US Olympic track and field trials: BYU's Rooks, Corrigan top steeplechase with 1-3 finish

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SALT LAKE CITY — Steeplechase U. is alive and well at Brigham Young University.

The Cougars took two of the top-three spots in the event at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials Sunday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.

Former NCAA national champion Kenneth Rooks finished first with a punishing kick, and rising junior James Corrigan was third. Because both athletes didn't meet the Olympic standard, they will need to qualify with a high enough ranking July 7 in the final World Athletics Ranking prior to the Summer Olympics in Paris.

Three decades after BYU coach Ed Eyestone's final Olympic games in Barcelona, two of his star pupils have put themselves in position for a spot in Paris.

"I'm still floating. I'm levitating. I'm at an all-time high," Eyestone said following his race. "I mean, as high as I was when we went one-two in the marathon with Conner Mantz and Clayton Young, it was really beyond my wildest dreams coming into this that we could get both Kenneth and James in the top-3."

"James has shown glimpses of greatness and he certainly looked good in the prelim," added Eyestone, who was in Eugene. "I think it helped that Kennth made the big move with two laps to go because it forced guys to get out of their comfort zone, and James rode that."

Rooks settled into the core of the pack to start the race, but made his move early around the water jump of the penultimate lap.

The Nike athlete from Walla Walla, Washington, then pulled well in front at the bell lap to finish in 8 minutes, 21.92 seconds and top second-place Matthew Wilkinson, an Under Armour athlete, by nearly 2 seconds and repeat as U.S. national champion.

This time, he didn't have to pick himself up and make up lost ground, either.

"We were a little rushed on Friday, got here a little earlier, slowed things down and tried to focus on the process," Rooks told NBC, noting he prepared for the meet by reading scriptures to calm his mind with Corrigan, one of his training partners. "We just tried to slow it down a little bit beforehand, and then we were just ready to be curious for the race, what would happen, who would respond and who remains."

Corrigan finished third in 8:26.78 to clinch the final spot on the U.S. team in the steeplechase. The duo would join BYU alumni Conner Mantz and Clayton Young (marathon) at the Paris Summer Games.

"We were focused on Kenneth, and then out of the corner of my eye, I saw James rolling by people like a steamroller," Eyestone said. "He just finished strong and looked so, so good."

"I'm so very happy for both of them. We couldn't have drawn it up any better than that. Top-three at the Olympic Trials, you just can't ask for more than that."

Rooks is also one of 10 athletes signed by Run Elite Program, the elite state-sponsored distance program designed to attract elite athletes to the Beehive State for training to compete at the highest level.

"I couldn't be more excited to add another runner from the state and from REP to the Olympic Games in Kenneth Rooks," said REP's Isaac Wood, who co-founded the organization with Olympian Jared Ward and former BYU-Hawaii soccer player Landon Southwick. "He ran that race so confidently and slammed the door shut on anyone beating him with 2 laps to go and punched his ticket to Paris."

Because none of the U.S. finalists unlocked an Olympic standard time of 8:15.00, the United States' final allotments for Paris in the event will come down to the World Athletic Rankings.

All athletes will be ranked through the end of competition June 30, and World Athletics will publish the final edition of the Road to Paris rankings for all events (except marathon) on July 7, prior to the July 8 entry deadline for the Summer Games.

The Paris Olympics begin July 26 and run through August 11.

Rooks and Corrigan weren't the only Utah athletes competing in Sunday's trials.

BYU junior Meghan Hunter, the Provo High alum who redshirted the outdoor season, finished 22nd in the women's 800-meter semifinals. Her time of 2:03.27 was seventh in her heat and did not advance to Monday's final.

BYU's Cameron Bates finished eighth in the javelin finals with a throw of 69.61 meters (228-4).

Utah State alumna Chari Hawkins, who competes professionally for Brooks, rode second-place performances in the high jump (1.79 meters) and shot put (14.67) to lead the multi-event chase for Paris.

The Aggie alum from Rexburg, Idaho, slipped to second after finishing 10th in the 200-meter leg 24.21. But Hawkins was just 10 points behind Anna Hall, who is sponsored by Adidas, and her 3,884 points.

Asics athlete Taliyah Brooks is in third with 3,861 points — just 23 behind Hawkins, finished eighth with 6,366 points at the most recent world championships in Budapest, Hungary, (she also finished seventh at the world indoor championships in the pentathlon with 4,388 points).

Perhaps the biggest win of the day came in the final event, when Noah Lyles took a massive step toward an Olympic sprint double by finishing first in the 100-meter final in 9.83 seconds to qualify for Paris.

The reigning world champion and 2020 bronze medalist overcame a slow start before laying down a personal-best time to edge 200-meter specialist Kenny Bednarek by .04. Fred Kerley, the 2022 world champion, finished third to claim the final spot in the event with Team USA.

The win comes a day after Sha'Carri Richardson similarly lived up to expectations in the women's 100-meter final.

Up next:

Four more BYU athletes will race Monday, including Whittni Orton Morgan, who will compete in the 5,000-meter finals. Courtney Wayment-Smith, Lexy Halladay-Lowry and Taylor Lovell will also begin the first round of the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase, where Wayment-Smith is considered among the favorites.

Riley Hunt will contest the first round of the 110-meter hurdles.

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