USA Olympic Track & Field Trials Review: July 1 – Wackiest 10K of the Year, 800m drama

It’s Day 1 of the USATF Olympic Trials and I am very, very perplexed. It was a very bad day for aging American runners and a very strange day for everyone else.

Men’s 10,000 meter

This had to be one of the strangest races I’ve watched in my admittedly short track-viewing history. Galen Rupp winning the race was just about the only thing that made sense. Everything else was just weird. The time was off his usual standards and his main rivals were nowhere to be seen. Ben True disappeared early and finished 11th with a 29:04. Lagat dropped out after hanging with Rupp for a bit. Hassan Mead, considered a lock to make the team by Flotrack before the race, dropped out, re-entered and dropped out again (all unseen by the cameras) and Diego Estrada also dropped out.

In their stead, two relative unknown Kenyan-Americans who joined the US Army to gain citizenship finished second and third and are headed to Rio. Congrats to Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Konir for actually showing up, which their competitors seemed completely unable to do. Another two completely unknown runners were fourth and fifth (Scott Fauble and Chris Derrick). It was bonkers.

I really wanted Lagat to do well but it was a horrible day for American runners over the age of 30 so this was hardly a surprise. Enjoy him while you can, folks.

NBC’s coverage of the race did not help matters at all. They cut to commercial twice within three minutes and then had an interview with Ryan Crouser, the shot put winner while the race went completely off the rails. When they finally returned, Lagat and Mead’s absence was barely noted. I saw True up there and then it turned out he was getting lapped (!) and I could not tell who was anywhere.

Yeah, the NBC coverage of the race was pretty bad. If NBC could do everyone a favor and keep a stream dedicated to the 10K on NBC Sports Live Extra that would be very helpful. Also, since they do such a good job with NASCAR and Formula 1 coverage, it would be nice if we could get some on-screen graphics that show the names of the runners and what is actually going on, especially when they cut to commercial twice during a 28-30 minute race. A side-by-side view like they have in Formula 1 would be extremely helpful.

Anyway, the focus in Rio will be on Galen Rupp, as always. Best of luck to him; even though Salazar’s Godfather-esque appearances will continue to irk me for the rest of the Olympic season.

My #hottracktaek on the marathon/10K double:
The question is not whether Rupp is fit enough to do both events (he probably is) or whether he is sacrificing one event to work for the other (I don’t think it will bother him in the 10K and I don’t really know how well he’s going to do in the marathon anyway). But as a former track runner, every time I had to do two or three races in a meet, I never really did well in both races. Of course, those were usually on the same day, but trying to run the best 10K of your life is still pretty exhausting. If I were him, I would’ve stuck to one race. Also, why would you want to run the marathon? The marathon is miserable.

Women’s 800m

Not too many surprises in Round 1 of the 800m, (unlike the men’s race) but I just wanted to say that heat that had all the runners going 2:03 was ridiculous. I know the seeding is random, but having the 16th, 17th, 19th and 21st best runners of the round advance to the next round over three quicker runners is absurd. At least the 21st runner was Olivia Baker, who seems pretty cool and was a New Jersey legend.

Speaking of Northeast legends, Sammy Watson raced at Olympic Trials! That was awesome! In case you don’t know, Sammy Watson is this ridiculously good upcoming high school junior from Rush Henrietta and she’s basically the best female New York middle distance runner since Mary Cain (probably). She’s a beast. It’s a shame she couldn’t make the next round, but you should watch this space.

Women’s 400m
The big news was that Sonya Richards-Ross pulled up during the 400 meter trials and failed to finish, prolonging the bad day for the over 30 set in the process. At least Allyson Felix qualified comfortably (she’s only 30 though, so she got a pass from the jinx).

Men’s 800 meter

This recap will end with the high drama of the 800m. Young phenom Donovan Brazier failed to make it out of the first round of qualifying despite running a 1:43 at NCAAs. For non-track fans, this is the equivalent of Bryce Harper’s really bad season with the Nationals a few years back. Even though Brazier should be around for a while (he’s a month younger than me!), this is still a major setback. You don’t get many chances to make the Olympics, and you never know how healthy you’ll be when the next Olympic cycle comes around.

Brazier’s agent, Mark Wetmore, tried to lobby for Brazier to get in on a technicality but failed. Wetmore said that Brazier’s shoe was apparently dislodged in the early going and stopped him from finishing third. Yeah… that was never going to work.

Continuing the theme of runners over 30 having issues, Duane Solomon somehow got knocked out in the first round as well. He was running well but ended up finishing fourth as the runners behind him caught him near the end. For someone of Solomon’s caliber to screw up strategically like that in the Olympic Trials is inexcusable, and I honestly have no idea what he was thinking. I suppose even the best of us can be overconfident.

Again, continuing the theme, Nick Symmonds was conspicuously absent from the 800 after pulling out with an injury.

In the end, Boris Berian topped the first round. He is the odds-on favorite to advance to the Olympic team, and I couldn’t be happier for him. He has a great story, and he thoroughly deserves his chance at glory.

Predictions for tomorrow:

Marielle Hall makes the Olympic team in the 10K
This is a bit of a biased prediction because I actually met Marielle Hall at running camp a couple years ago. She showed a small group of us how to do some stretches she learned while at Texas. I have forgotten all of these stretches, but it was a cool experience. Strangely enough, not many people wanted to go to her breakout session, which makes no sense because she had just come off an NCAA title.

There are over 2 false starts in the 100m
Just a guess.

The most entertaining event of the day will be the decathlon 400m.
Because it always is.

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