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

EUGENE, ORE. (30-Jun) — In the hour leading up to Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s stunning world record in the 400-meter hurdles (50.65), fans at the final session of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track & Field were treated to a series of sensational middle- and long-distance races. On a memorable night at Hayward Field, Bryce Hoppel and Nikki Hiltz climbed up the all-time lists in the 800 and 1500, respectively, and Grant Fisher won his second event of the meet. All three broke Trials records.

In the men’s 800, Hoppel prevailed in a furious battle to grab the lead position on the rail at the 200-meter mark. He led at 400 meters in 51.20, with sometime training partner Hobbs Kessler –who had already made the team in the 1500– swinging wide and surging into second place. Brandon Miller made a bid for the lead down the backstretch but Hoppel refused to yield. En route to his sixth straight U.S. title (three indoors and now three outdoors), Hoppel continued to build his lead, finishing in a sizzling 1:42.77. That’s a lifetime best and makes him the third fastest American of all time.

“In the moment I raced as hard as I could,” said Hoppel, who won the world indoor title in March and is eyeing the podium in Paris. “I’m excited to try that against some international competition. I was feeling amazing.  I’m ready to go.”

Behind him Kessler passed Miller with 50 meters to go for the runner-up spot. Kessler lowered his personal best to 1:43.64, while Miller clocked 1:43.97, just off the 1:43.73 he ran in Friday’s semifinals.

The next three finishers all ran the fastest times of their lives: Josh Hoey (1:44.12), Jonah Koech (1:44.32) and NCAA champion Shane Cohen (1:44.65). Clayton Murphy (1:44.90), the Olympic bronze medalist back in 2016 and the 2021 Trials champion, finished seventh.

Kessler is the first American man to qualify for the Olympics in the 800 and 1500 since Rick Wohlhuter won both races at the 1976 Trials. He is leaning towards doing the double in Paris, but says he will discuss it with his coach, Ron Warhurst, and team. There is no overlap on the Olympic schedule, but the 1500 final is the night before the heats of the 800.

“I think it can be done, but we’ll see,” Kessler said.  “I want the U.S. to have the best chance in the 8 and if it would mean that is someone else doing it fresh we’ll let that happen. But if we think I can really give a good effort, we’ll do that.  I was able to run 1:43 in my fifth and sixth races in less than 10 days so I think I have the ability to do it.”

In the women’s 1500, defending Trials champion Elle St. Pierre wasted no time pushing the pace. She tore through 400 meters in 61.19 and 800 in 2:05.55, stringing out the pack.

“I knew the field was really deep and I just wanted to make it honest,” said the Vermont native, who won the 5000 meters earlier in the meet. “That worked for me in ’21 and I knew I could run fast. I was honestly surprised how well my legs felt for running two 5-Ks and two other rounds of the 1500.”

Leading the challenge were Sinclaire Johnson, Dani Jones, Emily Mackay and Hiltz. St. Pierre continued to lead at 1200 (3:08.77), but with 150 meters to go, her training partner Mackay drew even, then gained a slight lead down the homestretch. Hiltz came off the final turn and used a decisive kick to pass them both and win the race in 3:55.33, smashing the meet record of 3:58.03 that St. Pierre set in 2021 and moving to No. 2 on the U.S. all-time list.

“I knew we were running fast, but I didn’t want to know [the splits],” said Hiltz, the American record holder in the mile (4:16.35) and the silver medalist at the world indoor championships this year. “My instructions before the race were, ‘Don’t try to make an Olympic team, try to win the race, and so that’s what I did.”

Hiltz, who identifies as transgender and non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, had been flooded with so much support from fans in person and on social media that she was feeling overwhelmed in Eugene. “I told myself I’m not gonna think about all the love and support until 100 meters to go, and at that moment you can let it all fill you up and push you to the finish line,” said the reigning USA 1500m champion. “And that’s exactly what I did, that’s literally what brought me home.”

Mackay (3:55.90) edged St. Pierre (3:55.99) for second place, and they are now the third and fourth fastest Americans. The first eight finishers all went sub-4:00 and set personal bests, including Johnson (3:56.75), Corey McGee (3:57.44), Elise Cranny (3:57.87), Heather MacLean (3:58.31) and Helen Schlachtenhaufen (3:59.71).

St. Pierre told reporters that she will not run the 5000 in Paris, which opens up a spot for Parker Valby, who was fourth in that race. Still, she had no regrets about doing the double at the Trials. “I’m really proud of myself. That took a lot of confidence and a lot of work,” St. Pierre said. “There were times when I wasn’t sure that I could pull it off, but I’m really proud and happy for myself that I did do it.”

The men’s 5000 took an unusual turn when Woody Kincaid, already on the team in the 10,000, made a breakaway after only two laps, building up a lead of five seconds at the 1600 mark, with defending U.S. champion Abdihamid Nur (Kincaid’s training partner) initially leading the chase pack. Fisher, who spent the time at his high-altitude training base in Park City, Utah, between the 10,000 and Thursday’s heats of the 5000, pushed to the lead at 3600 meters and moments later he and Nur had gained separation from the field. Nur sprinted to the front with 250 meters remaining, but Fisher found one more gear and had just enough to break the tape first in 13:08.85, an Olympic Trials record.

“I honestly didn’t think it would be a very fast race. My plan was to go with three and a half laps to go and have it be a strong enough move that it made people think about going or not,” said Fisher, who also made the team in both the 5000 and 10,000 in 2021. “There were a couple of variables that I didn’t quite expect, but that’s how racing is.”

Nur was just a step behind, in 13:09.01. “We were squeezing those last four laps and I just wanted to get to that finish line,” he said after making his first Olympic team.  “I wanted to win, but Grant had a great kick and we put on a great show.”

Part of that show was the battle that developed for third place between collegiate rivals Parker Wolfe of North Carolina and Graham Blanks of Harvard. Wolfe, who won the NCAA title on this track less than a month ago, steadily gained separation over the final lap, clocking 13:10.75, a personal best, to Blanks’s 13:12.61 (Wolfe closed in 55.39, the fastest of anyone in the field). Dylan Jacobs (13:17.26) and Sean McGorty (13:18.27) followed, with 1500 winner Cole Hocker (13:20.99) finishing seventh.

Fisher and Nur have met the Olympic qualifying time (13:05.00), but Wolfe has not. If his World Athletics ranking doesn’t move up high enough for a spot in the Paris field, then Blanks does have the mark.

PHOTO: Nikki Hiltz wins the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials 1500m in a championships record 3:55.33 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore. (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)