Tracktown16 Diaries: John Nunn wins 20k Men's Race Walk, just not fast enough, by Isaac Gibson


john_nunn_20K_racewalk_winner.jpegJohn Nunn, photo by Dillon Vibes

John Nunn made the 50k team and cemented his spot for the longest event on the Olympic roster way back in March 2016. In the 20k, John Nunn won, but he did not walk fast enough for an American to go to Rio. Here is how Isaac Gibson viewed the event. Isaac Gibson is writing for RunBlogRun for the first time and we are most grateful. We would like to thank Lori Shontz, the journalism professor at the University of Oregon who champions the track & field journalism class from which Isaac Gibson honed his writing skills.

By Isaac Gibson

SALEM, Oregon - When John Nunn crossed the finish line in the men's 20-kilometer race walk Thursday morning at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, it was a bittersweet moment. He won, but not fast enough, meaning that the United States will not have a representative in the race at the Rio Olympic Games.

Nunn, 38, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, won the race in 1 hour, 25 minutes, 36 seconds, but neither he nor the rest of the field met the Olympic standard of 1:24 during the qualifying window. That means that even competitors in the top three cannot make the Olympic team. Nunn was followed by two younger runners: Trevor Barron, 23, finished second in 1:27:27, and Nick Christie, 24, finished third in 1:27:43.

However, Nunn will compete at Rio in the 50K because he qualified earlier in the season and will be the only U.S. male race walker.

"My hope was that both Trevor and Nick would get under the standard," said Nunn, who will compete in the Olympics for the third time. "I would have been very happy with third place if those two had gotten under the standard."

"That is just the kind of guy he is," said John's father, Les. "He's always been a caring person and wants to bring out the best in other people along with himself."

The race started with Christie taking the early lead and holding it for the first 12K. Nunn and Barron then began to alternate lead changes as a way to share the work and to have a better chance at making the standard. Barron and Christie began to fall back once the pace quickened and were not able to maintain speed, and Nunn eventually took the lead alone at 14K.

Barron made the 2012 Olympic team in the 20K race walk when he was 19, and his 26th-place finish was the highest ever by an American in the event. He took three and a half years off from the sport to finish college and had only been training for six months before the trials.

"My time away from the sport really showed me what I was able to achieve and gave me a better appreciation for the experience I had," said Barron. "I would like to keep working my way back to where I was, and hopefully another year will do it."

Though Nunn will compete in Rio alone, Barron and Christie will continue to help him train for the 50K. While Nunn has found success at the longer distances, that does not necessarily mean he enjoys it more.

"Personally, I think it's the most horrible event in all of track and field," Nunn said. "At the Olympic trials, I woke up with the flu two days before, and I remember thinking, 'I can barely walk, let alone race 31 miles.'"

Nunn had to have his brother, who is a doctor, find medicine for him to take the day before and check the USADA website to see if it was legal. When he woke up on race day, he still felt terrible and asked the race officials if he could race the first few miles and then drop out because he had already met the Olympic standard. They told him he had to run the entire race.

Nunn willed himself to compete and ended up winning while setting a personal best of 4:03:21.

"I really wouldn't recommend getting the flu," said Nunn. "But I mean, hey, it worked for me so who knows."

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