It's uninteresting and unoriginal analysis to say that there have been a lot of surprises at the Olympic Trials. A one-off trials system for Olympic selection inherently bakes randomness and, therefore, surprising Olympic teams into the process. To say that some people have surprised in earning a spot on the team is basically to say that the Olympic Trials are happening. But still, something about this year and yesterday in particular feels different, more extreme. An American Record holder didn't make the team in her event; high schoolers won three semifinal heats in the sprints; a mostly anonymous runner with a mullet whose claim to fame is a 7th place finish in the 1500m at NCAAs has made his way into the finals of two events.
Men's 1500m Semifinals
Heat 1: There was a decent amount of talk about the imbalance between the two semifinal heats. The first heat, arguably headlined by Kyle Merber, was substantially weaker than the second, which featured Centro, Wheating, Manzano, Robby Andrews, and Ben Blankenship. This allowed Stride Nation favorite Craig Engels to have an easy path to the finals. He benefited from a slow early pace, which set him up to advance to the final with a kick that has proven to be his M.O. at least in these trials. Izaic Yorks won the heat, just barely holding off Engels.
Heat 2: This is where everyone was who really matters for team contention was stationed. Everyone who mattered made it through thanks to setting a little faster pace (about three seconds quicker through 800) than the first heat. The race played out about how you would expect as everyone was mostly on brand. Robby Andrews was way back in the field; Centro was up front, but not in the lead; Blankenship was setting the pace. Everyone did their thing, but Blankenship has looked really good in his two heats so far. Especially coming off a strong indoor season, it's going to be difficult to pick him to not make the team.
Thing to look out for in the finals: Engels and Wheating both need qualifiers if they are going to make the team. Wheating has indicated that he doesn't care much about making the team and would prioritize winning a U.S. championship over chasing a fast time on Sunday. That might leave Engels on his own to run the qualifier, which is a tough ask, especially for a runner whose resume didn't look like much until last week.
Women's 400m Hurdles
In the first heat, we were treated to the Sydney McLaughlin show once again as she easily won her heat in 55.23. She looks every bit the part of someone who is going to make this team. The second heat was the faster one, which didn't benefit Shamier Little. I don't know if I would actually call her a fan favorite, but between the glasses and the hair bow, she's an easy athlete to cheer for. It's disappointing we won't get to cheer for her in the final and in the Olympics.
No real huge surprises here as Simpson, Rowbury, and Martinez all made it through, but I want to take a little bit of time to dwell on Heather Kampf. How can someone be so good on the roads, but look so out of her element on the track. Both yesterday and in the 1st round, she didn't look like she had the gears to respond to many moves. She has four times won the U.S. Road Mile Championships. Granted, the fields in the road mile usually aren't on the same plane of competition as a track championship, but not so weak that you would assume no translation to the track. It doesn't make any sense to me, and I'm not yet convinced it's not just some small-sample noise.
Evan Jager hasn't raced much this year, so it's hard to say what his chances are for a medal at the Olympics. At least, it's much harder than it was last year when he entered the world championships with a near sub-8:00 performance under his belt. Yesterday didn't provide a ton of information on that front as the race went out really slow. What was potentially concerning though was that when Jager went to make his move, he wasn't really able to shake the field. He won, but didn't look as strong as you would like a medal contender to look. He hasn't raced much, so he still has a month or so to tune up for the Olympics.
Hillary Bor grabbed the second spot and Donn Cabral employed some evasive tactics to avoid a falling Stanley Kebenei in the final water jump. Prior to the fall, Cabral was a bit back in fourth and looked very unlikely to make the team. Thanks to some good fortune and surprising lateral agility, he'll be making his Olympic appearance in the steeple.
Two stories here: First is that two high schoolers--Michael Norman and Noah Lyles--won their heats of the semifinals. Lyles had a bit of a lighter field, but Norman beat Justin Gatlin to win the first heat. Sure, it's only a semifinal and Gatlin was probably more focused on advancing than winning, but you take notice whenever a high school runner beats a reigning world silver medalist.
Second was the third heat, which saw both LaShawn Merritt and Ameer Webb dip under 20 seconds and Tyson Gay look pretty good in 20.16. After a strong start to the outdoor season, Webb had cooled off a little bit and I was a little concerned about his ability to come back and make the team. With a 19.97 on a wet track, though, he's show that his early Diamond League success wasn't a mere flash in the pan.
Women's 100m Hurdles
A month or so ago at the Pre Classic, Keni Harrison set the American record in the the 100 hurdles and, besides that, has looked nearly unbeatable this season. Record holders not making the team in their event happens with some frequency, but usually only in cases where that record performance is in the rearview mirror for the athlete. Harrison set it last month, but she won't be going to Rio. It's no secret that the U.S. field in this event is at least as strong as the Olympic field will be, so when Harrison got off to a poor start, there wasn't much opportunity to come back from that--not against this talent. Brianna Rollins took over for Harrison at the top and won easily in 12.34. Kristi Castlin--who's looked good throughout these trials--and Nia Ali--who's had a strong season in the Diamond League--both made the team.