By Josh Kaufmann
County Courier

Elle Purrier’s long road toward the Olympic Games arrives at its final hurdle this month, with the USATF Olympic Trials kicking off Friday at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Purrier, who became Elle St. Pierre when she married Jamie St. Pierre last year but is still known as Purrier in the running world, will be competing in her first Olympic Trials. It’s not her first big race at Hayward. In 2014 she won a National Junior Championship in the steeplechase and two weeks later returned to take ninth in the World Junior Championships.

The 2021 Olympic Trials, delayed by a year over the pandemic, start today in Eugene. 

Although Purrier and several other runners were considered candidates to run in the 1,500- and 5,000-meter races, the schedule will make that nigh impossible. The first round for both events will be on opening day in Eugene, 1 hour and 51 minutes apart. The Monday finals start even closer together, separated by just 35 minutes.

After setting the US indoor mile and 2-mile records Purrier is likely to opt for the 1,500, which starts Today at 7:03 p.m. (EDT) with the first of three rounds. The semifinals will be Saturday at 9:40, and the final Monday at 8:04. The 5,000 opens at 8:54 Today with the first round, followed by Monday’s final at 8:40. The Olympic Trials will be broadcast by NBC and NBC Sports Channel.

Purrier is among the leading contenders to grab one of three Olympic berths available in each event, though the group got a bit smaller Tuesday with the news that front-runner Shelby Houlihan has been banned from the sport for 4 years.

Houlihan holds the US outdoor and overall records in the 1,500 and 5,000 meters. She finished 11th in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the 5,000, and finished fourth in the 1,500 in two world championships, once indoors and once outside. She has won seven USATF Championships.

Houlihan announced on her Instagram account that she had been suspended for four years by the Athletics Integrity Unit, formed by the International Association of Athletics Federations in 2017. She said their testing indicated high levels of nandrolone, an anabolic steroid banned by the IAAF. Houlihan said she likely ingested the nandrolone in a burrito eaten shortly before a Dec. 15 test.

Houlihan is ranked No. 1 among American women in the 1,500 and third in the 5,000 by worldathletics.org. Purrier, who partly  because of the wiped out 2020 season has few outdoor 1,500 results, is listed by worldathletics at No. 6 in the 1,500 and No. 2 in the 5,000, behind Karissa Schweizer. In running the world’s fastest time this year in the 1,500 at the USATF Golden Games in late April, Purrier beat two of the runners ahead of her in the world ranking.

Purrier will feel at home at the University of Oregon’s historic Hayward Field, which plays host to its seventh USA Track and Field Olympic Trials, including the past three. Hayward has been the site of seven USATF Championships, and the 2014 World Junior Championships.

Purrier had the first of her big Hayward Field moments two weeks before those World Juniors when she won the US National Junior Championship in the 3000-meter steeplechase, earning a spot in her first world meet. She advanced to the world finals by taking sixth in a qualifying heat and placed ninth overall in the race, featuring the globe’s top under-20 runners.

The top three finishers in each race in the Trials earn spots in the Tokyo Olympics, assuming they are held. After being postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus, organizers insist the event will be held even if without domestic spectators. Japan is not allowing foreign spectators to attend the games, scheduled for July 23-Aug. 8.

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