W5000 Preview: Who Is the Favorite? Can Upstart Josette Norris Pull Off a Shocker?

By Robert Johnson
June 17, 2021

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Handicapping the women’s 5000 at the 2020 US Olympic Track & Field Trials is a bit difficult. The American record holder in the event, Shelby Houlihan, is banned from the sport. America’s #3 5000 runner pre-COVID, Elle Purrier, has opted for the 1500 as well.

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On paper, that leaves the second-fastest runner in US history, Karissa Schweizer who ran 14:26 in 2020, as the heavy favorite. And for good reason. The 5000 is the best event for the former Missouri star, who racked up four of her six NCAA titles in the 5000 during her great collegiate career. Her 14:26 pb is more than 20 seconds better than anyone else in the field (14:48 is #2). And the 25-year-old’s 4:00 1500 pb is best in the field, as well meaning she’s shouldn’t be vulnerable in a slow race either.

Notable 5000 entrants *Full entries

Name Affiliation 2021 SB Comments
Elise Cranny Nike Bowerman NM 14:48.02 pb is #2 in field. Has run 4:02 for 1500 and 30:47 for 10,000 this year. Does she go 1500/10k or 5k/10k?
Josette Norris Reebok Boston 14:51.42 Used to be known as Robby Andrews’ girlfriend. Huge breakout year in 2021. Pb was 15:29 until this year
Rachel Schneider Under Armour 14:52.04 Made Worlds in 2019 but running better this year
Allie Buchalski Brooks Beasts 14:57.54 Gone from 15:22 to 14:57 this year and 4:12 to 4:06
Karissa Schweizer Nike Bowerman 15:00.44 Ran 8:25 and 14:26 last year, so 15:00 for 4th at end of May is a big question mark
Gwen Jorgensen Nike Bowerman 15:08.28 Olympic gold medallist in triathlon has been all over place in 2021 (32:29, 15;08, then 15:29 on May 15)
Erika Kemp Boston Athletic Association 15:10.10 .10 off the standard
Abbey Cooper New Balance 15:13.27 Made Olympics with 5th place finish at 2016 Trials
Vanessa Fraser Nike Bowerman 15:17.26 Ran 14:48.51 indoors last year giving her the #3 pb in the field but is coming back from injury. Ran 15:44 on May 15. Ran 15:17 on June 3rd. Is there enough time?

Note: Athletes in bold have 15:10.00 standard. It looks like you will need the standard to go as more than 45 people worldwide have it.

Schweizer became just the second American woman ever under 14:30 last summer (Photo by Talbot Cox)

However, Schweizer’s two races in 2021 have made some, including us, doubt her status as heavy favorite. On February 20, she ran a very solid 30:47.99 for 10,000 but was surprisingly beaten by her Bowerman Track Club teammate Elise Cranny, who is in this field as well with the #2 pb of 14:48 pb. In her only race since then, on May 29, she ran 15:00.44 and got beat by three women (non-American) in a 14:57 race.

15:00 is far from horrible but it’s far from great as well. As a result, if Cranny runs this event (she could run the 1500/10k instead), she is the one to beat as she’s also put up a 4:02 in the 1500. That may be a mistake though as Schweizer really excels at 5000.

If everyone was fully healthy, this event could on paper turn into a BTC sweep as Vanessa Fraser, another BTC athlete, is next up on the PB list at 14:48.51. However, Fraser had Achilles surgery on both legs on May 15 of last year and has been slow to come back from that.

When I had my own Achilles surgery 15 years or so ago, my doctor told me to not complain about anything unless it was at least 366 days post-surgery as sometimes it takes that long for the pain to go away. Well on May 15 of this year, exactly one year after her surgery, Fraser finished her first 5000 since the surgery and she only put up a 15:44 — a far cry from what she’d need to make the team. However, 19 days later on June 3, she improved 27 seconds to 15:17. The women’s 5000 final is 18 days after that. Can she possibly improve her fitness by another 27 seconds? I think it’s going to take at least 14:50ish fitness to make this team,

I’d be very surprised but it’s an amazing story if she pulls it off.

Speaking of amazing stories, there is an actual one going on right now. Instead of wondering if Fraser is in 14:50 shape, I know that the Reebok Boston Track Club’s Josette Norris is in that shape as she ran 14:51.42 on May 15. As a result, she leads the US 5000 list in 2021.

That’s pretty incredible as at the start of the year, Norris had a 5000 pb of just 15:29. She lowered that to 15:19 on Febuary 27 and then 14:51. Along the way, she’s racked up three impressive victories at 1500. On April 17, she ran a 3+ second pb of 4:07.35 to open her spring season, winning by more than 2 seconds. On April 24, she won Drake in 4:06.17, beating both 5000 contender Rachel Schneider as well as Shannon Osika, who has gone on to run the US’s #2 time in the 1500 this year at 4:00. On May 29, she ran 4:06.30 and won by nearly two seconds over Danielle Aragon, who would beat Jenny Simpson a week later.

Really impressive stuff for someone who only made it to NCAAs one time in track (4th in the 5000 as a senior in 2019) while at Georgetown (and two years at UNC) and never in XC. If she makes the team, she’ll be the second person in her family to be an Olympian as she’s engaged to Robby Andrews.

Schneider winning the 10k at the 2020 Sound Running Track Meet (Photo by Justin Britton)

The next person on the US list at 14:52 in Rachel Schneider. She too is g to a fairly prominent person in the sport — her coach Mike Smith of NAU. Schneider made the team in 2019 after finishing 4th at USAs as Houlihan opted out of the 5000. The 29-year-old has lowered her pb from 15:06 to 14:52 this year and won the Drake road mile, but she’s 0-3 against Norris this year, including two losses in the 5000.

One other American in the field has broken 15:00 this year — Allie Buchalski of the Brooks Beasts (14:57.54). Buchalski, the NCAA runner-up behind Schweizer in 2018 for Furman, is lightly raced this year as she ran her 5000 pb in March and has only run two 1500s since. In her last 1500, on May 29, she ran a huge 1500 pb of 4:06.19 (previous pb of 4:09.86). That’s the good news. The bad news is she lost to Schneider by more than 1.5 seconds.

As a result, assuming Cranny runs, I think the women’s 5000 is really a race between four people for three spots. Cranny, Norris and Schneider are in the form of their lives, but Schweizer has the better pedigree.

Prediction: 1) Cranny 2) Norris 3) Schweizer 4) Schneider

PS. In 2016, America’s fifth-best 5000 meter runner at the US Olympic Track & Field Trials made the Olympic team. Abbey Cooper got on the team after finishing 5th at the Trials as US champion Molly Huddle opted just for the 10,000 at the Olympics, as did 4th placer Emily Infeld. In 2021, it could be the US’s 6th or 7th if Cranny doesn’t run.

PPS. Stop the presses if Gwen Jorgensen makes the team. It’s pretty cool the Olympic triathlon gold medallist gave up that sport to pursue her passion — running.

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