USA Olympic Track & Field Trials Review: July 3-4, TRACK IS EXCITING!

After taking a day off to write a strange piece of parody/baseball analysis, I’m back with more commentary on the USA Track & Field qualifiers.

Women’s 800m

And people say track is boring. This race was unbelievable. Go watch the full race now if you haven’t. It’s the best two minutes of sports you’ll watch this week. Controversy! Drama! Action! Alysia Montano and Brenda Martinez collided on the last turn. Seriously, that actually happened! Two of the best American 800m runners (and two presumptive favorites to make the team) collided at Olympic Trials! And then everybody had to avoid them! And then Montano got up anyway and finished the race a minute later despite clearly having an injury.

Meanwhile, Kate Grace won the race by less than half a second over Ajee Wilson. Grace was in fifth when the collision happened with 150m to go. Absolute madness. To contextualize this, because I barely even knew who she was before this race, this was like when the 7-9 Seahawks defeated the Saints in the first round of the playoffs. You know, the Marshawn Lynch Beast Mode game. Kate Grace winning the 800m is essentially like that team knocking off the Super Bowl champions. In this analogy, Martinez hitting Montano was equivalent to making the playoffs as a 7-9 team.

By the way, this was a PR for Grace in the most important race of her career to date, which is unbelievably clutch. She basically went “Beast Mode” in the last 100 meters. Wilson and Chrishuna Williams will join Grace in Rio. I have never heard of Chrishuna Williams but apparently she was only running in the 2:09s two years ago. Haha, what? Um, she ran at Arkansas, according to that Flotrack article.

Now, to be completely honest, I don’t think a race in which two of the top American runners in this event fell is a true indicator of talent. A shocking thought, I know. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is, and Martinez will have to try again in the 1500m. Don’t get me wrong, this sucks. It was a racing incident that rarely happens, but this is the reality when deciding an Olympic team based on one race. It looked like Martinez hit Montano’s leg while Montano was passing and then lost her balance. Montano was trying to make the classic outside pass on the final turn of the 800m but she didn’t want to swing out wide until the final stretch. I think Montano panicked a bit, as she went out in a crazy 57.45 (a stupidly hard first 400m for an 800) and tried to recover the ground she lost once she inevitably started to fade. I can’t embed the video because this dumbed-down WordPress software doesn’t allow iframes, but the slow-mo link is here.

For track neophytes, the proper etiquette for passing during a tight 800m race is as follows:

giphy (2).gif
Remember when Montee Ball was good?
Well, that’s not really proper track etiquette, but that was how I passed people and how my, er, shall we say over-exuberant co-captain taught my team how to pass. You’re supposed to go outside and give plenty of room. However, at this point, during the second lap of 800m, everyone is basically in hell. I have described it as “the worst experience of my life” and “the last place I want to be on planet Earth”. If you’re trying to pass someone, you should go outside, but can you really blame Martinez and Montano for staying as tight as possible and taking the optimal racing line during Olympic Trials? No, your mental capacity is reaching the breaking point and accidents happen. Heck, I’ve been pushed out to lane three during the slowest heat of a 800m at a weekday league meet for no apparent reason.

Men’s 800m

This event was less interesting than the women’s race, but still very exciting. Clayton Murphy surprised many by edging out Boris Berian by a mere .16 seconds. They will both make the team, but that was intense. Clayton followed Kate Grace’s example and set a PR in Olympic Trials to make the team, which must be a good feeling. Murphy is just 21 years old and graduated from Akron this year. Now he’s headed for the Olympics. Veteran Charles Jock finished third and looked pretty solid. The only person who should be upset at himself after this race is Eric Sowinski, who probably could’ve finished third on paper.

Women’s 100m

THIS WAS ALSO INSANE!

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Three women under 10.8 on a wind-legal day! Are you freakin’ joking? That’s literally never happened in the history of track & field! Gardner’s time was good enough to win the World Championships in Beijing in 2015! Her name is English, but thank God she’s American because that’s a heckuva time! Actually, apparently it’s the 7th-fastest in history! So, apparently English Gardner has made the leap. Just like that.

That’s why track is the best. It only takes one race to make “the leap” to potential superstardom. Shame that Prandini couldn’t make it, but she’ll probably be on the 4×100 team with Gardner and Bowie so at least she’ll make the team.

Men’s 100m

Justin Gatlin won the race with a 9.80, which was nice, but I’m more concerned with the two new faces that made the team—Trayvon Bromell and Marvin Bracy. I hadn’t even really heard of Bracy until this weekend, after which I learned he was a junior 100m champion and ran a 10.05 before he entered college. That was before I started following track, so I’m going to excuse myself. He also played for FSU as a wide receiver for a year, which is cool. I don’t think Bracy really has any shot at making it past the semifinals in Rio, but the 100m is about as predictable as the Bundesliga (as in, you’re pretty sure Bolt [Bayern Munich] are going to win and someone else from Jamaica [Borussia Dortmund] will finish second, but everybody else is a complete crapshoot). Of course, with Bolt’s supposedly minor hamstring injury leaving him less than 100 percent, I can’t even be sure of that either (Pep leaving Bayern for Man City).

Bromell, on the other hand, is a legitimate medal contender, despite being just 20 years old. He won the 60m at World Indoors (defeating Bracy and Asafa Powell) and he finished with a bronze at the World Championships at Beijing in 2015. He was behind Bolt and Gatlin at Beijing, but that still means he has a decent shot at bringing home some hardware for the United States. Bracy and Bromell are really heralding a new generation of sprinting talent for the 100m into Team USA, even as Gatlin and Tyson Gay remain remarkably effective into their late 30s.

I don’t know, maybe Justin Gatlin and David Ortiz hang out a lot, because they are both experiencing insane late-career renaissances. As many Twitter accounts have noted, Gatlin is the oldest men’s 100m runner to make an Olympic team. Tyson Gay finished fifth and will not be going to Rio, and we shall see if he wants to compete again in another four years. For now, I would say his Olympic career is probably over. Until he magically comes back in four years, because Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin are actually vampires and just can’t go away.

Because track & field is, at best, the 12th-most important American sport, nobody is going to really care about the legacies of Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay once they retire, as they will forever be overshadowed by the overpowering magnitude of Usain Bolt (a man so great he requires two unnecessary superlatives). However, I really don’t know what their legacies are going to be. Are they going to be considered mid-tier greats of the sport, which you could reasonably argue considering their times, or will they fade because of the drug allegations and repeated losses in the A-list events? I would go with the latter, and quite frankly I can’t wait for Bromell, Bracy and others to breathe some fresh life into this event for the USA.

Men’s and Women’s 400m

These two events went about as expected, with Allyson Felix the GOAT overcoming her injury to win and LaShawn Merritt throwing down a dominant 43.97 to win by a good margin. Hopefully Merritt can get some redemption and possibly take gold at Rio.

Steeplechase First Round

No surprises here. Emma Coburn and Evan Jager are still overwhelming favorites to win. but I did want to give a shout-out to Brianna Nerud of the University of Oregon, who was a counselor at Northeast Kingdom Running Camp for the last two years and finished fifth in heat two of the steeple. That was really, really cool. Apologies for laughing at you during Weekday Update.

Men’s 5000m First Round

Bernard Lagat won a heat! The guy’s an absolute legend. Who is having a better year, Lagat, Bartolo Colon or Ichiro Suzuki?  The main surprise was that Leonard Korir, who qualified for the 10k earlier, didn’t even make the second round. Chris Derrick, who has run a 13:08 and I mistakenly said was obscure in an earlier edition of this column (guys, I can’t keep track of all the US runners, sorry), was well off the pace and looks injured.

The men’s final is Saturday. Get hyped. The first round of the women’s race isn’t until Thursday.

Ashton Eaton won the decathlon – that’s all you need to know.

Personal Statistics Section

I’m happy to say I would’ve won the Women’s Masters 1500m by 6 seconds! Go me! I would have been 22 seconds slower than the last place finisher in the Men’s Masters 1500m. I would have placed 31st of 35 competitors in the Women’s 3000m Steeplechase. My best converted 3k time would still be worse than the slowest runner in the Men’s 3000m Steeplechase. Remember, these guys have to jump over barriers and a water pit for 7 laps, and they can still crush my best 3K time without any obstacles.

In short, making it to Olympic Trials is an insane accomplishment.

Predictions:

None, there’s a day off tomorrow and just field events on Wednesday. If you really want me to predict something…uh… Emma Coburn will win the 3k steeple on Thursday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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