Two alumni earn qualification for U.S. Olympic team

Two members of the men’s track and field team earned a qualification, three women’s track and field athletes have yet to qualify.

Minnesotas Harun Abda competes in the 800-meter run Feb. 15, 2013, at the University Fieldhouse.

Image by Jaak Jensen, Daily File Photo

Minnesota’s Harun Abda competes in the 800-meter run Feb. 15, 2013, at the University Fieldhouse.

by Jack White

Two former Minnesota men’s track and field team members have qualified for the U.S. Olympic team. 

Ten days and 18 events after the start of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Eugene, Ore. — where 12 current or former members of the Minnesota men’s and women’s track teams competed — Gophers alumni Ben Blankenship and Hassan Mead realized their Olympic dreams.

The Gophers had a large contingent of athletes at the meet. Half of those competitors advanced to the final rounds of their events. 

Redshirt senior Sean Donnelly was the first to represent Minnesota during the second half of the meet. Donnelly threw a ninth-place 68.96 meters in the hammer throw qualifier July 6 to advance to the final later that day. 

Donnelly had the shortest throw in the final round at 67.44 meters and was unable to qualify for Team USA. The meet marked Donnelly’s last as a member of the Gophers, where he earned All-American honors. Donnelly said he’ll take some time to recover but is already looking forward to the trials for Tokyo 2020.

“[I’ll] take a month or so off,” Donnelly said. “[I plan to] relax, let my body heal up, let my mind get fresh again. All I’ve been thinking about is to see how I’m going to do on [the trials] for almost a year now. Time to relax and recover.”

All-American Hassan Mead was the next to compete and represent Minnesota as an alumnus in the 5,000-meter run. Mead finished in 10th place with a 13:48.81 in the qualifying round to advance. 

Mead cut 13 seconds off his original time in Saturday’s final, finishing second overall and punching his ticket to the Olympic Games for the first time.

Hassan’s fellow All-American and former Gophers runner Ben Blankenship closed out competition on the men’s side in the 1,500-meter race. 

Blankenship took first place in the event semifinals to move on to the final race Sunday.

Blankenship earned Rio qualification by finishing third in the final, qualifying by less than half a second.

Minnesota’s two men’s alumni are the first to qualify for Team USA since 1992 when current head coach Steve Plasencia and Ron Backes represented the school.

No current or former members of the women’s track and field made the cut for the U.S. national team, despite two advancing to their final events. 

Graduated redshirt senior Jess Lehman finished in 12th place in the heptathlon. Lehman’s finish helped her qualify for the Thorpe Cup, an international competition between the United States and Germany. 

Alumna Gabriele Grunewald took 12th place in the 1,500-meter final, her fourth race of the trials.

Junior Nicolle Murphy fell short in the javelin throw at the U.S. Trials. Murphy’s throw of 56.35 meters earned her a personal record and fifth-place finish. The mark wasn’t enough to qualify for Team USA, but Murphy said she was satisfied with her training for the meet.

“My first two years I was competing after the regular season in the U.S.A Championships and [more], and I didn’t compete as well as I should have,” she said. “I know that I prepared myself a lot better this season with practicing a lot by myself and practicing outdoors.”