Courtney Wayment, the former BYU national collegiate champion out of Davis High, placed second in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in Thursday night’s U.S. Olympic track and field trials to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. To do so, she had to survive what was probably the fastest women’s steeplechase race, top to bottom, ever, and run three seconds under her personal record.

A year after undergoing surgery for a torn Achilles tendon, Valerie Constien ran to victory and set a meet record of 9:03.22, cutting her lifetime best by a remarkable 12 seconds. That makes her the third-fastest American ever.

Wayment — whose personal record had been 9:09.91 from 2022 — finished with a time of 9:06.50, making her the fourth-fastest American ever. Marisa Howard was third in 9:07.14, making her the fifth fastest American, and on it went. Gabbi Jennings, Kaylee Mitchell and Olivia Markezich finished 4-5-6, respectively, with times of 9:12.08, 9:14.05 and 9:14.87, making them the seventh, 10th fastest and 11th fastest in American history. Ten of the 14 finalists produced personal records, including BYU junior Lexy Halladay, who was ninth at 9:22.77.

The only Americans who have run faster than Constien and Wayment are the great Courtney Frerichs and Emma Coburn, who both own Olympic and world championship medals and American records. They missed Thursday’s trials with injuries.

That paved the way for the next generation of steeplechasers, and they raced with a certain desperation in an attempt to claim one of the coveted top three places that would make them Olympians. It was a scrappy battle to the finish. Wayment, Constien, Markezich, Howard and, for a time, Gabbi Jennings ran in the lead pack for much of the race, each trying to decide when to make a move while trying to hold on to a withering pace.

How BYU became Steeplechase U

Wayment held the lead as they approached the start of the final lap, but suddenly Howard swept past her, followed by Markezich and Constien, who cut in front of Wayment so abruptly that the latter had to stiff arm her in the back to push her forward so she wouldn’t stumble.

The gamesmanship was finished. The real race was on. On the backstretch, Constien began to break away from the pack and would never be challenged after that — no one would come within three seconds of her at the finish line. The race was for second and third. Wayment was running fourth and laboring to keep up with Markezich and Howard with about 250 meters to go.

Markezich, the 2024 NCAA runner-up from Notre Dame, was leading but then stumbled over the water jump. Wayment and Howard, leaping the barrier smoothly and efficiently, moved past her. They ran to the final barrier at the top of the homestretch, where Wayment surged ahead of Howard, and Markezich, hot on their heels, landed awkwardly and stumbled again, this time falling to the track. Wayment pulled away from Howard. Jennings and Mitchell passed Markezich in the homestretch to take fourth and fifth.

“I am so proud of Courtney’s gutsy effort today,” said BYU coach Diljeet Taylor, who has continued to coach Wayment since the latter turned pro after winning the 2022 NCAA title. “She was composed at the end of the race and executed the last water jump and barrier perfectly.”

The race was redemptive for Wayment and Howard, who finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 2021 Olympic trials, just missing the final spot on the Olympic team. Wayment finished one place behind Constien in that race, too.

“That fourth-place feeling never leaves you,” said Wayment. “When you watch your dreams run away from you in the last 30 seconds of a race, it makes you feel something that you don’t ever want to feel again.”

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For the record, this brings the total to six former and current BYU athletes who have qualified for the Olympic track and field team — three marathoners (Conner Mantz, Clayton Young and Rory Linkletter) and three steeplechasers (Kenneth Rooks, James Corrigan and Wayment — Corrigan still lacks an automatic Olympic qualifying time, which he will seek in a race in Philadelphia Saturday night).

Aside from Wayment and Halladay, several other BYU athletes were in action Thursday.

Anna Bennett, the 2021 NCAA champion from BYU and Fillmore, who runs professionally for Adidas, ran a strong first-round race in the 1,500-meter run. She got pulled along by the fast third heat, which produced the day’s seven fastest times. Bennett had the third-fastest time overall, 4:06.95. Elle St. Pierre, the winner of Monday night’s 5,000-meter final, had the fastest time, 4:06.41, as the first seven runners finished within one second of each other. The semifinals will be run Friday.

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Dallin Shurts placed 11th in the first round of the discus throw to place himself among the top 12 who advance to Saturday’s final. His best throw was 197 feet, 5 inches.

Casey Clinger, perhaps still not recovered from his fifth-place finish in Sunday’s 10,000-meter final, placed 22nd in the first round of the 5,000-meter run with a time of 13:36.35. Dillon Maggard, a former Utah State All-American, was 28th in 13:41.51.

Sebastian Fernandez and Riley Chamberlain also failed to advance to the next round in their races. Fernandez finished 35th in the first round of the 800-meter run, and Chamberlain was 37th in the first round of the 1,500-meter run in 4:18.62.

The trials will continue through Sunday. BYU’s Alysa Keller and Utah Valley’s Kelsi Oldroyd will compete in the first round of the javelin on Friday.

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