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The women’s 10,000 meters at the 2021 U.S. Track & Field Olympic Trials has already seen its fair share of drama.
First, the qualifying standard: was it too soft? Or are women (and their super shoes) just that talented? A mixture of both? Who’s to say, but 50 people ran 32:25 or faster to gain entry into the race—of those, 44 will compete.
Then there was the question of how to safely and fairly accommodate all those women on the track in Eugene, Oregon. At first, U.S.A. Track & Field said it would divide the entrants into two heats. No details emerged about who would race in which heat, only that the fastest three times (if those athletes had also achieved the Olympic standard of 31:25) would make Team USA, no matter which race those athletes ran.
But then the weather forecast, with temperatures climbing into triple digits, forced officials to move the race to 10 a.m. Pacific on Saturday, instead of the later start time. Suddenly the plan for two heats was scratched and all 45 women will race at the same time.
Enter Weini Kelati, who gained her U.S. citizenship just this week and was accepted into the competition on Thursday. She’s no small factor, either. Kelati is from Eritrea, but when she came to Eugene in 2014, at age 17, to compete at the world junior championships, she didn’t return home. She stayed in the U.S., attended the University of New Mexico, and won the NCAA 10,000-meter and cross-country championships. In December, she ran 31:10.08 at the Track Meet. Her transfer of allegiance has been approved by World Athletics, so should she make the podium, she’s eligible to represent the U.S. in Tokyo.
A variety of factors will play a part in sorting out who will make the Olympics in the 10,000 meters. Who can handle the heat the best? At start time, the forecast calls for 82 degrees and 60 percent humidity. Cooler than it would have been had the race gone on at its originally scheduled time, but still not ideal.
And do the women who already made the U.S. Olympic team in the 5,000 meters—Elise Cranny, Karissa Schweizer, and Rachel Schneider—plan to take another spot for the 10,000 meters, should they place in the top three on Saturday? A double in Tokyo is possible, if they so choose. If not, USATF will go down the list of fastest finishers who also have also run the Olympic standard.
In other words, it may not be super clear who makes the team at the finish line. In fact, with so many women on the track, it might look like a bit of chaos if the slower runners are lapped by the faster ones.
The race will be broadcast live on the Olympic Channel, but for those who don’t have access, live updates will also be available on our Twitter account.
A few contenders to watch for:
Cranny, who won the 5,000 meters this week, comes in with the fastest qualifying time of 30:47.42, with her Bowerman Track Club teammate Schweizer, who was second this week in the 5,000 meters, right behind in 30:47.99. The two will likely work together and the field may well cue off their strategy.
Emily Sisson (30:49.57) is coming back from a disappointing go at the marathon Trials, where she dropped out late in the race. She’s made the world championships twice in the event.
Emily Infeld was on the 2016 Olympic team in the 10,000 meters. She’s the 2015 world championships bronze medalist and although her racing leading up to Saturday hasn’t been her best, she always seems to show up when it counts. She’s been in this spot before and we wouldn’t count her out.
Rachel Schneider was third this week in the 5,000 meters and in her 10,000-meter debut she ran 31:09.79. If it’s a sit-and-kick affair, nobody should deny Schneider’s ability to kick.
Natosha Rogers is back again. She has a Trials history with the 10,000 meters. In 2012 she placed second, but she didn’t have the Olympic standard, so she didn’t make the team. She has quit the sport, then come back a couple of times. Now she’s with the Hansons-Brooks team and says she is will to go to “dark places” to finish in the top three.
Alicia Monson has big potential, running 31:10.84 in December. She’s a member of the On Athletics Club, coached by Dathan Ritzenhein, and her teammate Joe Klecker placed third in the men’s 10,000 meters to make his first Olympic team. The group’s spirit was buoyed by his performance.
And Sara Hall is a wildcard. After a bad experience at the marathon Trials, where she didn’t finish, she went on a redemption tour, becoming the second-fastest American woman ever at 26.2-miles, 2:20:32. The open road is her first love, but, at age 38, she still holds out hope of becoming an Olympian. Giving it a go on the track in 10,000 meters is her last chance, at least until 2024, if she chooses to continue competing until then. She’s run 31:21.90 for 10,000 meters and just won the New York Mini 10K in Central Park in 31:33.
Of the more than 40 women who are planning to race on Saturday, a dozen of them come in with the Olympic standard. It will be a race between these women—those who were waiting to get that mark will be disappointed. It’s unlikely that the heat will produce a fast race.
Editor’s Note: This story is part of our 2021 U.S.A. Track & Field Olympic Trials coverage. You can find all of our stories here.