Long Road Leads To Tokyo

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Cole Hocker and Micah Williams are in Tokyo with Team USA preparing for the start of track and field competition at the Olympic Games, a place only one of them had an inkling he might be spending time this summer.

While Hocker and UO distance coach Ben Thomas scripted a training plan for this year with the possibility of an Olympic berth in mind, Williams surprised even himself with a fifth-place finish – and UO school record of 9.91 – in the 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. That earned him a spot in the 4×100-meter relay pool in Tokyo.

“It was truly a blessing to even be here,” Williams said before leaving for the Olympics.

Track and field competition begins in Tokyo on Friday morning, which is late in the day Thursday in Oregon. Hocker’s first round in the 1500 meters will be run just after 5 p.m. PT on Monday, and the first round of the 4×100 relay begins Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. PT. The 1500 semis begin Thursday at 4 a.m. PT, and the final is next Saturday at 4:40 a.m.

As Hocker prepared to leave for Tokyo, that race on Aug. 7 was top of mind.

“If I’m in the final, I think I have as good a shot as anyone,” Hocker said. “It’s just another 1500-meter race – just against really good guys.”

Cole Hocker, 1500m, Olympic Trials final

Hocker won a couple of those in recent weeks, first at the NCAA Championships and then at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. In the latter race he outkicked the 2016 Olympic gold medalist, Matt Centrowitz.

Hocker and Williams are two of five members of the 2021 Oregon track and field program competing in Tokyo; another nine alums of the program are competing in track and field at these Olympic Games, including Centrowitz. Joining Hocker and Williams from the 2021 team are Aneta Konieczek in the 3,000-meter steeplechase for Poland, Emmanuel Ihemeje in the long jump for Italy and Charlie Hunter in the 800 for Australia.

Day one of the track and field schedule at the Olympics is set to feature two of those UO alum with Jenna Prandini and Raevyn Rogers in the opening rounds of the 100 and 800 meters, respectively. In addition to television coverage on NBC, the full day will be available on NBCOlympics.com beginning at 5 p.m. (PT).

Hunter and Hocker trained together as Ducks along with the likes of Cooper Teare, James West and Reed Brown. Hocker said their influence was instrumental in helping him get to Tokyo.

“They’re top in the NCAA,” Hocker said, “but they’re also top in the world.”

Hocker is looking to put the finishing touches on a season that included NCAA Indoor Championships in the mile and the 3,000, followed by wins in the 1,500 at the NCAA Outdoor meet at the U.S. Trials. Although “it has been a long season,” he acknowledged, the possibility of competing all the way through the Olympic Games was in the back of Thomas’ mind when crafting Hocker’s training plan for the year.

“This was the goal,” Hocker said. “…. You’re either fit or you’re not. And I’m the fittest I’ve ever been.”

Williams, on the other hand, was jubilant in taking fifth at the U.S. Trials, shortly after taking third in the 100 at the NCAA Outdoor Championships. Though there was no guarantee he’d be called upon to run in Tokyo – in an interview shortly before leaving, Williams wasn’t even sure what leg he might need to be prepared to run – such details didn’t get in the way of his excitement at being an Olympian.

“My role so far is just to be there for the team,” Williams said. “I’m pretty sure I’m going to run. But if I don’t, just support the team. It’s a blessing to even go an experience this.”


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