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2016 Olympic Team Trials–Track & Field Preview: The Distance Events


by Sarah Barker

For runners at the competitive end of the spectrum, the Olympic Team Trials–Track & Field, held July 1–July 10 in Eugene, OR, represent the culmination of a four-year journey. This system of selecting the U.S. Olympic team from a single meet—and in the case of the 10,000 meters, a single race—certainly ramps up the pressure to perform on a given day.

To compete at the Trials, where the Olympic team berths are decided, athletes must meet the Trials’ qualifying standard for their events some time between May 1, 2015 and June 26, 2016. To actually make the U.S. Olympic team, an athlete must then finish as one of the top three placers in his/her event and have met the Olympic time standard, which is often slightly faster than the U.S. Trials standard. As past Olympians have admitted, the five-ring competition seems almost low-key compared to the pressure cooker that is the U.S. Trials.

As of this writing, declarations have been made, so let’s look at likely fields in the men’s and women’s 5000 and 10,000 meters.

Those with an * after their name train with a group that received an RRCA Elite Support Grant or an RRCA Roads Scholar grant.

Women’s 5000 meters

The U.S. Trials qualifying standard is 15:25, with a field size of 24 decided in two heats. The Olympic standard is 15:24.

Credit: PhotoRun.netThe two top qualifiers, Molly Huddle (RRCA Road Runner of the Year) and Emily Infeld, have declared unless they opt for only the 10,000m, for which both have also qualified and declared, or they may pursue the very tough five-and-dime double. (At the Trials, the 10,000m is first, then the rounds of the 5000m). Plenty of women will do the double, but for those seriously gunning for a top-three finish in either distance, it’s a lot to bite off.

Abbey D’Agostino posted the third-fastest qualifying time (an amazing 15:03), but that was in 2015. She raced the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix where she got second in the 3k. Other strong contenders who have qualifiers and are racing well right now are Nicole Tully, Shelby Houlihan (blazing 800 and 1500-sharpened kick), Marielle Hall, Kim Conley, and Northern Arizona’s Kellyn Taylor.* Both Taylor and teammate Rochelle Kanuho* will run the 10,000 before tackling the 5000. Dark horse? Lauren Paquette, who lives and trains in Memphis and laid down a 15:14 in May. 2014 RRCA Roads Scholar grantee Natosha Rogers has been accepted and declared to run ​in her second Olympic Trials coming in with a 15:28.56.

Men’s 5000 meters

The Trials qualifying standard is 13:28, with a field size of 24 decided in two heats. The Olympic standard is 13:25.

Credit PhotoRun.netQuietly putting in the work at Oregon Track Club, behold Hassan Mead, who recently posted a U.S.-leading 13:04.17. He looks very Olympic right now! He should be racing the standard bearers of the 5000, Ryan Hill and Ben True, who recently ran an optimistic 13:12, but has not yet declared. Good chances to go to Rio include Garrett Heath, Eric Jenkins, Sean McGorty, Sam Chelanga, and Jeff See along with U.S. citizens by way of the military, Shadrack Kipchirchir (13:18) and Leonard Korir (13:27). In the mix is Abbabiya Simbassa* of Team USA Minnesota. At the other end of the age spectrum, is it foolish to count Bernard Lagat, age 41, out? He’s got a qualifier who has declared.

Galen Rupp has qualified in the 5000 and10,000 and has already earned a spot in the marathon; he’s unlikely to run the 5000 and has not yet declared.

Women’s 10,000 meters

The Trials qualifier is 32:25, one final, field size of 24. The Olympic qualifying time is 32:15.

Credit PhotoRun.netNorthern Arizona Elite’s Kellyn Taylor* was sixth at the brutally hot Olympic Trials Marathon in February, then came back two months later to run a 49-second personal best at 10,000 meters—31:40. Let’s hope she can keep rolling until July as she has declared to run. NAZ teammates Rochelle Kanuho* and Stephanie Bruce* will also toe the line with the Olympic standard in hand and have declared to run.

At the Trials, the 10,000 is run before the 5000, so the many who qualified in both distances will likely at least start the longer race, but may drop out if it’s not going well to save themselves for the 5000. Among the strongest contenders are Molly Huddle, Marielle Hall (with the fastest qualifying time), Emily Infeld, and Kim Conley. Emily Sisson has a fast qualifying time (31:38) from 2015, but has not raced in 2016—not sure what to make of that. Youngsters Liz Costello, Laura Thweatt, and Alia Gray could pop a good race, but the tale of two ex-teammates, Nike Oregon Project member Jordan Hasay and ex-NOPer Tara Erdmann-Welling, is a story I’m anticipating. Will the two 32:08 collegians, Courtney Smith and Chelsea Blaase, survive the NCAA grind and still have anything left for the Trials?  Stay tuned for this and more …

Men’s 10,000 meters

The Trials qualifier is 28:15, one final, field size of 24. The Olympic qualifier is 28:00.

Credit PhotoRun.netGalen Rupp qualified with a run of 27:08.91 and has declared. The next two fastest qualifiers, by comparison, are Diego Estrada (27:30.53) and Hassan Mead (27:33.04). Rested from February’s Marathon Trials, Rupp’s practically a foregone conclusion for a second team spot. Estrada recently placed third (first American) at the highly competitive Bolder Boulder road 10K. Mead has been racing more 5000s lately, but his fitness and consistency prove he’s on a take-no-prisoners roll. Ben True and Eric Jenkins have dipped under the 28-minute mark, as has Bernard Lagat, who will make some young guns work hard to beat him. Others who have the Olympic standard in their pockets and have declared are Jason Witt, Sam Chelanga, Christo Landry, Bobby Curtis, Jake Riley, Shadrack Kipchirchir, and 2012 RRCA Roads Scholar Jon Grey.

NAZ’s Scott Fauble* recently shaved his time to 28:00.43—about as close as you can get to the Olympic standard—while teammate Ben Bruce’s* 28:25 was on the nail-biting bubble, along with German Fernandez, and Alex Monroe who have all been accepted and have declared.

Place your bets now with friends for who will make the 2016 U.S.A Olypmic Team – Track & Field.

Sarah Barker is a freelance writer who has written for
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,  Slate,  Running Times,  Competitor,  Outside,  Minnesota magazine, and more. She loves to write about running, endurance sports, design, style, architecture, and travel.

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