Posted on June 28, 2021
Extreme weather notwithstanding, the 2021 edition of the Trials was nothing short of spectacular, with two world records, two American records and countless meet records and world bests highlighting the week.
The only things missing were a full stadium, and a cooling Oregon shower or two. Where is the famous Oregon drizzle when you need it?
The lasting take on this meet, however, was a near-complete changing of the guard, a new generation of track and field athletes stepping in and adding incredible excitement not only to the Trials, but also to the Tokyo Games and the future of track and field in the U.S.
I started to make a list of all the young athletes winning or making the team, many of them under legal drinking age, and the list kept getting longer and longer as I went.
You still have some veterans at or still close to their peak: Think Ryan Crouser (shot), Allyson Felix (making her fifth Olympic team), Paul Chelimo (5K silver medalist in Rio), and Keni Harrison (world record holder in 100 hurdles), to name a few.
But the list of exceptionally talented newcomers to the world stage is long and very impressive. Three current Pac-12 athletes are included in that list:
- Isaiah Jewett, USC, who was second in the 800 after leading most of the race;
- Cole Hocker, Oregon, who won the 1500 meters in spectacular fashion, overtaking reigning Olympic champion Matthew Centrowitz from a seemingly impossible distance after finally finding running room; and
- Anna Cockrell, USC, who took advantage of a late stumble by Shamier Little to run herself into third place and onto the Olympic team.
That trio joins youngsters such as:
- Athing Mu, who nearly took down the American record in winning the 800;
- Erriyon Knighton, the 17-year-old who broke Usain Bolts U20 world record and took third in the 200; and
- JuVaughn Harrison, who won the long and high jumps and became the first American since Jim Thorpe in 1912 to compete in both jumps at the Olympics.
And many others, it needs to be added.
With the World Championships coming to Eugene and Hayward Field next summer, it would be awesome for some of these new faces to have great performances at the Olympics and cement their status as the new superstars of track and field.
The two Pac-12 athletes who placed in the top three today both finished their races in strong fashion.
Cockrell has run 12 races at championship meets—NCAAs and Trials—in the last 17 days.
Coming into the final straight, it looked like Sidney McLaughlin, Dalilah Muhammad, and Shamier Little had the top three spots locked up—with McLaughlin going on to set a world record in the race—but Little stumbled at the penultimate hurdle and couldn’t seem to regain her momentum.
Cockrell took full advantage, finishing in 53.70, nearly a second under her PB. To me that was one of the most impressive performances of the Trials, given how many races she had in her legs.
Hocker was boxed in on the inside lane throughout almost the entire 1500. It was almost painful watching him trying again and again to make a move to get space, but he couldn’t make it happen.
Finally, as the pack rounded the final curve, things began to open up a little as everyone started to kick. By the time Hocker got free with about 120 left, though, Matthew Centrowitz had already opened up a sizable lead and was sprinting hard.
It looked like a fool’s errand at first, but Hocker somehow reeled him in just before the finish and squeaked past.
An issue for Hocker is that even though the finish was fast, the rest of the race was only moderately so. Hocker did not have the Olympic standard before the race and his winning time was 3:35.28, just over the standard of 3:35.00.
My belief is that he will be allowed to compete at the Games because he is a national champion and high on the yearly world performance list.
But the processes and policies of World Athletics, which would be the body allowing him to compete, are often Byzantine and hard to comprehend.
The other alternative would be to set up a race in the next two days to try and have Hocker run under the standard. Given the three rounds he just ran in the extreme heat, that doesn’t seem likely.
I guess we will see, but it will be a travesty if Hocker doesn’t get to go to Tokyo. He earned it.
Three other Pac-12 athletes in action on the final day of the Trials, as summarized below.
And in case you missed them, here are links to my Conference Preview as well as my Conference reports from Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Seven, Day Eight, and Day Nine. (athletes were off on days Five and Six).
Men’s High Jump — Earnie Sears of USC failed to clear the opening height and did not place in the High Jump final.
5000 Meters — Eight collegians made the 5K final, more than half the field, including Cooper Teare of Oregon and Eduardo Herrera of Colorado.
Herrera finished 15th in 14:00.46, but Teare was in the race all the way to the finish. He made a move early in the last lap to join the lead group, and there were four as they came off the curve.
Teare was behind leader Paul Chelimo, and, as Chelimo moved out of lane one to block Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid, the rail opened up for Teare.
He didn’t quite have the closing speed he needed and he finished in 13:28.08, a second behind Kincaid who took the third and final team spot.
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