By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2023 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
EUGENE (07-Jul) -- In the only middle or long distance event on the program tonight, five of the six athletes who represented the United States in the 800m at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics advanced to Sunday's two-lap final at the Toyota USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field at the University of Oregon. Bryce Hoppel, Clayton Murphy and Isaiah Jewett advanced on the men's side, while Raevyn Rogers and Ajee' Wilson advanced on the women's. Both Murphy and Rogers are Olympic bronze medalists.
The men took to the track first, and Hoppel and Murphy both ran in the first heat where they slid behind C.J. Jones at the 200m mark and let the tall Under Armour athlete take the field through 400 meters in 50.9 seconds. The race was setting up well, and Murphy was happy with the pace.
"At 600 I saw the clock and I was like, we're good," Murphy told reporters. "I felt so good."
Jones still had the lead at that point, but soon Hoppel launched his drive for home and took the lead on the bend. Murphy followed, and as the pair came down the homestretch they both looked content to hold a steady tempo and qualify while still conserving energy. Hoppel got first in 1:45.26 and Murphy second in 1:45.67.
"Bryce and I were like, you don't fight me for the win, I don't fight you for the win," said Murphy. "Make sure we don't run each other out of it in the last 20 meters for nothing. It doesn't even help us to seed lanes for tomorrow (he meant Sunday)."
Hoppel was also pleased with his race.
"It's going to be one-two," Hoppel said of his final meters running with Murphy. The reigning USATF 800m champion continued: "Just make sure we don't push each other. We executed well."
Behind them Isaiah Harris had clear space to close and got third in 1:45.92 and clinched the final automatic qualifying spot. Abe Alvarado had a great final 200 meters, going from fifth to fourth, and his time of 1:46.25 --a season's best-- was fast enough to advance to the final on time. Jones, the early leader, hung on for fifth in 1:46.61 and also advanced on time.
In the second heat, the University of Nebraska-Kearney's Wes Ferguson lost the most significant result of his career when he was disqualified after finishing first in 1:46.82. Officials said that Ferguson, who won the NCAA Division II 800m title in a fast 1:45.46, stepped on the inside line of his lane early in the race thereby gaining an unfair advantage. As he spoke to reporters in the mixed zone he was clearly unaware that he was about to be DQ'd.
"I came into it open-minded, came to peace with terms of whatever the outcome was," Ferguson told Race Results Weekly. About his final surge to the front he said: "That's usually the game plan: hangout on the lead guys' shoulders, observe what happens, and strike when it matters."
With Ferguson removed from the results, the heat's early leader, Isaiah Jewett, was awarded the win in 1:47.05. Will Sumner, the NCAA champion, held his form in the final sprint and got second in 1:47.19, and Derek Holdsworth got the third qualifying spot in 1:47.53.
"It was all right; it wasn't pretty," said Sumner. "Got top three; that's all that matters."
The women ran next, and in the first heat the Atlanta Track Club's Olivia Baker made an aggressive move right from the gun and spurted to a three-meter lead by 200 meters, and split 400 meters in a snappy 58.8 seconds. The top contenders --Nia Akins, Raevyn Rogers and Ajee' Wilson-- were not thrown off of their game plans and stayed calm in the pack, letting Baker run in front. Although Baker still had the lead at 600 meters, she soon faded and would finish last. Akins, Rogers and Wilson strode smoothly to the finish and captured the three automatic qualifying spots.
Rogers, the Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist, looked relaxed as she discussed how she would get ready for Sunday's final.
"I'm just going to practice being present, living in the moment," Rogers said. "Like I said, enjoying all of today, living in the present and nothing about tomorrow until today's over."
In the second heat, NCAA champion Michaela Rose of Louisiana State University was the race's only leader. She pushed to the front right from the gun and held that position to the tape in 2:00.39. The 20 year-old talked about how her faith was so important to her success this season.
"Confidence only comes from God," Rose told reporters. "I can't do it myself, I wouldn't find it. There have been times I've died and just to know I have the strength now it's all from God. I give all glory to Him."
Behind Rose there was a pitched battle for the remaining qualifying spots. Kaela Edwards, in one of her best races in years, had a strong final 100 meters to get second in 2:00.62. Stanford's Juliette Whittaker was in third place through the final 10 meters, but fell to the track out of exhaustion and ended up last. Charlene Lipsey and Sage Hurta-Klecker battled right to the line --Lipsey on the outside and Hurta-Klecker in the center-- passing the fallen Whittaker to finish third and fourth, respectively, separated by only 1/100th of a second Both women qualified: Lipsey by place and Hurta-Klecker by time.
Edwards was elated.
"It felt really good," said Edwards who didn't even compete in these championships in 2022 and didn't get out of the prelims at the Olympic Trials in 2021. "I haven't really had that all season, really all year. I've just been running on tired legs a lot. So, it feels good just to pop and be able to react, just feel strong and compete really well."
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Distance action continues here tomorrow at Hayward Field with the finals of the men's and women's 1500m and 3000m steeplechase. USA Track & Field reported that tonight's attendance was 5,782 ticketed spectators.