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Delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Olympic Trials track meet is finally here. Held June 18-27 at the newly reconstructed Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., it has all the makings of an epic event.
The meet will serve as the selection process for the U.S. Olympic team, with runners who finish in the top three in their event heading to Japan next month (providing they have also achieved the Olympic-qualifying mark this season).
Equally compelling are the hundreds of national-class athletes who have worked so hard and lived the dream for several years just to qualify for the Olympic Trials. For those athletes, it’s a chance to measure themselves on the national stage. For some, it may likely be the culmination of their competitive careers, for others, it is a bright beginning. The year of delay probably wore down the competitive chances of some of America’s top stars in the twilight of their careers, but it also helped usher in the next generation of runners eager to make their marks.
Fortunately, the state of Oregon was recently able to reduce its COVID-19 safety regulations, allowing for more spectators to be allowed in the stadium. That should help Eugene, aka, Track Town USA., return to some semblance of normalcy after the shattered year of 2020.
USATF has a complete day by day schedule of events.
To be informed and ready to watch every event, here’s a rundown of the middle-distance and distance events from 800 meters to 10,000 meters:
Men’s Final: June 21, 5:28 p.m. PT
Women’s Final: June 27 4:52 p.m. PT
The 800-meter run is one of the simplest and most intense events on the track because it straddles the line between a very long sprint and a very short endurance race. It’s mostly based on fitness and speed, but tactics — and the need to be in good position with 300 meters to go — and a good kick are crucial. As the rounds go by — from prelim heats to semifinals to finals — the margin of error shrinks, which is why there are often surprises and near-misses in the U.S. Olympic Trials 800-meter finals. (Google the video of the 2008 men’s final in which Christian Smith dives for third place and you’ll get the picture.)
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials 800m Results
Women: 1. Kate Grace, 1:59.10, 2. Ajee Wilson, 1:59.51, 3. Chrishuna Williams, 1:59.59.
Men: 1. Clayton Murphy, 1:44.76, 2. Boris Berian, 1:44.92, 3. Charles Jock, 1:45.48
2021 Top Contenders, 800m
Women: This race should start and end with Texas A&M freshman sensation Athing Mu, who ran an NCAA record of 1:57.73 this spring. Given how dominant the 19-year-old was in college, she seems unbeatable on paper. She could be one of the few runners to ever attempt a 400m/800m double — she tops the U.S. list in both events and is No. 4 and No. 2 in the world, respectively, in those events — but she’s opting only to run the 800m. Aside from Mu, the 800m is the deepest event in U.S. history, with 14 women who have already broken the 2-minute barrier.
Sabrina Southerland (1:58.82), a 25-year-old former University of Oregon star, has made huge strides since she shifted from an 800m and 1,500m to instead focus on the 400m and 800m. Ajee’ Wilson (1:58.93), Kate Grace 1:59.04, Chanelle Price (1:59.12), Corey McGee (1:59.17) and Raevyn Rogers (1:59.66) are all experienced veterans with a wide range of international results, while Allie Wilson (1:59.68), while Heather MacLean (1:59.72), Kaela Edwards (1:59.86) are younger pros who round out the top 10. How deep is the field? Brenda Martinez, a silver medalist at the 2013 World Championships and a 2016 Olympian at 1,500m, is No. 11 at 1:59.87.
Men: Donavan Brazier won the 2019 World Championship in Doha in an American-record 1:42.34, but he had to hold off fellow American Bryce Hoppel 1:43:15 to 1:43.23 to win the fastest race of the season in 2020. So far this year, Brazier, 24, has run a 1:44.21 indoor American record and a 1:45.09 outdoor effort in Portland, Ore., on May 29, while Hoppel, 23, sits at No. 2 on the U.S. outdoor list with a 1:44.94 clocking at Mt. SAC on May 9. With 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy (1:45.31) rounding into form, all of the top American runners will be in top form. USC senior Isaiah Jewett put himself into the mix with a 1:44.68 NCAA Championships win on June 11 in Eugene, as did runner-up Brandon Miller, a freshman from Texas A&M who clocked 1:44.97. Throw in Michael Rhoads (1:45.22), Kameron Jones (1:45.47), Isaiah Harris (1:45.57) and you’ve got quite a field and all the makings for another epic final in Eugene.
Men’s Final: June 27, 5:10 p.m. PT
Women’s Final: June 21, 5:05 p.m. PT
Always one of the best events at the U.S. Olympic Trials, the 1,500m is once again stacked with talented runners in both the men’s and women’s fields. And as always, it’s a mix of experienced and highly decorated veterans competing against a slew of fast, young up-and-comers. Getting through an opening round race and quarterfinal race on back-to-back days and then racing at the highest level two days later is a huge challenge and hard to do without the combination of experience, great fitness and amazing speed. The 1,500m final always comes down to smart racing tactics, being in position with a lap to go and, of course, having the ability to summon up a wicked kick from 300m to 100m out.
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials 1500m Results
Women: 1. Jenny Simpson, 4:04.74, 2. Shannon Rowbury, 4:05.39, 3. Brenda Martinez, 4:06.16
Men: 1. Matthew Centrowitz, 3:34.09, 2. Robby Andrews, 3:34.88, 3. Ben Blankenship, 3:36.18
2021 Top Contenders, 1500m
Women: There seems to be a changing of the guard occurring in the women’s 1,500m, but it would be foolish to count out 34-year-old Jenny Simpson (4:06.18), who won the 2011 World Championships and took the Olympic bronze in 2016. The biggest star of 2021 has been New Balance Boston athlete Elle Purrier (3:58.36), who has been tearing it up from 800m (1:59.99) to 5,000m (15:08.61). Former University of Michigan standout Shannon Osika (4:00.73) has had a breakthrough season and should be a contender at both 800m and 1,500m. Although Kate Grace has withdrawn from the 1,500, her Team Boss teammates, first-year pro Dani Jones (4:04.26) and veteran Corey McGee (4:05.00) should be in the mix. Elise Cranny (4:02.62) has the third-fastest U.S. time this year, but she’s expected to focus on the 5,000m and 10,000m. Helen Schlachtenhaufen (4:04.36), Heather MacLean (4:04.85), Grace Barnett (4:05.05) and Nikki Hiltz (4:05.84), the 2019 Pan Am Games gold medalist) all figure to be in the mix as well.
Men: For the past few months, it was hard to tell if 31-year-old Matthew Centrowitz was going to have a chance to defend the gold medal he won at the Rio Olympics. After a slow race to start to the season, the 31-year-old came back strong to win the Sound Running meet in 3:35.26 on May 15 and then raced a fast 800m (1:46.23) followed by a meet in which three consecutive 800m races in 1:49, 1:50 and 1:53 efforts. Craig Engels, twice a top-10 finisher at the World Championships, seems to be coming into his prime after lowering his PR (3:33.64) on May 28 and then running a strong 800m the following week. Henry Wynne (3:34.08), a former NCAA mile champion at Virginia, has turned some heads this year, though not nearly as many as high school standout Hobbs Kessler (3:34.36), who set a new U.S. high school record in late May, and Yared Nuguse (3:34.68), who set a new NCAA record in mid-May before placing second to Oregon’s Cole Hocker (3:35.35) at the June 11 NCAA Championships at Hayward Field. Former Virginia Tech All-American Vincent Ciattei (3:34.57) and unheralded third-year pro Josh Thompson (3:34.77) are among seven other runners under 3:36. Also in the field is Johnny Gregorek (3:35.32), who is notable because he’s got a 3:49.98 indoor mile under his belt from 2019 and once broke 4 minutes in the mile wearing blue jeans.
Women’s Final: June 24, 8:47 p.m. PT
Men’s Final: June 25, 4:42 p.m. PT
It used to be that the steeplechase was considered somewhat of a soft event in the U.S. and a slightly easier way to make the U.S. Olympic team. Not anymore. The 1.8-mile race with 28 barriers and seven water jumps is not only one of the most exciting to watch, but it’s become one of the most competitive in American distance running. But one of the wild cards this year is that, with so few steeple races during the Covid-19 shutdown, most athletes haven’t had many opportunities to race since 2019. While experience pays big dividends in the steeplechase, recent years (especially on the women’s side) has seen a lot of collegiate and young pro athletes earn podium finishes at U.S. championships meets, including the Olympic Trials.
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Steeplechase Results
Women: 1. Emma Coburn, 9:17.48, 2. Courtney Frerichs, 9:20.92, 3. Colleen Quigley, 9:21.29
Men: 1. Evan Jager, 8:22.48, 2. Hilary Bor, 8:24.10, 3. Donn Cabral, 8:26.37
2021 Top Contenders, Steeplechase
Women: Emma Coburn won the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, earned the bronze medal at the Rio Games and then won the 2017 World Championships in London and placed second in the World Championships in Doha in 2019. She’s back for more and still at the top of her game, having placed fifth (9:08.22) in the fast Diamond League race in Doha on May 28. Courtney Frerichs, who was 11th in Rio, ran the fastest time stateside (9:21.13) and led second-year pro Valerie Constein (9:25.53) and veteran steepler Mel Lawrence (9:27.34) to strong finishes. Former NCAA champion Leah Falland (9:28.72), who has rejuvenated her career at age 28, and Marisa Howard (9:29.65), the silver medalist at the 2019 Pan Am Games, should also be in the mix. The big unknown is Colleen Quigley (9:11.41 in 2019), who hasn’t raced since she PR’ed in the 3,000m (8:40.23) in February. Three-time NCAA champion Allie Ostrander (9:38.72) has been a consistent competitor since turning pro in 2019. Fresh off the NCAA Championships, Mahala Norris (1st, 9:31.79), Katie Rainsberger (3rd, 9:32.12) and Courtney Wayment (4th, 9:32.93) could make it to the finals, too.
Men: Kenyan-born American Hilary Bor made the U.S. Olympic team in 2016 with a furious last lap to finish second at the Olympic Trials. He’s since lowered his PR to 8:08.41 (No. 3 U.S. all-time) and has run well this spring (8:22.55). With the withdrawal of Evan Jager, a seven-time U.S. champion, two-time Olympian and American record-holder (8:00.45), there’s a big opportunity for others to emerge, including his Nike Bowerman Track Club teammate Sean McGorty (8:20.77) had a breakthrough race in his debut at the event. Isaac Updike (8:17.74), Mason Ferlic (8:18.49) and Benard Keter (8:20.40) are among 11 other runners who have broken 8:28 this spring. Two-time Donn Carbral (8:27.25) ran his best steeple race since 2017 in May, so he’s a viable contender as well.
Men’s Final: June 27, 4:30 p.m. PT
Women’s Final: June 21, 5:40 p.m. PT
The 5K is a fast and grueling 12.5-lap race on the track that includes the extended speed and intensity of the 1,500 with the need to close in a fast final 800m (possibly sub-2:00 for men and 2:10-2:15 for women) to make the team. Given the depth of talent and quick finishers in both the men’s and women’s fields, the 5,000 finals could be a fast or tactical. (In the men’s race in 2016, two runners went off the front while the rest of the field cruised at a pedestrian 14-minute pace for the first half of the race before eventually Paul Chelimo ramped up the pace with six laps to go.) No matter how it plays out, expect to see a big pack of runners in each race through the first 3,000m or so before the pace gets faster and strings runners out in the final four laps. But half the battle will be making it to the finals, so the qualifying heats (June 18 for women, June 24 for men) will be almost as exciting.
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000m Results
Women: 1. Molly Huddle, 15:05.01, 2. Shelby Houlihan, 15:06.14, 3. Kim Conley, 15:10.62
Men: 1. Bernard Lagat, 13:35.50, 2. Hassan Mead, 13:35.70, 3. Paul Chelimo, 13:35.92
2021 Top Contenders, 5,000m
Women: The women’s 5,000m is deeper and faster than ever before with eight women under 15:00. With Emily Infeld’s recent announcement that she won’t be able to compete, the field’s top contenders are somewhat unsung but talented group led by Karissa Schweizer (14:26.34 last summer, 15:00.44 on May 29), Elise Cranny (14:48.02), Vanessa Fraser (14:48.51), Josette Norris (14:51.42), Rachel Schneider (14:52.04) and Allie Buchalski (14:57.54), Natosha Rogers (15:04.95) and Alicia Monson (15:07.65). Ellie Purrier (14:58.17) and Jenny Simpson (14:58.67) are both qualified in the 5,000m, but each is expected to focus on the 1,500m. A dark horse to keep an eye on is fast-improving Katrina Coogan (15:14.13), who is the daughter of former U.S. Olympians Gwyn Coogan and Mark Coogan, who coaches the New Balance Boston team.
Men: The men’s 5,000m is as deep as it’s ever been heading into the Olympic Trials with a dozen runners having run under 13:20 since last December. Paul Chelimo, the 2016 Olympic silver medalist, is still the class of the field at age 30, but he missed some training and hasn’t raced much (13:09.90 indoors) since he returning to Kenya after the untimely death of his brother in mid-March. Otherwise, 24-year-old Grant Fisher (13:02.53) is on top of the American list after winning the event at the Sound Running meet in early March over a revitalized 26-year-old Sean McGorty (13:06.45) and first-year pro Joe Klecker, also 24. McGorty will focus on the 3,000m steeplechase and Klecker is a top contender in the 10,000m along with 33-year-old Emmanuel Bor, who ran an American indoor record (13:05.60) back in March. University of Oregon junior Cooper Teare was always one to keep an eye on, but he became a legitimate contender for the team after his 13:12.27 victory at the NCAA Championships on June 11 at Hayward Field. Freshman teammate Cole Hocker was fourth in that race in 13:18.95 but is likely to focus on the 1,500m at the Trials. Kirubel Erassa (13:12.71), Biya Simbassa (13:19:12), Eric Jenkins (13:20.18), Woody Kincaid (13:24.64) and Lopez Lomong (13:26.11) round out the deep list of top pros, while Robert Brandt (13:19.11), Thomas Ratcliffe (13:20.88) and Morgan Beadlescomb (13:21.40) are other top collegiate athletes who could sneak into the final.
Men’s Final: June 18, 7:25 p.m. PT
Women’s Final: June 26, 6:44 p.m. PT
The longest event on the track, the 10K (6.2 miles) is a 25-lap race that requires tenaciousness, strength and closing speed. The 10,000 typically plays out as a survival of the fittest race after the initial 2,000m or so. Expect a consistent and fast race but not necessarily record-setting pace with no real surges until the final three laps. From there, it will come down to who can dig deep and rouse up a strong kick to make the team.
2016 U.S. Olympic Trials 10,000m Results
Women: 1. Molly Huddle 31:41.62, 2. Emily Infeld, 31:46.09, 3. Marielle Hall, 31:54.77
Men: 1. Galen Rupp, 27:55.04; 2. Shadrack Kipchirchir, 28:01.52, 3. Leonard Korir, 28:16.97.
2021 Top Contenders, 10,000m
Women: The women’s 10,000m run is one of the deepest events at the Trials, so much so that USATF announced a couple of weeks ago that it would have to be run in two heats. There are 20 women in the field who have run under 32:00 and about a dozen legitimate contenders to make the Olympic team, starting with Nike Bowerman Track Club teammates Elise Cranny (30:47.42) and Karissa Schweizer (30:47.99), who are the fastest runners on paper this season and should work together when the going gets tough. Veterans Emily Sisson (30:49.57) and Rachel Schneider (31:09.79) have been running faster than ever, while 23-year-old Alicia Monson (31:10.84) is definitely an up-and-comer to watch. Ednah Kurgat (31:21.65), a Kenyan-born runner who was the 2017 NCAA Cross Country champion while at University of New Mexico and now runs for the U.S. Army program out of Colorado Springs, looked strong in her runner-up effort at the Sound Running Track Meet on May 14. Sara Hall, 38, continues to get better with age, as evidenced by her 10,000m PR (31:21.90) while finishing third at the Sound meet and her win over a strong field at the Mini 10K (31:33) in New York City on June 12. Marielle Hall returns after making the team in 2016 with a strong 10,000m (31:21.78) in February and a modest 5,000m performance (15;53.41) on May 28. If Kim Conley (31:30.25), a two-time U.S. Olympian in the 5,000m, is going to find the magic to make a third straight team at age 35, her best shot is probably in the 10,000m. Two-time Olympian Molly Huddle, who finished 11th place finish (33:07) at the Mini 10K on June 12 in New York City, has scratched from the Trials.
Men: There’s a mix of gritty veterans and up-and-coming younger runners in the men’s field. Ben True, 35, one of the best distance runners of his generation, is a sentimental favorite still seeking to make his first Olympic team. He’s seeded third in the field (27:14.95) from his effort at The Ten race in February, where he finished behind 24-year-old Grant Fisher (27:11.29) and 28-year-old Woody Kincaid (27:12.78). Emmanuel Bor (27:22.80) looked strong finishing second in the event Sound Running Track Meet on May 14, as did third-place finisher and first-year pro Joe Klecker (27:23.44) and Connor Mantz (27:42.02), a BYU junior who was fourth in that race and just finished second in the NCAA Championships in a near-identical time. Galen Rupp (28:00.37 on May 28), the 2012 and 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials champion and 2012 runner-up, isn’t running the 10,000m at the Trials this year so he can focus on the marathon. Lopez Lomong (27:04.72) ran the 1500m in the 2008 Olympics and the 5,000m is 2012. He placed 7th in the 10,000m at the 2019 World Championships and will be tough to beat at age 36 if he’s in top form.