The closer the 2021 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials get, the more fascinating the tune-up races become and the Sound Running meet, part of the American Track League circuit, provided ample entertainment on Friday and Saturday, in Irvine, California.
The Trials are on tap June 18–27 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. In order to compete there for a spot on the 2021 Olympic team, athletes need to achieve qualifying times. Those who place in the top three at the Trials and have run the Olympic qualifying time, either during the Trials or in the qualifying window beforehand, will go on to the Games.
As many top runners emerge from the pandemic with few race results to show in 2020, the opportunities to compete before the Trials are important to measure fitness, shake off the racing cobwebs, or get those various qualifying times. It makes for some fun clashes to watch on the track.
So, let’s just jump right into what happened this weekend, shall we?
Olympic standards, Trials qualifiers, and PRs, oh my!
On Friday night the women racing the 10,000 meters set the general theme for the rest of the meet: Fast Times at [Undisclosed due to covid-19, but spotted on signage during the broadcast] High. Sara Hall, 38, surpassed the Olympic qualifying standard (31:25) by finishing third in 31:21.90, a best by 73 seconds. Ednah Kurgat, 29, was second in a 52 second PR of 31:21.65. Andrea Seccafien, 30, of Canada won in her fastest time, too—31:13.94, which is also a national record.
In all, 12 more runners got the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying time (32:25), bringing the total field in June to potentially 50 women, should the majority of them choose to compete. At the 2016 Trials, 25 qualifiers declared entry, 24 of them made it the start line, and 22 finished. Managing a potentially huge race at Hayward is an exciting sign for the depth of talent, while also a new variable that the athletes might have to take into account on race day (6:44 p.m. Pacific on June 26—don’t miss it).
More on the women’s 5,000 meters below, but eight women went home with Olympic Trials qualifiers (15:20) in heat two of the event and nine were under the Olympic standard (15:10) in heat one. Women’s distance running (with the help of some great shoe technology, of course), continues to thrive and thrill.
Elle Purrier: The future’s so bright (sorry, I had to).
Purrier, 26, is putting down quite a post-pandemic season so far—the momentum seems favorable for the New Balance Boston athlete, coached by Mark Coogan. She stepped down in distance on Saturday to the 800 meters and hit another milestone by breaking two minutes, finishing in 1:59.99, placing fifth behind Laura Muir, Allie Wilson, Adelle Tracey, and Hanna Green (first-fourth, respectively). At the Golden Games just six days before, Purrier hit sub-four minutes in the 1500 meters, in 3:58.34. She went sub-15 minutes in the 5,000 meters when she clocked 14:58.17 in at the 2019 world championships in Doha.
Sifan Hassan, after a 5,000-meter Saturday night solo act, seems done (for now) with the 1500 meters.
We thought we heard a little sigh of relief coming from 1500-meter competitors around the world during Hassan’s post-race interview, when she indicated that she’s most likely going to focus on the 5,000 and 10,000 meters heading into the Tokyo Games. On Saturday, Hassan, who opted for a plain white Nike tank and black shorts instead of the standard Nike racing kit, shot well ahead of the rest of the field at the beginning of the race and went on to dominate, finishing in 14:35.34.
Hassan, 28, who represents the Netherlands, won the 1500 meters and the 10,000 meters gold medals in an unprecedented double at the 2019 world championships. A former member of the defunct Nike Oregon Track Club, she’s now coached by Tim Rowberry.
After the race, Hassan said that she used the opportunity to test her fitness and continue to get reacquainted with the racing after such a long pandemic layoff. She’ll try her hand at the 800 meters next, she added, which she hasn’t raced in three years. And why not? Her current best is 1:56.81.
Have you met Josette Norris yet?
Norris, a 25-year-old Georgetown University alumna who trains with Reebok Team Boston (a training group that is somewhat confusingly based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and coached by Chris Fox, former coach at Syracuse). She started the 5,000-meter race with a 15:19.31 personal best and left the track with a 14:51.42 PR, so it seems attention is due. In April, Norris won the 1500 meters at Drake Relays, too, in 4:06.17.
While Hassan was racing against the clock up ahead, Norris, Rachel Schneider, and Emily Sisson raced each other and all came away with their fastest times. Schneider, 29, a member of the Under Armour Dark Sky Distance team in Flagstaff, Arizona, placed third in 14:52.04—and she has her pick of events at the Trials with Olympic standards in the 1500 (4:02.26), the 5,000 meters, and the 10,000 meters (31:09.79). Sisson, 29, was fourth on Saturday, in 14:53.84, and heads to the Trials with a current 10,000-meter best of 30:49.57.
Related: A Year of Strength for Emily Sisson
The men’s 1500-meter start. WTF?
I know. This has nothing to do with women’s running. But really, what happened here? Track can get physical, for sure—vying for a limited amount of optimal space in a short amount of time sometimes brings the elbows out and draws some lower-leg blood. This seems a touch beyond. I’m not a “Track Mom,” but if I was I’d remind these fellas that getting injured while jostling for position at a tune-up race seems like questionable decision making in an Olympic year.
Also, were the officials taking a nap? A coffee break? Was it lunchtime? We may never know.
A toast to the PPV model and Leah Falland’s commentary debut.
For less than a fancy coffee drink ($5.99), fans could watch more than just the 90-minute ESPN broadcast on Saturday. The “Under the Lights” livestream from Sound Running was a welcomed option for the spectators who wanted to see the longer distance events and feel like they were watching it with fellow running nerds. Leah Falland, who just got her 3,000-meter steeplechase Olympic standard at the Golden Games last week (9:28.72), was on the mic calling the races with Jeff Merrill, in her first try at commentating (a job that seems terrifying to me, so kudos to anybody brave enough to give it a go).
Cheers to the people who are trying new ways to bring more coverage of the sport to its faithful fans. Along with Sound Running, the American Track League, the Trials of Miles races, the various pandemic road races like the Marathon Project, and more, have been welcomed and needed additions to elite domestic competition. Experimenting, taking a few risks, and seeing what works is refreshing. And it’s also a lot of thankless (and, I’m guessing, unprofitable) work, so to those putting in the grueling behind-the-scenes hours, a sincere thank you for your efforts.