Krissy Gear, Kenneth Rooks Stun To Win First U.S. Steeplechase Titles + Biggest Surprises Of Day 3

By Owen Corbett

July 9, 2023

Day 3 of USATF National Championships certainly delivered. The best day of the meet so far gave us blistering finals, shocking upsets, and dramatic finishes, but it also left us with so many questions. Will we see our best 800m runner in the 1500m field in Budapest? Is the best 400m hurdler of all time the best 400m flat runner in the world right now? Did Rai Benjamin really just announce a 2025 200m campaign? Maybe that last one is a conversation for another day…so let’s focus on the now and dive right into last night’s action and break down the biggest surprises of the day.

Get Yourself A Runner That Can Do Both:

Athing Mu can run both the 1500m and the 800m at World Championships if she wants to – or perhaps more accurately, if coach Bobby Kersee wants her to. Mu finished second in a stacked women’s 1500m final, dipping just under the World standard in the process. From the start of the meet on Thursday to tonight, Mu dropped her personal best in the event by 13 seconds and silenced a lot of doubters. We are left to wonder if someone like Sinclaire Johnson, who came in as a favorite and left as the unlucky fourth finisher, took the race out at an honest, sub-4:00 pace, would Mu have been able to hang? If Mu decides to stick solely to her signature event in Budapest, Johnson will be in line to join Cory McGee, who out-leaned her by .01 seconds, and national champion Nikki Hiltz on the team.

Embarrassment Of Riches In The Hurdles:

It was not going to be a surprise when a number of heavy hitters were left off the women’s 100m hurdles team; it was simple math. With only three spots to ration and at least seven women more than capable of making the team, more than half of them were going to go home disappointed. The real surprises came in which big names landed in the top three at the end of the night and which didn’t. After running the fastest semi-final earlier in the night, Alaysha Johnson missed out on third place by fewer thousands of a second (two) than outfits she raced in this weekend (three). On the other hand, Nia Ali avenged her most recent Eugene performance, a disqualification in the heats at last year’s World Championships, with a win. The 2019 World champion took home the national championship in her fastest time since her gold medal run four years ago in Doha, and will lead the U.S team to Budapest along with Keni Harrison and Masai Russell.

Krissy Has The Gears:

Over the past decade, the names of U.S steeplechase national champions did not vary all that much. Emma Coburn looked poised last night to win her eleventh U.S title - and ninth in a row - until Krissy Gear overtook her down the homestretch. Gear’s winning time gave her a personal best a whopping 26 seconds faster than the one she started the year with, and the world standard, meaning she can start packing her bags for Hungary. Coburn still finished second, ahead of Courtney Wayment, the runner many would have picked if they had to go with anyone besides the reigning champ. After such an exciting finish how could the men’s steeplechase possibly follow it up? Cue BYU’s Kenneth Rooks. Rooks hit the deck a few minutes into the race and dropped well behind the rest of the pack. Instead of panicking, he slowly worked his way back up and was able to kick to the win down the home straight. In Rooks’s post-race interview, he actually admitted that he ran through a scenario before the race in his head of what he would do if he fell. Talk about being prepared for anything! Similarly to Gear’s win, Rooks’s title represents a fresh name at the top of the event as Hillary Bor and Evan Jager – both of whom are currently injured – had combined for the last ten U.S. men’s steeplechase titles.

Disappointment In The Men’s Pole Vault:

Just a month after setting the American record in the event, KC Lightfoot fell short of the top three in last night’s pole vault competition, meaning he will be missing a second straight U.S team since finishing fourth at the Olympics in Tokyo. Lightfoot finished fifth at last year’s national championships, but had much higher expectations this time around being the highest American vaulter this year by a margin of 15 centimeters. Lightfoot seemed bothered by a hamstring injury during the competition, and ultimately déjà vu struck as he placed fifth for a second straight year. The man that Lightfoot took the American record from, two-time World champion Sam Kendricks, also surprised by falling short of the top three. The duo were expected to make the team along with 2022 World silver medalist Chris Nielsen. Nielsen held up his end of the bargain, taking home the title, and will be joined in Budapest by Texas Tech’s Zach Bradford, and BYU grad Zach McWhorter who earned second by vaulting the World standard for the first time this year.

Hall Gets It Done:

Quincy Hall entered the weekend as the 17th-fastest American man this year in the 400m and didn’t have the World standard, so don’t feel bad if you didn’t pick him to make the team. Furthermore, Hall’s signature event up until last year was the 400m hurdles, but if last night’s results were any indication, he might want to consider making the permanent switch. In a blazing fast final – four of the top six set personal bests – Hall (third), and fellow veterans Vernon Norwood (second) and Bryce Deadmon (first), held off a field that was otherwise made up entirely of collegians to form a team that will head to Budapest with experience on the biggest stages of the sport. And if you were wondering about that pesky world standard, Hall knocked it out in the semi-finals on Friday.

BONUS - Husky Hustle:

Admittedly biased honorable mention because I love the 1500m: Andy Powell’s middle-distance squad does it again! Washington’s Joe Waskom fell short of defending his NCAA outdoor title last month but seemed elated to finish second as his teammate Nathan Green took home the win. He once again seemed quite satisfied with a runner-up finish in a personal-best time in last night’s final. While Waskom doesn’t have the World standard, the 1500m is different from events like the 10k or Heptathlon where it would be extremely difficult physically for an athlete to turn around and chase the mark before the qualifying window closes at the end of the month. Waskom could easily find a meet to give 3:34.20 a shot; the question is whether or not he hits the mark. If not, the spot will fall to fourth place finisher Sam Prakel who is well within the projected field via his ranking. Prakel’s coach? You guessed it, Andy Powell.

Owen Corbett

Huge sports fan turned massive track nerd. Statistics major looking to work in sports research. University of Connecticut club runner (faster than Chris Chavez but slower than Kyle Merber).