Meet Record in US Women’s Steeplechase Final, BAA’s Rodenfels the Early Leader

By Rich Sands, @sands
(c) 2024 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved





The 3000m steeplechase leaders —Val Constien, Courtney Wayment, Marisa Howard and Olivia Markezich— at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. (Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)







EUGENE, ORE. (27-Jun) — With the two standard bearers of American women’s steeplechasing out with injuries, the final at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track & Field figured to be an evenly matched contest featuring several strong contenders. The race delivered on that promise, with Val Constien ultimately dominating an exceptionally deep event thanks to a blistering final lap of the Hayward Field track. She’ll be heading to her second Olympic Games, joined in Paris by second and third place finishers Courtney Wayment and Marisa Howard.





Annie Rodenfels (of the BAA) was the early leader, opening a gap of as much as 40 meters on the pack through the 1000-meter mark (3:00.53). It wasn’t until about 1800 meters that the field finally swallowed her up, led by Wayment, Howard and Olivia Markezich, the recent Notre Dame grad. Wayment continued to press the pace, hitting the 2000 in 6:08.53 as the field began to string out.





Finally, with 300 meters to go, Constien swung wide and surged to the front. She was unstoppable from there, cruising home in 9:03.22, a meet record.





Val Constien sprinting to victory in the 3000m steeplechase at the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore. (Photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)








“I’m a pretty good closer, and so I knew if I knew if I was in the mix in the last 300 it would be tough to beat me,” said Constien, who missed most of the 2023 season with a knee injury. “I’m getting confident in my kick and so I knew I had it in me.”





In the battle behind her, Markezich stumbled off the final water barrier but regrouped and chased Howard and Wayment into the homestretch. Unfortunately, Markezich fell after clearing the last barrier and went down hard on her chest as Wayment (9:06.50) passed Howard (9:07.14) for the runner-up spot.  Markezich ended up sixth in 9:14.87.





The top nine finishers recorded personal bests, including Gabbi Jennings (9:12.08), Kaylee Mitchell (9:14.05), Markezich (9:14.87), Allie Ostrander (9:21.82), Rodenfels (9:22.66) and Lexy Halladay (9:22.77). Defending U.S. champ Krissy Gear dropped out after five laps.





The race saw major revisions made to the U.S. all-time list, led by Constien, who is now the third-fastest American behind Courtney Frerichs (8:57.77) and Emma Coburn (9:02.35). Frerichs, the Olympic silver medalist in Tokyo, and Coburn, the 2017 world champion who won 10 national titles between 2011 and 2022, both suffered freak injuries this spring and were forced to miss the meet.





“Emma and Courtney Frerichs paved the way. Without them we wouldn’t have such a high bar,” said Constien, who was a teammate of the duo at the 2021 Olympics. “Everyone’s inspired by them, and without them there’s no way that we could have done what we did here today.”





Constien’s performance capped a remarkable comeback from ACL surgery in May 2023 following an awkward landing at the Doha Diamond League race. She practiced patience with her recovery, resuming running last September, but as recently as April she didn’t even expect to be at the Trials, much less contend for an Olympic berth.  A personal best of 9:14.29 at the Prefontaine Classic on May 25, ultimately had her thinking she could actually be a factor in the race.





“I never pushed myself. I really just listened to my body, and I was extra picky, took it day by day, did my PT and it just came together at the right time,” Constien of her rehab. “But it was really patience. I didn’t have to do anything crazy to get here.”





Wayment, who finished fourth at the 2021 Trials, was confident in her ability to close out the race. “With 300 to go I really relied on my training and I knew we worked very hard to make sure that I could wind down the last couple of laps,” she said. “It was crazy to see that there were so many people still there. It’s exciting, definitely a fun last 300 meters.”





Earlier in the evening, all the key contenders in the men’s 800 advanced from the first round, with the top six in each heat (plus three time qualifiers) moving on to Friday’s semifinals. Part-time training partners Bryce Hoppel (1:46.83) and Hobbs Kessler (1:46.85) slapped hands in celebration after crossing the line first and second in the opening section. (Kessler had already qualified for Paris in the 1500.)





NCAA runner-up Sam Whitmarsh (1:46.13) of Texas A&M, 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy (1:47.05) and Tinoda Matsatsa (1:46.73) won the other sections.





Shane Cohen of the University of Virginia, who took the NCAA title on this track in early June, was seventh entering the homestretch of the fourth heat, but accelerated well to finish third.





“I felt strong. The race plan wasn’t exactly executed. I was confident with 200 meters I was gonna be fine to make it through to the next rounds,” he said. “Legs were definitely a little heavy from not racing for three weeks. It was definitely nice to be out there and get a good race under my belt.”





Advancing out of the women’s 1500 heats were all three members of the 2021 Olympic team: Elle St. Pierre, Cory McGee and Heather MacLean. Friday’s semifinals will also feature Nikki Hiltz, Sinclaire Johnson, Emily Mackay and Elise Cranny, who made the 5000 team on Monday along with St. Pierre.





Sage Hurta-Klecker, who finished fifth in Monday’s 800 after being thrown off balance in the wake of the collision that sent Athing Mu to the ground, finished second to McGee in the first section. “I knew right away that I was going to come back, but easier said than done, especially coming back to what feels like a secondary event to me, but just trying to bring that self-confidence from the 8 into what used to be my main event,” said Hurta-Klecker, who was the NCAA indoor mile champion in 2021 but has focused on the 800 over the past few years. The outpouring of support she’s received on social media and in person in Eugene have helped her regroup. “I can use all that positive energy,” she said.





Capping off the evening, the men’s 5000 heats featured the winners of the 1500 (Cole Hocker) and 10,000 (Grant Fisher) from earlier in the meet. Hocker languished in the back of the first section for most of the way before moving to the front at the bell. He covered the last lap in 53.11 to win in 13:33.45, followed by NCAA champion Parker Wolfe (13:33.96) of North Carolina, Cooper Teare (13:34.07), Morgan Beadlescomb (13:34.34), Olin Hacker (13:34.72) and Graham Blanks (13:35.00).





In the second heat, Fisher camped out in second place most of the way, until 2023 national champ Abdihamid Nur moved to the lead with two laps to go, shaking up the pack. Woody Kincaid (13:23.91), who already qualified for Paris in the 10,000, used his trademark closing speed to pass Nur (13:24.14) shortly before the line and take the win. Fisher (13:24.78), Dylan Jacobs (13:24.91), Sam Prakel (13:25.01) and Sean McGorty (13:25.05) took the remaining automatic spots for Sunday’s final.






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