The Biggest Winners and Losers at the 2016 US Olympic Track and Field Trials
July 13, 2016
The 2016 Olympic Track and Field Trials have come to an end and in this week’s Week That Was it’s time for us to share who we think were the biggest winners and losers from the Trials.
The Trials are all about qualifying for Rio, so if you want to argue anyone with a ticket to Rio is a winner and everyone else a loser, we understand the sentiment. But that’s a bit short-sighted.
The men’s and women’s 5000m was a perfect example of that. Dartmouth alum Abbey D’Agostino finished 5th in the women’s race but is going to Rio and she was sure acting like a winner at the New Balance party Sunday night. Fellow Dartmouth alum Ben True was 5th in the men’s 5000m and won’t be going to Rio and was left contemplating how he’ll have to wait four years for another shot.
So we decided to take a look at winners and losers in a slightly different manner. Without further ado, here are biggest winner and losers from the trials.
The Ole Miss junior was the only person to make the final of both the men’s 800 and 1500. Not only that, he was VERY competitive in both as he was 4th in the 800 and 5th in the 1500. Plus, he’s developed a cult following due to his distinctive look – a mustache and mullet.
Take a look at these fans cheering for Engels in Eugene:
The Engels fan club is likely poised to only grow as in Eugene he purchased a 1992 Dodge Caravan for $750 and is now driving back cross-country to Ole Miss. He’ll have plenty of time to pick up fans along the way.
Plus, with many of the male mid-d studs of the NCAA having departed in the last month – Donavan Brazier, Clayton Murphy, Brandon McBride, Izaic Yorks, etc – Engels, one of a select number of US high schoolers to break 1:50 and 9:00, seems poised to be the ‘Clayton Murphy of the NCAA’ in 2017. He’ll certainly be in the hunt for an NCAA title in the 800 and/or 1500.
For more on Engels, read the article below by Brant Wilkerson-New in the Winston-Salem Journal that opens with the following:
“Craig Engels arrived [at the Olympic Trials] with a moustache, mullet haircut, 1992 Dodge Caravan and a dream. He left with the belief that he could one day win a national championship, pro running contract or perhaps even more.”
The Future of American Sprinting
Sanya Richards-Ross, Jeremy Wariner, David Oliver and Carmelita Jeter all won’t be in Rio and Oliver is likely the only one who will be in the sport next year. Tyson Gay snuck onto a relay team, and will Justin Gatlin, Aries Merritt, or Allyson Felix be around come Tokyo 2020?
The future of American sprinting was a big question mark heading into the Trials, but now looks very bright.
High schoolers’ success at the Trials was a major storyline. Sydney McLaughlin made the team in the 400m hurdles and is an outside medal threat, Noah Lyles was fourth in the 200m, one spot ahead of fellow recent high school graduate Michael Norman. All three not only ran well, but were super composed in the mixed zone. Amazing success at the high school level is no guarantee of future success (see Roy Martin,who never lost to Michael Johnson head-to-head in high school), but if McLaughlin, Lyles and Norman become the future of American sprinting, America will be doing all right.
Apart from McLaughlin, Lyles and Norman are two high schoolers already getting the big bucks, Kaylin Whitney (2014 world junior 200m champ who turned pro last year as a junior signing with Nike) and Candace Hill (2015 world youth 100 and 200 champ, who signed a 10-year deal with Asics and just finished her junior year). Suddenly, the future of American sprinting looks pretty bright with another generation emerging.
Things are so bright that Ariana Washington, only 19 years old, who was the hottest thing in sprinting three weeks ago when she pulled off the 100-200 double at NCAAs, walked through the mixed zone after finishing 5th in the 200m and wasn’t stopped by any of the press. Granted the last day can be a bit hectic with the media, but Washington, at 19, made the 100m final at the Trials (6th place) and the 200m final (5th place) and somehow went under the radar.
Bowerman Track Club Women
Jerry Schumacher’s women had a tremendous meet as everyone they entered made the team: Emily Infeld (10,000), Shelby Houlihan (5000), Courtney Frerichs (steeple) and Colleen Quigley (steeple) and there were question marks surrounding all four women coming in. No one from Bowerman won a women’s event, but Amy Cragg and Shalane Flanagan did go 1-3 at the Marathon Trials.
But to show how fickle coaching is, only one of Jerry’s men made it to Rio (Evan Jager) with big name Ryan Hill having to watch at home (as well as Dan Huling, who was 5th at Worlds last year). As former Bowerman member Chris Solinsky knows, making the Olympics should never be taken for granted.
The US Army & Dan Browne
The US Army entered five distance athletes in the meet and all five will be in Rio: Shadrack Kipchirchir (10k), Leonard Korir (10k), Hillary Bor (steeple), Paul Chelimo (5000) and John Nunn (20k walk).
Kipchirchir, Korir, and Chelimo are all in the WCAP program coached by former Olympian Dan Browne. Bor is coached by Scott Simmons.
Browne is the only male distance coach to get all his athletes to Rio. Browne was coached by Alberto Salazar in his career and gave Alberto thanks for help with his current group.
The Trials were an absolute disaster for NBC. Why? Well, the two most popular mainstream stories they were likely going to use to promote track and field to the public in Rio are now gone.
It’s important to realize that NBC likes to sell stories. Here is what NBC Olympics chief marketing officer John Miller said about the Olympics on Monday according to the Philly.com:
The people who watch the Olympics are not particularly sports fans. More women watch the Games than men, and for the women, they’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey. It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and mini-series wrapped into one. And to tell the truth, it has been the complaint of a few sports writers. It has not been the complaint of the vast viewing public.
Well there was no more interesting journey story than defending Olympic champ Aries Merritt battling for a medal less than a year removed from a kidney transplant, but that is no longer an option for NBC as Merritt finished fourth in the 110 hurdles by .01 (he was .01 from 2nd as well).
And on the women’s side of the ledger, Allyson Felix’s quest for the 200/400 double is now over before it really began as she too finished fourth by .01 (in the women’s 200).
NBC has billions of dollars invested in the Olympics and two of its best storylines evaporated by a combined .02 of a second. That is why the Olympic Trials are must-watch TV. Without the drama of top 3 or go home, the Trials would not be the best reality TV on the planet.
World Ranked #1 US Hurdlers – Johnny Dutch, Keni Harrison and Shamier Little
Harrison (with the top 4 times in the world in the 100m hurdles), Little (top time in 400m hurdles), and Dutch (top 2 times in 400m hurdles) came in atop the world, as all three had 2016 world-leading marks in their events, and all three will be watching Rio from home.
Before you start feeling the most sorry for Harrison, don’t. The biggest loser has to be Johnny Dutch. He came into the Trials without a sponsor. He ran a tremendous race until the last hurdle, which he just barely nipped. That screwed up his momentum and he ended up fifth. (You can watch the race here) (Want to watch all the Olympic Trials races? Click here)
Dutch went from leading the Trials, going into the Olympics as a gold-medal favorite, to being out of the Olympics and possibly out of the sport. The News and Observer has an excellent piece on Dutch and his change of fortune at the Trials.
Later that same Day, Dutch tweeted this:
He may have run his last competitive step. One side of us would like to see him go to Europe and kick ass this summer, but retiring from the sport after missing the Olympics isn’t a bad way to go.
Little and Harrison still have pro contracts to fall back on. Someone like Courtney Okolo, who had the #2 time in the world at 400 coming in, gets to go to Rio on the 4×400 team. Dutch has nothing but his own film-making skills to fall back on.
The Brooks Beasts
As we mentioned in our intro, we don’t view success and failure at the Olympics as simply making the team or not. It wouldn’t be fair to judge the Brooks Beasts on simply number of top-three finishes as to be honest, most of the guys and gals they sponsor are underdogs and would be overachieving if they made the team to Rio. That being said, the Brooks Beasts team across the board had a pretty bad meet at the Trials as shown by the following:
Angela Bizzarri – The former NCAA champ was last in the 5000 heats in 16:21.
Garrett Heath – Heath, who last year was .07 away from making Worlds and denying Galen Rupp a spot on the 5000 team, was a total non-factor in the men’s 5000 final where he was 13th in 13:55.
Cas Loxsom – Loxsom, who made the team last year and has a 1:44.92 pb, ran 1:49.18 and was DFL in the 800 final.
Riley Masters – Masters, who ran 13:17 last year, was dropped early and ended up DFL in the men’s 5000 final by a lot in 14:18.
Nick Symmonds – Symmonds, who had finished top-two at USAs in 9 of the last 10 years coming into 2016, was unable to make it to the start line due to injury. This is Symmonds’ second DNS at USAs in three years.
Drew Windle – Windle ran a 1:45.65 PB in his last race before the Trials but was DFL in his semi in 1:55.75
After the meet, Danny Mackey, coach of the Beasts, did a lot to put himself in the winner column as he didn’t sugarcoat anything and took responsibility for his team’s shortcomings and vowed to fix them as he tweeted out:
Rough end to a very difficult year. I apologize to Beast fans, it’s on me We are young, we will fix problems & I promise,
We wonder if the Beasts problems came from a “Top 3 or else” strategy. In general, we think it’s a bad idea to force your training. You have to train properly and let the race results come off of that. But we’ve always said the only time you might want to force your training is an Olympic year. Say you are a 13:20 guy, but you think it will take 13:05 fitness to make the team, so in workouts you force yourself to do what you think a 13:05 person would do. More times than not, this totally backfires as you are racing your workouts, but we understand the mindset.
If your talent level is 5th best in the US, it’s not illogical to try to force things to be top 3. When it doesn’t work, your results are way worse than 5th but if you view 4th as the same as 12th, then does it really matter?
The Biggest Losers Who Were Winners – Donavan Brazier and Shamier Little
Brazier and Little both went to Texas A&M, both turned professional before the Trials and both bombed out at the Trials, not even making the finals despite being amongst the favorites in their events.
Some might say they were amongst the biggest losers at the Trials, but we’re putting them amongst the winners because they have some financial security to fall back on as they turned pro before their value went down any. Brazier no doubt has seven figures guaranteed coming his way over the next few years.
Some Texas A&M supporters may argue that Brazier and Little shouldn’t have turned pro, because turning pro caused them to bomb out at the Trials. We understand the argument, but aren’t convinced by it. Plus nothing had to change at the Trials except for the singlet on their chest. Little and Brazier’s Texas A&M coaches easily could have coached them at the Trials. (We heard from two other coaches that Texas A&M didn’t send Brazier’s coach to Eugene and they said Brazier looked lost on the warm-up track without him.)
The whole rationale for going pro early is to lock in value in case a hiccup happens down the road. That is exactly what Little and Brazier did.
Same with Mary Cain. Would she be a world beater if she hadn’t turned pro in high school? We aren’t convinced.
A lot of people we talked to at the Trials were surprised adidas threw so much money at high school star Drew Hunter as he has a long way to go to being world-class on the men’s side (the gap is smaller between top high school women and world-class women). One thing everyone agreed on: Hunter had to take the money offered and turn pro.
A Winner Because He’s a Loser – Mason Finley
Former Kansas and Wyoming discus thrower Mason Finley won the men’s Olympic Trials with a heave of 208’1” (63.42m) to punch his ticket to his first Olympics, after throwing a pb of 218′ 10″ (66.72m) in the qualifying round.
So clearly he’s a winner.
But he’s also a loser.
Finley credited his victory in part to the fact that he lost an amazing 87 pounds.
“Definitely (my footwork is better now that I’m lighter),” said Finley. “There was a point where I was weighing like 437 and couldn’t throw anything. It was pretty rough – injuries with my back and stuff like that. Right now, I’m sitting at 350, and able to hold positions better, move faster – compete healthier.”
“I was huge,” said Finley, who said he was over 430 pounds in 2013.
“Basically, all I did was just educate myself on nutrition, figure out what am I doing. During the fall season, I’ll do a lot of cardio – no real secret there,” said Finley.
Things That USATF Should Never Do Again
It seems like the same mistakes are made every four years so we decided to put them down in print so at least we can say, “We told you so” in four years.
- Run an 800 at the Olympic Trials That Doesn’t Start in Lanes
If there are more than 8 people in a race, have two people share a lane. Do not use a waterfall start.
- Only accept 30 people for a three-round 1500.
At a minimum, there should be 36 starters if there are three rounds. Plus there will be scratches, so let in at least 40 in the meet. We’d have no problem if they let in 48 people, which they whittle down to 24 in the semis. For the record, the field at the three-round Olympic Games is 45.
- Place extra people in a final when there is no DQ in the semifinal
The fact that John Gregorek was placed in the men’s 1500 final when he was in no way impacted by the contact between Jordan McNamara and Andrew Wheating in the semifinal was ridiculous. Once the DQ of McNamara was overturned, Gregorek shouldn’t have been in the final. End of story. Earlier in the meet, the officials briefly had done a similar thing in the men’s 400 where they said they’d have a 9-person final before coming to their senses. When looking at fouls, the officials should use common sense. “No harm, no foul.” If an infraction doesn’t impact anything, don’t DQ and pick up the flag like they do with uncatchable passed in the NFL.
Stat of the Week I
Heading into the Trials, when we were previewing some of the sprints, we were impressed by how many people had hit the Olympic standard in some of the events.
So we decided to see how many people in the US had hit the standard in every Olympic track and field event. Below you will see the results from looking at the names on the USATF Olympic Trials entries page. For the marathon, we just added up the # of people who have run under the standard since the start of 2015 (including those that did at the Trials or since then).
# of Americans With The Olympic Standard
Stat of The Week II
22,122 – average attendance at the Olympic Trials according to USATF (up from a 21,644 average four years ago).
30,000 – expected Hayward Field seating capacity for Worlds in 2021.
The Trials in Eugene are always great but we’re not convinced the 2020 Olympic Trials should be in Eugene. Many families aren’t going to want to spend a ton of money to go see the Trials in Eugene in 2020 and then do it again in 2021 for Worlds (though Worlds likely will attract a decent number of overseas visitors). Putting the 2020 Trials in some random US city to help grow the sport so that Eugene 2021 can be truly special isn’t a bad idea.
Having every big meet in Eugene is good in the short term (they do it better than anyone else) but bad in the long term.
Stat of the Week III: Where They Went to School: Breaking Down the Team USA Distance Squad By Alma Mater
We went through all 10 distance events on the track and looked at where the three Olympians went to college. Here were the results:
Five Olympians: Pac-12 (Centrowitz, Houlihan, Lagat, Rupp, Coburn)
Four Olympians: Big 12 (Simpson*, Bor, Kipchirchir, Hall)
Three Olympians: Ivy (D’Agostino, Cabral, Grace); Big West (Martinez, Jock, Conley); ACC (Andrews, Rowbury, Quigley); Big 10 (Blankenship, Jager, Mead)
Two Olympians: Big East (Huddle**, Infeld)
One Olympian: MAAC (Korir), SEC (Williams), MAC (Murphy), RMAC (Berian), WAC (Frerichs***), Southern (Chelimo)
*Simpson went to Colorado, which is now in the Pac-12 but was in the Big 12 for the duration of Simpson’s career
** Huddle went to Notre Dame, which is now in the ACC but was in the Big East for the duration of Huddle’s career
*** Frerichs finished her eligibility at New Mexico of the Mountain West, but she competed for the majority of her career at UMKC.
As expected, the power conferences have the most, but there were impressive showings from the Ivy League and the Big West, which each boast three Olympians. There was also one athlete who turned pro out of high school (Ajee Wilson). The SEC, long a track power, only has one U.S. Olympian in the distances, but that conference’s power is concentrated in the sprints and jumps.
If you add in the marathon teams, the Pac-12 becomes more dominant as four of the six Olympians (Rupp, Cragg, Keflezighi and Linden) competed in that conference.
Did You Know?
Did you know that in 2012 Will Claye was the first man since 1936 to medal in both the long jump (bronze) and triple jump (silver) at the Olympics? We didn’t (and imagine many of you thought it was fairly common) but learned that fact from The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Mark Zeigler, who taught us that Japan’s Naoto Tajima did it in 1936. A little more research by ourselves reveals that no one had done it even in multiple Olympics since 1936.
Claye won’t get the opportunity to repeat the feat in 2016, however, even though he finished third in long jump at the Trials as he didn’t have the standard. Yes, the reigning Olympic bronze medallist isn’t going to Rio because he didn’t have the standard simply because all of his big jumps at the Trials were wind-aided.
Claye did make the team in the triple jump, where he upset world leader Christian Taylor.
In case you are wondering, medalling in both the long jump and triple jump has happened twice in women’s competition, where the triple jump was just added in 1996. Russia’s Tatyana Lebedeva did it in both 2004 (bronze tj, gold lj) and 2008 (silver tj and lj).
Quotes of the Week (that didn’t make it as quote of the day).
#1 Johnny Dutch went from world leader and gold medal contender to being potentially out of the Sport in the span of 15 meters
“This is one of the more disappointing moments of my life. The only thing that can be more disappointing than this is death.”
–Johnny Dutch, talking to The News & Observer after finishing 5th in the 400 hurdles at the 2016 US Olympic Trials. Dutch, who is still the world leader at 48.10, had the lead heading into the last hurdle, where his trail leg hit the hurdle and he lost all momentum and finished 5th in 48.92.
48.92 is far from a bad performance – only 15 men this year have run faster – but it wasn’t fast enough to make the team. To put in distance running terms, it would be like Robby Andrews running his race (3:34.88 makes him the 15th fastest person in the world this year) and not making the team.
We hope Dutch, who is unsponsored, doesn’t quit. Johnny, if you are reading this, don’t hang them up. Maybe we can crowd-source the funds to keep you going through Worlds next year. It’s ridiculous that a world leader is unsponsored.
We do think Dutch deserve mega props for coming through the mixed zone and facing the media. Mary Cain, who is making six figures per year, bolted and didn’t meet the media whereas Dutch who, is unsponsored, did what a pro is supposed to do.
#2 Sometimes even elite athletes think they can’t handle the pressure
“I don’t want to do this. I don’t belong here.”
–Sydney McLaughlin, 16, who became the youngest US track and field Olympian since 1972, recalling to ESPNW what she told her coaches when she pleaded with them to pull her out of the Trials while warming up for her first-round heat. McLaughlin got over her self-described “nervous breakdown” and qualified for Rio.
#3: Should you hold the discus trials in a rain storm?
“Impossible conditions. I want to say we’re sending a really good team (of discus throwers), but the event was mishandled.
“You literally couldn’t hold on to the discus. … You can’t throw in conditions like that.”
–Jared Schuurmans, the 2015 national champion who finished seventh at the Trials in the discus, talking about the rainy conditions to the Eugene Register-Guard.
#4 It was very hard to make the women’s 100h team
Isiah Thomas, Shaquille O’Neal and Dominique Wilkins were left off the Dream Team in 1992.
That’s kind of how Queen Harrison, Sharika Nelvis and Keni Harrison felt after missing out on making Team USA in the 100-meter hurdles by the blink of an eye.
-excerpt from a Eugene Register Guard article on the women’s 100 hurdles final.
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