6 Minutes, 32.99 Seconds
Day 10: Jun 27, 2021
On perhaps the greatest stretch of Olympic Trials races in history.
At the start of the Olympic Trials, my plan was to write about 10 seconds of each day. I cheated, obviously, by adding in asides and as much backstory as I could because that’s how I like to tell stories. After I was jolted awake by my alarm at 12:11 a.m. last night, I watched the final stretch of the Olympic Trials looking for another 10 seconds to feature. That, however, was impossible. Instead, I decided to call out each of the 6 minutes, 32.99 seconds the winners of each race ran last night. Those 6 minutes, 32.99 seconds of track action were perhaps the greatest 6 minutes, 32.99 seconds of track a U.S. audience has been privileged to see in a long, long time.
It began with Sydney McLaughlin and Dalilah Muhammad once again living up to expectations in the 400-meter hurdles. Muhammad, rounding into form after a tough year, burst from the blocks and ran aggressively, especially around the second turn as she inched ahead of McLaughlin with 100 meters to go. But it was McLaughlin, who has lived up to the hype in this sport in a similar way that LeBron James has lived up to the hype in the N.B.A., who powered home over the final straight, and stopped the clock at an astounding 51.90 seconds. It is a thrilling time even without the hurdles, but McLaughlin, who I wrote about when she was a soon-to-be-pro-first-year at Kentucky, made it look easy. She is a special talent.
She wasn’t the only one on the track. Next up, Athing Mu, who hopefully is being paid handsomely by Nike, also lived up to the hype. Not that it began easily.
About 145 meters into the race, another racer clipped her heel, and Mu almost went down. But the greats have poise, even at 19 years old, and Mu ran ahead unfazed. She put herself in perfect position through 400 and then did exactly what she was expected to do: She blew everyone out over the final 200 meters to run 1 minutes, 56.07 seconds, winning by over 1.5 seconds.
Before the Trials, I had argued to friends that Mu should run the 400. She will make the team, and then she will be on a relay team with Allyson Felix. How does the story get any better than that? Well, it turns out winning gold in the 800 and then joining Felix for a 4 x 400-relay team with Felix for one more Olympic title might not be too bad, either.
It was veteran against rookie in the 1500 meters, too, and the youngster ran a tactically questionable yet brilliantly executed race to stun the defending gold medalist. Matthew Centrowitz is one of the best 1500-meter runners in the world, it’s just that Cole Hocker is better right now. With 800 meters to go, he was boxed in. With 400 meters to go, he was boxed in. With 200 meters to go, he was almost boxed in. Then, Hocker, with about 120 meters to go and Centrowitz pulling away, ran four of the quickest steps I have ever seen run in a 1500. A lane opened up between Yared Nuguse and a Bowerman Track Club athlete, and Hocker sliced through it like a steak knife through butter, and he was gone—his jerky stride propelling him past Centrowitz in the final meters to win in 3 minutes, 35.28 seconds.
The final race of the evening only took 19.74 seconds, but Noah Lyles—as he often does—made them worthwhile, holding off a 17-year-old phenom who just might be ready to topple Lyles this year, or next.