Day 4 Rest of Meet: Sean McGorty Survives Steeple Scare, Chris Nilsen Upsets Sam Kendricks, & Will Claye Is Clutch

June 21, 2021

EUGENE, Ore. — June 21 was “Magic Monday” at the 2020 US Olympic Trials as there were thrilling finals in the men’s 800, women’s 1500, and women’s 5000 meters. We have dedicated recaps for each of those events, but there was also a way-more-dramatic-than-usual men’s steeple prelim and three men’s field event finals (triple jump, pole vault, javelin) on day 4. We recap everything below, including an upset win by Chris Nilsen in the pole vault and a clutch victory by Will Claye in the triple jump. *Results

Men’s Steeple Prelims: Sean McGorty Loses a Shoe, Loses 10 Seconds but Makes Final

If you thought the biggest drama in the steeple before the final would be Evan Jager not starting, think again. In heat #1, Sean McGorty, one of the favorites in the event, running in the third steeple of his life, started to lose a shoe on the third lap of the race. Coming off a turn, he went wide of the field and stopped and calmly took his time getting it back on. He lost 10 seconds. 

Then he slowly began trying to make up the ground he lost. The problem was the field was running fast, as six guys set seasonal or personal bests and McGorty would never catch fully up. Up front, Isaac Updike and Hillary Bor were clearly the best. McGorty kicked the fastest final lap of the field and finished in 9th in 8:25.95. The top 5 and 4 time qualifiers would make the final so he had a chance to advance.

Heat #2 ended up being won in 8:29.04 by Benard Keter as he and Mason Ferlic looked good. That means McGorty was in the final.

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QT: Today’s action proved that the steeple is an event where the weather doesn’t make much of a difference

Four guys in heat 1 had run 8:25 or faster heading into this one but 9 men did it today in 90+ degree heat, proving what we always say, the steeple is a rare distance event where the weather doesn’t impact things too much. It’s just short enough that the heat doesn’t matter too much and plus the runners aren’t running all out liek they are in say a 5000 due to the barriers  (and maybe the water helps as well).

McGorty ran something that would have been equivalent to 8:15 today so it was a very strong run. Updike, Bor, Keter, Ferlic, and podcast listener Daniel Michalski all could challenge for the Tokyo spots.

Men’s pole vault: Nilsen upsets Kendricks for first US title in a historically deep competition

When Chris Nilsen qualified for the 2016 Olympic Trials, he had one goal: a picture with his idol Sam Kendricks. He got it, but in the competition itself, he failed to clear a single bar.

Five years later, Nilsen came into the meet with the goal of making the team. He got more than he bargained for as he not only made the team, he defeated Kendricks, the six-time defending US champ and two-time defending world champ, by clearing 5.90 meters to Kendricks’ 5.85 (Kendricks tied for second with NCAA indoor champ KC Lightfoot; both men are also headed to Tokyo).

Knocking off a huge pole vault name in a big competition is starting to become a habit for Nilsen as he also upset Mondo Duplantis at NCAA outdoors in 2019.

Overall, this was an incredibly deep competition and an incredibly tough team to make. This was the first time in history three Americans had cleared 5.85 meters in the same competition. In total, 11 men cleared 5.70 or better — tied for the most in any competition, ever.

Men’s Triple Jump: Claye is clutch

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With double Olympic gold medallist Christian Taylor out with a ruptured Achilles, it was time for Will Claye, who has finished behind Taylor in the silver medal spot at each of the last two Worlds and Olympics, to shine. 

Claye, who recently revealed that at the end of 2019 he too had ruptured his Achilles and had been unable to walk, came up extremely clutch in round six as he produced his longest jump since his surgery (17.21) to edge Donald Scott, who leapt 17.18 in round 2. The only other man with the Olympic standard, Chris Benard, ended up third in 17.01 as Chris Carter, who does have a high enough world ranking to go if he’d been third, was fourth at 16.82.

Men’s Javelin: No Americans have standard but Curtis Thompson wins, may get to Olympics thanks to World Rankings

In 2016, then-Mississippi State sophomore Curtis Thompson won the NCAA title and then finished second at the Olympic Trials. Thompson’s 82.88-meter throw at those Trials was the second-best throw in meet history. The only problem was that it was 12 centimeters short of the Olympic standard, so Thompson did not make it to Rio.

In the five year since, Thompson didn’t win another NCAA title or make it to the World championships. Now, he’s a US champion, winning today with a sixth-round heave of 82.78 (271 feet, 7 inches), and he may finally become an Olympian. The standard has increased by two meters since 2016 (it’s 85.00 meters now), so while Thompson threw 82.78 to win the title today by more than 3.5 meters, he remains well short of the standard.

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The silver lining is that athletes can now get to the Olympics via world rankings rather than simply needing the standard, a new system that World Athletics (then the IAAF) introduced in 2019. In 2016, that system was not in place and USATF did not allow athletes to chase the standard after the Trials, so Thompson missed out on a trip to Rio.

The top 32 athletes in the World Athletics javelin rankings can compete in Tokyo if they are named to their country’s respective teams, and the top three men today all fit that criteria: Thompson (US champion, 28th in the world), Michael Shuey (runner-up at the Trials, 21st in the world) and Riley Dolezal (third, 30th). Since the ranking period closes at the end of June, all three have a good chance to make it to Tokyo.

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In today’s competition, Thompson took control quickly with an 80.34-meter throw in the first round of the prelims and an 80.08-meter throw in round four (the first round of the finals). 2021 was his first year since 2016 with an 80-meter throw, and he had three today — three more than anyone else in the competition. He added the 82.78 for good measure on the final throw of the entire competition.

Shuey threw 79.24 in the third round to put pressure on Thompson, but fouled his next two attempts. Dolezal’s performance was the most clutch — he was in fourth place for the majority of the competition and in fifth entering his final throw. His final attempt flew 77.07 meters, by far his best of the day, vaulting himself into third and potentially on the team.

Dolezal is a 35-year-old middle school gym teacher who has competed at Worlds three times but never the Olympics. Fellow Velaasa athlete Shuey also made Worlds in 2019.

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