Olympics roundup: Jaeger reaches Rio in 1,500 freestyle
Omaha, Neb. — Connor Jaeger had to swim nearly a mile to earn another race at the Olympics.
Abbey Weitzeil claimed her second individual event in Rio with a frantic dash from one end of the pool to the other.
The final night of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials came down to the long and short of it, a pair of races that couldn’t provide more of a contrast.
Jaeger (Michigan) used a powerful finishing kick to pull away from Jordan Wilimovsky in the 1,500-meter freestyle Sunday night, while Weitzeil claimed victory in the 50 free just ahead of Simone Manuel.
The metric mile was a two-man race all the way. By the end, no one was within a half-lap of the leaders.
Jaeger got a strong kick off the next-to-last wall and began to get some separation on his only challenger. Pulling away on the final lap, he finished in 14 minutes, 47.61 seconds.
“He’s the fastest American ever, so it’s fun to just try and hang with him as far as I can,” said Wilimovsky, who touched in 14:49.19 — more than 17 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Michael McBroom.
Jaeger and Wilimovsky had already locked up their berths in Rio before they dove in the pool. Jaeger also won the 400 free, while Wilimovsky had earned a spot for the U.S. in the open-water event at Rio.
Now, he’ll become the first U.S. swimmer to compete in both the pool and the ocean at the same Olympics.
“It’s really, really cool,” Wilimovsky said. “Obviously open water has only been around (at the Olympics) since 2008, so it’s not that old.”
Jaeger won a silver medal in the 1,500 at last year’s world championships. Four years ago, he finished sixth in the event at the London Olympics.
“We’re going to have to be better in Rio,” said Jaeger, who was more than 6 seconds off his personal-best time.
The 50 free was a carbon copy of the 100 free.
Weitzeil won in 24.28 seconds and Manuel was next at 24.33 — the same 1-2 finish they had in the two-lap race. Madison Kennedy missed out on a trip to Rio by 15-hundredths of a second.
“I’m super stoked,” Weitzeil said. “I came to this meet in 2012 as a 16-year-old just making the cuts, just came to participate. To go from then to now in four years, winning events that I was thinking about during that time, it’s just amazing. It hasn’t set in what I’ve actually done.”
Four other swimmers who already earned spots on the Olympic team were farther back.
Olivia Smoliga finished fourth, while Dana Vollmer, Lia Neal and Amanda Weir brought up the back of the pack.
Michigan coach Mike Bottom was named an assistant coach for the U.S. men’s team.
Track and field
At Eugene, Oregon, the numbers were as telling as the names.
America’s Olympic mainstays, Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt and Justin Gatlin, are all on their way to Rio de Janeiro. With the best times in the world this year to boot.
Gatlin’s 100-meter run in 9.8 seconds at U.S. Olympic Trials on Sunday will certainly turn the most heads.
It’s the same time he posted last year at the world championships in Beijing, where Usain Bolt nudged him out by a hundredth. Bolt pulled out of this week’s Jamaican national championships and his form will be a mystery for at least the next few weeks.
Nobody needs wonder where Gatlin stands.
“When the competition shows and the competition rises, I’ve got to rise to the occasion with it,” he declared.
Even so, he’s destined to head to his third Olympics as an underdog to Bolt, The World’s Fastest Man.
Ashton Eaton will be a favorite. The decathlon world-record holder and defending Olympic champion’s score of 8,750 was nearly 300 short of his world record. A bit frustrating for Eaton, but the score was still notable because it was one point better than the personal best of anyone who can qualify for the event in Rio. And besides, there’s no such thing as perfect over a 10-event endurance test.
“As a decathlete, if you don’t leave with something (frustrating), then you should quit,” he said.
Besides Eaton, nobody has carried the flag for Team USA’s track team over the past several years than Felix, who has been to three Olympics and picked up six medals, including 200-meter gold in London.
Her quest at Olympics No. 4 is to become the first woman to win gold in both the 200 and 400 meters. That mission landed on shaky ground when she hurt her right ankle this spring while working out. It’s been a brutal comeback, she said, though the performance Sunday hardly showed it.
Pulling away late, she finished the 400-meter final in 49.68 seconds for a .26-second win over Phyllis Francis, then collapsed in exhaustion and relief.
“Two months ago, I couldn’t even walk,” Felix said. “To be here and have everything still come together, I don’t know quite how it happened.”
Merritt certainly does.
Fists pumping high down the stretch, he burst down the last 50 meters of the straightaway to finish in 43.97 — a .76-second romp over Gil Roberts. It was a clinic, reminiscent of Merritt’s .99-second blowout over rival Jeremy Wariner in the 2008 Olympics.
“People always say they look at my film to tell their athletes, ‘This is how you’re supposed to run the last part of the race,’ ” Merritt said. “They haven’t been looking at it lately. I had to give them something to look at.”
Yet another world-best mark came from Chaunte Lowe in the high jump. Her jump of 6 feet, 7 inches beat Vashti Cunningham, daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall, by 1 1/2 inches.
Lowe is on the way to her fourth Olympics, seeking the medal that has always eluded her there. Stoked by her performance, and the others she saw on this breezy, sunshine-filled day in Eugene, she was thinking bigger.
It wasn’t hard to do on a day such as this.
“It felt so easy,” Lowe said. “I think I’ll be ready. Just keep training, fine-tuning. I think we could see a sweep of the podium.”