representing Pacific Coast ShockWaves, he moves up an age group this year to the 11 year old division, but that doesn't mean he still isn't the favorite to pull off the division distance triple. He already has six AAU titles to his name, along with national records in the 1,500m for the 8-year-old, 9-year-old and 10-year-old divisions. 2022 could make for Jaimez-Solorio's best AAU Junior Olympic Games performance yet as he now gets to add the 3,000m to his list of events to tackle.
Paige Sheppard, Trenton (NJ), 13yo Girls 800m & 1,500m: It's one thing to shave a few seconds off of a 1,600m time. But to drop 20 seconds in the event within a single month makes for a truly remarkable improvement. That's exactly what Sheppard, the young New Jersey distance talent, did toward the end of the school outdoor season, going from a 5:13.17 mile PR to winning the junior 1,600m race at Brooks PR in 4:52.65. Sheppard won't need as big of an improvement to challenge Daesha Rogers' 4:36.79 national record, but she certainly could run faster than that en route to a title. Also look out for her in the 800m, where she holds the top seed of 2:13.13.
Sophia Hamdani, Houston (TX), 14yo Girls 1,500m & 3,000m: Hamdani finished fifth in the 1,500m and 12th in the 800m as a 13-year-old at last year's AAU Junior Olympic Games, but she will enter the 14-year-old division as the favorite to not only win a title but break a national record in the longer 3,000m distance event. After a 2022 middle school outdoor season that was highlighted by new personal best performances in the 1,600m (4:58.49) and 3,000m (10:02.17), the Houston talent enters as the favorite in the 3,000m and a top contender in the 1,500m. And not only is she is the top seed in the 3,000m, but she could potentially shoot for London Culbreath's age group record of 10:02.40.
Drew Johnson, Charlotte (NC); 14yo Boys 800m, 1,500m & 4x800m: Johnson won't travel too far from his Charlotte hometown to tackle an impressive distance campaign at the Junior Olympics in Greensboro. The Charlotte Panthers athlete could likely become a star in the making. He enters as the top seed in the 14-year-old division of the boys 800m and 1,500m.
Saxon Brown, Simpsonville (SC), 17-18 Boys 800m: The senior has dropped four seconds off of his 800m time since the beginning of the outdoor season, so why not shoot for more improvement? Brown recently recorded a personal best of 1:52.53 at the Region 8 Qualifier. This time around, he'll line up yet again in the 17-18 age category and will vie for his first AAU Junior Olympic title. With the kind of progression Brown has shown throughout the season, it's worth mentioning that the current national age group record sits at 1:49.78. Maybe a strong push to end his high school career on the highest of notes will foster another all-time best and new national record.
Top Event To Watch
* Lauren Tolbert won her first national title in the 800m at the AAU Junior Olympic Games last year.
Girls 800m, 17-18
This girls 800m race will likely be a dual between an all-time AAU great and one of the greatest mid-distance runners in North Carolina history.
Johnson enters as the top seed and has quite the resume when it comes to competing at the AAU Junior Olympic Games. With nine AAU national titles under her belt spanning from the 400m up to the 800m and 1,500m, the St. Thomas Aquinas (FL) rising senior will take to the track as a favorite.
She dipped under 2:10 this season at the FHSAA Class 3A Outdoor State Championships for the first time since 2019, clocking a new PR of 2:08.35.
But Tolbert comes in not only as the defending champion, but with her eyes set on North Carolina history.
With the fastest 800m personal best in the field, Tolbert will look to take one more shot at breaking the North Carolina state record, attempting to do so on home turf. She clocked a personal best of 2:06.94 at Brooks PR last month, which put the incoming Duke freshman within 0.28 seconds of the 2:06.66 record held for nearly 20 years by Mackenzie Pierce.
Tolbert wants to leave it all out on the track in her final high school meet and she wants to depart the AAU Junior Olympic Games as the fastest to ever do it in the 800m in North Carolina. But look for Johnson to challenge her for the title.
An AAU Throwback
Athing Mu, Trenton (NJ)
Performance: First in 15-16 Girls 400m, 800m & 1,500m; second in the 200m
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At just 20 years old, current U.S. middle distance sensation Athing Mu already has both an Olympic and World Outdoor title to her name in the women's 800m.
But just a few years ago, in star-like fashion, Mu successfully attempted one of the greatest distance triples in AAU Junior Olympic History.
At the 2018 AAU Junior Olympics in Greensboro, Mu went after not just the 15-16 girls title -- in her specialty 800m event -- but also in the 200m, 400m and 1,500m disciplines to make for an astonishing quadruple.
Mu smoothly racked up wins in the longer three events, but fell just short in the 200m, finishing second. She especially shined in her specialty two-lap event with a winning 800m time of 2:07.54 that fell just short of the national record.
Three individual titles and a runner-up finish at the Junior Olympics made for not just one of the best middle distance/distance performances of all time, but one of the most eye-catching moments in the event's long-running history.
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Four Big Matchups
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Event: 9yo Boys 1,500m
Seed Times: 5:13.02 & 5:13.75
Event: 12yo Girls 3,000m
Seed Times: 10:52.12 & 10:55.56
Event: 13yo Boys 800m
Seed Times: 2:07.78 & 2:07.99