US Olympic Trials Men’s Steeplechase: Can Bowerman Track Club Go 1-2 Or Will Donn Cabral, Stanley Kebenei or Cory Leslie Crash the Party?

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By LetsRun.com
July 3, 2016

One of the greatest events in track and field — the United States Olympic Team Trials — are upon us. No domestic event holds more significance or produces more drama than this meet, which will be held at Hayward Field from July 1-10. LetsRun.com will have all hands on deck, providing wall-to-wall coverage from Eugene over the next two weeks. Below is our look at the men’s 3000-meter steeplechase.

Before you read the preview, please make sure you enter our prediction contest: LRC $200,016 LRC Running Warehouse Trials Prediction Contest is Here!

Schedule/entries * TV/streaming information * LRC Trials coverage hub

LRC event previews: M 10k * W 10k * M 800 * W 800

Men’s 3,000 steeplechase (prelims Monday, July 4, 7:33 p.m. ET; final Friday, July 8, 8:23 p.m. ET) *Rio Standard is 8:30.00

NameAffiliationQualifying timeSBComment
Evan JagerNike BTC / Bowerman Track Club8:00.458:15.26American record holder is the heavy favorite
Donn CabralNike8:13.378:29.37His only steeple this year wasn’t as fast as he wanted, 2nd last year and at ’12 Trials
Daniel HulingNike BTC8:14.118:18.58Was close to training partner Jager at Oxy and beat Jager at ’15 Worlds
Andrew BayerNike BTC / Bowerman Track Club8:18.088:24.37Still learning the event. 4th last year
Stanley KebeneiNike8:18.528:18.522nd at NCAAs twice
Cory LeslieNike8:19.128:19.12PB’d for 3rd at Oxy meet, then ran 8:20 in Rome
Donnie CowartSaucony8:23.388:23.386th at Oxy, 4th at last Trials, has been waiting for this chance again
Travis MahoneyHoka One One / New Jersey New York Track Club8:25.448:25.44PB at Oxy
Tabor StevensASICS8:26.818:32.86Needs a breakthrough
Hillary BorU.S. Army8:27.018:27.013rd at Stanford
Mason Ferlic8:27.168:27.16NCAA champ was on pace for something much faster until final 200 at NCAAs
Craig ForysASICS FURMAN ELITE8:27.198:27.19 Broke 8:30 twice in May, no results listed since then.
Isaac UpdikeTeam Run Eugene8:31.428:31.42
Mike Hardy8:32.558:32.55
Dylan LafondIllinois8:32.748:32.74
Aric Van Halen8:32.948:32.94
Caleb Hoover8:33.778:33.77
MJ ErbOle Miss8:34.138:34.13
Bryce MillerUMKC8:34.328:34.32
Dylan BlankenbakerOklahoma8:34.698:34.69
Darren FahyGeorgetown8:35.258:36.24
Michael JordanNew Jersey New York Track Club8:35.308:35.30
Mark Parrish8:35.568:35.56
Carl Stones8:35.598:35.59
Jager's bigger goals lie ahead, but first he has to make Team USA

Jager’s bigger goals lie ahead, but first he has to make Team USA

In all likelihood, Evan Jager will win his fifth straight U.S. steeplechase title on the evening of July 8. He’s dominated the event since his first race over barriers in 2012, breaking the American record three times and recording the seven fastest times ever by an American. He also looked tremendous in his only steeple of 2016, running 8:15 with a 57 last lap to crush most of his top competition that he’ll face at the Trials.

Jager is about as big a lock as there is to make Team USA, but he’ll still have to work for it to win. Donn Cabral and Jager’s Bowerman Track Club teammate Dan Huling haven’t been that far behind Jager at USAs the past two years and both men were World Championship finalists in 2015. In fact, it was Huling, not Jager, who finished as the top American in Beijing, taking fifth overall. Last year, we wrote off Huling at USAs (we didn’t pick him to make the team) and he said that provided some extra motivation. We’re not making the same mistake twice. Though Huling missed out in each of the past two Olympic Trials, he has made the last four U.S. World Championship teams and we expect him to make this one too. Huling was second at Oxy behind Jager in 8:18, and he closed well in that one to hold off Cory Leslie down the stretch. But Huling’s other races this spring have been so-so (3:43 on May 1, 3:44 on June 23). He’s not a lock like Jager, but after his 5th at Worlds and run at Oxy, he’s our pick for the second spot. Just make sure you don’t miss the call room, Dan.

Huling did more than just qualify for his first World Championship final in 2015; he finished as the top American in 5th place

Huling did more than just qualify for his first World’s final in 2015; he finished as the top American in 5th place

The third spot is tricky (and some of these guys could certainly depose Huling at #2). Cabral is the top candidate based on his last two seasons (3rd at USAs in ’14, 2nd last year) but he told us he wasn’t particularly pleased with his 8:29 win in his steeple opener at Harry Jerome on June 17. In addition, Cabral was dealing with some sickness last week but seems to be doing better now (on Wednesday, he ran 6 x 400 in 58, 58, 58, 56, 56, 56 w/ 2 mins’ recovery; you can check out Cabral’s training log here). Cabral had some margin for error last year as he, Huling and Jager were clearly much better than everyone else at USAs. With 11 guys (including Cabral) under 8:30 this year and four under 8:20, his cushion is much slimmer this time around. If he’s not back to his 2015 form (or close to it), Cabral may find himself watching the Olympics from home.

Kebenei came up just short of an NCAA title at Arkansas but could find himself on the Olympic team this summer

Kebenei came up just short of an NCAA title at Arkansas but could find himself on the Olympic team this summer

The second-fastest American this year is Kenyan-born Arkansas grad Stanley Kebenei, who ran 8:18.52 in Rome on June 2. Kebenei was 5th at USAs last year but has made a nice leap in fitness in his first full year as a pro, winning the U.S. 15K champs in March and taking 5th in that Diamond League race in Rome. Leslie is another guy who’s been running well this year, but his story is that he’s never been quite good enough to make it onto the team. He’s made five straight U.S. finals, but his best finish is 4th. And unfortunately, his first two steeples this year suggest that he may miss out again in 2016. Both were very impressive runs — a PR of 8:19.12 at Oxy followed by 8:20.43 (his #3 time ever) in Rome two weeks later. But in both cases, he was beaten by another American (Huling at Oxy, Kebenei in Rome). Can he hang around until the end in the final and put his 3:34 1500 speed to use?

Leslie is another guy who’s been running well this year, but his story is that he’s never been quite good enough to make it onto the team. He’s made five straight U.S. finals, but his best finish is 4th. And unfortunately, his first two steeples this year suggest that he may miss out again in 2016. Both were very impressive runs — a PR of 8:19.12 at Oxy followed by 8:20.43 (his #3 time ever) in Rome two weeks later. But in both cases, he was beaten by another American (Huling at Oxy, Kebenei in Rome). Can he hang around until the end in the final and put his 3:34 1500 speed to use?

Most likely, your team will consist of three of those five: Jager, Huling, Cabral, Kebenei and Leslie. But there are a few more guys who could make it with a great race and perhaps a little luck (fall for someone else).

Best of the rest

Andy Bayer, 26 years old (8:18.08 pb, 8:24.37 sb)
Bayer broke 8:20 last year twice, finishing 6th and 4th in two Diamond League races in July. But his two steeples this year have not been as strong, as he finished way back at Payton Jordan (8:41) and was 7th at Oxy in 8:24. The former NCAA 1500 champ only switched to the steeple in 2014 though, so he should be a bigger factor in four years’ time.

Mason Ferlic, 22 years old (8:27.16 pb/sb)
Last month, Ferlic won NCAAs in commanding fashion and could have gone much faster than his 8:27 in that race had he not fallen apart over the final 200. Afterward, Ferlic said he felt he was in 8:15 shape. If that’s true, he’s got a chance to make some noise at the Trials. And it could well be — Ferlic hasn’t been pushed in any of his steeples this year. He’s definitely in better shape than he was the past two years, when he finished 9th (’14) at 13th (’15) at USAs. But 8:15 is mighty quick — only nine Americans in history have run faster — and even if Ferlic can get to that level, he’s still not a lock with guys like Huling, Cabral, Leslie and Kebenei around.

Donnie Cowart, 30 years old (8:23.38 pb/sb)
Cowart was 8th at USAs and 4th at Pan Ams last summer. He ran a nice PR of 8:23 at Oxy, and if this were five years ago, he’d have a good shot at the team. But the steeple is a deeper event now; you need to be in sub-8:20 shape to make it to Rio. He also lost to Cabral at Harry Jerome.

LRC Prediction: We think Jerry Schumacher‘s boys — Jager and Huling — go 1-2 with Huling earning that long-awaited Olympic berth (For Huling’s sake, should we over look him?). The battle for third will be a war. At his best, Cabral gets that spot, but can he reach his best in Eugene? Kebenei has the #2 time and beat Leslie in Rome; he’s our pick for third (barely), though it’s essentially a toss-up.


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