Monday, June 24, 2024

Day 3 - US Olympic Track and Field Trials

by Mark Cullen

It’s hard to reproduce the sound of a hammer hitting the net. It’s not at all like a tennis ball hitting its own kind of net, but it has the same disheartening effect.

2022 World Champion Brooke Anderson’s exit from the meet was simply astonishing. Three throws in a row – three fouls into the netting - and her Olympic dreams were gone.

“It seems to be contagious,” said one observer, as throw after throw rattled the cage. Indeed, 21 out of 60 throws in the competition were foul.

Emerging from the fray were Annette Echikonwoke with a winning 74.68/245-0, while DeAnna Price qualified for her 3rd Olympic team in 74.52/244-6. Erin Reese finished 3rd though she has not met the 74.00m qualifying standard, while Rachel Tanczos in 4th does have the standard. World Athletics will issue final Olympic qualifiers on July 7.

“I won on the first throw,” said Echikonwoke. “I didn’t expect 74 (meters) to win the whole thing because the field is so deep with some people throwing 78 and 77 meters… I think it’s my time.”

Janee Kassanavoid had a sub-par performance as the World silver and bronze medalist was 6th in a modest for her 69.46/227-11.

Anderson’s early exit had an effect on the other throwers.

 “Obviously, Brooke just raises the level of competition,” Erin Reese said, and that when someone fouls out, “it definitely affects the competition and so it affects all of us. We want to see the sport grow and so it is hard to watch that, but at the same time, it is independent of you and you have to focus on yourself and do what you can do to get to the next level.”

Price said, “Brooke is a sweetheart. It was hard to see that happen and not be emotionally tied to it. She is a phenomenal athlete and it was really hard to see.”

Thirteen one-hundredths of a second separated the top three women in the first heat of the women’s 800m qualifying. Athing Mu took the lead with mere steps to go, with the resurgent Kate Grace next in 1:58.79. Michaela Rose in 3rd won a spot in the final with a time qualifier in 1:59:00. Oregon graduate and World and Olympic medalist Raevyn Rogers advanced while winning her heat in a season’s best 2:01.08.

Meanwhile, in the men’s 400m semifinal, 16 year old prep phenom Quincy Wilson set another PB, which now stands at 44.59. He has been adopted by the Eugene crowd and will undoubtedly have a raucous welcome for the final on Monday night. Right now, it's hard not to see him on the US 4x400m relay team. 

There was impressive depth in the women’s 400m as all three Olympic qualifiers broke 50 seconds - and set personal bests while they were at it. Kendall Ellis led the hit parade to Paris in 49.46, with Aliyah Butler and Alexis Holmes 2nd and 3rd in 49.71 and 49.78, respectively. Kaylyn Brown was 4th in 50.07.

Can you say 4x400m relay?

In the remaining three finals, Sam Kendricks won the pole vault in a meet record 5.92/19’ 5”. The day before he created quite a stir in the mixed zone by saying that even if he made the team, he would consider not going to Paris over hard feelings left from when he was denied his 2021 Olympics - due to an ill-timed case of Covid and strict restrictions on entry to Japan.

After his win, he changed his mind.

Kenneth Rook won the steeplechase, and in 4th was none other than multiple-time US Champion and Olympic bronze medalist Evan Jager. In the men’s javelin, now four-time US champ Curtis Thompson made his second Olympic team.

Noah Lyles won the men’s 100m as expected – or should I say as he expected – and tied his PR of 9.80. Kenny Bednarek set his PB of 9.87, while Fred Kerley set his seasonal best of 9.88. So, three of the four favorites showed up and performed as expected. The trouble is, there were four showing up for three places, and Christian Coleman was a surprise 4th; he’ll be on the Paris relay squad.

Some thoughts about the 100m.

1. The crowd cheers for the event when it is announced. Many athletes would be delighted to get the same decibel level as this iconic event.

2. The press comes from the media tent behind the stadium to watch the 100m up on press row at the top of the stadium, an honor of a kind not offered to most other events – except, of course, the women’s 100m, which seemed to have drawn an even bigger crowd of reporters this year.

3. Tonight I finally put my finger on what’s been bugging me about Noah Lyles in the 100. Let me get into a lot of hot water when I say that for my liking, the term ‘heavy favorite’ needs a faster time to back it up.

9.80 is not it.

9.80 doesn’t put Lyles into the top 10 all-time, and even he acknowledged tonight that he needs to stop celebrating early. Doing so tonight likely cost him a substantial PR – my guess is by at least 3 one-hundredths of a second. That would put him 9th on the all-time performers list, and would strengthen his case as Olympic favorite considerably in my book.

Meanwhile, until he’s under 9.80, he’s a shaky and vulnerable choice for gold who has credible competition for the role as Olympic favorite. There are several international sprinters who might wear that mantle at least as dependably as Lyles. Nonetheless, kudos to him on his win tonight.

I will give him props for a less visible talent in his repertoire. This evening, as the celebrations continued after the race, he was given a packed t-shirt to give to someone in the crowd. He pointed to a woman on the second level and threw the t-shirt directly to her – and she caught it.

An impressive strike which, in the majors, would have resulted in the runner being called out at home.

Now that’s a gold medal performance.

Joie de Vivre!

Off to Paris they go!

DeAnna Price and husband and coach JC Lambert after Price qualified for her third US Olympic hammer throw team.

photo: Mark Cullen

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