Trending Toward Rio

Kyle Merber is a guy who seems to like trends and graphs. Perhaps because 2015 has been a series of high notes so far, which is a great way to lead up to an Olympic year.

After finishing sixth in the 1,500-meter run at the USATF Nationals in Eugene, Ore., on Sunday, the Columbia grad tweeted out a five-year personal history with the meet. In 2012, he finished 35th out of 36 runners at the Trials and that was sandwiched between two years of failing to qualify for the meet.

But last year he got ever so close, failing to make the final by less than a quarter-second. This year was the opposite. He was the last runner to make it into the final, but he made it count, passing runners down the homestretch to take sixth in 3:39.62 — less than a second shy of a trip to Beijing for the World Championships. In front of him were only well-known names — Centro, Andrews, Manzano, Blankenship and Wheating.

Actually, Merber is one of just three Americans to have met the world standard (when he ran a 3:34.54 at a meet in South Carolina in late May). He also became both a world champion and world record holder in the distance medley relay with Team USA in May. So, yeah, the 24-year-old is trending quite nicely. All eyes on Rio.

But he will have competition from another trending athlete, another Ivy Leaguer. Dartmouth alum Will Geoghegan was eighth in the same race, finishing in 3:40.05 — an eight-second personal best. Of course, you have to realize that he has run equivalently in the mile run (3:57.53). For a moment, right at the bell, Geoghegan opted to make a move, briefly taking the lead from champion Matt Centrowitz. Afterward he tweeted, “Personally I think the 1300 should be an IAAF event,” as the more experienced runners passed him by in the final 200.

But Geoghegan is clearly stronger than he’s ever been, thanks in part to a stellar final season at Oregon. And if Merber is to get to Rio, he’ll need to have an eye on Geoghegan, who ran in the kit of his new sponsor Nike in the final.

One other Ivy Leaguer — Princeton graduate Ashley Higginson — also had a near-miss in the steeplechase. In searing heat, Stephanie Garcia decided to take the race out fast and within a few laps, Team USA favorite Emma Coburn joined her in the front. That left Higginson, Colleen Quigley and Leah O’Connor running together, looking for the final spot for Beijing. With two laps to go, Higginson was just ahead of the other two, but she fell two seconds back in the penultimate lap. Quigley would finish strong and take third while O’Connor would fall on the final water jump, yet hang on for fourth. Higginson remained fifth in 9:35.55.

The Championships come to an end today and the revised forecast calls for much milder conditions. That should be good news for the three or four Leaguers in competition. Abbey D’Agostino (Dartmouth) will compete in the 5,000-meter run as will Thomas Awad (Penn) on the men’s side. Ben True (Dartmouth) was declared in the event as well, but he earned a spot in Beijing in the 10k, his stronger event. It would be a surprise to see him toe the line for the 5k, but the expected conditions may improve those odds.

And the final competitor will be Donn Cabral (Princeton), who ran the fastest qualifying time in the steeplechase prelims. American record holder Evan Jager is the favorite in the final, but Cabral has found his stride in 2015, the same one that took him to an Olympic final in 2012.

One other bit of news is that 34-year-old Natalie Grant (Harvard) took second in the hammer throw at the Jamaican Nationals with a heave of 62.29 meters (204-4). She has the place, but she’d need to improve to nearly 230 feet to advance to the World Champs. Today is the last day for the event in Kingston and Princeton grad Imani Oliver will be lining up for the triple jump.

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