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Posted: June 19, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics: Fierce Kick Brings Kincaid First Olympic Berth and USA Title

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

By Rich Sands, @sands

EUGENE, Oregon (18-Jun) - After 23 relatively conservative laps of the men's 10,000-meter run at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Track & Field here tonight, the real racing finally began. And when it was over two circuits later, Woody Kincaid had made his first Olympic team, using a devastating last-lap sprint to win the race in 27:53.61.

PHOTO: Abbey Cooper wins her prelim of the 5000m at the 2021 USA Olympic Trials (photo by Justin Britton)

His training partner Grant Fisher (27:54.29) finished second, with Joe Klecker (27:54.90) grabbing the third and final spot for Team USA at the Tokyo Games.

With the Hayward Field crowd still buzzing after Ryan Crouser's world record in the shot put earlier in the evening, a field of 25 runners set out on a windy evening, with temperature at 24C/75F. For a moment on the second and third laps it looked like NCAA cross country champ Conner Mantz of Brigham Young might try to push the tempo fast enough to hit the Olympic qualifying standard of 27:28.00.

Alas, he soon backed off and a variety of runners, including Georgetown's Robert Brandt, took turns at the front.

Not even 4000 meters into the race, disaster struck for reigning national champion and two-time Olympian Lopez Lomong. The 36 year-old pulled up lame and, in obvious pain, left the track.

Emmanuel Bor moved to the lead at 4400 meters and set the pace through 5000 (13:57.04). Then, between 6400 and 8800 meters Brandt did most of the front running, steadily clicking off 68-second laps. This was far too slow to hit the standard, and the realization that it would come down to a final burst for the line began to set it.

Kincaid was lurking near the back of the pack for most of the way. "I was pretty far back at 5K, but I know we have a long way to go," he said of what was going through his mind. "If I'm as tired as I am right now, everybody else is feeling it too. I just waited for it to come back to me."

Two-time Olympic medalist (and University of Oregon grad) Galen Rupp -- who has already qualified for Tokyo after winning the marathon trials last year-- moved into fourth with seven laps to go, much to the delight of the crowd.

Sixteen men were still in contention at 9000 meters after a series of comfortable 68-second laps when Reid Buchanan stormed to the front with two laps to go. That's when the things started heating up. The penultimate lap went in about 63 seconds, then at the bell, Fisher moved to the front, with Kincaid and Klecker on his heels as the trio pulled away from their rivals.

With 200 meters to go the Olympic team was set, the only question remaining was the order of finish. Kincaid smoothly accelerated past Fisher onto the homestretch and covered the final 100 meters in 12.54 seconds, capping off a 53.47 last lap. Fisher covered that final circuit in 54.53 to hold off Klecker for the runner-up spot. All three men were first time Olympians.

"The last four laps were exactly as I imagined it - just making that hot move and staying on it," noted Kincaid, who attended the University of Portland and said he felt a home field advantage at Hayward. At that point he knew he was in good shape to make the team. "The last lap is the easiest part of any race because it's everything you got. Getting into position to win is the hard part."

Ben True (27:58.88) finished in the unlucky fourth-place position, ahead of Mantz (27:59.37) and Rupp (27:59.43). True, 35 and competing without a sponsor, missed making the 2016 team in the 5000m by finishing fifth, just 48/100ths of a second out of third place.

Kincaid says he plans to double back in the 5000, which begins with the heats on Thursday. He is the fifth-fastest American of all time at that distance, with a personal best of 12:58.10.

Fisher --one of the few high school boys to break four minutes in the mile-- only made his debut at the 10,000 distance this year. "A 10-K is a long time to be out there," said the Stanford grad, who won the NCAA 5000m title in 2017. "I'm very used to 5Ks and 1,500s. I've been doing those since high school. But I've never really been a super high mileage guy, and a lot of guys I'm competing against have more miles in their legs than I do."

His first attempt, in February, yielded an impressive 27:11.29, which immediately put him in the conversation for the Olympic Trials. "If you asked me six months ago if I thought I had a shot I'd say maybe, but over the last few months I've gained confidence," he said.

Klecker made his 10,000 debut last December, clocking 27:35.57 wearing road shoes. He improved to 27:23.44 last May in spikes, getting his Olympic qualifying mark. He was a two-time NCAA runner up at Colorado, in the indoor 5000 as a junior and cross country as a senior. He comes with an impressive distance-running pedigree. His mother, Janis, was a 1992 Olympian in the marathon, while dad Barney once held the U.S. record for 50 miles.

"Both my parents have just played such a supportive role," Klecker said. "They never pushed me into things. They have just always been there for me when I have questions for them. I was able to succeed because it was me pushing myself."

Simpson, Brazier And Cooper Advance In Preliminary Action

Earlier in the evening, preliminary races were held in the women's 1500m and 5000m and the men's 800m.

Olympic bronze medalist Jenny Simpson (4:11.34), Dani Aragon (4:13.34) and Elle Purrier St. Pierre (4:11.78) were the three heat winners in the women's 1500, each comfortably controlling tactical races. (Only four of the 28 starters were eliminated.)

"I was hoping to use as little energy as possible and make it through to the next round," said Aragon, whose parents, Chuck and Kathy, both competed in the Trials before she was born. "It was a little packed up front, so I just decided to get out of the mess. I was just hoping it to the next day, taking it one day at a time. Survive and advance."

World champion Donavan Brazier looked smooth in taking his heat of the 800 in 1:45.00. It was the first step to redemption after he was eliminated in the first round back at the 2016 trials, coming off an NCAA title as a Texas A&M freshman. "Very pleased with the progress and I think 2016 me would be very proud now," he said with a smile after the race.

The other three heat winners were Abraham Alvarado (1:48.35), Michael Rhoads (1:48.64) and recently crowned NCAA champ Isaiah Jewett (1:47.83). Brannon Kidder, second in heat two, picked up his Olympic Games qualifier by running 1:45.06 (the standard is 1:45.20).

In the women's 5000 heats, Abbey Cooper broke away from the field in the third kilometer of her section and won by nearly 100 meters, clocking 15:07.80 and scoring an Olympic qualifying mark in an exhausting solo run. She said the idea to go for the Tokyo standard was only suggested by her coach, Chris Layne, 45 minutes before the race, given that the forecast for Monday night's final is going to be in the upper 90s Fahrenheit (35-36 Celsius). She previously assumed the final would be competitive enough yield the standard, but with temperatures that high Layne worried the final might turn slow and tactical.

"I was so frazzled, just thought it through, was literally praying," a tearful Cooper said of her mindset heading to the track. Since the 2016 Olympic Games --when she famously injured her knee after tripping over another competitor who had fallen-- she has struggled with injuries and this was her fastest time in six years. Now, with the standard out of the way, she doesn't need to focus on the clock in the final. "I'm tired but still within myself and feeling very confident going into Monday."

Josette Norris won the second heat in 15:32.58. Among the other qualifiers for the final was 2016 Olympic triathlon champion Gwen Jorgensen. Five women --Jenny Simpson, Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Whittni (Orton) Morgan, Sarah Lancaster and Alli Cash-- were late scratches meaning out of 20 women who started 16 advanced.

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