Two more Army distance runners earned berths in the Rio Olympic Games during the final weekend of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field.
Sgt. Hillary Bor of Fort Carson, Colorado finished runner-up to Evan Jager in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase on Friday, July 8, with a time of 8 minutes, 24.10 seconds.
Spc. Paul Chelimo, a distance runner in the Army World Class Athlete Program, finished third in the men’s 5,000-meter run with a time of 13 minutes, 35.92 seconds on Saturday, July 9.
Five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat, 41, passed Chelimo in the final 80 meters to win with a time of 13:35.50, followed by Hassan Mead in 13:35.70. Chelimo (13:35.92) held off Eric Jenkins (13:35.98) and Ben True (13:36.40) to punch his ticket to Rio de Janeiro.
Chelimo and Kipchirchir were two of several runners, including meet record-holder Galen Rupp, who set the pace for much of the 5,000-meter chase.
“I knew that it might go like that,” Chelimo said. “Fighting for one spot, you don’t want to take any risks. I just tried to stay relaxed, but when I got to the last lap, I was like, ‘You know what, let it be what it can be.’ I just decided to go all the way out and push the last 400 and see where I’m going to get.”
Chelimo appeared to have the victory in hand coming off the final curve, but Lagat, 41, blew past him in the homestretch, with Mead in tow.
“When I got to like 50 meters to go, the bear grabbed on my back,” Chelimo said. “I tried pushing but my legs gave up. … I didn’t have enough to finish strong, but I made the team, and that was the big goal.”
“It was an entertaining race, wasn’t it?” said WCAP distance running coach Dan Browne. “From a mile to go until the last 800, I was like, ‘Relax, Chelimo, you’ve got to relax.’ I was just concerned that he had done a lot of work — leading the charge — to try and break it up.
“I knew how bad he wanted it because all his other teammates had made the Olympic team,” Browne said. “I could see it in his eyes.”
Spcs. Shadrack Kipchirchir and Leonard Korir earned their spots on the Olympic team by finishing second and third, respectively, in the 10,000-meter run on July 1.
Army World Class Athlete Program Staff Sgt. John Nunn earned his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team by winning the 50 kilometer Race Walk Trials in January. He won the 20-kilometer race walk at the Olympic Trials as well.
Chelimo, a native of Iten, Kenya, who ran for the University of North Carolina at Greensboro before joining the Army, was just glad to have met his goal.
“It’s always tough for the guy who is trying to cover all the moves,” Chelimo said. “I think that wore me out a bit, but all in all my goal was to qualify and call myself an Olympian. Actually, my main goal was to represent the United States, and being an Olympian is the best way to represent the United States.”
Bor helped the All-Army Team win the 2016 Armed Forces Cross Country Championship at Bend, Oregon.
“I was not running when I joined the military, and then I started running for fun just to represent the Army at the Army 10-miler and in cross country,” said Bor, who became a naturalized American citizen in 2013 after graduating from Iowa State University as a four-time NCAA all-American steeplechaser. “Last year is when I thought I had a chance (at making the U.S. Olympic Team).”
In Eugene, Bor waited until the final 800 meters to make his move.
“I didn’t want to follow close to the leader, but I wanted to make sure I had enough space that, when I made a move, that I was able to close,” he said. “The last 200 meters I realized that three of the guys in front of me weren’t moving that fast, so I just tried to push the last 200 meters.”
Bor was not mentioned in most media projections of pre-Olympic Trials favorites to earn berths on Team USA, but he refused to stop Olympic dreaming.
“You always expect, but I wasn’t trusting that I was going to make the team,” he said. “I worked very hard training from 6 to 9:30 a.m., and then I go to work from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. I’ve done that for the last seven weeks when my unit told me to just relax and train for the trials.”
Bor’s resilience paid dividends in Eugene.
“It’s a long process,” he said. “I train with coach Simmons in Colorado Springs and we started doing long tempo runs and a lot of running. In 2014, I ran 8:38. it wasn’t a good year. Last year, I ran 8:45 — it wasn’t a good year. And coming in this year, I was actually scheduled to deploy with my unit, but my (Army) brothers deployed instead of me.
“That changed my mindset, that I needed to work out, because you don’t take anything for granted,” Bor added. “I started training hard, and I realized that I had a chance.”
Bor said he would not have been competing in Eugene if wasn’t a Soldier in the Army.
“It’s a privilege,” he said. “I can’t believe I’m going to the Olympics. My body is still trembling. It’s exciting.”
Bor has time to improve before toeing the line in Rio de Janeiro.
“We still have one month now to get ready,” he said. “I don’t think I’m in as good shape as I wanted to be, so hopefully things are going to be better.”
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