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Nelson Feels The Love In Hayward Return

Jul 16, 2022

EUGENE, Ore. — As the fourth heat of the women's 100-meter preliminaries settled into the blocks Saturday evening at Hayward Field, the crowd was buzzing.

Each of the three previous heats had been won by a Jamaican. That country was well represented in the stands at Hayward for Saturday's session of the World Athletics Championships, and they had another athlete to cheer on in the fourth heat — an athlete who also happened to be an alum of the meet's host, the University of Oregon.

And so, as reigning NCAA runner-up Kemba Nelson of both Jamaica and Oregon got set for her heat, a voice cried out from section 218 of the home venue for track and field in the United States.

"Come on, Kemba," shouted a man wearing the green, black and yellow of Jamaica. "Your track!"

Said a smiling Nelson later: "One thing about Jamaicans, we're everywhere. It's never a surprise to see how much of us are out there."

If her fans showed up for Nelson on Saturday, Nelson obliged them by showing up as well, running 11.10 seconds to finish third in her heat and qualify automatically for Sunday's semifinals. Nelson will run as part of a busy day of action for UO alums Sunday that begins with Galen Rupp in the marathon at 6:15 a.m., will see Jillian Weir go for a medal in the hammer throw at 11:35 a.m., followed by Devon Allen, Johnny Gregorek and Nelson running in the evening — with Allen and Nelson potentially running both the semifinals and finals of their events.

Thus does a busy season continue for Nelson — but also a season that's extended longer than a year ago, when she was seventh in the Jamaican Championship and fell short of making the Tokyo Olympics.

"Last year, Trials wasn't my best," she said Saturday. "I kind of got into my head, saying, yes, I'm really tired from a long season.

"But I put that behind me. I'm tired when I say I'm tired."

Fellow Oregon track and field alum Jessica Hull isn't getting caught up in any narratives about a busy schedule either. For the second day in a row she ran a controlled 1,500-meter race Saturday, advancing through to Monday's event final, after which she'll turn her attention to the 5,000.

After finishing second in her heat Friday, Hull was advised by her coach to think more in terms of third or fourth in Saturday's semifinals, preserving energy for the final. That advice was put to the test when 2019 bronze medalist Gudaf Tsegay of Ethiopia began to push the pace with 700 to go Saturday. But Hull let Great Britain's Laura Muir take the spot behind Tsegay and followed them home in third, crossing in 4:01.81.

"I'm actually really proud of how patient I was at that point," Hull said, "because it's easy to take the bait. I knew Gudaf was gonna go, and I didn't really want to be the one to go with her. I wanted someone else to go before me, and Laura did exactly that. So I was proud of myself for not getting, like, 10 meters too antsy."

"All that was in my head at that point was composure, composure, composure."

As the field hit the homestretch, Hull took a look around to make sure she was in good position. And she got the sneaking suspicion that Muir in particular had more to give, but was "definitely holding her cards." Thus, Hull obliged.

Playing such cat-and-mouse games with elite international competition is a relatively new sensation for Hull, who is in her second World Athletics Championships and was also an Olympic finalist in Tokyo.

"It's really different to be in the position where I can cue off these top women," Hull said. "Whereas 2019 in Doha, I was the athlete getting run out down the home stretch. Now I'm up there and we're kind of looking at each other, not wanting to give too much away."

UO alum Johnny Gregorek also has another 1,500-meter race to look forward to, after advancing through Saturday's opening round in the men's event. The 2015 Oregon graduate was ninth at the bell lap of his heat but moved up to finish sixth in 3:35.65, claiming the final automatic qualifying spot in his heat.

That time was less than a half-second off Gregorek's season best. He anticipated that kind of effort being required to make Sunday's semifinals.

"It's where the event's at right now — huge depth of talent, a lot of strong guys," Gregorek said. "So I know what to be ready for — a long burn."

Among that depth of talent was another UO alum, Cooper Teare, the recently crowned U.S. champion in the event. Teare ran in Saturday's opening heat and was among the top six for much of the race, before fading to 13th over the final lap in 3:41.15.

Teare said afterward he actually won the U.S. title despite feeling the effects of a stress reaction in his left tibia. That condition limited his training for Worlds to swimming and biking, which showed at the bell Saturday.

"I just felt so flat," Teare said. "You can do as much endurance stuff as you want on the bike or in the pool, but that turnover stuff is hard. When world-class guys are starting to turn it over and really kick, that's hard to replicate doing anything other than running."

Teare's friend, training partner and fellow UO program alum Cole Hocker also had to cross-train due to injury this summer, and didn't even make it to Oregon22.

"That's just kind of how it goes," Teare said. "You gotta roll with those punches. I cross-trained my ass off to try my best to come out here and get as far as I could go, and that's all there was today. It's tough to have that be the result on my first really big Worlds stage, and especially when it's here. But you can't really do anything about it."

Allen was the first UO alum on the track Sunday, for his opening round of the 110 hurdles. Having mourned the passing of his father in the weeks since the USATF Championships — Allen finished third despite learning of the loss that same weekend — Allen won his heat Saturday morning in 13.47 seconds.

"I was a bit sloppy today but it is OK," said Allen, who will transition to football and training camp with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles in a few weeks. "It doesn't really matter. 100 percent, the goal (Sunday) will be to go for a time under 13. May be my last 30 hours on the track."

Saturday, July 16 | UO Results
1500 Meters - heats
6. Johnny Gregorek - 3:35.65Q
38. Cooper Teare - 3:41.15

110m Hurdles - heats
14. Devon Allen - 13.47Q

100 Meters - heats
16. Kemba Nelson - 11.10Q

1500 Meters - semifinals
3. Jessica Hull - 4:01.81Q

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