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Hurdle shockers, men's 1500m strategy, Grunewald's spikes and Jager's tiger

Hurdle shockers, men’s 1500m strategy, Grunewald’s spikes and Jager’s tiger

| On 08, Jul 2016

The hardest team to make has now been reclassified as an impossible team to make — at least for the world’s leading women’s 100m hurdler. American record-holder Keni Harrison won’t represent the United States in Rio after she finished sixth in the final Friday.

She was undefeated this year, owned the top four marks in the world and was considered an incredibly safe bet to finish in the top three despite the unpredictability of the women’s high hurdles. Thursday, in the first round, she ran a silky 12.57 and nothing looked amiss. Friday, she couldn’t match that mark and looked mortal in the semifinal when she finished behind Queen Harrison. In the final, she didn’t look anything like the runner we’ve seen all year. She had the slowest reaction time in the field and was never in the race. Brianna Rollins, Kristi Castlin and Nia Ali took the top three spots.

Harrison wasn’t the only favorite left off the team Friday night. 2015 World Championships silver medalist Shamier Little was eliminated in the semifinals of the women’s 400m hurdles. Little was far from her best, but she also had the bad luck of being in a much faster heat. The top four women from each heat advanced to the final regardless of time. Little finished fifth in the second heat in a time that would have placed second in the first heat.

The rest of the highlights from the seventh day of competition in Eugene…


Brianna Rollins
While Keni Harrison was reeling off 12.2s and 12.3s earlier in the season, Rollins topped out at 12.5. The gap seemed too large to bridge and, to be fair, Friday’s result had as much to do with Harrison running far off her best, but Rollins ran her best race of the year at the exact right moment. Her 12.34 on Friday was her fastest time since 2013 and well ahead of Kristi Castlin’s 12.50 in second place.

Gabriele Grunewald
Grunewald ran three races totaling 8000m meters in the span of 24 hours — and not by choice. Entering the meet, Grunewald was entered in both the 5000m and 1500m with plans to scratch the 1500m after advancing out of the first round of the 5000m. But when she failed to qualify for the 5000m final Thursday afternoon, that plan had to be scrapped. Grunewald still considered scratching from the 1500m and ending her Olympic Trials but instead decided to check in for the 1500m, which took place the same afternoon.

She advanced out of the first round and finished sixth in the semifinal Friday to qualify for Sunday’s final. How much of an afterthought was the 1500m? Grunewald didn’t even bring 1500m spikes with her to Eugene, instead racing in the same shoes she wore for the 5000m. That is expected to change before she takes the line for Sunday’s 1500m final. Her shoe sponsor, Brooks, is sending out the appropriate footwear.

“I don’t know how they’re getting here, but they are getting here,” Grunewald said.

Rain gear
The weather alternated between dumping rain, sprinkling rain, indecisive rain and no rain, with the latter only occurring in the last 40 minutes of the meet. Kristi Castlin was particularly prepared for the conditions.

Sydney McLaughlin
McLaughlin is about to become a thing. The 16-year-old ran the second fastest time of the day in the 400m hurdles and looked effortless the entire lap. She was equally unfazed in the post-race interviews.

She joked about her hair getting wet for the second day in a row and said her goal is just to run a personal best in the final — and that she isn’t concerned with making the team. I think those goals coincide. If McLaughlin runs faster than her current PR (54.46), three people aren’t beating her in Sunday’s final. Shamier Little’s exit all but guarantees this.

Even more high schoolers!!!

Noah Lyles and Michael Norman were awfully impressive in their 200m semifinals. If you are giving two of the spots on the Olympic team to Lashawn Merritt (who seemed to accidentally run a world lead in the semi) and Justin Gatlin, then that leaves Lyles, Norman, Tyson Gay and Ameer Webb fighting for third. If inexperience is going to show with the high-schoolers, it will probably materialize in the final when the busy schedule may finally catch up to them.

Men’s 1500m strategy for the final
All of the favorites advanced in today’s men’s 1500m semifinal, meaning there will be five men in the final who have the Olympic qualifying standard and seven who do not. It is unlikely that the men’s final race will go faster than the 3:36.20 required to meet the standard (and if it does, there is a good chance it will be won by someone who has already achieved the standard). Nonetheless, the possible ways the 1500m final will play out are fascinating.

Jordan McNamara doesn’t have the standard and he sees no point in running a race that goes any slower than 3:36. As a result, he’s soliciting help in post-race interviews. After the prelim, he specifically requested fellow non-standard holder Izaic Yorks to DM him so they can devise a race plan to ensure that the final is fast.

Andrew Wheating is taking a different approach. He is putting the standard out of his mind and concentrating solely on trying to win the race, fully aware that a top-three finish without running under 3:36.20 means he won’t be on the Olympic team. Perhaps Wheating knows the futility of trying to win a high-level 1500m race while simultaneously concentrating on time. Those two things are usually mutually exclusive in elite competition unless you are Asbel Kiprop and you are running in Monaco.

Evan Jager
As expected, Jager cruised to a win in the men’s steeplechase. He also won a big-ass stuffed tiger.



Talkative Allyson Felix
Allyson Felix was introspective in the lead-up to the Trials. As Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden discussed on the House of Run podcast last night, Felix was more forthcoming about her injuries and her goals than has been the norm for her throughout the career.

Friday, she was more reserved, offering a typical “I felt pretty good” when asked about how her ankle was feeling in her first-round, 200-meter heat. Maybe she’ll offer more after the 200m final this weekend.

Dawn Harper Nelson
Before Little and Harrison, Harper Nelson was the surprise of the day — not that she didn’t make the team but that she didn’t advance to the final. After the race, Harper Nelson was as shocked as I was. “I won’t get the amazing blue uniform; like, are you serious?” Harper Nelson said. “This is unreal.”

-Stanley Kebenei
Kebenei was a half-step out of third when he fell over the last water jump in the men’s steeplechase. He ended up placing 13th. “I don’t know what to say. I just missed a lifetime chance.”


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