The Braintrust Picks the 2020 US Olympic Team

April 8, 2021

On last week’s episode of the Track Talk podcast, LRC co-founders Robert and Weldon Johnson and staff writer Jonathan Gault made their picks for the 2020 US Olympic team in all 10 distance events.

As of today, we are just over 10 weeks out from the US Olympic Trials, which will be held in Eugene, Ore., from June 18-27. In some ways, 10 weeks is a lot of time — a lot can change in the middle-distance hierarchy in that time as athletes begin racing outdoor. But in others, it’s not very much time at all — just ask anyone nursing an injury right now.

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So don’t necessarily consider these picks iron-clad locks (unless they all turn out to be correct), but rather our best guesses, based on what we know at the moment, about who will be on the plane to Tokyo four months from now. To hear our full logic, fast forward to the 45:00 mark of the podcast. To just see the picks, scroll down.

MB: U.S.A. Olympic Team Picks 800 to10,000 — who ya got?

Wilson and Rogers were unanimous LRC picks to make the Olympic team

Women’s 800

Rojo: Ajee’ Wilson, Raevyn Rogers, Hanna Green*
Wejo: Ajee’ Wilson, Raevyn Rogers, Athing Mu
Jonathan: Ajee’ Wilson, Raevyn Rogers, Athing Mu

Even though Rogers has not raced yet in 2021, all three LRC experts picked Wilson and Rogers, erstwhile training partners who each medalled at the 2019 Worlds. The only debate was about the third spot. Rojo gave it to 2019 USA runner-up Green, while Wejo and Jonathan went with Mu, the 18-year-old Texas A&M freshman who ran a collegiate indoor record of 1:58.40 in February.

*On this week’s podcast, Robert said he wanted to change his pick to Athing Mu as he was very impressed by her 4:16 1500 but we dind’t let hiim pick it.

Men’s 800

Rojo: Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel, Clayton Murphy
Wejo: Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel, Clayton Murphy
Jonathan: Donavan Brazier, Bryce Hoppel, Isaiah Harris

Rojo and Wejo both elected to run back the World Championship team from 2019, while Jonathan opted for Harris, the USA runner-up in 2017 and 2018, over Murphy, the two-time US outdoor champ and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist.

Women’s 1500

Rojo: Shelby Houlihan, Elle Purrier, Sinclaire Johnson
Wejo: Shelby Houlihan, Jenny Simpson, Elle Purrier
Jonathan: Shelby Houlihan, Jenny Simpson, Sinclaire Johnson (Purrier over Johnson if she runs it)

Here’s where things start to get complicated, because the women’s 1500 and 5000 finals are 30 minutes apart at the Trials, making the double impossible. Both Houlihan and Purrier would be among the favorites in either event, which means they’ll have to choose.

All three staffers picked American record holder Houlihan — a no-brainer. As for the other two spots, Purrier, Johnson, and Simpson all received two votes each. Simpson, a four-time global medalist and three-time Olympian, has made every US World/Olympic team since 2007 and ran 3:58 to finish 8th in the 2019 World Championship final. Rojo is predicting the 34-year-old Simpson’s streak of making teams will come to an end, while Wejo and Jonathan both have her making her 11th (!!!) team in a row.

Men’s 1500

Centrowitz edged Hocker at the Track Meet in December; could they be Olympic teammates this summer? (photo by Justin Britton)

Rojo: Matthew Centrowitz, Cole Hocker, Yared Nuguse
Wejo: Matthew Centrowitz, Cole Hocker, Craig Engels
Jonathan: Matthew Centrowitz, Craig Engels, Josh Thompson

This event provoked plenty of debate as the men’s 1500 picture in the US is very cloudy at the moment. All three staffers predicted that reigning Olympic champ Matthew Centrowitz, who has made every US team since 2011, will be in Tokyo to defend his title. Rojo went with collegians Hocker and Nuguse at spots #2 and #3, with Wejo taking recent double NCAA champ Hocker and 2019 US champ Engels. Jonathan, meanwhile, opted to run back the top three from 2019 USAs with Centrowitz, Engels, and the Bowerman TC’s Thompson.

Women’s 3000 steeplechase

Rojo: Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, Colleen Quigley
Wejo: Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, Colleen Quigley
Jonathan: Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, Colleen Quigley

Corburn, Frerichs, and Quigley are the three fastest Americans in history and each made the US team in 2016, 2017, and 2019. We don’t see that changing in 2021.

Men’s 3000 steeplechase

Jager hasn’t raced a steeple since 2018, but LRC expects him to make his third Olympic team (Courtesy Talbot Cox)

Rojo: Evan Jager, Hillary Bor, Anthony Rotich
Wejo: Evan Jager, Hillary Bor, Stanley Kebenei
Jonathan: Evan Jager, Hillary Bor, Stanley Kebenei

Jager, the seven-time US champ and two-time global medalist, and Bor, the 2019 US champ who has made the last three US teams, were unanimous selections. For the third spot, Wejo and Jonathan both picked Kebenei, the second-fastest American in history (8:08.30) who finished 5th at the 2017 Worlds. Rojo opted for Rotich, the three-time NCAA champ at UTEP whose 8:21 pb dates to 2013.

Women’s 5000

Rojo: Karissa Schweizer, Elise Cranny, Shannon Rowbury (Elle Purrier over Rowbury if she runs it)
Wejo: Karissa Schweizer, Elise Cranny, Vanessa Fraser (Elle Purrier over Fraser if she runs it)
Jonathan: Karissa Schweizer, Elle Purrier, Elise Cranny (Emily Infeld if Purrier chooses the 1500)

Everyone picked Bowerman TC teammates Schweizer and Cranny. Should Purrier run the 5000, everyone had her on the team; if not, each LRC staffer had a different pick. Rojo went with three-time Olympian Rowbury, who is 36 but ran 14:45 in Monaco last year. Wejo went with the 25-year-old Fraser, who ran 14:48 indoors in 2020 but has battled injuries since then. Jonathan took Infeld, the 2015 World Champs bronze medalist, to make it a BTC sweep if Purrier chooses the 1500.

Men’s 5000

Embed from Getty Images

Rojo: Lopez Lomong, Paul Chelimo, Grant Fisher
Wejo: Lopez Lomong, Paul Chelimo, Grant Fisher (Sean McGorty if Lomong or Fisher does 10k only; Joe Klecker if Lomong and Fisher do 10k only)
Jonathan: Lopez Lomong, Paul Chelimo, Grant Fisher

Lomong and Chelimo, the top two finishers from 2019 USAs, and Fisher, the 2021 US leader at 13:02, were unanimous selections by our panel. But with half a dozen other sub-13:10 guys in the field (Woody KincaidSean McGortyJoe Klecker, Eric Jenkins…) there could be a few surprises in one of the Trials’ final races.

Women’s 10,000

Rojo: Elise Cranny, Emily Infeld, Emily Sisson
Wejo: Emily Sisson, Emily Infeld, Molly Huddle
Jonathan: Karissa Schweizer, Elise Cranny, Emily Sisson (Emily Infeld if Schweizer does 5000 only)

2019 US 10,000 runner-up Sisson, who just won the US 15k title on the roads, was the only unanimous pick here. Rojo and Jonathan both went with Cranny, who moved to #3 on the US all-time list with her 30:47 win at the TEN in February. Rojo and Wejo picked Infeld, who made the US 10k team in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Wejo took American record holder and five-time defending champ Huddle with his third pick, despite her recent DNF at the Sound Running Invite, while Jonathan went for Schweizer, who was just behind Cranny at the TEN with a 30:47 of her own.

With the 10,000 following the 5000 at the Trials, it’s possible some of the women (such as Cranny and/or Schweizer) elect to skip this event entirely if they make the 5000 team.

Men’s 10,000

Rojo: Lopez Lomong, Grant Fisher, Woody Kincaid
Wejo: Lopez Lomong, Grant Fisher, Eric Jenkins
Jonathan: Lopez Lomong, Eric Jenkins, Ben True

Everyone had two-time defending champ Lomong on the team. The brothers Johnson agreed that Lomong’s BTC teammate Fisher will be joining him, with Rojo opting for a Schumacher sweep by picking Kincaid for third. Wejo went with Jenkins, who won the 10k at the Track Meet in December, while Jonathan, perhaps showing his Dartmouth bias, took Jenkins and True, who ran a pb of 27:14 at age 35 in February.

Think you can pick better than us? Have your say on the LetsRun messageboard: MB U.S.A. Olympic Team Picks 800 to 10,000 — who ya got?

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