So, where did they come from? Many of the new faces are from the college ranks, but there talents were developed many years earlier at places like the Junior Olympics.
In fact, the logo for the 2006 USATF National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships features the phrase: "Our Youth . . . Our Future." And that's exactly what the annual meet is all about.
America's next great track and field athletes have to come from somewhere; they're not developed overnight. It's a training process that begins at places like the National Junior Olympics, which get under way Tuesday at Hughes Stadium on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md.
More than 6,000 athletes are expected to compete in five age divisions, with athletes usually falling between the ages of 8 and 18. Among the huge field will be a handful of local girls — Jackie Evans and Julia Maggioncalda of Palo Alto, Breoanna Alexander of East Palo Alto, and Kieran Gallagher of Los Altos Hills.
Yet another up-and-coming standout, Caprice Powell of East Palo Alto, is headed for the Hershey Track and Field Games on Aug. 5 in Hershey, Pa. She'll be joined there by Evans.
All have qualified for their respective national championships through preliminary, Association and Regional levels of the 2006 USATF Junior Olympic Program. Powell also went through a qualifying process for the Hershey meet.
At 14, Powell is the veteran of the local track competitors. She just graduated from Costano School in East Palo Alto and is headed for Menlo-Atherton High in the fall.
Longtime area track coach and Costano teacher (now retired) Al Julian first noticed Powell's running talent when she was in the fourth grade.
"I first saw her when I had her as a fourth-grader in PE," he said. "We were playing softball and she was my leftfielder. This hot-shot Little Leaguer gets up and hits one to left field. Instead of throwing the ball in, she (Powell) ran it in and caught the guy before he got home, and tagged him out."
Julian got Powell involved in the Hershey events, due to a lack of funding that would have allowed her to attend various junior meets around the state. Despite the fact Powell has never competed in spikes or even started races out of starting blocks, Julian rates the youngster as one of the best he has coached.
"I had a track club in the '60s," Julian said, referring to his Ravenswood Juliettes that starred Creola Miller and Denise Julian, his cousin. "She (Powell) showed me more than what I had then — at her age. And she hasn't run in any events in track shoes."
Powell qualified for the Hershey championships by winning the 100 and 200 meters at a regional qualifying meet at San Jose City College. Competing in the 13-14 age bracket, Powell won the 100 meters in 12.79 and took the 200 in 26.30, running in tennis shoes (spikes aren't allowed in Hershey competition).
She competed against athletes from California, Nevada, Hawaii and Arizona. Since athletes can only compete in one event at Hershey, Powell chose the 100. She finished second in that race two years ago at the Hershey meet. She missed last year's meet when her grandmother passed away just before the qualifying competition.
Only the top eight times from the eight regionals advance to the national finals. Out of all Region 2 (Arizona, Northern California, Southern California, Hawaii, Nevada and Utah) competitors this year, Powell had the fastest 100 and 200 times.
Powell will have her way to the Hershey meet paid for, but the EPA Kiwanis Club is looking for donations to help send Powell's mother and Julian to the meet.
Joining Powell at the Hershey meet will be a girls' 400 relay team representing Joy's Jackrabbits (of Menlo Park). The group includes Rachel Skokowski, Victoria Loeb, Nettie Renee Brown and Sunny Margerum.
Evans, 13, also has qualified off her record-breaking 5:18.03 in the 1,600 meters. It's the fastest time in the state in her division.
Before competing in the Hershey meet, Evans will join with Maggioncalda, 12, to compete at the Junior Olympics.
Both are newcomers to the sport and run for Joy's Jackrabbits, who get their name from coach Joy Margerum (herself a standout track athlete at the Masters' level).
Evans played Pop Warner Football for the Palo Alto Knights the past three years before taking up track, making a name for herself as a speedy running back and linebacker. She displayed her track ability when the football players had to run two miles in practice during preseason workouts.
A coach noticed that Evans had a natural running ability and suggested she attend a summer track camp at the University of California. It was there Evans met Margerum, then an assistant coach with the Cal women's track and field team.
Evans joined the Jackrabbits and now also trains with veteran Los Gatos High coach Willie Harmatz, who has turned out some high-level distance runners over the years.
The move to track has paid off in a big way for Evans, who ranks No. 3 nationally in the Youth Girls (13-14) 1,500 meters with a personal best of 4:47.82. She also ranks No. 13 in the 800 at 2:19.84.
At the Junior Olympics qualifying meet in Folsom earlier this month, Evans won the 800 in 2:20.36 and added a first in the 1,500 in 3:54.09. Last weekend in San Diego, Evans won the 1,500 (4:50.7) at the California State Games and returned less than three hours later to finish second in the 800 (2:20.1).
At 5-foot-7 and 100-plus pounds, Evans has the physical characteristics of a middle-distance runner. Since she's only going to be a ninth-grader at Gunn High this fall, Evans' growth in height may be exceeded only by her potential.
Speaking of room to grow, Maggioncalda fits that description. She has been competing in track for only three months after being introduced to the sport by Evans' father, Thomas.
"She had never done track before," said Julia's father, Jeff. "Julia had been tagging along with Jackie, so we went to a meet with Tom Evans. Tom said she could go to nationals."
Julia, then a sixth-grader at Terman Middle School, had been high jumping in school while wearing running shoes. Her parents bought her some spikes and the serious competition started.
At the JO qualifying meet in Folsom, Maggioncalda won the Midget Girls (11-12) high jump at 4-8 1/4. Her season best of 4-9 3/4 ranks her fourth in the nation in her age group. She also has leaped 14-8 3/4 in the long jump.
"She's very excited," Jeff Maggioncalda said. "If Tom hadn't spotted her . . ."
Evans and Maggioncalda will have plenty of company in Baltimore next week from Alexander, 13, and Gallagher, 11.
Alexander just graduated from the seventh grade at Costano School and Gallagher will return to Castilleja this fall as a seventh-grader. Both are talented middle-distance standouts.
Alexander will be competing in her second Junior Olympics and will be the busiest of all the local competitors. She won the Youth Girls' 400 (1:00.39) at the JO qualifying meet in addition to taking second to Evans in the 800 in 2:21.94. Alexander also will run the second leg on the Oakland-based 3M Track Club's 400 relay and the second leg on the team's 1,600 relay, which had the top qualifying time of 4:02.59 — which would have ranked among the best in the Central Coast Section this past spring.
While she stands only 4-foot-8, Alexander ranks No. 12 in the nation in her age division in the 800 with a best of 2:19.46. She also has run a 59.60 in the 400 and a 5:08.57 in the 1,500, making her quite versatile.
Gallagher, who runs for the Palo Alto Lightning Track Club and competes in Midget Girls along with Maggioncalda, also is new to the sport. She ran her first race on April 8, 2005 in Santa Rosa, a date her father, Fred, remembers because it was two days after his brother's wedding.
Kieran, who got introduced to running through the "Girls On The Run" program at the Bullis Charter School two years ago, qualified for the Junior Olympics last year in Bantam Girls and finished seventh in the 1,500 (5:21.70) and eighth in the 800 (2:39.94 after running 2:33.79 in the prelims).
She'll run both after qualifying first in the 1,500 (4:56.84) and second in the 800 (2:24.71) at the JO qualifier in Folsom earlier this month.