EUGENE, Oregon (26-Jun) -- All week leading up to the women's 10,000 meters at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track & Field the buzz was how the oppressive heat would turn the race slow and ugly. Instead, Emily Sisson made it a thing of speed and beauty, controlling the pace most of the way, hammering the final laps, and setting a Trials record 31:03.82 to qualify for her first Olympic team.
PHOTO: Emily Sisson on en route to winning the 10,000m at the 2021 USA Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field in Eugene, Ore., (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Karissa Schweizer (31:16.52), who finished second in the 5000 earlier in the meet, out-kicked Alicia Monson (31:18.55) for second place, with both women joining Sisson on the Tokyo roster. Even with the heat (33 Celsius/85 Fahrenheit), they all ran faster than the Olympic qualifying standard (31:25.00) — though they didn't need to, having achieved the time in previous races.
"I'm used to leading from the front so it doesn't really spook me," said Sisson, who finished in the top 10 in the 10,000 at both the 2017 and 2019 world championships. "I've had a lot of practice with that. I knew it was a really strong field and it was going to be hard and I knew I was going to have to work for it."
Though she now lives in the warm climate of Phoenix, she hasn't been there since March, instead doing a high-altitude stint in Flagstaff, Arizona, before spending the last four weeks in Providence training with her longtime coach, Ray Treacy. "I was really hoping my body remembered how to run in the heat," she said with a laugh.
The field of 41 took off behind former triathlete Lauren Hurley, who covered the opening 1600 in 5:07.29. At that point, Sisson moved into the front and soon began clicking off 74-second laps, significantly faster than the 76s and 77s she was planning for.
By 5000 meters (15:49.15), there were 10 women left in contention: Sisson, Schweizer, Monson, Elise Cranny, Natosha Rogers, Sara Hall, Weini Kelati, Ednah Kurgat, Rachel Schneider and Emily Infeld. A lap later Kelati (who only had her U.S. citizenship finalized this week) and Kurgat started falling back.
With eight laps to go, Sisson, Cranny, Schweizer and Monson began to separate from the rest of the challengers, and by 8000 (25:06.79) it was clear that the Tokyo team would come from this quartet. Only lapped runners --who were instructed by officials not to move out of lane one to avoid tripping on of the leaders-- were there to keep them company.
With four laps to go Sisson turned up the pace even more, and she continued to accelerate, covering the final three circuits in 71.5, 71.3 and 69.3 seconds. She closed the last 1600 in 4:44.45. "I think I only glanced at the screen once," said Sisson, who was just 14 seconds off her personal best (30:49.57). "I was so focused on running the pace and the splits and running to how I felt. I think the only time I looked back was around the halfway point."
Reigning Trials champion Molly Huddle, who is also coached by Treacy and trains with Sisson when she is in Providence, did not compete. She scratched from the Trials on June 15 with an injury.
Schweizer had the day's fastest final 400 (68.9) to pass Monson, who finished more than 16 seconds clear of Cranny (31:35.22). The massive field size and the lapped runners turned out to be helpful to the leaders. "Just seeing a bunch of people on the track it always really helps, you never feel like you're in no man's land," Schweizer said. "Obviously you have to weave a little bit, but it helps you break the rhythm of the race."
Schneider (31:42.92), Hall (31:54.50) and Rogers (31:59.09) all finished under 32 minutes. Remarkably, only four women dropped out of the race, but Monson collapsed after the medal ceremony and was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution.
"She's the toughest person I know," Monson's coach Dathan Ritzenhein said in a text message to Race Results Weekly. He added: "She went completely to the well."
Like Schweizer, Cranny and Schneider had previously made the team in the 5000. Schweizer says she hopes to double in Tokyo. "The 5K is really my focus, but I would love to run the 10K," she said. "It's a really new event for me and I'd love to dip my toes into that."
For Sisson, the race gives her closure on a disappointing performance at the U.S. marathon trials, held back in February 2020 in Atlanta. Considered one of the favorites coming into that race, Sisson was unable to finish. "To be honest I went through a pretty rough patch after Atlanta," said Sisson, who set her personal best of 2:23:08 at the 2019 London Marathon. "I went all-in on that marathon and I came out of that race feeling really broken, just body-wise and even the motivation, too. That broke my heart." She continued: "I was very confused after. And then we entered the pandemic and there was all this uncertainty. Usually I'm good at moving on from bad races, but I really struggled with that one. There was nothing to move on to."
With support from her husband (and frequent training partner), Shane Quinn, a former teammate at Providence College, coach and chiropractor she put herself back together emotionally and physically to focus on these Trials.
"It took a really long time, it was so much work," she said, "but it was so worth it," she said.