U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials: Athlete Interviews
We’re on day 6 of the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials in beautiful Eugene, Oregon. We’ve seen nail-biting races, gut-wrenching races, and triumphant races. We’ve seen athletes leave it all on the track and look hungry for more; we’re eager to catch the rest of the action later this week. We took a moment to catch up with a few of our Minnesota athletes to learn more about what makes them tick.
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As everyone knows, the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials puts athletes into the spotlight on a national stage. The events can be some of the most nerve-wracking and important of an athlete’s career. With this in mind, we wanted to ask a few of our Minnesota athletes about pre-race rituals, goals for their events, and overall thoughts on the Olympic Trials. Garrett Heath (5,000 meters), Gabe Grunewald (5,000 meters), Ben Blankenship (1,500 meters), and Jamie Cheever (3,000 meter Steeplechase) were all gracious enough to share a bit of their process.
What are your pre-race rituals? Do they change depending on the importance of the event?
Garrett: Coffee and my pre-race playlist. I usually pick-up a Pike’s Place roast from Starbucks on the way to the track and start getting into the zone with some tunes about 2 hours out from my race. The playlist includes some random stuff that goes all the way back to high school (and is slightly embarrassing to admit), but I probably use The Gaslight Anthem the most to get into the race mindset.
I try to keep my pre-race routines pretty consistent throughout the year so that I can fall back on my routine to make the big races feel more normal. The one time I will stray from them earlier in the season would be to test something new as part of the routine. You’re always going to get things thrown at you in races that you don’t expect, but the more things you can test out and make predictable going in, the better.
Gabe: My pre-race rituals are pretty standard and they don’t change too much from race to race. When racing in the evening (which is most often), I like to lay low throughout the day. I usually will do a short jog about 6 hours before my race, then grab lunch and chill after that. I like to listen to music, do some journaling, and paint my nails! I also like to review my training log and do some visualization before heading out to the race. I always go for an espresso a couple hours beforehand, too.
Ben: My pre race ritual is always the same. Easy shakeout in the morning when I wake, then drink a bunch of coffee. I try to arrive on venue 2 hours prior to my race so I have time to chill out and listen to some music before I need to warm up.
Jamie: I like to get to the track a couple hours early to relax while soaking up the atmosphere. I do some deep breathing and calming yoga stretches. An hour out I’ll run a couple miles, do some dynamic stretches and drills, hurdle drills, and strides.
Other than the obvious of qualifying for the Olympic team, what are you hoping to achieve at the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials?
Garrett: I want to walk off the track at the end of my last race knowing that I couldn’t have done anything else to put myself on that team and that I left it all on the track. If I do that, I will at least be satisfied with myself. Honestly though, making the team is the central focus for the trials, so it’s hard to think about any other goals going in.
Gabe: The main goal is definitely doing what it takes to place in the top 3 and qualify for Rio! Other than that, running a race I am proud of is very important to me. I’m excited for the opportunity to run a race that my family, friends, and supporters are proud of, regardless of the outcome.
Ben: My main goal is always to be competitive with whatever field I am up against. This will be no different at the Trials. I hope I can help make the 1,500m the most interesting race at the event.
Jamie: I am hoping to finish in the top three so I am able to represent the US in Rio. Whether or not that happens, I’m hoping to compete with bravery and grit and run a PR.
What do the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials mean to you?
Garrett: I mentioned this to [my sponsor] Brooks the other day as well, but I think the trials are especially exciting because…you know every one of the best athletes in the country (who are healthy, or maybe even not) are going to show up ready to give it everything they’ve got. There’s no other meets to save energy for or reasons to not race. Everyone toes the line with a chance to test their bodies and take their shot at representing our country. I think that’s one of the coolest things [about the Trials].
Gabe: Competing at the Olympic Trials is a true honor. It is a special combination of competition among the best in the USA and a celebration of having done what it takes to get there and just enjoy it. For me, it’s a culmination of a much bigger journey and an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of representing our country on the biggest stage at the Olympics.
Ben: Whether or not it is a good thing, there’s no doubt that the Olympics are the pinnacle of our sport. The 3 rounds of the 1,500m at the Olympic Trials are the necessary stepping stones on the way to the Olympics, and I plan to put myself in the best position to take those steps.
Jamie: I can get pretty cynical and disappointed about doping among elite athletes and the integrity of governing bodies. Competing at the Olympic Trials is an important reminder of how fortunate I am to have had such great athletic opportunities my entire life. There are big issues with youth sports, the NCAA, and USATF, but how awesome is it that I was supported by all of these institutions to be the runner I am today? I love that I have so many talented American steeple women to compete against.
What’s next for Garrett, Gabe, Ben, and Jamie?
- Garrett ran the 5,000 meter preliminary race on Monday, July 4th. He ran a strong 13:50.63 for 8th place in his heat (15th overall) and will advance to the final event on Saturday, July 9th.
- Gabe will run the 5,000 meter preliminary race on Thursday, July 7th with hopes to advance to the final event on Sunday, July 10th.
- Ben will run the 1,500 meter preliminary race on Thursday, July 7th with hopes to advance to the semi-final event on Friday, July 8th.
- Jamie ran the 3,000 meter Steeplechase preliminary event on Monday, July 4th. She ran a solid 10:01:48 for 8th place in her heat (24th overall) but sadly will not advance to the final event.
Catch our live coverage on Twitter and stay tuned to Minneapolis Running for further updates on our Minnesota Athletes. Thank you to Garrett, Gabe, Ben, and Jamie for taking the time to answer our questions, and best of luck!