Updike survives prelims, qualifies for steeple finals at Trials

July 5, 2016
Isaac Updike track

Isaac Updike

As if qualifying for the finals at the Olympic Trails wasn’t exciting enough for Isaac Updike of Ketchikan, he endured some extra drama before it was official.

The 24-year-old runner finished fifth in the prelims in the 3,000-meter steeplechase to snag the final automatic qualifying berth but had to wait for several hours because of an apparent protest.

“Waiting was hard,” Updike told me. “I didn’t mean to have any contact with the other guy but it just ended up happening. I would have filed a complaint as well if it had happened to me.”

The steeple is already a wild event, with runners forced to clear hurdles and water jump, but the final lap was crazy as two runners fell and then Updike had to muscle past and then outsprint another runner to the finish line.

He was as lucky as he was good. Had those guys not fallen, had he not fought for positioning, he would not have qualified.

“Once I started to see guys fall, I just thought ‘I can’t let them pass me now that they have fallen,’” Updike said. “Everyone talks about how open the steeple is until you get over the last barrier and that second heat sure proved that statement to be correct.”

Updike clocked a time of 8 minutes, 37.14 seconds to advance to Friday’s finals at historic Heyward Field in Eugene, Oregon. The finals feature 14 runners and will be broadcast by NBC Sports. The top three punch their ticket to Rio.

“I think qualifying in general is going to be memorable,” he said. “With that said, I don’t think I will forget that I essentially elbowed that guy as I passed him.”

With the Olympics on the line, Updike’s winning instinct took over.

At Eastern Oregon University, he was a four-time NAIA All-American in the steeple. He won a national championship in 2013 and finished second as a senior in 2015.

After college he moved to Eugene and took a part-time job in the shoe department at Dick’s Sporting Goods. He also joined Team Run Eugene, an elite training group.

The results were fast and furious.

Now he’s one race away from going to the Olympics.

“I am really happy with my decision to try and continue running after college,” Updike said. “I think even without this happy ending I would still be saying the same thing. I have made a lot of big jumps this year and hopefully I can carry that momentum into this fall for training and cross country.”