Cole Hocker Wins 1500 in Trials Record of 3:30.59 as Yared Nuguse and Hobbs Kessler Punch Their Tickets To Paris

Vincent Ciattei was the surprise 4th placer in 3:31.78 as the top 8 finishers all broke the US championship record of 3:34.09

EUGENE, Ore. — In one of the most anticipated events of the 2024 US Olympic Track & Field Trials, Cole Hocker used a 52.63 last lap to capture the men’s 1500 in a US championship record and personal best of 3:30.59. Yared Nuguse, who did all of the leading until the last 250, ended up second in 3:30.86 as US U-20 record holder Hobbs Kessler ended up third with a 3:31.53 pb to make his first Olympic team. Under Armour Dark Sky’s Vincent Ciattei was a surprise fourth in a pb of 3:31.78. Thanks to Nuguse leading through 1250, the top eight all ran under the previous championship record of 3:34.09 set by Matthew Centrowitz in 2016 and tied by Nuguse in Saturday’s semifinals, with 7 of those men (everyone but Nuguse) running a new pb.

The race

Early on in the race, Nuguse made his way to the front at 300 meters and dictated the pace for the first three laps. Nuguse got out quickly in 56.32, but then let the pace lag on the second lap, running a 58.99. The key to all the quick times was the third lap, where Nuguse dropped a 56.09 to try to put distance on the field. 

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He was unsuccessful however, as while Nuguse hit 1200 in 2:51.33, the entire field was still within a kick to glory as 12th place was just 2:52.96. Hocker was full of run and made a move to the front after running most of the race in a tie for 3rd in the outside of lane 1 next to Ciattei. Midway down the backstretch, he went past Nuguse and never relinquished the lead. With 100 to go, Hocker had a few meters on Nuguse, who had a few meters on Kessler, who had a few meters on Ciattei. Soon it was clear the real drama would be whether Kessler could hold off Ciattei for third. The answer was yes, but Ciattei made a valiant effort, taking almost three seconds off his pb and keeping the outcome in doubt until the final meters.

While Nuguse did eat into the gap between him and Hocker a little bit during the final 100, Hocker’s victory never was seriously in doubt although Hocker did twice quickly glance back just before the finish line.

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1 Cole Hocker NIKE OLY STD 3:30.59 MRPB
2 Yared Nuguse OAC OLY STD 3:30.86 SB
3 Hobbs Kessler adidas OLY STD 3:31.53 PB
4 Vincent Ciattei Under Armour/Dark Sky Distance OLY STD 3:31.78 PB
5 Nathan Green Washington OLY STD 3:32.20 PB
6 Henry Wynne Brooks/BROOKS Beasts TC OLY STD 3:32.94 PB
7 Joe Waskom adidas 3:33.74 PB
8 Elliott Cook Oregon 3:33.84 PB
9 Craig Engels NIKE 3:34.21 SB
10 Cooper Teare NIKE OLY STD 3:35.17
11 Liam Murphy Villanova 3:36.37 PB
12 Ethan Strand North Carolina 3:39.08

Quick Take: Hocker is a medal threat for Paris

Hocker has had no issue performing under pressure in the past, having won both the 2021 NCAAs and 2021 Trials, and was able to do so again today, winning his second consecutive Olympic Trials at the age of 23. Today he blasted past someone who was widely considered to be the third-best miler in the world. This is exactly the type of race that Hocker will need to run in Paris: sit on a fast pace, and kick down people who were going for the win to get a medal. Hocker just proved that he now has the fitness to hang with a quick pace and has a few weeks to sharpen up to potentially get the extra second or two he might need to medal in Paris.

Hocker’s last two pbs before tonight came in his two global championship appearances: 3:31.40 at the 2021 Olympics and 3:30.70 at the 2023 Worlds. The difference is, Hocker was just holding on in those races — he was 6th in Tokyo and 7th in Budapest. Tonight he was 1st.

“I’ve never been able to [accelerate] at that pace before,” Hocker said. “You could have told me that was a 3:35 race and I would have believed it.”

Hocker has a monster kick, but the way the 1500 meters is run at the global level in 2024, a kick is not as important if you are not strong enough to be in position to use it. And Hocker is now the strongest he’s ever been, running pbs of 8:05 for 2 miles and 12:58 for 5,000 this year without losing his speed (Hocker ran a 1:45.63 pb in the 800 two weeks before the Trials). Hocker said he made a deliberate decision to incorporate more 5k workouts in his training this year because he wants to race more 5,000s, but those workouts have also helped make him a better 1500 runner.

Hocker is just the third man to win multiple Olympic Trials titles in the 1500, joining Dyrol Burleson (1960 & 1964) and Jim Ryun (1968 & 1972). And at just 23 years old, he will have a shot to add a third in four years’ time.

Quick Take: This race gave us flashbacks to the 2022 and 2023 Worlds finals

In both the 2022 and 2023 World Championship finals, Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen felt he was the strongest, fittest guy in the race and tried to force a fast pace with the aim of dropping the rest of the field by the finish line. Both times, it almost worked but there was one guy in the field fit enough to handle the pace and come over the top with a move of his own with 200 meters to go.

Nuguse had essentially the gameplan of Ingebrigtsen in this one and the same result, the only difference that Hocker took the lead with 250 to go whereas Jake Wightman and Josh Kerr moved on Ingebrigtsen with 200 to go.

But just because Nuguse was beaten does not mean it was a bad plan. Aside from Nuguse, only five other Americans in history have run faster than his 3:30.86 time today. If you are as fit as Nuguse is right now — and it takes serious fitness to run 3:30 from the front in a championship final in your third race in four days — it makes sense to lead and kill off the men who cannot run 3:30 (which is pretty much everyone). It took a while for the pace to take its toll, but eventually Nuguse gained separation.

And while Nuguse felt forcing a fast pace was the safest way for him to make the team, he also felt it gave him the best chance at winning the race.

“I didn’t feel like [leading the race] was going to hurt my chances that much,” Nuguse said. “Leading a race like that is always really hard but I still felt confident in my fitness and my ability to just keep on pressing even after maintaining a pace that hard. Even if I wasn’t able to pull away with the win, I still think that was also my best chance to win.”

Quick Take: By making the team, Hobbs Kessler felt an immense weight lift from his shoulders

Just before the 2021 Olympic Trials, an 18-year-old Kessler signed a lucrative contract with adidas after running 3:34.36 to break the US high school record. Kessler was not expected to make the 2021 Olympic team, but since then he has felt the expectation to make the next one.

“Ever since I signed pro, this was the race we were all looking to,’ Kessler said. “I figured I’d be developed enough and it was my time to start competing on the world stage. There was a lot of pressure. I’m really proud of how I managed it.”

When Kessler crossed the finish line in third, he felt the weight of those expectations lift.

“I didn’t realize how big of a weight there was until I finished the race,” Kessler said.

The race could not have played out much better for Kessler. The fact that Nuguse made it fast helped Kessler, who has struggled with his tactics and positioning in the past. But Kessler did a great job of getting into position on Nuguse’s shoulder early and the fast pace largely removed tactics from the equation.

That said, Kessler felt he was prepared for any kind of race and said that putting himself in big races throughout this season, from Millrose to the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix to World Indoors helped him mentally prepare for the stress of the Trials, likening it to strengthening a muscle.

“Racing is scary,” Kessler said. “I just ran a bunch of high-stakes races indoors. I was really scared. First one went good, a little stronger. Second one went good. Terrified at World Indoors, was able to pull it together, and that just made it click. All year, that muscle was just so strong that I’m on the line trusting myself.”

Quick Take: The U.S is sending a better team than Tokyo and probably its strongest men’s 1500 team ever

Last Olympic cycle, the US sent two (very good) collegians in Cole Hocker and Yared Nuguse to the Games. This year, the US is sending those same men with three more years of development and racing experience plus a 3:31 guy and World Indoor medalist in Hobbs Kessler. The U.S is sending three of their 11 fastest 1500 runners in history to Paris and that is something U.S distance fans should be thrilled about.

Quick Take: Ciattei said it was “really hard to swallow” running 3:31 but not making the team

Ciattei was 2nd at NCAAs as a senior at Virginia Tech in 2018, finishing one place ahead of Josh Kerr in a race won by Ollie Hoare. But he had done little in his professional career to indicate this sort of performance was coming — he had made just one US outdoor final before today, finishing 10th in 2021. Ciattei was only 5th at USA indoors this year but had been in good form outdoors, runing 3:36, 3:35, and 3:34 and winning the US road mile title. He timed his peak perfectly and ran a flawless race on Sunday, staying near the front on the rail the entire way. He could not have done any more — he just happened to be the first man out of the hardest US Olympic 1500 team to ever make.

“It’s really hard to swallow,” Ciattei said. “I ran 3:31. I mean, to run almost three seconds faster than anyone ever has at the Olympic Trials and lose to three guys is hard. But it’s a testament to the quality of those guys. They all medalled at World Indoors this year. I didn’t let the fact that no one was picking me to beat any of those get to me, because no one was picking me. But I had so much self-belief and so much support from my coaches and teammates.”

Quick Take: Nathan Green was incredibly proud to finish 5th

Green won NCAAs last year but was a disappointing 10th this year, a result he said was in part to some mistakes he had made in his life. He did not elaborate beyond describing it as “dumb shit that a 21-year-old does when they turn 21” but was proud of his ability to refocus and run 3:32.20 for 5th, a time that is more than a second faster than the collegiate record of 3:33.74. Green is the only one of the Washington mile trio to be returning next year and will be hard to beat in the NCAA next year.

Joe Waskom felt he needed to be further up

Waskom, who made the team last year by finishing 2nd, wanted to get out towards the front but still felt he was running fast enough to be in contention. But the race was significantly faster than ever US final that had come before, and Waskom’s 3:33.74 pb was only good enough for 7th.

Craig Engels’ 9th-place finish was tough to stomach

Though he was 5th at the 2016 Trials and 4th in 2021, Engels’ 9th-place finish was the most emotional of all for him as he needed to take a moment to collect himself in the mixed zone before beginning his post-race interview in tears. The rawness and finality of the Trials on full display.

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