Kenneth Rooks is on the verge of making his Olympic dreams come true.

On Sunday, Rooks finished first in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. Typically, the top three finishers qualify for the Olympics, but it’s not a done deal for Rooks, second-place finisher Matthew Wilkinson or third-place finisher James Corrigan, as the Deseret News previously reported.

None of the three have met the Olympic qualifying standard of 8:15.00. Rooks is just shy of it, having logged a time of 8:15.08 earlier this season.

The three athletes will have to wait until the world rankings are released at the end of the month to see their spots on the U.S. Olympic team be confirmed. Only the top 36 will head to Paris.

As of Monday, Rooks is ranked No. 18, a six-spot jump after Sunday’s win. Wilkinson is now ranked No. 24, and Corrigan is ranked No. 52.

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Who is Kenneth Rooks?

Rooks, a 24-year-old from College Place, Washington, has been running since he joined the track and field team in seventh grade to try to follow in his dad’s footsteps, he told the Church News podcast in August.

He began competing in steeplechase in college for BYU, where he finished his college career as a four-time All-American and a national champion, according to the university. He picked the sport up quickly and qualified for the NCAA national championship as a freshman.

Last year was a big year for Rooks.

He was the NCAA’s Division I steeplechase national champion and later went viral after he came back to win the 2023 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Roughly 800 meters into the race, Rooks fell. He then worked his way up from the back of the pack to claim the title.

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That victory qualified him for the world championships, where he finished 10th.

In January, Rooks decided to forgo his remaining college eligibility to turn pro, signing a deal with Nike, as the Deseret News previously reported.

What has Kenneth Rooks said about mental preparation and overcoming his fall?

Rooks credited his mental preparation for being able to rebound from his fall and win last year’s national championship.

He admitted during his appearance on the Church News podcast that he had already planned what to do if he ever fell in a race because he had previously fallen during practice.

“I wanted to make sure I had some sort of a plan: If I fell, what would I do? Because sometimes you fall in the steeplechase, because those barriers, they don’t fall over; they’re not like hurdles,” he said. “I had that plan, and it was easy to make that decision to keep going and just work my way back up slowly. I definitely was not expecting to win after the fall, but I’m competitive, and when I got back up in the pack, I was just racing, and I ended up winning.”

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When he fell, he thought about quitting, he said later in the interview. But having mentally prepared for that moment, he was able to quickly decide to keep running.

“That’s why I’m really happy I had that plan beforehand, because I was able to deal with that thought and be like, ‘Do I stop? Do I just quit? Or do I keep going?’” he said. “So, I was able to actually make that decision fairly quickly.”

Kenneth Rooks’ religion

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Rooks, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has spoken about his faith in the past. His faith was mentioned during the broadcast of the race.

“He was so nervous for the semis, his hands were shaking as he was reading scripture from his Bible,” NBC analyst and two-time Olympian Kara Goucher said.

Rooks told the Church News podcast that his faith and membership in the church has been a large influence in his life.

“I don’t know where I would be today without the gospel of Jesus Christ and without my knowledge of the plan of salvation,” he said. “I just feel like my life would be a lot more empty without that. I feel like my life has a lot more meaning because I know about the plan of salvation. I know that God loves me. I know that His plan is for me. And I’m not perfect — I am working on improving and working on trying to follow the gospel every day — but I’m so grateful for Jesus Christ in my life.”

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