John Nunn emerges from fetal position, flu, endures 31 miles to make Olympics

John Nunn
USATF
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Few athletes will clinch Rio Olympic berths quite like U.S. race walker John Nunn.

“Last night I was in a fetal position, crying,” Nunn said Sunday, according to TeamUSA.org.

Nunn, 38, emerged from the flu state the next morning and endured 31 miles of race walking at 7:49/mile pace, making his third Olympic team in Santee, Calif., on Sunday. Temperatures reportedly reached the 70s.

The staff sergeant in the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete program qualified for the longest event on the Olympic track and field program, crossing the U.S. Olympic trials finish line in 4 hours, 3 minutes, 21 seconds.

The maximum time to qualify for the Olympics is 4:06, and Nunn was the only man to beat it in 40 laps on a 1.25km course.

He didn’t need to stride that quickly, though.

Nunn had already beaten the Olympic qualifying time last November, and no other U.S. man has done so since the qualifying period opened Jan. 1, 2015. A maximum of three U.S. men can qualify for the Olympic 50km, but they must beat the Olympic qualifying standard by May 8.

As long as Nunn completed the distance on Sunday, he would be in position to make the Olympic team as the U.S. is weak in the event and unlikely to have three other men get under 4:06 by May 8.

“I laid in bed all day yesterday, and I couldn’t fathom how I was going to be able to do this,” Nunn said, according to USA Track and Field. “I thought about it at length, but I think thinking about it gave me more anxiety. I made phone calls to USA Track & Field to see what I needed to do to still make it. Could I just start and quit? Fortunately, it just all worked.”

In two previous Olympic races, Nunn placed 20th in the 20km race walk at Athens 2004 and 43rd in the 50km race walk at London 2012. The lone U.S. Olympic race-walking medalist was Larry Young, bronze in 1968 and 1972.

Nunn is no stranger to competing through physical adversity.

In 2013, he finished last in the World Championships 50km, 56 minutes and 59 seconds behind the winner. He suffered severe cramps during the race and collapsed, screaming, at the finish line, according to 3wiresports.com. His racing uniform reportedly had to be cut off of him.

There is no Olympic women’s 50km race walk. The U.S. Olympic 20km race walk trials, for men and women, will be June 30 in Salem, Ore.

MORE: List of U.S. athletes qualified for Rio Olympics