For Purrier, Olympic Trials a measuring stick

Montgomery native eyes Tokyo 2020

Josh Kaufmann

By Josh Kaufmann

Sports Editor

The Facts

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EUGENE, Ore. — Elle Purrier’s appearance in next week’s Olympic Trials 3,000-meter steeplechase is being looked at as a step toward the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo rather than this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

One of the youngest of 36 expected runners taking part in the Fourth of July qualifying round in Eugene, Ore., the Montgomery native and Richford H.S. alumnus is unlikely to win one of three spots on the U.S. Olympic Team for next month. But Purrier has her sights set on running a personal best time, meeting the Olympic standard of 9 minutes, 45 seconds, and being among the dozen runners advancing to Thursday’s finals.

The third goal would likely require her to beat her career best 9:47.17 by at least a few seconds.

But a look at times and numbers indicates that going to Tokyo in four years is a realistic ambition given her experience and age.

A comparison to the top runner in Monday’s field, Emma Coburn, is a good barometer. Coburn is the top seed in the steeplechase, broke the U.S. record in the event May 28, has run in two of the past three world championships, has won three of the past five U.S. titles, and was ninth in the 2012 Olympics.

– At the same age as Purrier is now, Coburn was just 3 seconds faster.

– Purrier’s best time is 37 seconds slower than Coburn’s best. Purrier has taken the same 37 seconds off her time in two years at UNH. If her improvement over the next four years matches what she’s done in the past two, Purrier would be in U.S. record territory.

– If Purrier progresses at the same rate Coburn did over the four same-age years, she would be ranked No. 2 in the U.S. by more than 10 seconds.

– She has 2 years left at UNH, then will have 2 years of essentially full-time, national-level training before the 2020 Games. In those latter 2 years, she will focus on one event and not run cross country or other distances in track.

– All 16 U.S. runners with a faster Trials qualifying time are older, most by at least two years and many by four to six. Purrier is the highest seed in the event who still has college eligibility remaining.

– Purrier has had three years of high-level coaching and training. Most of the other national-level runners have been in various elite programs for a decade or more.

For more on Purrier’s first three years at UNH and the Trials, see Friday’s Messenger Sports.