2020 Olympic Trials M10K Preview: Can Grant Fisher Lead a Bowerman Sweep?
June 18, 2021 to June 27, 2021
By Jonathan Gault
June 15, 2021
It’s finally here. After five years of waiting, the greatest track meet on American soil is back: the US Olympic Trials. From June 18-27, the best runners, jumpers, and throwers in the country will descend upon the rebuilt Hayward Field in Eugene, Phil Knight‘s $270 million palace on Agate Street. It won’t be quite the same as usual. There will be fans, but the stadium won’t be full — disappointing given this is one of the few meets in this country that reliably sells out. Media access to athletes will be greatly limited as there will be no in-person mixed zone.
But the drama? The drama is still there, and it gets underway on Friday night with the first track final of the meet, the men’s 10,000 meters. Here’s what you need to know.
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Athletes with 27:28.00 Olympic standard in bold
|Lopez Lomong||NIKE / Bowerman TC||27:04.72||2-time defending champ has raced once in last year|
|Grant Fisher||NIKE / Bowerman TC||27:11.29||Running great in ’21; US leader in 5k & 10k|
|Woody Kincaid||NIKE / Bowerman TC||27:12.78||3rd at The Ten in Feb; 3rd in 5k at ’19 USAs|
|Ben True||27:14.95||Can he make first Olympic team at age 35?|
|Eric Jenkins||NIKE||27:22.06||Ran his pb in Dec|
|Emmanuel Bor||U.S. Army||27:22.80||Has reached a new level in ’21|
|Joe Klecker||On Athletics Club||27:23.44||’19 NCAA XC runner-up has run pbs at 5k (13:06) & 10k in ’21|
|Leonard Korir||U.S. Army||27:34.01||’16 Olympian needs standard|
|Robert Brandt||Georgetown University||27:39.20||Was in 2nd with smile on face with 150 to go at NCAAs, ended up 4th.|
|Conner Mantz||Brigham Young University||27:41.16||NCAA XC champ & NCAA 10k runner-up|
|Sam Chelanga||27:42.02||27:08 man has made quite the comeback in ’21|
|Abdihamid Nur||Northern Arizona University||27:42.73||3rd at NCAAs last week|
|Frank Lara||Tracksmith / Roots Running||27:43.13||Ran 28:47 in college for Fuman. Knocked a minute off in two years.|
|Eric Hamer||Colorado State University||27:44.87||2nd indoors in 5k at NCAAs, 5th outdoors in 10k.|
|Girma Mecheso||U.S. Army||27:49.53||33 year old only ran 28:22 on May 14|
|James Mwaura||Gonzaga University||27:50.44||Kudos to USATF for actually letting him run as he hadn’t entered before NCAA given his pb was 28:27|
|Isai Rodriguez||Oklahoma State University||27:52.92||Imagine running that time and not scoring at NCAAs (10th). Twice to 10 NCAA xc.|
|Dillon Maggard||HOKA ONE ONE||27:54.89||Former Utah St. runner (3rd NCAA 10k in 2018) had 28:38 pb heading into year|
|Jacob Thomson||Tracksmith||27:57.32||Former Kentucky runner went ran 28:09 and then 27:57 on May 14 and May 28|
|Martin Hehir||Reebok||27:57.52||6th at Marathon Trails. Ran 2:08:58 at Marathon Project last December|
|Diego Estrada||27:57.99||Ran 10,000 in 2012 Olympics for Mexico.|
|Reid Buchanan||On||27:58.67||7th in 2019, won Pan Am silver.|
|Galen Rupp||Nike||28:00.37||Olympic silver in 2012. Dominant winner of marathon trials.|
|Abbabiya Simbassa||28:01.15||Ran huge 1500 pb of 3:39 on May 29th|
The men’s 10,000 meters has changed a lot in the five years since the 2016 Trials. As of Monday morning, just one of the top five finishers in that race, Leonard Korir, has been accepted into this year’s meet. Galen Rupp, who won his eighth straight US 10k title in 2016, was eventually added when USATF filled the field to reach its target size of 24 athletes, but his focus is now on the marathon; he will be in Eugene simply to run a few laps on the new Hayward Field rather than to make the team. The biggest absence from that 2016 race is Shadrack Kipchirchir. The fourth-fastest American of all time (27:07), Kipchirchir has made the last four US 10k teams but will not be running due to a calf injury.
Another change since 2016 is that Lopez Lomong is now a 10k runner. Lomong, an Olympian in 2008 and 2012, looked washed up at the last Trials, finishing 10th in the 5k. Turns out, he just wasn’t healthy, and after US 10k titles in 2018 and 2019, he’s been one of the best American distance runners of the last three years.
But the one-year Olympic delay may have hurt Lomong more than anyone else. For one, he’s another year older — he’s 36 now. For another, he’s not in the same kind of form. He headed into 2020 as Superman after turning back two-time global medalist Paul Chelimo to secure a 5k/10k double at 2019 USAs and proceeded to run his fastest 5k ever (12:58). But Lomong enters the Trials having raced just once since August 2020, and while he did win that race — a 13:26 5k at the Portland Track Festival on May 29 — it was hardly convincing, requiring Lomong to dig in the home straight just to beat a rookie 5k runner in David Ribich.
In addition to adding another year to Lomong’s odometer, the delay also gave time for younger talents to blossom. Last year, Lomong was fitter than Bowerman Track Club teammates Grant Fisher and Woody Kincaid. After those two ran 27:11 and 27:12 in California in February — the top two times by Americans this year — that no longer appears to be the case.
Fisher has been in the best form of any American long distance runner in 2021, and if I had to pick a pre-race favorite, it’s him. He’s the US leader in the 5k (13:02) and 10k, so you’re probably not dropping him. And he’s run 3:36 for 1500 to show enviable speed for a 10k man, and his 1:56 final 800 in a 13:19 5k win at the Portland Track Festival (he ran in a different heat from Lomong) was the kind of close that makes teams.
If there is a weakness, it’s that Fisher had never run a 10,000 in his life until February. Though he was the NCAA XC runner-up as a senior at Stanford (and a two-time Foot Locker champ in high school), until this year Fisher had always been more of a 1500/5k guy than 5k/10k. It’s going to be warm on Friday (high of 83), and with a 7:25 p.m. local start time, the sun will still be out (sunset isn’t until 8:58 – race temps should be in the high 70s). If this turns into a knock-down, drag-out, war of attrition, then maybe Fisher breaks. That’s what happened at the last Trials, when the true 10k specialists flourished while the 5k guys stepping up (Bernard Lagat, Eric Jenkins) really struggled. This time around, however, there doesn’t appear to be anyone capable of putting a hurt on the field like Rupp in ’16. And if this devolves into a sit-and-kick, that helps BTC as Fisher, Lomong, and Kincaid have three of the strongest kicks in the field.
The man most likely to break up the BTC sweep is another guy who hadn’t run a 10,000 until this year: Emmanuel Bor of the Army’s World-Class Athlete Program. The older brother of US steeplechase champ Hillary Bor, it will have been quite a journey if Emmanuel is to join his brother as an Olympian. Bor was 9th in the NCAA mile final as a freshman at Alabama but that would remain his best NCAA finish as he didn’t even qualify for NCAAs as a senior in 2011. After racing on the roads for a few years, Bor joined the Army in 2015 but didn’t do much until finishing 5th at USAs in the 5k in 2018. Since then, he’s continued to improve and has reached another level at age 33 in 2021, beating Paul Chelimo to run 13:05 in March (the second-fastest ever by an American indoors) and running 27:22 in his 10k debut at the Sound Running Track Meet in May. Given his background on the roads (62:18 half) and XC (US runner-up in ’19), it’s a little surprising he didn’t try the event sooner.
Who else could make it? Well, aside from the BTC trio and Bor, there are three other men with the Olympic standard. We may as well mention all of them, because if you don’t have the standard at this point, you’re not making the team. Enough men have hit the standard worldwide that World Athletics won’t be accepting anyone based on world ranking, and in the history of the USATF Championships, only one man has ever run faster than the 27:28 Olympic standard (Rupp in 2012).
Those other three with the standard are Eric Jenkins, Ben True, and Joe Klecker of the On Athletics Club. Klecker has been in great form this year, running almost the exact same times as Bor (13:06/27:23; he was .64 behind Bor in the 10k at the Track Meet), plus a 1500 pb of 3:37. If Bor is a serious contender, Klecker has to be as well.
The two New Englanders are less certain prospects. Jenkins looked great in running 27:22 at the Track Meet in December to hit the standard, beating a field that contained Patrick Tiernan and Edward Cheserek and defeating Klecker by 13 seconds. But he had been poor for most of 2021 until the Stumptown Twilight meet on June 3, where he beat Tiernan to win the 5k in 13:20. He’s a wild card.
As for True, he looked rejuvenated in hitting the Olympic standard with his 27:14 at The Ten in February. But since then, he has gone backwards. He finished 7th in the 5k at the Track Meet in May, beaten by the likes of Garrett Heath. Two weeks later, he ran faster (13:22) but got blasted on the last lap by Ben Flanagan. That’s a problem, because the guys True will have to beat to make the team are a lot better than Garrett Heath and Ben Flanagan. Despite his fast time in February, True was already at a disadvantage — when he ran his 27:14, he was outkicked by Fisher and Kincaid on the final lap. If anything, that deficit could be larger now.
Other notable entrants
- Leonard Korir — He made US 10k teams in ’16, ’17, and ’19, but finished almost a minute behind Bor & Klecker in the 10k at the Track Meet last month. His days as a force on the track may be over.
- Conner Mantz — The NCAA XC champ was the top American in the NCAA 10k, finishing 2nd.
- Sam Chelanga — Chelanga retired in 2018 to join the Army, but couldn’t stay away from the sport and made a comeback for last year’s Olympic Marathon Trials, where he placed 21st. Chelanga had been active duty with the Special Forces in Florida, but after deciding to give the track trials a shot, he was able to receive a temporary assignment in Colorado, where he has been training with Scott Simmons‘ WCAP group. Chelanga’s 27:08 pb from 2010 puts him #2 in this field (only Lomong has run faster), and his 27:42 at the Track Meet in May — his fastest time since 2012 — showed he could be a factor at the Trials, even though he doesn’t have the Olympic standard.
- Marty Hehir — The Marathon Project champion and 2:08 marathoner was 7th at the ’16 Trials.
JG prediction: 1) Fisher 2) Lomong 3) Bor
Fisher has been on fire this year, and I just can’t find a good reason to pick against him. He’ll be tough to beat in any style of race. Lomong’s lack of recent races worries me, and his performance at the Portland Track Festival was not particularly encouraging but that was the ultimate rust buster. And I know the dude can kick, and his recent championship record is incredible. I think he’s on the team.
I considered a BTC sweep here. But realistically, everyone with the standard (except perhaps True, given his recent struggles) has a shot to make the team; as good as the BTC athletes are, this event is too competitive for them to sweep. Based on their workout/race at the Portland Track Festival, Fisher is better than Kincaid right now. And in that race, Kincaid’s closing splits (63.2/58.3 last two laps to run 13:24) were similar to Lomong’s (64.0/58.2 to run 13:26), and if those two are close, I’m giving Lomong the edge because he’s made teams before. I also think Bor and Klecker are really good, with Bor just a bit better.
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