Ben Blankenship made his Olympic debut for Team USA in Rio on Tuesday, Aug. 16 and qualified for the semifinals of the 1,500 meters.
The semifinals were scheduled for Thursday evening, after this edition of the Gazette went to press.
The 2007 Stillwater Area High School graduated placed ninth in the third and final heat with a time of 3:38.92, which also ranked ninth among all finishers in the first round.
The top six finishers in each heat and the next six fastest times advanced to the semifinals. Because the first two heats were slower, four of the six runners to qualify on time were in the final heat. Blankenship’s time was faster than the winners of the first (Asbel Kiprop, 3:38.97) and second (Taoufik Makhloufi, 3:46.82) heats.
By comparison, Blankenship ran 3:36.18 in the finals to finish third at the Olympic Trials last month.
“I really thought if, being the last (heat), and having everyone jog the first two, if we would have just clipped along we could get 12 through our heat,” Blankenship told reporters after the race. “I made it through, it just wasn’t very pretty.”
Blankenship, 26, was running near the leader and in second for much of the race, before slipping farther back in a tight pack of runners, but still advancing comfortably into the semifinals. Jakob Holusa of the Czech Republic won Blankenship’s heat and turned in the fastest time in the prelims at 3:38.31.
The top 10 runners in the third heat were separated by less than one second and each qualified for the semifinals.
“I shouldn’t have felt like this,” Blankenship said. “I got jet-lagged, and my legs were just heavy. I just need to do something to just open them up. I felt like this at the USA championships too.”
Blankenship was one of three Americans to advance to the semifinals, a list that also includes Matthew Centrowitz (3:39.31) and Robby Andrews (3:46.97). Blankenship, who after leaving Stillwater enjoyed an outstanding career at the University of Minnesota, was scheduled to compete in the first of two semifinals races on Thursday. Centrowitz and Andrews were featured in the second heat.
The finals are scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 20 at 7 p.m.
Contact Stuart Groskreutz at [email protected]