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Ashway: Hot competition at the US Olympic track trials
Denton Ashway
DENTON ASHWAY

The World’s Greatest Track Meet concluded late Sunday night in blistering Eugene, Oregon.

Yes, most track aficionados rank the US Olympic Trials ahead of the Olympics themselves for overall quality of competition. In the Trials, it’s finish in the top three or stay at home. The battles for the three spots on the podium are ferocious.

This being track, there had to be controversy.

2019 100-meter world champion Christian Coleman was nowhere on the premises. He’ll miss the Games while serving an 18-month suspension. His crime? Depending on your level of cynicism, either missing or ducking three drug tests within a 12-month span.

Also among the missing was Shelby Houlihan. The American record-holder in the 1,500 and 5,000 garnered a five-year suspension just before the Trials. She failed a drug test, which she blamed on eating a burrito which contained tainted pork. Which she purchased from a food truck.

Please.

Despite so many participants trying to kill the sport, it survives. And thrives.

On June 18, the very first day of the Trials, Ryan Crouser, all 6-foot-7, 320 pounds, wedged himself into the shot put circle and launched the shot 76’8 1/4”. He broke a 31-year-old world record by almost 10 inches.

As the shot soared skyward, Crouser raised both arms in triumph. “The second it left my hand, I knew it was good,” he told Tim Layden of NBC Sports.

A day later, Sha’ Carri Richardson breezed to victory in the women’s 100. With her fast times, flamboyant personality, and shoulder-length, luminescent orange hair, Richardson evoked distant memories of Florence Griffith Joyner. She didn’t back away from the comparison.

“I want the world to know I’m that girl,” she told Lewis Johnson.

Father’s Day was really Mother’s Day at the Trials. Quanera Hayes won the women’s 400 in a fast 49.78. But her win was overshadowed by second-place finisher, 35-year-old Allyson Felix who qualified for her fifth Olympic team by moving up from fifth place during the final straightaway.

“Man, it has been a fight to get here,” Felix told Johnson. “And one thing I know how to do is fight.”

After the race, the two moms tried to catch their breath while introducing their children to each other at trackside.

Elle Purrier St. Pierre won the women’s 1,500 in a Trials record 3:58.03 after getting knocked off the track on the first straightaway. She immediately went to the lead and held it. “I just wanted to get out there, make it honest, make it fast,” she told Layden. Elle grew up running around a dairy farm in Vermont.

The men’s 800 offered a huge surprise. Defending world champion and American record-holder Donavan Brazier finished dead last, and provided no excuse. “There’s things that champions overcome, and I couldn’t overcome them,” he told Johnson.

The winner was 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Clayton Murphy, who has finally returned to form after several injury-plagued seasons.

In the men’s 110-meter hurdles, Grant Holloway looked unbeatable, and smooth as maple syrup. He won his semifinal in 12.81, just one hundredth of a second off the world record. He cruised through the final in 12.96. “I didn’t come to this party to sit on the wall,” Holloway told Johnson. “I came to this party to dance!”

Emily Sisson won the women’s 10,000, breaking Deena Kastor’s 17-year-old Trials record by almost six seconds. Last February, Sisson had to withdraw from the US Olympic Marathon trials in Atlanta. This was her third attempt at making the US Olympic team.

Sunday’s final day of competition was delayed by a record heat wave that sent temperatures in Eugene soaring up to 109 degrees.

The only thing hotter was the competition.

JuVaughn Harrison won both the high jump and long jump, becoming the first American man to qualify for both events since Jim Thorpe in 1912.

NCAA champion Cole Hocker of Oregon outkicked Olympic champion and former Duck Matthew Centrowitz in the men’s 1,500.

Noah Lyles posted a world-best 19.74 in winning the 200, but the third qualifier was 17-year-old Erriyon Knighton. He’s the youngest runner to make the team since Jim Ryun in the 1,500 in 1964.

Athing Mu, 19, won the women’s 800 with breathtaking ease. The daughter of Sudanese immigrants ran the second-fastest American time ever.

But the race of the meet belonged to Sydney McLaughlin. She ran away from world record holder and Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad down the stretch to win the 400 hurdles. She became the first woman to break 52 seconds, setting a new world mark of 51.9. Upon seeing her time, McLaughlin kept repeating, “Oh, my God!”

In all, two world records and 16 trials records were set during the meet. If you weren’t already amped for Tokyo, you should be now.