Up to this point, the Trials certainly hadn't lacked for intrigue. High schoolers were making appearances in sprint finals, favorites were dropping out of the 10,000m, record holders were not making teams in their events. Odds seemed to be that some of the older guard would bow out. Still, there hadn't quite been that moment that seemed like it would define these Trials like the men's 800m defined 2008 and Ashton Eaton's World Record in the decathlon defined 2012. With today's 5000m race that saw Bernard Lagat make the Olympics at age 41 on the strength of a 52.82 second last lap, we may have had that moment in 2016.
Men's 110m Hurdles
Obviously, the Olympic Trials are largely attended by outsiders: non-Eugene residents with no formal or even informal relation with the University of Oregon. But, for some reason, everyone gets caught up in the excitement of a U of O athlete competing and doing well. Hell, even I get excited by it despite knowing that is completely stupid to feel that way. In the 110m hurdles, Devon Allen--a football player and, of course, track athlete, at Oregon--won both his semifinal heat and the final. Every winner gets a moment in the sun, but Allen got even more as second, third, and fourth place had to be determined at the photo booth. He took advantage of that focus by patenting a Hayward Leap into the stands.
In the photo finish, Ronnie Ash and Jeff Porter made the team over Aries Merritt. It's hard not to feel a little pang at Merritt not making the team after undergoing a kidney transplant less than a year ago, but it's hardly unexpected after the season he's had.
I've mentioned here that I am the rare sort of track fan that enjoys tactical races. The injection of additional randomness, for me, adds a level of uncertainty that makes the sport fun. But even I have my limits. I've never understood how in the trials athletes without the Olympic standard can sit back and let a tactical race go on when it clearly means that they will not make the team.
After a 3:05 first 1000m, Brian Shrader and William Kincaid weren't going to let their Olympic chances disappear before the race even ended. After running 74s and 75s, they dropped a 60-second lap to gap the field. Probably because they weren't at all considered favorites, no one in the race seemed to really care too much about the gap they opened up and they were allowed to hold it for nearly 2000m until Paul Chelimo decided to join them. Within a lap of Chelimo's move, the entire field had joined together once more just at a pace about 10 seconds per lap faster than they had been at the start.
At about 3800m, Galen Rupp made the move that most of the time would have signalled the end of the race. In the next lap, he had opened up about a 10 meter lead on the field. Being Galen Rupp and not someone who loses these sorts of races, that, presumably was it. However, when people started to kick with about 300m to go, Rupp didn't have the gear to respond as he was passed by. Bernard Lagat closed in 52.82, without even going all out over the entire final 400m. Hassan Mead took second, combining with Lagat to make dropping out of last weeks 10k seem prudent. Paul Chelimo held off Eric Jenkins for third to continue the Army's run on the distance races. They now have 4 Olympian in the steeple and longer, which is about 4 more than many would have predicted before the Trials started.
Lagat's race and addition to the Olympic team made him the oldest American Olympic runner, just passing by Meb.
With two high schoolers on the line, this race had a lot of buzz that an odd team would form. And, while the teenagers ran well--a high school record for Noah Lyles--to finish 4th and 5th, the final team was probably the one betting markets would have favored two weeks ago. Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt both broke 20 (19.75 and 19.79, respectively) and Ameer Webb just missed, but finished third in 20.00. Without Norman of Lyles, this probably isn't the most fun team we could have had, but it probably is the best chance at getting medals.