ATHLETICS: Murphy springs men’s 800 m stunner, Purrier St. Pierre wins women’s 1,500 and Nilsen takes men’s vault at hot Trials in Eugene

Olympic Trials winner and new world men's 800 m leader: Clayton Murphy (USA)

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Day four of the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene featured 91-degree temperatures once the competition began, but it did not dull the competitiveness of the six finals:

Men’s 800 m: NCAA champ Isaiah Jewett, a notorious front runner, took the lead immediately and led through splits of 25.25, 50.60 and 1:15.66, with World Champion Donavan Brazier and Rio bronze medalist Clayton Murphy right behind.

But the race was all in the last 200, as Jewett slowed in the last 60 m and Murphy unleashed a withering kick, flying by and winning in a seasonal best and world-leading 1:43.17. Jewett held on for second, getting a lifetime best of 1:43.85, but Brazier did not have his usual overdrive gear and had faded off the final turn. Instead, it was former Kansas star Bryce Hoppel who made the team with a season’s best of 1:44.14, with Isaiah Harris fourth in 1:44.58. Brazier fell all the way back to eighth and last, jogging across in 1:47.88.

Men’s pole vault: All 12 jumpers made the first two heights and 11 made 5.60 m (18-4 1/2). The real jumping started at 5.80 m (19-0 1/4) with Chris Nilsen, Matt Ludwig and K.C. Lightfoot clearing on their first trials. Jacob Wooten made it on his second try, but World Champion Sam Kendricks missed on his first try and since making the top three is all that matters, passed to the next height of 5.85 m (19-2 1/4).

Order was restored as Kendricks cleared on his first try, as did Nilsen and Lightfoot. Ludwig, Wooten and Kyle Pater, unable to make the team unless they cleared a higher height, passed to 5.90 m (19-4 1/4). No problem for Nilsen, but Kendricks missed, as did Wooten, Ludwig, Light and Pater, leaving Nilsen as the winner, with Kendricks and Lightfoot in a tie for second and on the team. Nilsen tried 6.00 m (19-8 1/4), but missed three times in the heat.

Men’s triple jump: With London and Rio Olympic champion Christian Taylor sidelined by injury for the rest of 2021, his former Florida teammate – and 2012 and 2016 silver medalist – Will Claye has been expected to take over. And he was ready.

Claye took the lead on his first jump, reaching 16.95 m (55-7 1/2), almost a foot better than the rest of the field. No one challenged him until the third round, when Donald Scott bounded out to a season’s best of 16.98 m (55-8 1/2) to take the lead. No problem for Claye: he re-took the lead immediately at 17.10 m (56-1 1/4) heading into the finals.

Scott was unimpressed and struck back in round four, reaching 17.18 m (56-4 1/2) for the lead, and then Claye improved to 17.14 m (56-2 3/4) but was still second. No one else had jumped past 55 feet until Chris Benard got out to 16.84 m (55-3) in round five.

Those three made the team, but Claye sent a final message on the last jump of the competition, sailing out to 17.21 m (56-5 3/4) – a season’s best – to win with Scott second. Both will have to jump a lot farther for a medal in Tokyo.

Men’s javelin: None of the entrants came in with the Olympic standard of 85.00 m (278-10), with Curtis Thompson the American leader in 2021 at 81.44 m (267-2). He put everyone on notice with a first-round throw of 80.34 m (263-7), and Michael Shuey responded best at 79.24 m (260-0) in the third round.

Two-time national champion Riley Dolezal saved his best for last and moved up to third in the sixth round at 77.07 m (252-10), and that’s the way they finished. Thompson wanted the Olympic standard on his last throw and improved to 82.78 m (271-7). That’s still short, but places him 17th on the world list for 2021; as the Olympic field is designated for 32 entries, he could be invited to complete the field in Tokyo.

Women’s 1,500 m: Favorite Elle Purrier St. Pierre led a single-file pack through 400 m in 64.79, and then a 64.41 lap to reach 800 m in 2:09.19. She increased the pace to 62.21 to reach 1,200 m in front, running with Cory McGee and the rest of the pack strung out behind.

In the final 300 m, Purrier St. Pierre poured it on and moved away from everyone, finishing in a lifetime best of 3:58.03 – still no. 5 on the 2021 world list – with McGee staying second, also in a lifetime best of 4:00.67 (no. 10 in 2021)! Behind them was a charging Heather McLean, who not only grabbed third in a lifetime best of 4:02.09, but got the Olympic standard in the process and will go to Tokyo! She out-lasted Shannon Osika by 0.09 (4:02.18).

Former World Champion Jenny Simpson did not have her usual finishing magic and faded to 10th in 4:07.76.

Women’s 5,000 m: Former Arkansas All-American Taylor Werner led a bunched field through the first 3,000 m, then gave way to Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer. The running finally started after 3,400 m, with Schweizer increasing the pace from 79 seconds a lap to 71, with Cranny and Rachel Schneider in close attendance.

With two laps to go, Schweizer increased the pace to 70, with Cranny, Schneider and Rio Olympian Abbey Cooper chasing, but separating from the rest. At the bell, Schweizer had upped the pressure with a 67.9 lap with the three others close, but the rest out of the chase. It was Cranny in the end, with a 63.73 last lap to Schweizer’s 64.12 for a 15:27.81-15:28.11 final. Schneider held off Cooper, 15:29.56 to 15:31.05, for third. Rio Olympic Triathlon champ Gwen Jorgensen finished ninth in 15:50.62.

Pretty impressive in the very hot conditions.

Heats were held in the men’s Steeple, missing Rio silver medalist Evan Jager due to injuries. Isaac Updike did much of the work as the race leader in the first heat, and won in 8:21.01, just ahead of 2019 U.S. champ Hillary Bor (8:21.09) and Daniel Michalski (8:22.03). Sean McGorty, one of the pleasant surprises of 2021 in the U.S. (8:20.77), had his right shoe come off on the second lap, lost contact, but then worked his way back and finished ninth in 8:25.95.

The second heat was slower, with Mason Ferlic leading for much of the race, with Benard Keter winning at the tape in 8:29.04-8:30.78. As a result, McGorty ended up being the final time qualifier.

Monday concluded the first half of the Trials. Competition resumes on Thursday with finals in women’s Steeple and women’s shot.

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