Several high-profile American athletes have pulled out of the U.S. Olympic Trials, including 2016 steeplechase silver medallist Evan Jager and 10,000m national record holder Molly Huddle. The U.S. Trials, which will run in Eugene, Ore., from June 18 to 27, will be rich with competition, but the absences of Jager, Huddle and a few other fan-favourite runners won’t go unnoticed.
Huddle misses out
As Huddle wrote on Instagram, she has been dealing with a nagging injury all year, and while she has tried to run through it, she wasn’t able to hit her usual times or standards. “Hoping to figure things out and get back on the roads feeling more like myself as soon as I can,” she wrote. Huddle was set to run the 10,000m, an event that she has dominated in the past few years.
She won her first national 10,000m title in 2015 at Hayward Field, the same venue as the upcoming U.S. Trials. A year later, once again in Eugene, Huddle won the 10,000m at the 2016 Trials, earning her a second Olympic appearance (she raced the 5,000m at the 2012 Games). In Rio, she finished in sixth, and her 30:13.17 finishing time broke both the national and North American records.
In 2017, she won yet another national title in the event, and later that year she ran to an eighth-place finish at the world championships in London. She repeated as the American champion in 2018 and 2019, and she competed at the world championships yet again, this time in Doha, Qatar, where she finished ninth.
In 2020, Huddle took a stab at qualifying for the U.S. Olympic marathon team, but she recorded a DNF at the Trials. Even so, she entered 2021 as a threat to take yet another win in the 10,000m and book a trip to her third Olympics. Her injury proved to be too much, though, and because of that, for the first time since 2015, another American woman will win the U.S. 10,000m race.
Jager’s comeback is cut short
Like Huddle, Jager dominated his main event, the 3,000m steeplechase, at the U.S. championships and Olympic Trials in the past decade. He won the race every year between 2012 and 2018, and he also raced in two Olympic Games and two world championships. In 2016, he won silver at the Rio Olympics, and a year later in London at the world championships, he added a bronze medal to his resume. In that time, he also set the American and North American record in the 3,000m steeplechase with a 8:00.45 run in Paris in 2015.
Jager’s winning streak at the U.S. championships came to an end in 2019, when he missed the event due to a foot injury. That injury kept him out of competition from September 2018 until February 2020, but when he made his comeback, it looked like he would get back to his winning ways just in time for the Tokyo Games. In March of this year, though, he injured himself once again, and he dealt with Achilles issues through that entire month and half of April.
The injury prevented him from running much, but when he returned, he was optimistic that he would be able to get back to good form ahead of the Olympic Trials. As he said in a video on Instagram, “My thought process was that if I could stay healthy between [May] and the Trials, I definitely felt I was in a position to make the team and potentially win the Trials again.”
His Achilles issues disappeared, but calf pain plagued him next. After weeks of his calf tightening up mid-run, he saw a doctor, and Jager was informed that he had torn his lateral soleus. “I had to make the difficult decision … to basically just realize that running the Trials wasn’t an option,” Jager said. “Even if I did show up to the Trials, I wasn’t sure that I could get through a full steeple race, let alone two races and run fast enough to make the team.” After accepting this reality, Jager withdrew from the Trials.
Three-time Olympian Shannon Rowbury and former U.S. high school indoor mile record holder Drew Hunter have also pulled out of the U.S. Olympic Trials. Rowbury, a former American record holder in the 1,500m and 5,000m, finished fourth in the 1,500m at the Rio Games. This was Hunter’s chance to qualify for his first Olympics. Shelby Houlihan will also be absent from the start line at the Trials, although not due to injury – she has been issued a four-year ban from competition following a positive drug test last December.