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Hamstrung, World’s Greatest Athlete Still Unbeatable: Olympic Trials Day 4 Recap

Ashton Eaton dominated the competition despite an injury.

In the early days of the Trials the Oregon summer has been unkind to the distance runners as heavy favorites have been defeated by the conditions. However, today’s warm conditions rewarded fans with fast times in the sprints and with Usain Bolt currently out with a hamstring injury, perhaps today’s 100m dash final was a preview of what is to come in Rio.

Women’s High Jump

The 18 year-old Vashti Cunningham entered the competition with the top mark, having jumped 1.99m but would be challenged throughout the day by 32 year-old veteran Chaunte Lowe who had jumped 1.96m leading into the trials. While both cleared the early heights up through 1.91 m without trouble, Vashti inexplicably struggled at 1.93 m while Lowe easily went through to the next round. A first failed attempt for Cunningham was followed up by an even worse second and it seemed the heavy favorite might go out early. However, Vashti found form and was able to make the height in a third attempt, barely.

This may have been a sign of things to come as although both were able to clear the 1.95 m height in the first attempt Lowe’s clearance at 1.97 m would be left unanswered by Cunningham. Inika McPherson was able to round out the team thanks to a good jump at 1.93 m.

Men’s Long Jump

Jeffery Henderson, who came in ranked just seventh, started off the day with a big jump of 8.40 meters to take the lead. Meanwhile, Jarrion Lawson also got off to a hot start with a first round jump of 8.21 meters, good for second behind Henderson. Throughout the day the favorites Will Claye and Marquis Dendy would have trouble feeling out the board - Claye fouled his first jump and took until his fourth attempt to get out to 8.38 meters while Dendy started off in an abysmal 7.74 meters before fouling twice more. Meanwhile, Henderson and Lawson would only extend their holds on first and second.

Dendy ended the day early and would go home fourth. A performance heartbreakingly close to an Olympic berth despite his 8.42 m season-best. Meanwhile, Claye would finally get a solid jump in the fifth round to pass Dendy and eventual fifth place finisher Michael Hatfield with a 8.42 m jump of his own. Henderson’s third round 8.59 and Lawson’s 8.58 would end up well clear of defending champ, Claye.

Women’s 100m

In the prelim, Tori Bowie and English Gardiner validated their favorite statuses as they ran very fast - a pair of 10.79s to win heats 1 and 3, respectively. Gardiner was closely folllowed by Tianna Bartoletta who ran a 10.79, herself. Meanwhile, heat 2 was won by nearly a tenth of a second in a time of 10.86 by former Oregon duck Jenna Prandini. With the next best performance a 10.97 from University of Oregon’s Ariana Washington, the race for Rio appeared to really be between the top four performers heading into the final.

A close start left it unclear who would take the field but after 50m English Gardiner began to gain the slightest bit of separate from the field. Bartoletta and Bowie responded well and chased her down to the line.  Gardiner’s performance was incredibly the seventh fastest 100m dash of all-time  - 10.74 seconds (+1.0 m/s legal wind) and this came in her third race in two days.  Behind Gardiner, Tianna Bartoletta out-leaned Tori Bowie for second as both clocked a time of 10.76. This is the first time in history that a 10.80 has not made the podium at the US championship.

Men’s 100m

Gatlin appeared to be arriving in form at just the right moment as he clocked a season’s best and world leading time of 9.83 to take heat 1. Collegian Christian Coleman of Tennessee ran a personal-best 9.98, good for second and a spot in the final.

In heat two, Trayvon Bromell, the indoor 60m world champion, responded to Gatlin’s run with a 9.86 for the win. The 33 year-old American Record holder Tyson Gay started badly but was able to power away from the field to barely take the last automatic qualifier.

The third and final heat would prove to be the fastest of the day as both time qualifiers would come from this heat. Michael Rodgers took the win in a 9.98 as he outleaned Marvin Bracy. Jarrion Lawson and Dentarius Locke came up for third and fourth as they sprinted to a pair of 10.01s.

In the final, the 34 year-old Justin Gatlin showed no signs of age as he powered out of the blocks into the lead. The 60m specialist Bromell had a nearly as good start and seemed to make up the gap on Gatlin in the transition. However, by 40 meters Gatlin made it clear this would be his day as he increased his lead through to the finish line running 9.80. Behind him, Bromell ran a personal-best 9.84 to take a clear second while Marvin Bracy was able to hold off a fast closing Mike Rodgers to make the Rio team with a 9.98 performance.

Decathlon

While Olympic Champ and World Record holder Ashton Eaton came into day two of the ten event competition as the on paper favorite, Eaton had been nursing a hamstring injury. Despite this, Eaton would gingerly ease his way through the hurdles and still blow away the competition with a 13.60 performance and with four events left, it appeared Eaton’s hamstring would likely hold up after making it through the most lift demanding event of the day, which left second and third up for grabs.

Zach Zeimek and Garrett Scantling, two of the collegians in the field, were holding their own in second and third at this point but would need big performances in the following events to hold of Jeremy Taiwo in the 1500m, one of Taiwo’s best events.

Zeimek gamely took the Pole Vault and Discus while Scantling took the javelin but Taiwo held them both to a scant lead while Eaton, again, did just enough to maintain his lead as he eased his way through the events taking care to not further damage his hamstring.

The 1500m saw Taiwo jump out to an early lead over Zeimek and Scantling while Eaton gamely stalked the top runners in the event with a measured run. Over the final laps, Taiwo ate into the lead that Scantling had so carefully built up but the power athlete could not keep Taiwo from stripping him of his third place position. At the end a defeated Scantling would collapse to the track knowing his performance was just not good enough to measure up to Taiwo over 1500m.

Even at his worst, the world record holder still appeared indefatigable as he smoothly crossed the line of the final event to embrace his coach, having racked up yet another multi-accolade and wining with a cool 8750, over 300 points ahead of second. Taiwo’s run would be good for second place over Zeimek as they racked up 8425 and 8413, respectively.

Women’s 400m

With Allyson Felix's form in question due to a ligament injury in her ankle, the favorite appeared to be Natasha Hastings who last year was passed in the final meters to lose the title to Felix. At the start, Hastings took off from the blocks in her characteristic get out and hang on style. By 200m, Hastings had built up a big lead as she had not only made up the stagger but was clear of her outside lane. Felix lingered anonymously in about fifth and and was even passed by Francena McCorory just passed 200m. It appeared that her ankle injury might keep her from completing the first ever 400m/200m double in the Olympics.  However, down the homestretch Felix erased any question regarding her fitness as she walked down the entire field, including a rapidly fading Hastings, to take the win with a 49.62. Phyllis Francis ran an even race and was able to move from third to second down the home-stretch as she passed Hastings clocking a forty nine second performance of her own in 49.94. Hastings was able to barely hold form over the final meters and ran a solid 50.17.

Men's 400m final

The race appeared to be a match-up between two time olympian and world #2 Lashawn Merritt against defending champion David Verburg. Making themselves known in the prelim were Tony McQuay and Gil Robertson who ran the fastest qualifying times 44.24 and 44.67, respectively go 1-2 in heat 1.

At the gun, Gil Robertson showed he meant business as he blasted out of the blocks. He flabbergasted the crowd when he not only made up the stagger but accelerated to extend his lead down the back-stretch. A calm Lashawn Merritt carefully began to close down the gap on Robertson and by the homestretch he pulled even for a moment before changing gears to take the lead, which he would extend all the way through the line. Meanwhile, David Verburg, who was unable to match Robertson and Merritt’s early speed ran a measured race to put himself in third down the homestretch. In the final meters, it appeared he might quickstep his way past the badly tying up Robertson but Verburg’s move was too late and they would finish second and third, running 44.73 and 44.82.