Murphy, Grace headline group of new U.S. stars for 800 meters in Rio
Clayton Murphy, the NCAA 1,500 meter champion and Kate Grace, a former Yale middle-distance star, won the men's and women's 800 meter finals at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on Monday afternoon in Eugene, Ore.
Boris Berian, who'll be joining Murphy in Rio, took the field through the first lap in 50.49 seconds, but Murphy just edged him out at the finish line to come out on top. Murphy clocked in at 1:44.76, while Berian finished in 1:44.92. Charles Jock claimed the third spot behind Berian in 1:45.48.
The women's race provided a bit more drama as 2012 Olympian Alysia Montaño clipped Brenda Martinez's heels with less than 200 meters to go in the race. Montaño hit the ground and Martinez failed to catch the pack. Grace crossed the finish line in 1:59.10 for the victory, while Martinez finished seventh and Montaño eighth.The results were under protest after the collision but USATF determined it was incidental contact and no runner was disqualified. As for the other two spots in Rio, they were claimed by Ajee Wilson, who was the world's fastest woman at 800 meters in 2014, and former Arkansas standout Chrishuna Williams.
Here are three takeaways from the men’s and women’s 800 meters:
No Olympic experience, no problem
For the first time since 2008, the United States will send three men with no Olympic experience to the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro. Berian is the lone American with world championship experience, as he won gold in the 800 meters at March's world indoor track and field championships.
Watch the men's 800 final below:
Meanwhile, Duane Solomon, who finished fourth at the ‘12 Olympics and whose personal best of 1:43:82 makes him the second fastest American at 800 meters, won’t be heading to Rio, as he failed to make it out of the first round. NCAA champion Donavan Brazier also made an early exit in the first round. In June, Brazier ran the 800M in 1:43.55, breaking a 50-year-old collegiate record by Jim Ryun. He turned professional after NCAAs and signed a lucrative deal with Nike but did not reach the semifinals at the Trials.
In ’08, it was Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating and Christian Smith who made the cut for Beijing with no prior experience under their belts. The final of the 800-meter Olympic trials in ‘08 was the first of Symmonds’s six U.S. national titles and one of two trials wins. The 32-year-old pulled out of this year’s meet with an ankle injury but has no plans of retiring yet. Wheating, who was the runner-up to Symmonds eight years ago, is focusing on the 1,500 meters despite a sub-par season. Smith has been long retired.
The women's side will feature fresh faces as well with Grace, Wilson and Williams. Wilson is the most experienced on the global stage as she competed at the 2013 world championships and finished sixth with the world junior (U-20) record of 1:58.21 at just 19 years old. Grace and Williams have not competed at a global championship.
Grace has shown vast improvement throughout the season as she also set a personal best of 4:05.65 at 1,500 meters in April. If a race is left to a kick and surge of pace with 200 meters to go or less, Grace is in the mix against Americans. Now she needs to prove that on the biggest stage in sports.
Can anyone beat Rudisha?
Kenya’s David Rudisha ran one of the most spectacular races in London to win the Olympic crown in world-record fashion. He may not repeat that 1:40.91 in Rio, but he remains a favorite for gold after his 1:43.4 at altitude in Kenya last week.
He has shown he’s beatable, as he’s already lost three times in 2016. But then again, in ‘15, there was some concern over his losses ahead of the world championships, and then he went on to win a tactical final in 1:45.84 to claim his first world championship gold medal since ‘11.
Berian, a former runner at Adams State who spent time as a grill cook at McDonald’s before returning to the sport, gave Rudisha a close call at the 2015 Adidas Grand Prix in New York City. Rudisha won by .26 seconds and Berian has vowed to never lose to him again.
A rematch did not happen last year, as Berian failed to qualify for the U.S. national team and watched the world championships from home. But now, with a year of experience under his belt, Berian may be ready to challenge the world record holder.
Alysia Montaño misses another medal opportunity
Montaño has missed out on several global championship medals with finishes behind Russia’s Mariya Savinova, one of the athletes implicated in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s investigation. She has since become one of the biggest advocates for clean sport but will not have an opportunity to medal without the Russians as she finished last in 3:06.77 after colliding with Martinez.
Watch the women's 800 meter final:
The Olympics in Rio are not guaranteed to be clean but a big challenge does await the U.S. 800-meter squad. South Africa’s Caster Semenya is highly favored for gold. Last summer the Court of Arbitration for Sport suspended the “female hyperandrogenism” policy, which was adopted in 2011 by the International Association of Athletics Federations (track and field's governing body) and deemed high levels of natural testosterone as a competitive advantage. Semenya was subjected to gender testing in 2010 and her world-leading time of 1:56.64 is almost three seconds faster than Monday’s winning time of 1:59.10.