By Tim Hipps
U.S. Army Installation Management Command
EUGENE, Oregon– Two Army distance runners earned berths in the Rio Olympic Games during the final weekend of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team 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 July 8 with a time of 8 minutes 24.10 seconds.
Spc. Paul Chelimo, a distance runner in the U.S. 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 July 9.
Five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat 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 earn his spot in Rio de Janeiro.
Chelimo was one 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.”
Chelimo appeared to have the victory in hand coming off the final curve, but Lagat 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 to 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.”
WCAP team mates 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.
Staff Sgt. John Nunn, another WCAP Track & Field team mate, 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 last week, 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 U.S. 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 Ten-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-America 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 in his event, yet 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 [in the morning] and then I went to work from 9:30 to 5. I’ve done that for the last seven weeks until my unit told me to just relax and train for the trials.”
The extra training time paid dividends in Eugene.
“It’s a long process,” he said. “I trained 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 harder– because you don’t take anything for granted,” Bor added.
Bor said he would not have been competing in Eugene without the opportunities he’s had to train while being a Soldier in the U.S. Army.