Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Monday is a big night for U.S. women’s distance running at the 2021 Olympic Trials. The 1500-meter and 5,000-meter finals are on tap and the talent heading to the start line makes it difficult to predict who will earn a trip to the Tokyo Games this summer.
The weather in Eugene, Oregon, where the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials began on Friday will play a factor—the forecast calls for 90 degrees and sunny.
The top three finishers, assuming they have achieved the Olympic qualifying time either during the race on Monday or within the previous qualifying window (4:04.20 in the 1500 meters and 15:10 in the 5,000 meters), make Team USA. Should an athlete who does not have the Olympic standard finish in the top three, the next-fastest finisher with the qualifier gets the spot.
Let’s break both races down:
Women’s 1500-meter final
When: 5:05 p.m. Pacific/8:05 p.m. Eastern
How to watch: The final will be broadcast live on NBC
The absence of Shelby Houlihan, who is serving a four-year ban for testing positive in December for the steroid nandrolone, which she believes entered her system through eating tainted pork (she is appealing the decision), is big. She’s the American record-holder in the event (3:54.99). Now Elle Purrier St. Pierre takes the stage as the clear favorite to win. Her best is 3:58.36.
Purrier St. Pierre has glided through the first two rounds of the event, looking untaxed and, well, cool. The sunglasses she wears make it difficult to read any expressions, but her communication is clear through her performances.
During the semi-final round on Saturday, Purrier St. Pierre took charge from 300 meters on, trying to stay out of the traffic, which can lead to falls and mishaps. In fact, her New Balance Boston teammate Heather MacLean took a tumble and originally was eliminated in the round, but reinstated after she protested on the grounds of incidental contact.
“Honestly I just felt really good, so I felt confident that I could run a good time and I just wanted to get out of the way of the mess in the back,” Purrier St. Pierre said.
After Purrier St. Pierre, it is less clear. Jenny Simpson is the 2016 bronze medalist in the event and the 2011 world champion. Although she had a rough start through the early season, nobody knows how to negotiate the tactics of the 1500 meters better than Simpson. She’s the master and in a strategic championship race, with the Olympics on the line, it’d be foolish to count her out.
RELATED: Jenny Simpson Just Keeps Going
“I’m really glad there are three rounds, because I’m gaining confidence as we go through,” Simpson said after the semifinal round on Saturday, adding that COVID-19 and the safety protocols in place at the Trials add another layer of stress to the meet. “This year, you have to prepare for all your COVID testing, the logistics of travel, the management and logistics of your support. Getting in is different and so having to prepare for those protocols is almost like a whole other race in and of itself. It’s just different.”
After that? A host of women are capable of grabbing that third spot and seven contenders have the Olympic standard.
Shannon Osika, Nikki Hiltz, Cory McGee, and Sinclaire Johnson have all advanced through the rounds well. Hiltz said after their race on Saturday that they think it will take a sub-4-minute race to make the team (Hiltz’s best is 4:01.52).
“I’m in the best shape of my life, no doubt…I feel ready,” Hiltz said.
- Elle Purrier St. Pierre is on Another Level
- The More Authentically They Live, the Faster Nikki Hiltz Can Run
- How First-Year Nike Pro Sinclaire Johnson is Training to Compete in the Big Leagues
Women’s 5,000-meter final
When: 5:40 p.m. Pacific/8:40 p.m. Eastern
How to watch: the final will be broadcast live on NBC
Karissa Schweizer comes into the final the second-fastest American woman to ever race the 5,000 meters with a personal best of 14:26.34. The only U.S. woman to ever run faster is her Bowerman Track Club teammate, Houlihan, who is the American record holder (14:23.92).
In the semifinal round, Schweizer raced in heat two. She, Josette Norris, Elise Cranny, and Elly Hennes (the recent NCAA champion in the event from North Carolina State) all finished within less than a second of each other and all will be in contention for a top-three finish on Monday. In the first heat of the semifinal, it was Abbey Cooper who went on a solo mission to add herself to the list of now eight women who have the Olympic qualifying time. Rachel Schneider, who will also be in the mix for a chance at her first Olympics, finished second to Cooper.
“I felt strong and comfortable and I think that’s always the goal with the prelims,” Schweizer said after her race on Friday. “I think it just builds confidence that that pace feels good and going into the finals it’ll be another new game plan. I’m excited to execute it.”
Schweizer’s biggest challenge will likely come from her Bowerman Track Club teammate Elise Cranny, whose PR is 14:48.02 and is said to be in superior fitness (she is also racing the 10,000 meters on June 26). Schneider, Norris, Vanessa Fraser, and Allie Buchalski will all factor into the coveted podium positions.
“It’s going to be so competitive. Every woman in there probably has a shot at making this team,” Schneider said after her race on Friday. [Coach] “Mike [Smith] and I will talk strategy—probably a few different strategies—and make sure that we’re prepared for a whole bunch of different scenarios. I’m just going to focus on running the best possible race I can. Hopefully that ends up in a top three [finish].”