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EUGENE, Ore. — Metronome Molly Huddle was at it again, magically clicking off kilometer after kilometer to dwindle down the women’s 10,000m field and win her second straight national title and her first USA Olympic Trials gold medal. Proving again that she is the most consistent American distance runner below the marathon distance, Huddle qualified for her second Olympic team after pulling away from Emily Infeld and Marielle Hall in the final laps. Infeld finished second today with Hall third. Both will be first-time Olympians.
From the gun Huddle went to the front and controlled the pace, the most experienced tactician in the field. Leading a train of contenders with consistent 76-second laps, Huddle got into a rhythm and kept the pace honest, but reasonable. All in tow waited for the next move to be made.
Things were calm until the unthinkable happened 2.25 miles in, when someone stepped on Kim Conley’s New Balance spike and dislodged her shoe. Stopping to adjust the shoe, Conley tried to quickly slip it on; yet it simply wouldn’t go.
Sitting and pulling it tight, she lost perhaps 50 meters (roughly 20 seconds) on the field. Though she tried to catch up, Conley would never reach the lead group and ultimately dropped out while in sixth position after 8000m.
Up front, Huddle passed 5,000m in roughly 16:09 before hitting 8,000m in 25:38.16. By that point only four women were with her: Infeld, Hall, Aliphine Tuliamuk, and Kellyn Taylor.
Huddle continued to squeeze the pace down even further in the subsequent laps, putting pressure on those that followed. First Taylor dropped off, then Tuliamuk faded. Finally there were only three: Huddle, Infeld, and Hall. With that, the Olympic team was set.
“I tried to just keep pressing. It’s hard up there alone. When you’re following someone it’s always just a little bit less stressful. But when I looked up and saw that there were four of us who’d broken away I thought ‘You just have to trust that this is hurting them. Don’t get weak now,'” Huddle described, sporting her medal, American flag earrings and nail polish.
Huddle and Infeld have a tumultuous history dating back to last year’s IAAF World Championships when Infeld nipped Huddle at the line for the 10,000m bronze medal. Here today, Huddle made sure that Infeld would not steal her glory, unleashing a 68-second final lap to solidify the title in 31:41.62. Infeld was second in 31:46.09, with Hall third in 31:54.77.
“With a lap to go I just put everything I had into it and tried to stay calm. It felt hard. I know it wasn’t a fast time but I wanted to make sure I didn’t take any risks,” she said. “I think we have a great team going to Rio.”
Huddle said that the plan all along was to get out front and control the tempo, working to see if anyone could keep up once it came to the race’s later stages. Using the stadium video boards to her advantage, she gauged how the field was doing.
“I felt like if I couldn’t break away in the first 5K I wanted to wait until the last 1,200m [to really push the field] and that’s just kind of what happened,” she said. “I tried to stay on the inside, but as long as I was in the top three I think that took a lot of stress off of me.”
Not having run any outdoor races this year prior to today, Infeld put any injury talk to rest by staying up front. Smiling from the time she crossed the line until the press conference’s conclusion, Infeld was visibly giddy.
“I am just so happy,” she said. “Jerry [Schumacher], this morning, we were having a chat before the race and he said you’ve dreamed of this since you were a little girl. I was like ‘I know,’ but I didn’t even want to think of that cause I wanted to think this was any other race. It’s crazy, cause I feel like I got into that race mode and doing that, across the finish line, it was like it really happened. We’re all going to Rio!”
All three athletes said their intention is to return to the track for the 5000m prelims on Thursday. Huddle ran both events in Beijing last year.
Favorites Advance in Men’s and Women’s 800m Semis
Boris Berian wasn’t leaving anything to chance in the men’s 800m semi-final, going out hard in 49.73 for the first lap. Keeping the lead down the backstretch, around the curve and into the homestraight, the Big Bear Track Club star held his own despite tying up in the final strides. With a time of 1:45.72, he was easily the fastest finisher of the round.
“I didn’t really want to go out THAT fast, but when I see that on the time I just said keep going, don’t slow down and use that momentum. It wouldn’t be smart to lose that spot so keep going,” Berian said. “I was [tying up] a little bit, but if anyone came up then I had a little bit left.”
If the race had been another five meters, Erik Sowinski, Cas Loxsom, and Isaiah Harris may have caught Berian. The trio all broke 1:46 with times of 1:45.82, 1:45.93, and 1:45.95, respectively.
Somewhat overlooked entering these Trials, Sowinski is comfortable where he’s at. He is the reigning World Indoor bronze medalist.
“I feel like I’m in the same position as last year,” he said, referencing when he made the World Championships squad. “I don’t really pay attention to anything outside of my race plan. Coach will sit me down and we’ll go through the same plan, be top three at 600, 700 and the last 100 we’ll see what happens.”
Clayton Murphy won a tumultuous second section, biding his time before striking 150 meters from the line. The former Akron Zip put himself in good position before sprinting away to the victory in 1:46.97, avoiding a tangle-up that involved Joseph White, Craig Engels, and Shaq Walker. Engels fell, got up and finished sixth in 1:55.40, but was advanced to the final by officials.
“I’m still adjusting to going out in 24 but I felt a lot better than I did yesterday,” said Murphy. “I just kept pushing to see what happened.
“I feel like if I’m there, I don’t like to get beat the last 100 meters. As long as I’m there with 200 to go I give myself a decent shot.”
Brenda Martinez sent a message to the women’s 800m field that she’s not messing around, winning her heat in 1:59.64 ahead of Molly Ludlow (1:59.81) and Alysia Montano (2:00.20). Though Ludlow and Montano led at the bell, Martinez moved hard on the backstretch and shifted into the pole around the curve.
“Any time I do the rounds I race to win just to be safe. You don’t want to take the last couple spots because someone can just take it,” said Martinez, the clear winner. “I know I have to be aware of where they are at. I didn’t want to be too far away from the front and I wanted to be on the outside, not break my rhythm, and felt good with 250 and that’s where I wanted to be aggressive and push.”
Martinez knows that it’ll take a fast time to make the top three in the final, and wanted to get the legs moving today. She feels confident in her ability to close and seeks her first Olympic spot.
Ajee’ Wilson and Kate Grace went one-two in the first section, running 2:00.81 and 2:00.94. Chrishuna Williams was third in 2:01.29, while Chanelle Price was sent packing after her fifth place spot (2:01.94).