Welcome to the kickoff newsletter of what looks to be an exciting week in the sport of track & field. Normally, we would be taking a different approach where we recap and preview events, but since no events have actually started, consider this more of a “sneak peek” into what’s coming our way.
In some ways, it feels like a miracle we actually made it this far. Over the past couple of months, the American track world has been on fire with Shelby Houlihan and Sha'Carri Richardson both being banned from Olympic competition. There was a pause over whether the games would be canceled (again) after rising COVID cases in Japan led to substantial pushback from the public. And yet, here we are, 24 hours removed from the first of ten days of competition.
Track & field fans have been anticipating this moment for five years now. Frankly, there’s way too much to cover in one newsletter and there have already been bits and pieces across different articles on The Harrier that have covered some of the key players and main events that will take place in Tokyo. We will touch on a few here, but also focus on the events kicking off tomorrow. That said, let’s dive in.
Chelimo vs. Tactics
Paul Chelimo tends to be a boisterous athlete when it comes to interviews and social media. That same attitude has manifested itself in his racing, where he often “gets into it” with other runners. At the Trials, this was him chirping at other runners for clipping his heels. He also finished his race by shifting all the way to Lane 4 to eclipse Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid - a legal move but one that raised some eyebrows.
This isn’t the first time tactics have been an integral part of Chelimo as a racer. He has a known history with Bowerman, specifically Lopez Lomong, after arguments on who would lead during the US Championships. Chelimo was originally DQ’d from the Olympic Final in Rio before being reinstated for silver. And in the Zurich Diamond League Final in 2017, Chelimo went barrelling through three other runners in the final meters in a last-ditch attempt to win, instead leading to a DQ. Needless to say, Chelimo rides the line when it comes to tactical maneuvers.
As the reigning silver medalist, Chelimo will have pressure to perform in Tokyo. These races are almost always tactical, which will put Chelimo in an interesting position. Has he matured since 2016 or is he still the fiery runner who could find himself on the wrong side of the rules? With a personal best that puts him in medal contention, there will be plenty of eyes on Paul when he toes the line.
Yeah, me neither. Jokes aside, I had to think hard the other day when prompted to recall who was all on the US marathon roster. It’s been a year and a half since those trials took place in Atlanta, with most of the runners having not competed in a full distance marathon since then. The event was so long ago, it happened during a time when “mask” was a Halloween reference and “Fauci” would have sounded like an Italian pasta dish.
A lot has changed since those trials. Aliphine Tuliamuk is now a mother. Molly Seidel switched sponsors from Saucony to Puma. Jake Riley went from unsponsored to a contract with ON Running. Sally Kipyego learned to play football. Abdi Abdirahman wrote a book. And Galen still doesn’t use social media.
There were questions at the time of the trials whether this really was the best American team. The course in Atlanta became a war of attrition and many wondered if this group could hold up when Tokyo rolled around. Those questions will be answered on August 6th and 7th.
This should be one of the most interesting races from an American perspective because we’ve never had this much of a delay between the trials and the Olympics. Some of these runners have competed in various distances since the trials but the marathon poses a new challenge entirely. Seidel, Riley, and Tuliamuk were arguably breakout stars at the Trials with limited marathon experience. How will that translate to the biggest stage?
Queen Coburn 👸🏼
Of all the distance runners in the US, Emma Coburn has arguably the best chance at winning gold. The former World Champion in the steeplechase and reigning Olympic bronze medalist is coming into Tokyo on fire.
A few weeks ago in Monaco, Coburn came less than 200 meters from breaking the elusive 9:00 barrier. She ultimately tripped and fell on the final water barrier but had been running a dominant race up to that point, against some of the top women in the world. She is clearly capable of going faster on another day and her current fitness levels match the top talent in Tokyo.
This also might be her last go at the steeplechase on the Olympic stage. Coburn turns 31 in October, meaning she’ll be going on 34 in Paris. Typically, we see athletes turn to longer distances with age but Coburn has been so dominant on the American scene that there’s a chance she breaks from convention and gives it another go. With all of that in mind, keep an eye on Emma as a gold medal favorite this year.
Day 1: What’s happening?
Thursday evening is the first day of track & field competition. Here’s a quick lowdown on what’s taking place.
1. The men’s steeplechase preliminary rounds will be the first event at 7pm (CST). American favorite Evan Jager is out this year due to injury, as are many of the other big names of the past. This event looks to be wide open in 2021.
2. What do The Harrier and Mason Ferlic have in common? Both are from Minnesota. Ferlic is a first-time Olympian in the steeplechase after competing for Michigan and then Nike. He is now a member of the #VeryNiceTrackClub coached by Ron Warhurst and based out of Ann Arbor. Ferlic has been having a banner year and looks to carry that momentum into Tokyo.
3. The women’s 800 kicks off at 8:55pm. This will be Athing Mu’s first test on an international stage. Up to now, Mu’s dominance has been limited to American soil. Can the world-leader maintain the same prowess against global competition? Oh, and she’s also only 19 years old. Sheesh.
4. One of the greatest showdowns is coming. Rai Benjamin vs Karsten Warholm. Two of the fastest 400m hurdlers in history will battle for Olympic gold. Benjamin ran the #2 all-time mark at the Olympic Trials, only to move to #3 when Warholm smashed the world record on July 1st. Assuming both qualify for the final, we could see two men run under the current world record.
5. All eyes will be on Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce in the women’s 100 meters. The gold medalist from Beijing and London was said to be “done” after taking time away to become a mother. On June 5th, Fraser-Pryce clocked a 10.63 over the distance, silencing anyone doubting her comeback and moving to #2 all-time. With no Sha’Carri Richardson in Tokyo, Fraser-Pyrce is the unanimous favorite.
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