2022 USAs Men’s Distance Previews: Hocker vs Teare, Fisher vs Chelimo, & Can Jager Make One More Team?
By Jonathan Gault
June 22, 2022
The 2022 USATF Outdoor Championships begin on Thursday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., and there’s never been more at stake in a national championship (Olympic Trials excluded). Athletes aren’t just trying to qualify for the World Championships; they’re trying to qualify for the first-ever World Championships held in the United States — and in all likelihood, the only Worlds that will be staged here during their careers. The 2022 Worlds in Eugene is a meet we’ll be talking about decades from now. Everyone wants to be a part of it.
To get there, you need to be one of the top three finishers plus one of two things: have the World Championship qualifying standard, or have a high enough world ranking to solicit an invitation by World Athletics (we’ve noted the athletes who meet that criteria in the preview below). This is not clear at all if you read USATF’s athlete selection policy, but we’ve reached out to USATF and received confirmation that a world ranking spot will be treated the same as having the time standard (Editor’s note: USATF not following its published selection criteria is nothing knew. In 2019, LetsRun helped fund a lawsuit that forced them to honor their published criteria).
The men’s distance events, which we preview below, should be full of drama. In the 800, we broke the news yesterday that reigning world champion Donavan Brazier is battling injury but he has a bye to Worlds, meaning the US gets to send four athletes. Bryce Hoppel and Clayton Murphy will be among those contending for the title. In the 1500, three-time Olympian Matthew Centrowitz is absent, but Cole Hocker and Cooper Teare will be there alongside Yared Nuguse, who is healthy and rediscovering his form. In the 5,000, Grant Fisher goes for his first national title against two-time Olympic medalist Paul Chelimo, while his Bowerman Track Club teammate Evan Jager will try to make a team in the steeple for the first time since 2017. It’s going to be a wild weekend.
Before you do anything, make sure you fill out your picks in the $200,022 LetsRun.com USA Outdoor Track and Field Prediction Contest. Then get your friends to enter. It’s totally free to enter, you can play in your own group and the winners receive a free pair of On shoes plus a LetsRun.com Supporters Club membership.
Women’s Preview: 2022 USAs Women’s Distance Previews: Can Katelyn Tuohy Join Fellow 20-Year-Old Athing Mu On A World Championship Team?
*Schedule/entries/results *TV/streaming information *All LRC coverage of 2022 USAs
Men’s 800: Brazier will run, but he’s not at 100%
(Prelims Thursday, 7:00 p.m. ET; semis Friday 10:46 p.m. ET; final Sunday 4:48 p.m. ET)
Top entrants (athletes with 1:45.20 Worlds standard in bold; athletes within world rankings quota in italics)
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|Brandon Miller||Texas A&M||1:45.09|
|Isaiah Harris||BROOKS Beasts TC||1:45.55|
|Brannon Kidder||Brooks / BROOKS Beasts TC||1:45.97|
|Jonah Koech||U.S. Army||1:46.19|
|Donavan Brazier||NIKE / Nike Union Athletics Club||1:50.58|
Donavan Brazier has the bye in this event as defending champion, and it’s a good thing too as he may not have been able to make the team otherwise — he’s been battling a case of bursitis in his right foot and is not close to 100% at the moment. Depending on how his foot holds up, Brazier may only run one round in Eugene, but as long as he competes, he’s on the team.
That leaves three other spots to fill. In recent years, one of those spots has belonged to Clayton Murphy. Other than 2017, when he tried the 800/1500 double at USAs and wound up injuring himself, Murphy has made every US team since 2015, winning US titles in 2016, 2018, and 2021. He hasn’t run anything crazy fast this year, but then again, neither has any other guy in the field — no American has broken 1:45 in 2022, with the fastest US runner on the world list Bryce Hoppel at #33 (1:45.07). Plus does anyone remember last year?
In 2021, Murphy went into USAs with a very similar seasonal best (1:45.29 last year, 1:45.54 this year) after only running 1:47.29 in his last race but absolutely crushed the Trials, winning in 1:43.17.
That being said, Hoppel, who made the team in both 2019 and 2021, will go off as the tentative favorite — he earned a bronze medal at World Indoors and has won three of his four races outdoors, including his most recent effort, a 1:45.07 at the USATF NYC Grand Prix on June 12, defeating a field that included top contenders like Murphy, Erik Sowinski, and Isaiah Jewett. Other contenders include Texas A&M’s Brandon Miller (NCAA indoor champion in 2022; outdoor runner-up in 2021, third place in 2022), Isaiah Harris (who tore his hamstring at World Indoors but is rounding into form with a 1:45 at the Portland Track Festival), Brannon Kidder (6th and 5th at last two US outdoor champs), and Derek Holdsworth (1:45.37), who has had a breakout campaign at age 26 after rising through the juco and DII ranks at Trinidad (Colo.) State and Western Oregon.
High schooler Cade Flatt (1:46.48 pb) is also entered. While he isn’t a contender to make the team — simply making the final would be a huge accomplishment — he will have another shot to take down Michael Granville‘s 1:46.45 high school record from 1996 that he has missed twice this year by a combined total of .09 of a second.
The 800 at USAs is always grueling, with three rounds in four days. History says if you can run 1:44 or faster in the final, you have a very good shot to make the team: in the last 10 US championships, 22 men have done that and 20 of them have made the team — only Ryan Martin (1:44.90 in 2012) and Isaiah Harris (1:44.58 in 2021) missed out.
The question, then, is who can reach that level in the final with two rounds of racing already in their legs. Murphy and Hoppel have consistently shown over the last few years that they can. And while Harris has only made one team outdoors, he always runs well at USAs, finishing in the top four every year since 2017. Brazier’s bye may be the opportunity he needs to get back to Worlds.
Jewett is the wild card here; in last year’s Olympic Trials final, he put the field to the sword and ran 1:43.85 to finish second. This year, he had struggled for form but took a major step forward in his last race — he didn’t just run a season’s best of 1:45.87 at the USATF NYC Grand Prix, but did so by going out hard and taking the lead. He wound up fading to sixth, but two more weeks of training may be what he needs to finish off his race.
Meanwhile guys like Sowinski and Kidder may fall into the category of “good but not quite good enough” this year. Both have made teams in the past (Sowinski in 2015, Kidder in 2019 when the US got four spots thanks to Brazier winning the Diamond League) and while both are great at running 1:45, Sowinski hasn’t broken 1:45 since 2017 and Kidder has only done it once in his life (1:44.99 last summer). It would be super impressive if Sowinski, who has rabbitted 18 races already in 2022, could make another team at age 32. But he’ll have to run one of the races of his life to do it.
JG prediction: 1. Hoppel 2. Murphy 3. Harris
Hoppel and Murphy are fantastic racers that know how to navigate the rounds and get it done in US championships. In a year when no one stands above the crowd, their experience will be key. It’s frankly incredible that Harris is even in contention for this team after tearing his hamstring three months ago, but running 1:45 in Portland suggests he’s on the right path. Assuming his body holds up for three rounds, he will be a serious contender, but the third spot could go a number of ways.
As for Brazier? Normally I’m not a fan of athletes with the bye showing up to USAs and only running one round, but in this case that’s actually the smart move. The focus needs to be on ensuring he’s as healthy as possible for Worlds. There’s no reason for him to run more than one race this weekend.
Men’s 1500: Can Hocker & Teare go 1-2 on the country?
(Prelims Thursday, 9:35 p.m. ET; final Saturday 4:52 p.m. ET)
Top entrants (athletes with 3:35.00 Worlds standard in bold; athletes within world rankings quota in italics)
|Vincent Ciattei||NIKE / NIKE OTCE||3:35.07|
|Christian Noble||New Balance Boston||3:36.00|
|Josh Thompson||NIKE / Bowerman Track Club||3:36.29|
|Reed Brown||University of Oregon||3:36.44|
|Colby Alexander||EMPIRE ELITE TC||3:36.76|
Look at the names above and one thing stands out: there’s no Matthew Centrowitz. The 2016 Olympic champion has been a staple in the 1500 at USAs over the past decade, winning five titles and making every team since his first Worlds in Daegu in 2011. But after undergoing knee surgery in May, Centrowitz is done for the year, which means his streak of making teams will end at eight. Also absent: last year’s Olympic Trials fourth-placer Craig Engels, who isn’t healthy enough to contend.
For a while this spring, the only Americans running well in this event were the Eugene-based duo of Cooper Teare and reigning US champ Cole Hocker, but the event perked up after eight Americans ran 3:36 or faster at the Portland Track Festival on June 11. The fastest of them was 2021 Olympian Yared Nuguse, who won the race in 3:34.98 (just under the Worlds standard) in an important return to form. Nuguse was in great shape earlier this year, running 7:38 indoors for 3k to set the collegiate record, but battled injuries in the late winter/early spring that caused him to miss the NCAA meet. Now healthy again, he’ll be a significant factor in the 1500 at USAs.
Based on recent form, Hocker, Teare, and Nuguse are the best bets to make the team, but of those three, Hocker is the only one who feels close to a lock. We know how dangerous his kick is (see: every race he ran in 2021) and he’s coming off an impressive 3:50 mile at the Pre Classic where he only lost to the guys who went 1-2-4 in last year’s Olympics and Olli Hoare, who just ran 3:47 in Oslo.
Teare has not put a foot wrong in 2022, running pbs in the 800 (1:47), 1500 (3:34), mile (3:50), and 5,000 (13:06). The concern about Teare is he’s short on championship 1500 experience. We know he’s great at running fast in time-trial settings, but does he have the closing speed and tactical nous to navigate a championship final? Teare won the Pac-12 1500 title last year, but other than that he hasn’t been in a championship-style race since World U20s back in 2018. There’s a chance Hocker and Teare try to team up and push the pace — something that is becoming the norm in international 1500 finals — but that has the potential to backfire. Teare may be the US leader at 3:34.81, but five others have run 3:35.82 or faster this year. Is he good enough to simply run away from everyone else?
If the race goes slow, that brings the big kickers into the race — guys like Johnny Gregorek and Josh Thompson, both of whom have sprinted their way to top-3 finishes at this meet before. Heck, it could even open the door for 19-year-old wunderkind Hobbs Kessler. Kessler has yet to run faster than the 3:34.36 he managed as a high schooler last year, and his 2022 season has been fairly unimpressive other than the 3:36 he ran at Pre. But 3:36 means he’s fit enough to be in the mix with a good day at USAs. Kessler doesn’t have the World Championship standard, but if the race goes relatively quick, he could earn enough points to get in via world ranking.
JG prediction: 1. Hocker 2. Nuguse 3. Gregorek
The chalk pick here would be Hocker, Teare, and Nuguse in some order, and Teare could definitely make me look like a fool by winning the whole thing. His 3:34.81 US leader came running solo in foul, rainy conditions in Eugene, so it’s possible he’s a lot fitter than that time shows right now. But I can’t shake the idea that he’s more of a 5k guy and if this race turns into a kick, someone like Gregorek, Thompson, or Vincent Ciattei could run him down in the home straight. Call it recency bias, but after Gregorek’s 3:35.29 in Portland two weeks ago, he seems fit and ready to do some damage at USAs. I’ll take him for third, with Hocker and Nuguse earning the top two spots (Editor’s note: If you feel like Jonathan’s biased in picking Gregorek, we also joke on the podcast that he likes Gregorek as Jonathan has beaten Gregorek in a race before).
Men’s 3,000 steeplechase: Can Jager get back on the team in a wide-open race?
(Prelims Thursday 9:05 p.m. ET, final Saturday 5:04 p.m. ET)
Top entrants (athletes with 8:22.00 Worlds standard in bold; athletes within world rankings quota in italics)
|Hillary Bor||HOKA / American Distance Project||8:12.19|
|Duncan Hamilton||Montana State University||8:18.88|
|Parker Stokes||Georgetown University||8:18.88|
|Brian Barraza||adidas / Tinman Elite||8:19.16|
|Travis Mahoney||EMPIRE ELITE TC||8:19.18|
|Kenneth Rooks||Brigham Young University||8:22.56|
|Benard Keter||NIKE / American Distance Project||8:24.88|
|Anthony Rotich||U.S. Army||8:25.11|
|Evan Jager||NIKE / Bowerman Track Club||8:27.88|
One guy has stood out from the pack this year in the men’s steeplechase: two-time defending US champion Hillary Bor, who has run 8:17, 8:13, and 8:12 in three Diamond League races this year. Those are the three fastest times by an American in 2022 and while there’s an outside shot someone comes in and upsets Bor for the win, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which he does not make the team.
Beyond that, though? It’s anyone’s guess.
Bor’s fellow 2021 Olympians have not been as good as they were last year. Benard Keter failed to break 8:30 in his first two steeples of the year, though he did improve to 8:24 in rainy conditions at the Portland Track Festival. Mason Ferlic has run 8:23 and 8:25 in his two steeples this year after twice running 8:18 ahead of the Trials in 2021.
In their stead, it’s actually two collegians who have the top times this year behind Bor: Montana State’s Duncan Hamilton and Georgetown’s Parker Stokes, who both ran 8:18.88 to go 2-3 at NCAAs (Hamilton outleaned Stokes at the line). Tinman Elite’s Brian Barraza and Empire Elite’s Travis Mahoney staged a similarly close race at the Music City Track Carnival a week earlier as both ran 8:19.
There’s also an 800-pound gorilla named Evan Jager, the greatest steepler in American history, lurking in the background. But it’s an aging gorilla with a bum leg that hasn’t been in a major fight for four years (he hasn’t run USAs since 2018). Jager is no longer the alpha; the question is whether he can do enough to even make the team.
The evidence points to no. Jager opened up cautiously at Mt. SAC on April 14. He only ran 8:34, but the time wasn’t really important that day; the more worrying aspect was getting his doors blown off by an 8:20 guy, Japan’s Ryuma Aoki, over the last 150m. Jager again struggled to close in his next steeple, an 8:27 at the USATF Distance Classic where he went from 3rd to 5th over the last 200 after a poor final water jump. In his final effort at the Portland Track Festival on June 10, Jager was close to leaders John Gay and Benard Keter at the bell but closed his last lap in 70 seconds and finished a distant 3rd in 8:28.
“I felt like I made good decisions, just didn’t have the legs,” Jager told LetsRun after the race.
Noticing a trend? Jager was never known for his kick, but during his prime he was so strong that it didn’t matter. Now, at age 33, his strength is not what it was after Jager missed huge chunks of training over the past four years due to injuries to his foot, calf, and Achilles. Keter, one of his rivals for the team, just put three seconds Jager on the last lap in Portland. Is two weeks enough time to overcome that sort of gap?
There is some hope for Jager. Back in February, he ran 13:13 — of the guys in this field, only Bor is capable of something like that in the 5,000. And though Jager lost to Ferlic at the USATF Distance Classic, he did beat a number of guys — Keter, Barraza, 2021 Trials 4th placer Dan Michalski — who are in the mix to make the team. But the odds are against him. He needs to run more than five seconds faster than he has this season (Jager still needs the 8:22.00 World standard), and he needs to do it by outkicking a bunch of younger guys. It would be an incredible story if Jager could return to the team — for a home World Championships, no less — after four years of injury hell.
JG prediction 1. Bor 2. Keter 3. Hamilton
After Bor, this race is a total crapshoot. No one has run significantly faster than anyone else and many of the contenders have one great race and another not-so-great one where they’ve lost to key rivals. I’m riding Keter because he was an Olympic finalist last year and looks to be coming on strong after 8:24 in poor weather in Portland. The 21-year-old Hamilton ran impressively (and fearlessly) at NCAAs two weeks ago and has the strength to run fast in a championship setting with two races in three days. I’ll pick him for third, but half a dozen guys could take that spot.
As for Jager, my heart says he makes it but my head says the same thing Jager said after PTF: he doesn’t have the legs.
Men’s 5,000: Fisher seeks first national title
(Final Sunday 5:03 p.m. ET)
Top entrants (athletes with 13:13.50 Worlds standard in bold; athletes within World Rankings quota in italics)
|Grant Fisher||NIKE / Bowerman Track Club||12:53.73i|
|Woody Kincaid||NIKE / Bowerman Track Club||13:05.56i|
|Abdihamid Nur||Northern Arizona University||13:06.32|
|Lopez Lomong||NIKE / Bowerman Track Club||13:07.40i|
|Sean McGorty||NIKE / Bowerman Track Club||13:09.21i|
|Hillary Bor||HOKA / American Distance Project||13:10.98i|
|Nico Young||Northern Arizona University||13:11.30|
|Paul Chelimo Sr.||NIKE / American Distance Project||N/A|
This race should be compelling for all sorts of reasons as there are a number of intriguing storylines. Let’s run through each of them. And keep in mind that this race could be shifted earlier in the day, just as it was at the 2021 Olympic Trials — the current forecast calls for a high of 89 in Eugene on Sunday (the final is scheduled to be run at 2:03 p.m.).
- Can Grant Fisher win his first US title? This was the question ahead of the 10,000 trials at the Pre Classic, and the answer was no as Joe Klecker held him off over the last two laps. Will that prompt a change in strategy from Fisher? In the 10,000, he allowed the race to come down to a kick despite a personal best significantly faster than anyone else in the field, and Klecker was able to fend him off. Fisher’s best of 12:53 isn’t miles ahead of the likes of Paul Chelimo (12:57) and Woody Kincaid (12:58), but both of those men are better kickers than Fisher. A slower race could also bring the dangerous Cole Hocker into the race.
- What is up with Paul Chelimo? Chelimo, a two-time Olympic medalist, has been America’s best 5,000 runner for the last six years but has shown nothing so far in 2022. He has raced just twice this spring, a 3:41 1500 at altitude in Nairobi on May 7 and a DNF at the Pre Classic where he could only make it one mile into the 5k before dropping out. But Chelimo’s pedigree means he cannot be discounted, and if this recent workout is anything to go by (16 x 400, 1 min rest at 58-second pace at altitude in Colorado Springs), he should be good to go at USAs. Check out this week’s edition of the LetsRun.com Track Talk podcast (to be published soon) as we talked extensively about this workout.
- Can Woody Kincaid bounce back? Kincaid made the Olympic team at 5,000 and 10,000 meters in 2021, but his attempt to do the same at Worlds in 2022 was scuppered when he developed a stitch during the 10,000 trials on May 27, forcing him to drop out after four miles. If there is a silver lining there, it is that a stitch is typically a fluke thing and not a lingering issue. Which means Kincaid, who owns a 12:58 pb and one of the best kicks in America, should be in the thick of things for a spot on the team on Sunday.
- How will Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker handle the double? Not many guys attempt the 1500/5,000 double at USAs these days, but with the 1500 final on Saturday and the 5,000 final on Sunday, it’s manageable. Especially if you’ve already made the 1500 team and have nothing to lose. Teare and Hocker will be hoping that is the situation they’re in come Sunday, but even if they miss out in the 1500, each has a legitimate shot to make it in the 5,000 — Teare was 4th at the Olympic Trials last year while Hocker has run 13:08 and we know all about his kick.
- Can the NAU boys shake things up? Abdihamid Nur had quite a 2022 season, sweeping the NCAA 3,000/5,000 titles indoors and running a collegiate record of 13:06 outdoors. His teammate Nico Young (still only 19) finished 3rd at NCAAs indoors and outdoors in the 5,000 and ran 13:11. Each may be a year or two away from contending with the big boys in this race, but they’re two of America’s best distance prospects and their presence in the race makes it more exciting.
JG prediction: 1. Kincaid 2. Chelimo 3. Fisher
When LetsRun’s Robert Johnson was at the 10,000 trials at the Pre Classic, he spoke to some in the Bowerman TC camp who believed Kincaid would have won that race had he not been forced to drop out. He also had the fastest last lap in the 2021 Olympic Trials (52.74) but was too far back to make it count. With Chelimo in bad form this year, I’m taking Kincaid FTW.
Grant Fisher only 3rd? After running 12:53 indoors? Well as Grant himself would tell you, there is a difference between time trial fitness and championship fitness. And the fact that Fisher got outkicked by Joe Klecker in the 10,000 trials has me a little worried considering Chelimo and Kincaid are both stronger kickers than Klecker.
More: Women’s Preview: 2022 USAs Women’s Distance Previews: Can Katelyn Tuohy Join Fellow 20-Year-Old Athing Mu On A World Championship Team?
*Schedule/entries/results *TV/streaming information *All LRC coverage of 2022 USAs