Woody Kincaid celebrates after winning the men's 10,000 meter at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field on June 18, 2021 in Eugene, Ore.
EUGENE, Oregon — The longest track race of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Track & Field came down to a finish that even sprinters would admire. Woody Kincaid sped by his training partner Grant Fisher to win the 10,000-meter run at Hayward Field, on a warm and windy Friday night.
Kincaid used a blazing kick to win in 27 minutes, 53.62, with Fisher second in 27:54.29 and Joe Klecker third in 27:54.90, grabbing the final spot on Team USA for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
After attending the University of Portland and training in the area for the past few years, Kincaid received a warm welcome at the newly renovated venue, one of the most storied track facilities in the country.
"This is like home-field advantage I saw so many UP guys and girls, my dad, my coach, it was so loud out there," he said.
Kincaid needed that encouragement as the race unfolded, with a large pack of athletes running together in a tightly bunched formation for much of the 25-lap race.
"My confidence was definitely the lowest at 10 minutes in," he said. "I was feeling sluggish, we were in the back, we were clipping each other. But when I started to move up, more people came back. It felt more natural."
As the pace quickened, he felt better and better about his chances.
"With four laps to go [I thought] This is what I practiced in my mind over and over," he said. "Mentally I was prepared for that kind of race."
Kincaid, whose legal name is William, was an under-the-radar runner at the University of Portland, with his highest NCAA finish a fifth place in the 5000 in 2015. But he stuck with it, and gradually entered the conversation of America's top distance prospects.
"Whenever you have an underwhelming career in something, you feel like you could do more, and that’s true here," he said. "I was still motivated to succeed."
In 2019 he finished third in the 5000 at the USATF Outdoor Championships, but lacked the qualifying time for the world championships so wasn't able to race in Doha, Qatar. He rebounded two months later by running a swift 12:58.10 for 5000 meters at a low-key race on the Nike campus track.
Fisher, who only took up the 10,000 this year, wanted the victory, but was perfectly fine taking second on Friday. "I went into it trying to win but it doesn't always happen," the Stanford grad said. "I go into every race trying to get a W, but sometimes I fall short… Today if you're first, second, third, you're on the team if you have the standard."
And he was especially happy to share the moment with his training partner. "I crossed the line and looked at Woody and knew we were going to Tokyo," he said.
As for third-placer Klecker, you could say he was born to be a successful distance runner. His mother, Janis, won the 1992 Olympic marathon trials and represented the U.S. in Barcelona, while dad Barney was a successful ultra-runner, once holding the American record for 50 miles.
"Both my parents have just been such a supporting role," said the 24-year-old Minnesota native, who was a two-time runner up in NCAA championship races. "They never pushed me into things. They have just always been there for me when I have questions for them. I was able to succeed because it was me pushing myself."
Familiar Faces Advance
In earlier preliminary action, Abbey Cooper earned some of the loudest cheers of the day by running a solo effort in the heats of the women's 5000 to achieve the Olympic qualifying standard. She won her section by more than 15 seconds, clocking 15:07.80 to get under the 15:10 time needed for Tokyo. That takes the pressure off for Monday's final, which could become a slow, tactical race if the temperature soar into the 90s as expected.
It's been a challenging five years for Cooper, who earned worldwide attention at the Rio Games for stopping in the middle of her preliminary round race to help competitor Nikki Hamblin of New Zealand up after they collided. Since then the Dartmouth grad has struggled with injuries, and raced sparingly.
"The past [five] years since Rio have been harder than I ever imaged," an emotional Cooper said after running her fastest time since 2015. "I kept going because this is a calling for me. I love this sport but the joy of this is sometimes robbed when you’re in a cyclical pattern of injury."
Gwen Jorgensen, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the triathlon, also advanced to that 5000 final, clocking 15:34.84 in the second heat.
Allyson Felix received thunderous applause on her introduction then won her heat of the women's 400 in in 50.99.
"It’s always a warm welcome here," said the winner of nine Olympic medals (including six gold). "It’s my fifth and final Olympic trials so I’m trying to take it all in."
At age 35 she is looking to make the team and improve on the silver medal she won in Rio five years ago.
Donavan Brazier, the reigning world champion in the men's 800, led all qualifiers in his signature event, clocking 1:45.00. And in the first round of the women's 100, Sha'Carri Richardson had the fastest time of the day, an impressive 10.84.