Former Cal star Alysia Montano begins her quest for a fourth straight USA outdoor title in the 800-meter run on Thursday at the national championships in Des Moines, Iowa.
Montano, a fifth-place finisher at the London Olympics last summer, has run just once outdoors this season, clocking 1:59.43 at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore.
She was beaten there by largely unheralded American Brenda Martinez, a 25-year-old UC Riverside grad, whose personal-best mark of 1:58.18 at Pre is the fastest by an American this season. Martinez will run in Heat 3 of the first round on Thursday.
Montano, set to run in Heat 4, has broken 1:58 each of the past three seasons. She has won a total of four USA outdoor titles: 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Semifinals are set for Friday with the finals on Sunday. The top three finishers qualify to represent the U.S. at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, Aug. 10-18.