The women’s steeplechase semi-finals kicked off the Independence Day edition of the USATF Track and Field Olympic Team Trials. Three heats of 12 women vied for 14 spots in the final. The top three from each heat automatically advanced along with the next five fastest. There were no surprises from the heats as the top contenders, including Coburn, Garcia, Higginson, and Frerichs made it through. The biggest disappointment was the NBC coverage of the event. Thirty-six women qualified to make the Trials in the steeplechase by running under 9:53. No easy feat. During the national broadcast the all-male announcer crew called the women’s field weak on several occasions. This went on through three heats. Similar conversation did not occur during the men’s heats. Let’s look at the facts.
1) Emma Coburn is a Olympic medal contender. Her season best time this year is an American record and eleven seconds off the world leading time (9:10 vs. 8:59) by Ruth Chebet (both run at the Prefontaine Classic May 28th.)
2) The difference between the last and first place finisher in each of the three ladies heats was 8.6%, 7.7%, and 9.7%, respectively (the last finisher in heats 1 and 3 fell during the last lap of their heats which adds time.) In the men’s two heats the gap was 6.5% and 9.0%. The gap likely would have been more in the men’s second heat, but one man dropped out (no women dropped out.)
It is disappointing that in one of the few heavily televised track and field events of the year NBC commentators spent so much time putting down the women’s field. Clearly the ladies were not deserving of it and the announcers should know better. (They did not fail to mention, however, that Coburn will be in the ESPN body magazine.)
During the steeplechase, the triple jump semi-final got started. The top 12 from the two flights would advance to the final. Orji had the best mark of the day with her first round 46-6. She did not need to take another jump and could save it for the finals. Two more women were 46 feet or better (Epps and Oliver.)
The only final of the day for he women was the 800. The starters from lanes 1 to 8 were: Wright, Montano, Ludlow, Martinez, Grace, Wilson, Williams, and Rogers. The depth of the field suggested a fast and tight race. It was that plus more. The race was close through 400 with Montano running on the outside of lane one (57.46). She was followed by Rogers and Wilson. Kate Grace went through the first lap in 6th place in 58.46. By 600 Wilson took the lead (1:27.98) with Martinez in position in 2nd (1:28.00); Montano had moved back to 4th (1:28.18). Grace was still in 6th in 1:28.44. Just after the water jump there was a jumble involving Martinez, Montano, and Ludlow. Grace swung wide with Williams while Montano hit the track hard. Rogers was grabbed on the arm as either Martinez or Ludlow tried to stop from falling, taking precious time from her. Kate Grace took the win in 1:59.10. She will be joined in Rio by Wilson (1:59.51) and Williams (1:59.59). Rogers missed the team by one second (2:00.59). Montano did not cross the line until after 3:00 as she kept falling to the track in tears, her Olympic bid gone. USATF ruled incidental contact and no one was DQed.
Afterwards, Rogers showed maturity and professionalism when discussing the event. Although disappointed with the outcome and the way the race unfolded, she was happy to make the final at 19 years of age. At the time of the interview she did not know exactly what caused the fall as it happened behind her. All she knew was that someone grabbed her arm as she was making the turn for home.
Tomorrow is an off day from competition. The meet will resume on Wednesday.