Qualification rounds are supposed to be a matter of course to separate the wheat from the chaff. Enough people automatically advance from each heat that everyone with a chance to make the team should have near-guaranteed entry to at least the semifinals. Whether it was the heat or just the fact that the 400 and 800m are particularly deep events in United States at the moment, some pre-race favorites will not live to see another day. The heat definitely played a strong role in the 10,000m, as seven men dropped out, including at least two who were in position to make the team.
Going into the first round this afternoon, it seemed that only one contender was in jeopardy of not making the team. Brannon Kidder found himself not only coming off two long seasons of collegiate running, but in a heat with both Boris Berian and Erik Sowinski. It wouldn't take a huge error to put him on the bubble. But, surprisingly, that heat--the only one with more than two guys (to borrow a baseball designation for prospects who have real future value)--saw everyone go through.
What's notable in the early rounds isn't as much who made it, but who is no longer in contention. Out of heat one, Duane Solomon faded over the final straight to fall to the likes of Drew Windle, Drew White, and Charles Jock. In heat four, we saw Donavan Brazier go down, despite looking strong through 600 meters. My friends and I were sitting at about the 200 start, and I declared at 600 that, not only would Brazier win this heat, but that he would make the team. I was clearly wrong as he spend the next 200m looking completely worn down--the bounce in his stride that I interpreted as unapproachable energy was now wasted energy--and giving up his automatic spot in the semifinals to Clayton Murphy, Brandon Johnson, and Harun Abda.
UPDATE: Apparently Brazier protested his elimination from the 800, claiming his foot was stepped on in the first 200m and the lose shoe that resulted was an impediment over the last 150m of the race. His request, unsurprisingly, was denied.
Compared to the men's side, this was pretty tame. Sure, Maggie Vessey didn't make it through, but, despite being a well-known name, she hasn't been that good. The real surprise of the afternoon was Laura Roesler, who was 4th at indoor worlds, but failed to make it out of heat four. It was perhaps the strangest heat of the afternoon as it basically had Roesler, Chrishuna Williams, and a bunch of college runners. In the end, two of those college runners finished ahead of Roesler.
We also fell obligated to mention the first heat, which featured a battle between Molly Ludlow and Alysia Montano that ended with Ludlow taking it in the final couple meters. Both looked very strong in a race that went out in 58 or so. With a strong performance in the semifinals, I might be tempted to change my tune on Montano.
This was the only event without a huge surprise. Vernon Norwood pulled up at around 300m in the first heat, but he was the only true surprise to not make it through. I was pleasantly surprised by how strong Jeremy Wariner looked out of the second heat. He only finished fourth, but moved up a lot over the last 150m and looked like he was about to make a bid for first place. Secondly, LaShawn Merritt looked exactly like what he is: The best 400 runner at this meet. He didn't have a huge margin of victory, but it looked like he had the confidence to let the race play close and pull away in the last 50-100m.
It's not a huge surprise that Sanya Richards-Ross didn't advance out of the first round, but the way it happened was still sad. Shortly after 200m, she pulled up and dropped out. It appeared to be an issue with her right hamstring, which, judging by the extensive wrapping she had on it, had been giving her problems before the race. That's probably the end of her career as she announced she would retire after Rio. Staying on that heat, Courtney Okolo was clearly better than anyone else on the track. There was a lot of hype for her heading into this meet that I wasn't quite buying into. I may have been wrong not to.
Allyson Felix update: despite injury and not racing this season, Felix looked pretty good. She came in second in her heat, but she looked strong and there at least wasn't any visible indication that her ankle was giving her any issues.
Pour one out for the troops as two Army runners--Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir--and Galen Rupp made the team. The process of getting there was, at it's most charitable, unconventional. Somewhere a little after 2000m, Galen Rupp through in a surge that peaked with him putting nearly four seconds on the field. He sort of eased up after a couple laps and let the field catch up. But, Rupp wasn't done with the weird early moves as he made another one right around 5k. This time, Kipchirchir, Bernard Lagat, and Hassan Mead went with him and stayed together for over 1000m. Lagat, Rupp, and Kipchirchir pulled away from Mead a bit, and, at about 7k, Lagat started falling off. And, after just about a lap of dropping off the pace, at about 7400m, he dropped out and found himself on the track.
Just two laps later, despite battling with Korir for third place, Mead apparently dropped out and found himself on the track.Oddly enough, after receiving some medical attention, he stood back up and started jogging 6:00 pace for a couple laps. Without knowing the details of his contract, the only reason I can think of for him doing that was to avoid some sort of reduction. If so, that's another argument against reductions--terms of a contract shouldn't incentivize athletes to put themselves in danger.
In the end, seven runners dropped out, including Mead, Lagat, Diego Estrada, Eric Jenkins, and German Fernandez. With temperatures in the mid-80s and little more than 50m of shade on the track, it makes sense that the 10k would be 10,000 meters of attrition. It was exactly that as over 25% of the field failed to finish on account--probably--of the heat.
The first day was not a great one for our predictions. We got one of the 10k predictions correct and picking Galen Rupp to make the team hardly counts. In the men's 800, we were correct to shy away from Brazier, so we still look good with Berian, Sowinski, and Murphy. On the men's side, the 400m remains safe as well as we shied away from Norwood in favor of Hall and Verburg, who both advanced to the semifinals.
The women's side was, actually pretty good. We got along ok in the women's 400m, with McCorory, Felix, and Okolo all advancing--and, should I say, looking fantastic doing so. The 800m went very well. We had a close call with Raevyn Rogers, who needed to hold her breath for a time qualifier, but both Molly Ludlow and Ajee Wilson looked strong in winning their heats. What we have to wonder, though, is whether we made a mistake picking against Martinez and Montano.