Runner's Web
Runner's and Triathlete's Web News
Send To A friend Know someone else who's interested in running and triathlon?
Send this Runner's Web Story's URL to a friend.   Follow us on Twitter   Follow us on Facebook
Visit the FrontPage for the latest news.   |     View in Runner's Web Frame

Posted: June 28, 2021:  

(RRW) Athletics: Chelimo, Hocker and Mu All Victorious On Last Day of USA Olympic Trials

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

EUGENE, Oregon (27-Jun) -- NCAA champions Athing Mu and Cole Hocker put exclamation points on their fantastic freshmen years with thrilling victories on the final day of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials Track & Field. Mu, in her first meet since signing a professional contract with Nike, earned a spot in the women's 800 at the Tokyo Games, while Hocker will need to sweat out the complicated World Athletics rankings formula to see if he will be part of the men's 1500 field.

PHOTO: Paul Chelimo leads Grant Fisher, Cooper Teare and Woody Kincaid out of the final turn in the men's 5000m at the USA Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)

Sweating was the order of the day at Hayward Field, where afternoon temperatures soared to a record high 108 Fahrenheit/42 Celsius, forcing officials to postpone the day's final events until the evening. Clearly it didn't disrupt the emotions of Mu and Hocker, both of whom won collegiate titles on this same track two weeks ago.

Mu, who just turned pro after setting the collegiate record in the 400 two weeks ago to win the NCAA championship for Texas A&M, survived an early scare when she was clipped by Nia Akins shortly after the runners broke from their lanes on the backstretch. Akins went down, but Mu quickly regained her balance and her composure.

Following Chanelle Price (57.44) through a quick opening 400, Mu eventually moved to the front at the top of the final backstretch and powered away from the field. She finished in 1:56.07, setting an Olympic Trials record and making her the second fastest American of all time behind Ajee' Wilson. That also broke her own national Under-20 record (1:57.73) set in April.

"If we were all bunched up it was basically giving anyone the win," she said of her decisive move. "So then the last 200 I just kinda wanted to and the last 100 give it all I had."

Behind her, Raevyn Rogers (1:57.66) and four-time U.S. champ Wilson (1:58.39) moved up from fifth and sixth, respectively, with just 100 meters to go to grab the other two spots for Tokyo. Rogers is now the ninth-fastest American of all time.

Wilson --a two-time world championships medalist and the most dominant American 800-meter of the past five years-- said she had only six weeks of consistent training coming into the meet. "I feel like we've all had a crazy year, but unusually crazy for me," she said, but declined to give specifics. "What I was able to do this weekend I know I'm not in a terrible place. Definitely not where I want to be, but I'm super encouraged for the next bit before the Olympics to have some good time to get it together."

NCAA champ Michaela Meyer of Virginia lowered her careers to 1:58.55 for fourth, just ahead of Price (1:58.73).

The 1500 seemed to be playing into the hands of defending Olympic gold medalist Matthew Centrowitz, who found himself in good position after the first 600 meters, shadowing leader Colby Alexander. But Hocker kept close contact, and with about 120 meters to go he burst into second place, gaining ground on Centrowitz with each stride.

Hocker put his finger over his mouth while crossing the line, setting a personal best 3:35.28. That left him just shy of the 3:35.00 automatic qualifying standard for Tokyo.

"Honestly that was just kind of an in the moment thing," Hocker said of the shushing gesture, which capped off a swift 52.49-second final lap. "Last year I wasn't at this level. I was nowhere near this level. This whole year I felt like I was proving myself to the world, but also just proving my talents to myself."

Indeed he did prove himself. In addition to the NCAA 1500 Hocker also won indoor collegiate titles in the mile and 3000 in March, and demonstrated cunning tactics and impressive closing speed at distances from 800 to 5000. "This year I got put in a lot of competitive races at the college level and I think I just got a ton of tactical experience, just racing guys not only on other teams, but the ones on my team in practice," he said.

Centrowitz (3:35.34) was close behind and admitted that Hocker was the guy he was most concerned with coming into the trials. "I'm impressed that he's been able to do [all] that since January, and he's showing no signs of letting up," the Oregon alum said. "The guy is just an absolute animal."

Notre Dame's Yared Nuguse (3:36.19), runner-up to Hocker in the NCAA 1500, took the final spot on the team. Defending national champion Craig Engels (3:36.69) was boxed in for most of the climactic positions of the race before finishing fourth, and will now have to wait to see if Hocker gets a rankings quota spot from World Athletics. If not, Engels will be on the team because he has the qualifying standard.

Earlier, the men's 5000 final had been moved to a 10 a.m. start time on Sunday to avoid the worst heat of the day. But with the thermometer at 31C/88 F it could hardly have been considered comfortable. The resulting conservative pace led to significant contact and clipping in a tightly bunched pack.

After a cautious pace most of the way, the closing stages turned into a mad --and decidedly diagonal-- sprint to the finish. Paul Chelimo ran his way onto this second Olympic team by drifting from lane one to lane four on the homestretch, forcing Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid all the way out to his right. Chelimo used a 52.83 final 400 (and a 25.50 closing 200) to win in 13:26.82, with Fisher second in 12:27.01 off a 52.99 lap. Kincaid (13:27.13), closed in 52.74, but had too much ground to make up.

Training partners Kincaid and Fisher finished first and second in the 10,000 earlier in the meet; they are planning to run both events in Tokyo. They are both first-time Olympians.

"I wanted to have a smooth and a cool race. I didn't want any tripping, that's the reason why I stayed in front," Chelimo, the silver medalist in Rio four years ago, told NBC's Lewis Johnson after the race. "I was clipped about six or seven times and my momentum was just getting messed up."

He turned back to chide Kincaid and Hassan Mead during the race, wagging his finger in disapproval. Still, he only briefly gave up the lead and never seemed thrown off. With 600 meters to go, eight men were still in contention and at the bell, Chelimo still had a narrow lead, while Kincaid was trapped in sixth. "On that last lap I was in terrible position and had to make up a lot of ground," Kincaid said.

With less than half a lap remaining, only NCAA champion Cooper Teare of Oregon and Emmanuel Bor were still hanging on to the top three. Chelimo, sensing a threat from Kincaid and Fisher, ran wide to force them to run extra distance. "These guys are really fit, probably fitter than me," Chelimo said. "You gotta play with their minds. Take them all the way, make them run the longest distance."

Fisher was impressed with the move, even if it likely cost him the win. "He made me run the long line, that's smart racing right there," he said. "That's the correct strategy."

Teare's final lap was 53.97, but it still left him nearly a second off the team, in 13:28.08, followed by Bor (13:30.30).

Outside of the distance events, Sydney McLaughlin set a pending World Athletics record in the 400m hurdles, clocking 51.90 seconds and beating the present world record holder and reigning Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad.

Check out our FrontPage for all the latest running and triathlon news.

Top of Article
Runner's Web FrontPage