U.S. Olympic Trials: Records fall as Gabby Thomas, Rai Benjamin, DeAnna Price and others shine

·Yahoo Sports Columnist
·5-min read
Gabby Thomas crosses the finish line to win the Women's 200 Meters Final on day nine of the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team Trials at Hayward Field on June 26, 2021 in Eugene, Oregon. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

If Saturday is any indication, the U.S. Track and Field team is in fine shape heading into the Tokyo Olympics.

Already the toughest team to make on the planet, there was a new Trials record set in seven of the eight finals contested during the day.

In the women's 200 meters, Gabby Thomas, who already has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and is studying for her masters in epidemiology as she trains in Austin, Tex., shocked herself with a beautiful finals, crossing the line in 21.61 seconds, a Trials record and the best time in the world so far this year. Thomas set a new lifetime best in each of the three rounds of the 200m.

Steps before the finish line, Thomas threw her arms into the air in celebration, a huge smile on her face. When she slowed down and realized how fast she'd run, she put her hands over her mouth.

She is headed to Tokyo with former Oregon star Jenna Prandini, who also ran a lifetime best, 21.89s, and Anavia Battle, who just finished her senior season at Ohio State. Battle's time of 21.95s was also a lifetime best. All three women will make their Olympic debut.

Allyson Felix, who already clinched a berth to Tokyo in the 400m, was fifth in the 200m final. The 35-year-old, who won the event as an 18-year-old for the 2004 Athens Games, has said this is her last Trials and was visibly emotional after her final race. 

In the men's 400m hurdles, Rai Benjamin ran a controlled opening 200m and then turned it on over the second half of the race. He won comfortably in 46.83s, just 0.05 seconds off the world record. That time is the second-fastest time ever and another Trials record.

All three men in the long hurdles are first-time Olympians: in addition to Benjamin, Kenny Selmon, the 2018 U.S. champion, who was second in 48.08s, and David Kendziera, a 10-time All-American at Illinois, whose time of 48.38s is a new lifetime best, will run in Tokyo.

Reigning World Champion DeAnna Price posted an incredible series in the women's hammer throw final: her opening throw of 77.82 meters (255 feet, 4 inches) was her "worst" of the day and was enough to win the event. But in Round 4 she broke her own American record with a 79.98m (262-5) effort, and then in Round 5 she became just the second woman in history to break the 80 meter mark, posting 80.31m (263-6). That, of course, was a Trials record.

The United States has never won an Olympic medal in women's hammer (it has only been contested since the 2000 Games), but has a strong chance to win at least two in Tokyo. Brooke Andersen, whose top throw Saturday was 77.72m (255-0), good for second, and Gwen Berry, who was third at 73.50m (241-2), have the second- and third-best throws in the world this year behind Price. 

In women's pole vault, the rise of Katie Nageotte (pun intended) continues — she won with a personal best, world-leading, Trials record 4.95m (16-2.75) for her first Olympic spot. Morgann LeLeux will also head to the Olympics for the first time, as she was second with a lifetime best of 4.70m (15-5), and 2016 Rio silver medalist Sandi Morris was third at 4.60m (15-1).

In the men's 100m hurdles semi-finals, reigning World Champion Grant Holloway ran an impossibly smooth 12.81s, which was just 0.01 of a second from tying the world record and was, you guessed it, a Trials record.

Holloway won in the final and will be joined by the same two men who were with him for the 2019 World Championship in Doha: Devon Allen, who ran 13.10s, and Daniel Roberts, who ran 13.11s. 

With a heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, the women's 10,000m final was held at 10 a.m. PT to have athletes avoid running during the hottest part of the day, but it was still around 85 degrees. As they warmed up for the race, women were wearing cooling vests and putting ice in their shirts to try to keep their core temperature as low as possible.

The weather didn't seem to affect 29-year-old Emily Sisson, who was dominant as she won her first U.S. title and earned her first Olympic berth in a Trials record 31:03.82. The runner-up was Karissa Schweizer, who had already earned a spot on the 5000m team; Schweizer ran 31:16.52. Alicia Monson was third in 31:18.55, and she is also a first-time Olympian. Monson was struggling over the final laps and collapsed after the medal ceremony; she went to the hospital as a precaution.

The only event on Saturday that didn't see a new Trials record was women's long jump, but it was a stellar competition nonetheless. Effervescent 20-year-old Tara Davis, who won the NCAA indoor and outdoor titles last season and broke Jackie Joyner-Kersee's 36-year-old collegiate record in March, leaped out to 6.92m (22-8.5) on her first attempt.

But Brittney Reese, the 34-year-old veteran with 12 U.S. championships and six Olympic and World Championship medals, wasn't ready to cede her crown to the youngster just yet. Reese jumped 6.94m (22-9.25) on her first attempt, which came after Davis's, then 7.11m (23-4) and 7.13m (23-4.75) on her fourth and fifth attempts to emphasize her point.

Davis would post 7.04m (23-1.25) in Round 5. 

Reese and Davis will be joined by Quanesha Burks, whose fifth-round effort of 6.96m (22-10) was a lifetime best that vaulted her from sixth place into the third Olympic spot.

Tianna Bartoletta, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, finished 10th and will not defend her title.

Sunday is the final day of the competition.

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