Oregon's Devon Allen heading to Rio Olympics with 110-meter hurdles title
EUGENE, Ore. — Fall camp opens for the Oregon football team in early August. The Ducks will have to get by without one of their star receivers for at least the first couple weeks.
Devon Allen completed a remarkable return from a year lost to knee surgery by winning the 110-meter hurdles Saturday in the U.S. Olympic Trials at Hayward Field. Allen will represent the University of Oregon and his country in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio next month, becoming the first active UO athlete to make Team USA since Galen Rupp and Andrew Wheating in 2008.
It was the second U.S. Outdoor title in three years for Allen, who won in 2014 before missing the 2015 season with a knee injury suffered while playing with the Oregon football team in the Rose Bowl. His first title came in a non-Olympic or World Championship year, which typically waters down the competition; the field Saturday was packed with the best the U.S. has to offer, yet Allen blew them all away with a school-record time of 13.03, nearly two-tenths of a second better than the runner-up.
"I was hoping to go 12," Allen said while waiting in line to receive his gold medal. "But we'll wait 'til Rio."
Allen's time is the second-fastest in the world this year. He became the first man to win the 110 hurdles at both the NCAA Outdoor championships and U.S. Olympic Trials since 1956.
Earlier Saturday, Allen won his semifinal heat in 13.40 seconds, despite a headwind of 2.1 meters per second. He won that semifinal in what has become his trademark fashion: building up speed over the first half of the race, continuing to surge over the last few hurdles as his competition began to tire, then chewing up ground after the last hurdle in a way that no other runner could.
"We had a lot of good training," Allen said. "Everything went well. I'm feeling good, feeling 100 percent, and now that I'm at the end of the season I'm ready to run fast times. Today was one."
Allen led the UO football team in touchdown catches with seven as a redshirt freshman in 2014, a season that ended with his knee injury in the College Football Playoff semifinal hosted by the Rose Bowl. He was eased back onto the football field this past fall, catching nine passes, but Allen raced out of the blocks this track season.
Early in the spring, Allen regularly competed in three or four events per meet, running the hurdles as well as relays and sprints. Thus, he was more than comfortable running two fast races Saturday.
"I recovered well," Allen said. "I've been practicing that, and you practice like you play."
Despite a time in Saturday's final that makes him a serious contender for a gold medal in Rio, Allen maintained that he intends to play football this fall. A plan laid out with his family would have him back to full speed as a UO receiver by the Ducks' second game, on Sept. 10.
"I've got to get 10 practice in before the first game, so we'll see," he said.
Allen became the seventh athlete with UO ties to qualify for the Summer Olympics this week in Eugene. The program added another elsewhere Saturday, when Chris Winter finished second in the 3,000 steeplechase at the Canadian Trials.
And they might get more company Sunday.
MORE: College football players with chance at Rio | Full NCAA Olympic Coverage
Between Allen's hurdles heats, Oregon's three entrants in the women's 200 meters similarly blew away the field. Alum Jenna Prandini won her heat in 22.68 seconds, and Ariana Washington crossed second in 22.72. In the next heat, Washington's current UO teammate, Deajah Stevens, exploded off the turn and won in 22.45 seconds, nearly three-tenths of a second ahead of the runner-up.
Prandini is the defending U.S. champion in the 200. Veterans Tori Bowie and Allyson Felix will be strong challengers for two of the three spots on the U.S. Olympic team, but all three Ducks will enter Sunday with confidence.
"I'm executing the race well," Prandini said. "Hopefully tomorrow it'll all come together. I'm at my home track, my whole family's here and I'm set up well."
Washington, winner of the 100 and 200 at the NCAA Outdoor championships last month, made her second final of these Trials, after doing so in the 100. She had to work hard to win her first-round heat Friday after relaxing too much off the turn, a mistake she remedied Saturday.
"I knew other people would be running for their lives," Washington said. "I had to adjust."
Stevens didn't relax until the final few meters of her heat, despite opening up a significant gap on the rest of the field.
"I just wanted to get first," she said. "I wanted to get a good lane for the final."
Saturday's penultimate day of competition in the Olympic Trials wasn't without heartbreak for Oregon fans. Running a crazy 5,000 final that featured two instances of runners breaking away and opening up five-second leads, only to be reeled in, Eric Jenkins finished fourth in 13:35.98.
Despite making a frantic kick to grab one of the top three spots and an Olympic berth, Jenkins missed out on third place by six one-hundredths of a second.
"I thought I had a shot," Jenkins said. "I knew it was going to be close. But just came up short."