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Why You Need to Make Time to Watch the Men’s Steeplechase Final This Afternoon

A stacked field of 14 runners will compete for 3 spots on the team in the fast and furious steeplechase, which is always entertaining and often heartbreaking.

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Men’s 3,000m Steeplechase Preview

When: 4:42 p.m. PST, Friday, June 25, 2021 

TV Coverage: The men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final will be shown live on NBC Sports Network during broadcast from 2–5 p.m. PDT/ 5–8 EDT

On paper, the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase final at the U.S. Olympic Trials looks deep, and it is — making it a wide open race that could produce some surprising results.

Only six runners have already achieved the Olympic-qualifying mark of 8:22.00, but 13 of the 14 runners in the field are within 3 seconds of it, so there’s good reason to expect a competitive race. It’s going to be hot, with temperatures predicted to again be in the low 90s this afternoon in Eugene. (It was 94 degrees in Eugene during the semifinals on June 21, but it was 120 degrees on the track, so at least these athletes know what to expect.)

The combination of heat, runners who need to post a time under the standard, a field of 14 runners with season best times within 10 seconds of each other — and three spots on the team, will no doubt create interesting tactics and dramatic twists and turns. That’s on top of the drama baked into the event, with its high rigid hurdles and water pit. Besides having to maintain pace, steeplers face the possibility of ending up swimming while the field pulls away, like Jordan Mann did during the last lap of the prelims. The event is always entertaining, and often heartbreaking.

men's steeplechase Olympic Trials
Photo: Tim Healy for Track Town USA

The Contenders

Without injured Evan Jager, the two-time defending Olympic Trials champion, in the field, the two leading contenders seem to be Isaac Updike (8:17.74) and Hilary Bor (8:21.09), who looked strong with a 1-2 finish in their preliminary heat on June 24. Updike has had a breakthrough year and seems to be on a mission. He’s a journeyman runner without a lot of steeplechase experience, but he’s kept his Olympic dream alive working odd jobs and training with a variety of training groups. 

In what originally seemed like a fluke, but clearly was not, Updike beat Mason Ferlic, the 2016 NCAA champion, on April 24 at the Oregon Relays. His time of 8:17.74 was a world-leading mark and still ranks him No. 16. Ferlic, who was fifth at the Olympic Trials in 2016, has been running his best this spring.

“I gained quite a bit of confidence from that race,” says Updike, who placed 12th in the steeplechase at the 2016 Olympic Trials. “I thought I was in 8:20 shape last year but I didn’t have a chance to race at all. In 2016, I was just ecstatic to have a big PR and make it to the final. Now it’s more real and there’s more pressure to manage. It’s still fun, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a lot more tangible.”

Bor was a 2016 Olympian with a strong finish at the Olympic Trials final amid some controversial contact on the final lap. He’s run well so far this year (8:22.55), but, more importantly, he’s by far the fastest guy in the field with an 8:08.41 PR from the 2019 World Championships in Doha, where he ran a strong race and placed ninth. At 31, he’s also the oldest runner in the field.

Sean McGorty was a standout 5,000-meter runner before this year. He ran his first steeplechase race on May 9 at the USATF Golden Games at Mt. SAC, and with a bit of an assist from Jager rabbiting the race through 2K, McGorty went on to win in 8:20.77. His only other steeple was the semifinal race on June 21, when he famously had to stop to replace his shoe. But with 13:06 speed in the 5,000m, McGorty should be in the mix if he can keep his shoes on.

Benard Keter (8:20.40) and Anthony Rotich (8:25.74) are two of  Bor’s training partners in Colorado Springs. Although Rotich struggled a bit, Keter looked good winning the second semifinal race (8:29.04) on June 21. 

There a strong University of Minnesota vibe in the field, with second-year pro Obsa Ali (8:22.67), the 2018 NCAA champion for the Gophers, and Alec Basten (8:29.03), the runner-up at the 2021 NCAA Championships two weeks ago at Hayward Field. Ali could be a dark horse to make the team, as could Daniel Michalski (8:21.25), the 2017 NCAA Division II champion, and Brian Barraza (8:24.39), an unsung pro who has continued to improve this season.

Finally there is two-time Olympian Donn Cabral, who has run his best steeple races since 2017. He was in the mix in the first preliminary race (8:24.14) and has the most experience in the field with eighth-place finishes in the last two Olympics under his belt.

Cabral says he’ll retire after this season, but he hopes it won’t be after tonight’s race. He’s dealt with injuries in recent years and isn’t the same runner he was in 2016. But he’s going to give it his best shot.

“My hurdling has been off this year and in recent years,” Cabral admits. “I’ve really missed no training over the year. I’ve been building and building. I think if my technique is good and my fight is good, I’m going to surprise myself, and more importantly, surprise these guys. I think I’ve got it in me. There is no clear favorite out there with anyone running times that would put them out of reach. But there are a lot of guys in the 8:17 to 8:25 range.”

The Field: Men’s 3,000m Steeplechase

By hip/bib number, with season-best time.

  1. Anthony Rotich, 30, Colorado Springs, U.S. Army, 8:25.74
  2. Donn Cabral, 31, Hartford, Conn., Tracksmith, 8:24.14
  3. Obsa Ali, 25, Minneapolis, Minn., ASICS, 8:22.67
  4. Benard Keter, 29, Colorado Springs, U.S. Army, 8:20.40
  5. Isaac Updike, 29, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Empire Elite Track Club, 8:17.74
  6. Hilary Bor, 31, Colorado Springs, HOKA One One, 8:21.09
  7. Daniel Michalski, 25, Indianapolis, Nike, 8:21.25
  8. Sean McGorty, 26, Beaverton, Ore., Nike Bowerman Track Club, 8:20.77
  9. Duncan Hamilton, 20, Bozeman, Mont., Montana State, 8:25.70
  10. Travis Mahoney, 30, Matawan, N.J., HOKA One One, 8:24.05
  11. Brian Barraza, 26, Boulder, Colo., Adidas Tinman Elite, 8:24.39
  12. Alec Basten, 23, Minneapolis, Minn., Minnesota, 8:22.22
  13. Mason Ferlic, 27, Ann Arbor, Mich., Tracksmith, 8:18.49
  14. Jackson Mestler, 22, Eugene, Ore., Oregon, 8:27.65