How Many Olympians Will The OAC Have In Year 1? It’s Gonna Be A Crooked Number

By LetsRun.com (sponsored by On)
June 16, 2021

For a team just founded in 2020, the On Athletics Club certainly has quite a few members who could potentially compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Aussie 1500m ace Oliver Hoare is nearly a lock for his country’s Olympic team, as is Polish steepler Alicja Konieczek, and the team’s four Americans –  Leah Falland, Joe Klecker, Alicia Monson, and Emily Oren – will compete at the Olympic Trials starting at the end of the week.

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Three of them have a very legitimate shot to make teams in their respective events, but the United States is the world’s best track team and the Olympic Trials is one of the world’s best meets, where anything can happen any four (or five) years.

If there’s anyone familiar with the pressure and unpredictability of the track Trials, it’s OAC coach Dathan Ritzenhein, who competed at them in 2004, 2008, and 2012. 

Ritz made teams in 2004 and 2012 in the 10,000, but in different ways — in 2004, he finished dead last at the Trials while nursing an injury, but qualified for the Athens Olympics because Trials winner Meb Keflezighi opted to only run the marathon and no other finishers in the race outside of the top 3 had the standard except for Ritzenhein.

In 2012, he went into the Trials needing a top 3 and the standard and got it, working with Galen Rupp and finishing third. In 2008, he finished eighth, well short of the team, but he was already on the Olympic marathon team for Beijing.

Ritz officially retired from running in 2020, but he feels the same nerves, if not more, for these Trials than he did in his racing days.

“I’ve got four athletes going, so I figured I’d be nervous for every single one of their races,” Ritzenhein said.

Ritz spoke with LetsRun over the weekend about the OAC athletes’ preparation for the Trials. He’s also the guest on thsi week’s Track Talk podcast. You can subscribe to the podcast here.

Monson, Klecker, Falland all seeking first U.S. team

OAC has three athletes seeded in the top 7 in the U.S. based on their entry times in their respective events: Joe Klecker is #7 in the 5,000 (13:06) and 10,000 (27:23), Alicia Monson is #7 in the 10,000, and Leah Falland is #6 the steeplechase.

Klecker ripped a 27:23 in his second-ever 10k in May, and he also chopped 22 seconds off his 5k pb this year. He’ll be the first OAC athlete to compete at the Trials, Friday at 10:25 p.m. Eastern in the men’s 10k final.

“He had the last really big workout and he’s starting to freshen up a little bit now,” Ritzenhein said. “He looks good. He looks ready to go.”

Ritz said he doesn’t know if Klecker will come back to run the 5,000-meter prelims six days later if he makes the 10k team, but he and Klecker are “putting all [their] eggs in that first day.” Klecker will have his hands full in the 10k with Grant Fisher, Woody Kincaid, Lopez Lomong, Eric Jenkins, Emmanuel Bor, and Ben True, but there’s no doubting his fitness after his 27:23 run.

Like Klecker, Monson has the Olympic standard in both the 5,000 and 10,000, but she had to make a decision because the women’s 5k is before the 10k at the Trials: Run the 5k prelims and finals for another chance at making the Olympics, but risk being tired for the 10k?

We have the answer: Ritz after speaking to us confirmed via text to LetsRun that Monson would scratch the 5k to go all-in on the 10k.

While he admitted it would be “hard to watch the 5k go by,” Ritz favors Monson’s chances in the 10k and said she trusts the decision. She’ll run Saturday, June 26 at 9:44 p.m. Eastern.

Falland, whose steeple pb is 9:18 from 2017, has run 9:28 this year. She was in contention at the 2016 Olympic Trials until the final lap and is finally healthy this year after a spate of injuries.

The women’s steeple is a tough team to make, with 2017 World champ Emma Coburn and American record holder Courtney Frerichs leading the charge. However, with Lululemon pro and 2016 Olympian Colleen Quigley missing from racing action since February, the third spot on the team could be up for grabs. Falland’s 9:28 puts her at #5 on the 2021 US list but she’s only 3 seconds back of #3 Valerie Constien (9:25) and one second back of Mel Lawrence (9:27), and a stable of collegians for the third spot.

The fourth OAC athlete competing in Eugene is Emily Oren, a nine-time NCAA champion at Division II Hillsdale College. Oren will also be running the steeplechase; she’s run 9:41.92 this year, just off her 9:40.65 pb from 2017.

Oren and Falland will run the prelims of the steeple on Sunday, June 20.

OAC runners fit and focusing on confidence entering the Trials

Ritz had a specific strategy laid out for his American athletes in the months leading up to the Trials: once they achieved the Olympic standard, they would not run their primary events until the Trials.

Klecker ran 27:23 in the 10k at the Sound Running Track Meet on May 14 and has only raced a 1500 since (3:37.00). Monson ran 15:07 for 5k on March 6 and has run only two 1500s since (4:08 and 4:07). Falland ran 9:28 in the steeple on May 9 and hasn’t raced at all since. 

This was intentional, as Ritz wanted the athletes to recover, fine-tune their speed, and conserve their mental strength for the Trials.

“After they hit the standard, I wanted them to shift their focus mentally and be completely all-in on the Trials race when they’re going to run that exact distance,” Ritzenhein said. “The other races that they did were really just to prepare them for the nerves and all that stuff.”

The decision certainly wasn’t due to a lack of fitness — Ritz even considered allowing Monson to run the 5k in a good field at the Track Meet because he thought she could run so fast, but decided against it.

“I think she was ready to run under 14:40, actually,” Ritzenhein said. “I think she’s that fit.”

Instead, the athletes have continued training hard in Boulder, allowing the tension to build toward Eugene.

“The nerves are there for me and everybody else too,” Ritzenhein said. “It’s normal. I keep telling them all that. […] I’ve been there a million times. Everybody’s nervous. Your competitors are nervous. This is just the Olympic Trials. This is what happens.”

Ritz has been there before and said he’ll sit down with his athletes and remind them that their preparation should give them the confidence that they are healthy and fit, and this confidence should help overcome the inevitable nerves.

“I don’t want them to think about the other runners in the field,” Ritzenhein said. “Just trust the training and trust that they’re fit. They’re all in great shape. The only variable we control is, when we stand on the start line, we do the best we can. They have a good chance.”

International OAC members await decisions

The aforementioned Ollie Hoare will have to wait even longer than the Americans to know officially if he’ll compete in Tokyo. But it’s hard to fathom he won’t be in Tokyo as Hoare is ranked #9 in the world in the 1500, but Australia’s track and field federation, Athletics Australia, will not officially pick their team until July 1.

For now, it’s a waiting game for Hoare. He should be selected, but the only Australian to have booked a ticket in the 1500 is Australian trials winner and former Track Talk podcast guest Jye Edwards.

“There’s nothing else to do,” Ritzenhein said.”We just have to train like he’s on the team and they’ve picked him and he can be ready for Tokyo.”

Hoare ran 3:32 in his first indoor race of the season and hasn’t looked back since, winning two races in the U.S. in 3:33 and taking second at the Gateshead Diamond League. The only man to beat Hoare over 1500 meters this year is one Jakob Ingebrigtsen.

He’s had to prove his fitness every time out in order to impress Athletics Australia.

“There’s no rust busters once you become a professional,” Ritzenhein said.

OAC member and Polish steeplechaser Alicja Konieczek lacks the Olympic standard but ran a personal best of 9:33 this year and is ranked #21 in the world, so she is nearly guaranteed to make Poland’s team and book a ticket to Tokyo.

With the two international athletes as virtual locks for their respective Olympic teams, the likely amount of OAC Olympians will be between two and five. We’ll have a much better idea in the next two weeks as the U.S. Olympic Trials unfold.

Regardless of what happens in Eugene, Ritz is proud of the OAC’s progress in its first year of existence.

“We got ourselves in the right position over the course of this year,” Ritzenhein said. “It was a huge change for all of them. They moved to Boulder, took on a new coach, took on new teammates, new sponsor — I’m proud of where they’re at right now. It’ll be a stressful few days, but I’m ready for it.”

The other OAC international runners, Carlos Villarreal (Mexico) and Geordie Beamish (New Zealand) were middle distance studs in the NCAA but have raced sparingly due to injury, so their Olympic dreams may have to wait until 2024, although Beamish, who recently PR’d in the 1500 (3:37.57), is expected to take one final crack at the 3:35.00 Olympic qualifying standard.

Ritz sheds light on fellow Michigan high school star: Hobbs Kessler

Before Ritzenhein was a three-time Olympian, he was a track and cross country prodigy from Grand Rapids, Michigan who won the bronze medal at the 2011 Junior World Cross Country Championships. He had a few thoughts about another Michigan-raised superstar: Hobbs Kessler, the high schooler who crushed Alan Webb’s high school 1500 record with an astounding 3:34 on May 29. Kessler will race the 1500 at the Trials.

Ritz praised Kessler’s coach, Ron Warhurst, for his development of young middle distance runners, including Nick Willis, Kevin Sullivan, and Nate Brannen in the late 2000s.

“[Warhurst] was optimistic and he told me afterwards he thought he could run 3:34,” Ritzenhein said. “I was like, ‘You should have told me that before, Ron.’”

Asked whether Kessler should sign a professional contract or attend Northern Arizona to run in college, Ritz leaned toward the college route.

“I don’t really advocate for people going professional straight from high school, just because there’s a lot of growth that happens as a human being,” Ritzenhein said. “You gotta learn by yourself, you’ve got to learn the social things and get out of mom and dad’s house.”

Nevertheless, Ritz did consider that Kessler may be too good for the collegiate running scene and that he could be successful if he remained with Warhurst.

“He’s already running as fast or faster than everybody in the NCAA,” Ritzenhein said. “So he’s going to have to think hard on it, but I don’t think he’s going to go wrong by sticking with Ron and having Nick [Willis] guide him either. That’s a heck of a good duo.”

Kessler is following in the footsteps of former Michigan high school studs Ritz, Donavan Brazier, and Grant Fisher.

“We keep pumping them out and I keep getting further and further down the line from the top,” Ritzenhein cracked. “Now that Donavan went through, and Grant and Hobbs —  They’re pushing me off the podium pretty quickly.”

The three youngsters are all superstars in their own right, but for at least another week, Ritz still has something over each one: the title of an Olympian.

Note: This content is sponsored by On, but they did not have approval of it.

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