It may not have been the busiest day at the US Olympic Trials, but the evening session on Monday (4) was one of the most dramatic of the championships so far with two exciting 800m finals.
The women’s 800m final had more drama than the men’s.
After the heats and semifinals, the favourites appeared to be Molly Ludlow, six-time national champion Alysia Montano and 2013 world bronze medallist Brenda Martinez.
Montano, as she often does, led through the first lap in a swift 57.46. The field bunched as they entered the final 200m with Wilson and Martinez going past Montano. Martinez then lost her footing, which also disrupted Montano, sending her tumbling to the ground.
Martinez managed to stay on her feet but lost her rhythm and was out of the race. Ludlow, meanwhile, had to jump over Montano and struggled to make up lost ground.
Kate Grace, a 27-year-old Yale University graduate, escaped the mayhem in front of her and finished first in a PB of 1:59.10. Wilson held on to second place in a season’s best of 1:59.51. Chrishuna Williams, whose first 800m was two years ago, claimed the third spot on the Olympic team in a PB of 1:59.59, just 0.04 ahead of Molly Ludlow, who also finished fourth in 2012.
Protests were filed, but officials ruled incidental contact and allowed the results to stand.
“It’s surreal,” said Grace. “Our plan was to tuck in on the curve and look for an opening in the last 150 metres. I was aware that there was a collision, but I was focused on running as hard as I could to the tape. Run, take it and go.”
Montano was distraught with the outcome of the race.
“I stepped out there and so perfectly executed my race,” she said. “I knew that girls were going to go crazy and I just needed to stay on the outside of lane two and with 150m to go, turn on the jets. I rehearsed this a thousand times. You can’t predict what happens with someone else. I don’t know what happened to Brenda. She ended up tripping and I found myself jumping around her and someone kicked me out from behind. What can I do in that situation? I didn’t touch anyone.”
Clayton Murphy does not wear a hat when he runs, nor does he own an Olympic gold medal. But the 21-year-old is following in the spikeprints of another small-town Ohioan: Dave Wottle.
Murphy won the men’s 800m in a PB of 1:44.76, coming through in the final 10 metres to overtake world indoor champion Boris Berian, who was second in 1:44.92.
Murphy was eighth at 400m and fifth at 600m, but ran relatively even splits – 51.53/53.23 – as the hat-wearing Wottle so famously did in coming from behind to win the 800m at the 1972 Olympics.
The similarities don’t end there.
Murphy’s coach, Lee LaBadie, ran against Wottle in college. And both Murphy and Wottle consider themselves 1500m runners first.
“I aspired to be like Dave,” Murphy said. “Today was the first day I met him.”
Murphy has not a lost a final since an indoor race in January, including a victory over Berian in Des Moines in April. The outcome was nonetheless surprising.
Monday’s race was run without 2013 world silver medallist Nick Symmonds, who is out with an injury, Duane Solomon, fourth at the 2012 Olympics, who was eliminated in the heats, and 19-year-old Donavan Brazier, who won the NCAA title in a North American U20 record of 1:43.55 but also didn’t survive the first round.
“We learned today that rankings really don’t mean anything,” said Murphy, the Pan-American champion. “It’s all about showing up on the day and running well. I felt like I got progressively better through the rounds. The goal now is to make the final in Rio.”
On the USA’s Independence Day, Army reservist Sam Kendricks won the pole vault, setting a trials record of 5.91m. Cale Simmons of the US Air Force was second with 5.65m.
Kendricks’ best of 5.92m has been bettered outdoors this year only by the 5.95m by Renaud Lavillenie. The Frenchman won the world indoor title with a championship record of 6.02m as Kendricks took silver with 5.80m.
“Renaud has been jumping for a long time and he has a lot of years of championship experience,” said Kendricks. “Sometimes men go in seeing themselves as getting a silver medal when Renaud is on his best, but he is not on his best all the time.
“I’ve won several Diamond League events and other competitions against Renaud when he was not on his best, obviously. But so long as we arrive ready to jump, anything can happen.”
Elsewhere, Cyrus Hostetler moved from fourth to first with his penultimate throw in the javelin final, booking his spot on the Olympic team with his winning throw of 83.24m. Sam Crouser and Sean Furey finished fourth and 11th respectively, but as the only other US throwers with the qualifying standard, they will be on the Olympic team.
Roy Jordan for the IAAF