The biggest story on Day 4 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials was not which athletes won their competitions, but rather which one lost.
Donavan Brazier, the nation’s first 800m World champion of either gender, failed to make the Olympic team and shocked the track and field community.
NBC commentator and four-time Olympic medalist Ato Boldon called it “the biggest upset of the Trials so far.”
Sanya Richards-Ross, a five-time medalist, added, “I’m in shock, a loss for words; if I was going to put money on anyone in this Trials, it would have been Donavan Brazier.”
Brazier was perhaps as close to a sure thing as there is in sports.
He won the 2019 World title, was the fastest man in the world in 2020 and holds both the outdoor and indoor American records.
On a night where Brazier was expected to secure his first Olympic berth, the 24-year-old instead finished last.
“I think I might’ve made a move a little too early,” Brazier told reporters. “I tried to get in a good position in the first 300, 350 meters, and I paid the price the last 200.”
He was in position to qualify through much of the first lap, eventually falling into fourth and then making a break to pass those in second and third.
But Isaiah Jewett, who won the NCAA title earlier this month for USC on the same Hayward Field track, continued pushing the pace and Brazier did not appreciate the gap he created.
The more experienced Brazier tried to pass again but had run out of gas and fell back to eighth. He said his lack of an official race plan entering the meet could be to blame.
“I’m sad, I’m very said,” Brazier said.
It was 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, however, who was able to turn on the jets in those final meters and pass Jewett for the win.
Murphy’s time of 1:43.17 is the fastest in the world this year.
Jewett was second in a personal best time of 1:43.85, with Bryce Hoppel running a season’s best 1:44.14. The two will compete at their first Olympics in Tokyo.
“It’s obviously disappointing to not have Donavan, but we’re sporting a pretty great team,” Murphy offered.
Brazier also qualified to race the 1500m at Trials but said he will “probably not” compete at that distance. His focus this summer will now revolve around becoming 100 percent healthy.
Brazier said there were “some things bugging [him]” during the race, but that “there’s things champions overcome and I couldn’t overcome them, so obviously I’m not at that championship level that I need to be at.”
He has no concerns about his future in the event, though.
“I’m still gonna feel like I’m that man when I go into track meets, I’m still gonna feel like I’m the 800m champ, I’m still gonna feel like I’m the best 800m runner in the world, and today obviously I wasn’t,” Brazier said. “There were seven guys in front of me, but the guys that beat me can have their moment, and I’m happy for them. I’ll come back from this, I’ve been down worse before.”
In the women’s 1500m, Rio bronze medalist Jenny Simpson was looking strong for a fourth consecutive Olympic team at that distance after winning her heat and taking second in her semifinal earlier in the meet.
She was far from her goal, though, finishing 10th in 4:07.76. The 34-year-old said she wants to continue racing this summer.
The event will have three first-time Olympians in Elle Purrier St. Pierre — who won in an Olympic Trials record 3:58.03, Cory McGee (4:00.67) and Heather MacLean (4:02.09).
The race started with some contentious jostling, including Purrier St. Pierre being pushed off the track, but she said it motivated her more to distance herself.
“That was extreme,” Simpson commented of the commotion. “Anyone watching track and field, that first 100 meters was extreme. Maybe it should have been called back, I’m not sure the rules. [But] nobody fell, I’m not even sure if I got any spike marks from it. It was just a lot of bodies coming in at the same speed. Everyone wanted one of those top three spots, so they were fighting from the gun.”
The three podium finishers are all friends (MacLean was even in Purrier St. Pierre’s 2020 wedding) and New Balance teammates. They all ran personal bests in the final, with MacLean — who did not start running until high school — hitting the Olympic standard for the first time.
This marked the third Olympic Trials for McGee, who finally makes her first team at 29 years old.
“Hayward magic — it’s real,” McGee exclaimed. “I’ve been working my butt off. I made a big move to Colorado two years ago and haven’t looked back, and that’s why I’m here today.”
Three first-timers also found themselves victorious in the women’s 5000m to end the night. Bowerman teammates Elise Cranny and Karissa Schweizer went 1-2 in 15:27.81 and 15:28.11, respectively. They will be joined in Tokyo by Rachel Schneider (15:29.56).
Abbey Cooper, who famously was tangled up with New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin five years ago in Rio — resulting in right ACL and meniscus tears that required surgery, was 1.49 seconds shy of making a second Olympic team. Cooper had impressively reached the Olympic standard in Friday’s Olympic standard when she finished 16 seconds ahead of the rest of the field.
Gwen Jorgensen, America’s first Olympic triathlon champion five years ago, finished ninth in 15:50.62. Jorgensen began training for the marathon a few months after Rio and eventually switched to middle-distance races on the track.
The day’s three men’s field events featured a repeat Trials winner in the triple jump and first-time champs in pole vault and javelin.
Will Claye won the triple jump, just as he did in 2016, with a season’s best distance of 17.21 meters after tearing his Achilles in the spring of 2020.
Now recovered, Claye has the best shot of his career at his first Olympic gold medal this summer. He won silver at the past two Olympics — plus long jump bronze in 2012 — and two silvers and two bronzes at world championships. Teammate Christian Taylor won gold at all but one of those meets.
Taylor suffered his own Achilles rupture last month, taking him out of contention for a third Olympic gold.
Donald Scott was runner-up with a season’s best 17.18 meters, followed by 2016 Olympian Chris Benard at 17.01 meters.
In men’s pole vault, Sam Kendricks was the favorite — just as he’s been for most of the past decade. The two-time World champion would relinquish his spot atop the U.S. podium, however, for the first time since 2013.
Instead, Chris Nilsen won at a height of 5.9 meters, which he reached on his first attempt.
Kendricks tied KC Lightfoot for second at 5.85 meters. The height was a new personal best for Lightfoot. Both men struck out in their three attempts at 5.9.
The men’s javelin podium included Curtis Thompson, with a season’s best throw of 82.78 meters, Michael Shuey (79.24) and Riley Dolezal (77.07), none of whom have met the Olympic standard of 85. They have until June 29 to obtain it, or they could potentially be invited to the Olympic team based on world ranking.
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