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Sunday Brings Heartbreak At Hayward

Jul 17, 2022

EUGENE, Ore. — Sunday's session of the World Athletics Championships at Hayward Field provided an encouraging finish by one UO track and field alum in the field, but heartbreak for Ducks in the running events.

Hurdler Devon Allen, on a quest for a world title less than a month after the passing of his father, was disqualified from his event final for committing a false start by a razor-thin margin. That followed semifinals for sprinter Kemba Nelson and 1,500 runner Johnny Gregorek in which they failed to advance to their finals, and capped a day that began with Galen Rupp fading over the final few miles of the marathon due to a back problem.

In the field, Jillian Weir of Team Canada came through with a fifth-place finish in the hammer throw, one year after placing 19th in the Tokyo Olympics. On an otherwise disappointing day for Ducks, that was a bright spot.

"I'm excited," said Weir, an all-American for the 2015 national championship team of Oregon women. "I don't think it's fully setting in yet. But just to be part of one of the best competitions, it's a big honor, and to do it here at home means much more."

The Ducks on the track Sunday hoped to experience a similar high, but instead were deflated. Nelson, the reigning NCAA runner-up at 100 meters, was in the thick of her Oregon22 semifinal but ended up sixth in 11.25 seconds and didn't advance. Gregorek got caught on the rail of his 1,500 semifinal, and was unable to fight through the traffic up into a qualifying position before finishing in 3:35.35.

Rupp, meanwhile, was very much in medal contention for three-quarters of the marathon, which was contested on the streets and paths of Eugene and Springfield early Sunday morning. But as the lead group began to make a move about 30 kilometers in, Rupp fell back, and ultimately he ended up stopping completely for a moment to stretch his back — yet still finished in 2:09.36, good for 19th place.

The biggest heartbreak of the day, though, was felt by Allen. Dealing with a balky hamstring this week, which he divulged Sunday evening, Allen fought back from an uneven heat Saturday to advance through his semifinal Sunday in 13.09 seconds. He looked to have the form needed to threaten for a world title, but never got the chance after being DQ'd in the final.

Athletes are flagged for a false start if they react to the starting gun quicker than 0.1 seconds, and Allen reacted in 0.099 seconds — one one-thousandth too quickly. He made an appeal to the officials, but was unsuccessful and had to watch the final on a monitor underneath the stands in Hayward Field.

"I'm one one-thousandth slower and everybody's happy, everybody's saying, 'Great race, world champ,' and so it's a little frustrating," Allen said. "… I know for a fact I didn't react until I heard the gun. To be one one-thousandth too quick — which, I know I'm quick, but — kind of sucks."

Allen said he tried to "vouch for myself" in discussion with the officials, about the potential that a noise from the crowd or something else could have prompted his reaction, possibly avoiding the DQ. But he also said the official "is supposed to do his job, and he's been through that," taking the high road rather than disputing the decision more vociferously.

His attention now turns most immediately to training camp with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, as the former two-sport star with the Ducks looks to become a two-sport professional. But he isn't closing the door on track.

"My goal is to be the best hurdler ever, and I still have a chance to do that," Allen said. "And my goal is to play in the NFL and help the Eagles win a Super Bowl. There's nothing really much I can do; it's one race, which is frustrating — track and field is so difficult because you train the whole year for one competition that lasts 12 seconds, 13 seconds. And your identity is based on that one competition, which is frustrating. But it happens, and I'll learn from it. And I'll make sure I just kind of react not as fast next time."

Nelson also had to contend with a false start and disqualification in her 100 semifinal. She wasn't the guilty party, but the race wasn't what she hoped.

"Last week I was hitting PRs in practice, so I felt really good," Nelson said. "I was really confident coming here, but to do it on the day, that's what matters, and it just wasn't there today."

The result left Nelson with mixed emotions.

"I don't want to say disappointment, because I don't think I should be disappointed making it to the semifinals of the World Championships, in one of the hardest races in the championships," Nelson said. "But I'm not happy either. …

"I just turned pro, so to get my feet wet with some of the people who I'll be competing with for the rest of my career, I will just take this as one of those lessons. I'm lucky to have experienced this early in my career."

Gregorek also had to settle for banking World Championships semifinal experience, rather than qualifying for the 1,500 final. He laid back in the pack of his semifinal before trying to work his way up in the homestretch, but he got boxed in on the rail and couldn't get into the top five.

"I just thought things would spread out a little bit more," Gregorek said. "I was moving up into position and had a ton left, but sometimes the tactics just get so crazy. I thought some more space would open up in that last 100 but just couldn't find it."

Weir at least was able to leave Hayward Field feeling good about her performance, after throwing 72.41 meters, or 237 feet, 6 inches, to finish fifth in the world in the hammer throw. She improved her mark on all four of her fair attempts following the opening round, securing herself a top-eight position and three extra throws with a clutch effort in the third round and then jumping from seventh to fifth on her last throw.

"I honestly just had to feel the technique," Weir said. "I was confident with what my coach and I have been working on all year, and I just wanted to stick to the basics and nail it. And I got a couple of good ones."

None of the medalists from the 2021 Olympics were in this week's field, Weir noted, providing an opening for a new generation of talent that she deserves consideration with after Sunday's finish.

"It was pretty much a new group of girls, and I knew I had a place in that mix," Weir said. "You never know what can happen. A medal (at a future championship), two places up, I think it's doable."