Bryce Hoppel: Inside My Olympic Qualifying Race
When it comes to race days, I have a pretty set routine.
I like to go through all my normal preparations. I wake up and go eat breakfast. Then I’ll take a post-breakfast nap, chill throughout the day, go get some lunch, go the grocery store and then it’s race time.
That was pretty much my routine last week at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon.
I had advanced to the finals of the 800 meters with the top three finishers in the race moving on to the Tokyo Olympics. Obviously, this was a day I had been waiting a long time for and had trained years and years for.
I was ready to go. I was confident in my ability. I was excited to race and represent Kansas, my hometown of Midland, Texas and all the coaches and trainers who put time into coaching me and working with me.
There was one little problem, though.
As I was on my way to Hayward Field with my coaches for the race, I realized I forgot my credential. We were just about to get there when I realized it. As you can imagine, it added a little bit of chaos to the day. We had to turn around, pick it up and try again.
Luckily, we still made it there in plenty of time and I was able to get my normal pre-race routine in.
It was game time.
I start going through everything, and then you head underneath the stadium at Hayward Field, which is just an incredible setup with their facilities. That’s when it starts getting real. The TV cameras come up to you while you’re trying to warm up and that’s when the fear starts to creep in.
The next step is heading out to the track, in front of that large crowd, to get yourself ready.
Prior to the trials, I was nursing a minor quad injury and it was impacting my starts the most. The initial jolt and the pressure is what it didn’t like. But the first 12-13 seconds is where you’re going to position yourself for the rest of the race. So I had to give myself a lot of energy there early and get into a good spot.
I made it happen, and I got right on the shoulder of Isaiah Jewett in second place. Then, right around the 400-meter mark is when people start making their moves. Donavan Brazier started coming on my outside and blew by. He always makes a big move and you try to go along with it.
I’m still in third at this point, and Isaiah is pushing harder than we thought. He keeps chugging along. A little before the final 200 meters, Clayton Murphy moves past me on the outside and was moving quick.
Now, in my mind, I’m fourth, and chasing Clayton. We start to pass Donavan, and that doesn’t normally happen because he’s so strong. But Clayton had a great burst and we both moved past Donavan.
Once I got past him, I knew I needed to hold it. I could feel people behind me and on the side, and I knew Isaiah Harris, another great runner, was there at the time and looking to surge.
I had that final stretch where I had to hold everyone off. You don’t know exactly what’s going on behind you, you’re just trying your hardest to finish strong. That’s exactly what I did when I crossed the finish line.
I was in third place.
I did it. I made the Olympic Team.
I honestly don’t even know how to describe it all. I’m still at a lost. I remember going to my knees in disbelief, and I’m not sure if this make sense, but it’s hard to even feel those emotions. You don’t even know what to think. There is so much going through your brain at that point.
I was on my knees, staring at the videoboard in total disbelief.
Even days later, the feeling still hasn’t fully set in. It is such an incredible honor. To represent the United States, Lawrence, KU, Midland, it’s just incredible. It’s been great seeing how proud it has made people. They need to know I couldn’t have done it without all of them.
Whether you’re talking about Coach (Stanley) Redwine or Coach (Michael) Whittlesey or our Athletic Trainer, Jeff (Bord), they are the ones that made it possible. I’m an extension of those people. That’s the first thing that came to mind in my post-race interview. It couldn’t possibly just be me.
And now we are headed to Tokyo to represent the United States, and I couldn’t be happier.