5 Takeaways from the Olympic Trials

By: Brett Haffner

1. These Youngsters Are Something Else

It’s always great to see some college kids succeed at the Trials, even if it doesn’t mean placing Top 3 in their event or even qualifying for the final. At this year’s edition of the trials, the success of the rising stars of US track and field has been simply unreal-- this goes for both college stars and high schoolers.

Curious how the youth of this years Olympic qualifiers compares to 2016? In every distance event (800-10,000) except the 3000S, the average age of the top 3 was younger when compared to the top 3 in 2016.

-Cole Hocker, USA 1500 CHAMPION & Yared Nuguse, 3rd Place 1500

I can't tell you how electric that last 150m was in the 1500m final. That was actually ridiculous in earning his first USA title and first Olympic berth, let alone over his “rival” (thanks to social media), Matthew Centrowitz. Kudos to him on making that a race.

Right behind him, Nuguse got himself an Olympic qualification as well, kicking right past Craig Engels and Josh Thompson to secure his 3rd place finish. It’s gonna be great to see him, along with Hocker, to showcase their mad kicks at the Olympic Games.

-JuVaughn Harrison, 2x USA CHAMPION (LJ & HJ)

With all the craziness that went down on Sunday night, Harrison’s double victory was seldom talked about, but still wildly impressive nevertheless. He’ll be the first USA man to compete in both the LJ and HJ at the Olympics since Jim Thorpe in 1912.

-Erriyon Knighton, 3rd Place 200m (19.84, HS National Record)

Knighton was an anomaly in this 200m field, being that he’s only SEVENTEEN! He didn’t let that stop him though, PR’ing in every round all the way to qualifying for the Olympics, taking 3rd behind Noah Lyles and Kenny Bednarek. 

Prelims: 20.04 (PB)

Semis: 19.88 (PB)

Final: 19.84 (PB)

-Roisin Willis, Sophia Gorriaran, & Juliette Whitaker, 800m Olympic Trials Qualifiers

Although these three ladies did not make the 800m final, there’s a lot to be said about THREE high school girls qualifying for the Olympic Trials. When the 2024 Trials roll around, I would not be surprised to see these three be qualifying for the final. 

-Athing Mu. 

Runs the second fastest time in American history in the 800m and made it look easy. The future is bright for American middle distance running. 

2. Bowerman knows how to Double

Amidst all the Bowerman drama leading up to the Trials, the long-distance athletes of Bowerman Track Club had themselves a weekend-- especially those who doubled in the 5k/10k. 

Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher are one heck of a duo--any finishing stretch is scary with these two together. Both taking on the upper echelons of the sport, these two both locked up Olympic berths in the 5k AND 10k with some crazy last 400’s in each race. Even having to deal with Chelimo’s questionable tactics in the 5k, they still both closed in 52.X after having nearly two full races under their belt. These guys are ready for Tokyo. 

In a similar vein, Karissa Schweizer and Elise Cranny are also a great duo; with Cranny taking the 5k win and 4th in the 10k, and Schweizer taking 2nd in both races. These two had some tough competition and even tougher heat in their 2nd race, but it sure paid off in the end. 

3. On Athletics Club is having a fantastic rookie year

Dathan brought something truly incredible to the table with the creation of the OAC this past year, amassing a squad of many up-and-coming runners from all around the globe. At the Trials, his athletes brought their best and showed quite well. 

Where do I even start? Joe Klecker, the centerpiece to the formation of OAC, showed the fruits of his labor over the last year under Dathan, locking up his first Olympic berth in the 10k. The endorser of All Hard Work and constant grinder of Klecker Miles, he stuck his nose in with Woody Kincaid and Grant Fisher and will find himself headed to Tokyo next month. Needless to say, the running community was pretty stoked.

The women’s 10k was brutal for all involved, but nobody felt the detriments of that race more than Alicia Monson. After locking up her first Olympic appearance in the 10k, taking 3rd behind Emily Sisson and Karissa Schweizer, Monson found herself staying in the hospital overnight after bouts with heat exhaustion and hypothermia. If that doesn’t signify grinding through the thick of the heat, I don't know what does. Monson certainly showcased her grinder mentality under Dathan’s tutelage.

I’d be remiss if Leah Falland wasn’t talked about under the success of the OAC at the Trials. Taking 2nd in the Steeple Prelims, putting herself right in qualifying position in the final, and still finishing the race post-fall are all things to commend her for. She’s given Dathan lots of credit in helping revitalize her career, but she herself should get tons of credit for clearly stepping up her level of racing. I’m excited to see what she’ll do in the remainder of the summer season.

With two Olympians in Klecker and Monson, along with the slew of International athletes who will likely be selected for their respective countries’ teams, the OAC will be well represented in their first go at the Olympic Games.

*While not necessarily involved in the Trials, the signing of Morgan McDonald and Carmela Cardama Baez to the team was officially announced during the Trials. Huge win for the OAC & Dathan.*

4. What a weekend for the women of New Balance

In a sport perennially dominated by Nike-sponsored athletes, many of the top names this past weekend in the women’s races were filled by New Balance runners. Just to name a few highlights: 

-Sydney McLaughlin’s 400m Hurdles WR (51.90)

Are you kidding me? Her last 100, gapping Dalilah Muhammad in the process, was a magical sight to see. Might we see the WR lowered AGAIN at the Olympics?

-Abbey Cooper’s incredible Prelims effort (15:04, OLY Standard)

Going after the Olympic Standard in the prelims, in the heat, and solo was an inspiring sight for all to see. Kudos to her on fighting through the final and finishing a very strong 4th. 

-Emma Coburn’s 3k Steeple Dominance 

Come on now, is there anyone else but Coburn to be the US National Champ? Her NINTH straight title was one for the books, easily taking home the win.

-Emily Sisson’s Heatwave 10k Win

The 10k must have been brutal for everyone out on the track, but Sisson made that race into something special by leading the entire race minus the first mile. That strength of bringing down the pace over the last 2k was something else! She ran a race that Steve Prefontaine would have been proud of.

-Sweeping the Women’s 1500

I’ll elaborate a little more on this one: in a loaded women’s 1500 field, the ladies of New Balance took this race by the horns. Elle Purrier was more or less the favorite heading in, so her championship win was not too surprising (in a Trials record, too!) However, flying in right behind here were not one, but TWO NB-sponsored ladies: Cory McGee and Heather MacLean, earning their first Olympic berths. Some very nice airtime for New Balance and a wonderful transition into a new era of the women’s 1500.

5. The Effect of the Virtual Mixed Zone 

In a normal, non-COVID impacted year of the Olympic Trials, the Mixed Zone serves as a lighthearted, serious, or even controversial setting for athletes to share their thoughts with running media. In some cases, athletes who might be upset, frustrated, or disappointed might just walk away. However, having the mixed zone be virtual this year created an interesting dynamic between athletes and media that has not been seen before. 

In the most heartbreaking fashion, Donovan Brazier and Leah Falland are great examples of having the bravery to admit where things went wrong as they answer media questions, all while fighting great sadness. As a track fan, I have so much more respect for these two in sharing their thoughts at a very difficult moment for them. Might have this happened with a normal Mixed Zone? I’m not so sure. Yet, the track community has rallied behind these two after their heart-stirring interviews. 

On the light side of things, the virtual Mixed Zone also created it’s fair share of laughable moments, too: 

-Hobbs Kessler’s way to kill time: Mario Kart

-Noah Lyles finding out his HS 200m record was broken, then proceeding to tell Erriyon Knighton that he broke it, all while on interview

-Grant Holloway’s way to celebrate: “a fat a** glass of wine!”

-Centro being Centro

It’s always great to hear the athletes’ thoughts and feelings after their races, and us fans can appreciate them taking their time to do so with the media.