Now that all of the times and marks have been recorded for the regular season, berths for the postseason have been confirmed — 16 track and field stars will be representing the Red and Blue in the first round of postseason meets, the NCAA East Prelims.
The group of athletes has traveled down to Jacksonville, Fla. to compete in the Prelims over the course of the weekend. Succeed, and their seasons will continue on later into the summer towards TrackTown USA in Eugene, Ore., where the NCAA Championships are being held. Underperform, and their summer vacations will start a little earlier than hoped.
Each section of the team is represented — from throwers to distance runners, freshmen to seniors, men and women alike. Among the crop of high-profile athletes from Penn are throwers Kelsey Hay and Sam Mattis, high jumper Mike Monroe, sprint sensations Taylor McCorkle and Calvary Rogers, and distance runners Nick Tuck and Tommy Awad.
The final name on that illustrious list, meanwhile, will have to stay focused following a monumental race just last week that booked his ticket not to an NCAA final, but to a level even higher.
With a quarter of a second to spare, senior distance runner Awad took a colossal step towards representing the United States in the Rio Olympics this August.
Last week at the Swarthmore Final Qualifying meet, Awad recorded a personal best in the 1,500 meter race with an historic time of 3:37.75, narrowly earning him automatic qualification to compete in this July’s United States Olympic Trials.
This year, the U.S. Track and Field Olympic Qualifying Standard stood at a daunting 3:38.00, more than two seconds faster than Awad’s previous outdoor best of 3:40.68.
“Honestly, going in I didn’t even know what the auto-time was,” the East Norwich, N.Y. native said. “I figured if I ran under 3:39.00 I would be pretty happy with it and it would be a close to a time that would get me into the Trials.”
While a 3:39.00 finish would still have been a remarkable feat – certainly enough to put the senior in contention for a place at the Trials – only a time under 3:38.00 would have guaranteed qualification for the upcoming race.
“It’s a relief that I get an automatic in and not have to wait and see,” Awad said. “But the goal going in was just to run a PR, run fast. They’re going to take it out for a really fast race so I just knew that I needed to hang on to run a really good time.”
And hang on he did. Pitted against a field full of some of the world’s elite runners, Awad found himself in a position he wasn’t all too comfortable with.
“I was a little worried going in about how competitive I would be,” he said. “I was one of the slower runners going in, which hasn’t been the case in most of my career.”
With New Zealand’s 2008 silver medalist Nick Willis pacing the race, there was not much room for error if Awad wanted to keep himself in contention. But the Penn runner rose to the challenge, finishing fifth.
The showing also put Awad in the history books with the second fastest time in the history of the Ivy League in the 1500m and was just .61 seconds off Penn’s converted record from 1974.
“I figured if I was going to have a huge breakout day,” he said, “it needed to be in a race like this.”
All signs point to more of the same trail-blazing success from Awad this weekend, but all eyes will be on the rest of the team in hopes that they can perform at a similar, Olympic level in order to qualify for the national championships in Portland a few weeks from now.
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