Marketing and nationalistic fervor cause signs at the US Olympic Trials to proclaim this is the toughest team to make. Yet there has been some evidence of that.
It was indisputably the case in the women’s 100m hurdles Friday (09) night, the seventh day of the U.S. selection competition. In a field so deep, there was inevitability of a fast hurdler being left behind. Turns out it was the fastest.
Brianna Rollins finished first in 12.34 at Eugene, Oregon, just .01 shy of Gail Devers' meet record. Kristi Castlin was second in 12.50 and Nia Ali third in 12.55, completing the team. It will be the first Olympics for each of the top three.
Keni Harrison, who set a national record of 12.24 at Eugene on 28 May for the fastest time in the world this year, was sixth in 12.62.
“I don’t know what happened. I’ll have to watch the film,” Harrison said. “I’m a loss to explain it, but this stuff happens in the hurdles. We’ve got a great group of girls representing the U.S. in Rio. I’ll go back home and prepare for the Diamond League meet in London.”
It was the first time in any country’s national championships that the top seven clocked 12.75 or better. Second through sixth places had the fastest respective times in the history of the US trials.
Queen Harrison was fourth in 12.57 and Sharika Nelvis fifth in 12.60. Dawn Harper-Nelson, the Olympic gold medalist in 2008 and silver medalist in 2012, missed the final by .01.
“We’re the best in the country and the best in the world,” said Rollins, gold medalist at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. “I’m so blessed and work hard at what I do, and I’m just going to continue to believe in myself and what I have. I look forward to competing with these ladies, and hopefully all three of us end up on the medal stand.”
Castlin, who is Rollins’ training partner, improved her personal best from 2012 and made her first global championship a day after turning 28. Ali, a two-time gold medalist at the IAAF World Indoor Championships, missed all of last season because of childbirth.
Jager takes fifth straight national steeplechase title
Keni Harrison became the fourth athlete to come into the trials as the world leader and fail to make the team. Others are Marquise Goodwin in the long jump, Courtney Okolo in the 400m and Shamier Little in the 400m hurdles. Another Friday flame-out was pole vaulter Demi Payne, who jumped 4.90m indoors but injured a tendon in her hand in March. She did not qualify for the final.
Little, the 2015 world silver medalist, finished fifth in a semifinal a few days after signing a pro contract with Adidas. One who did advance was Sydney McLaughlin, 16, who won the first semifinal in 55.23.
“The rain messed up my hair, but that’s OK,” she said. “I made it to the final.”
McLaughlin could become the youngest US athlete to compete in athletics at an Olympics since 17-year-old hurdler Rhonda Brady in 1976. McLaughlin turns 17 on Aug. 7.
Elsewhere, Evan Jager affirmed his status as a potential medalist in the 3000m steeplechase, picking up the pace at mid-race and powering away to win in 8:22.48.
Drama played out behind him. Andy Bayer, his training partner, was in third place and closing on second. Bayer was clipped from behind by Stanley Kebenei, who fell at the final water jump. Bayer nearly came to a complete stop. Hillary Bor pulled ahead of Bayer, as Donn Cabral, who took the final Rio spot. Kebenei finished 13th.
“I got to a new level of fitness last year, but had a bad race in Beijing,” said Jager, who was sixth at last year’s IAAF World Championships. “I learned a little about myself from my racing style on the international scene. I had a full off-season and a full year of training to think about how I’m going to do things differently. I hope to execute in Rio and do things a bit differently and hopefully medal.”
Mason Finley had the four longest throws of the men’s discus and won with a distance of 63.42m. Rounding out the Olympic team were Tavis Bailey, 61.57m, and Andrew Evans, 61.22m. Sam Mattis, ranked seventh on the world list at 67.45, was seventh. Casey Malone, 39, competing in his fifth Olympic Trials, was 13th in qualifying. Malone won a gold medal at the IAAF World Junior Championships 20 years ago.
Featured event Thursday was the women’s shot put, won by Michelle Carter with a trials record of 19.59m on the competition’s last attempt. It is the third Olympic team for Carter, 30, world indoor champion and 2015 world bronze medalist. Raven Saunders edged Felisha Johnson for second, 19.24m-19.23m.
The United States has another steeplechase contender, Emma Coburn, on the women’s side. She won in 9:17.48, breaking the trials record by 10 seconds. Courtney Frerichs charged from fourth to second, clocking 9:20.92, and Colleen Quigley was third in 9:21.49.
Keturah Orji won the women’s triple jump with a distance of 14.32m, compared to her US record of 14.53.
Wednesday’s hammer throws were won by Amber Campbell, who set a trials record of 74.03m on her last attempt, and Rudy Winkler at 76.76m. It is also the third Olympics for Campbell, 35.
For entertainment and number-crunching, nothing at the trials has exceeded rounds of the men’s 200m.
Two 18-year-olds, Noah Lyles and Michael Norman, got it going in Thursday’s heats. Lyles won the first in 20.04, which would have been a national high school record if not for wind (+3.3). Norman was more impressive in the fourth heat, slowing more than 10 meters from the finish and clocking 20.06, also wind-aided (+2.8). After the two teens, fastest heat winner was LaShawn Merritt in 20.08 (+2.9).
Semifinals revealed that we might be analyzing the wrong 200m/400m double in Rio – not that of Allyson Felix, but of Merritt. He unloaded a world-leading time of 19.74.
Norman won the first semifinal in 20.21 and Lyles the second in 20.26. Two per semi, plus two times, advanced to the final.
Roy Jordan for the IAAF