Allie Ostrander toed the starting line Thursday at venerated Hayward Field on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene with a host of the nation’s top middle distance runners and once again put on a show that dazzled the mind and proved just how much raw talent she possesses.
The 19-year-old Boise State freshman finished fourth in her heat of the women’s 5,000 meter preliminaries at the United States Track and Field Olympic Team Trials to gain a spot in Sunday’s final, overcoming injury to race for the first time in nearly four months and surpassing perhaps even her own expectations to stay alive for the summer Olympic games in Brazil.
Her time of 15 minutes, 27.13 seconds, was not only fast enough to place fourth in the second heat, but was also fourth-quickest overall among the 23 runners that made up the two heats. Ostrander competed in the faster heat, as 2012 Olympian Molly Huddle won with a time of 15:26.33. Kim Conley won the first heat with a time of 15:40.04.
The top three finishers in Sunday’s final will become the three athletes to represent the United States at the Rio Olympics in August.
After the race, Ostrander posted on her Twitter account her reaction to the feat, writing, “5 weeks ago I was run-walking. Today I qualified to the Olympic trials finals.”
As the only collegiate runner in the field, Ostrander was already facing long odds. Throw in the fact that she spent most of the time since her tibial stress fracture injury in March on the mend, and Thursday’s performance only adds to the growing legend that the 2015 Kenai Central graduate has already established.
Ostrander ran an Olympic qualifying time of 15:21.85 in February in her first attempt at the 5,000-meter distance on a track, but on March 11 had to step off the track midway through her race at the Division I Indoor Track and Field championships in Birmingham, Alabama, with leg pain.
It was only discovered later that Ostrander had suffered a tibial stress fracture, leaving her unable to run for months. Ostrander had to resort to other cross-training methods to keep up her fitness, including using an underwater treadmill.
It was not until five weeks ago that Ostrander was back to full-time running again.
With the trials being held at Oregon University, the very school that was among the recruiting contenders for her, Ostrander executed a brilliant race. She settled in near the back of the back through the first five minutes of the race, then slowly began picking off runners. She was running 10th of 12 racers through the 3,000-meter mark, but moved up to sixth place with three laps to go, when the top two of Huddle and Katie Mackey began breaking away.
With two laps to go, Huddle was the clear leader with about a 10-meter breakaway, while Ostrander mixed it up in the chasing pack for second place.
At the sound of the bell, signifying the final lap, Ostrander had moved into fourth, which she maintained for the final lap, kicking with a blistering time of 1:05 on the last lap.
The final on Sunday is scheduled for a 3:28 p.m. Alaska start time. The race will be streamed live on nbcolympics.com, and will also be a part of NBC’s Olympic television coverage.