Cole Hocker smashes Olympic Trials record: 'I’m going to go for the gold, for sure' (2024)

EUGENE, Ore. – After Cole Hocker left Cathedral High School in 2019, he became the Mike Trout of track and field. As Trout did in baseball, going from high school to All-Star Game in three years, Hocker was doing the unimaginable in two.

Yet even in a sport as uncomplicated as running, it gets complicated. After dropping his mile equivalent by 20 seconds in two years, Hocker was sixth at the 2021 Olympics, He was hurt in 2022. He was hurt in 2023. He vowed not to get hurt in 2024.

“It was a lot to learn for coming out of college really hot and remembering, ‘Oh, you can get injured,’“ he reflected. “It’s not always a straight line. I did not take anything for chance.”

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Not on Monday night, he didn’t. Not with a return to the Olympic Games on the line. Not with, dare we say, a possible gold medal on the line.

Cole Hocker smashes Olympic Trials record: 'I’m going to go for the gold, for sure' (1)

The comeback is better than the setback.

The 23-year-old so obliterated the U.S. Olympic Trials record in the 1,500 meters, he towed seven others under the record. Hocker bolted into the lead 250 meters out, then hung on for victory in 3 minutes, 30.59 seconds at Hayward Field.

That’s equivalent a 3:47.5 mile, by the way.

As gratifying as it all was, his coach reminded him this was a preliminary round. The 1,500-meter final is Aug. 6 at the Paris Olympics.

The goal, Hocker said, remains a medal.

“I’m not going to limit myself to top three,” he said. “I’m going to go for the gold, for sure.”

His time was a personal best, bettering what he ran in finishing seventh at the 2023 World Championships, and No. 3 in the world this year.

Moreover, if he didn’t know the time, he would have assumed it was another 3:35 race. Never had he shifted gears at such a pace, he said.

Notre Dame graduate Yared Nuguse was second in 3:30.86 and 20-year-old Hobbs Kessler third in 3:31.53.

Top eight were under the trials record of 3:34.09 set by Matthew Centrowitz in 2016, the year he won gold at Rio de Janeiro.

Hocker conceded pressure can be greater at the trials than at the Olympics. When he got to Tokyo three years ago, he said, he was just happy to be there.

“This team is so cutthroat to make,” he said. “When the pressure was the highest, I executed. I couldn’t have raced better, I don’t think.”

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In this race, instead of riding the rail as usual, he camped out on the outside of lane 1, following Nuguse. It can be risky to seize the lead as far out as Hocker did, but he built a four-meter lead and was unassailable.

He ran the last 400 meters in 52.63, last 800 in 1:49.44. Nuguse’s last 400 was 53.17.

“I’ve played that race a thousand times in my head,” Hocker said. “For it to finally happen like that was incredible. I heard the crowd getting louder and louder. I thought someone must be gaining on me. It just helped me to go through the line as hard as I could.”

He looked twice over his right shoulder as he approached the line, pumped his fist as he crossed and raised his arms in victory.

He became the first to win the 1,500 back-to-back at the trials since Jim Ryun in 1968/1972. Another Oregon runner, Dyrol Burleson, did so in 1960/64.

Nuguse had been 6-0against Hocker since the 2021 trials, with three of the races at Hayward Field. So the pace wouldn’t lag and allow younger collegians to stay in it, Nuguse took it upon himself to lead.

“I felt like going out and hammering it was the way to go,” he said. “I wish I could have had little something extra. Today, Cole got the better of me. It just shows how good our team is going to be in Paris, honestly.”

At March’s World Indoor Championships, Hocker and Nuguse won silver medals in the 1,500 and 3,000, respectively. Hocker wanted gold but said he was training through indoors.

“Half the battle is getting to the line healthy,” he said. “What’s what I kept telling myself. ‘I’m here, I’m heathy, I’ve PR’d in every race the past 365 days.

“I knew I couldn’t’ set myself up better. It’s just executing on the day.”

Cole Hocker smashes Olympic Trials record: 'I’m going to go for the gold, for sure' (2)

It’s executing every day, for that matter.

He relocated from Eugene to Blacksburg, Va., last fall after his former college coach, Ben Thomas, returned to Virginia Tech. He said he has been doing all “the boring things” to enhance performance, including diet and sleep. Bedtime is 10:30.

He has been training for the 5,000 meters, too, and became the 11th American under 13 minutes. He plans to run heats of the 5,000 Thursday.

He said he had nothing to lose three years ago, everything to lose Monday night.

“It was kind of make that team or bust,” he said.

The way he busted up the deepest collection of American milers ever assembled — 10th place was 3:35.17, or a 3:52.4 mile — it might be time to hit one out of the ballpark.

Contact IndyStar correspondent David Woods at dwoods1411@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidWoods007.

Cole Hocker smashes Olympic Trials record: 'I’m going to go for the gold, for sure' (2024)
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