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Olympic Trials Day 4: A hero falls and a new queen is crowned
Not to be super dramatic, but Monday night in Eugene was very dramatic!
It’s hard to explain how important Jenny Simpson was (and is) to a generation of female distance runners, particularly ones enamored of the classic, grueling four-lap (or three and three-quarters lap) mile (or 1500m) race. She was on TV in a Colorado Buffs uniform winning NCAAs and qualifying for the World Championships when I first started following the sport in high school. She broke four minutes in the 1500m at a time when American women simply weren’t running that fast. After that, they were forced to. She choked, big-time, and then she came back. She won medals. Lots of them.
Shelby Houlihan was setting up to be a similar athlete. The Bowerman Track Club star set American records in the 1500m and 5K. She would have contended for Olympic medals this summer in Tokyo. But now, slapped with a four-year drug ban and barring a successful appeal, she’s out of the sport for four years. Maybe forever.
Simpson isn’t retired yet, but the extra pandemic year was not kind to the master tactician, now 34, who finished just tenth in the 1500m final on Monday night.
Instead, it was Elle Purrier St. Pierre who rose to the occasion, setting a new U.S. Olympic Trials meet record of 3:58.03 in a stunning wire-to-wire victory. The 26-year-old, who grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont, set the American indoor record for the mile in 2019 in 4:16.85, which made the impending match-up a hot one. Even after the week’s controversial Houlihan news, the New Balance runner refused to condemn her rival.
“I don’t really have a lot of comments to make,” she said in the virtual mixed zone. “I wish that I could have got to race her. That part I was disappointed about, but I’m just trying to enjoy the moment now.”
After getting shoved into the infield in the first 100 meters of the race, Purrier St. Pierre took matters into her own legs. The New Balance Boston runner, who is coached by Mark Coogan, set a blazing pace of 64.7, 64.4 (2:09.19 for 800m), 62.2 and 46.63 for the final 300 meters to burn the wheels off the field and establish herself as the fastest woman in Trials history.
Cory McGee was the only woman brave enough to follow Purrier St. Pierre step-for-step, and was rewarded for her efforts by making her first Olympic team at age 29. The Mississippi native has raced at an elite level since she was in middle school, but plateaued for a period during her pro career and had not made a world team since 2013. This instagram tribute from her coach Joe Bosshard will make you feel all the things!!
Heather MacLean moved up from fifth to third over the final lap to earn her Olympic spot in 4:02.09. She trains with Purrier St. Pierre under Coogan, whose reaction to both of his athletes making the Olympics encapsulates everything we love about this sport and the Olympic Trials.
For a year that’s been dominated by talk of Nike and their superior shoe technology, it was refreshing to see the top three women across the line all sporting New Balance kits.
Elle Purrier St. Pierre, 3:58.03
Cory McGee, 4:00.67
Heather MacLean, 4:02.09
Shannon Osika, 4:02.18
Helen Schlachtenhaufen, 4:04.41
Julia Heymach, 4:04.84
Grace Barnett, 4:05.05
Dani Aragon, 4:05.09
Dani Jones, 4:06.46
Jenny Simpson, 4:07.76
Rebecca Mehra, 4:08.47
Sinclaire Johnson, 4:08.81
Nikki Hiltz, 4:10.60
Men’s 800m: World champ Donovan Brazier fails to qualify as Clayton Murphy is back on top
As thrilling as it was to watch three first-time Olympians make Team USA in the women’s 1500m, the surprises immediately following that race in the men’s 800m final were brutal.
USC’s reigning NCAA champ Isaiah Jewett took things out hard in 50.63 (apparently, he had a paper due immediately following the race… this is not a joke) and while the field waited for him to crash and burn, he… didn’t! Clayton Murphy looked more like an Olympic medalist than he has since earning bronze in Rio in 2016, making a strong push down the backstretch to ultimately win in 1:43.17, while reigning world champion Donavan Brazier didn’t look like any version of his recent self — grimacing and moving backwards in the final 200 meters to finish dead last in 1:47.88. He reportedly got an MRI on his foot after the race.
Jewett hung on for second in 1:43.85 to make his first Olympic team, and will be joined by Bryce Hoppel, who was fourth at the 2019 World Championships.
What a frustrating moment for the American record holder Brazier, who was on top of the world in 2019. This is now the second Olympic Trials disappointment for him after failing to advance from the prelims in 2016, shortly after setting the American junior record at NCAAs as a freshman and signing a pro contract with Nike.
Clayton Murphy, 1:43.17
Isaiah Jewett, 1:43.85
Bryce Hoppel, 1:44.14
Isaiah Harris, 1:44.58
Brannon Kidder, 1:45.08
Samuel Voelz, 1:45.54
Daniel Nixon, 1:45.56
Donavan Brazier, 1:47.88
Women’s 5K: Bowerman Track Club goes 1-2
I have a feeling that the white and red Bowerman Track Club kits will continue to be a motif at the top of the form chart for the duration of the Trials’ distance events. After Houlihan’s ban was announced, it seemed that BTC athletes would either let the public outrage be a major distraction from the task at hand, or use what they view as a major injustice done to their teammate be the ultimate fuel to get the job done and make some damn Olympic teams.
It’s clear, now, from the men’s 10K and women’s 5K results, that it’s the latter.
BTC’s Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer worked together to go 1-2 in the hot, mid-90s weather conditions in 15:27.81 to 15:28.11 as Rachel Schneider, who switched sponsors this week from Under Armour to Hoka One One due to shoe technology, also made her first Olympic team with a third-place, 15:29.56 run. Abbey Cooper, who inspired track fans with her gutsy solo run to capture the Olympic standard in the prelims, waged a brave battle and ended up fourth in 15:31.05. All of the top three women will return to compete in the 10K, so there is a chance that Cooper may end up on the team after all if one person makes the 10K team and opts to focus on that event in Tokyo.
Elise Cranny, 15:27.81
Karissa Schweizer, 15:28.11
Rachel Schneider, 15:29.56
Abbey Cooper, 15:31.05
Allie Buchalski, 15:47.52
Elly Henes, 15:47.73
Lauren Paquette, 15:48.10
Josette Norris, 15:48.70
Gwen Jorgensen, 15:50.62
Carrie Verdon, 15:54.04
Taylor Werner, 15:56.83
Maddie Alm, 15:58.40
Vanessa Fraser, 16:02.92
Millie Paladino, 16:06.52
Erika Kemp, 16:22.27
Odds and Ends
NCAA star Athing Mu has gone pro and signed with Nike following her record-setting freshman year at Texas A&M. She will compete for a spot on the Olympic team in the 800m starting tonight.
High school phenom Hobbs Kessler has turned pro and signed with adidas following his national high school record of 3:34.36 in the 1,500m, which is faster than the collegiate record and met the Olympic standard. He will compete for the chance to race in Tokyo starting tonight.
Two-time NCAA champion Weini Kelati officially became a U.S. citizen this week, just in time to compete for an Olympic spot in the 10K on Saturday morning. The former New Mexico Lobo has lived in the United States since defecting from Eritrea after competing at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
Australian distance runner Morgan McDonald, who won NCAA titles for Wisconsin, has traded his Under Armour contract for On Running and will join the brand’s Boulder, Colorado-based training group under coach Dathan Ritzenhein.
Transgender hurdler CeCe Telfer will not be allowed to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials, after all. She was not able to prove that her testosterone levels meet the required limits set for transgender athletes by World Athletics.
More from the U.S. Olympic Trials
Former Texas star Ryan Crouser shatters outdoor world record in shot put win at Trials, Austin American-Statesman
At 19, NCAA Star Athing Mu Says She’s “Made for This,” Women’s Running
Born to run? Olympic hopeful Sarah Lancaster made her mark at Texas in tennis, basketball, Austin American-Statesman
Everything Is Clicking at the Right Time for Josette Norris, Runner’s World