Tokyo 2020 Day 3 Morning Session: World Leader Randolph Ross Is Eliminated in 400m Prelims as All 3 American Women Advance to Steeplechase Final

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August 1, 2021

TOKYO — A day after 100m world leader Trayvon Bromell of the USA needed a time qualifier to advance out of the prelims of the men’s 100 meters, another American sprint star had an even worse day at the 2020 Olympics on Sunday. 400m world leader Randolph Ross, the only man to have broken 44 seconds in 2021, ran just 45.67 in his first-round heat and finished fourth. Ross was in a battle with Switzerland’s Ricky Petrucciani for the third and final auto qualifying spot in heat 2 and looked to be on course to qualifying, but let up before the finish line and wound up missing out by .03. A painful lesson for the 20-year-old NCAA champion.

In other action, Americans Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Val Constien made it through to the women’s steeplechase final and China’s Lijiao Gong took shot put gold, with the USA’s Raven Saunders (silver) and New Zealand’s Valerie Adams (bronze) joining her on the podium.

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Full recap of all of Sunday morning’s action below.

*Full results

Women’s steeple: All three Americans advance

There were no major casualties in this morning’s heats of the women’s steeple as all of the major players advanced to Wednesday’s final, including Americans Emma Coburn, Courtney Frerichs, and Val Constien. Coburn comfortably grabbed the third and final auto spot in heat 1, which was the fastest of the day as Bahrain’s Winfred Yavi (4th at 2019 Worlds) and Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai (5th at 2019 Worlds) kicked clear of her on the final lap, Yavi winning the heat in 9:10.80, the fastest time of the day. Chemutai, who had not run faster than 9:22 in three previous races in 2021, wasn’t far behind in 9:12.72, a signal that she, too, may contend for a medal in the final.

Frerichs won the second heat in 9:19.34, ahead of 2019 bronze medalist Gesa Krause and 2019 world champion Beatrice Chepkoech, though all three women crossed the finish line within half a second of each other.

The big news came after the race when Chekpoech revealed to she has been battling a hamstring injury and didn’t sound confident about her prospects.

Unlike Coburn and Frerichs, Constien, making her Olympic debut, needed a time qualifier to advance. But, knowing she only had to break 9:30 and finish in the top six in the final heat to make the final, her spot was never in serious doubt as she took fourth in 9:24.31.

It was also a good day for the Commonwealth as Genevieve Lalonde ran 9:22.64, to PR by 7 seconds and get back the Canadian record, taking five seconds off Regan Yee’s month-old Canadian record to place fourth in heat 1. Great Britain also got its first Olympic finalist in this event as former Princeton runner Lizzie Bird ran 9:24.34 to snag the penultimate time qualifier.

Beatrice Chepkoech says she has been battling a hamstring injury

Beatric Chepkoech has run 14 seconds faster in the steeplechase than anyone ever not busted for drugs. She was once untouchable in this event but has looked mortal in 2021 as she has yet to win a steeple in three outings. Today, she revealed why. Back in February, Chepkoech was in great shape, running a world record of 14:43 for 5k on the roads. Then she developed a right hamstring injury, which has bothered her throughout the summer. 

“When I was running at the Kenyan Trials, it was so painful,” Chepkoech said. “Even here, it’s still painful but I use some painkillers.”

To add injury to injury, Chepkoech’s Achilles have been bothering her since she arrived in Tokyo — both of them were taped for her race today.

When we asked her if she could medal, she didn’t sound confident. “I don’t know,” she replied. When we asked if she was at least in her best shape of the year as she ran a 6 second seasonal best of 9:04.94 Monaco, she also replied, “I don’t know.”

Courtney Frerichs: “I think this is probably the best shape I’ve ever been in in my entire life”

Frerichs looked comfortable in winning heat 2 and afterwards spoke confidently about her fitness, saying she believes she has made a significant jump since finishing a well-beaten second behind Coburn at the Olympic Trials in June.

“I really believe that I’m in a territory I’ve never been in before,” Frerichs said.

It has not been the smoothest season for Frerichs, who developed a hamstring injury over the winter and had to take things slow in the early part of the year. But she also had the luxury of already having the Olympic standard (and a big talent gap behind her to the third-best American steepler), which allowed her to really dial in on the Olympics. Now she believes she is in the best shape of her life — a bold claim for a woman who holds the American record at 9:00.85.

More than physical fitness, Frerichs also believes she is in a great spot mentally.

“I just really tried to force things [in ‘19 and ‘20] after those first two years [as a pro] with finding success (world silver in ’17, American record in ’18), I don’t think I appreciated really how young I was when I ran a lot of those things early in my career,” Frerichs said. “I think I just have a much better head on my shoulders [now].”

Emma Coburn has experience and perspective, believes there are 6-7 women capable of medalling

This is Emma Coburn’s third Olympics and she ran like a pro knowing the top 3 advanced, and letting off the gas on the final lap as she was well clear of the 4th placer in her heat. In addition to running smart in her race, Coburn has good perspective on not letting the pressure of the Olympics get to her. “I think it helps that I’ve done this three times now just because I have a good perspective about what it all is. Yes it’s the Olympic Games. It’s a pinnacle of our careers but at the same time it’s just a 400 meter track with seven water jumps and I just try and do the job that I know I can do on  any other track,” she told Lewis Johnson immediately after the race. Coburn has now made every global final since 2011, save for 2013 when she was injured and did not compete.

Coburn also has a knack for running her best when it matters most — she has run the two fastest times of her career in global finals. She thinks it’s possible to do the same in Tokyo, but knows that she won’t earn a fourth global medal without a fight.

“I feel like I’m doing workouts I’ve never done before, that makes me think I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been in,” Coburn said. “But I’m assuming everyone else is in the best shape that they’ve ever been in too so I don’t know. I think there’s probably six of us that have a really good chance for the medal (she later adjusted that tally to seven after considering Chemutai’s result.”

Like Coburn, two-time medallist Gesa Krause of Germany also says 7 or 8 women have a shot at a medal, including herself as she’s fitter than ever

The 28-year-old Krause, who has been pro since HS and technically runs for the German military, qualified easily for her eighth straight global final by finishing second in heat #2 behind Frerichs. After the race, Krause, who medalled in both 2015 and 2019 and has a 9:03 pb, said she’s fitter than she’s ever been.

“I would say I’m fitter, [as] compared to my general shape [overall] but Doha was the perfect race for me. We had an air-conditioned stadium — it was perfect conditions — and I had the race of my life,” said Krause. “It’s a championship and anything could happen. I think I’m ready for anything.”

Looking ahead, she doesn’t think the 8 p.m. final will feel as hot as the Rio final, which was run in the middle of the day as she says when she’s running in the sun it feels a lot “heavier”, like you’re burning from the top of an oven.

In terms of attire, Krause says she recently came across a black necklace she loved as 13-year-old and is wearing it everywhere, including in races.

One of the potential medallist may be Uganda’s Peruth Chemutai

Coming into today Chemutai was only 18th on the 2021 world list at 9:22 after finishing 8th in Doha. After that, she only raced one steeple — a 9:33 at the Ethiopian Trials — which she ran as a Ugandan. But Chemutai was much better today, leading most of heat 1 and running 9:12.

“I’m so happy to be in the final,” said Chemutai who said her early struggles were the result of “some problem” with a tendon. But her whole focus has been preparing for the Olympics. When asked if she thought she could medal she replied, “Yes I will make it (a medal).”

She said she thought it would take 9:03-9:05 to medal in the heat.

The fastest runner of the day Winfred Yavi of Bahrain didn’t expect to run so fast

Yavi, who ran the fastest time of the day in heat 1, said she was surprised by how fast she ran. “I didn’t expect it to be fast,” she said. But when we asked her why she kicked it in for the heat when win the top 3 all auto-advanced she said she didn’t want to take any chance and “maybe not qualify” if someone behind her surprised her (4th was more than 11 seconds back).

As for the final, Yavi’s goal is simple: “I want to run the race of my life in the final.” We asked her if she was used to the heat as she runs for Bahrain but she said no as she doesn’t live there and trains in Kenya.

Despite the head, Geneviève Lalonde broke out with a big PB

Canada’s Lalonde ran a 9:30.24 NR in 2016, then a 9:29.99 NR in 2017, then a 9:28.82 NR in 2019 so it felt really good for her to break out of the high 9:20s and run 9:22 today. 

“[My old PR was from two years ago.] Since then,I’ve moved. I’ve changed coaches. I’ve changed groups. I’ve gotten injured. I got married, I had a whole bunch of things happen and, ultimately, the group that I’ve been working with has just been so excellent in reviewing everything we’ve gone through over the past 10 years,” said Lalonde.

Lalonde credited her breakthrough to her new coaching setup of Hillary Stellingworth and Joël Bourgeois, both past Canadian Olympians, which she said makes up an “incredible team” for her.

A hip injury in the winter resulted in her not racing much and just focusing her efforts on the Olympics.

Dreams do become reality: Val Constien proud and happy to make the final and represent USA

Three months ago, hardly anyone expected Val Constien to be on the Olympic team. She not only made the Olympic team, but this morning made the final. Afterwards, she was super pumped when talking to Lewis Johnson on the broadcast and hopes her rags-to-riches story inspires others (well maybe not literal riches — she’s still unsponsored). 

“I’ve been working really hard for a really long time. So making this final is something that I knew I could do. It’s an honor, because I love the United States. I love to represent my country and I love to represent people who have a similar story as me. No contract, not getting paid to run, working a full-time job,” said Constein, who works for Stryd.

Constien said that Stryd was very supportive of allowing her to take time off to compete at Tokyo but that she can’t wait to get back to work upon her return. She also made a fashion statement with her wraparound sunglasses, which she says were a gift from the father of a high school friend. Constien has been training a lot in them, likes the red, white, and blue color scheme. Mostly, she just likes them because she thinks “they look really cool.”

DII star Lindsay Flangan of Adams State/Ireland lowered her pb from 9:40.69 to 9:34.86 today but failed to advance to the final

Three months ago, Flangan said she would have expected a big race like this but said she had begun to doubt whether she was past her peak as she only ran 9:46 and 9:42 in her last two steeples before today. She may keep her season going for one more race as she’d like to get the 9:30.00 standard for 2022 Worlds. 

Men’s 400m Round 1: World leader Randolph Ross bombs out, Michael Cherry leads qualifiers, Michael Norman has to turn it on late

It was a mixed day for the Americans. Randolph Ross, the NCAA champ and world leader, failed to advance. The top 3 in each heat automatically qualified and, like at the Trials, Ross had some ground to make up the last 100. He appeared to move just barely into the 3rd spot with 10 meters to run and then it looked like he let up or leaned at the wrong line and missed the 3rd spot by .03. His time of 45.67 was too slow to advance on time.

After the race, Ross wasn’t too upset despite not getting out of the first round as the world leader. Remember, he was only third at the US Trials and he said he knew coming in it was going to be “difficult. Ross said normally the last 150-200 of his race is his best but could sense today he was in trouble on the final bend and “not feeling right.”

MB: Randolph Ross: Why Didn’t He Try for Third? 

Fellow American Michael Cherry (44.82) had the fastest time of the day as Michael Norman got an auto qualifier but did not look great, and the same applied to reigning Olympic champ Wayde van Niekerk.

Quick Take: Cherry is hardly sleeping here but says that’s normal for him.

Michael Cherry said he only slept 5 hours last night but said that’s not unusual as at the Trials he estimated he was only sleeping three hours each night. The lack of sleep clearly isn’t hurting as Cherry says this was his 12th straight 44 clocking on the year (for the record, we only see 9 on but it’s possible they are missing a few races)

Despite not looking great, both Michael Norman and WVN were upbeat

“l am quite happy and comfortable with how things are looking good at the moment,” said van Niekerk, who did admit that he wanted to finish higher in his heat. “The goal was top two but I obviously came a bit short, but I’m still in the semifinals and there’s a job that needs to be done tomorrow.”

He added that he “didn’t push too hard” and has “a little bit extra” still in the tank. He’s focused on taking things day by day.. 

As for Norman, his mom is from Japan, and he told Lewis Johnson he is hoping she can get into the stadium to watch him. We’re not sure how that would happen as no fans are allowed in the stadium.

In 2019, Norman opened with a 43.45 at Mt. SAC in April but by the end of the year wasn’t even in the world final. This year, he’s started much more modestly and has yet to break into the 43s.

“There is huge difference between my training between this year and [2019],” said Norman. “I had a slower start to the season… It’s taken a little bit more time for me to get my wheels going around, but you know I’m getting a good feel for it and I’m really happy where I’m at, especially since I’m healthy.”

Isaac Makwala doesn’t see how any will beat Botswana in the 4 x 400

The 35-year old Makwala of Botswana had the second fastest time of the day at 44.86. When we asked him about his goals for the final, he said he couldn’t talk about the final as he has to take things round by round. But when asked about the 4 x 400, he did say he doesn’t see how Botswana loses as they have himself, Leungo Scotch (who ran 45.32 today) and two other 45 low guys (Ditiro Nzamani has run 45.27 this year and Bayapo Ndori has run 45.38) with Nijel Amos as an alternate.

The individual 400 runners said the mixed 4 x 400 was never on their minds

We asked several of the individual 400 runners if they were offered a spot on the mixed-gender 4×400. Cherry acted like it wasn’t a possibility and acted like USATF automatically went with the #4 and #5 runners from USAs while Norman said it was “not on any of our minds.”

Women’s shot put final: Gong throws two pbs to win as Saunders takes silver for USA & Adams wins fourth medal

There is nothing more clutch than throwing a personal best in the Olympic final, and China’s Lijiao Gong, the 2012 silver medalist, accomplished that not once, but twice today, throwing 20.53 and 20.58 in the final two rounds to win a competition she dominated. Gong was so good, in fact, that all five of her legal throws would have been good enough to win the competition.

Raven Saunders, who was 5th in 2016 and overcame depression to make it back to the Olympic final, took silver by throwing 19.79 meters, while 36-year-old New Zealand legend Valerie Adams edged out Portugal’s Auriol Dongmo for the bronze with a best toss of 19.62 meters. Adams has now medalled in four straight Olympics, and her career Olympic medal record now reads gold, gold, silver, and bronze — identical to another GOAT, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, in the 100m.

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