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Posted: June 21, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics: Key Athletes Advance At USA Olympic Trials On Saturday & Sunday

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

By Rich Sands, @sands

EUGENE, Oregon (20-Jun) - While a variety of sprinters and field event athletes secured their spots on Team USA for the Tokyo Games over the weekend, middle-distance runners continued to advance for their turn in the spotlight at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Track & Field here. With warm, windy conditions at the new Hayward Field, all of the key players advanced in the men's 800 and the women's 1500 and 3000-meter steeplechase.

PHOTO: Elle Purrier St. Pierre running in the 1500m semi-finals at the 2021 USA Olympic Trials (photo by Justin Britton)

Nonetheless, there was still plenty of drama.

Courtney Frerichs, the 2017 world championships silver medalist and U.S. record holder in the event (9:00.85), survived a tumble on the second lap of her steeplechase heat on Sunday. She quickly got on her feet and returned to the front, where she set the pace for most of the race.

As Frerichs backed off down the homestretch, 2019 world mountain running champion Grayson Murphy (9:25.37) and Courtney Wayment (9:27.17) surged ahead, finishing 1-2 and hitting the Tokyo qualifying standard (9:30.00) for the first time.

Frerichs was comfortably third in 9:27.75 in a format that saw the top five automatically advance from each of the two sections, with four others moving on based on time. "I didn't really plan to take the lead that early, but that [fall] kinda prompted me to take control of things," said Frerichs. "I'm really thankful that I didn't get injured from that fall. You want to be in one piece on the start line at the final."

Also advancing on time was Allie Ostrander in sixth position (9:35.56). Ostrander announced on June 11 that she was in treatment ten hours a day for an eating disorder.

Emma Coburn won the second section with relative ease. The 2017 world champion blasted through the first kilometer in 3:03 to stay out of trouble, and only Leah Falland and Mel Lawrence were willing to go with her. Coburn relaxed in the second kilometer, then cruised home in 9:21.32 to get the win with Falland (9:23.36) and Lawrence (9:29.30) finishing second and third, respectively. Advancing in fifth was crowd favorite Mahala Norris (9:35.32), who grew up in nearby Roseburg and won the NCAA title for the Air Force Academy at Hayward a week ago.

"I watched the first round and I saw Courtney go down and I hadn't decided yet what I was going to do, if was going to relax and try and accelerate the second half," said Coburn, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, who will be going for her ninth U.S. title in the event. "But after seeing that I decided I was just going to go from the gun."

The final will be run Thursday night at 8:47pm PDT.

In Saturday's 1500 semifinals, Elle Purrier St. Pierre and Jenny Simpson led the first of two sections through a slow pace before Purrier pushed hard to open up a margin in the final 150 covering to win in 4:09.14. Her 60.2 last lap put her just ahead of Simpson (4:09.89), the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, and Dani Aragon (4:09.94).

"I know it can get a little bit messy, so I wanted to make sure I made it to the next round, so I took it after the first 300," said Purrier St. Pierre, the U.S. record holder in the indoor mile and the only American to run the 1500 under four minutes this season. "Honestly, I've just been feeling really good, so I felt confident that I could run a good time and I wanted to get out of the mess in the back."

Only the top five in each section would advance, plus the next six fastest overall. But there would be no time qualifiers out of that first heat. However, sixth-place finisher Heather MacLean was advanced to the final after a successful appeal ruled there had been incidental contact during the race that impeded her.

In the second semi, the University of Alabama's Amaris Tyynismaa continued her trademark front-running style, setting a faster pace through 1000 meters. Nikki Hiltz and Cory McGee moved up to take the lead side by side at the bell. They were joined by Sinclaire Johnson and Shannon Osika down the homestretch, with the quartet essentially crossing the line four abreast. Hiltz (4:05.87) got the win, and all of the time qualifiers came out of the race.

The final for the women's 1500 goes off at 5:05 p.m. PDT on Monday.

The format for the men's 800 semifinals, also held Saturday, saw the top three automatically advancing, plus the next two fastest. In the first of two sections, Eric Sowinski set the pace with a comfortable opening 400 of 52.58, while reigning world champion Donavan Brazier was lurking in fifth. Brannon Kidder surged to the lead at 600, but 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy (1:46.30) and Brazier (1:46.57) effortlessly moved to the front in the final stretch to go 1-2. Kidder (1:46.97) held on for the last auto spot. Sowinski did not advance.

The second section ended up faster, with freshly minted NCAA champ Isaiah Jewett of USC out in 51.11 and holding the lead through 700 meters. Bryce Hoppel inched ahead in the final 40 meters ahead to win in 1:46.00, with Isaiah Harris (1:46.16) and Jewett (1:46.18) grabbing the auto spots. Just behind them, Daniel Nixon (1:46.21) and Sam Voelz (1:46.39) ran fast enough to earn the last two lanes for Monday's final.

"I want it to be honest and have someone take it out," Hoppel said of his hopes for that final. "Make it a show for everyone."

The 800 final is scheduled for 5:28pm PT on Monday.

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