2020 Olympics Day 1 Morning Recap: Wale Runs, Ferlic & Bor Go Home, and Fast Times in the Women’s 100

By LetsRun.com
July 30, 2021

TOKYO — At long last, the track & field portion of the 2020 Olympic Games has begun, and we got a look at a number of the sport’s biggest stars on Friday morning (Thursday evening in the US) as Athing Mu, Karsten Warholm, and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce were all in action and all looked very good. There were prelims in the women’s 100, men’s 400 hurdles, women’s 800, and men’s steeplechase, and the best marks came in the 100, where six women broke 11 seconds, led by an African record of 10.78 by Marie Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast. Olympic champions Elaine Thompson Herah (10.82) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.84) also looked good despite not running all-out. Clearly, the track in Tokyo is fast.

Elsewhere, there was big news in the men’s steeple as Ethiopia’s Getnet Wale, the 2019 Diamond League champ, surprisingly started and advanced to the final, while Kenyan champ Leonard Bett and two of the three Americans (Hillary Bor and Mason Ferlic) notably did not make it through. Benard Keter, who grabbed the last time qualifier in a personal best of 8:17.31, will be the sole American in Monday’s final.

Recap of all the track action on day 1 below.


Men’s Steeplechase: Getnet Wale & Lamecha Girma Run, Kenyan & Ethiopian Champs Go Home, Benard Keter Makes Final

The preliminary round of the men’s steeplechase saw a couple of notable casualties, as Kenyan champ Leonard Bett and Ethiopian champ Bikila Takele did not advance. The other big favorites advanced, as did American Benard Keter, who ran an 8:17.31 pb to make the final. American champ Hillary Bor failed to advance and afterwards said he “choked.” 

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The biggest surprise came when the heat sheets were released and Getnet Wale, the 2019 Diamond League champion, was on the start list.

Wale has had a tremendous 2021. He ran 7:24 for 3000m indoors (#2 all-time) and won the Ethiopian trials at 5000 in 12:53. In his one steeple of the year, he got the win in 8:09. However, he was slated to run the 5,000m here as he didn’t run the steeple at the Ethiopian trials. He is a medal threat in whatever event he runs.

However, the Ethiopian team has been in turmoil with infighting between the Ethiopian Athletics Federation and the Ethiopian Olympic Committee as chronicled here. Earlier, Lamecha Girma, the 2019 World Championships silver medallist who was injured at the Ethiopian Trials, was added to the team. However, Wale’s agent had told LRC that Wale was running the 5,000m and was the alternate in the steeple. That clearly is not the case as he ran in heat 2 in the steeple and finished 2nd, getting one of the auto spots. With Wale running the steeple, the report of Muktar Edris and Hagos Gebrehiwhet being added to the 5,000m gains credibility, though Wale’s agent told LetsRun he still plans on running the 5,000m in Tokyo as well and Edris is still not listed among the entries. We tried to talk to Wale to gain clarification on the issue but he did not stop when requested in the mixed zone.

Brief recap of the heats below. *Steeple results

Heat 1: Girma runs fast as 19-year-old Ryuji Miura runs 8:09 Japanese record

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Lamecha Girma came within .01 of winning Worlds in 2019, and he ran like a favorite today. He led heat 1 and made it fast, getting the win in 8:09.83 The big surprise was the second placer, 19-year-old Ryuji Miura of Japan, who ran 8:09.92, taking more than 6 seconds off his previous national record. Mason Ferlic of the US fell back over the last few laps and didn’t advance and neither did France’s Djilali Bedrani, who had run 8:11 this year.

Heat 2: Top 3 Seeds Auto Qualify 

The top 3 seeds all got the auto spots in heat 2 and the big surprise was Matt Hughes of Canada, who hadn’t run under 8:38 this year, running 8:13 to make the final on time. Behind him American Benard Keter ran an 8:17.31 pb and would make the final on time.

Heat 3: Goes out slow and Hillary Bor and Bett go home

Heat 3 had the advantage of seeing the other heats and knowing the time qualifiers for the final started in the 8:13s. However, no one decided they wanted to push the pace so it came down to a kick with seven guys in contention for the three spots going over the final water barrier. Soufiane El Bakkali‘s spot was never in jeopardy but everyone else’s was and Bett and Bor could not get top 3.

Quick Take: Ryuji Miura was the story of the morning

A 19-year-old from the host country running a huge PB and national record and way faster than anyone else had ever run in a steeple prelim before today was obviously the biggest story from the race. Miura was swarmed by the Japanese media in the mixed zone.

Miura was quite popular

He spoke for a long time in Japanese but did say the following about today’s race. “Very good. Next race – more more more, fight.”

Quick Take: Someone break up Canada, the new steeplechase world power

Not many people would have believed us if we told you before this one that Canada would put two people in the men’s steeple final with the US getting only one but that’s what happened this morning. 

24-year-old John Gay ran his third straight PB in the first heat (8:16.99) to get the next to last time qualiifer and veteran Matt Hughes found his form at the perfect time. After running 8:38 and 8:45 in his only other two steeples of the year in May, Hughes ran 8:13.56 in heat 2 to take the first time qualifier into the final.

As a result, Canada, Morocco, Kenya and Ethiopia all have two in the steeple final

Gay, who by the way described himself as a “big fan of the site” when we approached him and asked if he was talking to Rojo or Wejo, trains primarily alone in Vancouver with coach Chris Johnson, where he says “we’ve got a good thing going.” He said he felt like he was well-adjusted to the heat as he got to Japan early on July 17 and has been practicing getting the details right with ice vests and whatnot.

Coming into the year, Gay’s pb was 8:28.96. Now it’s 8:16.99 and he’s in the Olympic final. He’s PR’d four times this year including in each of his last three races – 8:23.52 on May 28 (where he lost to three Americans), 8:20.68 in his last chance to get the standard on June 25, and 8:16.99 this morning.

As for Hughes, the fact that we were interviewing him with Hillary Bor in the background was striking. Bor isn’t in the final and Hughes is, but back in May at the Gateshead DL, Bor got the win and Hughes finished 11th. After a disastrous 8:45 a week later, Hughes pulled the plug on his European campaign and went back to strength work in Flagstaff.

Hughes said he realized he needed to get fitter as after catching COVID-19 in Flagstaff early in the year after a roommate was acting somewhat carelessly, Hughes missed about a month of high-quality training.

“I just know for me it’s always about getting ready for the major championships,” said Hughes, who added that he purposely didn’t kick for the third auto spot in the second heat (he was 4th) as he knew he was running faster than all the guys in the first heat. Hughes said he felt like he fought too hard for an auto spot at the 2019 Worlds and it cost him in the final.

Hughes spoke highly of coach Dave Reid, whom he called “more of a mentor than a coach.” He says Reid does a great job of holding him back in training when he needs to.

After Hughes’ now-fiancee lost her US visa, he initially tried to stay in the Bowerman Track Club as a remote member who would join the group for big training blocks but said it just wasn’t working out. He said it’s impossible to replicate the workouts of the BTC alone as they are very hard given there are so many world-class training partners.

Quick Take: Hillary Bor: “I choked, man”

Bor was 7th at the 2016 Olympics and 8th at the 2019 Worlds and entered Tokyo with dreams of a medal. And why not? There has been a lot of turnover in the steeple this year and Bor had looked good in winning the Gateshead Diamond League and US title.

But those dreams died on the very first day of competition as Bor, who was third in his heat and in position to qualify automatically with just 25 meters remaining, was passed by three men just before the finish line, taking 6th and failing to advance in 8:19.80.

Bor said that he had a slight problem in that he only saw results from the second heat and not the first, so he didn’t know what time he had to hit to qualify. After the race, he regretted not pushing the pace and admitted he may have underestimated his opponents. Ultimately, however, Bor said he only had himself to blame.

“I choked man, there’s nothing else I can say,” Bor said. “I didn’t perform, it’s a tough one. I know the fitness is there…I knew I have a good kick. I don’t know what happened in the last water [jump], the last 100 metres. It shouldn’t have come to that.”

Sadly for Bor, this may have been his last chance at an Olympic medal as he will be 34 by the time of the next Games in Paris.

Quick Take: Benard Keter will be the only US representative in the final

Unlike his American teammates, Benard Keter was able to come through when it counted this morning. You can’t ask for much more than a personal best at the Olympics, and that is what Keter delivered, with his 8:17.31 to take 6th in heat 2. He needed it, as Keter was the final time qualifier; had he run his previous pb of 8:18.53 would not have made it through.

“It went great,” Keter said. “My goal was, just like everyone else, to advance to Monday’s final. I kind of went crazy and I got a personal best.”

Quick Take: Mason Ferlic just didn’t have it today

Ferlic’s plan today was to ease off early and chill toward the back of the pack to give himself room to unfold his lengthy limbs — it’s a gameplan another Ron Warhurst disciple, Brain Diemer, employed in 1984 and it resulted in a bronze medal.

The problem is, Ferlic never felt comfortable and was dropped by two laps to go. Though he had one great workout in the heat after the Trials, Ferlic said that he had felt flat during his pre-Olympic training camp in Hawaii and that carried over to today’s race.

“I just couldn’t find a rhythm in there, just couldn’t move up,” Ferlic said. “Legs were [dead] the last two laps.”

Ferlic did say that he was “honored” to be at the Olympics, but wishes he had performed better, especially because he was nipped at the finish line by a three thousandths of a second.

“That’s not what you do at an Olympic Games,” Ferlic said. “You get those thousandths.”

Ferlic didn’t run all that bad. His 8:20.23 today was less than two seconds off his 8:18.49 pb from April. But he would have had to have run a pb to make the final, and while Ferlic said he thought he was in 8:10 shape, it was not to be.

Quick Take: College coaches, start recruiting him now: Ed Trippas has two years left

Princeton’s Ed Trippas of Australia didn’t advance to the final but he looks poised to be a major player in the NCAA over the next two years as he’s got two years of eligibility left — only one of which he can use at Princeton.

Trippas called today’s 8:29.90 showing “bittersweet” and “a learning experience”, but realized how special it was to call himself an Olympian. “To have this opportunity is pretty special,” said Trippas, who came up totally clutch at the end of June and nailed the qualifier with a 8:19.60 in his last shot.

Trippas has been training primarily by himself over the last year and has been all over the place: Australia, Flagstaff, Europe. He’s felt like he’s learned a certain level of independence as a result, but says he’s checked in with Princeton coach Jason Vigilante every day or two.

Quick Take: Mr. Quarantine Zak Seddon made no excuses

Since he sat within two rows on the airplane over of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, Britain’s Zak Seddon has been quarantined since he got to Japan, only allowed to go out to train alone. That quarantine ends today and as does Seddon’s Olympics as he ran 8:43.29.

While Seddon said the whole process was “quite tedious,” Seddon refused to blame the quarantine or having to train alone in Japan for his showing. “Isolation or no isolation, I should be better than that,” said Seddon. “Everyone has struggled this year [with COVID].”

Seddon was also extremely complimentary of the UK Athletics staff saying they have been “unbelievable” in helping him get through a less than ideal situation.

Women’s 800 prelims: Mu, Rogers win heats; Getachew DNS; Bishop-Nriagu out

The women’s 800 started today with big expectations for the three Americans and they did not disappoint.

The three Americans are through to the semifinals, with Athing Mu and Raevyn Rogers winning their respective heats and Ajee’ Wilson finishing second in hers. Wilson needed a late surge to move from fifth to second in the final 100 meters of heat six.

The biggest casualty of the heats was the DNS of Ethiopian champion Werkwuha Getachew, who was the fourth-fastest woman in the world this year with a 1:56.67. The Ethopian Athletics Federation appeared to scratch Getachew before the meet began, leading to speculation that she failed to meet World Athletics DSD regulations. Beyond that, Canadian Melissa Bishop-Nriagu also did not qualify for the semis, as the 2016 Olympic fourth-placer ran 2:02.11 for fourth in heat three.

Reigning world champ Halimah Nakaayi of Uganda needed a time qualifier to get through, running 2:00.92 for fourth in heat two. In a fast year where 50 women broke 2 minutes in the 800, it required 2:01.16 to get a time qualifier to the Olympic semifinals. The fastest “small q” of the day went to Sara Kuivisto of Finland, who ran a Finnish record of 2:00.15 to finish fourth in heat six.

Teenage sensation Mu, the US champ and fastest woman in the world this year, looked very calm and collected, running a negative split of 62.09-59.01 to win the third heat over Ethiopian Habitam Alemu. Mu made her first race since the Olympic Trials look easy, hardly touching her top gear and easing past Alemu in the final 50 meters.

Rogers outkicked British champ Keely Hodgkinson (another teenage sensation) to take heat four in 2:01.59, looking good in the last 100 as she usually does.

Front-runners Rose Mary Almanza and Natoya Goule, #2 and #3 in the world in 2021, looked good in winning their respective heats as well. The Jamaican Goule ran even splits to win heat 2 in 1:59.83, while the Cuban Almanza ran a negative split 2:00.71 to take heat 5. Goule’s mark was the fastest of the day.

Wilson had to do more work than her fellow Americans, as she was fourth at the bell and only fifth with 100 to go. She seemed unfazed and measured it well, kicking past three women and running 2:00.02, finishing second behind only Jemma Reekie of Great Britain. 

The three semifinals, which are always exciting because they cut 24 competitors down to 8, take place Saturday night Tokyo time, or early Saturday morning in the US. *800 Results

Quick Take: The Americans’ runs today felt reminiscent of the US Olympic trials

At the Trials, Mu was a dominant winner, Rogers looked great in kicking for second, and Wilson had to fight tooth and nail to make the team over the final 100. Today’s races were similar as Mu looked very smooth, Rogers had a great close, and Wilson looked the shakiest of the three but was able to pull it out after passing three women in the final 100.

Quick Take: Athing Mu has aced her first test

Heading into the Olympics, there were a couple of questions about Mu. How would she respond to the biggest stage — and most talented competition — she had ever faced? And how would her body hold up after racing at a high level since January?

So far, so good.

Mu looked totally untroubled and seemed unfazed by the high expectations placed on her shoulders heading into Tokyo.

“Of course there’s pressure, but I’m just going about my rounds,” Mu said. “Literally anything can happen.”

Mu has spent the last month training mostly alone under her coach Milton Mallard at Texas A&M. She said her body feels “amazing” despite the long season and that staying positive helps, too.

“I feel amazing,” Mu said. “If I tell myself I feel bad or I’m tired, of course I’m going to actually go with that, my body’s going to react with that as well. But I feel good.”

The only source of frustration for Mu came on the start line when PA announcer Geoff Wightman mispronounced her name, something that has been happening to Mu ever since she started running.

“Oh my god,” Mu said. “I’m sure everyone saw my face. I don’t know what he said, but it was terrible.”

For the record, it’s pronounced “uh-thing mo” and Wightman has assured LRC that he will get it right for Saturday’s semis.

When asked about the lack of crowds in Tokyo, Mu said she thought it be a benefit for her. As a neophyte on the global, she said she’d wouldn’t know how she’d respond to having tens of thousands of people focused on her.

One last thing, when we asked her what her goal for this meet was, Mu said, “Of course the gold medal is on my mind.”

Natoya Goule is unfazed by the lack of crowds

Goule, who won two NCAA titles for Clemson in 2013 and another in 2015, has been at running at a high-level for a long time now but this is by far her best shot at a medal. She’s in great form – she ran 1:56 for the second time in her life earlier this year in Stockholm and currently is #3 on the 2021 world list.

Goule says she feels like her arm carriage is much better now than in years in the past when it was much more side to side and says that’s something she and coach Mark Elliott worked on during the Covid delay last year. When asked if she found it hard to get up for a race without fans, Goule said not at all. “I don’t see what the problem is,” and pointed out there aren’t fans when you are running hard in practice.

Men’s 400 hurdles prelims: All the big names make it through

There wasn’t much to report about the first round of the men’s 400 hurdles as all of the top athletes went through to Sunday’s semis, including the big two of Karsten Warholm and Rai Benjamin (who actually be in the same semifinal). The fastest time on the day belonged to Qatar’s Abderrahman Samba, the fourth-fastest man in history, who ran 48.38 to win heat 1. The time was promising for Samba as it was just off his season-best of 48.26, but he looked a lot smoother today. *400h Results

Women’s 100 first round: Ta Lou’s 10.78 highlights a blazing opening round

The women’s 100 meters was already one of the most-anticipated events of the Tokyo Olympics, and the Saturday’s final is even more appetizing now as six women broke 11 seconds in today’s prelims. A number of those times were way under 11 seconds, with three athletes breaking 10.9. Marie Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast led the way, running a huge pb of 10.78 (previous best: 10.85) to tie Murielle Ahoure’s African record. Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson Herah (10.82) and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (10.84), who between them account for the last three Olympic titles, weren’t far behind in winning their heats, and both looked very comfortable.

Two things are now clear: the straightaway in Tokyo is very fast, and the final on Saturday night (8:50 a.m. Saturday morning US Eastern time) is absolute must-watch TV. Only four women in history have broken 10.7 (and one was drug cheat Marion Jones), but it’s very possible that someone breaks 10.7 on Saturday and fails to win gold. That’s how good this field is. *100 results

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