EUGENE, Ore. – Junior Sha’Keela Saunders came agonizingly close to claiming an Olympic berth on Team USA, placing fourth – one spot off the team – at the United States Olympic Team Trials on Saturday at Oregon’s Hayward Field.
One inch and three quarters separated Saunders from a place on what is widely considered the toughest team to make in sports.
Saunders put together the best field series of her life on Saturday. The college junior turned the four farthest jumps of her life on the biggest stage against some of the world’s best.
She opened up with a mark of 22’7.25”/6.89 meters (+1.8) – her lifetime best and a new school record. That mark stood in third place after round one, behind highly decorated professionals Tianna Bartoletta: the reigning world champion in the event, and Brittney Reese: the reigning Olympic Gold Medalist in the event.
The top-three finishers in every event at U.S. Olympic Team Trials qualify Team USA at the Olympics.
Bartoletta opened up at 23’0.25”/7.02m, a mark that proved good enough to make Team USA.
Reese won the event with a U.S. Olympic Trials record mark of 23’11.75”/7.31m (+1.7) on her fourth attempt.
But Saunders’ 22’7.25” opener stood up in third place into the sixth and final round. Yet, Janay DeLoach: another accomplished professional, in fact the reigning Olympic Bronze Medalist in the long jump, popped to a mark of 22’9”/6.93m (+1.7) on her sixth attempt to move into third place.
Saunders was unable to respond, fouling on her final attempt and missing the team by one spot and less than two inches. Saunders placed fifth at the USATF Outdoor Championships, last season – again one spot off Team USA that went to the IAAF World Championships in Beijing.
Her mark is eighth best in the world this year.
Kenyattia Hackworth also had a strong showing in her first Olympic Trials performance.
She placed seventh with a wind-aided mark of 21’10”/6.65m (+2.3) on her sixth attempt.
The UK class of 2015 alumna has had a breakout first season as a professional. She reached a new PR of 22’4.25″/6.81m earlier this year, a mark which ranked No. 2 in the U.S. entering the meet. She came into Trials undefeated this season.
She improved her performance at the USATF Annual Championship Meet from a year ago when she placed ninth – a spot outside the final.
Ariah Graham placed sixth with a time of 2:07.37 in the 800m final at Jamaica Trials on Saturday.
The Wildcats will have a break from competition at trials over the next few days. Alumnus Andy Fryman is entered in the men’s hammer throw on Wednesday.