Olympic Trials Day 1 Preview

Day 1 of the Olympic Trials has three major competitions: the first day of the decathlon, and the two 10,000 meter finals.

Live results
TV coverage from 9:00 PM to 11:00 PM (ET) on NBC Sports Network

Today’s Schedule

4:00 PM ET Men’s 100 meters Decathlon
4:50 PM ET Men’s Long Jump Decathlon
5:20 PM ET Women’s Discus Throw Qualifying
6:05 PM ET Men’s Shot Put Decathlon
6:10 PM ET Men’s 400 meters 1st Round
6:35 PM ET Women’s 400 meters 1st Round
7:00 PM ET Opening Ceremony
National Anthem
7:30 PM ET Men’s High Jump Decathlon
8:00 PM ET Women’s 800 meters 1st Round
8:20 PM ET Men’s 800 meters 1st Round
8:30 PM ET Women’s Pole Vault Qualifying
8:40 PM ET Women’s 100m Hurdles 1st Round
8:45 PM ET Men’s Long Jump Qualifying
TV Coverage Begins
9:00 PM ET Women’s 100 meters Qualifying
9:30 PM ET Men’s 400 meters Decathlon
9:45 PM ET Men’s 10,000 meters Final
10:20 PM ET Women’s 10,000 meters Final

Decathlon

The Favorites:
Ashton Eaton (Oregon TC / Eugene, OR)
Trey Hardee (Nike / Austin, TX)
Bryan Clay (Asics / Glendora, CA)
As learned a sage as SI’s Tim Layden has suggested that the USA could sweep the medals at this summer’s Olympics. But first, they have to get through the Trials.

Eaton is young, rapidly improving, and healthy. He’s definitely the future star of the decathlon and the future just might be now. His strengths are the running events, his weaknesses the throws. Hardee is the defending world champion but had surgery on his throwing elbow and might not be beack to 100% yet. Clay is the question mark; he’s the defending Olympic champion but hasn’t finished a decathlon in two years.

The Fast Finisher: Curtis Beach (Duke / Albuquerque, NM)
Beach, a college junior, is still young for a decathlete. Like Eaton, he can run like the wind but can’t throw very well. If he’s remotely close going into the concluding 1500 meters, though, watch out. He’s about the fastest there has ever been and can make up a massive deficit. Still, he’ll have to have a bunch of PRs to hit the Olympic ‘A’ standard of 8200 points.

The Journeyman: Ryan Harlan (unattached / Houston, TX)
When people throw around the phrase “Olympic Dream”, this is the kind of guy they’re talking about. Harlan is 31 years old and eight years out of college. He has no sponsor and his agent is listed as “self”. He finally made his first US team for a major international championship last year, when he got to the Worlds on a ‘B’ qualifier. But the Olympics require multiple entries to all have an ‘A’, so he’s going to need to break an eight-year-old PR to hit it.

Men’s 10,000 meters

The Favorite:
Galen Rupp (Oregon Distance Project / Portland, OR)
Rupp looks about unbeatable, having run 26:48.00 for 10k last year, 12:58.90 for 5k this year, and with a withering kick developed over the last few seasons. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which he does not win, and even harder to imagine one where he does not make the team. He’s as much of a lock as you can have in a 10,000 meter race.

Who will be the other two Olympians? That’s where it gets very, very interesting. There are no clear favorites and many major players.

The Guy Who Needs an Olympic ‘A’ Qualifier: Dathan Ritzenhein (Oregon Distance Project / Portland, OR)
The oft-injured Ritzenhein, whose heart was broken with a narrow 4th-place finish at the Olympic Trials marathon, looks as healthy and fit as he’s been in quite a while. He’d be a strong favorite to make the Olympic team, except there’s a catch. He has not yet achieved the Olympic ‘A’ qualifier of 27:45.00. He went for it in Holland three weeks ago and came up just short. The upside for Ritz is that the weather is likely to be good for a 10k (in the 50s with little wind) and the field is deep enough that it may require sub-27:45 just to finish in the top three.

Old Faithful: Matt Tegenkamp (Oregon TC / Portland. OR)
Let’s Run’s analysis calls Tegenkamp “past his peak” and casts doubts on his ability to finish in the top three. I’m a bit more bullish on him, noting that he has made the U.S. team in either the 5,000 or 10,000 for all of the last four Worlds/Olympics (and has finished in the top ten each time).

Off the Radar: Bobby Curtis (Reebok / Philadelphia, PA)
Let’s Run thinks Curtis has a good shot at a top three finish. He’s not yet run on the track in 2012 but has raced on the roads, finishing third in the NYRR’s highly competitive Healthy Kidney 10k. He’s kept his racing load light in order to try to hit his best here at the Trials. In 2011 he ran 27:24.67, which would have been relatively close to the American Record just a few years ago. If the Vegas sports books were taking bets on the Trials, he’d get long odds but would be smart money.

The Journeyman: Brent Vaughn (Oregon TC / Portland, OR)
Vaughn is a jack-of-all-trades who runs everything from the 5k to the half-marathon and for whom things look to be coming together. He’s another Portland-based runner–there are five that should be at or near the front. Track and Field News picks him for third but he’s never finished higher than 5th at a national (track) championship. Based on recent results, I think Let’s Run is underselling him.

The College Kid: Chris Derrick (Stanford / Naperville, IL)
Derrick just completed his senior year at Stanford and just might be the greatest collegiate distance runner never to win an NCAA title. Having achieved the ‘A’ standard back in April, he just has to sneak into the top three and he’ll have achieved something quite a bit bigger than a college championship.

Looking to give USATF the Middle Finger: Pvt. Joseph Chirlee (U.S. Army / Colorado Springs, CO)
To say that a second-tier distance runner who didn’t attend a U.S. college is known for something is a bit of a stretch, but Chirlee did appear in the New York Times a little over year ago. The Kenyan expatriate, US citizen and military man wished to compete in the USATF cross country championships but USATF rules barred him from doing so because he was not yet eligible to compete for the US (he is now). While USATF officials could have made exception to the rules, as they regularly do when it suits them, in this case they did not. Chirlee and his support team were quite upset and he may be looking to make a statement. He’s one of the seven entrants to have achieved the Olympic ‘A’ standard, so all he needs is a top-three finish and he’s on the Olympic team.

The Question Mark: Tim Nelson (Oregon TC / Portland, OR)
Nelson has achieved the Olympic ‘A’ standard, but the suspicion is that he’s injured.

Women’s 10,000 meters

The Favorites:
Amy Hastings (Mammoth TC / Mammoth Lakes, CA)
Lisa Uhl (Oregon TC / Portland, OR)
Janet Cherobon-Bawcom (Atlanta TC / Atlanta, GA)
These are three of the four Americans who have achieved the Olympic ‘A’ standard, and if the fourth earns an Olympic spot, she will turn it down (see below). Thus it’s highly likely that these three will be the US Olympians in this event. Hastings was fourth at the marathon Olympic Trials and is seeking redemption. Uhl has made big strides since joining the Jerry Schumacher’s group in Portland. Cherobon-Bawcom is a road warrior who appears ready to make a difference on the track.

The Non-Scorer: Shalane Flanagan (Oregon TC / Portland, OR)
The three named above are the favorites to make the team. The favorite to win the race is Flanagan, the winner at the marathon Olympic Trials. Like an invited “non-scoring” athlete in a college dual meet, Flanagan is running only for her own benefit (and our entertainment), using the race as a sharpener for the Olympic marathon. She has been the USA’s best runner at any and all of the long distances for the last quadrennium, with a 10k Olympic bronze in ’08, a NYC Marathon runner-up finish in ’10 (her first-ever attempt at the distance), and a World Cross Country Championships bronze medal in ’11.

The Collegians: Natosha Rogers (Texas A&M / Littleton, CO) and Deborah Maier (Cal / Cameron Park, CA)
These two have made big strides forward this year, and neither ever ran a 10,000 meter race before this spring. The third 10k of Rogers’ life was her NCAA victory two weeks ago. Maier’s first 10k ever was fast enough to put her at #3 on the all-time collegiate list. Both face an uphill battle, turning around and racing again just two weeks after a hard-fought NCAA Championships.

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