Against all odds, BYU’s James Corrigan pulled off a pressure-packed, 11th-hour bid to achieve an Olympic qualifying time Saturday night in a specially arranged, tailor-made 3,000-meter steeplechase race in Philadelphia.

Running the last two and a half laps alone after a hired pacer stepped off the track, Corrigan actually picked up the pace and crossed the finish line with a sensational time of 8:13.87.

“I could tell he was tired, but he could also smell his Olympic berth. It was an impressive performance.”

—  BYU track coach Ed Eyestone

All at once, he crushed the Olympic standard of 8:15.00 and, for good measure, did the same thing to the BYU school record set by two-time national champion Kenneth Rooks a year ago. Corrigan now owns the 13th-fastest time in the world this year and the American collegiate record.

The bottom line: Corrigan is headed to the Paris Olympic Games, which will be held in one month.

“The amount of pressure that was on this young man was unreal,” said BYU coach Ed Eyestone. “To finish in the top three at the Olympic trials, then being asked to run sub-8:15 and also to come out here in not-ideal weather conditions and perform like he did was amazing.”

Inside the mad scramble to give a BYU runner the opportunity of a lifetime

A more unlikely script could not have been written. Six weeks ago Corrigan’s best time was 8:46.60, which means he has dropped a whopping 33 seconds since then.

A month ago he placed no better than ninth in the NCAA championships and his time there was a personal record 8:28.84. Then he cut seven and a half seconds off his best time at the Olympic trials to 8:21.22.

It seemed a big stretch to think he could drop another 6.22 seconds to achieve the Olympic qualifying time.

As Eyestone noted, the pressure must’ve been immense for Corrigan. The Olympic qualifying window closes Sunday, so the race in Philadelphia was Corrigan’s only shot to make the Games, and it came just six days after a taxing effort in the trials finals.

Flotrack decided that it would livestream Saturday’s race on YouTube, and if all that weren’t enough pressure, Corrigan was the focal point of a big, behind-the-scenes effort to get him a qualifying time and fulfill the opportunity of a lifetime.

Even though Corrigan had placed third in the U.S. Olympic trials, that’s only the first step of qualifying for the Olympics. He also had to meet a time standard established by World Athletics, track and field’s international governing body, or his place on the team would go to another American who either had the qualifying time or a place in the top 36 of the world rankings.

Corrigan’s world ranking was 82nd.

It took a village to give Corrigan another opportunity to obtain the qualifying time. Minutes after he crossed the finish line at the Olympic trials, Eyestone, assistant coach Ryan Waite and agent Ray Flynn began making phone calls and consulting agents and meet officials to find another race in which he could qualify.

They found a small all-comers meet in Philadelphia, but the program did not include the steeplechase. As luck would have it, Aaron Robison, the meet director, is the grandson of legendary BYU coach Clarence Robison, the son of former BYU coach Mark Robison and one of Eyestone’s former athletes.

Together they arranged not only to add the steeplechase to the program but to make it the last event on the schedule, at 8 p.m. local time, to get the coolest conditions possible during the ongoing East Coast heat wave.

How BYU became Steeplechase U.

Rooks, the winner of the Olympic trials, volunteered to serve as a rabbit for Corrigan and flew out to Philadelphia with him, but at the last minute, Eyestone, concerned about another “stress load” so close to his Olympic trials, decided to withdraw him from the race.

Fortunately, he had recruited another rabbit — Dan Michalski of the Air Force Academy.

“A booster made him an offer he couldn’t refuse,” said Eyestone.

The only thing no one could control was the weather — a steamy 85 degrees with 66% humidity — which is why Robison agreed to make the steeplechase the last event of the evening when it would be cooler.

Before the race, Eyestone explained the race plan he had given Michalski and Corrigan: “They will go out at 66.5-67 pace (per lap) which is about 8:18-8:22 pace and then squeeze the last 1,000 down with a big last 400. James has been able to kick 60-62 the last lap when he hasn’t gone out too fast.”


Michalski did a fine job of pacing the five-man field for a little more than five laps before dropping out. That left Corrigan on his own. With fans, coaches and other athletes cheering him on from the stands and the infield, Corrigan sprinted the homestretch, finishing four seconds ahead of his nearest rival, Yasin Sabo.

“I could tell he was tired, but he could also smell his Olympic berth,” said Eyestone. “It was an impressive performance.”

BYU steeplechaser James Corrigan competes in the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 5, 2024, in Eugene, Oregon. Corrigan finished third in the U.S. Olympic trials last Sunday and has one more shot to make the U.S. team Saturday in Philadelphia.
BYU steeplechaser James Corrigan competes in the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 5, 2024, in Eugene, Oregon. Corrigan finished third in the U.S. Olympic trials last Sunday, and on Saturday night in Philadelphia, he posted a time that met the Olympic standard to earn his ticket to the Paris Summer Games. | Aaron Cornia, courtesy of BYU Photo

Corrigan’s performance put an exclamation point on a successful week for Eyestone and BYU. Six current and former BYU track athletes are going to the Paris Olympics.

“Success breeds success,” said Eyestone. “I think when people see their teammates and guys who they train with day in and day out do great things, they say, ‘Why not me?’ It’s a fun time to be a Cougar and a fun time to be part of BYU track and field.”

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