Miles of Trials ⏱️

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Whew, What A Trials! 💥

I shared a bit of this on Instagram earlier this week but wanted to express my deepest gratitude to you, the readers, viewers, listeners and followers who consumed our content regularly throughout the past two weeks.

My goal every year is to continue elevating our coverage of the best sport and it takes a whole team. Creating these hours of track and field coverage is truly a collective effort. From our talented photographers (Johnny Zhang and Justin Britton) and videographers (Mac Fleet, Sam Murphy-Fleet and JD Groh), to our dedicated interviewers/on-camera personalities (Anderson Emerole, Mitch Dyer, Katelyn Hutchison, and Karen Lesiewicz), our creative social media and graphics team (David Melly, Jasmine Fehr, Paul Hof-Mahoney, and Audrey Allen) and our rockstar intern (Logan Auxier), every contribution was invaluable. 10 days with two to three shows per day was ambitious and exhausting but we do it for the love of the sport and to give the athletes their proper shine.

Whether you tuned into a podcast/live show for a handful of minutes, opened up a newsletter, came out for a group run, stopped by Prince Puckler’s to say hello or cheered with us at Hayward Field – your presence meant the world to us. Thanks to New Balance for allowing our creativity to flow.

To the athletes, you make the job easy when you continue to amaze us and then sacrifice your time to sit down and chat with us.

Thank you, everyone, for making these past 10 days unforgettable.

-Chris Chavez

Should We Pack A Broom For Paris? 🧹

Photo by Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

As we nurse our collective Eugene hangover, a few things are starting to come into focus. One: that was really fun. Two: please God, don’t let anything newsworthy happen between now and Paris. And three: Team USA is sending a really strong team to the Olympics. 

Of course, the U.S. isn’t alone in that. Plenty of other delegations are also stacked to the brim with talent, so American dominance of the medal chart will require A+ days from its superstars. At Trials, our friend Katelyn was unafraid to rile up Jamaican Twitter with her bold, perhaps slightly jingoistic, predictions of American medal sweeps, but it’s not as unlikely as you’d think. At our home Worlds in 2022, Team USA swept three events: the men’s 100m, 200m, and shot put. In 2016, the women swept the Olympic podium in the 100m hurdles. So as we turn our (admittedly American-biased) eyes toward Paris, here are the events we’re watching for potential sweeps:

Men’s 200m: The team that swept in 2022 is back in action, and arguably better, as Noah Lyles, Erriyon Knighton, and Kenny Bednarek claimed their spots in the hotly contested event. They’ll have to go through Botswana’s Letsile Tebogo, but with Lyles having not lost a 200m race since his bronze in Tokyo, Bednarek clocking lifetime bests in both the 100m and 200m last week, and Knighton showing no signs of rust in his season debut, they’ll be a formidable trio.

Women’s 100m hurdles: This densely-packed event is probably less of a lock for a sweep as Nigeria’s Tobi Amusan and Puerto Rico’s Jasmine Camacho-Quinn have proven their championship mettle and former NCAA champ Ackera Nugent clocked a lifetime best 12.28 in the Jamaican Trials. But with national champ Masai Russell, Alaysha Johnson, and Grace Stark clocking the #1, #3, and #3 (tied) times in the world in the final at Hayward, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Women’s Shot Put: Canadian Sarah Mitton is on one this year, with a 20.61m world lead in May and a World Indoor title in March. But Chase Jackson is the 2x defending World champ for a reason, Jaida Ross is coming off an undefeated season in the NCAA, and Tokyo silver medalist Raven Saunders improved their season’s best from 19.17m to 19.90m in one weekend. If anyone knows how to perform when it counts, it’s these three athletes.

Men’s 110m hurdles: The hurdles is a high-risk, high-reward event as one foot brushing a 42-inch hurdle can be the difference between victory and disaster. But that doesn’t change the fact that the three sub-13 second performers in the event this year are all Americans on Team USA, and all three clocked those times in the Olympic Trials final. The trio of Grant Holloway, Daniel Roberts, and Freddie Crittenden finished 1-3-4 in Budapest. The man who took second in that race, Hansle Parchment, is the Olympic champ but only finished third in the Jamaican Trials final in 13.19. He’s also 34 years old, and Father Time does come for us all, whether we’re Olympic gold medalists or bloggers nursing chronic plantar fasciitis.

Will We See An American 1500m Medal? (Or Two?) 🏅🏅

Photo by Kevin Morris / @Kevmofoto

Distance-running fans probably shouldn’t be looking for a sweep in any of our events. But that’s not to say Team USA doesn’t have high hopes for middle-distance medals, which apparently all include an actual chunk of the original Eiffel Tower…? 

At the 2016 Olympics, Matt Centrowitz memorably won the damn thing and Jenny Simpson claimed bronze. That was the last time two Americans scored medals in the 1500m at the same global championship. Simpson also took home silver at Worlds in 2017 – that’s the last 1500m medal won by an American.

We’re not exactly saying “this is the year the drought ends!” But we are packing an umbrella.

Nikki Hiltz put on a tactical masterclass in their Trials victory, and also demonstrated the ability to close off an already fast pace. Their 3:55.33 is the sixth fastest mark posted this year. But right there as well are Emily MacKay and Elle St. Pierre, whose Trials performances rank as the next two fastest globally. St. Pierre qualified in the 5000m as well, but she’s likely to only run the 1500m in Paris.

So what exactly are their medal chances? Despite dealing with injuries, Faith Kipyegon is a virtual lock – as proven by her 3:53.98 season opener, solo and at altitude for the Kenyan Trials. Six Ethiopians have run 3:57 or faster, but the best of them – Gudaf Tsegay – is probably going for the 10,000m and/or the 5000m. The other five have only won one outdoor medal combined, but they’re also a pretty young crew: Hirut Meshesha is the oldest at 23. So they’re talented, but largely unproven.

There are others in the field who can, and have, beaten the Americans before – namely, Jessica Hull and Laura Muir. But there’s no suggestion that with the way Hiltz et al. are running, these two are head and shoulders above their competition. It’s safe to say that the race for silver and bronze in this event is pretty evenly matched.

The men’s field will feature Josh Kerr, the reigning 1500m champ and fastest miler in the world this year at 3:45.34, and Jakob Ingebrigtsen, whose 3:29.74 showing in Oslo leads all 1500m times. But despite the amount of fanfare surrounding their rivalry, neither man seems entirely invincible, even if they’re the favorites. No matter how the final in Paris plays out, there are potential spoilers whose racing styles may prove advantageous – three of them Americans. 

Cole Hocker has run the third fastest 1500m in the world this year, and at the Trials he showed that his signature kick can be applied from 250m out, in a race won in at least 3:30.59. In a true string-’em-out affair, Yared Nuguse is one of the few men in the world with a resume that includes taking Ingebrigtsen to the line in a world record attempt race. And who knows what we have in Hobbs Kessler? If he can display the same tactics as World Indoors and the same speed as his recent 1:43 800m outings, there’s not many in the world who are out of his reach.

It’s Not Over ‘Til It’s Over… And Then It’s Still Not Over 💭

Photo by Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

In the words of Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, everyone get ready to do your math.

While the 2024 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials have concluded, there’s a thin cloud of uncertainty still hovering over the now empty Hayward grandstand. Athletes like Parkers Valby and Wolfe, and Karissa Schweizer (10,000m Version) all signed the model Eiffel Tower, but have their tickets actually been punched to Paris? (The situation is even murkier in the field events.) We’ll officially have to wait until July 7th to know: that’s when World Athletics will publish its final athlete eligibility rankings, reflecting scratches. 

But for now, we can say this. Valby’s and Schweizer’s positions in the 10,000m look relatively safe. If one or both of them fail to get in, it gets truly complicated in terms of who USATF can send in their place. (Katie Izzo better stay ready!) Plus, Valby, despite her fourth place finish, may also be gifted a spot in the 5,000m by 5000m champ Elle St. Pierre, who has indicated she will likely focus on the 1500m. Another if: should Valby decline this still-theoretical spot to focus on the 10,000m – the event she’s acknowledged she’s better suited for – Whittni Morgan, the next woman up, would go in the 5000m, thanks to her World ranking.

Wolfe’s World ranking benefited greatly from his third place showing in the 5,000m, but he’s relying on more scratches to nab a spot on the Parisian starting line. Still, it’s looking tentatively good for the Tar Heel. Chris broke it down in an extremely detailed tweet:

If nobody else drops, Graham Blanks is cleanly in, thanks to his Olympic standard indoor 5,000m performance.

Across the jumps and throws, there are a handful of athletes who placed in the top top-three – and in the case of Charity Hufnagel in the women’s high jump, outright won the event – who will not be Paris-bound. But there are also plenty in 11th-hour-World-ranking-purgatory as well.

Second place triple jumper Russell Robinson doesn’t have the standard, but it appears as though he is now situated comfortably within the quota, after his performance at the Trials. 

There are fourth-placers (and beyond) whose spot is all but assured, like JuVaughn Harrison in the men’s high jump. And even wonkier, the second and third place finishers in this competition won’t be going – but there are two other Americans within the WA quota… however they both failed to make the final. Dontavious Hill went no height in the first round, and Vernon Turner finished tied for 13th. Turner is ahead of Hill in the quota and actually “placed” at the Trials because Hill no-heighted, so he’s got a shot to make the team still… we think.

The whole thing is a mess – and don’t get us started on what’s going on with Jake Wightman. And it makes for frustrating TV when the announcers can’t say with certainty who actually booked an Olympic spot at the [checks notes] Olympic Trials. So here’s a nickel’s worth of free advice (or a desperate plea?) for World Athletics: Allow for reallocation of “unlocked” spots in a similar manner to the marathon in all championship events. That would definitively clear up the ambiguity in the distance events and at least set some expectations in the field events. Is it really credible to say that Parker Wolfe can beat five runners with the standard head-to-head but hasn’t shown he belongs on the start line?

For many reasons too long to whine about here, the NCAA system doesn’t fare well in the World Athletics weighting of meet quality. So unless and until we fix that problem (or do away with auto-qualifying entirely and really change up our Trials system — the true galaxy-brain take), the obvious fix to all this ambiguity is to just expand a qualifying format World Athletics is already comfortable with in the road events to all events. If only to make everyone do a lot less math.

Paris Is Overrated, Anyway 🥐

Photo by Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

The best part of the Olympic Trials is celebrating the incredible athletes who make the team. The worst part of the Olympic Trials is trying to console the athletes who showed up and, for one reason or another, won’t be donning the red, white, and blue in August.

The temptation to treat Trials as a pass/fail test where you either make the team or you don’t is understandable. And the frustration of athletes working hard and making it all the way to Hayward, only to go home devastated, is totally understandable. So we’re going to be the glass-half-full guys this week and celebrate some of the best performances from Olympic Trials that didn’t result in an Olympic team.

Sinclaire Johnson: How the HECK do you run 3:56.75 and not make the team? More importantly, how do you run 3:56.75 when you’ve only been working out healthy since March? These are questions we, and everyone who loves and supports Sinclaire Johnson, will be asking for a long time. The 2022 U.S. champ kicked her way to 6th on the American 1500m all time list – the only problem was that the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th runners on that list finished ahead of her. If Sinclaire had citizenship anywhere else in the world that wasn’t the U.S. or Ethiopia, she’d not just be going to the Olympics; she’d be considered a medal contender. But because of our incredible, and at times unfortunate, depth in this event, she’ll have to settle for running the pants off the competition at Diamond League meets all summer (more on that below).

Dalilah Muhammad: We loved Anna Cockrell’s shoutout to training partner and mentor Dalilah Muhammad, the 2016 Olympic champion and former world record holder in the 400m hurdles. Muhammad has eight global medals (counting relays) including two Olympic golds, and came around from a slow start to the season to qualify for the final in hopes of making her third Olympic team at age 34. And while she clocked a season’s best 54.16 in the semis and finished 6th in the final in 54.27, the bar for the event has been raised too high – thanks, in large part, to the foundation she laid before the arrival of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone. Muhammad has said that this will be her last Olympic Trials, but not necessarily her last season, and we hope she found the drive to at least keep going a little longer from this performance.

Nia Ali: The 2019 World champ and 2023 U.S. champ is a wily veteran at 35 years old, as shown by her performance in the first round of competition. With a few entry scratches guaranteeing that everyone competing in the prelims would advance to the semis, Ali decided to play chess while everyone else played checkers, jogging a 20-second qualifier that burned no effort but still got her to the next round. There, she made the final from lane one with a 12.55, and in the final clocked a season’s best 12.37, good for #7 in the world this year. The only problem was that the three women in front of her all clocked personal bests at 12.31 or faster. Ali is a gamer, and she competed well – she just got beat by some truly stellar hurdling.

Jess McClain: What’s worse than finishing fourth? Finishing fourth twice. The resurgent Jess McClain (née Tonn) first reminded people that she’s still around, still tough, and still talented with a fourth-place finish at the Olympic Marathon Trials in February, then she bounced back to finish fourth in the 10,000m on the track as well in 32:04.57. She likely wouldn’t have had the ranking to make the team should she finish top 3, but it’s hopefully some consolation that McClain clocked a lifetime best 31:35.28 in May and beat a whole crew of very good track runners in Eugene.

Evan Jager: One month ago, it didn’t look like Jager, the American record holder in the steeplechase, would even qualify for Trials as his season’s best was only 8:33.19. But he got a qualifying mark at Portland Track Festival on June 8, then made the final, then finished fourth in said final at age 35. For Jagerheads, it seemed like perhaps we’d be in for another season like 2022, where the dean of the Bowerman Track Club clawed his way back from injury to finish sixth at the World Championships. But alas, Jager’s qualification for the Olympics was contingent on third-placer James Corrigan not having the standard, and thanks to some quick meet organizing, an alleged private jet, and some excellent pacing from Dan Michalski, Corrigan banged out the Olympic standard with an 8:13.87 victory in Philadelphia one day before the cutoff. So Jager will be watching Paris from home, but with an Olympic medal already on his shelf. We’ve gotta take our hats off for the man who put American steeplechasing on the map.

Kara Winger: Earlier this year, the 38-year-old four-time Olympian decided to unretire and go for her fifth team. Unfortunately, her unretirement came a little too late, as you need five performances within the qualifying period to attain a world ranking and Winger only has three. So she needed to hit the auto qualifying mark of 64.00m at Trials, and although she finished second, her best throw was 62.94m which won’t make the cut. Still, an incredible attempt at one last ride from one of Team USA’s all-time great throwers.

Justin Stafford: The Kansas-based hammer thrower picked a great time to have the best competition of his career. Stafford has clocked not one, not two, but FIVE personal bests this year – not something you see often from a 28-year-old who graduated college in 2019. The most recent two were his qualifying and final rounds of the Trials, where he cleared 76 meters for the first time, and then 77 meters for the first time, to finish third overall. But unfortunately he’s still only ranked 42nd and barring many unexpected scratches won’t make the quota.

So You Didn’t Make The Team… Now What? 😅

Photo by Justin Britton / @JustinBritton

For track and field, the mere existence of the Olympics is a double-edged sword. Yes, every four years the Games attract millions of curious eyeballs to the sport. But the flipside of that momentary burst in enthusiasm is that the Olympics become the end-all-be-all for both fans and athletes. To miss out on an Olympic team is – in the eyes of many – to fail. 

But that outlook disregards the fact that the track and field machine never truly stops churning and many of the most iconic moments in the sport’s history didn’t take place within the Olympic confines. And there’s nothing the fans love more than a revenge tour.

There’s the Diamond League circuit, where fields are often more competitive than those at the Olympics, given the lack of a three-athlete cap per country. There’s World Championships, where you still get to represent your nation, but at-large spots for defending champs also mean the fields are stronger. (Winning a World title is in some ways more impressive than winning an Olympic one!) There’s a ton of high-quality domestic and international meets happening all the time. And next year we’ll add Grand Slam Track to the slate of track happenings.

This is all to say that we here at The Lap Count hope any non-Paris-bound athletes know that financial implications and annoying coworker questions aside, all they’re truly missing is the fleeting adoration of casuals, the possibility of being turned into an NBC human interest piece, and the presence of tear jerking commercials advertising multinational companies like Visa and Coca Cola. 

We hope many of you will take a week to lick your wounds then continue onto the summer circuit.

There are the athletes who came agonizingly close to an Olympic berth, but an injury-truncated build up likely prevented them from doing so. (In Sinclaire Johnson’s case, that fourth place finish came along with a three-second PB – how’s that for momentum?) For athletes who fall into this camp, there’s faster racing ahead with another month or so of workouts and sharpening!

There are those who took a tumble and need a taste of redemption. For a generational talent like Athing Mu, there’s a real chance to reclaim some joy in racing after a devastating fall and similarly injury-marred spring. There are athletes who just had an off week – the Cooper Teares or Laulauga Tausaga-Collinses. Maybe they mistimed a peak, or were competing on an undisclosed injury. But if the body is able and the mind willing, rather than slink out of 2024 on a sour note, take a moment to reset then string together a few solid performances heading into 2025.

You never know: you might go on a heater like Kate Grace did in the summer of 2021. After missing out on the team for Tokyo, Grace went to Europe and promptly won the Bislett Games 800 in 1:57.60. She then proceeded to run 1:57 three more times, and capped off her outdoor campaign by placing second at the Diamond League Final in Zurich.

So if you’re still steamed and/or bummed about how Trials ended for you, be like Kate. Go kick some ass.

Rapid Fire Highlights 🔥

Josh Kerr, already named to the UK’s 1500m squad for Paris, raced the 800m at the UK Athletics Championships this past weekend. He took a late tumble in the final, but the Brooks Beast will get his shot at 800m redemption. He’ll be lining up for the 800m-1500m double four times as part of Grand Slam Track, after being announced as the league’s latest Racer.

– Also over in the UK, teen sensation Phoebe Gill displayed a tactical maturity beyond her years, expending the bare minimum effort in the prelims before taking the final from the jump to handily beat Jemma Reekie 1:58.66 to 1:59.28. With Gill, Reekie, and Keely Hodgkinson likely headed to Paris, the British 800m squad could easily pick up multiple medals if their chips fall the right way.

– Despite our obvious U.S. bias, other national championships happened this week as well. Marco Arop posted a set of solo 1:43 results in the heats then final to claim the Canadian 800m title; at the German Champs, Owen Ansah’s 9.99 made him the first German under 10-seconds in the 100; Mujinga Kambundji won the 100m (11.01) and 200m (22.42) at the Swiss Championships.

– In Western States 100 results, Jim Wamsley turned in the second fastest time in course history, covering 100.2 miles in 14:13:45, just four minutes off his own 2019 showing. Katie Schide also ran the second fastest time ever achieved at WS, 15:46:57, which was about 17 minutes off of last year’s record performance from Courtney Dauwalter.

– American world Masters 10k champ Robert Qualls has been suspended for three years by USADA after testing positive for numerous banned substances including amphetamine and 19-norandrosterone. When he finishes serving his ban he will be 75 years old.

SPRINT is finally out on Netflix. We’ll have an interview with Paul Martin (co-founder of Box To Box Films and Emmy Award-winning producer) on the behind-the-scenes of making the series, the ‘Netflix-effect’ on sports, and what he hopes the impact of the show is on track and field. Anderson Emerole and Chris Chavez will review the series on next week’s edition of This Week In Track and Field on The CITIUS MAG Podcast.

Quincy Wilson has accepted his invitation to the Team USA relay pool, as well as an invitation from NBA legend Magic Johnson to catch a Washington Commanders game when the NFL season starts.

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