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Posted: June 15, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics:Ailing Huddle Decides To Scratch From the Olympic Trials

From David Monti, @d9monti
By Rich Sands, @sands
© 2021 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved.

New National 10,000m Champion To Be Crowned

(15-Jun) -- For the first time since 2014 someone other than Molly Huddle will be the USA Track & Field champion in the women's 10,000 meters. Two days after racing what she called "probably the worst 10-K I've ever run," the two-time Olympian scratched from the upcoming U.S. Olympic Team Trials Track & Field which begin in Eugene, Ore., on Friday.

PHOTO: Molly Huddle competing at the 2021 Mastercard New York Mini 10-K on June 12 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Citing an ongoing injury that has compromised her mechanics when running at race pace, and after a disappointing run at the Mastercard New York Mini 10-K last Saturday, Huddle briefly explained her decision in a text message to Race Results Weekly: "The hip/ankle problem has gotten worse all year and after the Mini it was clear it was not going to let me race pain free or well."

Huddle is the American record holder (30:13.17) in the event and the five-time defending national champion (2015-2019; there were no national championships in 2020 due to the pandemic), often using a lethal cutdown of pace over the closing stages of the 25-lap race to lock up the title. For instance, in 2018 she ran her last four laps in 73.2 seconds, 71.8, 69.0, and 64.6. Her last 1600m, just slightly short of a mile, was covered in 4:38.6.

In Saturday's Central Park race, the 36-year-old Notre Dame grad lost contact with the lead pack shortly after the 4-kilometer mark, and eventually finished 11th in 33:07. In part, she had chosen the Mini as a test run since she hadn't raced the distance on any surface since finishing ninth at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar, and she wanted to remind her body what it felt like ahead of the Trials. The women's 10,000m is set to go off on Saturday, June 26.

"I didn't want to go into the Trials without having done that distance," she told Race Results Weekly via telephone last week. "I've only done a couple of 5K's."

In fact, those 5K's were a clear sign that something was amiss. Huddle lined up for three 5000-meter track races this year, and none produced an effort one might expect from a woman who previously held the American record in the event (14:42.64 from 2014) and has won three USATF titles at the distance (2011, 2014 and 2016). She dropped out of the first race in March, and then ran 15:23.24 and 15:24.12 at a pair of May meets.

Huddle said her training this year has been "up and down," and she's been undergoing physical therapy and chiropractic work in the hope of finding relief. She doesn't have a clear diagnosis of the problem but said, "my mechanics feel off with my hip, some kind of imbalance there. And I feel like it pinches some nerves when I start to run fast. I'm a little bit weak in one leg." Running on the track has exacerbated the issue, since the problem is on the left side of her body. "We figure on the track that's your inside leg and you put more torque on that."

The problem flared up in December 2019, as she was in the midst of a build up for the Olympic marathon trials. "It's something I've always had and it got exaggerated during the marathon trials and then it went to a more acute ankle injury at the early part of the trials," Huddle said. She had contemplated scratching from the February 2020 race, but ultimately felt it was worth taking a chance for a trip to the Tokyo Games. "I said, 'Y'know, it's the Olympic Trials, I've showed up to races with a little bit of a hiccup before and let's hope it goes well.'"

Before the trials in Atlanta, Huddle and her longtime coach, Ray Treacy, decided that she should drop out of the race if it wasn't going well. Indeed the pain persisted and she made the difficult decision to stop after 21 miles to save herself for the track trials, which were just four months away.

Just a few weeks later, however, the world shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Olympics were postponed by a year. As racing opportunities evaporated, Huddle regretted dropping out of the marathon trials. "I was thinking I wish I had finished that race because there was no risk to it," she said. "And I never like to end on that kind of a note. It was definitely a bummer."

Thankfully she had the chance to cleanse that palate with a few low-key events later in the year, including a one-hour track race in Attleboro, Mass., on November 1, that yielded three separate American records. In addition to covering 17,930 meters (11.14 miles) over those 60 minutes, she also came through 15,000 (50:07.82) and 10 miles (53:50) ahead of the previous U.S. records for those distances. "We didn't get great weather, but I still had fun," she said. "I had a few friends there pacing and it was just one of those new challenges where there wasn't really any pressure, just see what you can do. It's an obscure group of records, but definitely meaningful."

Huddle's impressive resume includes 28 USATF championships at a variety of distances on the track and the roads. Winning five straight 10,000 track titles was never specifically her goal, she admitted. Four of those victories came in years when the championships were a selection meet for a national team (the 2016 Olympics and the 2015, '17 and '19 world championships) and her goal was a bit more conservative. "I was always just racing in a way that will help me make the team," she said. "And then usually with a couple of laps left then I thought about trying to win. There were some years that I was more confident than others."

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