BYU's James Corrigan books ticket to Paris with Olympic steeplechase standard

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PROVO — James Corrigan's top-three finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic trials was a strong notch in the belt to end his sophomore season with BYU track and field.

But a berth on Team USA was anything but guaranteed when he finished third at last week's team trials in Eugene, Oregon.

It took an extra week, but it all seems worth it now, right?

"Yeah, it has," Corrigan quipped in an interview with FloTrack.

Corrigan finished the hastily assembled 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Penn Relays Summer Showcase in 8 minutes, 13.87 seconds, stamping everything but his passport for the Summer Olympics in Paris with the only thing he lacked: an Olympic standard.

Save a seat on the plane, fellow BYU alum Kenneth Rooks; the Cougars' new school-record holder is joining the trip, completing the Team USA steeplechase squad that includes Rooks and Under Armour athlete Matt Wilkinson.

A week ago, Corrigan's post-race interview with NBC was cut short due to the broadcaster's time restrictions. He wasn't upset; only Rooks and Wilkinson were all-but assured of an Olympic bid, with Corrigan well outside the qualifying quota in the World Athletics Ranking.

So what would he like to say to the country now that he's clinched his Olympic bid?

"I'm just so excited," he told FloTrack after the race. "I hope I gave a lot of youngsters some motivation to run track one day, specifically the steeplechase. But now I'm just so excited, knowing that I get to represent Team USA. I'm so excited to represent the nation and hopefully give a voice to the college athletes I train with, and let them know that they can do it, too."

After finishing in the top three at the U.S. Olympic trials, Corrigan found himself in a mad dash to try and clinch a berth in the Paris Olympics. With one week until the final World Athletics Rankings release that would determine his fate — and limited options — BYU coach Ed Eyestone made some late arrangements to enter Corrigan into the Penn Relays Summer Showcase, a summer event held annually at Franklin Field in Philadelphia that wasn't initially hosting the steeplechase.

But with some encouragement from Eyestone and the chance to add another Olympian from the United States, meet director Aaron Robison — the grandson of the late great BYU track and cross country coach Clarence Robison for whom the Cougars' track and field complex is named — added the event to the lineup, and even upgraded the meet to "challenger" status, meaning results would allow athletes to accrue points in the world ranking.

Currently ranked No. 82 by World Athletics after his third-place trials finish in 8:26.78, Corrigan could qualify by either meeting the Olympic standard of 8:15 or dropping his season-best time of 8:21.22 enough to put him within the quota by World Athletics' pre-established deadline Sunday.

Corrigan was the final race at the Penn Relays Summer Series, with a unique training "rabbit" — his training partner and BYU alum Rooks, the former NCAA men's steeplechase national champion and two-time U.S. champion whose top time at the Olympic trials of 8:21.92 pushed him up to No. 18 in the world rankings.

The BYU runner was one of just seven entries in the event, with dozens more aspiring Olympians chasing the final standard in races around the world.

With Rooks guiding his time and 2021fourth-place Olympic trials finisher Daniel Michalski pacing him until the final 1,000 meters or so, Corrigan got stronger with each step. He averaged just over 1:05 in each split until the bell lap, when the rising junior soared stumbled minimally over the final water barrier, soared over the last hurdle and dashed to a closing split of 1:03.467 as Eyestone greeted him at the finish line.

"The amount of pressure that was on this young man was unreal," Eyestone said. "To finish in the top-three at the Olympic trials, then being asked to essentially run sub 8:15.00 and also to come out here in not ideal weather conditions and perform like he did was amazing. He had the confidence and faith to get the job done. With two laps to go I could tell he was tired but could also smell his Olympic berth. It was an impressive performance."

In booking his trip to Paris with the U.S. Olympic track and field team, Corrigan joins Rooks and fellow BYU steeplechase standout Courtney Wayment, as well as BYU alums Conner Mantz and Clayton Young (marathon), recent Run Elite Program signee Grant Fisher (5,000 meters) and former Utah State star Chari Hawkins (heptathlon).

Former BYU and Herriman High standout Rory Linkletter will also represent Canada in the Olympic marathon, and Utah senior Josefine Eriksen has qualified with the 4x100-meter relay team for her native Norway — the first time the Norwegians have qualified a relay team for Olympic competition since the 1920 Summer Games in Antwerp, Belgium.

That's six track and field athletes from BYU that have qualified for the Summer Games — five alums, and (until recently) a relatively unknown underclassman who finished ninth at the NCAA championships.

"It's a dream come true," Corrigan said. "It's a lot of pressure, the progression that has happened and how quickly things have happened. I know I struggled running my first round races. … I think I was able to turn around well for the trials. I'm just so proud of my progression, to running three races in eight days. It really opens some possibilities for the future."

Back in Eugene, BYU's school record-setting discus thrower Dallin Shurts finished his Olympic trials moment with an 11th-place finish in the men's discus that included a throw of 59.53 meters (195-3).

The competition wraps up Sunday, which will include former BYU middle-distance specialist Abraham Alvarado in the final of the men's 800 meter. That race is scheduled to go off at 5:51 p.m. MT.

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