Platinum PT Qualifier: Sisson Rolls, Purrier Upset, True & Huddle Must Turn Things Around Quickly

By Jonathan Gault
May 29, 2021

ATTLEBORO, Mass. — Before Hobbs Kessler ran 3:34 at the Portland Track Festival to melt the track & field internet, there was another meet held on Saturday night outside of Boston featuring a number of Americans who should be contenders at next month’s US Olympic Track & Field Trials. Emily SissonMolly HuddleBen True, and Elle Purrier were among the stars who showed up on a chilly, damp night to get one last Trials prep race in at the Platinum PT Qualifer at Bishop Feehan High School, 40 miles southwest of Boston.

Of the four biggest US names, only Sisson was victorious, coasting to a 14:59.12 victory in the 5,000 meters as Huddle was just fourth in 15:24.12. True ran 13:22.38 in the men’s 5,000, an improvement on his 13:26.88 two weeks ago at the Track Meet in California, but was blasted over the final 200 by Canadian Ben Flanagan of the Reebok Boston Track Club, who ran a pb of 13:20.67. 19-year-old Graham Blanks ran 13:27.39 for third to scare Nico Young‘s US U20 record of 13:24.26.

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On a night ill-suited to fast 800-meter running, Purrier finished second at that distance behind 2019 NCAA mile champ Julia Rizk, who won in 2:02.98 to Purrier’s 2:03.30. The other notable result came in the women’s 1500, where Josette Norris continued her breakout 2021 campaign by kicking to a commanding 4:06.30 victory, narrowly missing her 4:06.17 pb.

LetsRun.com was on-site and we were able to catch up with a number of the pros. Takeaways and post-race interviews below.

*Full results

Elle Purrier: “I’m feeling really fit and happy with where I’m at. I’m not going to let a shitty, rainy day in Boston [get me down].”

Purrier came back to pace the 1500 after racing the 800

Today’s race was the first subpar outing by Elle Purrier in 2021. In third place with 100 to go, she was in contention for the win in the final straight but couldn’t quite get there as Julia Rizk came by on the outside to get the win. It was a down note on which to head to the Olympic Trials, but Purrier, who said she trained through this meet, was not too disappointed about being outkicked and running over three seconds slower than her last outing at this distance.

“I’m super excited, I’m feeling really fit and happy with where I’m at,” Purrier said. “I’m not going to let a shitty, rainy day in Boston [get me down].”

Purrier’s coach Mark Coogan confirmed that the plan is for Purrier to run the 1500 at the Trials. Given the uncertainty in that event right now, Purrier may be the best bet of anyone to make the team. American record holder Shelby Houlihan is the two-time defending US champion, but she hasn’t raced at all in 2021 and scratched from the Portland Track Festival tonight in what was supposed to be her season opener. Jenny Simpson, a four-time global medalist and fixture on US World/Olympic teams, has raced just once in 2021 and it went disastrously. Purrier, meanwhile, has been firing on all cylinders and is the only American under 4:00 this year thanks to her 3:58.36 at Mt. SAC on May 9.

“I think I have a good shot at winning [at the Trials] on the right day, but obviously the 1500 is still one of the most competitive events in the US and I’m not taking anybody lightly,” Purrier said.

Josette Norris explains her breakout season

Norris came into 2021 with a 5,000 pb of 15:29 and had some work to do just to make the US Olympic Trials (15:20 standard), let alone the Olympic team. Yet after her 14:51 at the Track Meet two weeks ago — the fastest time by an American this year — Norris is now a serious contender to make it to Tokyo.

From afar, it has seemed as if Norris’ breakout — she won the 1500 tonight to go with her 1500 win at the Drake Relays in April — has come suddenly. In reality, it has been building slowly over the last three years. Injured for most of her first four years at North Carolina/Georgetown, she finally stayed healthy as a fifth year in 2018-19 and took 4th at NCAAs and followed that up with a 15:29 pb a month later. That was enough to land her a contract with the Reebok Boston Track Club, and under coach Chris Fox, Norris has able to keep healthy and bump her weekly mileage from the 40s in college to the 60s now. She barely raced last year, and though she was improving in practice, she never felt things quite clicked in 2020. They have in 2021.

“I got in a lot of good work [last year] and it was not showing in the races,” said Norris.

Emily Sisson grateful for Olympic delay, says she would have been fine with a one-section final in the Olympic Trials 10k

Emily Sisson has run three 5,000’s in 2021 and has broken 15:00 in all of them, winning two. Tonight was the slowest of the bunch at 14:59, but considering Sisson didn’t really take off until just before 3k, the time wasn’t hugely important (she still won comfortably by 6+ seconds). The race was another sign that Sisson, who will contest only the 10k at the Olympic Trials, has a good shot to make her third straight US team at that distance.

Speaking of the 10k, Runner’s World broke the news this week that USATF will run a two-section final in the women’s 10k at the Trials, since over 50 women have hit the auto qualifier. But Sisson said she wouldn’t have minded sharing the track with everyone.

“I actually would have been fine with just everyone in one heat,” Sisson said. “I actually don’t mind maneuvering around people.”

Sisson tried and failed to make the Olympic team in the marathon last February, and her plan last year was to turn things around quickly and try to make it in the 10k. The COVID-19 pandemic gave Sisson an extra year to get her track legs back under her, and when asked whether the extra year helped, Sisson’s eyes lit up.

“I definitely benefitted from a year off,” Sisson said. “I just needed to reset and worked out some kinks…I probably wouldn’t have been in the mix had they happened last year.”

Ben True & Molly Huddle still have work to do if they are to contend at the Olympic Trials

Purrier, Norris, and Sisson will all head to Eugene feeling good about their recent results. The same can’t be said for veterans Ben True and Molly Huddle, both of whom were looking to rebound after recent poor results in California. Neither was really able to — True ran faster than two weeks ago but was totally outclassed by Ben Flanagan over the final 100, while Huddle ran a second slower than she did at Mt. SAC (15:24 vs 15:23) and felt worse doing it, as a nagging hip/hamstring issue flared up during her race.

Both True, 35, and Huddle, 36, said that 10k pace feels better than 5k pace right now, so if either is to challenge for an Olympic berth, it will be in the longer event. Based on 2021 results, True, who ran 27:14 in February, seems the more likely to contend, but Huddle, the five-time defending champ in the 10k, has the stronger historical pedigree.

It was a great night for the Reebok Boston Track Club

The Reebok Boston Track Club may be based in Virginia, but its athletes ran very well tonight at a meet closer to its nominal “home” in Massachusetts. Norris won the 1500 and Flanagan won the 5,000 in a personal best, while Brit Amy-Eloise Markovc boosted her Tokyo chances by hitting the Olympic standard of 15:05.96 (she’s the sixth Brit to run under the 15:10 standard). A successful night for coaches Chris Fox & Adam Smith.

An incoming freshman at Harvard just ran 13:27. And he’s American.

Last month, Nico Young ran an American U20 record of 13:24.26 for 5,000 meters at the Drake Relays. Tonight, another American U20 athlete came just three seconds shy of Young’s time: Graham Blanks, who turned 19 on April 24, clocked 13:27.39 to finish third in the men’s 5,000. Blanks, a native of Athens, Ga., was 28th at NXN in 2019 and ran 9:04 for 3200 meters indoors in his only track race in 2020 — solid times, but nothing to suggest the breakout that was to come in 2021. Blanks committed to Harvard, but deferred his enrollment until the fall of 2021 (the Ivy League cancelled all of its 2020-21 championships). That gave him some extra time to train during his gap year, and he’s put it to good use, running 13:47, then 13:35, and now 13:27. It seems a little crazy that a Harvard freshman could be one of the best runners in the country this fall, but the clock doesn’t lie. 13:27 is flying.

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