(c) 2024 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Published with permission.

EUGENE, ORE. (24-Jun) — On a frenetic night at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track & Field, Cole Hocker and Elle St. Pierre won their events to secure their second Olympic berths, while a chaotic women’s 800 saw a team of newbies book their spots for Paris.

The 800 was the final event of the evening at Hayward Field, a showcase for defending Olympic champion Athing Mu. But just as the pack reached the 200-meter mark, with Kristie Schoffield leading, Mu’s long legs tangled with Raevyn Rogers’s as she moved towards the rail and the New Jersey native fell to the track. By the time she got to her feet she was more than three seconds behind the leaders. Sage Hurta-Klecker had to sidestep the carnage, losing her balance, but staying upright.

“I just knew somebody went down, and I was just tunnel vision focused on finishing the race,” said reigning national champion Nia Akins who had fallen in the 2021 Olympic Trials.

Michaela Rose took control from Schoffield before 400 (57.68) and held the lead as they headed down the backstretch. Just before 600 meters Akins grabbed the lead and steadily pulled away. None of the other women could mount a challenge and the Penn grad won in a personal best of 1:57.36.

“I honestly wasn’t even thinking,” said Akins.  “I just felt it in my spirit to just go for it, and then went. I was like, I hope that works and we were able to pull it off.”

In the final 100 meters, Allie Wilson and NCAA champion Juliette Whittaker of Stanford battled for the runner-up spot, with Wilson prevailing, 1:58.32 to 1:58.45. Both women got under the Olympic qualifying standard (1:59.30) for the first time. Rose (1:59.32) finished fourth, while Hurta-Klecker (2:00.38) rallied for fifth.

Schoffield (2:01.04) finished sixth, ahead of Olympic bronze medalist Raevyn Rogers (2:01.12) and Kate Grace (2:02.37). Mu jogged the final 200 meters, crossing the line tearfully in 2:19.69.

In the men’s 1500 final, American-record holder Yared Nuguse used a front-running strategy he believed best suited his strength, pushing the tempo through 400 (56.64) and 800 (1:55.73). Behind him, Hobbs Kessler and Vincent Ciattei established –and protected– their positions.

Nuguse still led at 1200 (2:51.33), but moments later Hocker stormed down the backstretch and jumped to a lead he would not surrender. Hocker’s winning time of 3:30.59 smashed the meet record. Nuguse (3:30.86) and Kessler (3:31.53 PB) took the next two spots on the team.  Ciattei (3:31.78), Nathan Green (3:32.20), Henry Wynne (3:32.94), Joe Waskom (3:33.74) and Elliott Cook (3:33.84) followed, all setting PBs.

“I was kinda floating in the outside of lane one, I was comfortable there,” said Hocker, a former University of Oregon star who finished sixth in the Tokyo Olympics. “I was like, if this is the pace that we’re going, I’m happy being here.”

He defeated Nuguse for the first time since the 2021 Olympic Trials. “I like to win and I definitely want to be the fastest American at the very least,” said Hocker, who will contest the 5000 later in the week. “It just happens that one of the best guys in the world is American. But it feels good to win for sure.”

Nuguse had no regrets for his tactics, even if he couldn’t find the final gear needed to win. “I wanted to run a race that I felt like was my race, and I think just really going out and hammering it was the way to go,” said Nuguse, who qualified for the Tokyo Games but had to withdraw at the last minute due to a freak quadricep injury he suffered in Japan. “Today Cole got the better of me, but it just shows how good a team is going to be heading into Paris.”

Kessler, who competed at the 2021 Trials as a high school phenom, was grateful to fulfill the expectations that had followed him the past three years. “I just felt like ever since I signed pro, this is the race that we were all looking to, [that we] figured I would be developed enough and it was my time to start competing on the world stage,” he said. “It was a lot of pressure. I’m really proud of how I managed it. The race was hard, Vince was close, but I’m super happy, super relieved, couldn’t wait to get this over with.”

In the women’s 5000, NCAA standout Parker Valby set an honest early tempo through the 1000 (3:00.23) and 2000 (5:58.89), stringing out the field. By 3000 (8:57.57) the pack was down to six: Valby, Elle St. Pierre, Elise Cranny, Karissa Schweizer, Rachel Smith and Whittni Morgan.  They were on pace to all get below the Olympic Games qualifying standard of 14:52.00.

As the pace steadily picked up, Smith and Morgan drifted back and it was down to a four-woman race for three Olympic spots. Valby still led at 4000 (11:56.14), but less than 200 meters later, with two laps to go, St. Pierre surged to the front, pulling Cranny and Schweizer with her.

Cranny unsuccessfully tried to pass St. Pierre on the final backstretch, so she waited until the final 100 meters to try again. The pair ran side by side to the finish until St. Pierre (14:40.34) held on for the win by a mere two hundredths of a second.

“I was relying a bit on my 1500-meter speed,” said St. Pierre, who returned from a maternity break this season to resume her status as the top American miler. “I knew it was gonna be a sit-and-kick race, so I had confidence going into the last lap that I could be right there for the finish no matter how fast it went.”

In addition to her 1500/mile dominance, St. Pierre has flexed her distance muscles this year by winning the gold medal in the 3000 at the world indoor championships in March and lowering her 5000 personal best to 14:34.12 in May (making her the fifth fastest American of all time). Given that the 5000 and 1500 are spaced out at the Trials, a double is feasible.

“I had a bit of a change of heart, I didn’t originally want to (double),” she admitted. “I think it was a great opportunity. I made my first world team in the 5000 in Doha [in 2019] and to be able to do both here is pretty awesome. I didn’t want to give up the opportunity. I think it would have been hard to sit home and watch the 5000 go by. There are enough days to recover and I’m just happy to do both.”

Though Cranny’s string of three straight U.S. titles in the event came to an end, she was pleased to be on her second Olympic team. “It was incredible to race against her,” she said of St. Pierre. “We’ve been watching her run so fast earlier this year, and just the season she’s been having, getting the gold medal indoors I was excited to race her because she’s definitely elevating women’s distance running.”

Schweizer (14:45.12) held on to the third spot on the team, while Valby was rewarded for her hard work with a personal best (14:51.44). Significantly, she dipped under the Olympic qualifying time (14:52.00). Should any of the top three qualify in another event over the second weekend of the Trials, a spot in the 5000 could open up.

The women’s 3000-meter steeplechase prelims, also held on Monday, were without 10-time national champion Emma Coburn and Olympic silver medalist Courtney Frerichs, who suffered injuries earlier in the year. In their absence, all the key contenders in a well-matched field moved on to Thursday’s final.

Kaylee Mitchell won the first heat in 9:29.54, followed by 2021 Olympian Valerie Constien (9:29.61) and Courtney Wayment (9:29.66). Gabbi Jennings (9:23.88) took the second section, followed by Marisa Howard (9:26.38) and Olivia Markezich (9:26.67). Defending U.S. champion Krissy Gear finished sixth after fading mid-race, but grabbed one of the time qualifiers (9:30.92).

PHOTO: Cole Hocker winning the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials 1500m in a Trials record 3:30.59 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)