Ketchikan’s Isaac Updike Runs to Olympic Steeplechase Final

    Isaac Updike competes in the first heat of the men's 3000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials Monday, June 21, 2021, in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo Courtesy John Bursell)

    Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Ketchikan High School graduate (2010) Isaac Updike won his heat in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for track and field so easily on Monday at Eugene, Oregon’s Hayward Field that he fist-bumped the second place finisher before crossing the line.

      Updike, 29, representing Empire Elite Track Club finished in 8 minutes 21.01 seconds and Hillary Bor of Hoka One One placed second in 8:21.09.

      "Fake it until you make it kind of deal," Updike answered when told he looked so comfortable in the race. "It definitely wasn't a jog by any means. I was trying to just treat it like a hard work out. I never felt like I was overreaching but I just wanted to make sure I got out of trouble early and tried to make the race the way that I wanted to go rather than run someone else's race."

      The top five finishers in the two steeplechase heats and the next four fastest times advanced to Friday’s finals.

      Updike took the inside track from the start, leading the field through 200 meters and taking the first hurdle into the first lap.

      "My coaches told me, 'listen, people are going to be gauging off of you the first couple laps, so don't be surprised if you find yourself in the lead,' and I kind of just leaned into that theory and got out hard," Updike said. "Then I settled into a comfortable pace that I thought was good. Obviously after that first lap I was leading and I was like 'all right, I guess I will just stay up here as long as people will let me. And I'll run a pace I think is comfortable. If someone goes around me I'll try and stay with them in second or third.' But no one really tried to challenge me until the end."

      Updike held the lead position throughout the race until Bor briefly joined him, inched ahead and took the lead at 400 yards with the water pit remaining. 

      Updike cruised back even and regained the lead. 

      "I guess I realized as we came to the finish line that we were running pretty quick and that was why no one was trying to pass me," Updike commented. 

     Updike even eased up on the last yards into the finish, enjoying a brief chat and acknowledgement with Bor.

      "I can never be the mean competitor or anything like that," Updike said. "I was gauging. Every lap we came down the home stretch I was able to glance up and see the big scoreboard and kind of get a feel for how many people were behind me and it just kept being eight or nine people every single time. Finally with maybe six hundred or eight hundred to go it seemed like it spread out a little bit and then with 400 hundred to go it seemed like a little less. And then Hillary had gone around. We came over the water pit and I was able to see the board and pulled up next to him and was like 'hey we're good. We're far enough ahead. I'm not going to try and fight you, don't fight me. Let's just cruise it in here.' He just laughed and said 'cool' and we jogged in."

      Said Updike, "It's the steeple. It's a unique event and all the characters in there are a blast to run with and that is what makes it fun."

      Updike began his day informally.

      "I didn't set an alarm," he said. "I slept in."

      He hydrated with coffee and water and, since it was roughly seven hours before the event he kept to his routine of doing a 15 minute 'shakeout' run and found some breakfast.

      Four hours before the event he had his last big meal.

      "Today it was this chicken bowl from a pretty healthy place in town called Laughing Planet or something like that," Updike said. "It is kind of a funny name but they have really good health foods and a lot of the stuff is seasonal and from local sourced foods and vegetables and things like that, so it's great. I took a nap, watched a little bit of TV, then just kind of thought through my race and geared up and met up with my coach (Tom Nohilly) and talked through a couple logistical things. Making sure I knew where the call room was and all the little finite things that you have to worry about that if you don't do right you may scratch inadvertently."

      The top three finishers in Friday’s finals earn a spot on team USA for the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, provided they have the Olympic qualifying standard time of 8:22.00.

      Updike already hit an 8:17.74 this year, also on the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field oval, during the Oregon Relays. That time obliterated his previous best time of 8:25.38, set in Belgium in 2018, and met the Olympic Trials qualifying time, as did his win today. He would still need to place in the top three on Friday.

      The third place finisher in Updike’s heat, Nike’s Daniel Michalski finished in 8:22.03 and fourth place finisher Alec Basten from Minnesota ran 8:22.22.

      Sean McGorty of Nike/Bowerman Track Club was a race favorite and came out of his right shoe half way through the event while in the fourth position. He was able to slip the shoe back on, regain some field position, and finished in the ninth spot of Updike’s heat to qualify for the finals.

      The world record for the event is 7:53.63 set in 2004 in Belgium by Qatar athlete Saif Saaeed Shaheen.

      The Olympic Record is 8:03.28 set by Kenya's Conseslus Kipruto in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, and the American record is 8:00.45 set by Evan Jager in 2015 in France.

      Updike is the second Alaskan to make this year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials finals. Kenai’s Allie Ostrander qualified on Sunday for the women’s 3,000 meter steeplechase finals on Thursday. Ostrander, sponsored by Brooks Running, is also scheduled to race the 10,000 meters on Saturday. Ostrander recently posted a social media account of her battle with an eating disorder and was unsure she would compete at the trials this year.

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