US Olympic Trials Men’s 5,000 Final Preview: Who Will Close Best in a Wide-Open Race?

July 5, 2016

EUGENE, Ore. — One of the greatest events in track and field — the United States Olympic Team Trials — are halfway over. No domestic event holds more significance or produces more drama than this meet. has all hands on deck, providing wall-to-wall coverage from Eugene. Below is our look at the men’s 5,000 final.

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

Men’s 5,000 final (Saturday, July 9, 8:20 p.m. ET) *Rio Standard is 13:25.00

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Name Affiliation Qualifying time SB Comment
Hassan Mead Nike OTC / NIKE OTCE 13:04.17 13:04.17 DNF’d 10k but has been running well in ’16
Benjamin True Saucony 13:05.54 13:12.67 Rough go in 10k. US leader at 1500. Showed the last few years he is one of America’s best but Mead beat him by a lot at Pre
Ryan Hill Nike BTC / Bowerman Track Club 13:05.69 13:35.74 2nd in World Indoor 3k but only ran 13:35 at Pre in his only outdoor race. Is he all right?
Eric Jenkins Nike OP / Nike Oregon Project 13:07.33 13:24.67 DNF’d 10k but looked good in winning Oxy
Galen Rupp Nike OP / Nike Oregon Project 13:08.38 13:20.69 Coming back after 10k win, but does he have the wheels to close?
Bernard Lagat Nike 13:14.97 13:48.36 DNF’d 10k but looked great in prelim
Garrett Heath Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC 13:16.31 13:23.06 Only made final on time but was just .07 from making the team last year
Diego Estrada ASICS 13:17.30 13:48.71 Did Marathon Trials
Riley Masters Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC 13:17.97 13:49.75 9th last year
Shadrack Kipchirchir U.S. Army 13:18.52 13:18.52 Won Payton Jordan 5k, 2nd in 10k at Trials
Jeff See ASICS FURMAN ELITE / ASICS Furman Elite 13:21.16 13:31.21 8th last year
Lopez Lomong Nike BTC / Bowerman Track Club 13:21.32 13:48.48 After running mostly 800’s this year, looked good in prelims
Paul Chelimo Sr U.S. Army 13:21.61 13:21.61 Beat some studs to make World Indoor team at 3k in March
Sean McGorty Stanford 13:24.25 13:24.25 2nd at NCAAs
William Kincaid Portland 13:27.32 13:27.32 Only 9th at NCAAs but beat Rupp on June 23
Brian Shrader Saucony 13:29.13 13:29.13 Ran PR on June 23

Unpredictability is the watchword for Saturday’s men’s 5,000 final. You could make the case that about 10 of the 16 finalists have a chance to make the team, far more than normal in this event. And that should make for a truly compelling race on the Trials’ penultimate day.

Hill will look for a repeat title on Saturday Hill will look for a repeat title on Saturday

Three months ago, Ryan Hill was the presumptive favorite. The 26-year-old is the defending U.S. champion at 5,000, has won the last two U.S. indoor 3k titles and in March earned silver over the same distance against some real studs at World Indoors. But Hill battled bursitis in his knee early in the spring, bombed in his only outdoor race (13:35 at Pre) and said he’s had some rough workouts recently. Hill’s strength has always been his final 200, and he believes that his kick will be there in the final (it looked just fine in the prelims, as he closed his last lap in 54.45). The only question is if he’s strong enough to be around when the kicking starts. And in all likelihood, he will be; the winning times at the last three U.S. championships are 13:50, 13:31 and 14:54. Hill’s not a lock to win the race, but if it goes slow, he has the best kick in the field and will likely make the team, even after his rough outing at Pre.

The key man in the race could actually be 10k champ Galen Rupp. Rupp’s been logging mega mileage as part of his marathon prep for Rio (even if he makes this team, 10k-marathon seems like Rupp’s play) and as great as Rupp is, there’s no way that his kick in a 5,000 is as sharp as it was when he won the Trials four years ago. His semifinal showed that: Rupp closed in 55.08, over a second slower than heat winner Bernard Lagat, and really had to work for the final auto spot, edging out Brian Shrader by just .001. Rupp’s best bet to win this race is a hard mid-race move that puts the hurt on kickers like Hill, Lagat and Paul Chelimo. But is that the strategy he’ll employ? Rupp hasn’t 100% ruled out the 5k-10k double in Rio. And if he wants to evaluate his 5k medal chances, wouldn’t it be better for Rupp to allow it to go slow and see how his kick stacks up rather than try to take it from the front? (Personally we think the idea of Rupp doing the 5000 in Rio is foolish. If he’s going to double, the 10,000/marathon double is the way to go).

True winning the NYC Diamond League meet last year True winning the NYC Diamond League meet last year

Ben True is another guy whose best bet is for it to go fast. True may be the U.S. leader at 1500, clocking 3:36.05 back on June 17. But his greatest strength is not his top-end speed; it’s his ability to close in 54 off of almost any pace. He’s an aerobic monster. That doesn’t mean True can’t close in a slow race — he was second last year at USAs and beat Hill at Worlds, and neither of those races were fast — but a quicker race clearly favors him. Same goes with Hassan Mead. Mead outkicked the 1500 specialists in running 3:37 at Oxy and smoked both True and Hill in running a U.S.-leading 13:04 in the 5,000 at Pre. He’s got good wheels, but they become a more valuable tool when used in concert with his 10k strength. Of course, the bad news about True and Mead is that both men ran the 10k and struggled. Though they had two days between Friday’s 10k final and Monday’s 5k heats (and a further four between the 5k heats and 5k final), they’ve got six extra miles of racing in their legs that guys like Hill and Chelimo don’t.

Eric Jenkins and Lagat are two more guys who struggled in the 10k (both DNF’d) but neither of them are as strong aerobically as True or Mead. Jenkins looked great at Oxy earlier this season, blowing away a solid field by running 13:24 with a 55-second last lap. He struggled in his last pre-Trials race (13:32 for 7th at the Stumptown Twilight meet on June 23), though. Was that because, like NOP teammate Rupp, he was in a heavy training phase? We don’t know for sure, but Saturday’s final will probably tell us.

The 41-year-old Lagat (still amazing, no matter how much we type it) may have looked the best of anyone in the prelims. He looked like the Lagat of old (well, the Lagat of the early 2010’s, which was still pretty old) in winning his heat with a 53.64 last lap, the fastest of the day. Lagat and his camp (we bumped into his agent James Templeton after the semi) believe he’s in great shape, and would it really be that surprising if he made this team?

Chelimo was 8th at World Indoors in March Chelimo was 8th at World Indoors in March

Four more men round out our list of contenders, all based in or around Portland. The first two are U.S. Army WCAP teammates Shadrack Kipchirchir and Paul Chelimo. Kipchirchir is playing with house money; he’s already an Olympian at 10,000 meters. But he’s no 5k slouch either as he ran 13:18 to win Payton Jordan. He looked way better than everyone else in that 10k field, save Rupp, though with a high of 64 and showers currently forecast for Saturday, conditions won’t be as brutal for the 5k. Chelimo is the better bet of the two to make it in the 5k. He was a revelation indoors, outkicking a deep 3k field to find his way onto Team USA in the 3k. He didn’t look great at Pre (his 13:21 was ahead of Hill but behind Mead and True) but we can’t totally count him out after his terrific indoor season.

One other guy we can’t count out: Lopez Lomong. Yes, he’s run poorly this year. His 2016 outdoor results read like a B-level collegiate mid-distance runner:

April 15 (Bryan Clay Invite): 1:49.19 800 (1st)
April 16 (Mt. SAC): 1:48.18 800 (4th)
May 1 (Payton Jordan): 3:50.78 1500 (11th)
May 15 (Portland Twilight): 1:50.10 (5th)
May 20 (Oxy): 1:50.44 800 (8th)

But Lomong is a two-time Olympian (1500 in ’08, 5k in ’12) and looked good in his heat here. He’s not likely to make the team, but we can’t ignore him either.

The final guy to watch for is the University of Portland’s Woody Kincaid. It may seem ludicrous to suggest that a guy who was just 9th at NCAAs four weeks ago could make it onto the Olympic team, but Kincaid beat Rupp on June 23 and closed in 53.72 to win his prelim on Monday. Kincaid’s wheels are the real deal. There’s only one problem: he doesn’t have the Olympic standard of 13:25.00. In a 13:5x race, he’d have an outside shot at a top-three finish. But Kincaid hasn’t fared as well in faster races (NCAAs was fast, and even when he beat Rupp in a 13:2x race, Justyn Knight still beat him handily). It’s a Catch-22.

LRC Prediction: This is an extremely tough event to pick. Rupp looked so good in the 10k that we were tempted to pick him in the 5k as well, but his prelim was not encouraging. Even with the extra rest, if this race goes tactical, we just don’t think he’ll have the kick to place top three. And that’s why we like Hill for the win. Hill may not have looked his best since indoors, and he didn’t sound that confident when we talked to him after the semis but he’s got the best kick in the field.

As for the other spots? True didn’t look great in the 10k, but he’s always been a better 5k runner than 10k runner. His other results this year have been solid, and we ranked him #1 in the U.S. for 5k last year. That’s enough for us to pick him for the team. And we like Lagat to make his fifth Olympic team. Yes, he’s 41. Yes, he DNF’d Pre (due to illness) and the 10k at the Trials. But he can still kick with the best of them, and he’ll prove that on Saturday. Plus he sounded real confident when we talked to him after the 10k.

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