The last day of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials had something for everyone. David Hunter sent me his column on day 10, noting that he was exhausted.
He had written a column a day on the NCAA Champs and came back to write eight columns on the U.S. Olympic Trials. And the Trials had amazing things happening each day.
Day ten had probably the finest one hour of track & field for TV in history, with the Men’s LJ, plus Women’s 800m and 400m hurdles, Men’s 1,500m, and Men’s 200m. This was preceded by a suspension of the meet for four and one-half hours, due to extreme heat.
The reward? Probably the finest hour of action on track & field in many years. The world record at 400m hurdles, the four-woman under 22 seconds in the 200 meters, the amazing 1,500m Men’s race, and then, finally, Noah Lyles reckoning in the 200 meters.
Olympic Trials / Day Ten: Sparkling Performances Rise Above Weather Woes Sydney’s WR!. JuVaughn’s “Triple Double”!
June 27th, 2021
No one was happy when it became clear that the final weekend of the Olympic Trials competition would feature temperatures hovering around 110 degrees. But Mother Nature’s nasty little meteorological surprise, while annoying, could not rattle USA hopefuls on the final weekend of the 2021 USA Track & Field Olympic Trials. While it was extremely uncomfortable on Saturday, it was Hades hot on Sunday, forcing a safety-driven mid-day suspension of several hours which sent athletes and their coaches scurrying to craft 11th-hour Plan B performance day procedures and tactics.
m5000m / An early start time shift to 10:00 a.m.was helpful for the men’s Sunday 5000m final. But make no mistake, it was still super hot. Crafty Paul Chelimo, the reigning 2016 Olympic silver medalist at 5000m, bided his time near the back of the pack for the first 1200 meters before moving smartly to the front to give the race an honest tempo. He was joined by a focused group of competitors: Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher – who had earlier finished 1-2 in the Trials 10,000m – along with Cooper Teare and Emannuel Bor. With 1200 meters remaining BYU’s Connor Mantz launched himself into the lead. But Chelimo took care of that. Covering the final three laps in
3:01 – including a final circuit in 52.83, Chelimo raced on for the win. Fisher, outkicked by his training partner Kincaid in the 10K final, returned the favor to finish 2nd with Kincaid .12 of a second back in 3rd. Afterward, Chelimo reflected on his win. “Just a good race,” said the Trials winner. “The conditions were exactly what I wanted. Honestly, I wanted it hotter, I was prepared. I knew this would be a tough team to make. I wanted to make sure that if we make the team, we have the best team in Tokyo.
mHJ / This was the day that JuVaughn Harrison had targeted in his quest to make the Olympic team in both the high jump and the long jump. In the vertical jump final JuVaughn locked horns with his Tennessee rival Darryl Sullivan to engage in what would be a rematch of their SEC high jump battle. The duo matched clearances all the way through 7’7 3â„4″. When neither could clear subsequent bars, Sullivan’s earlier misses made Harrison the winner.
mLJ / The heat delay gave the LSU superstar a little extra recovery time before taking on the long jump final. And Harrison let all know that the high jump had not sapped his energy as he soared 27’1â„4″ on his opening jump. When Marquis Dendy popped into the lead with a 2nd round leap of 27’6″/8.38m it inspired Harrison to answer with a 3rd round reply of 27’91â„2″ – a magnificent leap of 8.47m, which ultimately proved to be the winner. Texas athlete Steffin McCarter joined Harrison and Dendy as the long jump Olympians who will represent the USA in Tokyo. Unrattled by the heat or the delay, the unflappable jumper summed it up. “It was hot. I love the heat. It was a great day for me to compete,” said Harrison who acknowledged that the delay aided his recovery. “They gave us a little bit of a delay which gave me more time to get my legs under me. Then I won the long jump. It was a great day.” In winning both the high jump and the long jump – a feat he also accomplished at the NCAA indoor championships and outdoors as well – Harrison captured a so-called “triple-double” – a sort of Jump Trifecta. With Harrison now ranked #2 on the world list in both the high jump and the long jump, it is clear that his quest for double jump gold in Tokyo is not a silly pipe dream – it is a realistic goal to accomplish an athletic feat that has never before been achieved. (Editor’s note: FYI, not done since 1912 in Olympics).
w400H Another showdown between world record holder Dalilah Mohammed and talented youngster Sydney McLaughlin was much anticipated and these two exceptional athletes did not disappoint. Both getting out quickly, the duo in adjacent lanes raced evenly down the backstretch as they pulled away from the rest of the field. Muhammed, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in this event, had the slightest of leads heading around the far turn. But the duo was essentially even as they enter the homestretch. It was there that Sydney – frequently the weaker in the final stages of earlier races with Dalilah – had the greater strength this time. Powering over the hurdles, McLaughlin pulled away to finish first in 51.90 – a new world record. Muhammad crossed 2nd in 52.42 while world championship silver medalist Shamier Little finished 3rd in 53.85. Overwhelmed by the win over the Olympic gold medalist and the eclipsing of her world record, McLaughlin shed a few tears in the moments following the race. “I think great competition always pushes you, ” said the new champion afterward. “It helps to have such an amazing camp of women in the US to get those times. With my training, we were able to put one together. I’m excited for what the future holds.”
w800m Before the final, everyone suspected it would be the rising young phenom versus the seasoned veterans. They were right. Front runner Channel Price jumped out to the early lead as the field was tightly bunched. Contact on the backstretch led to Nia Akin’s lap one fall as the race rolled on, passing 200m in 27.32. Nascent professional Athing Mu moved up behind Price as she passed the bell in 57.44. Defending champion Kate Grace moved up front as Ajee Wilson and Raevyn Rogers were back in the pact. With 250 to go, Mu opened up her stride and moved into the lead followed by Grace and Price. Mu in the lead raced by 600m in 1:27.58. But then it happened. Relying on a powerful move the others did not possess, Mu – the NCAA 400m champion – quickly separated from the field, roared around the curve and lifted to the finish, crossing in 1:56.07 – a new Hayward Field and Olympic Trials record and #2 on the world leader board. Hard-charging Rogers (1:57.76) went from 6 to 2 over the final furlong for 2 . And Ajee’ Wilson (1:58.39) rallied over the final 150m to snare 3 . Said Mu afterward: “We went out in 57. Chanelle led the first quarter. For the next 200 I wanted to get my place because it was going to be a fast race. The last 200 I wanted to go and the last 100 I wanted to give it all I had.”
m1500m In the men’s1500m final, EricAvila, followed closely by Sam Prakel and David Ribich, took the 12-athlete field through the first 400m 58.50. Colby Alexander led the pack through 800m in 1:59.13 with Matthew Centrowitz now up into 2nd followed by Prakel as the pace picked up noticeably. At the top of the backstretch with 300 meters remaining Duck freshman Cole Hocker, lacking a qualifying standard, was in the lead as the field was winding it up for the final push to the line. In the finishing drive, Centro (3:35.34) gained the early advantage with Hocker in pursuit. The duo staged a homestretch battle with the relentless Hocker (3:35.28) refusing to hold, ultimately passing the Olympic champion in the final meters for the win. Notre Dame’s Yared Nuguse (3:36.19) finished 3rd.
Centro and Nuguse, both with the standard, are on the Tokyo team, the identity of the final Olympian has not been officially announced. Hocker, the victor but lacking the standard, believes he will ultimately be selected. “I don’t know,” replied the winner when asked if will be added to the team. “I think my world rank right now is pretty good to lock me in. What I was told is that if I placed top 3 at Trials, let alone win it, that would be enough to secure my world ranking within the top 45.”
m200m / The Trials concluded with the men’s 200m final – a race with many back stories:17- year-old Erriyon Knighton baffling all by making the final; Noah Lyles, a marquee image leading up to these Trials, facing his last chance to capture an Olympic berth; and other accomplished athletes hoping for that special performance that would put them on the Olympic squad. In the final, Lyles looked like the 2019 version of himself as a solid start and his signature rocket race around the curve gave him the lead heading into the homestretch. While others tried to chip away at his lead in the hopes of tracking him down, the world champion held on for the win in 19.74 – a world leader.
Nike’s Kenny Bednarek, running strong throughout these trials, took 2nd in 19.78 with Knighton – the high schooler – crossing in 19.88 to get up for 3rd while taking down Usain Bolt’s world junior record and becoming the youngest ever American male track & field Olympian. In the virtual mixed zone, the new champion was excited about making his first Olympic team. “Gosh it sounds nice after 2016 came up short by one place,” said Noah. “Ever since then the mindset of becoming an Olympian has been on my mind. Having the pause in 2020 was probably been my hardest yet.” After the pause, he adds “I don’t think anyone can prepare you for the lion you have to slay at the Olympic Trials.” / Dave Hunter /