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Olympic Track and Field Trials: From Eugene to Philadelphia, a Saturday to savor

As Gabby Thomas and Noah Lyles warmed up for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials 200m finals in Eugene, Oregon, steeplechaser James Corrigan ran in Philadelphia in his last chance to make the team.

Corrigan’s race against the clock at Franklin Field was the most stark of a dramatic Saturday series of events that only the three-ring circus of track and field can provide.

Corrigan, a 22-year-old from BYU, finished third in the 3000m steeplechase final at trials in Eugene on Sunday night. In many cases, a top-three finish makes the team.

But Corrigan had not run the minimum time necessary for automatic Olympic qualification over the last year. He also did not have a high enough world ranking that could have gotten him into the Olympics without the time. The deadline to achieve either is this Sunday.

TRACK TRIALS: Broadcast Schedule | Results

So Corrigan copied what he did in last Sunday’s steeple final, when he was in seventh place when the last-lap bell rang. He chased.

Corrigan (or his team) found a meet — the Penn Relays Summer Showcase — that added a men’s steeple to its program to give him one last chance.

In the first round of trials on June 21, Corrigan ran 8:21.22, chopping 7.62 seconds off his personal best. The minimum time for automatic Olympic entry is 8:15.00. In a five-man paced race Saturday night, Corrigan clocked 8:13.87.

“I hope that everybody’s just able to be a little bit inspired and this becomes a cool story to tell your kids and something of hope that cool things can happen even if you’re not expecting them,” he said in a video posted from his hotel room three hours later.

Meanwhile in Eugene, the headline sprints went largely to script.

Thomas, the Olympic bronze medalist and world silver medalist, won the women’s 200m in 21.81 seconds, followed by Brittany Brown (21.90) and McKenzie Long (21.91).

Thomas is the world’s fastest woman in the event this year. But two-time world champion Shericka Jackson gets her chance to answer in the Jamaican trials on Sunday.

Brown, who before the pandemic worked as a babysitter, a restaurant bus girl and as a caregiver for people dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia, made her first Olympic team at age 29.

Long, the NCAA 100m and 200m champion from Ole Miss, rebounded after being eliminated in the 100m semifinals last weekend. She is the world’s second-fastest woman this year in the 200m.

Thomas triumphs in 200m, Richardson outside top 3
Reigning 200m Olympic bronze medalist Gabby Thomas took the win in the women's 200m in 21.81 seconds ahead of other Paris qualifiers Brittany Brown and McKenzie Long, while Sha'Carri Richardson was off the podium in 4th.

The men’s 200m produced the exact same top three as three years ago: Lyles followed by Kenny Bednarek and Erriyon Knighton. After finishing 2-3-4 in Tokyo (Bednarek got the silver), they have a chance to sweep the medals in Paris.

Lyles and Bednarek went one-two at trials in both the 100m and 200m.

“The job is accomplished,” said Lyles, who will now bid to sweep the Olympic men’s 100m and 200m, which Usain Bolt did in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Lyles, who swept the 100m and 200m at the 2023 Worlds, is ranked No. 4 in the world this year in the 100m and No. 1 in the 200m.

Christian Coleman, the world’s fastest man in the last Olympic cycle, finished fourth in the 100m and 200m, missing the team in each individual event by one spot (and a combined 17 hundredths of a second). He could still go to Paris in the 4x100m relay pool.

Weini Kelati won the 10,000m to make her first Olympic team. Ten years ago in Eugene, Kelati, originally from Eritrea, intentionally missed her flight back from the world junior championships and claimed political asylum in the U.S.

She was 17 years old. Kelati went eight years before seeing her mom again. Kelati became a U.S. citizen in 2021.

“Every time I come out here, it brings back the memory,” she said. “I get very emotional. That affects my race. But this time I’ve been saying this: ‘I’m going to come (as) a new me, forget all the past and focus on the present.’”

As the track finals came and went, Saturday’s fields events yielded stories of their own.

In 2019, shot putter Chase Jackson (née Ealey) was ranked second in the world by best throw for the year. The former New Mexico state 100m champion was primed to make her first Olympic team.

Jackson contracted COVID twice in 2020. The second bout, which lasted from late 2020 into early 2021, had lasting effects.

After regularly throwing 19 meters in 2019, Jackson threw 18.4 meters in just one of her first eight meets in 2021. She finished fifth at the Tokyo Olympic Trials.

Three weeks later, Jackson launched a throw at a small meet in California that would have made the team at trials. But unlike Corrigan, there was no chasing.

Jackson then moved to England to train under a new coach and won world titles in 2022 and 2023. She won the trials for Paris and is ranked second in the world this outdoor season.

Jackson has often had to correct people who assume she is an Olympian because of her success the last two years. She equated it to a dagger piercing her heart.

“Now I don’t have to feel that way anymore,” she said.

She is joined on the team by Raven Saunders, the Tokyo Olympic silver medalist. Saunders returned this past February from an 18-month ban for whereabouts failures (missing three drug tests and/or filing failures during a 12-month span, but not failing a drug test). At trials, Saunders launched season’s best throws by nearly three feet to make the team.

Joseph Brown, a Texas A&M-Commerce product, advanced to the last three throws in the discus final by a mere three centimeters. He was still in eighth place going into the sixth and final round.

Brown, wearing a “Who’s That Thrower” singlet, upped his best throw by nearly 14 feet and moved into third, displacing Reggie Jagers III. Jagers, who in April recorded the best throw by an American in 14 years, appears likely to miss Paris.

Tara Davis-Woodhall, the 2023 World silver medalist in the long jump, fouled her first two jumps in Saturday’s final. She needed a fair third jump to have any chance of advancing to the last three rounds.

“It was honestly one of the scariest moments of my career,” she said. “I just allowed myself to embrace and know whatever happens, happens after that. I went back and moved back half a shoe and was like, ‘OK, let’s go.’”

Davis-Woodhall recorded her first fair jump, then won the competition.

Behind her, Monae’ Nichols leaped into third on her last jump, plus hit the Olympic qualifying standard on the number to make her first team.

Davis-Woodhall overcomes early faults in long jump
Tara Davis-Woodhall, the 2024 World Indoors champion, won the women's long jump final at 7.00m at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials after two early faults created some tense moments during the competition.

All of these events came hours after the women’s 20km race walk. On Saturday morning, 58-year-old Michelle Rohl finished third in the event and beat her goal time of 1 hour, 44 minutes.

Rohl, an Olympian in 1992, 1996 and 2000, retired in 2004 to focus on raising and homeschooling her five kids. Now a grandmother, she returned to race walking within the last year while overcoming a concussion.

Rohl did not qualify for the Olympics — no American man or woman has the Olympic standard or a high enough world ranking in the event.

But her story was the first of many memorable tales Saturday.

Back in Philadelphia, Corrigan posted a picture of himself at 10:22 p.m. in front of a Shake Shack, holding a burger and fries.

The caption: “The only appropriate way to end the night.”