The last American to win both the 800 and 1,500 at the Olympics was Mel Sheppard, who grew up in Almonesson — now Deptford Township — before moving to the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia as a teenager.
That was 1908.
Today, 113 years later, Philadelphia and South Jersey remain a hub of track and field excellence.
The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, which concluded late Sunday night (early Monday morning EST) in Eugene, Oregon, was quite a showcase for local runners, jumpers and throwers. And even one walker!
And that doesn’t even include 21-year-old Sydney McLaughlin, a native of Dunellen, New Jersey, who set a world record of 51.90 in the 400-meter hurdles after midnight Monday morning.
Can we somehow claim McLaughlin for the Delaware Valley? She did win her third of four New Jersey state intermediate hurdles championships at Northern Burlington High School in Columbus, so that’s good enough!
Here’s a look at a handful of athletes with actual Philadelphia or suburban Philly ties who either made the U.S. Olympic team or came awfully close over the past week!
Athing Mu, Trenton High School
The 19-year-old Mu is on a tear right now, and two weeks after breaking the collegiate record in the 400 with a 49.57 as a Texas A&M freshman, she demolished the U.S. Olympic Trials 800 record with a personal-best 1:56.07, fastest time in the world this year and No. 2 in U.S. history. After coming through 600 meters in 1:27.58, Mu ran away from a star-studded field with a 28.49 for the final 200. No American has won the Olympic 800 since Madeline Manning in 1968.
Ajeé Wilson, Temple
Wilson, the American record holder in the 800 with her 1:55.61 in Monaco in 2016, made her second Olympic team by placing third in the 800 in 1:58.39, her fastest time this year. Wilson, now 27, grew up in Central Jersey and attended Neptune High School but graduated from (but didn’t compete for) Temple and now trains with the Juventus Track Club in Philadelphia, where she’s coached by Derek Thompson. Wilson reached the 800 semifinals in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Curtis Thompson, Florence High School
Thompson, 26, won his second national javelin title with a throw of 271-7, just four inches off his PR set at the 2016 Trials. Although he doesn’t have the Olympic standard (only three Americans have ever thrown 278-10), his world ranking is high enough to guarantee him a spot on the Olympic team headed for Tokyo. That will be official on Wednesday. Thompson is ranked No. 16 in U.S. history and No. 18 in the world this year.
Sam Mattis, University of Pennsylvania
The Penn grad and former NCAA champ from East Brunswick High in Central Jersey made his first Olympic team in the discus by 13 inches. Mattis, 27, threw 205-1 on his first throw of the finals and then watched as it held up for third place. Mattis was the 2019 USATF national champion and ranks No. 21 in U.S. history with the collegiate-record 221-3 from a low-key early season meet at Franklin Field in March of 2016.
Chanelle Price, Easton Area High School
Price has been racing on an elite level for 15 years. She turns 31 in August and this was her fourth Olympic Trials, but even though she was the oldest half-miler in the field at the Trials, she placed fifth with a lifetime-best 1:58.73.
Allie Wilson, Wallingford, Strath Haven High School
The 800 was loaded with Philly-area talent, and Wilson, a 24-year-old Wallingford native, placed sixth in 1:59.02, a PR for the 24-year-old Monmouth University graduate. Her 1:59.02 is No. 31 in U.S. history and No. 23 in the world this year. With Mu, Ajee Wilson, Price and Allie Wilson, four of the top six finishers in the 800 final have Philadelphia-area ties!
Josh Awotunde, Delsea High School, Darrell Hill, Penn Wood High School
The 27-year-old Hill and 26-year-old Awotunde placed fourth and fifth in the shot put final, missing trips to Tokyo by one and three inches. Hill threw 71-11 and Awotunde 71-8. Hill’s PR is 73-7½ from Belgium in 2017, No. 15 on the all-time world list and No. 9 in U.S. history, and he's thrown 73-3½ this year. Awotunde threw a personal-best 71-8, No. 19 in U.S. history and No. 9 in the world this year.
English Gardner, Voorhees, Eastern High School
Despite a difficult battle with COVID earlier this year, the 29-year-old Gardner made the 100-meter dash final with a 10.96 in the trials, her fastest time since 2016, when she ran 10.74 at the Trials — still No. 9 in world history — and then made the 100 final at the Olympics and ran on the gold-medal winning U.S. 400-meter relay team.
Travis Mahoney, Temple
Mahoney was a freshman at Temple when his coach saw him hurdle a bench before a group run at Fairmount Park. He’s been a steeplechaser ever since. The 30-year-old Old Bridge, New Jersey, native ran a lifetime-best 8:24.05 in the 3,000-meter steeplechase semifinals and reached the finals at the Trials, where he placed ninth, just eight seconds out of third.
Jessica Woodard, Marlton, Cherokee High School
Woodard threw 60-3¼ and placed seventh in the shot put final. Earlier this year, the 26-year-old Woodard threw 62-3½, No. 18 in U.S. history. Her dad Marc was a linebacker with the Eagles from 1994 through 1996.
Sanaä Barnes, Villanova
The 20-year-old Texan, a four-time All-America high jumper, cleared a personal-best and Villanova-record 6-1½ in the qualifying round and finished 11th overall in the final. She’s still got two years left at Villanova.
Sam Allen, Woolwich Township, Kingsway High School
The 20-year-old Allen, a 2020 graduate of Kingsway High School in South Jersey and a rising sophomore at Cornell, finished sixth in the 20,000-meter racewalk with a personal-best time of 1:37.59.
Marc Anthony Minichello, University of Pennsylvania
The 21-year-old Minichello, who recently finished his junior year at Penn, placed fourth in the javelin with a throw of 251-9. He has a PR of 260-0 from earlier this month.
Nia Akins, University of Pennsylvania
Akins, who ran 2:01.09 in the 800 trials, had a very tough break when she took a spill on the first lap in the final, knocking her out of the race. The 22-year-old Akins, who is now based in Seattle, ran her PR of 2:00.31 earlier this month. In all, there were five former or current Penn Quakers at the Trials.
Sam Ellison, Upper Dublin, Villanova
Ellison, 28, ran 1:48.67 and just missed advancing to the 800 final. He has a PR of 1:46.10 from Nashville in 2019. Ellison was a seven-time All-America at Villanova before graduating in 2014. Barnes and Ellison were among six current or former Villanova Wildcats who competed in Eugene.