Here’s my list of the top five performances by people making the most of their next chance…
What is it about the steeplechase and domestic dominance? Between 2012 and 2018, Evan Jager won all seven national championships — if he was lining up, it was basically as a formality. And then the injuries began and the guy who was knocking down the door of the eight minute barrier suddenly looked human. It was hard watching Evan run 8:34 at the start of this season because he still looked like Evan Jager, but just not as fast. Luckily, the clutch gene seemingly hasn’t become recessive. When it mattered most, Evan found a way to grab the standard and finish second in 8:17.29. We didn’t always appreciate how gracefully and easily those titles had come, but seeing how much he had to grind for this hopefully put them — and this gutsy performance — into better perspective. I think back to the “2020” Olympic Trials when Evan asked me a few too many eager questions about how my retirement was going for me to not assume he was mulling his own — there was no such conversation this time around.
Some people make it easy to root for them. The 2015 bronze medalist hadn’t made a team since 2017 and had worried those days were over. To break the many-year-long injury cycle, Infeld practiced patience this fall and re-established her health with a steady base followed by a string of promising but not out-of-this-world performances. This year’s 10,000m champs looked like her shot but it ended in heartbreak again as she was narrowly out-leaned for the third and final spot. With a month to summon her old college 1500m speed in practice, things finally clicked in the final mile during a tactical 5000m under the sun. Although Infeld’s official mile best is 4:30, she closed the last 1600m in 4:25 on Sunday, good enough to make the team — though to be fair, she did have a running start.
The 2019 US Outdoor and 2020 Indoor Champion struggled at last year’s Olympic Trials, finishing a disappointing fifth place. So she left Arizona and moved to the United Kingdom to team up with friend Sophie McKinna. Working with a new coach and training partner, Ealey refined her technique and found her groove. After finishing second at the World Indoor Championships, she is now undefeated outdoors and threw a world-leading mark of 20.51m to reclaim the US title. That mark is the second farthest ever by an American, only bettered by Michelle Carter, who has announced her retirement.
The odds are that half of you don’t even know which Carolina Coastal Carolina is in — but Melissa Jefferson is putting the mid-major on the map this year! The college junior entered the season with a 100m personal best of just 11.22 seconds, though she was the upset victor in the 60m at NCAA Indoors. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to repeat that magic two weeks ago in Eugene, finishing 8th in the NCAA 100m final. But we should have listened to Coach Goodman who told us this was coming. In the US semi-final she improved her best to 10.82 (+0.5) before dropping a 10.69 (+2.9) to run away from one of the deepest fields of all-time. You’ll remember Melissa’s name now — and that Coastal Carolina’s in South Carolina.
When Sinclaire Johnson won the 2019 NCAA 1500m Championship, the rest would, as they say, not simply be history. A couple weeks later she finished a nail biting fourth at the US Championships before joining the most dominant distance running group in the country, the Bowerman Track Club. Yet while there, she struggled and after a disappointing 12th place finish at the Olympic Trials, made the tough decision to transfer allegiance to the Union Athletics Club. That’s been confirmed as a good move for her, as Johnson followed up that 3:58.85 from Pre earlier this season with her first US Championship, capped off with a negative split 2:02.3 final 800m. If you need some context to appreciate just how wild that is, the US standard for the open 800 was 2:02.50!
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